Category Archives: Off the Grid

Finding your purpose

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget who you are in life, or what you want out of it. In amidst the wind and cold and rain, with a few seedlings here and there, it’s easy to long for central heating. Sometimes, when I’m dripping with sweat, wondering why the hell I wanted to plant 10kg of carrots, the first thought that comes to mind is “I could buy these in the supermarket for 10€.”

And then, something happens to remind you why you do what you do.

That thing for me was the horsemeat scandal. It’s not the horsemeat per se that is the problem. It could be human for all I care.

It’s the fact that we have no idea at all about what goes into most of our food and what processes are used to make it.

And that was one of the reasons I wanted to be much more self sufficient and have myself a hard-work acre of land in France.

For many years, I was a vegetarian. I am a child of the Eighties: a teenager who hung around in radical bookshops in Brixton, a girl who was brought up in the socialist heartlands of the North, a student of Marx and Engels, a member of Greenpeace and every other reactionary agency that I could find to join as a young radical. I am little other than the product of a Thatcherite Britain, a girl brought up with a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ canvas bag that she used to cart books to and from the library. Call it middle-class white girl angst. Forget Catholicism. The Eighties did a good job of making me feel guilty about the state of the world.

In my little hometown, a couple of animal rights organisations used to leaflet outside a row of shops. I picked up a few from various agencies, opening my eyes to battery farms, intensive milk production, the fur trade. Don’t even get me started on all the hormones and chemicals pumped in to animals to keep them ‘healthy’ and fatten them up. It’s like BSE and CJD never happened – most of the food industry carry on, blithely feeding the public exactly what we ask for.

And that’s one of the reasons I’m here, trying to do just a little less damage and live a less greedy lifestyle. I was moaning about not having central heating yesterday, but today I’ve remembered one of the reasons I like wood is that it’s carbon neutral (though, okay, I burn through a few litres of petrol cutting it!) and I can be proud of my ridiculous electric bill. I was only just thinking of installing a small solar charger in the lean-to so that I can charge my laptop and camera free of charge.

And that’s why I moved here. I moved here because I want to eat better food. I want to eat crops that have been cared for and nurtured, and that care is the reason they taste good, not because I’ve pumped them full of water and fertilisers. I want to know my apples aren’t covered in pesticides, that my cucumber isn’t full of e-coli. I wanted to be able to add more of my own home-grown stuff to my diet.

If I had it all my way, and if I had the skill, I’d eat only stuff that came off my own land. Not like that family they found in Siberia who lived in a dark, smoky hut and nurtured their only blade of rye, living in isolation for 50 years. I don’t think self sufficiency should be that hard, or that total.

However, if we all ate a little less meat, if our fields weren’t needed to feed cattle, then there would be more to go around. It seems silly to me that we expect meat prices to be low when it’s really such an expensive commodity. It reminds me of the imported cherries I saw in Japan that worked out at £40 a kilo. Things should be expensive if they have a big carbon footprint or are expensive to produce.

But as the world’s population grows, it’s inevitable that there will be more famine, as land is misused for cattle fodder, and that prices should go up. It can’t go on forever, this have and have not mentality. The group of people who have access to meat and expensive foodstuffs is just going to get smaller and smaller as the group of people who are hungry grows.

That’s not how I want to be.

So, with that in mind, how does my garden grow?

My first cauliflowers have leaves, as do my first leeks. The chilis are beginning to put out leaves and my alicante tomatoes are out of the propagator, making way for more tomatoes. This week, I’ll be able to put in some more chili peppers and some more tomatoes. I’ll also put in some more brassicas to start off.

It’s going to be a long time til they’re ready to go in the garden, but I will be ready.

And this year, I want more than ever. The more I grow myself, the less I have to depend on the rest of the world to feed me.

Sure, I’m not right up there yet, Ms Holier-Than-Thou being carbon positive and completely self-sustaining. I’m lucky to be born in a place and time that affords me such ethics. An accident of birth means I can afford to be all guilty about meat and what I eat. But I won’t lie. It does feel good to eat my own stuff. I just had an omelette for tea, made with my own leeks and peas from last year. The eggs come right from my hens who are perfectly free to wander wherever they please and eat snails and worms and snakes if they like. For lunch, I had tomato soup, made with last year’s tomatoes and a handful of herbs I grew and dried. I like that about country living. You get to have days where you can live off the fatta’ the land.

