Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Off-grid living - Baby Step 2

There are many routes to off-grid living, and I prefer the simple portable ones. Think your way through an average day and you'll need light, hot water, hot food and a means of charging your electronic links to the modern world. In Baby Step 1 we looked at one simple way to achieve the latter, but there are many more, and we'll look at some of them as time goes on.

So, let's think about light. If you live in Shetland you probably won't need any in June or July during the 'Simmer Dim', but in most of the UK you'll need anything between one and six hours use of a light source per day, depending on the time of year.

There are a few options:

1) Candles - traditional, atmospheric, available anytime. Not a bright light, but can be enhanced by using them in a lantern. A couple of quid gets you 100 tealight candles from the likes of IKEA, each burning for about four hours.

2) Wind-up torches and lanterns. Good for emergency lighting while finding other light sources, or when your matches are wet and you've no power left in your solar battery pack. Noisy and a lot of effort, but good for kids to see one form of energy being converted to another.

3) Rechargeable solar-powered lights. There are some great, very durable examples of these around now, with my particular favourites produced and sold by Sun King.
Sun King Pro with solar panel for charging

Off-grid living - Baby Step 1

Off-grid living is one concrete way to quickly move towards a degree of independence from the system, fulfilling your own energy needs, rather than relying on a mega corporation to supply it for you.

Rather than go the whole hog adding a massive array of solar panels on your roof, and heavy duty batteries etc, it's easier and far cheaper to cut down on your electricity use.

A solar panel and a power pack is all you need to keep your phone and tablet charged. Actually, the panel alone will charge your devices, but the power pack makes the whole thing a lot more flexible, allowing you to store charge to use when it's not sunny, including at night.

My portable small-scale set-up is as follows:

Simply pop the solar panel outside, preferably in direct sunlight, although it will still produce power on an overcast day, and watch your phones and tablets charge up, while the power pack gets a top-up for later use.

Total cost less than ninety pounds, and you're well on your way to an off-grid day.

This enables me to keep iPhone and iPad and iPad Mini charged, alongside bluetooth speaker and lights. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Ever feel like you've been had?

As a child in the 1970s I was heartened to hear from Michael Rodd, on the BBC's excellent Tomorrow's World, that by the year 2000 computers and robots would be assisting us to such an extent that the working week would be down from 40 hours per week to ten, and that our biggest problem would be finding things to do to fill all that extra leisure time. However, seventeen years after the turn of the millennium we work just as many hours, and the precious leisure time that is left to us is eaten away by the very technology that was supposed to free us from a life of toil, as many of us are deemed to be always available on email, mobile phone and social media. How could the charming Mr Rodd have got it so wrong? Well, what he failed to account for when making his prediction was the scale of personal debt and ongoing financial commitments that people would take on over the coming decades, and that it never entered into the plans of the employers or the minds of most politicians that the proles would do anything other than spend the majority of their time working, commuting, getting ready for work and recovering from work. That gave 'The Man' a very big stick to threaten us with. Remember, if you do not keep up repayments your home/car/everything is at risk . . .

As-much-as-you-can-afford mortgage payments, high rents, student loan repayments, hire purchase, energy bills and rising food prices all coerce the masses into unhappy acceptance of the spirit-crushing full-time jobs on offer in the modern UK economy.

It doesn't have to be that way though. As our fellow job-dodger Robert Wringham writes in his brilliant manual Escape Everything - "I dream of a day when shelter and basic sustenance are inalienable human rights and nobody is forced into working against their will to pay for them." Wringham is right. If resources were more equally shared, and advances in technology were used for the common good, then those who want it could be working a much shorter week, with a secure roof over their heads and food in their bellies. Oystercatcher will be looking at how that might be achieved and what small steps we can all make towards that end, and towards a better, happier society.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Your Working Life

If you enjoy your job and are happy with the number of hours that you have to give to it every week, this probably isn't the blog for you. If you love your job, but would prefer to spend just a day or two per week doing it, rather than the 40+ hours of your life that you give to it then we may have something for you. If you are one of the more than 50% of the workforce who hates their job read on, the Oystercatcher is your new best friend.

Your 'working life' = a term used to try to persuade you that it's somehow normal to spend 40 hours per week for 50 years in a shit job.

Why do people stay in jobs that make them miserable? I've done it myself at times, and the main reason I can think of is keeping a roof over my head, and in more recent times doing the same for my family. Depending where in the UK you live and whose figures you believe the average house currently costs between six and ten times the average wage. Hang on though, that's between six and ten years of gross income, so after tax it's more like somewhere between eight and twelve years. Then there's the interest, which still runs into hundreds of pounds per month, even in this period of record low interest rates. You have to pay the bills too and, well . . . live. So without being able to save any money the average person in the UK can just about keep up with the average mortgage, spending everything they have to keep a roof over their heads and they will have it paid off in about twenty-five to thirty years, and that is why mortgage terms are twenty-five to thirty years generally, so that the banks can bleed you white for the greater part of your working life. And remember "you risk losing your home if you don't keep up repayments."

Wages are currently just about static, so all of the above holds true for the average. However, anyone finding themselves earning more is encouraged, often for reasons of status within society, to 'move up' to a larger property, taking on more debt in the process. Perfectly good homes are described as 'ideal for the first time buyer' or 'starter homes', insinuating that you shouldn't be planning to stay in them for too long if you are on your way up in the world.


The reasons for this blog. Imagine if you didn't have to pay that mortgage or the rent. You could choose to work part-time, or save for a while then take a year or more off when you felt like it. The fact that ordinary people who do that are sometimes described as lazy gives you an idea of how deeply ingrained the 'working life' mindset is.