Monday, 10 July 2006

Afterthought

So it's now July the 11th, only three weeks from the solstice and yet already there is a subtle change in the weather. Last night it was windy and a little bit rainy, and whilst it has been a largely hot and fine summer there is nothing new there, what there was though was an ever so slightly diferent feel in the air. The wind brought with it the first signs of change, the very tantalising soft first edge of the coming winter, the sort of weather to bring out the wildness in one, a gauntlet thrown down; if I don't get to the jungle in time I'm going to be facing another one of these it seemed to say.

bring it.

The corn is going yellow, some of the taller grasses, having seaded, are dying away - just perfect to use for tinder - all of last years growth being hidden away by this years, slowly rotting away and returning to the earth.

So the seasons travel on.

I feel as though I have only scraped the surface, there is a huge untapped wealth of knowledge hidden in the wild places, mostly now that knowledge is no longer stored in people's consciousness, not passed from generation to generation but resides in dusty books in librarys. Fortunately I have access to the Bodleian library in Oxford, I am writing from there now, and a bit of research into this lost knowledge will help to break up the day from what is turning out to be the monotonous task of planning the trip to Ecuador. If I discover anything startling I will share it with you here.

The blog of my life right now has moved here

http://bethejam.squarespace.com/preparation/

Friday, 30 June 2006

The lasting memory



"Ditch Monkey" by Peter Kavanagh

Thursday, 29 June 2006

Topic of Conversation

Since I have decided to go and live in the Rainforest there is one topic of conversation that comes up where ever I go; dangerous creatures. People now seem to find discussing snakes, spiders, anacondas, malaria infested mosquitoes, creatures that burrow into flesh, millipedes, cockroaches and no end of things with teeth to be something that needs to be done in my company. I think I need some new friends.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Fire starter


Photo by Mark Bassett www.thesourcephotography.com

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Ok so this isn't entirely over

A couple of nights ago I was visited by a photographer who came out and spent a couple of hours taking photos, the odd thing is that I have kind of got used to this now, anyway one of the things he wanted to be taking shots of was me cooking. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem, I quite like showing off when I’m cooking; maybe not at the last dinner party, some things got a little bit singed – one trout even caught fire but nevertheless cooking is a passion and I like people taking an interest in it. The problem was that I had nothing to cook, so it was decided that a few shots of a blackened billy can hanging from the tripod of hazel sticks into the orange glow of the fire would be good. After a few minutes of messing about with different angles and filters I started to get worried that the pot would melt, there was no water so the only options was to pout in another liquid but which; sloe gin, liquid soap, Talisker or tonic? In went the tonic and it happily bubbled away for a while. Then came the request to be putting something in to the pot, I did have some rice. Some? I have kilos of the stuff so I was happy to pour a load in whilst the flash went off and filters were changed once more. Have you ever cooked rice in tonic water? No? I don’t see why not, it gives off a delicate aroma somewhat reminiscent of cat sick in the sunshine; this isn’t really the smell that you need when being photographed with spoon to mouth and an expression designed to suit the request to “look like you are enjoying it”.

If you have found this site in the kind hope of sponsoring me then please go to www.justgiving.com/ditchmonkey that’s very kind of you. If you have just happened across this site then please feel free to give some money to the Woodland Trust if you like.

If you are here looking for all the stuff on the trip to the Jungle and the Travel guide that is at www.bethejam.com

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Thank you and goodbye

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I don't think you can measure life in terms of years. I think longevity doesn't necessarily have anything to do with happiness. I mean happiness comes from facing challenges and going out on a limb and taking risks. If you're not willing to take a risk for something you really care about, you might as well be dead.

Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, Northern Lights, 1993

Having people over for dinner is lots of fun, but there a few inherent problems when you live in the woods. For one thing how do people find you? Very specific directions and a trail of bits of what was once a white work shirt tied to branches to guide the way along the twisty route of rabbit tracks to my home is the answer. Having left a trail I set about lighting a fairly large fire that would provide enough embers to barbecue quite a lot of food on and then go on with cooking some new potatoes for a potato salad, and continuing to work on the tomato sauce that I had started the day before. I have been making a lot of tomato sauces recently, I think it is probably because I have only been eating local seasonal food and so I had no tomatoes during the winter and now I am really appreciating them.

The thing with making a good Italian tomato sauce is that it's not really something that can be contained in a recipe, it is very much a matter of adapting to the taste of the tomatoes and not being to restricted by 'rules'. There are thousands of variations but this is the one I made for last night's soiree.

Loads of fresh tomatoes chopped in half
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Basil
Balsamic vinegar
Clove of garlic
Sugar

Warm the oil in a pan and add the tomatoes salt and pepper. Cook with the lid off (leaving the lid on will dull the colour and stop the sauce from reducing) stirring occasionally until the tomatoes have broken down. If you have good tomatoes then the sauce would be fine like this. I got mine from Tesco and they weren't great so I added balsamic vinegar, a finely sliced clove of garlic and sugar to cut though the tannin. The trick is to cook over a gentle heat for at least a couple of hours, this way the sauce reduces down and becomes rich and full on flavour. If you have any white wine floating about the place it would be worth splashing a bit in.

Good stirred through pasta, used on pizza or even served with bread, olives, tzatsiki and the like. The other thing is that if you have such new fangled niceties as a fridge or freezer it would be worth making loads extra as it has a multitude of uses, a base for bolognaise for instance.

People arrived all within 10 minutes of each other and we eat and drink and spend a little while sat around a fire talking nonsense without even a radio as a concession to modernity. Really a timeless scene if you think about it, people have been burning fish and fingers over an open fire, getting smoke in their eyes, not being quite comfortable sitting on the ground and tripping over things in the dark for ever. It was a shame when all to soon everyone left to get back to their lives, not least because I then had to go and untie all the bits of shirt from the branches.

There was a fair bit of clearing up to be done, bit's of left over potato, a few burnt bits of meat, that kind of thing. That's one of the good things about living in the woods, biodegradable rubbish can be scattered about the place; not too close to home for fear of encouraging rats. Later on when I heard rustling in the undergrowth where I had thrown the leftover food I quietly made my way back to within view of it and was rewarded with the site of a Badger feasting away. That's the second one I have seen this week, I think they are getting used to me.

So that's it then, a year in the woods is up. Little did I think when I started out what an effect this would have on my life. Never for a minute did I expect that anyone other than my close circle of friends would get to hear about this and I certainly didn't think it would inspire me to quit my job and take off to live in the jungle for a year. I had different plans, very different plans and thought life would be going in a very different direction right now. Among other things on my agenda, but far from the most important, was to become a multi millionaire art dealer, instead of which at the end of this month I'm cunningly leaving my job, career, pension and health care and so becoming both homeless and unemployed. Some might say unemployable. I have no money saved up or any idea how I'm going to pay to store the few possessions I still have but that will not fit into a rucksack. Mike and I are going to Ecuador to try to raise money to protect the Rainforest, I have a ticket to Brazil and Mike has a car so getting there will be challenging. Neither of us has even been to a jungle so we have no idea how we will cope. Mike is scared of Spiders. If you had asked me a year ago when I moved to the woods where I would be in a year’s time I doubt that this is what I would have pictured.

The thing is though that living in such close proximity to nature for so long has led me to realise a few things. They are things that have been said before a thousand times and will no doubt sound a little trite but they have a real resonance. Firstly money can't buy happiness. Secondly the natural world as we know it is on the verge of destruction and it is up to us to do something. Thirdly girls often have unrealistic expectations of personal hygiene for someone who has just spent a few days without running water.

It's game over time to say goodbye and good luck to you all what ever thing it is that you are doing. I would also like to say thank you for all your comments, support, emails, gifts and advice that has come in over the months; it really has made all the difference. Now I have started saying thank you I best get a bit "Oscars" and thank everyone.

I would like to thank my family and friends for not being the slightest bit surprised and for being so forthcoming with the cups of tea and loans of washing machines. I should especially thank Rob for being so scathing in so many interviews and Mark for being inspired to Upshift if this is what downshifting is. A big thank you to Les and Julie at The Leather Bottle in Lewknor for such a warm welcome and for looking out for me. Thank you all those people who have offered me beer, food, showers, and tempted me with comfortable beds along the way. I really should thank my colleagues in Sotheby's for putting up with the mountains of possessions in the filing cabinet, and the constant smell of damp, wood smoke and mould that marks out my corner of the office. The Oxford Tube deserves a mention for often being the most comfortable place I have been in any one day, many was the night in winter when I was tempted just to stay on the bus all night going back and forth between Oxford and London. Samantha Hemmingway deserves a medal for all her hard work in organising the part at The End back in March. I should thank Rowan for passing on the news of this to Anushka at the Observer and Anushka for writing such a good article, if it had not been for them no were near as much money would have been raised.

Most of all I would like to thank everyone who has donated money to the Woodland Trust.

Further adventures, including Neph and I attempting to walk 85 miles in 48 hours followed by my attempt to do the walk in 24 hours and of course the build up to Mission Improbable (the trip to the jungle) can be read by going to www.bethejam.com clicking on Mission Improbable and then Preparation.

It's been real.

Hi

Bit of a late night last night, few people over for dinner, much fun. Clearing alway any left over food was easy enough - take it a small distance from home and throw it into the undergrowth for the animals. As a result I managed to see a Badger last night, that's the second one this week.

I have a question, does anyone know the easiest / cheapest way to get to Ecuador from Rio de Janeiro? A quick look at a map of the world suggests that walking is out of the question.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Weird

I have been so busy rushing about doing stuff I almost forgot to write on this, the official last day of the year in the woods. Crikey! I’ve done it. It’s been a year; I have just spent a year living in the woods. What a very very odd thing to do.So tonight a couple of friends are coming over for a bite to eat, trout, a tomato sauce, new potato salad in a lemon and olive oil dressing and a bit of traditional barbecue fayre; black sausages, chicken, bread. It’s a shame that tonight is a work night as lots of people can’t make it out tonight; maybe they are just scared of the sloe gin.