Now, all I have to do is remember all of this when my arms ache from pulling weeds.


I almost can’t look at the papers at the moment. Today, DC is on the front pages doing some kind of ‘I told you so’ dance, telling off the Eurozone for dragging the world into the mire. We’ll say nothing of the USA, the faltering Chinese economy, the massive Japanese debt, daily alerts about Greece, austerity budgets in France.

I said yesterday in relation to another matter that people should get their own house in order before pointing the finger. He who lives in glass houses and all that… but there’s a huge issue in England at the moment that is really stuck in my craw at the moment.

PFI schemes. You won’t know what these are maybe, or how ludicrous they are but when I tell you, you’ll be dumbfounded that anyone could have agreed to them. Put it this way, you might as well have given all your money to Kerry Katona and seen it go up her nose. At least it would have been more entertaining and done less damage.

Here’s the thing. Set up in 1992 under John Major, they snowballed under Brown. Just to get that straight. Conservative idea. Labour misuse. Pigeons come home to roost under Con-Lib government. Nobody is absolved from blame over this.

When you know what PFI schemes are, that’s important, because each and every one of our politicians contributed to the problem, worsened the problem and then we, the people, will suffer.

Basically, the idea is this: in order to build new public buildings when the Treasury coffers are empty, you contract out the buildings. You offer the contracts to developers and building businesses. They build a new hospital or school with their own money, and then they lease it to the people who will be using it. In the case of hospitals, health care trusts. In the case of schools, local authorities on the whole. Thus, you get a shiny new hospital or school for nothing. Yeah, right.

The leases run a bit like mortgages, in principle. The hospitals and schools pay the developer interest and a lease fee and then after 25 years, they get the building. In theory, should things go wrong, it’s like renting: it’s not your problem to fix.

In reality, it’s possibly the world’s most stupid idea. It’s stupid because the lease-back fees are exhorbitant. The interest rates would make loan sharks blush. The pay-back terms aren’t just over 25 years, but sometimes over 60. Things were built that just didn’t need building. I know there’s no reason hospitals and schools shouldn’t have a wonderful atrium and modern art and lots of glass and look totally unlike schools or hospitals.

Lots of studies agree that the very appearance of schools and hospitals puts people off what they’re supposed to be doing there. But when you’re on a budget, you don’t deck your house out in Farrow and Ball, or buy a conservatory. You build a shed and paint with B&Q budget paint. Sure, it doesn’t look as good, but it does what it needs to. More importantly, it doesn’t saddle you with debt for needless changes.

Some people will point to the benefits of PFI schemes like how they have modernised or streamlined things. But at what cost? And couldn’t those benefits have come just from building the same buildings with public funding – always cheaper – than private funding? All we’ve done is lined the pockets of the developers. Sure, we have shiny hospitals and schools and so on, but at what cost?

The cost, of course, was initially soaked up by the people who were paying for the leases – the hospitals themselves. So what happens when you have a high mortgage or repayment rate? You cut other things. You stop having your daily can of coca-cola or you stop paying a man to cut your grass.

This – on a grander scale – is what happened in the PFI hospitals. They cut other things. And the majority of expense is always staff. In a school, about 80% of the budget is staff. I guess it’s a little different in hospitals because of the costs of machinery and so on. But staff are easy to cut. It’s easier to get rid of a nurse – or just fail to reappoint when they move on – and fill their shoes with an auxiliary. Services get stretched thin. Staff get stressed. Terms for repayment get renegotiated and you’re the loser again. You need to find more funds.

You’ve got two choices. You stop paying and default, with all the consequences, or you go cap in hand and ask for more money from the Treasury. Central and local government put you in this position, but they’re now slapping your hands as if you’ve been willingly messing about with your budget. They give you more. But unfortunately, they don’t have bottomless pockets, so that means somewhere else, a cut has to be made.

And guess what? All the hospitals who have been putting up with shit buildings, decrepit units, MRSA-discos-in-the-making, those hospitals and Trusts who’ve been frugal – the Government take from them to give to you. The government robbing the ants to give to the grasshoppers.

