Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Happy Holidays

One of the things that I like about life is the way that the solutions to problems are right there in front of you. Often the thing to do is to just let events take their natural course and things will turn out for the best.

Allow me to share an example if you will be so kind. Whilst on holiday last week I went walking in the hills with a friend of mine and it was very cold, occasionally we would pass a pool of water that had frozen so solid that we were, with some trepidation, able to skate around on them until such time as the sharp cracking noises sent us scooting to the edge. The ground was frozen solid, icicles hung, snow fell, faces went red and fingers went numb. In fact it was so cold that along the edge of a shallow yet fast flowing river we had to cross had formed a layer of ice that extended out into the flow a good six inches. There were two ways to cross the river, wade through it or, jump nimbly from rock to rock. I chose the later, the idea of sinking up to my knees in ice cold water was not high on my agenda of holiday experiences to cherish and remember. Normally I’m quite good at jumping nimbly, I wouldn’t say if nimble jumping was an Olympic sport (and there is good argument for it becoming so) that I would represent the UK but I’m confident I would put in a good showing at a county level. I stepped up to the starting point, a big wet rock jutting out into the river, ready to impress all and sundry, my mate and a sheep, with my mountain goat like style and élan when both feet shot out from under me. I’m sure there must have been a look of considerable surprise as my ankles suddenly appeared in front of my eyes; the look of surprise would have been sadly short lived as the very next moment I found myself sitting on the rock that I had previously been standing. Normally I’m quite a fan of sitting, when I was a student it was pretty much all I did and I’m prepared to say that I’m really quite keen on sitting especially if it is accompanied with a nice cup of tea. This sitting down, however, was far from pleasant, it happened at such speed and force that it quite took my breath away! I sat there opening and shutting my mouth like a goldfish, silently that is. Any rumours maliciously spread by my acquaintance that I screamed like a girl should be ignored as no more than slander.

So there I am sitting on the wet rock in no small amount of pain gasping for breath at the shock of it all and it is at this point that I would like to remind you of the point that all this whittering is set up to prove, viz; that letting things take their natural course is the best thing to do. I could at that point of got up but instead I chose to stay where I was; sat on the wet rock. Only the rock wasn’t wet, it looked wet sure enough, but from close up I realised it was actually covered in ice, it wasn’t so much that I could see the ice but more that I could tell by the way I was sliding into the river. The best thing to do with bruises and swellings is to apply ice so sitting in the river at this junction was a sensible thing to do although I have to admit that this was due to an inability to move rather than by design. Left to my own devices I would have happily stayed sitting up to my waist in the rapidly flowing water for quite some time but I was rudely removed by being hauled to the bank by a well meaning friend. The rest of the day was spent limping about trying to pretend that it didn’t hurt.

The thing with bruises is that you really need to look at them, the bigger and blacker they are the more impressive they are and so the bigger stories that can be told about how they where acquired. The problem was that I could not see my bruise and I didn’t have a mirror with me so was unable to start bragging as I didn’t know what level of brag would be appropriate to match the injury. There are something that you really don’t want to be caught doing in the bathroom at a service station, standing ther with your trousers half down checking the results in the mirror is one of them.

Tuesday, 24 January 2006


Bananas are a tropical creature; they do not take well to being put into the fridge or even a freezer. This may be worth considering before leaving a banana next to your bed for breakfast the next morning when it is minus lots during the night. By the time the thing thawed it was completely black.

And the winner is...

And the winner is…….

Well it was a close run thing, for a while there it looked like a photo finish with Herefordshire and Centre Park putting in a strong showing but a late entry from Penny Munn with 10 minutes to go sealed the deal.

The correct answer is camping in the UK.
Centre Park lost out as it’s not really camping out; it’s more staying in a greenhouse. Herefordshire was close but as fun as drinking cider might be its not camping.
Walking the hills in Scotland is the closest as its outside in the cold in the UK. I’m not sure where exactly I will end up, a friend and I are going to jump in a car this evening and head off to wherever looks as though it will have ‘amusing’ weather and then pit ourselves against it. Joy.

So well done Penny, if you send me your address (my email address should be in my profile) and I will send you the ‘Spoon’, it’s more of an insult than a prize I’m afraid.


According to the radio program that woke me this morning it was -6 in Oxfordshire last night, I don’t have a thermometer but I would tend to agree with their prognosis; it was indeed rather chilly. I got home early, at about 5:30 and it was already pretty cold then so I lit a fire to cook on, keep warm by and dry my sleeping bag out next to. Having spent the last few nights shivering I tried wearing a couple more layers and was relatively warm during the night. 6am came and went, I realised that I could have a lie in if I caught the 7:10 rather than the 6:45, so I had a lie in and then decided to catch the 7:20 and had an extra 10 minutes in bed. Getting up was a little emotional as it was very cold, however it was getting light. I have not got up when there has been any amount of light – other than moonlight - for I don’t know how long. Although it was cold it was bracing and a little invigorating rushing around packing soon got me warm and I set off for the bus stop, it was light enough to see, not guess, where all the obstacles were. Excellent. Breathing the fresh clean air, being able to see where I was going this was all brilliant and putting me in an excellent mood, I didn’t even mind when my foot broke through the ice and cold water came pouring in through the top of my boot. By the time I got to the bus stop it was even lighter, the frost seemed to sparkle on the trees and behind me the blue sky was flecked with reds and pinks, the sky was on fire, the sun was rising, it was light, I could see, it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. I felt energised, invigorated, I was buzzing and there was a definite spring in my step.

It will take a while before it is light at 6:20 when I normally get up; allegedly it gets lighter 3 minutes earlier every day at the moment so in about two weeks I will be getting up in light. Not proper full on bright light but light enough to see. This is good news. I think I am going to fully appreciate spring this year; I have a feeling I’m going to be running about like a mad thing.

Monday, 23 January 2006

time is ticking

Closing time for entries into the 'Spoon' competition is high noon tomorrow.

