Small solar power system at off-grid cabin

This post is about the small solar power system that provides us with light (dc, i.e. direct current) and power for a few things at our off-grid cabin.

The ‘few things’ I refer to are:

  • phone charging (dc)
  • laptop (occasional use) – direct power (dc) and battery charge (ac, i.e. alternating current)
  • hair clippers (ac)
  • headlight battery charging (dc)
  • cordless drill battery charging (ac)
  • and a few other miscellaneous things

Here’s the panel. It’s a 128W, 24V panel that seems to work excellently with the 12V system:

Bolted and locked to the roof:

MPPT controller/regulator and breaker switches:

The two batteries, 102Ah each, connected to each other to maintain the 12V system config. Also, the 600W inverter used for AC conversion:

Small diy LED light; there are several of these inside and outside the cabin:

The car radio/stereo and speakers powered directly:

The DC jack that connects to various devices:

The little phone charger job I threw together:

The small inverter that connects to the previously pictured jack and converts 12v to 13-24v depending on requirement. The laptop runs at 19v; I had to find an old power supply for my laptop, cut off the connection, and wire it into a new connection:

A close-up of the small inverted and male-female jacks:



Rocket thermal mass heater

Materials used:

Old boiler/geyser barrel.

Fire bricks for the burn chamber.

All other bricks are standard bricks.

Ceramic fibre board for the riser inside the barrel.

Clay and sand mortar between all standard bricks.

Fire-cement (very tiny amount) between burn chamber fire bricks.

Cob plaster to seal barrel and around burn chamber.

(All bricks will eventually be cobbed).

Eco-brick reading room build at Jikani community centre

A few pics of the start of the eco-brick build at Jikani community centre in Hogsback.

Each eco-brick contains approximately 1 full garbage bag of plastics that would otherwise end up in landfill.

So far 4000 eco-bricks have been collected. That’s 4000 garbage bags that have been diverted from landfill.

The eco-bricks will constitute the inner wall material for what will be a community room utilised for reading and will probably house a few community computers.

Not only is the utilisation of eco-bricks diverting plastics from landfill; it eliminates the use of a large number of bricks, cement and other building materials that would otherwise be used for the build.

The mortar between the eco-bricks is cob mortar: a mix of clay, sand and straw.

Reflections on a transformative philosophy talk that face-planted

Yesterday I gave a talk at a weekly philosophy seminar hosted by a prominent South African university. The talk was called Humanity as it has been historically constituted: what lies beyond. The first half of the talk was a short summary of Badiou and Žižek’s depiction of the role of philosophy ‘in the present’. They argue that philosophy occurs when confronted with the incommensurable; that it involves the creation of new problems; that it pertains to the redefinition of human nature. Philosophy can cut through ‘particularities’ and focus on universals and the ‘inhuman’; it changes the terms and concepts of the debate, elucidates choice, and spreads light on the distance between power and truths. That philosophy cannot confine itself to the established model of humanity, because each time that it does so, its only function becomes that of conserving and spreading the established model. I write in-depth about these ideas, as well as others, in the first half of the seventh chapter of my PhD, which can be accessed at this site.

The established model of humanity is Promethean; or, reworded, humanity as it has been historically constituted is Promethean. It does not take a huge leap in reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that if the role of philosophy is not to conserve the established model, then this role involves not spreading the Promethean. I define the Promethean attitude in my study as one “inspired by audacity, boundless curiosity, the will to power, and the search for utility”, and it “penetrates the secrets of nature… through violence” (Hadot 2008:91-98). Hadot points out that Promethean ‘man’ “demands the right of dominion over nature” (2008:95) and furthermore that the attitude “has engendered our modern civilization and the worldwide expansion of science and industry” (2008:101).