I feel as though I should have something profound to say, I’m not sure I have enough depth of character to come up with something profound but maybe I should share a thought that I had with you. I have been mulling over whether to write about this for a while now but have always put it off as I think it will make me sound weird. Then again what does it matter, my family and friends, those close to me, already know that I am weird so why shouldn’t you.

I have mentioned before that when I was in America last year I went to the monument to Crazy Horse being carved out of the mountain just around the corner from Mount Rushmore. The blog that I wrote at the time could be read by clicking here. So basically some guy with a shovel, vision and a bunch of enthusiasm took on a mountain and won, seeing this really had an effect on me at the time and it got me to thinking that if one man can move a mountain then a society could change the world. It is my view that there is enough will power in the UK at the moment to do exactly that, it’s time to stop thinking that the state of the world is someone else’s responsibitly because the cold truth of the matter is that if we don’t do something no one else will. Lets replant the rainforest.

See I told you I was weird.


It will be possible to follow the progress of Mission Improbable (Trip to live in the jungle) at www.bethejam.com. I can't shake the idea that I should maybe have told Mike that the idea was to replant the whole forest not just a part of it, he'll be up for it I'm sure - he bought a small shovel the other day, just the thing for planting trees.

remember they laughed at the Nolan Sisters, the Wright Brothers, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Gin Trap

So it seems as though I have libelled Rob, he has not evaporated off vast quantities of Sloe Gin, it was all there at his new flat when I went over last night. We thought we better taste it to see what it was like, three bottles three completely separate tastes, I didn’t follow a recipe I just put various quantities of sloes, gin and sugar into bottles and then left them. At one point I ran out of Caster sugar and moved on to Demerara. I have no idea which bottle was which, it is easy enough to tell which bottle didn’t have enough sugar in it though, that one makes teeth feel furry when drunk. The curious thing is that one bottle of gin has no sloes in it at all, Rob and I mulled that one over for quite some time but neither of us could come up with an explanation. Stranger still it doesn’t taste like gin and it has gone a kind of golden brown colour, it is almost as though someone had poured Demerara into the bottle and then couldn’t be bothered to put all those fiddly little sloes in so had just poured the gin back in and left the bottle under the cupboard; surely that can’t be the explanation.

Rob lives very close to two very good clubs, just around the corner from lots of cool bars, twenty minutes from his work and not only has walls, floorboards, electricity, running water and a lack of mosquitoes but also has a cleaner that comes in to keep the place clean. Best of all he lives in the same area as lots of friends. I did have a small moment of coveting my mates flat, somehow sleeping on the ground miles from any one I know whilst constantly being grubby lost its lustre in the comparison to such a place. Not that I’m regretting not moving back into a house at the moment, I’m sure a year in the jungle will be luxurious beyond any comparison.

Monday, 19 June 2006

Food

This week I are mostly living off rice cooked with a stock cube, nettles and burdock roots.

Someone got a little carried away with the going out for dinner this month and is now having to live a little frugally till the end of the month.

Drat.

Boy am I glad to be back at work

"Sweet"

Eric Cartmen

I read in the Times on Saturday that this blog has a cult following. That would make me Keith Moon and you lot the Moonies right? I have always wanted a cult, although cult is such an ugly word, I prefer Misunderstood Religious Organisation Who Actually Will Save The World And Your Soul And Make You More Attractive To The Opposite Sex And Stuff; this is a rather clever acronym MROWAWSTWAYSAMYMATTOSAS.

All members of MROWAWSTWAYSAMYMATTOSAS need to do is place 80% of their income into my Swiss bank account and sign over all rights to everything you own to me. Now this is for your own good, you can’t go finding enlightenment by having stuff, what you need to do is to go and live in the woods and eat nettles not gallivant about the place buying things. I, at great personal cost, will look after all your money by investing it in a mansion on the beach in Hawaii, and will live in it to make sure no one steels it. Just to be extra safe I will have a crack team of bodyguards (Swedish National Bikini Team) on hand heavily armed with bottles of champagne in case evil doers need fighting off. Look what I do for you, I think I deserve a Blue Peter badge me.


Oh and if the FBI come looking - "you ain't seen me, right?"

Friday, 16 June 2006

A walk in the country

I saw the first ladybird of the year the other day; a bright red Tonka truck beastie making it's way through the jungle of short grass at an amazing speed with it's little legs piston-ing twenty to the dozen from out of the sides of it's armored shell. Zooming it was, positively zooming along taking all obstacles at maximum speed like one of the minis in the Italian Job (the original of course not the dodgy remake). Five black spots on it's back and three white on it's face but where was it going? What can one patch of grass offer that another can't? Up one blade of grass, down the underside, this jaggedy landscape of the ladybird is like something from a Tim Burton film, our rules just don't apply, across a thistle, rolling with the flow, across down up round. The most curious thing was that whatever obstacle presented itself the lil critter would take it at full pelt and never deviate from it's overall direction, just a little to the left of the sun was where she would end up given enough time, nothing could stop it. Until that is it got to my shoelace then there was a one hundred and eighty degree turn a run up to the top of the nearest seed baring grass stem (those being the longest), spotty wing casing opened there was a brief blur of wings and it was up and away on the wind, a rapidly disappearing red dot in the air. I know my trainers are old and that I should really get some new ones but that is just rude.

Feeling a little disgruntled I continued my walk and almost immediately was distracted by two butterflies with electric blue wings dancing briefly together in the wind before one landed on a flower to my left. Opening it's wings in the sunlight briefly revealed them to be edged with almost luminescent blue before it fluttered off again as a result of my shadow falling across it. Out of the heat of the sun and into the cool of the woods it was three fat bubble bees buzzing busily in the undergrowth that caught my eye. Being on holiday I had time to stop and watch them for a while and I was rather glad I did as the flowers that attracted them were the flowers of a reasonably sized wild raspberry plant. I will be keeping an eye on that patch. All around the woods and hedgerows are full of the promise of nature's bounty to come, raspberries, strawberries, sloes, blackberries, hazelnuts, damsons, beech nuts, all this to come.
Walking on a little I must have disturbed a deer as there was a flash in the distance and the sound of something large crashing off through the undergrowth. Overhead a squirrel leaps gracefully from branch to branch, and away. Here there are dog rose pastel pink with butter yellow pollen hanging thickly in the middle, over there the flowers draped across the lower branches of a yew tree are white. Next a few meters beside the path is heavy with pink campion and goose-grass then the wide open leaves of a burdock which is appropriately enough bordered by some dandelions. Then buttercups, saplings, various grasses locked into a struggle for survival as they race for the light. Bellow them all last years fallen leaves and dead stems slowly decomposing bringing life to the future generations of plants that rise to take their place in the never ending cycle of nature. This is life in the woods, the fragile balance of life, death and rebirth; autumn follows summer follows spring follows winter and so it goes on. This is were the money that you donate to the Woodland Trust by sponsoring me goes . So far £4,400 has been donated and that's about four and a half acres of woodland that the Trust can now protect. Four and a half acres is quite a lot, but if you think about it in terms of the size of this country and also consider the fact that once upon a time the whole place was wild it is not a huge amount. If you consider also the amount of harm that each and everyone of us does to the planet through our waste materials, use of natural resources and polluting journeys then you might well be tempted to give a little back to try to offset this harm. If you are so minded might I ask you to give a little to the Woodland Trust to protect the environment we have on our own doorsteps.

You can do so either by sponsoring me by clicking here

or go directly to the Woodland Trust by clicking here.

Shameless plug



So today we launch Be The Jam, the travel guide that Mike and I hope will help finance our trip to live in the Jungle. I'm really excited by this, we have some really interesting people writing for us and we fully intend to expand rapidly so if you would like to write for us please let us know. Who knows one day we might even be able to pay you? There is a bit of swearing and talk of drink, drugs, sex and all the sorts of things people get up to on holiday so if you find such things offensive you may wish not to take a look. The section that Mike and I will be writing about our time in the jungle; Mission Improbable, will be free from all such things, we just thought we should give people the freedom to tell it like it is.


Might I suggest that you have a look at Toby's entries under “Sailing from Indonesia to the UK”, the journey is incredible it is indeed an adventure beyond anything I would ever imagine experiencing, truly amazing things happened on the trip. Fortunately Toby kept a diary along the way and he will be publishing it day by day in real time.
So pop on over to http://www.bethejam.com/

HECTIC

ARGH! I have lots to write and not nearly enough time to do it in. Best not waist my time writing about how I don't have enough time to write then.
First up – a bit of a reminder. The 21st is both the Summer Solstice and my official stopping date and it is also the night of The Great Big Sleep Out (TGBSO), that's where you lot get to go and sleep out for the night. Take friends, loved ones (or leave them at home and take some friends and a bottle of gin), picnics and plenty of tea and head to the hills and gardens to appreciate the wonder of the natural world. I have a couple of friends coming over for a champagne breakfast, just the way to watch a sunrise I feel. So please do head to the hills, maybe even get sponsored to do so and give the money to the Woodland Trust.
People are going to be sleeping out all over the world, it's true! Well not all over the world just in bits of it, and I would love to hear your stories after the event.

What else?
Mike has decided that he needs a different nickname than Scottish Mike, we have been having a bit of a heated debate about whether he should be called Danger Mike or Mike Dangerous. Which do you think?

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Creature comforts

It's warm by the river the weir keeps us clean
The wood smoke and cigarettes are all that we need.

The Levellers



The first sensation upon waking is usually one of discomfort and if I don’t have to rush away for work it is very easy to lie wallowing in some small amount of self-pity. However, once up the feeling dissipates and the world is a fine place to be. Should there be clean clothes to wear then I find myself feeling on top of the world. The other morning I was up and about before Mike, he was sleeping in his hammock but didn’t look very comfortable. One end was much higher than the other and consequently he was balled up in one end of it, it looked most uncomfortable.