Imagine it this way. Your neighbour bought a shiny new car. He bought it on ridiculous finance. You told him other ways to borrow the money, and actually even advised him to save up until he had enough to pay for it, but he ignored you. He bought it on a credit card with 21.9% APR with a 10 year term. It was affordable. They’d pick up the costs if things broke. It seemed sensible, even though he’d be paying thousands of pounds more than it was worth, and thousands of pounds more than he’d have had to pay if he’d have bargained with another credit company, or even if he’d saved up.

Soon, he lost his job and had to downsize. You watched him struggle. Unfortunately, if he defaulted, he’d have legal proceedings to face. He went to the finance company to say ‘take it back’ but they can’t or won’t. They force him to keep paying. In fact, they pass him on to a ‘debt consolidation unit’ who allow him to pay 20% APR over 20 years. It feels less, but it’s much, much more.

But the economy turns for the worse again. Now he can’t afford those payments either. He’s already eating beans on toast every night and now he can’t buy new shoes for his children, so he goes cap in hand to the dole office.

The dole office do this. They see that you’ve got £5,000 saved up. You’ve been putting it aside because you worried something like this would happen. You were saving for your retirement, as you’d been advised to do. You only have debit cards and you never buy anything you can’t pay for outright. You’ve been driving an old banger because you were saving up to buy a new one, and you’ve been making-do and mending as long as you’ve been a grown-up. You do everything right.

The dole office take your £5,000 to pay off some of your neighbour’s new car.

This is in essence what has happened with the health care trusts and the schools. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

This would never be legal on a personal level. You couldn’t just raid your neighbour’s bank account if you were stupid enough to sign up for one of those 1279% APR loans. But this is what the government are doing. Plundering the pockets of the ants who have saved and stored and made-do in order to pay for the shiny atrium in the grasshopper’s house.

It’s so disgusting, I’m personally surprised Bono and Sir Bob aren’t involved in it and we haven’t got Midge Ure trying to get everyone together to raise money and awareness.

And this is what your leaders do whilst you try your best to follow their advice about debt.

“The price tag for repaying PFI firms will reach £8.6 billion next year alone, with the taxpayer owing a total of £121.4 billion on public projects which are worth only £52.9 billion.”

In a way, I don’t blame the organisations like Innisfree who profit from these schemes. I think that they should renegotiate. I think they are unconscionably greedy if they don’t. I think they should do the right and the honest thing. But you can’t blame them for having rock-solid contracts that allow them to double their profits. They’re a business. That’s what businesses do. At least businesses and banks are honest, if not always transparent, in their motivation. Their aim is to make money. Nothing more. Nothing less. They will do so in the ways that make the most, and that means cutting costs, cutting corners, being barely legal. Don’t ever expect more from a business. They are dependable and forthright in their aims. We know what they’re about.

No, it is the government that allowed this to happen. Businesses only exist where there is a need. And businesses should not be above the law and above governance. We’ve got this bizarre system where banks and businesses operate outside the law and are ungovernable. The only way it can work is if they are limited by all governments. For if we don’t limit them in England, they’ll go somewhere like Macau where they can.

But then, who’d want the governments to be in charge of stuff when they’re the idiots who signed us up to this in the first place??! Would we really want these idiots to be in charge of stuff when they can’t see Ponzi schemes for what they are and when they’re too stupid to realise that if you rob Peter to pay Paul, you’re never going to make ends meet. Sooner or later, you’re going to run out of people to rob.

Really, they need me to be in charge and to rip up contracts and say “‘that was a ridiculous, unconscionable deal and we’re not honouring it. You’ve been lucky to have what you’ve had. We’ll pay you 2% above inflation and that’s a good profit. Now fuck off.”

After all, who are they going to complain to?

Money, money, money…

Yet again, the headlines, either alarmingly so or melodramatically so, are all pointing to global catastrophe. Today, The Telegraph reported that Britain is a nation of debtors, introduced by my favourite Mr Micawber line about misery and happiness dependent on income.

It seems, according to the article, that the country has been spending more than its income since 1982. Almost thirty years of over-expenditure. This does not bode well. What doesn’t bode well is the fact that everything that marks inflation – food prices and petrol prices – are increasing, and are going to continue to do so. Whether you think it’s media spin or you’re in agreement with Oxfam’s declaration that we are heading into triple prices and famine, one thing cannot be denied: the population of the globe is rocketing and we are going to be unable to sustain life as it is.

