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.


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 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


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


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


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


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


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 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


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.


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


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.

Friday, 5 May 2006

I feel like I should write something but I can't think what.

The Green Green Grass of Home

So everything is green now, I woke up this morning and all that I could see was green. It can be quite overwhelming at times the speed with which spring sprung. It is very welcome all this green, it is as though my home has been redecorated courtesy of nature, “I just lurve what you’ve done with the place dahling, so much brighter than those ghastly winter greys”.

I ordered a sharpening stone for my knife from Ray Mears’ online shop and it arrived yesterday. As soon as I got back home I started sharpening my knife. Well as soon as I had got home, dropped my bag down, took my top off, drunk some water and cooled off a bit I started what I thought was sharpening my knife. Five minutes later I found that the knife was blunter than when I had started. It seems that sharpening knives on a stone is not one of those innate skills that one has. I got out one of the survival books that I have in my rucksack and read up on how to sharpen knives and had another go. This time I ended up with a knife that was sharper than it was before I blunted it, all good then. Then I sharpened my large knife as well; neither knife ended up sharp enough to shave with unfortunately. Hopefully by the time I get back from the year in the jungle I will be sharpening a knife to razor sharpness and shaving with it. That would be cool and it would save a fortune in razors.

Plants, there are lots of plants now doing that growing and being green thing. Did I mention how green it is? It’s pretty green out there now. Among the plants that I fined around me are nettles and I seem to remember agreeing to make cordage out of nettle stalks sometime so I best get amongst that task sometime soon. Worryingly I said I would make the cordage without the use of gloves. I know I used to be able to pick nettles bare handed without being stung, but can I still do so? Some people say the trick is to be very gentle with them and that if you are they wont sting you. Others say the trick is to be firm and direct and if you are you won’t get stung. Both are true, the trick is to believe that you will not get stung, if you think you will get stung you will. It sounds odd but it is true. At least that’s what I thought when I was young. There is a possibility though that I had been stung so often that I had built up a tolerance and so I could do whatever I liked with them with impunity. Yesterday I decided to pick a nettle to see what would happen. I mentally prepared my fingers to not get stung, leant down and picked a nettle without my fingers getting stung. I was most pleased, I was less happy when the nettle I was holding in my right hand brushed my left and stung it. I went and picked some Teasles instead, I discovered a couple of days ago that it is really easy to light a Teasle with a FireSteel. Teasles have very prickly stems, I spent quite some time yesterday getting prickles out of my hands.

I’m not going to be making cordage just yet but I will be cooking with nettles tonight, I’m going to have a bit of a look around and see what else I can find that is edible. There are a few sheep about but I reckon the farmer might have a bit of a sense of humour failure if I cooked one.

Thursday, 4 May 2006

Spring pasta dish, sans pasta.

Two salmon steaks
3 spring onions
7 cherry tomatoes (could have done with more tomatoes but that was all I had)
1 small tub ½ fat crème fresh

BBQ two salmon steaks lightly on each side and then wrap in a silver foil parcel and put them back onto the rack over the fire.
Sweat the garlic and sliced spring onions in butter for 3 or 4 minutes in a frying pan / billy can / pie tin.
Increase the heat under the garlic and onions and the cherry tomatoes, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Once the tomatoes are cooked (they should be falling apart) remove from the heat and stir in the crème fresh. Then place over a gentle heat and heat slowly, do not boil! Once warmed removed from the heat.
By now the salmon should be cooked; the side that was directly over the heat should be a rich almost caramelised brown and the rest light and pink. Remove the skin and bones and add chunks of the salmon to the crème fresh mix.

This would go very well with tagliatelli; I chose not to have it with pasta as I had no water to cook it in, there was a brief moment in which I considered using lemonade instead but something stopped me.

A little bit of freshly chopped parsley would have gone well with it.

Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Cheese on Toast

Mike set me a challenge the other day, he wanted cheese on toast.

I can make toast, I have a cooling rack that I can put over the embers of a fire and toast bread that way, doing this and then putting some cheese on top wont do – apparently. What was needed to make proper cheese on toast was a grill; the problem then is how to get a source of heat from above. I figured it out over the weekend; it is indeed possible to make cheese on toast in the woods.

1st light a fire, whilst the fire is gaining momentum choose four dead branches about 12cm across and about half a meter long. Place two of the logs on the ground parallel to each other and about 30cm apart. Place the other two logs either on to or next to the fire in such a way that the middle section burns, don’t let the logs burn through, wait until they are burnt through about a third of the way. By this point the logs should have a nice thick layer of glowing charcoal on them, place the logs from the fire onto the parallel logs on the ground so that the glowing charcoal is facing downwards in the gap between the two other logs. Et voila, you have a grill. Watch out, this grill can work a lot quicker than the one you have at home.

I have butter, flour, nutmeg, milk and cheese so I might well make Welsh rarebit tonight.