The winner will be announced when I get back from lunch / remember to do it.


Dark cold, shivering. Waking up repeatedly during the night, pulling sleepingbag closer/ pulling it off face to allow breathing. Curling up as small as possible to try to stay warm, curling up not possible in my sleeping bag. Sleeping in clothes, feeling uncomfortable and a bit sordid doing so. Trying to figure out if sleeping on the ground or on deflated matresess, bit warmer on the matress so rolling about until I find it. Alarm going off, tired, questioning wisdom of sleeping in woods. Getting up (slowly) shivering (lots) pulling on trousers (cold) socks (damp) and boots (muddy). Walking out from under shelter of tree to stretch and brush teeth. Darkness. Darkness untill today that is! For today at 6:26 am on the Horizon there was a deep dark red in the sky, the begining of sunrise.

The light is coming back

Friday, 20 January 2006


Ham Stir Fry

Allow one Hamster per person


Here is some good advice on what to do in case of a shark attack

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and the International Shark Attack File, says the first thing to do is get out of the water as soon as possible.

Well done George

You can see a photograph of George avoiding a shark attack by sitting in an office surrounded by books here

Mark suggested giving the shark your wallet and mobile phone.

Thursday, 19 January 2006

Competition Time

Allegedly the middle of next week will see a cold front sweeping in from Russia where it is currently -20 degrees. It is purely by coincidence that I have booked a week off work from next Wednesday, this was booked a while ago.

The competition

Where am I going and what am I going to do?

Tie break question

What is your favourite letter of the alphabet?

The Prize

One ‘Spoon’ hand crafted by myself

Note: - the ‘Spoon’ bares no actual resemblance to an actual spoon. Further it should be noted that the ‘Spoon’ should not be used as a spoon on account not only of it’s size, shape, and number of splinters but also because it is probably made from Yew, Yew is toxic. Furthermore is should be noted that this prize has absolutely no monetary value and is in fact quite monstrously ugly.

Ditch Monkey accepts no responsibility for death or injury caused by looking at or using said ‘spoon’.

Why are pirates called pirates?

They just arrrrrrrrrrrrr.

In case you didn’t know this is the best joke in the world. Pirates are mammals and, despite what you might have read on the internet, they are way tougher than Ninjas. Why I’m bringing this up is that tonight there is a belated staff Christmas party with a Pirate theme. So if you are travelling on the Oxford tube tonight and a guy gets on wearing a bandana, eye patch, cut off trousers, no shoes, a cutlass and a very large rucksack please wake him up at Lewknor. He will probably be hugging a bottle of rum; do not try to take the rum away unless you wish to become better acquainted with the cutlass.

Shiver me timbers

International talk like a pirate day


Yesterday all my troubles did not seem so far away, yesterday for some reason everything sucked. I left work at about 6 and went to the gym, that was fine but when I left I really didn’t fancy the journey home. The idea that my evening had to be curtailed just so I could travel back home so I could get there in time to go to sleep so I could get up and ridiculous o’clock in the morning in order to travel back again put me in a foul mood. I went to the newly discovered big Tescos to get some food; this put me in an even worse mood. There was lots of food, lots of really nice food and it struck me how simple like used to be when all I had to do was go home and get food out of a cupboard and cook it. Now it was going to be about 9.30 by the time I got back to the woods, this would mean it would be 10ish before I had sorted myself out and got a decent fire going so I would not get to eat until late. I was tired, very tired, mostly due to a series of misadventures with alarm clocks and my deciding that self inflating mattresses are for girls. They keep you nicely insulated from the ground those mattresses I can tell you. Anyway I bought a scotch egg, a pie, some juice, a loaf of bread, some hummus, some coleslaw and a can of nourishment; I am fed up of eating that lot and not only am I bored of eating that stuff it costs way more than cooking for myself as well. Then I got on to thinking about money, people often say to me “you must be saving a fortune”, I spend more on food now than I ever spent on rent. I spend most of my time eating, all this life outdoors, shivering and carrying heavy bags about all day uses up a lot of energy.

I stomped off to catch the bus, it’s a half an hour walk from the supermarket and by the time I got there I was in a good mood again, very tired though as swimming was taking its toll on top of my already being tired. I was the first person at the bus stop but more people arrived over the next 20 minutes and I ended up chatting to a couple of fellow travellers. A bus arrived with “Sorry Full” written on the front. I was beginning to get properly annoyed again, it was now 8:30, at this rate I would not be home until 10:00. Another 15 minutes and a few more people in the queue later and another bus arrived; it was quite full so I was glad to be at the front of the queue. There was still space in the luggage rack so I would not have to loose my place in the line by going to put my rucksack in the boot, this was good I wanted to get a decent seat so I could rest.
“That’s too big, it’ll have to go in the back” said the driver. I told him that it wasn’t too big and that it would fit in the rack.
“That’ll have to go in the back please”
“It fits, it was in there yesterday”
“That’ll have to go in the back please”
“It fits in there everyday”
“That’ll have to go in the back please”
“every day for months”
“That’ll have to go in the back please”
I swore quite loudly as I went to the boot, put my pack in, lost my place and ended up squeezing behind a seat that was so reclined it was almost horizontal.

I spent the journey alternating between fuming and feeling bad for having sworn quite so loudly. By the time I got back I was far too tired to walk all the way back to my usual spot, I could hardly keep my eyes open so I made my way to the closest bit of woodland and got my sleeping bag and bivi bag out getting in and promptly found myself wide awake and quite unable to sleep for the next two hours.

In the morning I thought I would take a gamble on catching the 7:15 bus to work, being closer to the bus stop than early this meant I could play the pressing snooze button game until 7. I tried a new way of packing my rucksack, it didn’t work so it was 7.08 by the time I got to the road it was 7:11 and the bus was leaving. This meant I would be late for work, I would have to wait until 7:45, I swore some more and muttered to myself. Every other time I have caught the 7:15 it has left at 7:20 I muttered the whole way to the bus stop and arrived just after 3 others who seemed quite unperturbed by having just missed the so called 7 so called 15. It turns out that there is no 7:15 but there is a 7:10 and a 7:20. Happy again I forgave the Oxford Tube for everything, once again felt bad for having sworn about them so much and got on with the journey to work. It got light on the way to work, the grey sky and leafless trees lifted my mood.