“You’ve tied the hammock up and different heights” I called our cheerily.
“I know, I had to get up in the night and re-tie it” Mike didn’t sound very cheery so I told him that things get better once up but he didn’t even respond to that one. Not even using his gas burner to make tea got him up, I thought it would as the last time I had borrowed it there had been an explosion and this time I made sure I lit it especially close to his hammock.
“Is your hammock flammable?” there was muttering from deep within the cocoon but I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying “you want me to what off?”

Eventually Mike was enticed into getting up, I’m sure my incessant chatter of a general cheery nature is what did it. Since moving to the woods I have gone from being virtually nocturnal to being very much a morning person. Mornings are good and I feel it is my duty to inflict such a view of the world on to Mike. Over a cup of tea he agreed that it was better to get up than stay lying in discomfort, it’s just a bit difficult to persuade yourself to get up sometimes.

After breakfast of Bagels and honey Mike got on with writing the business plan for the travel guide and I went and met a reported from the Daily Mail who was coming out to interview me. It’s necessary to go and meet visitors and show them the way to my home, otherwise people would never find it.

Being interviewed is a curious affair, rather like going on a blind date; meet a stranger, talk about yourself, try to impress, worry in case you come across as an idiot, realise what you should have said after they have gone and then worry about what they are going to say about you. The other thing about interviews is that after the usually questions that every one asks (why, was it cold, why no tent etc) come novel questions and these are often things that I have not thought about but they require an answer. If an Oxford education teaches you nothing else it teaches you how to answer questions on subjects you know nothing about. . The difference with being interviewed though is that the response to an answer I give isn’t met with “have you read any of the reading list?” but is accepted as being accurate. It is quite fun being asked these new questions, it makes me view new angles of this whole experience. I am beginning to have doubts though about one thing that I have been accepting as a truth. I’m beginning to come round to the way of thinking that living in the woods is not necessarily better than living in doors.

Later that day Mike and I had a meeting to discuss the business plan, I’m not sure how usual it is to hold business meetings in the woods whilst frying mushrooms on a gas burner. Before the meeting was declared quorate by didn’t of the number of flies in attendance Mike said that he knew what I meant.
“What I meant by what”
“You know living in the woods, just sitting by a fire, not needing anything else”
It’s true, living a simple life is great, we don’t need half the things that we think we need and I have come to the conclusion over the past few months that life is silly. It strikes me as odd that we spend so much time in pursuit of wealth in order to buy things that ultimately don’t bring happiness just a desire to have more things. Living in the woods is the answer, the antidote to mindless consumption. Apart from anything else I have nowhere to store things so I have been forced to live with little and have found myself happier as a result of it. Then I went to visit Toby.

Toby is a surfer, absolutely impossible to see him as anything else, if you cut him I doubt that he would bleed salt water, he would probably punch you or at least ask why you dinged his arm. I don’t think it’s possible to be more of a surfer than Toby. I went round for dinner, discovered he had moved house and then went to his new house where I discovered he was engaged to the beautiful Marieke. We ate, drank, watched a couple of surf movies and it got late. It would have been very late by the time I got home so I crashed out on a futon. I slept so well; I haven’t slept like that for a very long time – over a year probably. The best way of describing it can be to compare it to eating; it felt as though I was giving my body something it desperately needed. I woke feeling refreshed, like a new person; by the time I had had a shower (running water!), breakfast (fridge, stove, dishwasher!) I felt like a king. Perhaps there is some wisdom to having a house rather than a rucksack. Perhaps it would have been sensible to be moving into a flat rather than into the rainforest. Toby, who is knowledgeable about such things, said that there is good surf in Ecuador, in some places the jungle comes right down to the beach.

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Photo from last autumn



This was from last autumn, just about the time that it started getting dark in the evening I was trying to figure out how to get light. That's two candles with the light being reflected off two empty boil in the bag camping meal container stuck on t tent pegs. Things have changed, now I have a head torch and I don't eat boil in the bag camping meals any more.

Not that my new improved candle and boil in the bag free existence is free from danger. Last night I discovered that strenuous activity necessitating breathing through the mouth whilst wearing a head torch is not something that should be undertaken lightly during the summer months. The problem is that moths are attracted to the light and having them flitting around my face whilst gasping for breath isn't great - they taste horrid.

Bit of a party in Oxford



Neph, him of the interesting music collection, has organised this fundraising party and by pure collection it is the day after I finish work at Sotheby's. Promises to be a belter.

Monday, 12 June 2006

Oregano

In case you are interested I did manage to successfully capture the sweet aroma of elderflower in water and add it to rhubarb. Elderflower is not a flavour that can be said to go well with rhubarb.

Summer appears to be here, it kind of snuck up on me whilst I was out celebrating the arival of spring.

I spent most of Saturday in Oxford working and getting supplies of food for the next few days, in fact the supplies only lasted a day and a half, I forget that food lasts so short a time when living outside. A pasta with a few big fat English tomatoes cooked with olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper and a barbecued duck breast under the shade of the trees really got my weekend back on track after the heat and hecticness of town. The flavour of fresh local tomatoes is fantastic, well worth waiting for them to come into season.

Having run out of water it was necessary to walk the half mile or so to the stream to get some more. It being hot and summer I went bare foot, treading gingerly to avoid sharp stones and thorns, barefoot huhn? Well one needs to take this devolution thing seriously. I found myself lulled by the beauty of the surroundings and the warm weather into taking the scenic route home and taking a swing over the hill I lived on for a while last summer, the hill on which I woke at dawn on the solstice last year to find myself being watched by a fawn. Leaving the shade of the trees the heat hit washed over me and I was once again struck by the splendour of the view from up there. Stretching out before me like a proverbial patchwork quilt lay Oxfordshire, snaking through the middle of fields, woodlands and sleepy villages runs the every busy motorway taking busy people to and from London, not me though. I'm content to sit and watch the modern world rushing to and fro on business and pleasure whilst surrounded by the best of the countryside.

The top of the chalk hill is covered in short grass that has never been cultivated, grazed occasionally but that is all. Occasional seed heads stick above the level of the level of the grass softly swaying in the breeze. The whole area is interspersed with mounds, ant's nests I assume, and the occasional rabbit burrow. Thousands of yellow flowers cover the hill top giving the place a warm golden glow. Sitting amongst them, having adjusted a couple of time so as not to be sitting on a thistle I looked out towards Oxford and felt glad that for today at least I was not taking part in the hectic rush along the motorway, well not apart from the trip into Oxford and back. The air smelt somewhat familiar, like the mountains in Greece; the heady scent of Oregano. Focusing more closely on the ground around me I spotted a large number of small purple flower buds covered in tiny pinky purple flowers. Without thinking I picked and ate one, it tasted of Oregano, so did the next. I think I shall make a Greek Salad sometime soon. In the mean time the next tomato sauce I make I shall pick and add some of this wild Oregano (if that is what it is). It might well even be a good idea to pick some and dry some for the winter.
Eating seasonal produce is excellent, or at least it is at the moment; ever week it seems that there is some new long awaited delight in the market, not only that but as if by magic the food on offer really goes with the season, strange that. On Saturday the market brought forth broad beans, I have never been very fond of broad beans, when I was young my parents and I used to have issues regarding them and I still treat them with suspicion. I bought some anyway. It turned out to be a bit premature as the beans were tiny in their protective pods of duvet softness but they brought with the promise of things to come.

Saturday, 10 June 2006

Home Sweet Home


Photo by James Rudman

I'm off on me Holls.


That's me digging out charcoal back in the early spring, now the whole area is covered in bright green leaves. Photo courtesy of James Rudman

So it's nearly at an end and life seems to be getting pretty hectic right now. However, I'm off on holiday this week so I'm going to be working my way down to the south coast to find a ditch to call my own for a few days and possibly somewhere to live once I quit work at the end of the month. Perfect weather for it.

Tonight I'm going to try a bit of experimental cookery, I hope it works.

Heat an espresso cup worth of water and stir in a goodly quality of honey (local and organic if possible), in this steep a couple of handfuls of elderflowers and allow to cool. Strain (no idea how I'm going to do this yet - an old sock doesn't sound appealing in the slightest) and use the water to stew a massive great load of rhubarb. Allow to cool (should let the flavour of the elderflowers come out) and stir through with a carton on single cream.

Sounds good but I'm a bit suspicious that I may end up with more of the flavour of elder stalks than elder flower. If I'm found dead perhaps it would be wise to give this pudding a miss.

Right well it's lovely out there and this whole project is about saving trees and woodlands so I best go and appreciate them - I suggest you do so as well. The woods are plenty shaded and peacefull, much more fun than sitting in front of a computer.

Travel guide launches next week but take a peek if you like www.bethejam.com

Friday, 9 June 2006

More sleep

Last night it was nearly nine by time I got back home and yet it was still light and warm, a distinct advantage over dark and cold. It was also dry, I like dry, dry is good. Wet is ok but it gets a little tiresome after a while. A warm breeze gently stirred the overhanging leaves along the avenue of beach trees along the Ridgeway bringing with it the sweet aroma of elderflowers. The peacefulness of the gently swaying waist height corn in the field started to slow my mind that was racing from a hectic day, a few birds wheeling lazily in the sky as the last of the sun dripped red from the sky, collecting on the horizon promising another good day to come.

Not having my rucksack with me due to needing to rest my shoulder can be a little problematic, I carry it with me because it is full of things that I need. I can get by with just what I have in my pockets but it’s not that much fun although I find I can get an awful lot in my pockets. I strolled the last of the way through the woods and dug out the emergency sleeping bag, fortunately I had managed to dry it out over the weekend so sleeping in it was a much more appealing prospect than the last time I wanted to use. It had become a little musty again though, must can be quite an overpowering smell but one that it is possible to get used to after a while.