Hadot is demonstrably correct. If one does any research on the following industries – fossil fuel, petrochemical, agricultural, construction, mining, meat and fish industries, ‘bio-tech’, and fractional reserve money industry – then one will see a clear cause-effect relationship between the industries and large-scale phenomena such as loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas and carbon emissions, anthropogenic climate change, deforestation, loss of topsoil, fresh water loss, landfill waste, associated pollution, toxic and chemical waste, overpopulation, and so on. As Hadot suggests, the Promethean attitude has driven the expansion of what I call ACID (under inspiration from the Norwegian philosophers Hoyer and Kvaloy), the Promethean writ large: ‘advanced’ (Christian) competitive consumer capitalist industrial democratic dominion. After a few years of research, I found the pieces of the puzzle I’ve just mentioned – these pieces constitute the established model of humanity. I am confident that I offered no ‘argument’ in describing the established model. Instead, I simply did the research, and compiled it into a few chapters constituting the first half of my PhD.

The first half of the seminar talk was the summary of Badiou and Žižek’s description of the role of philosophy in the present. Thereafter I pointed out that the established model is Promethean, and that the relevant industries and ecological destruction are part and parcel of the established model. I then moved on to point out, more or less, that the realm of ‘the Orphic’ is something of a counter-balancing force to the Promethean. “Orpheus… penetrates the secrets of nature not through violence but through melody, rhythm, and harmony”; and “the Orphic attitude… is inspired by respect in the face of mystery and disinterestedness” (2008:91-98). The research I did for my PhD led me to consider the following as helpful for the Orphic agenda, if indeed there is such a thing as an Orphic agenda: older cultures, Hancock’s civilization with amnesia, Sheldrake’s morphic resonance, Hawken’s blessed unrest, Eisenstein’s sacred economics, the Occupy Movement, the Zeitgeist Movement, and deep ecology.

I covered a few other things in the talk, like the fact that ACID does not ‘do real dialectical change’ (a conclusion for which I provided premises in the seminar and in my study), and that the Orphic realm in general, as well as permaculture principles, are attuned to philosophical universality, but I’ve mentioned most of the main focal areas in this post. Important to mention is what I included as a caveat: I am not throwing the babies of Promethean ‘progress’ out with the bathwater of Promethean ecocide. I fully acknowledge that there are many benefits for humans that have arisen from the reign of the Promethean. There is also a real and worrying ‘flipside’ to Promethean ‘progress’ that can be seen if one looks at the disease, discomfort, inequality, patriarchy, racism, and so on, that is demonstrably caused by the spread of ACID. These (and other) issues aside, it is clear that benefits have come at the expense of a diverse and healthy ecology, the very thing needed for human beings to survive on this beautiful planet. I also made it clear that I am not advocating a radical shift from the dominance of the Promethean to a mostly Orphic dispensation – this would be completely unrealistic, because such giant strides are prevented for various reasons, some of which I uncover in the fourth chapter of my study.
I certainly was suggesting that a useful ‘philosophical tool’ is the Orphic-Promethean spectrum, on which one can conceptually position different actions, activities, lifestyles, choices, industries, attitudes, beliefs, ventures (business and otherwise), manifestations of government, theories, and so on. I’m not sure if I mentioned this in the seminar, but there is surely no ‘purely Promethean’ or ‘purely Orphic’ manifestation of being. But ACID is definitely a form of ‘civilisation’ with heavily Promethean features, features I identify in my study and which I identified in the talk. ACID, when placed on the conceptual spectrum I have described, is weighted almost at the far Promethean end of the spectrum. My contention is that the conceptual process (of considering where between the two ‘incommensurable positions’ of the spectrum an activity or action or choice lies) is a philosophical activity. How one actualises a repositioning toward the Orphic may not be philosophical; it may be informed by a philosophical process, but the following remark by Badiou makes clear that particular decisions are not necessarily philosophical: a philosophical commitment “is foreign. And when it is simply commonplace, when it does not possess this foreignness, when it is not immersed in this paradox [of incommensurability], then it is a political commitment, an ideological commitment, the commitment of a citizen, but it is not necessarily a philosophical commitment. Philosophical commitment is marked by its internal foreignness.”