Had a breakfast of hummus and bread whilst Yolanda berated me for eating so much and for eating hummus which apparently isn’t breakfast but a mid morning snack. Considered adding tippex thinners to her coffee.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

I'm running out of titles for these entries

I was going to say that absolutely nothing of interest happened to me yesterday and in a way a very real way this is true. On the other hand something did happen, something huge, something which once upon a time was a regular occurrence but since living in the woods I have not done at all. Yes, yesterday I went to Tescos, not your ordinary run of the mill Tesco Metro, oh no, one of those massive huge ones. The donut counter alone was big enough to sleep in and it had a nice Perspex cover that would have kept the rain out!

A trip to the supermarket might not seem like that big a deal but when you have not been to a proper sized one for about seven and a half months it comes as a bit of a shock. I haven’t been intentionally avoiding big supermarkets it’s just that the only ones I have found have been small little local ones and a trip of a few miles to a big supermarket when I have no storage space and no fridge unless it is cold seems a bit of a waste of time. Imagine my delight then when yesterday I was informed by a native that there is in fact a stonking great supermarket not 8 minutes walk from this very desk where I now sit pretending to work! I made haste to the place.

I grabbed a basket as is the tradition and made my way into the shop. I spent the first five minutes or so walking around in a daze, so much stuff, what could I do? I wanted some bread and eventually found the bread section only to find it was huge. I stared blankly at the array for a while quite unable to make a choice before walking away with a still empty basket to rally my thoughts. After focusing a little I managed to vaguely get an angle on the thing and turned my mind to buying some supplies. Slowly the barrage of images of various foods started to make sense, forgotten recipes started to flood back and a whole world of opportunity opened ahead of me.

The only problem is that there is this eating local seasonal food business to contend with, I considered making a Thai mango and prawn salad but a quick run through of the ingredients revealed that nothing in it was local apart from the coriander; that was growing in a pot on a shelf! It doesn’t get much more local than that. The idea of a Thai curry went out of the window but at least in this instance I could have had some chicken with my coriander. In fact pretty much everything I fancied having was quite un-allowed.

It seems to me that things like herbs and spices should be allowed seeing as those have been traded for centuries and probably still arive via the silk route or cliper. I also think that Coconut Milk, Chillies and Citrus fruit are all probably allowable exceptions to the rule on account of it’s not possible to live without them. Anyway there is no way I’m going to go until June without eating in Thai Food. It seems thought that when I packed all my stuff up back in June that I somehow neglected to pack my ginger grater! Looks like carving a new one will be a project for the weekend.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

What's the story?

I have a routine in the morning, it has as time has passed become honed so that not a movement it is the very living personification of efficiency.

I awake at about 4 and consider myself to be well rested and could well get up if the mood so took me, it being about 4 there seems little point. There is not a lot in the way of entertainment in the woods at that hour so I go back to sleep. At 6am the alarm goes off again but not there is a reason to get up I feel strangely reluctant to do so, so the alarm gets put on to snooze. I consider getting up but decline on the basis that it is too cold and wet and I am too tired, I then spend about a minute considering catching a later bus and so giving myself and extra half an hour in bed before falling asleep at 6.03 am the alarm goes off again. This process is repeated until about 6.21. The bus leaves at about 6.45 and it takes me 25 minutes to walk there this gives me -1 minute to get up, shiver, put on my jeans and the fleece that I have been using as a pillow, clean my teeth, roll up my roll mat, and stuff the sleeping bag into my rucksack. This leaves me about 15 minutes for the 20 minute walk to work. Fortunately a lot of my journey to work is down hill; unfortunately it is also rather thickly wooded. You know that feeling when you get up after not enough sleep and you can’t even focus properly because your eyes are still asleep? I know that feeling well. What is interesting when you can’t see clearly is to try to make your way down a rather steep heavily wooded slippery hill side, if we add darkness and fog into the equation then we soon find ourselves virtually blind. Now being the well prepared individual that I am a few months into living in the woods I bought a torch that straps onto my head and so lights up the way ahead. The only problem with this is that when it is foggy all it seems to do is light up the fog. Soon enough I am out of breath and the clouds of warm air that I’m panting out finish off the job of blinding me as they become illuminated by the torch light.

This morning I made it down the hill without falling over; I did walk into a tree, get whipped around the face by a branch and get brought to an amazingly abrupt halt as I bent to duck under a branch but didn’t quite duck enough to allow my rucksack to get through as well. Once at the bottom of the hill a quick check of the watch reveals that I’m going to need to run for a while to make up time. It is not long before I am regretting putting the fleece on and I make a mental note to myself not to wear it tomorrow. Eventually I make it to the bus stop, usually out of breath and quite often covered in mud and bits of tree. This morning I was happy to get to the bus stop at 6.45 but less happy when I then had to wait 10 minutes for the bus to turn up; I could have had an extra 10 minutes in bed!

The journey home is much more sedate as there is none of the rush, last night I even found a new way of removing my rucksack from the luggage rack and straight onto my back. This was a lot easier than my old technique and if I hadn’t torn a muscle in my left shoulder in the process I would use that technique again tonight.

Ordinary Culinary

A recipe for those who are less inclined towards effort; I lived off this for a few weeks before Christmas

One carton Covent Garden Lentil and Bacon Soup
One packet Herta Frankfurter (optional)

Put soup into pan
Chop frankfurters into lumps and add to soup

Note – Soup can be replaced with beans.

After a week or so this dish becomes a little tiresome adding a dash or three of chilli sauce will give it a new flavour!

Monday, 16 January 2006

Nearly forgot

This blog is now being archieved by the British Library! Far out, respectability, right everyone sit up straight and no throwing stuff.