Quite recently I discovered a combination of clothes that if folded together can create a rather comfortable pillow. Jeans and a hoodie are not that combination it was, however, the only option. After about an hour or so of not being able to sleep I decided that being uncomfortable was the deciding factor and decided to do something about it. It was a warm night, about 11 degrees C, and so it should be possible to sleep in my clothes and use the sleeping bag as a pillow. This wasn’t much more comfortable as the pockets of my jeans were stuffed full of useful things and therefore were a bit lumpy to lie on but this was nothing that scooping great handfuls of flotsam and casting it about me wouldn’t cure.

It wasn’t as warm as I had thought when I woke I found that I had somehow wriggled back into the sleeping bag and was using a root from the yew tree as a non to comfortable pillow. One of the things that I had taken out of my pocket was a pen, in taking the pen out of the pocket I had also taken the lid off. I had then slept on the pen without the lid thus getting ink all over the last of my relatively clean clothes. They were also the only clothes that I had, not ideal when the first thing I had to do was to meet a photographer who was coming out to take some photos for the Observer.

Thursday, 8 June 2006

An invention



I invented something, I’m dead pleased best of all it works! I have invented things in the past, mostly excuses, but none of them worked, at least not for long. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else invented the same thing before so it might turn out that I’m not an inventor but more of a re-discoverer but nevertheless I’m rather happy with my work.

I am now the proud owner / creator of a fire with temperature control.

First make a tripod out of three four foot lengths of hazel and tying them together with an old boot lace about three foot along the length. Open the tripod out and put it over the fire so that any thing dangled from the middle of the tripod would dangle over / into the fire.

Stick a tent peg into the ground about a hand’s width out from one of the hazel branches. Take a length of paracord and attach a hook or tie a loop in one end. Tie the other end to the tent peg but, and this is what I call the clever bit, use one of those knots that get used for tying guy ropes. This Knot is adjustable so when the end of the cord with the hook / loop is dangled over the fire with a cooking pot hanging from it the pot can be lowered or raised with very little effort.

Who needs sleep?

Mostly not having any form of water supply is annoying, running water is a good thing to have. I believe I have authority to say this having spent a lot of time over the last year without water to drink or keep clean with. Having to walk for a mile or so to get it and then only bringing back a few litres at a time is very annoying, especially if such activity coincides with a massive hangover. There are some advantages about not living close to a water source, for one thing I have got very good at conserving water and should I live in a house again, when, when I live in a house again, I imagine I will have very low water bills. A much more immediate advantage of being far from a water source when living outside is that mosquitoes tend not to travel more than 200 meters from water, or so I was led to believe. The mosquitoes that were buzzing around my head at four o’clock this morning obviously had not been led to believe any such thing. I was far too tired, warm and comfortable to get up, dig out my insect repellent, smother myself in it and go back to bed. Instead I contented my self with listening to their incessant whine with increasing frustration only punctuated by occasionally slapping myself in the face in the vain hope of squashing one of the blighters. Eventually it occurred to me that the best thing to do would be to just let them feed and worry about the bites later.

It is now later, with retrospect it would have been better to get up and get busy with the repellent. It would have been a good idea to stay up, that way I could have caught an earlier bus, not that there was any particular need to get to work early today but at least I would not have had to sit behind that minging couple with the combined IQ of half a jelly fish who took great delight in talking loudly about their sex life whilst I was trying to read. It wasn’t so bad, after half an hour a seat became free further down the bus I found myself settling in to have the phone conversation of the slack jawed idiot behind me was having inflicted on me. I was hugely tempted to punch him but, being English, contented myself with sighing loudly and sharing disapproving glances with the lady across the aisle. Why is it that people feel the need to talk on their phones all the time on the bus? What is wrong with people? Are they afraid of their own thoughts, are they that insecure that they have to have loud phone calls with plenty of banter in the hope that all around people will think they are popular?

I find I think a lot more clearly when I haven’t had much sleep and I don’t find myself having to be concerned with such things as tolerance.

Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Civilisation of sorts

Life is doing that being hectic thing again. Currently it is zooming along at a thousand miles an hour; I never imagined that living in the woods would make life more hectic. I somehow imagined it would be all lazing by the fire, watching the stars and all that kind of thing. What with, writing the blog and trying to organise the trip to Ecuador and attempting to start three, it was three at the last count anyway, businesses in the hope that one of them will finance the trip life has got pretty busy. Now that the end of the year is here I’m starting to get lots of requests for interviews and dealing with them is taking up yet more time. Oh and I have a job, that is pretty busy at the moment as well. So time is of a premium at the moment, I hardly get a moment and unfortunately I haven’t been able to keep writing as much as I would have liked to of late.

Key events

Went to collect Sloe Gin from Rob, found not a lot of Sloe Gin left, that which there was is absolutely lethal.

Due to my working out of town on Monday and Tuesday work put me up in a hotel on Monday night, apart from the place being rather dirty and unkempt it was surprisingly nice to sleep in a bed; a four poster no less. I was delighted to discover that ‘Have I Got News For You’ was on as this is my favourite program, better yet it was being presented by Jeremy Clarkson who is the presenter of my second favourite program. I got myself as comfortable as it is possible to be on a four poster bed (that’s pretty comfortable) and entertained myself by not only watching the program but by turning the volume up and down via remote control! I fell asleep before I got the chance to use the electric kettle but not before I had had a long relaxing bath. By morning I felt like a new person, as though the bath and bed had conspired to wash away months of grime and hard living. I think the lie in until 7:30 also helped with my sense of well being. Having a shower before getting dressed was rather a nice change, as was having breakfast before I left for work. Getting to work and not having to go and get a shower before getting changed and eating breakfast at my desk was also a pleasure.

This morning I woke to the first pink light of the rising sun at around about five and lay there watching it for a while feeling uncomfortable and generally unhappy with my lot in life. An hour and a half later when I woke up again I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself, I had 10 minutes to get up get dressed, and run to the bus. Due to my injured shoulder I’m not carrying my rucksack about at the moment and for the last week I have been wearing trainers rather than big heavy boots for the first time in a year. For the first time in my life running was fun. Leaping over fallen tree trunks, ducking under branches avoiding trampling flowers, vaulting fences (perhaps stopping to catch my breath before clambering over fences would be closer to the truth). I got to the bus stop just as the bus arrived, which is the best time to arrive, feeling invigorated and happy. Life was good again, especially as there was hardly anyone on the bus and so there was a glut of complimentary bacon sandwiches.

Sunday, 4 June 2006

Shut that door

I had never realised just how much an impact television had on my poor young impressionable eyes until recently, today if you like. It seems that the combination of TV and Japanese food can have a terrible impact on ones view of the world.


When I was young the major TV program on a Saturday just before bedtime was The Generation Game, a show infamous for its conveyer built full to the brim with desirable consumer goods. Such an impact that show had on the collective consciousness of the nation that it is still referred back to in sketch shows today. At least it was a year ago when I last had a television to watch. It is hardly possible to mention the words cuddly toy without picturing grainy images of Larry Grayson and bemused contestants resplendent in kipper ties and extra wide lapels. Ultimately it was that conveyer belt full of oh so desirable goods that I now realise had such a lasting effect upon me. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had just been The Generation Game, but it was more than that, my skewed view of the world was reinforced by a recent trip to Yo Sushi. Have you been? It’s that Japanese style sushi bar where all the food goes round and round on a conveyer built and you take of what you fancy and pay for what you had at the end. Like the generation game but no cuddly toy.

So this afternoon I decided to go for a walk to the University Parks in Oxford, just the thing for a sunny Sunday afternoon. It’s all blue sky, happy people, punts, ducks and picnics. Nothing could be better. Imagine my amazement when upon reaching the park I find that the main path has been cordoned off with pink bunting and there are hundreds of girls walking and running as though displayed on one large conveyer belt. Better yet each and every one of them had a number on her front. Having made my selection, and a couple of back ups just in case my selection had gone by the time I made it to the big marquee that appeared to be at the centre of things.

Apparently I’m not funny.

drivel

Summer is here, summer is nice, very nice indeed. Yesterday I spent the entire day lying under a tree. Occasionally I drank tea, I read a bit, listened to the radio and generally had an absolutely brilliant day. It couldn't get much better, the odd thing is that people often say that it must be boring. Going to work is boring, day time TV is boring lazing about doing nothing isn't, I might possibly even be able to create and argument that it is an art form but the sun is shining and I'm not wishing to stay in this internet cafe all day.

So it's 17 days until my official last night and also 17 days till the great big sleep out (GBSO) for the uninitiated that is my invitation to you lot to take to the hills, woods or back gardens of your lives and spend a night under the stars.

This morning was rather agreeable, I woke late and took breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and tea. Admitedly the tea was rather milker than I would have liked on account of having run out of water the day before but other than that it was a fine way to breakfast. It was only when I was clearing up that I got the fear. Inside the egg cartod writen clearly in black on green I read the following words "These free range eggs are both delicious and nutritious", I have been in a constant state of barely controlled anxiety ever since.

My shoulder seems fine, resting it, not carrying a big heavy rucksack all day, is going very well as well. It is most enjoyable. I did climb a couple of trees though and that did put a bit of strain on it but the choice was between putting a bit of strain on it and falling out.

Friday, 2 June 2006

Mwa ha ha

Being green can be fun, especially if you are slightly mischievous. The cafĂ© at work gives out those cardboard rings around cups of takeaway tea and coffee; you know the ones that stop people from burning their fingers on the cups. Well they recycle them and to encourage people to bring them back they give a free drink upon the return of a handful of them, all good stuff. Only thing is I’m collecting them and I think I have got at least half of the ones in the building. My reasoning is that if I have enough of them then the value of them will go up, I’m waiting until they double in value, when half a handful of paper hoops are worth a drink I’m going to trade mine in, quickly. Sure the bottom will have fallen out of the market, it could cause a recession and a lack of confidence in the market that could take years to recover from but it doesn’t bother me. I will have doubled my money and I’m leaving at the end of the month.