So in the final few minutes of my talk, I made it excessively clear that I may be stepping beyond the philosophical ‘commitment’ highlighted by Badiou. I may have offered a commitment of a citizen, a researcher, an academic, a human being, a person who knows the value of treading softly on our home planet that has been stomped upon for so long. In one presentation slide – the final one – I pointed out that the legalisation of Cannabis in South Africa would be – in my opinion – one of the only ways to shift the general collective societal attitude slightly away from the far Promethean end of the spectrum toward the Orphic end. A brief look at the legalisation of Cannabis in the USA will show how successful legalisation has been. Economically it’s a no-brainer. Cultivation is instrumentally and inherently uplifting. Millions of meaningful jobs can be created where cultivators spend time working with plants and natural medicines. I need to write a post about just how socially, economically and ecologically uplifting I contend the legalisation of Cannabis will be in South Africa, and about how I contend the legalisation process can roll out, but for now I simply would like to reinforce what I was suggesting yesterday: that this relatively small change could go a considerable way to shifting attitudes away from the now-dominant Promethean end of the spectrum toward somewhere closer to the middle of the spectrum.

I then pointed out that very reputable experiments and research are being done at Johns Hopkins University and at MAPS (and elsewhere) on the benefits of controlled use of Psilocybin, and suggested that controlled, legal use of the substance would go quite far in initiating people into the Orphic attitude. I am not suggesting that anyone be forced to use the substance, but rather that if one wishes to have such an experience, then it could easily be incorporated into South African culture. Indeed, the dominance and growing prevalence of Promethean attitudes in our country has turned our culture into a consumer-culture, which is to say no culture at all. Huxley’s Island demonstrates what such a ritual use of Psilocybin could look like – and, to me, it looks great. The novel demonstrates a culture I would proudly call a culture. And, I contend, introducing an optional ritual affords possibilities to further create meaningful jobs in a ‘health industry’ that can have many (Orphic) side-branches. Legalisation of Cannabis, and the eventual availability of ‘initiatory’ experiences like those associated with Psilocybin, are, in my considered opinion, aspects of a society that is transforming in a manner not completely dominated by the business-as-usual of the established Promethean model.

That’s what I presented, more or less. Then I was crucified, more or less! The responses were brutal. Okay, one young man with a glitter in his eye agreed that the ‘mystical experience’ facilitated by Psilocybin were extremely helpful. But all the other responses were extremely critical… despite my caveats and explicit drawing of attention to where the ‘safe’, summarised philosophy ended and the ‘un-philosophical’ commitments of a ‘citizen’ began. I was told that I was being Promethean in ‘othering’ aspects of ACID, which is a strange response seeing as I had made the disclaimer that I am not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but rather trying to encourage a process whereby a spectrum is delineated and ‘particulars’ can be placed on the spectrum, with the hope that the imbalance toward the Promethean end is identified and problematised, and where the “distance between power and truths” (2009:8) is brought to light – which, by the way, are aspects of the role of philosophy as depicted by Badiou and Žižek. I was told that I was bundling all of the world’s problems into “one thing”, which was a surprise seeing as I identified dozens of industries and components of underlying attitudes that constitute the Promethean. ‘Stoners’, I was told, would achieve nothing in response to the world’s problems, because they would sit around and do nothing all day, except for maybe party; strange then that Silicon Valley is populated by ‘stoners’ and ‘trippers’ of all sorts who have pioneered some of the most influential endeavours of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I was told that in older cultures humans died at age 35, so things are better now; how many times have we heard that one, and how few people know that it is at worst a complete myth (see here), or at best a complex issue that cannot be reduced into the view that was leveled at me as criticism of my argument.