Oxfam point to several causes, all of which are more than evident in the world around us. The first is climate change. Whether it is or isn’t, whether we caused it or it’s just Mother Nature, some things are indisputable: sometimes, we have ‘bad’ years. This is what gave Joseph his power, way back when the technicolour dreamcoat was a myth: seven years of feasting followed by seven years of famine that brought Egypt to its knees and made a slave into a national hero. And did we learn from this?

Obviously not.

Causes of climate change aside, there are bad years and good ones, and in the bad – like this year here – where it’s been bone-dry since April and now cool and overcast in June – and the President himself is meeting up with local farmers to talk about the drought, you know it’s going to have a knock-on effect on food prices. Chicken food has gone up from 1.95 for a 5l bag to 2.95.

Not only does the climate have a massive impact on inflation, but petrol does too – in two ways. Firstly, we’ve come to be so hooked on cars and petrol that we now can’t live without it. I’m reminded of what Morpheus said to Neo about unplugging people from the matrix. “Most people are so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.” And is that not what most of our OPEC wars are about? Hmmm.

But because we can’t live without petrol (and we’ve really only had access to cars, wholesale, for about 70 years, how bad is that??! We’ve become petrol junkies, as a species, faster than it takes to get hooked on heroin, in terms of the length of humanity) we can’t envisage any other way of living, so we invent biofuels. When I was in Brazil, 40% of cars ran off biofuels. I thought that was cool. It isn’t. Biofuels mean you are growing them instead of crops, and that means some people in the world starve whilst others drive. We – as a species – can’t seem to think of any other way of getting about other than in cars or on planes. Amazing to think that two hundred years ago, we lived in ways without cars, planes, bicycles… I’d like to hope we could be in a world like that again, simply because it’s much less environmentally violent.

I for one would start breeding Clydesdales, Friesians or Shire horses, donkeys and oxen, get myself a cart and move about that way. And I’d like it very much!

But, whilst oil will continue to rocket, price-wise, and we’ll see petrol prices spiral – I remember in 1995 buying petrol for 64p a litre and thinking it was expensive! – few of us make any real attempt to stop using our cars quite so much. I definitely use my bike more, but it’s not for any noble purpose, just because petrol’s too expensive for me to buy any more. France isn’t set up for public transport outside the big cities. Whilst a train ticket is 14.50 to Limoges, beating the cost of petrol there and back to drop us off at the airport, there’s no longer any public transport to the airport. What’s the point of that??! There used to be a shuttle bus, but there isn’t any more. Not only that, if I wanted to get to Calais and travel across as a foot passenger on a boat, I’d have to go by TGV, bumping up the cost. To be honest, the train journeys are pleasant and I wouldn’t mind one that’s four or five times slower but it’s impossible to get there without being strong-armed into expensive rail travel… which, by the way, embarrasses England’s trains with their standard ‘on the day’ cost of a ticket between London and Manchester of £215.00. Or £315.00 return, first class. How is that justifiable??! So… until Governments get their heads around better public transport – which, let’s face it, isn’t going to happen when car production and tax on petrol are shoring up the economy – it’s just not viable. It only will become viable when we, as a species, get really, really stuck and there’s no oil left and there’s global disgust for biofuel.

So… if you’re not committed to Oxfam’s GROW you should be… because we ARE our brothers’ keepers. And the quote ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ has never been more appropriate.

The pecking order…

Well, the Simpsons’ ladies are well established. Only one, however, is laying eggs, although I suspect another laid an egg last week. But none since then. Apologies to all those who subscribe to the ‘man’s dominion over nature’ theory rather than the ‘man as caretaker’ theory, but they are all definitely developing their own personalities and as different as can be. What’s ironic is that they are living up to their name somewhat.

At first, Marge, with her golden neck feathers and dark tail feathers, seemed to be in charge. She was first out of the box, first to explore and she’s definitely the noisy one who warns all the others, in true Mother Hen style. Patty and Selma, the two ‘true brown’ hens were difficult to tell apart, unless you knew them well. Selma has whiter neck feathers. They were boxed up together and very subdued when out of the box. Patty hid in a corner, with Selma very close by. Lisa, who is smaller and whiter than the others, was the curious one, going into all the nooks and crevices and looking at the nesting boxes. We named them according to these first signs, and we did a good job! For any of you doubters who didn’t realise hens have personalities just as much as Basil (the Steve equivalent, and sometimes the fussy Jake equivalent) and daft Molly, who is much like myself (except she farts more) the hens really do!

