Days of Futures Past…

Communing with nature. Living off the land. Mind, body and soul cleansing. Community spirit and oneness. Consciousness expansion. Peace and love.

Deep down many of us want the ideals above but are either unable, unwilling or lack the courage to do those things that we know will be better for us and better for the planet.

This week saw my eagerly awaited trip to Lammas Eco-Village in South Wales, an expedition into the uncharted territory of off-grid living., a fact finding mission for our band of neophyte hippies to sequester information from the founders, Mr and Mrs Wimbush, in order for us to gain insights into their ten year journey from a barren greenfield plot of land, to a fully functional and self-sufficient settlement.

As a guy who has worked in and around IT projects for most of his life, I bring to the table my decades of structure, organisation and planning, so I took the responsibility to plan out our trip in advance, including timelines, itineraries and a large set of questions, the output of which would give us enough answers and direction to kick-start the build of our eco-retreat project in North Wales.

This is a work project not one of pleasure (although no doubt the journey and end result will no doubt be a joyous thing), and as such the trip was “allowed” under the strict “essential travel only” guidelines. Even still, I had a bad feeling before setting off that at some point over the four hour journey south, our collars would be felt at least once by the boys in blue, and in preparation for that eventuality I printed off all materials (Covid travel guidelines, agenda, emails etc) as a form of proof to plod that our trip was legitimate. As it turned out, the trip was “copper-free” and we arrived safely at Lammas, collars unfelt.

As we drove into the village, the first thing that struck us was the size. Each of the plots sized between six and seven acres and there were plenty of them (totalling seventy seven acres in all).

Our destination for the day however was Maes Melangell, the home of both the Wimbush family (pioneers of Lammas) and a newly-constructed and yet-to-be completed Lammas Earth Centre.

I had done some research on Lammas over the previous nights (reading the One Planet Life book as well as watching several YouTube videos) to provide at least some background knowledge on what the set up was like and what their journey had been like thus far.

But like a great many things in life, reading about something is one thing, experiencing it is markedly different, the whole day was testament to that.

We were greeted (after a few wrong turns) on the tracks by Hoppi (aka Mrs Wimbush), who welcomed the group warmly and invited us in to the main house for a socially distanced and hand-sanitised chat, so that we could get to know each other a little and our posse could set out its expectations for the day.

One thing that did strike me on the way in was how impressive their homestead looked, it was clear that the well-built dwelling house, the super-impressive Lammas Earth Centre, the animal barn and all of the cultivation areas had taken years to achieve and a ridiculous amount of dedication and hard graft (both physically and meta-physically).

With a hot cup of Bengal Spice Tea in hand, Hoppi walked us through their ambitious journey so far, all of us playing silent witness and in awe in what they had achieved to date and how they had done it. Their home was warm not only in temperature (from the amazing wood-burner and impressively insulated walls), but in feeling too, clearly the house was also wrapped in the warmth of love, of oneness with each other, with nature and the universe at large.

It became apparent early on that what we saw before us had taken an Herculean effort, not only in planning, designing, developing and constructing, but in terms of pressure and stress too. Here we had a small family (children were six and nine at the time) living in a small touring caravan on an empty landscape, with huge plans for off-grid living in their heads and one hell of a journey in front of them.

We shared our own plans for the eco-treat which were met warmly too, but it was becoming apparent (to me at least) that our embryonic project was very different than what was in front of us in terms of components, requirements and end-state.

The five of us involved thus far all have day commitments that we don’t foresee giving up any time soon, and at this point we don’t envision any of us living at the eco-retreat permanently. So it dawned on us that going down the One Planet Development route for our project was likely to be a dead end and overcomplicated from a planning and local authority permission perspective. Ours would be a different path than the one Lammas has taken, but it would have the same ethos are drive for sustainability.

After a warm exchange, Hoppi then took us on a tour of the site, explaining the exact functions of each building and zone, safe to say that we were all in total awe of what we were viewing.

Many hands make light work…

Their plans were not only realised by their own hands, but by those of volunteers too. Through the use of an entire tribe of volunteers (over seventy in total) they were able to morph their barren landscape into something truly remarkable.

And it’s is the essence of that very approach which has left a spiritual and collective resonance around the place, almost like a mycelium layer of positivity and love, woven into the very fabric of every component on site, borne from the many hands of like-minded individuals.