Saw this today http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4498934.stm environmentally friendly fuel that adds performance :)


Well there you go. Another week over and a new one just begun, imagine all the workers stopping for a bit. You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us and we can all pop off home a bit early. In memory of J Lennon.

Charcoal, it’s not coal and it’s not char but it is possible to make from the comfort of your very own home, if your home is in the woods that is. Before going to bed I separate all the bits of the wood that have been on the fire so that they will go out. I guess I could leave the fire to burn itself out but that seems to be a bit of a waste of wood. The branches burn when they are together but when separated they seem to loose interest and smoulder for a bit before going out. There is no chance of this starting a forest fire because at this time of year everything is far too wet, some days quite a lot of encouragement is required to get anything to burn at all. This leaves all the embers behind and they give off a huge amount of heat and I used to leave them to burn themselves out, of late though I have taken to burying them in the ash from the previous fires in the hope that this would starve them of oxygen and so I would be left with charcoal. This kind of works, the next evening there are always a few nugget of charcoal to be found in the ashes, not as many as there were buried embers but a few.

These bits of charcoal are useful, along with the part burned sticks, in starting the next fire going as they catch fire a lot more easily than un-burnt wood. Yesterday had a fire in two parts; the right hand side was burning up with a lot of flames and throwing off enough heat to keep me warm whilst the left was much calmer. On the left I let the flames die down until there were just embers between two long logs, the far end of the logs was in the blaze on the right and where getting nicely dried out before getting fed in further as their ends burnt away. I rested the cooling rack across the two logs over the embers and barbequed chestnuts, chicory and a piece of chicken. If I could have found anything else beginning with a ch I would have barbequed that as well, sadly I had no chocolate so I had to make do without. After a while the embers started getting a bit low and the chicken wasn’t cooked and it occurred to me that I could use some of my stash of home made charcoal (feel free to nominate me for a Nobel Prize in reasoning). It worked! I don’t know why I was so surprised, probably past experience had taught me to prepare for failure. It was hugely satisfying to have made something and for it to work.

The next task I have set myself is to light fire using a bit of stick and a bit of wood, you turn the stick around and the bit of wood starts to glow and then you use that to light a fire – simple. I have cheated a bit and have sent off for a hand-drill kit which I will learn how to use and figure out how it works before making one for myself.

Friday, 13 January 2006

I think I might have acclimatised

It is a bit warmer at the moment, I think it was about 4 degrees last night. I woke at about 3am to find that I must have been too hot in my sleeping bag, I had crawled half out of it and off the thermarest mattress and had been happily sleeping sprawled out on the ground! I'm not sure that this is normal behaviour.

A date for your diary

Wednesday March 1st. Bit of a party, quite excited by the look of it.

You know how sometimes clothes say don't machine wash, dry clean only? I thought I could get around this by putting a dry clean only jumper in with an ordinary wash and getting the dry cleaner to wash it. Didn't work, oh well one less jumper to carry about

Daper Denizen of the Ditch

Walking in the woods one day over Christmas with my pack on my back and the wind in my face I started to feel a little warm, walking along with a backpack on can do that to you. I was wearing a fleece and a Helly Hansen, I’m sure this didn’t help. I could have taken a layer off but that would have taken a bunch of effort that frankly I was not prepared to put in. The best way I have found to cool down is to place my hands in the small of my back as this moves the backpack away from my back and thus allows air to circulate to my back thus cooling me down. This is also quite a comfortable position to walk in; I can see why the Duke of Edinburgh is such a fan of strutting about with his hands behind his back.

On this particular day it had just rained and the track I was walking along was covered in puddles and a layer of mud. The mud along the Ridgeway is quite contrary for it manages to be both sticky and slippery at the same time, walking can be quite hazardous as feet slip in all directions; at the same time it can be quite tiresome as huge amounts of said mud cling to boots and succeed in weighing the innocent walker down. I was considering this very fact when I came across a puddle, nay a lake, that quite covered the path the depth of which was unknown and I fancied the unwary could sink to their knees or encounter any number of waterborne predators in such an expanse, I was put in mind of the Great Grey Green Greasy Limpopo river. Not to be outdone by such a hurdle valiantly struck out to traverse the easterly bank, a small slippery strip of land caught as it was between the sheer drop into the lake and the thick tangle of bushes to the side of the path. I have to say I must have cut a rather nonchalant figure, bravely taking on such hazards with hands still stuck calmly behind my back and pinned in place by my rucksack.

Girls are, quite frankly, a rather marvellous invention I won’t here a word against them. However, they can be quite distracting. The odd whisper at the crease about a lady in a batsmen’s social circle can quite put a chap off his stroke. Living in the woods is all well and good but it does not provide much occasion for fraternising with the fairer sex, any such activities tend to require a trip into town. You can imagine my surprise then as I looked up from my feet of daring-do to find see a rather attractive lady on the far shore of Lake Dread waiting for me to cross over so that she could do likewise.

“Crikey!” I thought to myself. I am lucky; I have developed over the years a look that women find quite irresistible, if I shoot that look my quarry becomes quite overcome with emotions. Why it is not unknown for a recipient to be so awash with passion as to break into fits of spontaneous laughter or even to run away so strong is the feelings that ‘the look’ stokes up. This was obviously an occasion on which ‘the look’ had to be brought out. ‘The look’ should you be interest is equal parts cheeky grin and suave sophistication with just a dash of mystique, a rather cruel ex-girlfriend said it made me look constipated but she just obviously afraid that I would use it on someone else. I fix the vision on the far shore with a steely gaze and start to move my face in to the all conquering ‘look’ so hard am I concentrating on this that I have quite forgotten to concentrate on where I am walking. As my right foot comes forward it fails to gain purchase and slides quickly on the chalky bank across my left leg and into the void. This movement is so sudden as to throw me slightly over my centre of gravity and so off balance, the weight of the backpack is enough to propel me at no mean rate of knots towards the bushes. I attempt to arrest my fall my clinging to branches but I can’t, my hands are pinned to my back by the same rucksack that has by now ensured I have fallen head first into the bushes and down a slope. From where the lady is standing all she could possibly see of me is my legs from the knees down sticking up into the air.

