Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Another bend in the road

The path I travel seems to loop round in a spiral.

Over and over the same ground I go, yet the way does progress and the ground my feet traverse is never exactly the same.

This week, back to oh-so-familiar themes of pruning out belongings, establishing priorities, simplifying, refining – all the usual things.

Some who read this blog will know what I’ve recently been up to, others won’t; so I’ll explain.

Badger and I have moved from our house in Aylesbury to Hastings on the south coast of England, where all my daughters live.

This has partly been just to be near the people we love (Badger’s daughter No 2 lives not far away from here as well), but is also part of the journey into simplicity.

Hastings is an extraordinary place. It is characterized by poverty, eccentricity and beauty. A high ridge of land curves around it, and beyond that a hinterland of marsh. Its other boundary is the ocean. These geographical features separated it, making it the last place where a big firm would open a branch, and the first place where they would close it. So small family firms flourish here. It resists pretentiousness and luxury, but fosters creativity and imagination. Because of its poverty, only the shops that offer realistically priced goods tend to survive: so the town naturally attracts artists, pilgrims, healers, poets, musicians, philosophers and others who subsist on the margins of regular society. The people are in the main resourceful, tough and fairly unusual. It is a tolerant place, in a gritty sort of way. Shabby and weird pass unnoticed here. It has an unusually large amount of common land, so that the people who live here can share for free what is normally fenced and guarded as the possession of the rich. Fire festivals, the beach, wild hills and woods, terraces of tall thin houses clinging improbably to its steep hillsides, more trees than most towns – I love Hastings.

What we have done is to join forces with three of my daughters in a shared house. This is not them coming home to live with mother – it’s five adults each choosing to live on an equal basis; contributing according to means, supported according to need.

The choice has an element of financial common sense: one council tax, one TV licence, one lot of logs for the stove etc. To live together like this means we can each pursue our chosen path rather than having to give our lives away in exchange for money. We do all work to earn the money we need – but we do what we enjoy, and we protect the spaciousness that all makers need. I like it that there is sound financial reasoning motivating us: this gives what we are doing a practical, realistic character.

But it’s not all about money. We have come to believe that ours is an intentional family, not just an accidental family. In Richard Bach’s book The Reluctant Messiah, he writes ‘Not all members of one family grow up under the same roof'. Wise words. In our case though, we recognize a spiritual kinship as well as a blood relation, and feel that when we stay close to each other we can offer something deeper and more whole than when we are scattered.

So on November 16th 2009 the house was purchased, and Badger and I moved in. The house is shabby and a bit decrepit, though in the right location and basically sound. By early January, the rooms for the other three were ready. Snow held up their move by a few days, but by mid-January they were in.

So once more the process of sifting through possessions has begun: responsibly disposing of surplus – selling to second-hand dealers, and giving away to family and friends or through Freecycle.

As always, the first instinct is to keep the biggest and most; then reflection reminds us that the simplest and smallest is often a wiser, more comfortable and spacious way.

For example, we opted to keep our large larder fridge and separate under-counter freezer from Aylesbury, and our super-duper micro-wave/oven/grill. Time to reflect allowed us to notice that we don’t need the microwave at all (and most of us in this household are deeply suspicious of microwaving anyway, relieved to eliminate it); that living near the shops and bus routes as we do, there is little need to refrigerate a mountain of fresh produce; that running one cooling appliance instead of two is good news for the Earth and for our budget – so we have changed our minds and chosen instead the fridge-freezer from the house the other three lived in, and will sell the appliances that came with us from Aylesbury.
Some health problems I have been experiencing I recently tracked down to be a dairy allergy – and two of the other ladies of our household are quite badly dairy allergic; so we have opted for an almost-vegan household (with a small amount of fish on occasion). Knowing sugar was also a problem for me, I started to explore macrobiotics as a viable way, and my health has improved radically as a result.

Because we eat most main meals together, what we now have is a mainly-vegan-strongly-informed-by-macrobiotic-principles household. We are all feeling ever so much brighter and fitter as a result.

Macrobiotic food is beautifully simple (though mighty complex to learn and understand!!) and, without meat and dairy, frees up a lot of fridge and freezer space, so the downsizing from 2 appliances to 1 was very straight-forward.