The beating heart of Maes Melangell…
The Owl Sanctuary…
The composting toilets…
The Solar Kiln…
The Eco-Retreat…
The Eco-Shower…
The Innovative Waterproofing…
The Renewable Energy Supply…
The Earth Centre…
The Interstellar Roof…
The Barn…
The Kids…

After the staggeringly impressive show and tell, we had the opportunity to wander the site on our own, I took the time to fly my drone over the site to get a birds eye view whilst my comrades meandered through various muddy pathways on foot, the site as impressive from the air as on the ground.

Bird’s Eye view of Maes Melangell (Lammas Eco-Village)

We finished our trek as the door to the main house opened and for the first time we met Tao (Mr Wimbush) for the first time. Set and setting are always important and the lunch of Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup with home made bread and goats butter transformed a basic meal to the best lunch of all time, ever.

It came across well on the videos I had seen, but in person, Tao’s calming nature juxtaposed against Hoppi’s effervescence made it a perfect partnership, and I saw the deep, loving and spiritual connection they both had for each other on a couple of occasions. Beautiful.

We shared our vision and hope for the eco-retreat with Tao and based on the components we wanted to develop (very different to Lammas), Tao advised that the One Planet Development wasn’t the best way to go for our venture and he suggested an alternative approach to achieve the desired outcome, to which we all agreed.

I was truly blown away by Tao, to be surrounded by such an amazing feat of construction and sustainable cleverness was one thing, but his calming, warming, nurturing, inspiring and guiding words (and well as long hair and beard), felt to me like I was in the presence of a modern day Jesus (affirmed by “L” on the way back home who thought the same).

As the darkness drew in and thoughts turned to the arduous long journey home in poor driving conditions, with a genuine sadness and gratitude, we bade farewell to our hosts for the day and headed back north to on-grid living, resigned and melancholic in the knowledge that workers boots and corporate laptops would called upon within just a few hours of returning.

Like my Robin Williams blog from a few years ago stated (Life Is Experience Not Knowledge – https://infinitybeckons.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/life-is-experience-not-knowledge) there is nothing quite like experiencing things first hand as opposed to reading them in a book.

We had so many take-aways from our trip to Lammas, hints, tips and nudges in the right direction we simply would not have hot had we not visited. We agreed that when we returned home we would double-down on our efforts to get things moving, albeit in a slightly different direction to our initial plans.

After visiting Lammas, Hoppi and Tao, it’s now very clear to me that one can live in the fruitfully in the future like we lived in the past, it just takes courage to detach oneself from what is, quite frankly, a broken and totally meaningless capitalist society.

That courage is within us all, we just need to do, there is no try…

My Mycelium…

One of the big takeaways from my inaugural foraging trip last year was just how incredible mushrooms are.

Not only do they possess their own kingdom (neither animal, vegetable nor mineral) which is impressive in itself, but, when the right ones are consumed (and there are plenty of poisonous ones out there to be avoided), they provide many benefits, including mind (neurogenesis creating/repairing neural pathways), body (nutritional boosts via vitamins and anti-oxidants) and soul (altered states of consciousness leading to an improved human experience).

Whilst I’ll come back to the mycelium later, stoned ape theory and psychedelics in future posts, it’s clear that my friends and family have cottoned on to the fact that I’m looking to grow more of my own produce more this year.

As a result, I received not one but two “grow-your-own-mushrooms” kits, one which cultivates oyster mushrooms via old/used coffee grounds, and a second which grows the standard breakfast white mushrooms via mycelium soaked wood chippings.

I decided to start off with the white mushrooms and got quite excited to unbox it and get mushrooming.

Arch-Duc White Mushroom Kit (£15.99 on Amazon)…
Don’t’ eat the orange one…
Instructions for the polyglot…
First peak inside…
Step-by-step guide to fungi food…
The substrate, mycelium-based wood clippings…
Small bag of peat…
Operation Pete completed…
100ml of misted water…
Plastification…
Safely ensconced on top of the kitchen cupboard…

I have become patient in terms of waiting to harvest the fruits (and vegetables/herbs) of my cultivation activities (apropos my smart garden) so will do the same for the mushrooms.