Marge is now probably fairly secure in the pecking order. Nobody bothers her. If she wants a drink, she has a drink. She still warns all the others and clucks more. Patty and Selma are the meanies. They hog the water and the feed, only moving over for Marge. They hang about together. Ironically, Patty is the egg layer. Poor Lisa, however, often struggles to find her place. She can only get to water if the others let her, though Marge always makes sure she can, but Patty and Selma can really flap about and scare her off. If Patty and Selma are eating, she’s stuck at the back. Poor Lisa! She’s the one who is most likely to be off on her own. Having said that, this morning, Patty and Selma were nested tight up against each other, and Lisa was underneath them, with Marge all the way over the other side. I was quite convinced hens like to snuggle up, but not so. Most nights they take up one space on each corner.

Anyway, I shall keep you posted on the psychological welfare of the ladies!

The Simpsons Ladies

We are now proud (if nervous) owners of four Warren hens, which apparently were bred for battery farming as they are ‘egg laying machines’ – Marge, Lisa, Patty and Selma. I asked Jake what we should call them, and even though, as you know, I was pressing for Maria Callas, Lady Di, Jackie O and Margot Fonteyn, Jake had already thought of some names. Bart was the first one. I explained, dutifully, that only girls lay eggs. Not quite time to go into my ‘all roosters are rapists’ speech, I feel.

Jake and Steve had cleaned out the hen house in preparation – whilst it might be a little aged, it’s very functional. It has lovely nesting boxes and a couple of ladders to help them get to their perches. Then we’d bought some bedding – flax seemed to be our choice, since it’s more absorbent than straw and I couldn’t find any ‘copeaux de bois’ (wood shavings) at such short notice, which apparently are the best bedding. We’d chosen food for layers and sorted out the fly situation with the hens’ own ‘catch’. Then it was off to Rouillac market. Yes, the market of golden cheese.

I walked past the cheese lady today with an air of severity and seriousness. I’m not the tourist who would be buying cheese for 20 euros (although I had to hide a dried saucisse in the fridge at L’Eclerc today. I need not to sample wares!) and headed for the chickens. I was beginning to wonder where the chickens were. We’d gone past stalls of knives (which, each time, I have to peel Jake and Steve away from…) and stalls of cheese, vegetables, garlic (there must be four garlic stalls, at the very least) and old french-lady-nighties (think winceyette and neck-high) as well as pinafores and slacks. Contrary to popular belief, fashion is not really a French or Italian thing, since a good 80% of the female population expand without reason after 30 (my uncle Paul calls them popcorn women – they are small and skinny until the heat warms them up and then they pop!) and the French ladies have a penchant for pop socks, slippers, winceyette nighties, overall aprons and nylon.

Anyway, past the final stalls of vegetables, there was a general squawking and squealing. There were a few rows of pretty caged birds (how sad!) to get you excited and make you think a little that there are no chickens to be bought, and then there are about 10 stalls of birds. They include all manner of sad-looking poultry – geese, ducks, goslings, ducklings and chickens. There are plenty of chickens for ‘chair’ (flesh) – and a lot of hen-pecked creatures missing feathers and looking a bit worse for wear.

We went to a quieter stall where the chickens looked a lot less sad, although very cramped, and I liberated our four ladies, if only for a short while, since they were then put into very small boxes which we carried back to the car.

Once back, we unpacked our presents. I should add at this point that I’d woken up at 5:30 and Jake at 6:30, which is as rare as hen’s teeth. Jake is lucky if he sees the morning-side of noon. Two of the girls went into the chicken house; the other two wandered about a bit. Molly had come in with us, and we’d managed to contain her a little – although she was excited enough to piddle, I could just tell – although when one flapped near her, she went bananas. After that, we left them to settle in.

Patty and Selma hiding under a bush
Lisa hiding in the hen house

J’en ai ras le bol #2

It seems some days are just sent to try your patience. This was one of them.

My debit card has been used for a fraudulent purchase. It was used to buy game credits at ijji – so it’s some techno-hacker who likes playing retarded on-line games. I never went to this site before today, but I’m not a happy bunny.