A friend of mine is a metal trader; well he is on his way to being a metal trader. A while back he looked at his computer screen and realised that he had done something really stupid and had just lost half a million pounds. He couldn’t quite bring himself to mention it but spent the next half an hour staring ashen faced at the screen wishing it not to be true. After fifteen minutes he realised that it wasn’t true, his maths was off, he had actually just done something really clever and he was up half a million pounds. After another fifteen minutes that involved minor cavorting and a feeling of general well being resultant upon not just being out of trouble but also being half a million up on the morning he looked at his sums again. It turned out that he hadn’t done anything at all and things were just as they should be.

Maybe he will invest in my cardboard hoops scheme.

Midnight feast

I got back late the other night, late and hungry. I did a quick stock take of my food supplies and discovered that there was no way I was going to go hungry; 10 kilos of rice, four tomatoes, a cabbage and a kilo of rhubarb should be enough food to get through the night. Would it be possible to cook anything edible though? Certainly the ratio of rice to anything else, even everything else, was not favourable. I settled for putting on a portion of basmati; that would give me a few minutes to decide what to have with it. Rice and cabbage? Nah.

In the end I made something that was really nice, I was very surprised.

Heat some olive oil, quite a few drops of tobasco and a finely sliced clove of garlic in a frying pan / pie tin.
Add four chopped up tomatoes.
Sprinkle liberally with parmesan; think about it for a bit then sprinkle liberally again.
If the tomatoes look in danger of not being cooked by the time the rice is add a few twigs to the fire to make it flare up.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

It made a really nice spicy tomato sauce that complimented the rice nicely.

Bit tired at the moment so whilst I have a lot of things that I would like to write about my brain seems to have atriphee atrafied atriphe brokne. Hmmm Broken. My brain needs sleep, that's the one.

As for the shoulder, it's fine I just need to rest it in case there is something wrong with it. Find out if anything is wrong next Friday, in the mean time I'm enjoying not carrying stuff about all the time. I'm quite energetic what with not carrying lots of weight and having trainers on, it's a lot of fun.

What else is happening?

Lots of newspapers and TV stations want to interview me. I'm not sure why, they seem to think I will have something insightful to say. What have I learnt?

Living in the woods is fun but hard work.
Working in London is easy but not fun.
Working in London costs more than it seems possible to earn.
Life is better without having to be constantly worrying about, buying, looking after, storing or wanting more possessions.
Nothing matters.
All you really need is a bit of food and some shelter.
Friends and family are good.
Life is for living not spending watching other people's on TV.
People spend far to much time trying to fill the gaps in their lives through the acquisition of needless possession, the gap they are trying to fill is the one caused by spending all the time in pursuit of possessions.
Things don't make you happy, except for maybe a Supersports Bike and a pocket full of plane tickets.
It is a rat race
I aint a rat.

Crumbs I sound pretentious.

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Tiger

It appears that I have partially dislocated my left shoulder; well I’m not sure that I dislocated it I had a bit of help from Tom and a concrete floor. The result of this is that I have to rest my shoulder for a bit whilst I wait to see another doctor to find out if there is any damage that needs “treatment” I don’t like the sound of that, “treatment”, bit of an ominous word. I would have rather to have been told I needed to see another doctor to see if my shoulder needed to go on holiday, never mind. The problem is that I need to rest it, not easy to rest a shoulder when ones lifestyle necessitates carrying about the place a rucksack that weighs roughly as much as a mini full of lead.

I have hidden my rucksack in a tree, getting it in the tree without pushing with my left arm was interesting; I ended up getting cross with it and using my left arm anyway. Once I had said “ow” I was ready to head off to work, not carrying the pack I didn’t need to be wearing boots to give my ankles support against falling over. Walking about without a rucksack and wearing trainers is excellent, it felt as though I was flying when I ran for the bus, until my lungs started to explode that is. Once in London there is a 20 minute walk to the office, as I gleefully bounced along I tried to figure out how to explain how good it felt to be walking unencumbered, the best I could come up with was that it felt as though I was getting a very good shoulder massage whilst someone, probably a few people, girls, pretty ones, threw rose petals in my path.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Another party

Right then, my mate Neph, he with whom I am due to walk the Ridgeway, has taken it upon himself to organise a party to celebrate the end of the year in the woods. Now details are, like Neph, a little sketchy at the moment but I believe the idea is to have in large in The Cellar in Oxford on July 1st.

waiting

Well today is the 365th day then. It has mostly been spent waiting to see the doctor, yay! A couple of weeks ago I was fighting a friend of mine, all in fun, and ended up getting thrown into the ground, concrete, quite hard. My shoulder took the brunt of the impact and it was a bit sore for a few days, last night my arm came partly out of the socket a few times. This is a bit annoying as I use my arm quite a lot.

I suppose I should say something profound about life in the woods but this thing isn't over just yet. For a start the official end date is not until June the 21st and then I keep living in the woods and commuting until the 30th. After that I leave my job and stay in the woods, it is a bit of a shame but a few months ago I was put in the position where I had to choose between my career and living in the woods. I chose life.

A lot of time recently has been spent on working towards the next project, life has been very hectic but we have the bare bones of a website now bethejam.squarespace.com There is a lot of work to be done and it is far from ready to go public but I thought you guys might like to take a peak.

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

nearly

The place where the pretty waitress works still isn’t open on Mondays.

I went elsewhere and was pleased to find myself being served by an almost as pretty waitress, jolly good stuff. She kept looking at me and smiling and a couple of times I caught her looking at me, looking away and then looking back again before smiling some more, it was only when I caught sight of myself in the mirror opposite I realised that she was laughing at my blotchy yellow face. The waitress who gave me the bill diligently looked over my head and refused to catch my eye.

I had forgotten about yellow face when I woke this morning, then I came to work. To be fair not everyone mentioned it.

Tomorrow will be my 365th day of living in the woods, it has been a long journey and one that I have learnt a lot from. Being at work right now I don't really have the opportunity to share the full depth and breadth of what I have gained but I can give you a synopsis; only an idiot would go and live in the woods for a year, it's hard work and it could cost you your career.

Monday, 29 May 2006

Int dec II

So yesterday the right side of my face was bright red, it was a shocking site to see, bright red face with a white eye glaring out of it. This contrast was soon solved by squirting After Sun in my eye and so turning it red as well. I was most suprised this morning to discover that my face had gone yellow, this really isn't a colour I had expected to be at all. Most unnatural it is too. I worried for a moment that it might be jaundice but it ends at my neck so it must be that I have an unusual sun tan this year, or so I thought. As I was sitting down to write this I noticed that the palms of my hands have also gone yellow. According to the small print on the back of the After Sun cream it contains "low level of self tanning ingredients", now if they had bothered to write this on the front of the package I would not have bought it, if I had for reasons of temporary lack of self respect bought it knowing it contained self tanning properties I would not have slapped it on with either such enthusiasm or regularity. Now i'm going to have to walk around for the next few days with a face on the daffodil side of David Dickinson, good thing I work in antiques.

Int dec II

Sunday, 28 May 2006

Interior decoration

I don't get much chance to colour coordinated my home, everything tends to be green / muddy. Which I suppose is fairly coordinated but by pure chance I managed to pull of a look that is worthy of any makeover show.

Last night I went disco dancing at The End, and rather jolly it was too, I kind of look at it as training for the big walk, leaping about like an idiot (maybe as an idiot?) until 5 or 6 in the morning has to be good for fitness levels. Anyway I have a load of things to be doing in London today so decided it was silly to go all the way back to Chez Monkey just to come back again so after a spot of breakast I went to Hyde Park, looked at some squirells, puzzled why most Londoners never make it more than about 20 meters into the park and went to find a secluded spot in the middle. I crashed out on the grass in a spot that was reasonably out of the wind with a rolled up copy of the Sunday Times for a pillow. It was a bit chilly but not too bad. Round about midday though the sun came out and all of a sudden it was lovely and warm a lovely day spent catching some rays and catching some Zs. It was only just now that I realised the genius inherent in the action of sleeping in the park; sure I don't have a home of my own to decorate but I can decorate myself. I am wearing, predictably, a green top and everyone knows that red goes rather well with green, now that I have a bright red face I have a funky new look to swan about with. Simply having a red face would be OK but I have gone one stage further, the colour on my face blends subtly from sub arctric white over by my right ear to an almost lumious red over my left eye.

I predict that this great look for the summer season will be sported by british holiday makers all over the world this summer.

Saturday, 27 May 2006

Jungle prep

Bushled recently asked what preperations are being made for the trip to the jungle.

When we get to Ecuador we have a 10 day intensive survival course run by the Ecuadorian special forces followed by 15 days when we will be observed to make sure we have learnt what we were taught as well as getting daily tutorials in indiginous bushcraft. Mike and I have decided that we really want to make the most of this so we want to be getting there already being proficient in survival skills. Over the next few months then we will be making sure we learn everything we can. We need to learn all the knots, making rope, fire by friction, kit care, sharpening knives (I can almost shave with my knife now) etc. We will also need to take an expedition first aid course, be very competent at navigation. That way when we get to the jungle we will not be wasting our time learning the basics and get straight into the stuff specific to our environment.

On top of this we are going to need to learn Spanish and research into the whole politics of the region so that we are best able to report on the issues behind the threat to the forest.

We are hoping to help finance the trip through running our own business from the jungle so a lot of time until we go will be spent setting up the online travel guide, recruiting writers, finding advertisers and making sure that the technology works. Probably it is best to iron out any problems in this country.

The travel guide is nearly ready to launch, soon soon.

Friday, 26 May 2006

you can get it if you really want

Having an emergency sleeping bag is a really good idea for those nights when I end up in the woods without any of my stuff, like last night. I had a bit of a debate with myself as to whether to take it out on the pull with me. There is an argument to the effect that milk is both nutritious and delicious and I would have to agree, the only problem is when two pints of the stuff explode in one of the side pouches of my rucksack. Not having running / any water at the time it proved a bit of a bind trying to clean all the milk out. By the time I was next near water I had completely forgotten that the imperative was to wash the rucksack and set about showering and drinking tea. That was a couple of weeks ago, now there is a smell emanating from my rucksack that could best be described as that of septic goat. I’m no expert on quite what scents ladies find attractive in the perfumed man about town but I’m willing to take a punt on it not being septic goat. I could be wrong; Punk is back in after all. After some reflection I decided against taking the rucksack, as it might have proved to be a hinderance. Precident having been set I left my coat in the office also, it smells of mildew.