Can’t wait to taste them in twenty-three days from now.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have suffered from tinnitus for almost three decades now and from time to time, spikes over a period of several weeks can negatively influence my mood, stress and sleep patterns.

I have habituated this well over time (on the basis that I had no other option as there is no cure for tinnitus) but was interested to find that mushrooms may be the answer.

Known as the ‘Mushroom of Immortality’, Lion’s Mane mushroom is one of the most important Chinese herbs and is a symbol of success, power and longevity.

Its benefits allegedly include the stimulation of nerve growth (reparation and new), especially in the brain, and as tinnitus is likely to be the noise generated by misfiring neurons connected to the synapses in the ears, and if damaged neural pathways can be repaired, then in theory the noises in side my head (excluding the voices, that’s a different topic altogether!) can diminished or be silenced.

There is also the notion that vitamin D3 can be stacked with the Lion’s Mane too and I have started taking this too today.

The final part of the stack is the micro-dosing of psilocybin mushrooms, which in small quantities again may also have curative powers, re-wiring the brain and improving perception of the five (and possibly sixth) senses. Clearly the untaxable and criminalised acquisition of such mushrooms is illegal in the UK (and most of the world), so my stack may just contain a double not a treble…

Biltong 2.0…

Many lessons were learned during the processing of the first batch of biltong.

The box needed some upgrades. First was to close off all open holes, the mesh at the back of the unit was too wide and one gnat did manage to make its grubby way in to v1.0, so some cheap fly mesh was acquired and secured.

The small holes too on the side of the box (which house the dowels) were plugged by a handy box of washers I purchased decades ago that I’d never used (who would have thought a small box of plastic tap circles would have ended up on a caveman’s kiln years later).

Next up was the velcro for the door and top hatch, this was upgraded to magnetic strips (different polarisations) which both lock down everything, nothing is getting in, hermetically sealed (like a presidential Covid cavalcade…)

In terms of the fan, that worked perfectly in v1.0 so no changes were required there.

For heating however, I couldn’t find an old fashioned filament bulb so I needed to replace the LED one as it gave off no heat, and in a moment of clarity, my aged brain came up with the idea of a vivarium bulb. So after looking at various heat lamps (avoiding those bulbs in “Roxanne Red” – not the look you want in the spare bedroom!), I found a 50w ceramic bulb, which had the bonus of no light emission. Tried it out, burned my finger, so that worked!

Finally, I dug out an old dehumidifier my son used to use and plugged that in to take the moisture out of the room which would likely condensate and mold up the office.

In terms of the meat, I went to the local butchers this time. What a difference! As I cut the slabs, there was neither a vein nor a sinew in sight, marvelous!

I also changed the preparation mode too. I left the meat to chill for 12 hours in the fridge after applying the vinegar and dry rub, could not believe the amount of moisture that came out overnight.

So after wringing the last of the moisture out over the sink and via hand toweling, I applied one more layer of course salt and hooked them up (placing a metal tray in the bottom this time to prevent seepage on to the unit).

I think I will leave the meat longer this time, at least 7 days (SEVEN – one day for every Aston Villa goal last weekend against our arch nemesis), so that it becomes as dry as it can be to extend its lifespan. I’ll also use my new vacuum sealer straight away.

As for the smell, well there’s not too much I can do about that except to keep the office door shut and open the windows when I’m not in there, it is getting chilly outside now.

The whole of next batch will come with us to our off-grid cottage in Cornwall week after next, lock-down permitting. I’m not confident any will be returning with us!

It’s a jungle out there…

Well I’m starting to get quite excited about eating my first crop of BLT (Basil, Lettuce and Tomato).

It’s been just four days and already the seeds are starting to germinate in my new smart garden (well the Basil and Lettuce is, not sure what is going on with the Toms yet)…

I’m surprised I’ve not had a knock on the door from the plod yet, as the garden sits on the windowsill of the office, it does look like I’m growing my own weed through a hydroponics system from the pavement outside.

Maybe next crop…

The Good Life…

The list below contains the food I regularly eat as part of my paleo lifestyle, applying the 80/20 rule (80% of the food and drink is strict paleo, 20% is the wiggle room needed so the brain or stomach doesn’t crave so much, e.g. root crops, cordials and vegan chocolate etc).