My favourite criticism came when most seminar attendants had departed: there is no ecological crisis, I was told. That what human beings do with our industries and our capitalist economy is progress. When I asked what was meant by the word ‘crisis’, and when given the example of stage one cancer, the response was that stage 1 cancer is not a crisis; stage 4, I was told, is a crisis, which I take to mean that stages 2 and 3 are not seen as crises either. Stages 1, 2 and 3 are problems, I was told, not crises. This was very odd to me. It is easy to demonstrate that the planet does have early stages of cancer – maybe not stage 4, granted, but I would think stages 2 or 3 – but the situation is not akin to when a person gets cancer and seeks treatment, because for the earth, under the current Promethean regime, there is no treatment. Some very respectable thinkers have made the cancer analogy. Joel Kovel (2002:51), for example, speaks of “the cancerous imperative to expand” that is characteristic of the global economy. Paul Hawken (2007:3) suggests that we live on a planet with “a life-threatening disease”, and James Lovelock (2009:46-47) also uses the ‘sick patient’ analogy. Foster, Clark and York, in their book The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (2010:1) all agree and argue that “a deep chasm has opened up in the metabolic relation between human beings and nature – a metabolism that is the basis of life itself. The source of this unparalleled crisis is the capitalist society in which we live”. They also add (2010:14) that if “business as usual continues, the world is headed within the next few decades for major tipping points along with irreversible environmental degradation, threatening much of humanity”. Thomas Princen (2010:32) explains the following paradox: “the economy depends on increasing consumption, but ever-increasing consumption strains ecosystems, both resources (soil and water, for instance) and waste sinks (the oceans and the atmosphere). Before tackling this paradox head-on, let’s turn the question of consuming less on its head. A system that grows endlessly crashes. Think of cancer cells, debt-ridden mortgages, fisheries. It defies logic, not to mention a few well-known laws of physics (like thermodynamics), to presume that with continuing growth in consumption – that is, continuing growth in the total throughput of material and energy through our economy – the current economy will not crash.” So maybe the Promethean dispensation of ACID is only in stages 2 or 3 of having cancer, not 4, but the fact that the Promethean trajectory continues unabated (i.e. no treatment), if not at an increasingly accelerated speed, should give every sober-minded individual cause for alarm. Whether or not you call this a crisis is up to you, but it is certainly more than ‘a problem’.

Strangely, I was happy to take the criticisms. I gave the talk because I feel something of a responsibility to try and create awareness of the issues of the Promethean gone mad, and to try and suggest what remedies could look like. This was not well received yesterday, but I feel like I am at least trying to do something in the face of such overwhelming odds. On reflection, I feel that my ‘less orthodox’ suggestions were more in the spirit of the role of philosophy in the present: as I have quoted already, a philosophical commitment “is foreign. And when it is simply commonplace, when it does not possess this foreignness, when it is not immersed in this paradox [of incommensurability], then it is a political commitment, an ideological commitment, the commitment of a citizen, but it is not necessarily a philosophical commitment. Philosophical commitment is marked by its internal foreignness.” The responses I received from various members of the group highlighted the foreignness of my contributions, and also highlighted something incommensurable between us. I was certainly not offering commonplace contributions.

The group consisted mainly of analytical philosophers – they are used to knit-picking away at arguments. I have done this too, and there is value to this commonplace activity. But I spend more time these days trying to conceptualise and actualise ‘alternatives’ (for lack of a better word). I do this for my own sake, but also for the sake of others who are trying to introduce ‘alternatives’ into the mix and thereby, ever so slightly, together inoculate the Promethean pot with Orphic spores and keep hope alive that little by little we can balance ourselves away from the far Promethean end of the spectrum. I am not sure if this will amount to much, but I am dedicated to continuing this “strange commitment”: “Genuine philosophical commitment – the kind which is immersed in the incommensurable and summons the choice of thought, staging the exceptions, creating distances and, especially, distancing from forms of power – is often a strange commitment” (Badiou 2009:23). I am happy that I tried to “change the concepts of the debate” (2009:51), and I wonder how members of the group would feel when revising some of the features of the role of philosophy (as depicted by Badiou and Zizek) and thereafter reflecting on the ‘feedback’ I was given – ‘criticisms’ is a far more fitting word. Are you, as philosophers, happy to purely occupy a place in the established model of humanity, and if you are, are you a philosopher? Pure pen pushing is not an act of philosophy, unless, perhaps, the pen is pushed in the ‘transformative’ spirit depicted by Badiou and Žižek. With this in mind, I will conclude with the words of Karl Marx, and remind one that ‘the world’ in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is characterised by a massive imbalance of Promethean characteristics: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

Podcast: Rudi on Vipassana meditation and walking South Africa

Rudi, me, and co

In this Perspective Project Podcast, Rudi and I have a conversation about his well-established meditation practice Vipassana style, as well as his 4500+ km walk around South Africa. We also touch upon several different themes and topics during the conversation.  The opening guitar riff is Rudi’s creation too; the full acoustic track can be heard after the conversation. Enjoy.

