… June 2022
Hi, and welcome to a website about simple living, on how to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on money, taking those first tentative steps towards true sustainability.
It’s also a record of our personal experiences, both good and bad, featuring stuff like: how to believe in yourself (instead of getting sucked in like everyone else to the allure of quick-fix faiths and isms)/ avoiding the need for a huge income or even a job/ taking back the responsibility for your own health/ and making & growing as much for yourself as possible. All in a way which puts the planet first, which means not destroying any more of our precious natural resources.
Spoiler alert: What this site isn’t, is any kind of manifesto or attempt at life coaching, either for others to follow, or feel they have to comment upon. Nor are we claiming to be an expert at anything, just relating what we’ve learnt over the last forty odd years, including all the mistakes. Because despite the current popularity for living off-grid this way of life is not an easy one, especially when everyone else either thinks you’re stark raving mad or the enemy, we though it would be good to put this out there to let fellow travellers know they are not alone.
Until October 2013, we were Maureen (click here to visit her website) and Phil Rooksby. Both originally from South London, where in the late 1970s we met at teacher training college. A choice made after we both failed to get into an art college, combined with the fear that without qualifications we’d be stuck in low-paid/ boring jobs for the rest of our lives. The long holidays were also a draw, as well as the opportunity to indulge/ satisfy our developing creative appetites. Luckily we were saved from finding out that teaching is one of the most pointless and thankless jobs imaginable, because at exactly the same moment a totally new kind of job possibility had emerged. The extremely alternative/ weird/ and exciting world of community arts. Sweeping us up with it and keeping us sane/ solvent for the next 20 years. During the coolest moments in history to be living in London/ Milton Keynes (during its formative years)/ North Yorkshire/ and finally Leeds, where in 1986 Maureen blazed a trail the length and breadth of the UK and USA as the Associate Director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
By which time it was also becoming patently obvious that the planet was on the verge of imminent extinction, thanks to the exponential growth in the use of money/ spending, and massive overpopulation. It affected us both so much that by 1991 we decided to become part of the solution rather than the problem. First by me giving up work (for money), learning instead how to become more self-sufficient, living on less. Then in 2000 with Maureen doing the same. By then we were 44 and 43 years old.
We sold our home and everything in it, moved into an old van, and embarked on a nine-year odyssey to find meaning in our lives. While exploring our creativity, and searching for a place where we could put down roots permanently, without compromise.
The story of that epic journey is best left to Maureen to describe, in her book: TREAD SOFTLY BECAUSE YOU TREAD ON MY DREAMS, which is available free (as a pdf download) simply by clicking here.
Also highly recommended are the blogs she wrote, now available in a single book entitled MUSINGS ON A MORE SIMPLE LIFE, also available free (as a pdf download), simply by clicking here.
During that nine years we explored NW Spain/ Portugal/ a tiny island in British Columbia (Canada)/ until finally ending up in the Sierra de Aracena, a region of Andalucia (SW Spain), where we finally came across an enchanting finca (rural smallholding) called El Pocito, 3km from Almonaster la Real. The only place that fitted most of our criteria:
– somewhere we could live without debt. No mortgage/ rent/ utility bills/ or any other charge on our time, plus all the natural resources not only to build a home, but provide our food/ fuel/ other building materials/ electricity/ medicine/ even earn cash when necessary.
– our own water supply. We had hoped to find land with its own spring, but that proved so difficult our search widened to include wells, as long as the water was as natural/ unpolluted/ and plentiful as possible. We would also harvest rainfall (at least one metre a year), for non-drinking purposes.
– high up. At +/- 600 metres. This is because the further you go up the less extreme the climate becomes (all-year-round)/ humidity is lower/ pollution less/ and probably most important of all right now (with the imminent melting of both polar ice-caps potentially adding 50m to sea-level), there’s absolutely no risk from flooding or tsunamis.
– south-facing. Having tried all the other options this is undoubtedly the best. For crops/ minimising frost damage/ solar & wind power/ as well as being a lot warmer and lighter indoors.
– with a soil that is as sandy as possible. All the others just make the job a lot harder.
– where neighbours are as far away as possible. Which takes a lot more land than you’d think, even with 2.5 hectares (6 acres) at El Pocito we were still only 200 metres from adjoining land, though in this case there were no other permanent residents.
– proximity to a local town was crucial too. It had to be no further away than could easily be walked/ cycled, especially as we got older. But at the same time as small and remote as possible, far away from the culture of cities and modern life. No more than +/- 200 residents, of whom the majority would be working nearby, and all dependent on the kind of community that has long disappeared from anywhere in the UK. For which Almonaster la Real proved perfect.
– well away from all roads and any other hazards to healthiness.
– a climate where we could grow the widest range of crops all-year-round.
– have the perfect house, the most practical/ healthy/ and inspirational living space possible.
And in 2009 moved in. The next four years spent working hard at making it as self-sufficient as possible. Which proved fortuitous, because in 2013 Maureen suddenly got ill and in no time (just 10 days) was gone. We’d been together 35 years.