I have also indicated whether I can grow, forage or hunt my own food and each item has, in project management parlance, a RAG status (Red = Cannot; Amber = Difficult; Green = Can) and next to it, if it is amber or green, what action I need to take to acquire it (VG = Vertical Garden; SG = Smart Garden; F = Foraging; H = Hunting).

Although I have only just started to grow basil, lettuce and tomatoes in my smart garden, the list below is my typical weekly shopping list, over time I hope to replace all of the amber items with green (red items being either luxury or things which will fall off the list over time), and self-produce all such green items rather than purchasing them from the local greengrocers, butchers shops and Bargain Booze store…

It’s also fair to say that with my limited space, I won’t be able to produce anywhere near enough food to disconnect myself from the food-grid just yet, but the skills and lessons learned over the coming years will set a true foundation for off-grid living which takes place in a mere 2462 days from now…

Breakfast Smoothies

1. Bananas 🔴

2. Blueberries (F) 🟠

3. Strawberries (VG/SG/F) 🟢

4. Raspberries (VG/F) 🟢

5. Apples (F) 🟠

6. Kiwi Fruits 🔴

7. Ginger (VG) 🟢

Lunchtime Soups

1. Sweet potatoes (VG) 🟢

2. Carrots (VG) 🟢

3. Potatoes (VG) 🟢

4. Onions (VG) 🟢

5. Broccoli (VG) 🟢

6. Cauliflower (VG) 🟢

7. Mushrooms (F) 🟠

8. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢

9. Sweet Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢

10. Leeks (VG) 🟢

11. Parsnips (VG) 🟢

12. Pak Choi (VG/SG) 🟢

13. Cabbage (VG) 🟢

14. Celery (VG) 🟢

15. Chilli Peppers (VG/SG) 🟢

16. Peas (VG/SG) 🟢

17. Garlic (VG/SG) 🟢

18. Ginger (VG/SG) 🟢

19. Lemongrass (VG) 🟢

20. Basil (VG/SG) 🟢

21. Apple Mint (VG/SG/F) 🟢

22. Rosemary (VG/SG) 🟢

23. Coriander (VG/SG) 🟢

24. Chives (VG/SG) 🟢

25. Parsley (VG/SG) 🟢

26. Black Pepper (VG/SG) 🟢

27. Vegetable Stock (VG/SG) 🟢

28. Coconut Milk 🔴

Lunchtime Meals

1. Eggs (H) 🟠

2. Salmon (H) 🟠

3. Asparagus (VG) 🟢

4. Spinach (VG/SG) 🟢

5. Lettuce (VG/SG) 🟢

6. Tomatoes (VG/SG) 🟢

7. Spring Onions (VG/SG) 🟢

8. Cucumbers (VG) 🟢

9. Tuna 🔴

Snacks

1. Biltong (H) 🟠

2. Nuts and seeds 🔴

3. Vegetable crisps (VG/SG) 🟢

4. Vegan Chocolate 🔴

5. Blackcurrant Cordial (F) 🟠

6. Elderberry Cordial (F) 🟠

7. Herbal Tea (VG/SG/F) 🟢

8. Red Wine 🔴

9. Coffee 🔴

Evening Meals

1. Venison (H) 🟠

2. Salmon (H) 🟠

3. Mackerel (H) 🟠

4. Tuna 🔴

5. Vegetables (VG/SG/F) 🟢

6. Salad (VG/SG/F) 🟢

Maybe I need to start watching the 70’s sitcom The Good Life to get some hints and tips from Richard Bryers and Felicity Kendall (mmmm Felicity Kendall…)

Smart Gardening…

Back when I had a BBC TV licence (Covid coverage was the death knell for me), I used to watch the programme Click, which as an IT nerd gave me some insights as to what gizmos and gadgets were making their way onto the scene.

One such gadget I recalled from last year was the concept of Smart Gardens, hi-tech hydroponic/LED systems which allowed one to grow small fruits, mini vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from the comfort of their living room, kitchen or in my case, office.

Following on from our foraging foray a fortnight who, and following the wife’s recent membership to a “UK preppers” group on The Book of Face, we wholeheartedly concurred that from next Spring, we would start to grow our own fruits, vegetables and herbs (with a “h”) from our small patio garden.