Download at 128kbps (113mb): DOWNLOAD HERE.


DIY compost toilet – urine diversion using watering can as separator

This is an upgrade of our compost toilet:


A nice big urine catchment area, and the usual size bucket for the humanure:


I cut a watering can to serve as the urine diversion part of the system:


The shortened spout of the watering can rests just within a funnel, which is connected to pipe exiting the toilet box:


A close up of the first attempt at the funnel; note that the tape lost its stickyness after several very hot days, and thereafter I wired the funnel to the pipe connections:

Thermal mass rocket stove steam room suana

After several years of the manual labour involved in building two rustic abodes and doing all that was involved in the rustic lifestyle I have occasionally tracked at this blog, my body took strain – especially my hands, which often feel swollen and arthritic from serious over-use, as well as my right shoulder, which inevitably takes a lot of train when I do just about any of the manual labour I do.

Yoga and Pilates/body-conditioning have been my saving grace in keeping me supple and able to keep up with the labour demand placed on my body. However, sometimes a steam room is just what I need to sooth and soften me, especially after ruthless bouts of digging and building.

In order to have access to a steam room, the first option was to join a gym. I would never use anything but the steam room at the gym though – I do way too much manual labour, and I already frequently do yoga and Pilates/body-conditioning. So I would have had to pay the high monthly gym fee, which was not possible considering various factors relating to my finances, and then drive a considerable distance to the gym and back again just to use the steam room.

So instead I built a steam room. The wood is yellow gum from a local saw mill. Yellow gum is extremely hard and, untreated, will last for years, unlike pine and other more-readily available woods. The wood must remain untreated because the heat of the steam room would cause the release of the chemicals contained in paint into the air.

Here is a picture of the inside of the steam room before the hole for the thermal-mass-heater was cut:


The markings indicating where the rocket stove mass heater will enter the structure:


Structure and initial row of fire bricks (cement is ‘fire cement’ or ‘furnace cement’, not ordinary cement; first three courses of furnace are fire bricks; rest of chimney ‘common’ bricks; see THIS POST for a better idea of the construction of the rocket-stove-mass-heater, keeping in mind that the one used for the steam room is considerably bigger):


My friend Gareth and one of his kids overseeing me doing the fire-cementing of the inside chimney. Note the metal flu at the back left – the flu is the main initial steam generator as it gets hot quickest. I pour water onto the flu and the water explodes into steam. Later, as the bricks warm up, the chimney provides a more constant source of steam as water is gradually poured onto the bricks:


Here the crucial insulating foil barrier is most notable. A few reclaimed corrugated sheets have been applied.


And here I am, holding the 18 volt cordless drill that I used to build so many things now. This drill comes highly recommended:


That’s where my pictures end. Since the final picture was taken, I finished the reclaimed corrugated sheet cladding and painted it green. The structure blends into the surrounds perfectly. I have used it approximately eleven times and wow! The room takes 30 minutes to get warm; an hour to get hot. By 1hr30mins a person can go in and start pouring water over the flu and brick chimney, and 30 minutes thereafter the person will usually have to exit. Thereafter, the steam room is absolutely pumping! If I let the fire die after this point, room will still be warm (and completely dry) 12 hours later.




The Gorge Plot’s off-grid shed/cabin

I made frequent references to the Gorge plot in the previous post. Emma and I acquired it late in 2014, but I didn’t mention it on this site for years because of so many things happening at once – things that required physical labour or academic attention, things that detracted from activities such as blog-post writing. One of the things requiring physical attention was the building of a shed/cabin at the Gorge plot. I built is at the initial plot I lived on first, and dismantled it later to reassemble it at the Gorge plot. See HERE for the initial construction phase. Here it is at the Gorge plot – note that the first picture is 6 months older than the rest:

Its base-frame is supported by 12 poles dug 80cm into the ground. The walls and floor are made from shutter-ply sheets, the roof corrugated alu-zinc sheets. The ceiling is knotty-pine, under which is hidden a substantial amount of insulation. The room is 3.6 by 3.6 metres, totalling 12.96 square metres. Emma and I, as well as our two cats, lived in this small space happily for a month before we headed up to Hogsback.