Now this might seem rather a failure from an impress the member of the opposite sex point of view but I swear after I had picked myself up out of the bushes she smiled at me, in fact it looked as though she could hardly contain an almighty grin spreading across her face as she feigned interest in the sky.

Who the man?

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Let there be light

As much fun as living in the woods can be sometimes it does get a bit tiring, the last few days I have started getting a bit fed up with constantly living in darkness. I have also been feeling as though it would be nice to sleep in a bed rather than on the floor and it would be quite nice to have a shower when I wake up rather than having to go to work and have one there. The night before last it rained, not a lot and I did not think much of it at the time. My face got a bit wet but I wasn’t that worried about it at the time. Last night though I got into my sleeping bag only to discover it was wet. My bviv bag was supposed to prevent this from happening, I know I have ranted on before about how useless it is but previously I had thought the water was getting in through the opening and I had figured out how to stop that happening. Not only that but I am in a really sheltered spot now so I thought wet sleeping bags were a thing of the past. It seems that not only is the design of the bivi bag pretty useless it is made out of non waterproof material. To be fair it doesn’t let snow through.

This morning I woke up feeling pretty miserable, it was cold and dark and I didn’t want to get up, so I didn’t. I stayed in bed for half an hour longer deciding to catch a later bus. I still ended up having to run for the bus which I caught just in time. Settling down with my complimentary Danish and juice I noticed that there was just the beginning of light in the sky. It had been a cloudless night so it hadn’t been that dark but now in the east the tiger’s eye blue was giving way to a deep red of sunrise. Sunrise! Light! I have seen neither for quite some time on my way to work. Suddenly everything started to look up; winter is slowly but unstoppably coming to an end. It might well get cold again and no doubt is will be wet for a couple more months but some time it will get light again.

I made a bow and arrow last night and to my amazement it fired and flew pretty straight! After a few more shots I spent ten minutes looking for the arrow – it’s not that easy looking for a stick in a forest in the dark when you didn’t look where it landed. The second arrow I made was too short and the third had a kink in it. I have seen Ray Mears straightening arrows on TV, he holds them above the fire and then does something and they go straight. I got the holding them in the fire bit but I’m not sure what the next thing is. If it’s burning your index finger I did that but I could not get the thing straight. In the end I gave up on the fire business and decided the arrow was thick enough that I could whittle some wood off here and a little more there and I would have a reasonably straight arrow. So I set to work and it was only a matter of minutes before I had cut the arrow in half.

I then made some lentil and chicken stew, loads of it. I had got a bit carried away the night before when I put the lentils out to soak and when I came to make my stew discovered that they had swollen to magnificent proportions. So I had two litres of stew for supper. I also had a camembert, five slices of bread, a mars bar, three slices of fruit cake, two pints of hot apple juice with cinnamon and a pint of milk before finishing off the chestnuts. Living in the woods is probably the best diet in the world, it doesn’t matter how much I eat I shiver it all off during the night.


One camembert
One clove garlic

Slice the garlic and stick the slivers in the cheese, leave in the fridge / hollow tree in winter for a week. Then either bake in the oven till runny or put next to the fire turning regularly until runny.

Serve with crusty bread and cranberry sauce take care to pick the garlic out.

If I’m making this in the oven I often put a slice of Parma ham, a sprig of rosemary and a bit of olive oil on the top – the Parma ham crisps up lovely.

Best of all this recipe is even healthier than deep fried brie!

Tuesday, 10 January 2006


Ho ho ho to the bottle I go to heel my heart and drown my woe, though many miles be still to go under a tall tree I will lie and watch the clouds go sailing by.
J.R.R. Tolkein

I was a little confused when I went to the dentist the other day, I paid by credit card and they checked my signature. Why would they do that when they have my dental records?

Check this out! http://www.rogersmushrooms.com/ a completely free online guide to the mushrooms of Great Britain, Europe and America. Could be handy if you happen to have internet access when out picking mushrooms – at last an excuse to get a Blackberry.

Deodorant, you know the roll on stuff. Tastes grim if it leaks out and goes on your toothbrush.

Monday, 9 January 2006

Partial kit list

There are a few things I have promised various people I would write about and I think the first of those is a suggested kit list.

The things I have with me vary according to many things, the most obvious of which would be weather. So I’m sure I could waffle on for ages about the things I think are necessary. I don’t have much time at the moment so I will have to come back to this subject in the future but for now I’ll just go over what I consider to be essential.

I have a pair of trousers that I wear when I’m in the woods; they are light cotton and have five pockets – two of them being on the thighs in the style of combat trousers. In these trouser pockets I keep the essential things that I constantly need. In an emergency I have enough on me to keep myself alive. This makes it sound all a bit exciting but realistically in an emergency I could walk a couple of miles to the bus stop and go and check in to a hotel or something. One thing that I have discovered that makes life a lot easier is to always keep the same things in the same pockets, that saves a lot of time.

I carry

Top Right hand pocket – lighter, matches (I never use these anymore but they are useful) candle broken into two pieces (either for light or to help light a fire).

Top left hand pocket – spare pocket – gets used for any random things that I don’t normally carry.

Bottom right hand pocket – gloves and silk balaclava (kept in a zip lock bag). Tinder tin (I have started making my own tinder which is much easier to light than the stuff you can buy in camping shops – instructions to follow).

Bottom left hand pocket – Sheath knife – used for hundreds of purposes from cutting onions to taking the hot lid off the Billy can. Sometimes I keep a small pair of binoculars in here as well, these aren’t strictly speaking a necessity but they can help with navigation.

