‘So what are we going to do when our money runs out?’
We’re lying in bed, waiting for the (super-energy-efficient) dishwasher to emit its plaintive beeps. Mr Fixit is head of washing up, and doesn’t trust any water that wouldn’t give a human operative third degree burns. He also tried on me the famous piece of popular folklore that dishwashers are more energy efficient, but luckily I had excellent book to hand, and was able to point to the bit that shows this is only true of the Germans, Scandinavians and other highly efficient, anal cultures. The it seems, wash up in colder and filthier water than anybody else, so for us hand washing is actually more energy efficient.
Strangely, this didn’t seem to sway him, at all.
Anyway, as for most parents, the time in the evening between the collapse of the children and our own is the only opportunity we get to remind ourselves why we are still together. I always hope that this brief hour will be dedicated to subjects like debt to or why the memory will insist on storing every novelty pop song it’s ever heard, whilst wilfully chucking out the French for ‘Can we have ice cream on the prix fixe?’, which no parent approaching holiday time can afford to forget.
But no. We always end up discussing things like money, and our future with not very much of it. Mr Fixit has a pension from his former company, most of which seems to have vapourised through the celebrated fiscal prudence of our dear PM. My own pension consists of a charming beach cottage in Santa Monica, California, which seemed only slightly risky when I was living there (upside: soaring prices for unique property in great location; downside: right on the San Andreas fault). Factor in the sub-prime event and the current exchange rate of the dollar, and I look, in retrospect, like the sort of person who sets fire to £50 notes for something to do.
There is one ray of hope. We have a lovely, modern, energy-efficient house in London, and no mortgage. He mumbles, half-asleep, ‘We could always downsize and move out’.
I have to crane round and look at him to make sure I heard right. This is a man who falls ill with his first breath of country air, and described the Mojave desert as ‘Dungeness with cactuses’. And here he is, apparently himself, suggesting downsizing.
I can barely refrain from pogoing on his chest. Ever since I saw tree house in on Grand Designs I, along with several million other people, have harboured a midnight fantasy of moving to Prickly Nut Wood. Britain is now spattered up, down and of course sideways with converts and refugees from economic growth. Nick Rosen’s excellent book, explains in great detail how to source a campervan, power a yurt from spring water, and crowbar woodland grants from unsuspecting EU slushfunds. It’s pure green porn.
In the countryside, it would surely be easier to find communities where my values wouldn’t be the subject of daily mockery. Indeed, it’s much easier to find communities altogether. It can’t be an accident that the transition towns are more like big villages; places large enough to have the autonomy to change, but small enough that everybody can be pretty much brought together to see the point of it. even still the most energy-efficient place in Britain, though not archetypally quaint, is about the right size. Amazingly, some brave souls have even started a transition movement in If it can happen there, anything is possible.
Energy saving is a good reason in itself. Everybody knows it’s only a matter of minutes before oil wars engulf us. In the country, while we’re figuring out our personal off-grid micro-generation systems, we can have energy security with local power, that doesn’t need to be cooled and transported.
And there are food miles. Observable reality may still suggest that country folk jump in their cars to drive half an hour for a pint of milk, but the theory is that on your own smallholding or at your village market, you can save some of the your Sunday lunch would otherwise have to travel to find you.
There is one small, personal problem for me in decamping to the Scottish Highlands or the Welsh Marches. Outside the kitchen, my practical abilities are severely limited. Mr Fixit’s childhood was divided between his father’s garage and a Saturday job in the local hardware shop, where he learned to distinguish four thousand different screws, blindfold and with one hand behind his back. Mine was spent confecting ludicrous garments to show off to the boys at music college, and playing on the Bechstein.
As a result, there isn’t a generator he can’t fix or a slurry outflow he can’t unplug, without a speck of dirt to show for it. He may well be the only person ever to have worn £200 hand-made to rake leaves off a patio. And here he is, volunteering to bring his skills to the benighted abyss beyond the M25.
‘Fantastic! I yelp. ‘Why wait for the children to grow up? We can give them the chance to run wild, just like you always wanted.’ The question of whether it’s an offer they’ll welcome, I carefully leave unexplored. ‘What do you think? That bit of Scotland with the islands, while there’s still a Or would Cornwall be safer? Of course we’d need to be on top of a cliff. With sea levels and all. But the broadband coverage is ace down there now.’
He makes the effort to turn and look me in the eye. Then he turns back again, closes his eyes, and responds. ‘I was thinking of something more like – Liverpool’.
So there you have it. We can downsize to Liverpool. Or stay in London, and on-grid. At least a girl can dream.