My self-sufficiency (130 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

With the start of my year of self-sufficiency now visible on the horizon, I thought it was probably high time to define some things – to set out what this thing will be and what it probably won’t. Watching loose ends get tied up probably isn’t the most interesting spectacle, so you might want to skip this post if you’re (very sensibly) wanting to read about pigs and pak choi etc.

The main purpose of this blog has always been to get my lazy backside outside. That small promise to the world, to be self-sufficient starting 1/6/11, has got me out there on days when I would otherwise gone back to bed. The prospect of dismal and public failure has been a very effective weapon against my inner idleness. Not that the field could be described as remotely ready yet – but it would have been irretrievable without this undertaking spurring me on.

Moreover, the opportunity to frame this experience in words – to throw some stuff into the void and have it picked up by kind fellow travellers – has proven remarkably therapeutic. Cheap wine and costly isolation can make the expat experience an absolute minefield, but the unexpected support attracted by the blog has kept me on the straight and narrow and meant that despair has never even come close. Well, rarely.

The rules as envisaged at the tentative beginnings of this project will be honoured to the best of my ability. With the exceptions mentioned at the start, a bit of barter here and a lot of Emma’s cakes there, I will feed myself from this garden. Or die… fail! If anything, the idea has expanded in scope and has now become the bedrock of our family budget. After June we will only have 100€ a month to spend on food and toiletries from anywhere else. Which will act as a constraint or an encouragement, depending on how you look at it. But it’s interesting to note how the pipe dream has turned to stony assumption.

Inevitably, circumstances of the last year dictate the form of the self-sufficiency of this one. For example, money ran so short last autumn that not only was the idea of buying a cow absurd, we couldn’t even afford to rent a Billy to get our goats in kid. With the lesson of the geese learnt, and gite deposits coming in, such embarrassing circumstances are a thing of the past. But it does mean a year ahead without dairy. For those of us that are fat as a barrel – namely, me – this will probably be no bad thing.

My commitment to ferrying my oldest two backwards and forwards to the UK a dozen times each year is complete and absolute. So if you see me scoffing a month’s-worth of shop-bought sandwiches in Kings Cross station, you’ll know what I’m up to!

Finally, there was some talk from me about writing a book about all this. I can say with certainty now that this won’t be happening. I’m completely disenchanted with gardening as commodity. I’ve come to think that selling that knowledge is the very essence of not fully understanding the implications of it. Conversely, the nature of a blog – free, organic, rambling, open to comment and discussion – seems entirely consistent with the meaning of the experience. I’m also convinced that every book we need to read has already been written – and 98% of those were written over seventy years ago. My own humble take on this experience will, therefore, be right here for as long as you want it, and a bit longer besides!