The only downside of living where we do has always been garden space. We have never complained too much though as there are plenty of green spaces nearby and we can see both the sea and the beach from our daughters bedroom.

So whilst I draw up plans and schematics for our proposed vertical garden (raised beds for beets, onions, potatoes and carrots as well as wall planters for fruits and herbs), my mind switched back to the here and now, so after a trawl through Amazon I found the not-so-cheap Smart Garden 9, as advertised on the BeeB.

After humming and harring for a couple of days, I connivingly waited for the wife to drop into the hypnagogic zone and received her royal seal of approval to proceed with the purchase, albeit from the realm of slumber.

I woke up this morning quite excited for the delivery man, and as promised, the service level agreement was not breached and the goods arrived on time.

And so to the unboxing…

Rather amusing Chinese proverb on the inside box, who could argue with that logic, smart bloke that Confucius fella…

Outer cover off revealed the LED lighting system and the “free” pods, Basil, Lettuce, Tomatoes (vegan BLT)…

Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa off the coast of Estonia is one of the cleanest places on Earth. Who knew that the island of Hiiumaa even existed…

BLT in all of its plasticised glory. Shame that they couldn’t come in more biodegradable wrappings, everything else in the box was cardboard and 100% recyclable…

The main unit, which contains the water reservoir and nine empty micro-pods, ripe for the planting…

Did I say there was an instruction manual to begin with, as a bloke this was of course superfluous (until I got stuck)…

The main unit set up, LED attached to arms and mains adapter primed…

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink (unless you are a plant). Four litres added to the reservoir and one of each of the BLT potted. I decided to do one of each at first rather than overload the unit, taking lessons from the first batch (much in the same way as I did for the biltong recently).

There she grows!

A cautionary note and lesson number one learned, fill the reservoir at the point of habituation not as I did on the dining room table on the floor beneath, I do hope I didn’t flood the pods with all of the swishing around.

Looking forward to seeing how the first batch grows, with the Mighty Cthulhu and the Ever Bubbly Bubblies of Shub Niggurath watching over them, I’m sure things will be just fine with a bit of cultist chanting.

Ia-Ia, Cthulhu ftagn!

Mid Morning Mushrooms…

Keen to consolidate my foraging training, I took to the woods today with old faithful to see what mushrooms I could find. The weather was quite damp in the early part of the week, replaced by dry and sunny conditions towards the weekend, so according to my man-based mushroom guide and my paper-based mushroom guides, perfect conditions for a romp amongst the trees in search of a fungus or two.

Today was more of a “recky” than a restocking of the larder as I’m in London this week.

As the last post explained, my interest in mushrooms has exponentially increased recently due to the revelations from my foraging guide and those of Dennis McKenna (Terence’s brother) who took a seat on the Joe Rogan Experience a few years back and went into quite some detail on psilocybin mushrooms. As I only have Spotify and Audible on my phone, I searched for Terence McKenna audiobooks and one did come back – True Hallucinations – which I took a punt on, downloaded and started to play on our early morning journey to Roydon Park in the heart of the Wirral Peninsula.

Although not narrated by either McKenna, the first chapter was intriguing, setting up I guess the back drop for the rest of the book, the Brothers McKenna “trip” to the Amazon rainforest, in search of hallucinogens.

We parked up and instead of sticking to the path as we usually do, we headed straight into the thick wood, mindful that the denser it was, the more humid and moist it would be, and as such, perfect conditions for shrooms.

Old faithful was in his element, as soon as I let him off the lead he was away. He adores the woods and quickly forgets that he is not a puppy anymore, sprinting off to hunt out the smell of, and the capture of, squirrels (not so much the capture part), his springer spaniel DNA kicking in.

So as he was off doing his own thing, I started to look around for produce. Imagine my shock then when what could only be described as the ghost of Terence McKenna invisibly steered me across the wood to a rotten tree stump which had a burst of small mushrooms on it.

To my utter surprise and unless I was mistaken (which I could well be as it’s early doors for me), were hundreds of what looked like Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe Cubensis). I know these come in many shapes and sizes and the ones I took in my youth did not look like the ones I saw before me today, but I had a good inkling that they were indeed what I thought they were (some validation in my books and an internet search would tend to confirm such).