Two exterior walls of corrugated alu-zinc were added after the mid-year fires, which almost destroyed the shed/cabin. The logic is that metal does not catch alight as easily as wood. Initially I wanted to clad the entire structure in wood from local saw-mills, but the fire scared me off considerably, especially because the structure will be left unattended for long-ish periods of time.

The shed/cabin has one solar panel (128 watts) on the roof, which charges two deep-cycle batteries (102 amp hours each) in the cabin, which power several low-watt lights, a car stereo system I rigged up, and occasionally a laptop computer. I have added a 600W inverter so that I can charge the batteries of two extremely important cordless tools and things like headlamps and camera, as well to run a few odd 220 volt devices like hair clippers.

The small solar setup is the only power source on the plot. Alongside there being no ‘mains’ or grid electricity at the plot, there is no mains water connection. Water is caught off of the shed/cabin’s roof, as well as off the roof of a second structure I built at the top of the plot. The water situation, however, is the topic of a different post.


Filling in some gaps to the story so far


Picture: ‘Gorge plot’ car-pot storage-area and undercover water-tank structure under construction in a clearing created by the fire of mid-2017.

I started telling the story of the move that Emma and I made from the UK to South Africa in 2012, when this blog began. I managed to fill in bits and pieces of the story along the way, but ended up leaving out massive chunks of it because the rustic lifestyle we chose and the accompanying developments, combined with the part-time ‘paid work’ commitments, required of us all of our time and energy. I simply could not prioritise keeping the blog updated because of so many other aspects of the journey that needed urgent and often on-going attention.

There has been another change of chapters in our lives, and the new one seems to be affording me some space to reflect on the previous years, and my focus flowed to what I have not recorded on this blog. Perhaps a bullet-point list of central events and features is helpful in the reflection process:


  • Complete a Permaculture Design Certificate in the UK. Resign from A-Level teaching job after 4 years of teaching full-time.
  • Return to South Africa. Set up tents on a friends land in Country Gardens. String an old truck-cover (tarp) to some trees and huddle under it to cook etc. Rocket stove used for cooking and hot water.
  • Start making compost. Create vegetable gardens for annual crops. Start teaching yoga and Pilates part-time.
  • Build a small cabin to live in, with an outdoor kitchen attached to the side. Cooking and hot water all catered for by small rocket stove. Compost toilet is ‘housed’ behind tarp mentioned above.
  • Square-foot gardens and key-hole garden beds are experimented with.
  • Emma attends 10-day Vipassana meditation course.


  • Do a short contract of research work for a private education company. Continue teaching Yoga and Pilates part-time. Take on a longer academic research contract until mid-year; part-time. From mid-year, teach first year philosophy at local university; part-time. Emma begins teaching part-time contracts for two different universities.
  • Basic shadecloth+plastic nursery added to rustic abode; vegetable seedlings housed herein.
  • Plant orchard trees. Create raised beds and grow annual vegetables. Take down tarp and build under-roof sitting, food-prep and cooking area; compost toilet housed in back corner.
  • Outhouse built and old bathtub added, as well as compost toilet. Black plastic tubing coiled up on roof, connected to mains = hot water at heat of day.
  • Some trees are added to the gardens.
  • I apply for bursaries for PhD study.


  • I attend 10-day meditation retreat. Return and embark on polyphasic sleeping experiment for approx. 4 months, allowing me to write the proposal for my PhD and do the research for first 2 chapters of the 7 chapter PhD, as well as do a considerable amount of reading and planning for later chapters.
  • ‘Paid work’ situation continues: I am the first year philosophy guy at the local university, and Emma teaches Environmental Impact Assessment at one university for one semester, and one term at a different university. Bursary money added to the ‘income’ stream.
  • Abode at Country Gardens continues to be developed: annual vegetables continue to be rotated; perennial herbs and plants added to the raised beds.
  • Emma and I acquire an acre of land – the Gorge plot. Begin observation process.