I’m not happy google checkout is so lax. I’m not using them again! They have no protocol (like paypal) to protect buyers, only sellers, so I can’t report a fraudulent transaction directly for them to sort out, like you can with paypal, or set it up as a dispute. I phoned my bank and cancelled my card, grudgingly, since it took them 6 weeks to replace the last card and I was without funds for that time. It’s embarrassing.

In February, when I reported my cards and cancelled them, they told me 3-4 working days. One arrived straight away. The other still hadn’t arrived 14 days later, so I called them and got put through to ‘collections’ *(though they had nothing to collect!)* who then transferred me to the usual number. They said it hadn’t been ordered and they’d place it on order.

2 weeks later, it still wasn’t here. I called again. Apparently it still hadn’t been ordered. They placed it on order. Apparently the branch hadn’t authorised it. Twats.

It arrived after that. I had to cry on the phone to get them to do it though. I had to say I’d been wearing the same clothes for a month, couldn’t afford to wash and couldn’t fill my car up. Truly, I couldn’t MOT or tax my car, or sort out my car insurance. I was without car insurance for 28 days because Directline said they needed a card number, as did every single one of the 17 companies I called. No setting up of direct debits without a card number to start with. And that isn’t a falsehood. If my car had been nicked, I’d have not got a penny.

I put in a complaint. The complaint came back after 3 days to say it hadn’t been upheld because they had no record of either calls when I’d called up and it had been diverted through collections, despite them saying phone calls may be recorded for training purposes etc.

Today, when I called, it went via collections yet again. I have nothing to collect. They are such a bunch of twats.

So… Lloyds TSB, big BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to you. If I don’t get my card, I’ll be royally pissed off.

Organisations who have pissed me off today:

1. Google checkout

2. Ijji

3. LloydsTSB

Oh, and they can’t give me the money back until it’s been taken, and they can’t stop the transaction. What??! I got a full on lecture about how debit cards have a promise to the seller to protect them and guarantee they’ll receive payment, but this ijji must be complete retards. No-one has my CVV and if they’d tried to use Visa secure payments, they would have found they didn’t know my bank password. Even I didn’t know it. So how are they so lax that they don’t ask for the CVV??!

Paypal don’t get my vote of confidence either, since they were royally hacked back in March. They denied it, but in a forum I go in, there were at least 30 people saying the same thing. The same ‘seller’, the same amounts. If that is a small forum, I hate to think how many other accounts were breached.

And this wasn’t a problem from my computer – I’m safe, I hope. Ish.

I don’t trust the internet for money any more. I don’t trust the banks. I’m going to have a Post Office basic account, and that’s it. I’m going to have a La Poste account, and if I can get by with cash, that’s how I’m going. In fact, I can totally understand why gold is at the highest price it’s ever been. People don’t trust the banks, obviously!

je suis une cynique

I’m just about up to the back teeth with this country. Cheating, lying, swindling politicians, potholes all over, rancid buildings à la ‘1960s USSR’, ridiculous policing that’s more bothered about car speeds than hooligans, gang culture, chavs, the benefits system, “asylum” seekers who give a bad name to those really in need of asylum, story after story of scandal and misbehaviour… and I get a letter from Bolton Council to say they won’t backdate my council tax rebate because ‘ignorance of the rebate isn’t a good enough reason’ for them to back-date it. I’ve paid into the system for all my life. I’ve worked since I was 11. My mother never claimed benefits, even when she could have done. I went to a private school on a scholarship, so I cost the tax payer nothing for my 11-18 education. I have grafted every single day of my adult life. I’ve paid 40% tax at some points in my life. And because I’d rather be self-employed than on incapacity benefit for my bipolar disorder, they’d rather not give me any money. I still haven’t claimed a penny. I still pay council tax. And here I am, eating spaghetti with tinned tomatoes for my lunch because I can’t afford anything better. Spaghetti and a tin of tomatoes will keep me going for 4 lunches for less than £2.00. It disgusts me. I can’t afford to buy washing powder, or bleach, or conditioner for my hair. And yet I have worked every day of my adult life. I worked hard. I didn’t claim benefits even when I could. And because of that, I’m being punished.