Shunning the suit option I hit Oxford looking as smart as it possible to do with worn out boots, wet jeans with mud walked half way up the calves and a reasonably clean fleece over my hoodie. That's bound to impress my chosen victim. Unfortunately rather than just taking money out of the bank I take a look at the balance. Before you can say “arrrrggggghhh no, no no no no no” I’m on the bus back home and taking a solemn oath only to eat bread from now on. This gave way to a worry that I was hungry and that it might be difficult to light a fire to cook on with no dry stuff in the dark, my head torch was in my rucksack obviously. Fortunately it had stopped raining sometime during the day so it was possible to gather an arm load of dead nettles which, together with the complimentary copy of the Evening Standard the Oxford Tube supplies I figured would be enough to get a fire started, surely it must be possible to light a bit of a fire and use the light from burning a few sheets of paper to find twigs with before burning my fingers.

It was dark by the time I got home, darker still in the woods and really very dark under the thick cover of the yew tree, finding dry twigs to burn in amongst the soggy world that I currently inhabit and then lighting a fire would provide ample entertainment. First though I used the last of the rapidly dying light to gather a couple of squirrel proof boxes that contained a stash of food and the emergency sleeping bag. The emergency sleeping bag has a waterproof base and hood, it rolls up into the hood in such a way to be both cartable and waterproof. Cunning huh? Amazing what those army chaps will come up with really. Just to make sure it stays dry I stash it under a particular tree in a spot that I had noticed doesn’t get wet when it rains. Not usually anyway, a week of rain had managed to penetrate its shelter but not to worry as the sleeping bag itself is done up all waterproof. Only it did seem a lot heavier than the last time I held it, surely that can’t be possible as the thing is waterproof. It is waterproof but if one were to put it on the ground the wrong way up then water would get down through the gaps between the sleeping bag and it’s waterproof casing and then not get out, over the course of a few days this would result in the sleeping bag being completely soaking wet and unusable.

It became rather important to get the fire lit. Using the paper, dead nettle stalk, a stash of home made charcoal and whatever twigs I could find in the dark and the wet remains of yesterday’s fire it was properly blazing and able to be left unattended within an hour. It might not have been an hour; I had no means of telling the time but I had cooked and eaten so it was probably an hour. I slept by the warmth of the fire, waking every so often to build it up by pushing the logs in further when it started to die. Occasionally turning over to warm my back / front / side depending on which was cold, sometimes waking with a start as a log rolled out of the fire and once burning my thumb as I threw one back on to the fire. Each time I woke I would take a look at how light it was to see if it was time to get up. Eventually it became light but the sky was so overcast it was not possible to see where in the sky the sun was and so not possible to tell what time it was. I went back to sleep, and woke built the fire up stretched in its warmth and slept again, this I did a few times. It started to rain, ignored it as long as I could but soon it was really pouring down, time to go to work I figured taking the burning logs from the fire and placing them separately so that they would go out and under shelter so that I could use them tonight. The walk to the bus stop was damp, made more so by the lack of a coat but entertaining as I played guess how late I’m going to be bizarrely I felt fantastic, you know that feeling you have when you have had enough sleep? That feeling that I had, I had just had the best night’s sleep for ages, this could mean only one thing; I had overslept. I was going to be late for work. Curiously though the bus stop was inhabited by people I recognised people who take the 6:15 bus. I was going to get to work on time! On a Friday of all days. I strutted into work, went to the shower and had the moment slightly deflated when I discovered that I had melted parts of the back of my fleece; that’s my best pulling top.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Am i a number?

A couple of girls from the Times came out to do an interview and take some photographs, it never ceases to amaze me that people find this interesting, it poured with rain; absolutely bucketed down. I tried explaining that it is nice really and that normally everything isn't covered in mud and slugs, I think I might have been feeling a bit house proud. Lighting a fire in the rain is always a challenge, it is more of a challenge when people are watching, worse still when one of them is taking photographs. The fire sputtered lazily into life and displayed no enthusiasm to produce anything more than smoke but eventually it was coaxed into some form of life. It did eventually throw start to throw off a decent amount of heat but I was on my own sitting with a cup of green tea and steaming jeans by then.

Mike had returned the poncho he had borrowed and I had just used the last of the water to make tea, there was nothing left to steam asparagus with. It only took a couple of minutes to strap the poncho out between four trees and only fifteen minutes to collect five litres of water, I think I collected roughly the same again in my jeans and fleece by then and was very much in need of something warm and filling to eat.

Bruschetta sausage sandwich

Cook some sausages.
Grill a couple of tomatoes over the fire
Slice a ciabatta in half lengthwise pour a bit of olive oil over the inside and toast over the fire.
Vigorously rub a clove of garlic over both bits of bread, squash the tomatoes onto the bottom piece of bread, bung in the sausages stick the lid on.
Try and find somewhere vaguely dry to sit.

The idea of lying in the rain again as I slept didn't fill me with joy, the sleeping bag was already wet and so it seemed as thought the time had come to construct some kind of shelter; the tarp I was using is smaller than me and the rain comes in and all angles, everything was wet. It didn't take long to put the poncho up and the rest of the evening spent trying to dry out by the fire, if for no other reason than I didn't want to be putting cold wet clothes on in the morning. Had to give up and go to bed long before my clothes were dry and lay back to watch all the drips coming through the poncho before drifting off into an unsatisfactory sleep tinged with wet and shivering.

It struck me in the morning as I put on my sodden clothes that quitting my job might not have been the best plan in the world. Now though I have changed my mind again, I don't want to spend the summer in an airless room with no natural light, eating lunch out of a polystyrene box in front of a computer screen as the phone rings. It is time to escape, to make a bid for freedom.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Gnus Flash

So the end is upon me, I am a week away from having spent a year in the woods and only four weeks away from the end of this project. It has been a long year, a very long year; a year in which my life has been changed beyond recognition. Things that I once thought important now seem irrelevant things that seemed irrelevant, such as radishes, now take on a previously unimagined importance. I just went to the supermarket to see what food I could get and found they have British radish on the shelves, seeing as I’m only eating local and seasonal produce this is an exciting development indeed, I happily bought some and also some cucumber feeling all the greater attachment to the season through buying its produce. I don’t even like radish! Pretty much every aspect of my life that I look at is now changed. Is it for the better though? Life and opinions have changed but now the end is near and all will change again.

A lot of people ask how I feel about the end of the year, “am I looking forward to it” is the usual question and the answer is yes, I am looking forward to it. For at the end of next month there will be no more living in the woods and commuting to work. This is something that pleases me immensely if truth be told. I’m really looking forward to not having to take the journey to work anymore. Today I handed in my notice; I’m staying in the woods.

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

observations

Just of late I have been busy with making the website for the travel guide and cajoling people into writing for it. All is going well but it does seem to take up all of my time.

Things learnt recently

If you scratch your head and leaves fall out it is probably time to wash your hair.

Laughing at people who are trying to start a fight with you un-nerves them.

Wearing something other diferent to the same muddy outfit might aid in the aquistion of pretty waitress.

Going to Oxford in a suit (only other clothes I have) for above reason is all very well but would probably be best saved for a night when the place pretty waitress work is open.

There is always the cafe across the road to eat in.

People treat you very diferently when you wear a suit, all of a sudden I was being called sir rather than mate by the waiter in the cafe across the road.

Going to the loo half way through dinner and getting changed from suit into muddy jeans etc half way through dinner confuses waiters (must try more often).

Must get back poncho from Mike. Fed up of getting wet.

Rain Sucks.

Rain really really sucks.

Fire is cheery but not as easy to light when it is wet.

Matches would on occasion be usefull.

There is nothing fun about getting into a wet sleeping bag.

There is nothing much fun about getting up and putting on wet jeans.

Coats with mildew smell really bad, girls don't like them - on occasions this can be useful.

Rain sucks

Asparagus is nice when freshly picked.

Cellery is not nice when is has lain forgotten in the further depths of a rucksack for a week or two.

I'm not hugely keen on rain.

Lamb chops smoked in rosemary are lovely but dificult to eat with a spoon.

Most things are dificult to eat with a spoon.

It is really annoying when you loose your spoon when all you have to eat is soup.

Slugs just keep coming, it's like something out of a 1950s horror film, they advance on me from all angles as I lie too tired to move, arms pinned to my sides by the sleeping bag.

Worms are not much better.

There are crayfish in the Thames, great big American ones that shouldn't be there in the first place. I'm going to learn how to catch them.

It is virtually impossible to put your hand on a branch or tree trunk in the dark without squashing a slug or snail.

It doesn't rain it pours.

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Leaving

My mate Tom leaves for Japan today, he is going to be working there as an English teacher, I'm sure he will love it he is long been interested in the country having been studying Judo since he was 5. In fact he even has a black belt, I forgot this when at about 3 o'clock this morning we went out into his garden to settle the "who is harder" debate we had got into. Possibly I was a little hasty with the "it is defeat you must learn to prepare for line".

I have just sent an email to my boss explaining that I will be a little late tomorrow morning as I have to visit the doctor.

Having been to the organic butchers in the covered market and picked up some lamb chops and then ravaged a rosemary bush that was overhanging the path from someone's garden I'm going to try smoking the chops in rosemary tonight.