  • Paid work situation continues for both Emma and I. I continue PhD research and writing.
  • Country Gardens plot: focus changes from keeping annual vegetables going, to maintaining perennials and adding variety to the ecosystem. Structures maintained and small additions made, like pallet-wood kitchen unit, as well as laptop work stations.
  • The Gorge plot: most of year spent observing, which requires getting deeper and deeper into the bushy land (Coastal Fynbos biome). I purchase a brushcutter and slowly cut paths through the land.
  • Emma and I bump into friends while walking in the Mountains in Hogsback. Friends buy property in Hogsback and we make a couple of visits to see them.


  • Paid work situation continues for both Emma and I. I continue PhD research and writing.
  • Situation continues much the same as in previous years at Country Gardens plot.
  • Observation and sporadic brushcutting continues at the Gorge plot. A space is chosen for a shed.
  • Several visits are made to see our friends in Hogsback. The offer is made for Emma and I to move to Hogsback and live in a cottage on friends’ land – Emma and I are keen, but need time to think about it. Eventually we express that we are keen, but need time to conceptualise a transition.
  • In December, I start work on the shed at the Gorge Plot.


  • Paid work situation continues for both Emma and I. I continue PhD research and writing.
  • January sees me finish the shed at the Gorge plot, and I add two 2,500L water tanks, allowing for rain water to be caught and stored.
  • April sees a small fruit-tree orchard begin at the Gorge plot. By June, dozens of indigenous trees have been planted at the Gorge plot.
  • Fire hits the Gorge plot in July, but shed and over 90% of the added trees are spared. Two thirds of the Fynbos lost in fire but quickly regrows.
  • July sees the start of a double-car port structure at the Gorge plot. Structure includes a store-room and undercover water tanks totalling 20,000L. Structure finished in October.
  • PhD submitted in August. Final changes recommended by examiners made in October. Graduate start of December.
  • Various trees, plants, shrubs are transplanted from Country Gardens plot to Gorge plot from July through to end of November. Some furniture, tools, etc. stored in Gorge plot store-room.
  • Transition from Country Gardens plot to Gorge plot occurs in final week of November and first week of December. Main structures are left behind at Country Gardens.
  • Live at Gorge plot for rest of December and first week of January 2018.


  • First week of January sees the Gorge plot prepped for departure to Hogsback.
  • Arrive in Hogsback on Friday 5th January and take occupation in Hogsback cottage. The plan is to bounce between Hogsback and the Gorge plot, with the bulk of time being spent in Hogsback, and a week ‘here and there’ at the Gorge plot to do things like water trees and general maintenance.
  • My ‘paid work’ situation uncertain. Emma to teach a one-term contract starting February.

This is already quite a bit if information for one post, and it is probably for the best if I reserve commentary for later posts.

On the Green Renaissance video: No Somewhere Else

Deep gratitude goes out to Mike and Warren, as well as the rest of the Green Renaissance team, for putting together such a professional video – or rather, another professional video, seeing as the team has created several dozen excellent videos, each of which is an artwork in itself. Thank you.

First – and I must address this first because I hear that several people have commented on my error – I am now well aware that the Counting Crows reference should be to Joni Mitchell. Quite simply, I am not a fan of Joni Mitchell’s music, though I do acknowledge and respect her contribution to the history of good music. Counting Crows, however, is a band I listened to extensively in my teenage years, so there we have it.

I would also like to provide some contextual information that, I hope, justifies what I consider to be a less-than-polished interview from me on the day of filming. The night before Mike and Warren arrived to do the filming and the interview, Emma and I had broken the news to our friends whose land we live on that we would be leaving. I need not reveal the details, and rather say more generally that complications surrounded the breaking of the news. After trying for a few weeks to find the right time to tell them, a pizza evening arose – Emma and I make great Pizzas – and we decided to break the news at the end of the evening. That happened to be at around 11pm, after too much pizza and wine, and it was quite an emotionally trying time for me – another story, perhaps. Mike and Warren showed up at 6am the following day, after I had hardly slept due to indigestion and over-stimulation, and after Emma and I awoke before 5am to do some tidying. The actual interview was at around 11 am, long after three cups of coffee, and I think I was caffeine-crashing at that point too.