Back pocket – firesteel it creates a spark to light the tinder. Knife with firesteel attachment, this is primarily a back up in case I loose either the knife or the firesteel, theoretically with a knife and a firesteel it should be possible to survive most things. The knife is very sharp and so is used to slice garlic, part of the blade is serrated and so that gets used to grate nutmeg and thumbs.



Cook sausages until cooked, serve.

Traditional barbeque sausage recipe.

Put sausage over fire until black on outside and pink in the middle, serve with lager before falling into the pool.

Saturday, 7 January 2006

One for the B and the Chis

Some things smell nice when they are damp, meadows in spring that sort of thing. Some things don't dogs for example and rucksacks that have been wet for a few months. Fortunately I don't have to carry a dog around on my back, that would be annoying, especially if it was Scrappy Do he ruined Scooby Do for me. I do have to carry a rucksack around with me, my old rucksack smelt very bad, and the new one had a touch of that damp smell when I picked it up this morning (afternoon had a bit of a lie in). This was a bit worrying as I have not really let it get wet as I put my coat over it to keep it dry. Eventually I found the cause, swimming trunks free range in the bottom of the bag for who knows how long. Anyway my new rucksack a Berghaus Cyclops is the business I won't bore you with all the details just now but it holds 100 liters and has detachable side pouches and is probably an even better piece of kit than the Jetboil (especially since the Jetboil broke). Today I discovered that if one were to take the side pouches off and put them in the rucksack then the thing tours above your head when you walk along. This is especially handy if walking through a heavily wooded area in the rain as it knocks all the branches above you and sends the collected rainwater showering down your back. Adding the side pouches virtually doubles my width which just won me lots of friends as I tried to walk through Piccadilly.

Rucksack? What is that? A sackfull of rucks? Answers on a postcard please. Right one of my friends is off to Thailand for a year or three so I'm off to a farewell dinner in a Scottish restaurant, no not McDonalds - Loch Fyne, I hope they let me in I'm a bit coated in woodland.

Friday, 6 January 2006

A silly idea

Forget lighting a fire by rubbing sticks together, this weekend I'm going to try and light a fire using a can of coke and a bar of chocolate. Next week I'm going to look into getting a life.

Auction and things

This picture has been donated by Nikki Cheal
http://www.nikkicheal.co.uk/front-page.html and will be auctioned(probably on ebay) with the proceeds going to the Woodland Trust.

Also going up for auction will be a bronze titled "MOTHER AND CHILD" by the celebrated artist Robert Allen

The sculpture cast in Bronze resin depicts the love between mother and child.

The child gently cradled in his mothers arms, is wrapped snugly in a blanket as protection from the chill evening.

Their faces are touching in a moment of total harmony.

The baby’s head and the arms of the mother form the shape of a stylized heart.

Robert Allen's work “IT TAKES TWO” is in Canada Square Canary Wharf. Mother and Child was donated by Victoria Jones Gallery on Wandsworth Bridge Road where the piece can be viewed.

All sorts of stuff

Last night was ‘interesting’ I spent a lot of it dreaming of being in the desert, for a while I dreamt of fire other than that I shivered and messed about with various draw cords, velcro and zips in an attempt to stay warm. To be honest though I did not spend much time trying to keep warm as I have discovered that it doesn’t make much difference and so I just end up falling asleep and being generally aware of the fact that I’m not hugely warm. It is odd though, I spend all night feeling cold and the moment the alarm goes off suddenly I feel warm and comfortable and not in the slightest bit inclined to get up. Getting out of bed into the cold to get dressed is a bit like jumping into a cold river or lake on a cold day; it’s not something that you just do without thinking about it, it’s something that needs building up to or, if possible, avoided altogether. It is perhaps because of this that I’m always in a bit of a rush to get to the bus and often find myself having to run part of the way. This morning for instance I was bounding at a fairly good speed down a hill through the woods, I wasn’t running as such as it was dark and I have discovered that running through the woods in the dark is just an invitation to mishaps. Anyway, steep hill, heading downwards, good speed when all of a sudden a branch catapults up into my face. I don’t know what on earth can have caused a branch to have suddenly risen up to meet me before I got to it, I’m sure there has to be a logical explanation but at the time my curiosity was tempered by more pressing matters. The branch you see was the proud owner of a number of thorns two of which where attached to my nose, one to the outer side of my upper lip, two to the inside and one to my chin. I was still moving down the hill at some speed but somehow managed to stop almost immediately. I’m fairly sure I levitated like a cartoon character that does not realise it has walked of the edge of a cliff. On tip toe I removed the thorns from my face and carried on with a bit more caution. I made the bus on time, there was no traffic on the road and I was at work an hour early.

Who wants a rewind?

Back to yesterday then.

At the farmers market I bought some oak smoked garlic from the Garlic Farm http://www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk/index.asp Andy, the chap on the stall, wrapped from head to foot against the cold could not have been more enthusiastic about his product and made plenty of recipe suggestions. That’s something else I like about shopping at markets, people are largely passionate about what they sell and you don’t tend to get that in Tesco. The smoking process has turned the garlic skin a golden brown colour and the smell is amazing, kind of caramel and very rich. I also picked up some Guernsey milk and cheese from Hurdlebrook Herd from Olive Farm, Somerset. Best thing about this is that the milk is untreated and is thus full of flavour; we used to get untreated milk delivered to the door when I lived in Somerset so it was a pleasure to find this source. Both the Garlic Farm and Olive Farm attend the Notting Hill Farmers Market so I will be sure to visit there once is up and running again.

Butternut Squash and Oak Smoked Garlic Soup

About 1 lb of butternut squash peeled and cut into chunks.
Half a leek thinly sliced
One small onion diced
A pint of hot water
Chicken stock cube
Cream / top of the milk
Nutmeg – watch those fingers

Fry the onion and leek together until just turning brown then add the pumpkin and stir though. Pour on the water; add the stock cube (proper chicken stock would no doubt be better) and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about half an hour until the squash is nice and soft. Add in some cream, nutmeg (didn’t cut my fingers this time) and more seasoning to taste.