Friday, 19 May 2006

usual stuff

One of the habits I have got into has been to sleep without the cover of the tarp. I peg out the bottom edge to the ground and sleep with it folded in two next to me, that way if it starts to rain I can pull it over me, technically I could attach the top of it to an overhanging branch and so have a shelter. It is much nicer to sleep without any kind of cover; it is preferable to wake to the site of the sunrise than to a piece of green tarpaulin. I’m not sure what time the rain woke me last night; it had been clearly raining for some time as my pillow (rolled up jumper and jeans) was wet, as was my sleeping bag. Little did I know it but it had even rained hard enough for there to be quite a puddle of water in the tarp, this I managed to pour all over myself as I pulled it over me. For reasons far too complex and boring to go into I have been without my boots for a couple of days and so having to wear trainers instead, these were soaked when I put them on this morning. My jumper and jeans were similarly damp when I put them on, the only dry clothes I had was my suit which was hanging from a tree in a waterproof suit bag. I did consider wearing that instead but I don’t think it would survive the brambles, branches, barbed wire, mud and my inability to walk more than about 100 meters in the morning without tripping up.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

ut oh

I hear that big brother is coming back.


Some days the thought of leaving the woods leaves me cold.


Does anyone know a decent web designer? It is almost time to get rolling with stage one of the World's First Jungle Based Solar Powered Online Travel Guide. We might need a snappier name than that though.

Helen! Absolutely, fantastic.

Before I start I must just explain that I am not a chemist, I only did one year of chemistry at school and I spent most of that blowing up test tubes, getting throw out and trying to set Nigel on fire. I apologise then if I don’t quite accurately represent thing if this does happen it is due entirely to ignorance. However, if any one requires a test tube smashed, I’m your man. Having conducted extensive experiments I can say with some certainty that Nigels are not flammable, some of them punch very hard. I shall not be setting anyone on fire.

The end is near, it is almost time to fact the final curtain and so I suppose it is only natural for me to turn my attention to what I have learnt and what, if anything, I think I have proved by this adventure. The world, as we know, is in a bit of a state and needs to be sorted out, I have gone into the woods and tried to raise some money to help out a bit. Living in the woods has very much brought home to me that the way we live as a society is very wasteful and destructive – hold the front page – and that something needs to be done to change the way we live before it’s too late. Crikey, nothing like a bit of doom and gloom to start a Thursday morning. I have lived in a largely sustainable way and have thoroughly enjoyed myself, I have carried on working, had a decent social life, been to parties, fallen in and out of relationships with startling rapidity and generally carried on as per usual. In principle at least I believe it is possible to lead life in harmony with nature and still have a cracking good time. If it is possible for one person to do so is it then possible for society as a whole to do so? Not in the way that I have done it, that just really would not work, apart from anything else there is not enough space in the woods. I believe that there is a way forward for society as a whole to live harmoniously with nature but to find how is the major struggle that faces us today, I do believe that the will power is there. What is required is action, everyone needs to start thinking and adjusting how they live in order to minimise the harm that they cause, everything else can be built on top of this framework.

It seems thought that there is an attitude that there is no point for us, as individuals, to do anything. The argument that people give is “what’s the point, what good can I do if everyone else is doing nothing”. Well this argument is self perpetuating and daft. What can one person do? What impact can one person have on the world? Well a little metaphor might be the way to explain my point, and here comes the science. A flood is made of individual raindrops, raindrops are made up of two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule, each molecule is made of atoms and each atom is made of something, jam I think.


Be the jam, make the change.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

sleep

One of the things I have got used to as a result of being in the woods is being woken regularly during the night, some of the more memorable reasons to wake have been; the rain, snapping branches, discomfort, hail, snow, damp, exploding petrol storage depots, free range dogs, snapping branches, startled deer, gnawing mice, screeching owls and even police helicopters. On Saturday I was woken by a new and unusual noise, I’m not exactly sure how to best spell it but it was something like “bluryurchk” and it originated from my room mate Mike. I’m quite used to Mike waking me up with snoring and the like and have even offered him excessive violence if he did not curb his snoring. I was not impressed and muttered murderously to myself; Mike must have heard me and explained that he had woken up with a slug on his face. Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so homicidal and began to find the situation rather amusing, I laughed quietly to myself, went back to sleep and woke later feeling more rested than I had for days.

I don’t like Karma, at least not when, half asleep, I lean my head forward to adjust the pile of clothes I call a pillow and find myself lip to slime with a slug that had worked it’s way onto the top of my sleeping bag.

Monday, 15 May 2006

Organised

I am getting better at sharpening my knife, it is getting quite sharp now and it is very pleasing to realise that this is down to my doing. In the past I have attempted many times to sharpen knives, it was one of the things I was expected to be able to do when I was a chef but I could never master it and thought I never would. It comes then as something of a surprise to find myself actually managing it.

I must buy some more plasters on the way home tonight.



Ginger and Honey Duck with Rhubarb

For two duck breasts

For the Marinade

About an espresso cup’s worth of balsamic vinegar
Two table spoons of thick set honey
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
5g ginger grated or chopped very thinly

For the Rhubarb

100g of rhubarb peeled and chopped
10g ginger, grated or chopped very thinly
1tsp honey
1tbsp water

Score the skin on the breasts by running a sharp knife across it, try to make a nice criss cross pattern.

Put the vinegar, honey and ginger in a pan and slowly heat, scrunch the rosemary in your hand to bruise it and add this to the pan. Keep on a low heat and allow it to gently steam for a minute or two. Try not to let it simmer or boil but don’t worry, the world won’t come to an end if you do. Once the flavours have had a chance to merge pour over the duck breast and allow to marinate for 24 hours. If you keep the breasts meat side down the meat will be lying in the marinade rather than the skin.


Put the rhubarb, ginger, honey and water in a pan and cook until the rhubarb is soft, allow to cool.

Fry the duck breast to taste spooning over the marinade as you go; the balsamic will caramelise / burn and produce a lot of smoke so it is best to do this outside in a non stick pan, if you are doing it inside turn the smoke alarm off and open the windows. Allow the meat to rest for five minutes and serve with the rhubarb, spinach lightly sauted in butter, olive oil and nutmeg and new potatoes.

To accompany might I suggest builder’s tea with little bits of twig floating in the top.

Duck is not the easiest thing to eat with a spoon and a sheath knife.

Saturday, 13 May 2006

How To

PUNTING

Punting n. The art of drunkenly propelling one's self along a river with a stick whilst standing on a plank.

There is more to punting than meets the eye, the image of the Oxford Student lazily floating down the river sipping a glass of something is an enduring image but one that belies the strict etiquette that rules the practice.

It is reasonably common knowledge that the consumption of alcohol is compulsary on any expedition, it is less well known that it is mandatory to drink to excess. Once upon a time the only booze alowed on a cruise would have been Pimms, Champagne or at a pinch a dry white but only on the proviso that it accompanied a picnic. Nowadays attitudes have relaxed and it is not unusual to witness the chugging of lager and other such dubious imports from the continent.

It matters not how one boards the vessel and it is even perfectly acceptable for one of the part to take the mandatory 'dipping' at this point in the proceedings. What is important is the end of the plank at which the driver stands. One end of the punt is clearly designed for it to be propelled from, the other clearly is not. Tabs (those poor unfortunate types who went to Cambridge) push themselves about from the wrong end, it does not take a choreographer from the Kirov to spot that punting from the wrong end is an ugly and unweildly affair that does nothing more than bring into question the mental state of the perpetrator.

Having boarded, checked that there is a sufficient quantity of booze to cause the craft to lie dangerously close to the water line it is time to be off. There are three acceptable forms of movement along the river.

1) To spend the entirety of the aloted time on the river spinning in circles and crashing in to the bank / other craft / bridges / low hanging trees and getting a regular 'dipping'.
2) Cruising sedately along listening to a wind up grammerphone, the gentleman wearing a stripey jacket and the lady a white dress and sun hat. These people tend to hire a chauffer, take a picnic and avoid the 'dipping' , treat with intense suspicon.
3) Shooting along at something close to the speed of sound, clambering over low bridges as the punt, unmanned, floats through underneath. If waterpistols are involved anyone from catagory 2 (above) should be targetted. Punts in group 1 should be rammed at high speed, preferably bringing about the 'dipping' of at least one of it's occupants. It is not uncommon for every member on a group 3 outing to get a dipping. I remember on one occasion finding myself on one bank with the three girls from the punt, all of us soaked through. Andy was on the opposite side of the bank similarly drenched and clutching the punt pole. The punt meanwhile was merrily floating away in the middle of the river. Recognising a good thing I left Andy to retrieve the punt and return it to the boat house and escorted the ladies to the Kings Arms for a restorative.

It is perfectly acceptable to board other punts and liberate memebers of the opposite sex and picnics but only if dresses as a pirate or viking.

There are of course hazzards to watch out for along the way. I have been dismounted by over hanging branches, tree trunks, low bridges and collisions. It is traditional for the local urchins to throw themselves from the Rainbow Bridge in the aim of splashing passing punts, they have yet to realise that in the wetness stakes they come off by far the worst in this interaction. By far the worst incident I witnessed was the loss of a corkscrew to the murky depths; if that's not an argument for Corks that fly off with a jolly 'pop' I don't know what is.

There's this store where the creatures meet

For the last few weeks my posts have been a little uninspired, not really up to much. There is a very simple reason for this; for months life was quite a struggle, it was cold and dark, all my energy was used up with keeping warm; I worked, ate and slept, that was my life. Now it is bright, light and occasionally sunny (admittedly not at the weekends though), I don’t need to eat constantly to give me the energy to keep warm so not only do I feel lively I actually have some free money as I haven’t spent it all on eating. I feel truly amazing, on top of the world even. Not only do I have a sense of achievement for having survived the winter I suspect I am experiencing a feeling somewhat akin to coming out of hibernation. Spring has sprung and I’m feeling springy. All around me in the woods and fields the animals are all jumping about, showing off, singing songs and generally cavorting in a manner best judged to attract the opposite sex. Obviously humans, being of enlightened through our superior conceptual development, are not susceptible to such base whimsy. I have turned my mind in this time of renewed life to the finer things that a civilised society have to offer, fine wines and musical recitals etc. Why on an average night of late I will have been going to the pub or out clubbing a good three or four times. After all it is frightfully important to expand ones cultural horizons. Sadly though I find an evening amerced in appreciating of the lilting tones of both Hip and Hop, or in philosophical debate on such issues as whether table football is a real sport I find myself too intellectually drained to write coherently.

