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
Balsamic vinegar
Clove of garlic

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 clicking on Mission Improbable and then Preparation.

It's been real.


Candy said...

Congratulations on making it to the year mark!
Does this mean an end to the blogging?

Hugh Sawyer said...

Hi Candy

Long time no see.

Blog and general stuff will be here from now on

Sarah said...

No, thank you!

You've entertained and inspired this year - and all the best for your next adventure. Ecuador is a beautiful country but I'm intrigued to know how you'll survive the rainforest for so long. Consider me glued to your ongoing exploits.

(hope I'll also be able to contribute to the new site when I get a moment to sit and record some of my rather less intrepid adventures)

Good Luck!

sunshineonarainyday said...

well done and thank you for your really enjoyable blog. I will miss it, but will keep updated with your new adventures - good luck x

Old Man Rich said...


And best of luck with your future endevours (although I'm not convinced that Ecuador needs more poor people & you could probably do a lot more to protect the environment by becoming a multi millionair art dealer).

Dave said...

Well done - a very inspiring achievement. Over the year i've definitley come round to thinking work less, earn less, spend less.

Anomanus said...

well done
i wouldn't have been able to do it but you should of done it on television so we could see you did it

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