So I thought that the interview went terribly – I am quite sure that, objectively, it did go terribly. The editing team, however, did excellently to identify a theme, and then construct a mostly-coherent articulation of that theme. In a nutshell, that theme is that there is no ‘somewhere else’. I really wish I had said there is no such thing as ‘away’, as the authors of Cradle to Cradle point out, far more eloquently than I do. Of course, there is such a thing as somewhere else: I was obviously trying to emphasise the important notion that we live in a closed system, and that each part of the system is inseparably connected to every other part of it. When a person poops into a toilet and flushes their faeces ‘away’, it has gone from somewhere to somewhere – the organic matter is still in the system of which the pooper is a part. The pooper may call the place it goes ‘somewhere else’, but doing so would raise the issue of the arbitrary ‘borders’ that human beings impose onto places that are otherwise intimately interconnected.

To simplify, one could think of the saying, which I see is attributed to Davie Bader (though I associate the first clause of it with Ram Das), “Be here now, be somewhere else later.” Obviously, when you get to the ‘somewhere else’, it becomes ‘here’. Emphasis here is placed on the relativity of time and place: when you are in one place in the present, it is ‘here’, and the place you are going to be ‘later’ is ‘somewhere else’, but when ‘later’ becomes ‘now’, the ‘somewhere else’ becomes ‘here’. And so it it with flushing your poop ‘away’. Got it? Good!

I have also been told (I am not ‘on facebook’ or other social media because, it must be said, I choose to spend what would otherwise be social-media-time doing manual tasks such as making compost) that some comments pertain to some people’s opinions about not being able to take certain matters into their own hands, matters such as what they do with their poop. Emma has read some of the comments on facebook and she says that some people from the United Kingdom say that they simply cannot conduct similar composting activities because where they live they have no such options.

Let me state unambiguously that I am not suggesting even for a moment that anyone should or should not do anything. Poop your fertility ‘away’ by all means. And feel free to claim that you cannot do anything about it. Go ahead. I also used to believe that taking certain matters into my own hands was not an option. I made statements about not having options. Fine. Then gradually I changed things. The video, I hope, is about what I do now – what Emma and I do, though I do not speak for Emma – and if people wish to justify what they cannot do in comparison to what I do, then please remember that you are choosing to make comparisons and offer justifications when I am asking for neither of those reactions. I am long past trying to get anyone to change the way they think or behave – go ahead, think and do what you like. But do not for one moment pretend that what you do and what you think do not have an impact on the world around you, a world you are intimately interconnected with, a world in which your poop is deposited in one way or another. I acknowledge that I do state in the interview that I am frustrated when I see people flushing their fertility away – again, this is a comment about me, not about you. Again, go ahead and flush fertility away – but please, remember that this action will have an impact on the world of which you are a part, just as every one of your actions will have.

Let me also say that if you have watched the video and taken from it a sense that I am suggesting that you too should now go and create and use a compost toilet system, then you are imposing this message into the equation. As I have said, I am not suggesting that you should or should not do anything. I tried rather to emphasise the theme of interconnection, and my apologies if I did so in a manner you do not find particularly palatable. If, however, the theme of interconnection resonated with you, and you feel like you should do or should not do something (which would be an interpretation you have created), then let me point out that the use of a compost toilet could be seen as an example of taking matters into one’s own hands and implementing a system built due to the awareness of interconnectivity. There are many other examples of things that people can do, and I’ll leave this to you as an area to look into.

Finally, I have also been told that some comments in response to the video are from people who think that Emma and I can do what we do because we are lucky enough to live like we do. Let me state that luck has nothing to do with it. To be able to do what we do first required that we figure out what to do, which we did after many years of working in fairly orthodox work environments. While in these orthodox work environments, what-not-to-do became clear to us, and the imperative to live differently arose. We then took a leap of faith to go and try experiment with an alternative lifestyle, without knowing if it would work or not. The experiment is on-going, and it does require constant physical and mental input, which I find all deeply satisfying largely because the experiment is in the spirit of interconnectivity, but certainly luck is completely irrelevant when talking about what we do. I have much more to say about the experiment, because whether or not it has been successful depends on the different contexts from which judgements about success can be made. I will leave such an evaluative process for a different post.

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