I have never cooked Butternut (or any other) squash before, it looks funny. I must admit I was mighty suspicious but was going to eat one bowl of the stuff just to show willing. I have to say though the soup was lovely, really very good indeed. I ended up eating the whole lot, nibbling on roasted chestnuts as I did so. It was the nicest thing I have eaten for a very long time and I’m definitely going to be making that again sometime soon – maybe even tonight.

Whilst at the farmers market I had also bought some lamb chump chops from D and B Cox of Ixhill Farm, Oakley. By the time I had finished the soup and made yet another cup of tea the fire had bedded down, two large logs were glowing away while hot and in between them there was a thick layer of embers from the smaller sticks I had used to get the loge going. This is the perfect type of fire for barbequing on, I know I read it in Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s book. It appears that flames are not the sort of thing that you want when you are barbequing as this does nasty things, looking back at what happened to my trout I have to concur. So I sprinkled the lamb with salt, pepper and rosemary and stuck it on a cooling rack which I rested across the two logs, it took the meat about the same time to cook as it did to boil some sprouts. A very simple yet hugely tasty meal, those chops where fantastic, full of flavour and as tender as they could possibly be. I think I will be spending a lot more time in farmers’ markets this year.

10 am Sunday BBC 1 I’m going to be on The Heaven and Earth Show! Bizare, they filmed me the other day lighting a fire from scratch with no matches or paper or anything. I was most happy with this as it was only the second time I had ever done that. Having managed to replicate this success a few more times now I’m going to up the ante and attempt to make fire by rubbing sticks together. I foresee a frustrating weekend ahead.

Anyway enough of this jibba jabba.

Thursday, 5 January 2006


When climbing a tree it is advisable not to commit all of your weight to one branch. Whilst trees, by their very nature are things that reach far above the ground it might be worth noting whilst falling from such a height that the chances of falling all the way to the ground are slight. Trees, you see, have branches sticking out from them at all angles and so if some one, through no fault of their own, were to fall from, say, about 15 foot up they would be almost guaranteed to find their fall halted by a handy branch. Or so you would think.

Cups of tea are nutritious, delicious and restorative and generally just about as good a thing as you can get. They are not, however, very soft. they are very wet and very hot. If your cup of tea is too hot to drink then you might kill some time whilst waiting for it to cool by climbing a handy tree to take a better look at the view. If this situation does arrive could I recommend placing the tea some distance from the tree to be climbed.

Today I rather fortunately don't have to work so I had quite a long lie in before getting up into a rather cold world. Breakfast consisted of crumbly bread with slices of butter wrapped around chunks of ham and mustard and held in place with icicle fingers. I'm now in Oxford for a trip to the dentist who it appears does not have a January sale. I am pleased to discover that the farmers market is on today so I should be able to stock up on plenty of seasonal food.

The inspiration for this eating only seasonal food business came from Nigel Slater who has just brought out recipe book charting everything he cooked over a year of eating seasonal food. One of the first recipes in the book is bacon and cabbage fried together in a pan. A couple of nights ago I thought I would make this so I went off and bought a Savoy Cabbage ( I already had a pork loin joint at home) and then realised that I didn't have the recipe so would have to wing it, I bought some Caraway seeds and then went home.

It went a little like this

Some gammon cut into strips
Some of the dark leaves from a savoy cabbage, shredded
Olive oil
Caraway seeds
Heat the oil and Caraway then add the gammon and cabbage, fry until good and cooked stir through butter to taste and serve.
Absolutely lovely

I then boiled the rest of the gammon and towards the end of the cooking time added some potatoes and some of the lighter leaves from the middle of the savoy. Once cooked I stored the water (good stock), vegetables and meat in the three Tupperware containers I bought myself for Christmas (woo hoo). The following morning I made bubble and squeak

Bubble and Squeak

Cooked Potato, cut up small (mashed potato is best)
Cooked Cabbage
Salt pepper and nutmeg to taste
Butter (optional)
Heat the oil, add the potato, cabbage, salt pepper and nutmeg (if grating nutmeg on knife be sure and grate your thumb this time and bleed everywhere) fry until good and brown. This is so much nicer if made with Savoy cabbage rather than white, especially if the cabbage gets nice and crispy. Stir in a little butter at the end and serve.
Some gammon cut into strips
Some of the dark leaves from a savoy cabbage, shredded
Olive oil
Caraway seeds

Heat the oil and Caraway then add the gammon and cabbage, fry until good and cooked stir through butter to taste and serve.
Absolutely lovely

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

December 23rd

I staggered up the hill and unpacked all the food under the dying light of the day and then lit a fire. I used paper and a lighter to light the fire, whilst this was an oportunity missed in terms of teaching myself how to light a fire without such things I was in a rush. There is so much food, good food, and it is so long since I have cooked that I am impatient to get cooking. Besides, I should be pleased with myself, a couple of months ago I could hardly light a fire even with petrol, things have come a long way.
I boiled a gammon joint for about 20 minutes and then added some cabbage leaves between the meat and the sides of the Billy and a large red potato cut into large chunks on top to steam. There is something hugely pleasing about a blackened Billy hanging in the heat, especially when the smell of good food mixes with the fragrant aroma of beech wood smoke. It's a hugely satisfying feeling to be eating good wholesome tasty food that you have prepared yourself. The meal I have just had of; gammon, cabbage, potatoes infused with the flavour of the meat through having been cooked with them, English mustard, sea salt, pepper corns freshly cracked under the flat of my knife followed up with hot buttered toast and honey has to be one of the most comforting meals ever. It's just before Christmas it's cold and crispy and yet I'm warm by the white hot fire. What could be better?