It’s been a time of learning and releasing, with a multi-level sense of homecoming. This house feels more like home than anywhere I have ever lived. Living with or close to my family has healed the terrible sense of grief at being apart from them. The way I am eating and living from day-to day is bringing me home to myself; it feels peaceful and free.

In the set-up process, the sale of our home in Aylesbury and the sale of the other little house in Hastings allows us to effect necessary repairs and redecoration, and install a woodstove at the new house; and will also clear the mortgage, so that debt-bondage will be dissolved. That done, our entire housekeeping costs – food, household essential, utilities, Council Tax, TV licence, home insurances, logs for the woodstove; everything except transport and personal purchases – all amount to no more than £200.00 per person per month (US readers not that the cost of both food and accommodation is way higher this side of the pond). Until the little house is sold, we are each paying £250.00 a month, to cover the overheads there.

We chose the road we live in with great care. Badger needs a car for his work, and is a car-person anyway. The rest of us would prefer to be car–free (though we are grateful to have one car in the household for the extra possibilities it open up for us): so it was essential to live in the Silverhill area, because all the local bus routes cross in Silverhill, giving much better public transport access than from most locations apart from Hastings town centre. Our road is a quiet cul-de-sac, set back a little from the main road. Five minutes walk takes us to all the shops we need, yet the road is peaceful and sheltered from the sounds of traffic that are so loud just 200 yards away. Behind the house the hillside drops down into the park that runs down the centre of the town to the sea. When the original town of Hastings developed the addition of St Leonards-on-Sea, the rivers running down to the ocean made it impossible to build on the steep ravine of the Ghyll that runs down from the Ridge to the sea: so it was turned into a public gardens instead, Alexandra Park, now full of a variety of mature trees as well as a rose garden, a peace garden, a boating lake, 2 reservoirs, wild areas, a bowling green, a bandstand, a war memorial, and wide open grassy places for people to relax.

So it is that in our road backing onto the park, the fragrance of trees and plants fragrances the air: five minutes’ walk away, the air suffers from dust and traffic fumes; though all the Hastings air is cleansed and purified by the ocean.

We are about half-an-hour’s walk from the sea, and our other two family households are also just a short walk away.

In Silverhill (the area of Hastings and St Leonards where we live), are all the shops we need for everyday things. Down the hill in Hastings town centre is a wholefood co-operative that sells what our shops just nearby don’t stock.

We have no need of large superstores at all, and though the prices are higher in our small local shops, and we use the pricier ecological household cleaning agents, the simplicity of our diet is such that £300 a month is plenty to cover the food and household needs for all five of us.

Over the last week, as we begin to organize ourselves, sorting, pruning, winnowing, discarding, I have sensed the road looping round again. I know this territory so well: but it doesn’t just feel like the same old thing; it feels like real, satisfying progress.


Ganeida said...

Hastings was somewhere I didn't see when in England. You make it sound so lovely is there any chance of a pic or two? Yes, I can go on~line but it won't be the same as seeing it through your eyes! ☺

We down~sized car~wise 2 years ago, to our sons' disgust, but the big petrol~guzzler had to go. Apart from it's fuel consumption I drove it the most & I absolutely hated it. It was too big for me. Now AUD $20~usually does me for a fortnight.

Ditz & I have moved fairly solidly towards vegetarianism[neither of us eat fish so it's a bit of chicken occasionally] & fruit. I think grains might upset our systems so I'm tending to veer away from those at present. It is an interesting journey & I find your place along the path fascinating. I'm so pleased you share.

Pen Wilcock said...


Grace took some fab pics of the nooks and crannies in Hastings to show her friends online. I'll check if she has them still to post them here.

Ganeida said...

That would be so lovely! Thanks.

MojoMan said...

Here in the US, two of us pay over $1000 per month for health insurance alone. Your government in the UK covers healthcare, right? It's hard to live a simple life with that cost hanging over the head.

I like your blog and will check back often.

Pen Wilcock said...

Mojoman, that's correct. On the other hand, accommodation and food are much more than in the US.

The healthcare is a huge asset though.