Not only that, I can’t open a bank account because I’m self-employed and I’ve only got 1 tax year’s summary because I’ve only submitted one set of accounts. I can’t, therefore, get a job that needs a bank account. I’m still waiting for bank cards that I asked for 14 days ago, and yet my bank harasses me as soon as they think I might go overdrawn. Bankrupts are treated better than this. It’s no wonder people declare themselves bankrupt. I’d be able to open a bank account if I’d just come out of prison, yet I can’t because I’m self-employed. So… those on parole, those who can’t manage their finances, those who are benefits’ hounds, they’re the ones who have privileges. If you’ve got credit, if you use catalogues and have cards, and store cards and HP and loans, then they’ll lend you money. But not me.

I hate this country and how it treats its citizens. It’s all about money. I earn enough to live (just!) and yet I still get slapped for tax and I pay my prescriptions, even though my drugs are cheaper than a prescription price, and I pay to see, because I need glasses, and I pay car tax, even though the roads are full of potholes. And my local council can go cap in hand to the government and get more cash. I can’t. If I can’t pay my bills, the bailiffs come round, not someone from the government with some more cash. I pay more than enough for my bank account, and they, more often than not, are responsible for pushing me over the edge when they slap on fees. £10.00 for 5 pages of bank statements exactly the same as the print-offs I had, but the bank I’m trying to deal with in France only accepts ‘bank’ copies, not mine, and so I pay, even though it probably cost a pound to print and post them. £217.00 to get from here to London on the train. £7.00 return from here to Bury on the bus. RIP-OFF Britain. And I’ve had enough.

It makes me sick.

We’re being constantly spied-on and monitored, and The Matrix is alive and well, people, and we’re living in it!

Today’s news:

terror; strikes; terror & strikes; expenses scandals; Budget reports; Income Tax rises; NI rises; man has heart-attack after yobs bait him; pay rise for MPs & pay freeze for doctors; Falklands’ rows; vanishing species of flowers; birds fall from the sky….

Now, of course, you and I are rational people. We know this is media spin. Bad News makes Good News. Good News makes Bad News. No-one likes to hear about animals being saved, or kind people, or how much we give to charity, but it’s just beginning to get to me. I’m a nihilistic sort of person suffering from anomie. Marx and St Simon were right. I can’t stand all this corporationism and globalization, despite its positives. Yes, I can be in touch with people at the touch of a button. Yes, the internet gives me reading and information and TV and it’s great. What I don’t like is all the negativity.

So… in a way, I’m looking forward to being a bit of a rural terrorist, living off the grid, without gas and a TV line. To some degree, not having a phone would be great too, for business. I’d dearly like to pay only the hospital bills I need to.

I’m just reading:

which asks us what we’d do if our electricity failed. I know, because Steve often forgets to top up the meter until the last minute. I know about living without a fridge – did it at uni. It’s amazing how far you can get without a fridge, and with powdered milk! Not sure how far we’d get without a freezer in France, because I’m planning on freezing a lot of it. Pickling and drying, I guess!! Living without music… a little harder, though you can make your own. Living without light? Candles, fire, early nights. Living without TV. Not so hard at all. Living without the internet? Not so sure.

Maybe this blog is kind of spiritual in the sense of sharing with an unknown world. My words are out there, even if no-one’s reading them.

So… a moneyless existence, by and large. How ridiculous I was thinking of getting a horse, yesterday, because along with my bike, I’d need only public transport for longer journeys. No dependence on the car and on oil and petrol! I could wash my clothes in the bath, like I used to at uni, and barbecue stuff and cook it on the range. I could also read by candlelight, and go to bed with the seasons.

Perhaps, then, I should prepare well for an off-the-grid life. I want to be self-sufficient and cash only. That’d work! Except for the taxes. It’s true what they say about death and taxes, you know!

Paul Weller does a good job here of summing up my feelings!

Anyway, having listened to a bit of Bob Marley, a bit of Jimmy Cliff and some ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight’, I feel a whole lot better!

I’m flummoxed… do they think I’m gormless?

Having sorted out (a bit) the finances… and realised it might not all slip away to nothingness and fantasy, we’ve been getting on with the process of uprooting and moving.

The first has been Steve’s bike – a CCM 604DS – a beautiful northern beast of a bike – his love and passion. I’ve been frequenting a couple of forums for expats, and realising they might just not be the place for us! I’d asked what to do about importing the bike, only to have some quite superficially helpful advice.