Now I feel that I have suitably enriched my life and am quite happy to be turning my mind once more to blithering on about the niceties of sunshine and the like and spending more time in the woods surrounded by trees, critters and the like.

Tomorrow I think I shall have roast pork with rhubarb and a rocket and cucumber salad whilst sitting under the shade of a beech tree and listening to the birds singing. This will make a nice change from eating out of a plastic box at the discomfort of my desk whilst answering phone calls from Singapore.

Friday, 12 May 2006

yesterday

There is lots of heat coming from the sky today, people are smiling and girls are looking pretty. It must be summer or something like that, and here is me stuck at my desk, the closest I get to being outside is drinking an innocent smoothie.

I'm only eating seasonal produce this year, well when I cook for myself. If I have to rely on eating sandwiches or whatever in London I have whatever there is. Today I found a lettuce in the supermarket for the first time this year, something green and fresh at last. An English lettuce, none of this cos or lolla rosso nonsence. It's been a long time since I had a round lettuce, I was lured by the promise of new and exciting leaves some time ago and never went back, somehow the plain old round lettuce seemed dull. Now though having forgone fresh produce all winter the site of an English lettuce on the shelved filled me with delight. I rushed back to the office, hacked two big lumps from a fresh granary loaf, spread on butter and English mustard, put in a slice of ham and as much lettuce as would possibly fit.

So good, the taste of childhood, lettuce and marmite sandwiches, a glass of milk the size of your head, goalposts for jumpers, isn't it?

On the bus on the way home after stopping for a couple of drinks in Mayfair I had an impromptu picnic of lettuce and bread. After so long without fresh food to eat tearing off lettuce leaves and wrapping them around bite sized lumps of bread was a luxury, slowly working my way in from the dark outer leaves to the light green / white heart.

It was 11 by the time I got back so it was dark, it was quite nice getting home in the dark and it reminded me of winter. The moon was full in the sky and the air was still warm, it reminded me of when I started off a year ago. I would just walk off into the woods, throw down a sleeping bag onto the ground and sleep there, the very essence of freedom. Quite why I decided to replicate this without the sleeping bag I do not know, it was possibly because I had neglected to pack the sleeping bag. It was warm enough at first but after a while it became bitterly cold, in the end I even unpacked the space blanket that I had kept for emergencies all winter. I wouldn’t say it kept me comfortably warm but being wrapped up that and a bit of tarp was enough to keep me from being uncomfortably cold. I did find myself having to do a few press ups in the morning to warm up. Stepping out from the woods at 6 I was amazed and pleased to feel the heat of the sun.

The hedge by the bus stop is now so densely leaved that it is impossible to see if the bus is on it’s way until it is almost upon up. No more standing in a line peering like mere cats eager in the expectation of the busses arrival then.

Update

It is not yet warm enough to comfortably sleep outside without a sleeping bag. Were one to attempt such a thing they would probably wake up at about 2am feeling not very happy and quite cold. Fortunately by 6am the sun begins to throw out some heat.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Hammock

I had another go at sleeping in a hammock last night, I didn’t get too hot but I did wake up shivering. It was really uncomfortably – I felt as though both my hips had come out of joint. I woke up every time I had to roll over and spent a lot of the night with my feet higher than my head. Horrible. In case it rained I had to put a tarp out over me and so I couldn’t see the sky, might as well of been in a tent. When I sleep on the ground I now, unless it looks as though it is really going to bucket down, I leave the tarp on the ground next to me; that way if it does start to rain I can pull it over me like a sheet and keep dry that way. It did rain last night and I got wet even with the tarp up. I assume I got wet; the sleeping bag was soaking when I got into it my morning it looked as though it had dried out due to my body heat and then had got a bit wet from the rain. It also feels really exposed dangling about in the air like that, it’s not natural I tell you. Hammocks are all very well on the beach, there was one I found outside a hotel when I was living on the beach in the Cayman Islands that was basically a thin mattress suspended between two trees, that was alright, it was like lying on a wobbly bed. I slept on that for a while, it was great I was there at the start of hurricane season so when it rained all I had to do was roll out of the hammock in such a way that I landed on the sand underneath the hammock and managed to tip it over at the same time, this way the sleeping side stayed dry. That way I could sleep in the shelter of the solid mattress until it stopped raining at this point it was simply a matter of tipping the hammock back over and going back to sleep. That’s what hammocks are all about, Caribbean island, coconut trees, cocktails with umbrellas in, warm weather and lots of waves.

Monday, 8 May 2006

The Old Man is Snoring

Whilst it is much warmer now than it has been for a very long time I was surprised to discover that it is still to cold to sleep out comfortably without a sleeping bag; if one were to do so next to a river, the Thames perhaps, one would get rather damp and miserable during the course of the night.

On Sundays there is no where to go for breakfast in Oxford before 8 O’clock unless you count MacDonald’s; I don’t.

The march towards summer moves relentlessly on and it continues to get greener and hotter, I’m still using my winter sleeping bag and it is getting to be a bit uncomfortably warm on occasion, last night was just such an occasion. Regular readers, gawd bless em, will be aware that I am prone to the odd flash of genius; there was a flash of realisation. I would be less warm without the bivi bag, the bivi bag is a vaguely waterproof bit of nylon with holes in from being too close to the fire that goes over the sleeping bag to keep the rain out. When I started off I had no bivi bag and I did just fine without it. Well I got wet quite a lot but when I put the poncho up I would keep dry if it rained. It seemed sensible then, what with it being warm and everything now to remove the bivi bag, after all it had not rained, not properly anyway, for a couple of weeks, I had a shelter and no reason to suspect that should there be a thunderstorm water would flow uphill. So keen was I to have a comfortable night after the previous night’s debacle by the river that I even went and un-stashed the emergency sleeping bag for use as a pillow.

There was a thunder storm; it started just before dawn this morning. There was only one peel of thunder but the amount of rain more than compensated for the lack of flashes and bangs. This shouldn’t have been a problem after all I have an army poncho thing that can be put up and made into a shelter called a Basha, this is Hindi for hasty shelter I believe. Only for the last few months I have not been using the poncho, I have been using a small bit of tarp that is slightly the wrong size for what I want it to do. My head sticks out of one end and my feet the other, it’s not much but I call it home. When the first and only peel of thunder woke me I cunningly curled up so that all of me was under the shelter of the tarp, after about half an hour or so I tired of this game and needed to stretch out. Not wanting to get too hot I just put the bivi bag over the section of the sleeping bag that would be sticking out into the rain. The head end, could just get rained on, for some reason I don’t mind my head getting rained on but it really bothers me when my legs get wet. The emergency sleeping bag that I had was using as a pillow had been left out in the rain, fortunately it has a waterproof layer on one side, unfortunately that wasn’t the side that was left exposed to the elements. I found a dry patch to lie on stretched out and went back to sleep.

Half an hour later I rolled over, I wasn’t very keen on the way my sleeping bag went squelch and I got wet, I woke up again and investigated. My self inflating (although it no longer does) Thermarest Mattress (punctured) was doing a very fine job of collecting all the water that fell on it at the foot end and gathering in a big puddle at my knees and then filtering down into the bivi bag and soaking my sleeping bag. This shouldn’t have happened, I sleep on a slight slope with my head raised and the water should have run off. I guess it ran to the indentation caused by the weight of my body on the vaguely inflated mattress rather than to the ground. Unperturbed I pulled the bivi bag up to my waist and went back to sleep. Occasionally I was woken by a drip of water, anyone who has tried to sleep in a room with a dripping tap will know how annoying this is, it is even more annoying if the drip lands squarely on the tear duct of your right eye. On the forth occasion this happened I pulled the rapidly dampening hood of my sleeping bag over my head.
It was not long before I was again woken by the squelch of sleeping bag and the sudden application of cold water to my middle. The puddle was now firmly in residence all the way to the middle of the Thermarest, my sleeping bag was soaking, I ignored it and went back to sleep reasoning that I would dry the sleeping bag at work.

Eventually it got light, the rain was still pouring down and there was a light mist in the air, this is what the woods should look like in spring, much more natural than this drought that we have been having of late. I lay on my side and took in the world, a dark circle above me marked out the perimeter of the Yew tree that has sheltered me so well all winter, the green needles that are it’s leaves reflected in the circle of dead ground beneath the tree, nothing grows beneath the tree, I know not if this is due to the lack of light that penetrates it’s cover or the fact that Yews are toxic. Between the darkness of the branches and that of the dead ground there lives a stripe of brilliant green, the new life of Hazel and Beech leaves.

The walk to the bus was amazing, it was as though I could feel the forest drinking in the rain that it needs so desperately. Out in the field a few Dandelion Clocks stood soggily against the rain, the fluffy seed heads bunched together like hair on a wet cat. The Dandelions themselves, like the Buttercups and Daises, closed, protecting themselves against the vicious downpour or because the clouds had covered enough of the light to make them react as though it was night time I don’t know although I suspect the former. Waiting for the bus I occupied myself with finding a book to read and sneezing. The bus came and with its momentum sucked me from my rural idyl to the grey of the motorway, wipers squeaking the rain drumming on the windscreen stopping momentarily every now and again to mark the passing of a bridge. So to London, grey and miserable Monday morning off to work, I would rather be in the woods, anywhere but here. There was a queue at the drycleaners and so I decide to come back at lunch time. Maybe they could dry my sleeping bag as well. Maybe they could have, but I got called to another office and so now after work I have to go back across London, pick up my dry cleaning, take it to the office pick up my rucksack and grab enough clothes, including work shirts, for the next three days and head off to the woods. Looks like I will not be back until about eight o’clock tonight then. I rather suspect that my shirts might have got a little creased by tomorrow, probably less creased than they get when I stick them in the internal post.