Author: David Anthony Pittaway (page 1 of 21)

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.

Humanure how-to: helpful links

Long version:
Short version:
From the handbook:
humanure handbook girdlok

Pictures: basic shed/cabin construction

Tour of 5 year old rustic abode

A brief tour (19 minutes) of the rustic abode that my partner and I have lived in for 5 years. There was nothing but an empty lawn when we arrived, and now it is bursting with plant-life. No added cement or concrete, no sewer system, no fridge or geyser/boiler or dishwasher etc. To quote Paul Hawken from his book, ‘Blessed Unrest’, “[T]he way to change the world is to change one’s own practices, including one’s home, source of energy, method of agriculture, diet, transport patterns, and communities. … [Y]ou can’t get there from here by any mechanism that depends on support from institutions that benefit from the status quo. …[P]eople [must] re-examine how they behave and consume in their own lives. The movement can be seen as weak when measured against large institutions, but its goals are more important. The goal is to create a more resilient social and economic understory in what is basically an oligarchic world, a powerful act that restores a measure of autonomy and power to citizens.”


Thermal Mass Rocket Heater

This was built in preparation for last Winter, and it’s been working a treat this Winter as well. Would definitely work in a much bigger room. This one cost about R1200 to make. That’s including the base-layer of fire bricks; the fire cement, and the steel flue and brackets.

Takes about 20 minutes to feel a nice amount of heat emanating from the chimney. 90 minutes to get all the bricks real hot. When the fire dies, the bricks keep their heat for 4 to 5 hours, hence the thermal mass part of the appellation. Uses minimal wood. Wood burns horizontally at the bottom of the burn chamber because of the air suction created by the chimney and flue. And no, no smoke comes up from the burn chamber… unless, it seems, when gusts of gale-force wind push smoke back into the chimney, but this has been rare.

Here it is unlit, kinda being used as a bedside table. The glass bottle is on the 3mm steel plate that seals the brick chimney; the little essential-oil burner (sitting on a rock/shell display) is here moved onto the part of the mass heater into which the wood is fed:


Here it is in use; the stone/shell display at the top also heats up, no problems (but don’t forget your cell phone etc. on the plate when the fire’s going!!!):


Here it is being christened; note the side access point for lighting and cleaning; this side access point is also used as a throttle:


Here it is under construction:

No more need for the small gas burner noticeable in the above picture!

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