Turns out, it wasn’t so helpful. The guy who I was told to write to for an ‘attestation d’identité’ doesn’t deal with CCM any more… so after I’d painfully transcribed it in French, he’d written back to me (in English) and faxed it through to CCM in Bolton, a mere 4 miles from my house.  Bah.

Then it turns out it doesn’t have a certificate of conformity because it was pre-1996 and it was not manufactured in great numbers… so it had a motorbike single vehicle approval, which isn’t recognised in France, and it’ll need the equivalent in France.

Not a big deal, I hope.

Still, I’m quickly getting the impression that the forums are full of moaners who have done things the hard way, if at all. They pass on second and third hand stories about difficulties they’ve faced…. without any specific ‘do this, do this’ info, and the guy who I did get some from was so much of a pedant I’d probably slap him in the face. He questioned whether I’d done as he’d advised (to the letter, and better) and then told me what I already knew. Bah.

Then there’s the English ex-pats who want everything English – the same cheeses, the same meat, the same cars, who don’t want to be in France particularly except it was cheap and not a big deal to move there. It might as well be Spain, Italy, Germany…. France is the accidental part of it.

Why even move to a country you don’t want to really live in?

Steve and I went to his mum’s on Wednesday, so I could make my famous Anglesey eggs (thanks, Hairy Bikers) and we were talking about how close we are to a complete monetary failure in England. So much is owed. We’re like some tinpot dictatorship in Africa in the 1970s. It’s quite shocking. I’m going to Cuba if the world’s economy collapses. They’re virtually self-sufficient, were it not for a bit of Hugo Chavez’s oil. And they live like we plan to… fresh veg, chickens, bicycles, music…. I know there are social problems and problems getting various items, such as soap, when I was there, but when Hurricane Ivan swept over and much of the island was in black-out, it wasn’t much different from normal. No street lights in Havana, no extraneous lighting, no ridiculous food, no commercialism. It’s a world totally unaffected by commercial corporations, and I love that. I love that they sit 90 miles off American shores and stick two fingers up at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, Gap and Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch and so on…. I like that they do things their way. I wish not every country in the shadow of America had joined the embargo.

But, it’s a rural, quiet, basic life where people sing and play, work some and learn. They’re healthy and literate and it’s a beautiful untouched country. I like that about rural France.

So I’m not going to expect Sunday roasts and pubs and cheddar cheese and dole queues, but then I’m expecting it to be a lot nicer than England, too, if only because I won’t be bogged down in all this political cynicism I’ve developed. And in many ways, I hope the ex-pats don’t invade my turf. I’m interested in France, not living in an enclave or ghetto. Not for me, at all.

The day someone asks me something in French on the street, that’ll be the day I’m at my happiest.

Anyway, why is it that people who don’t know what they’re talking about feel free to add their grumbles, the old women. It’s as if they feel like they really should piss on your parade, just for fun. If something’s been hard for me, I usually do the opposite and say ‘oh, it was fairly easy’ and assume that any complications were idiocy on my behalf, or stupidity on behalf of whatever it is I’m trying to do (like some of my ridiculous phone calls of late) not that it’s impossible. That just makes me look incompetent.

Anyway, I’ve realised that someone is missing a damn fine PA. I’m very good at getting things done. I’m good at list-writing and ordering and colour-coding and photocopying, and things involving the post office. I’m good at phoning people up and following instructions and gathering stuff. I’m a paper-pusher of the highest order, and I do so in colour-coded box files and with multi-coloured sticky notes, with highlighter pens and dividers and folders and binders. I love Staples and Office World, and I especially love Paperchase who make organisation a kitsch and cute affair. I love boxes and labels and order.

I could definitely be a ‘move co-ordinator’ or a wedding planner or something like that. I would be an excellent sheepdog or shepherd, since I’m very good at corralling gormless animals, rounding up strays and bringing it all home tidily. At times, teaching is much more like herding cats, so all of this is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

So I say ‘bah’ in the general direction of the nay-sayers and the old Mary Anns who like to make everything sound impossibly difficult, and I promise, when I have done things, to share my wisdom and optimism about how easy it all was, in practical, colour-coded, logical steps. Yes.