The water I used to cook the gammon in is now a very rich stock and I will use it to make a lentil and pea soup tomorrow. I have some dried pulses and normally I would soak them overnight in cold water, drain them off and then use them to make the soup with. Somehow I successfully managed to not buy any water when I went into town and I have consequently nearly run out so I'm going to soak the pulses in the stock overnight and hope that all the extra starch doesn't give me stomach cramps. Having little water is a double edged sword, on the one hand I have the perfect excuse not to wash up but on the other I am rather thirsty. This thirst has been suitably enhanced by the salty nature of the gammon; really I should have changed the water it was cooked in after it had first come to the boil to remove the worst of the salt. The perfect way to round off a good meal (especially if you are thirsty) is green tea with lemon, this is even more true when very thirsty so I bunged the last of the water in the Billy and put it on to boil. Green tea with lemon and a hint of gammon is an interesting yet unappealing flavour

Poule au Pot

Before I finish writing about Christmas I will catch up with yesterday.

I had almost run out of food yesterday so, after a healthy lie in, I got dressed in my cleaner clothes and headed into Oxford to get some seasonal food to cook. This New Year’s resolution of eating seasonal food is a good one, much better than the usual resolutions that tend to give up things that are fun or taking up things that aren’t (gym membership, jogging, learning Latin). One of the best things about Oxford, and there are many to choose form, is the covered market in which are located very good butchers, grocer, cheese shop, deli and all manner of café’s and shops. I spent the journey in trying to decide whether to go for award winning sausages or Organic lamb and contemplating what vegetables would be looking tempting. When I got to town I was pleased to discover that the market was shut due to it being a bank holiday and all that and so I had to go to a supermarket instead. One thing I really object to is the amount of packaging that comes on food bought in a supermarket. If, for example, I had wanted to buy leeks (which I did) I would be forced to buy a packet of three all wrapped up in loads of plastic. I only wanted one leek and I didn’t want all the plastic so I bought some onions instead. Again there was no choice but to buy a packet, of five this time, but at least I knew I would use them all.

When I got home I lit a fire utilising my all new “no matches no paper check me out” fire lighting technique. Sometimes I am quite good at lighting a fire like this, yesterday I wasn’t so good and almost gave up and resorted to using a lighter but persevered and soon (well not so soon) had a good blaze going. I made

Chicken in a white wine sauce.

Two Chicken leg joints
About 25g smoked gammon / bacon - diced
Two small onions – peeled and chopped in half
One large carrot – scraped and chopped into chunks
One large red potato – quartered
Glass or two of white wine
One clove of garlic, thinly sliced
Sea salt
Pepper corns – cracked between the flat of a knife and a flat surface
Double Cream

Brown the chicken over the fire, meanwhile brown the onion, carrot and gammon or bacon in the oil and add a healthy sprinkle of rosemary. Put the chicken, bacon, carrot, onion, wine and garlic into a pan and top up with water so that liquid comes up to just about cover the ingredients, put a lid on, bring to the boil and simmer for about half an hour (this works best if cooked in an oven). Then put the potato on top and let steam until really well cooked. Remove the potato and put on one side (I stuck them in the lid of the Billy) if you are outside in the winter it’s probably best to add butter at this point to help it melt. Leave the potato for a while and let the steam come off to make sure they are nice and dry before mashing. Remove the chicken, onion and carrot from the Billy and let the chicken rest for ten minutes. Meanwhile put the sauce over a high heat and let it reduce. Mash the potato with whatever comes to hand (I had to use a spoon), add salt, pepper, some cream and grated nutmeg. By this time the sauce should have reduced so remove it from the heat, add some cream and stir together over a low heat, add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the Chicken and vegetables covered in the sauce with a sprinkle of black pepper a slice or two of granary bread and a glass of dry white wine.

I have made many variations of this dish in the past and the slight BBQ flavour of the chicken really adds something to it.


I used a bit of bacon cut from the end of a loin joint I had bought for tomorrow, seeing as I had bought this from a supermarket the meat was covered in useless packaging and had been injected with water. The water ran out into the lid of the Billy Can that I was using as a frying pan and caused the vegetables to stew rather than fry.

Shallots would be more appropriate to use than onions but I just couldn’t be bothered to peel them.

If you are grating nutmeg on the serrated blade of a knife try to avoid also grating your finger, if you can’t avoid this inadvertently quaterising the cut on the handle of the Billy Can will stop the bleeding.

A sprinkling of finely chopped leaves adds a whole new dimension if you have them – I didn’t.

Try not to eat this dish out of the lid of a Billy Can with a hole melted in the side as the sauce will leak out all over you.

Don’t let the sauce boil or the cream will separate (as mine did) it will still taste fine but won’t look so good.

This dish also goes very well with leeks.

Monday, 2 January 2006

Merry New Year

I gave up smoking for one of my New Year's resolutions, so far it is going very well and I have not had a single craving! Admittedly I didn't smoke in the first place but I think it is necessary to go for achievable goals in life. The other 'resolution' I have made kind of goes hand in glove with this living in the forest thing, I have decided to only eat seasonal food until I stop living in the woods. The thinking behind this is that through doing this I will become far more in touch with the seasons than I already am doing. The other part of this is that by eating seasonal foods I am, by definition, eating locally produced food and so there will be far less pollution caused by transportation. Most importantly of all I think that eating seasonal food both makes sense and will be delicious as seasonal foods tend to go with the, er, seasons. What is better than a big stew in the depths of winter, or looking forward to the first new potatoes of the year? This is, for now at least limited to what I prepare at home as I have little control over what is on the menu at work and I don't really have the facilities to take food to work with me, or do I? I'll look into it.

In other news

I was a bit low on water yesterday and could not spare any to wash up with so decided to stick the billy can in the fire to burn off the remains of the caramelised onions I had prepared. Melted a hole in the side of the billy can.

Tonight I am going to make chicken in a white whine sauce with buttery mash and sprouts. Could be tricky what with the hole in the pan and everything. In any event look out for some recipies, barbeque and other, coming your way.

I'm on the telly! http://www.sky.com/skynews/video/videoplayer/0,,91134-ditchman_p4674,00.html

There is a bit of a gap in this here blog over Christmas, will be updated shortly.