I was then suddenly a widow, living alone in the middle of a forest, 3km from the nearest neighbour, with no income, no right to any benefits. Everything dictating that this would be the end of our incredible lifetime adventure. But no. Thanks to the wonderful home we had built, and the amazing people of Almonaster la Real, life went on. It was a good one too, even on just 20 euros a week (earned by teaching english). Until the news came about the impending BREXIT referendum, putting my right to reside in Spain in jeopardy. A vote I was not allowed to participate in, along with 3 million other British citizens living outside the UK at the time. It was a frightening period, watching fascism take over. However it also was the moment I met someone new, and together we decided to move. At first to the mountains of SW France, then as residency grew harder to obtain without a vast income, to her previous homeland in Shetland. Returning to the UK was one of things in 2000 I vowed never to do, but in order to live a simple life it was the only option. At least the location of the archipelago is as far away from Westminster as it is possible to get . And this is where we are right now, still searching for a suitable place to continue the moneyless/ sustainable life.
On the following pages you can see/ read all about it. Also included are some of the many influences/ ideas we have come across over the years, which I keep constantly updated. Hope you enjoy dipping into them. Please feel free to make contact if you have any questions, we are both happy to help similar travellers in any way we can.
To get you started here is a spanish tv programme from 2018, featuring some of the more eccentric residents of Almonaster la Real, including (apparently) me.
Plus two short videos showing the inside of El Pocito.
A video about someone I really admire, who lives an almost identical life, in Ireland, Mark Boyle. Author of several excellent and highly recommended books on living simply (featured on the books page).
Lastly, but not in any way least in importance, some excellent videos which I hope you will share on social media, explaining rationally why no-one should be having any more children right now. Brought to you by the amazing new eco movement called STOP HAVING KIDS: https://www.youtube.com/c/StopHavingKids
Thanks also to my dear friend Nacho Suárez Obel who provided many of the photos for this site.
some thoughts to ponder…
“To be free (as it is possible to be) you first have to escape the gravitational force of con–vention, that insidious pressure of con-sumption, created by those who rule over us, to enslave and conform. Once you have overcome that and all the other cons of our current epoch (religion included), and are well clear of their influence, then the entire universe will open out for you to explore.”
“It may seem wrong to ignore the sum of our collective knowledge, but land left alone, from human interference/ culture, will (given time) become infinitely more diverse and sustainable than any treatment we have or could ever devise. If in doubt always do nothing.”
“There are only two solutions which will save us from imminent extinction, they are:
1) An immediate global ban on all further births, until such time the total population is reduced to a sustainable level again (more on what that means in a moment).
2) A similar ban on the use of money, but permanently.
And the reasons? Because this is the only way we can save the planet (and by implication, ourselves). That unique self-governing eco-system, composed of an ever-expanding number of interdependent species, created in such a way, so infinitesimally complex, that even all our collective brain-power and computer-resources could never even begin to guess how it functions. The sole provider of all the necessities we take for granted. From oxygen we need to breathe, water, food, fuel, in fact everything. Such an infinitely complex mechanism, that for us to tinker with any part of it is to court disaster. Which of course is exactly what we have been doing, for the last 10,000 years.
Before that we were actually a positive and integral part of this wonderful creation. For three million years, 98% of our existence, we did this by acting sustainably. Which meant keeping our numbers to a pre-determined level (around 5 million), and not taking anything out of nature (be it species or materials) that could not be replaced with exactly the same.
Then 10,000 years ago, we decided to opt out of doing that. Which first didn’t seem to matter, but destruction was exponential, and with each new day the damage grew was worse. Until now there is so little left of the eco-system it is on the point of extinction. We are all about to die. Today, tomorrow, next week, next year. Nobody knows when exactly. But what is certain, it will happen soon. Children born today will not live to become adults.
Sustainability is not rocket science. If we want a future we have to stop taking out, stop using money, stop multiplying.
Which leaves just the one question, are you prepared to do that?”
“…each world has a song that is begun with the first life on a world, a song that sounds within the world to foster life and variation. All living creatures are a part of the song which shall be sung forever, until the last star goes out… sometimes living creatures do not wish to be part of the song, they do not hear it, they rise up against it, they cry that they are larger than the song and more important than the music, and when their words drown out the song, then the world begins to die…”
(Sheri S Tepper)
“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear”
(Jerome K Jerome)
“There is only one cause for the ills of this world, and that is money. The purest souls among us are those who have none, for they spend nothing and harm nothing. It is an oxymoron to claim to be righteous, walk lightly on the earth AND have money.”
“The longing for Nature, strong, silent and healthy, is the vital phenomenon of our time, and is the counterbalance to an inorganic civilisation, which we mistakenly describe as culture.”
“…by making the choice, not to have or do what everyone else considers right, you not only no longer have bills to pay but can experience that unique freedom of being able to live your own life …”