It is of course illegal to pick, dry and be in possession of these non-taxable, free-thinking, mind-expanding, depression-ceasing, consciousness-creating fungus, so I’ll neither confirm nor deny that these are or are not in my possession (Shrodingers Mushroom…)

The most abundant mushroom we found over the course of our morning bimble was Birch Polyphone (Piptoporus Betulinus), it was everywhere. There are plenty of Silver Birch trees in the woods, and a large majority of them had these sprouting from various parts of the trees in a variety of shapes. Sadly these aren’t edible, which is a real shame as there were enough to open a greengrocers shop.

Continuing on, I spotted a clump of brown ball-shaped mushrooms on the forest floor, and on closer inspection, I believed them to be the Common Earthball (Scleroderma Citrinum) which indeed they were. Using my very new and very awesome and very legal curved foraging knife, I cut into one and as suspected, saw a quartz like glittery black innard, the same quartz like glittery black innard we saw on our trip two weekends ago.

I recalled a snippet of info that whilst (again) this was not edible, the outer layer can be peeled off and used as a plaster for a wound, a neat feature in case you just happened to slice your finger open by say putting away a very new and very awesome and very legal curved foraging knife…

Next up was one I’d never seen before which looked like orange jelly. As there are over 8000 species of mushrooms in the UK, I could be wrong but I believed it to resemble a Yellow Brain (Tremella Mesenterica), again inedible but nice to see a new species in glorious Technicolor.

This was closely followed by a solitary toadstool looking very lonely indeed, and a scrawl through the field manuals couldn’t offer up a single suggestion so I left it there for the faeries to rest on a while.

Old faithful legs were starting to give way and the onset of his glaucoma is starting to take hold. Still off-lead, he wandered a bit too far away and I called him, and much to my sadness saw him off in the distance dead ahead yet confused.

I called him repeatedly and he ran off in different directions, able to hear me but not able to locate me. I ran to him, calmed him down and put his lead back on. He has been the most amazing and utterly insane canine I’ve ever owned and it’s sad to gradually see various parts of him pack in, I try not to think about the day when he’s not around.

Leaving the wood, we saw a squirrel haven with many oak trees and fallen acorns, as well as plenty of Rosebay Willowherb / fireweed (Epilobium Angustifolium), one of natures great firestarters (twisted firestarters…)

On our way back to the car, we took to a hacking trail, and there was a very amusing sight, this time my eyes playing tricks on me and not old faithful’s. We came across a fenced-off field and in the distance, I thought there was a small stone circle or henge, which instantly put my hippy spider senses tingling. Putting my glasses on revealed that it was not a circle of stones, but a circle of small police traffic cones, in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. Bizarre!

Foraging Trials…

There may come a time, perhaps not in my lifetime, and hopefully not in my children’s lifetime either, that society collapses completely.

Hollywood has played all of this out expertly in many films. The Omega Man and Planet of the Apes, lead by Charlton Heston, were some of the first movies I recall seeing which depicted dystopia and one mans struggle to exist in a completely different environment to what he was used to.

In The Omega Man, Heston resorted to a Hunter-Gatherer, albeit in disused shopping malls, foraging by day and hiding by night to stay away from the bad guys.

He had to take what resources he could to survive, and survive he did by knowing exactly where to look and what to look for.

A few weekends back, I booked my sister (for her birthday), the wife and I on a foraging course just outside of Ruthin, North Wales, in an effort do do something less ordinary, get away from the chaos of the news channels and back to nature, and to learn some new skills.

Armed with some preliminary toolkits (books, satchels, snappy bags and knives), our tribe for the day arrived at the mouth of a small wood in the small hamlet of Bontuchel, where our guides from Original Outdoors greeted us with warm smiles and hope. Good start.

We did the usual round of creeping death introductions and when it got to me, I boldly shared the fact that I was likely the bad guy of the group as I worked in the oil and gas industry. The smiley faces turned to frowns and even boos. Was I surprised by this, not really, I was prepared for that knowing that people who choose to go on foraging courses are more likely to be closer to nature and the industry I work in presently has a diabolic influence the fragile ecosystem we live in which is frowned upon by many.

I did go on to say however that the company I worked for was leading the way (according to Gartner’s latest magic quadrant) in terms of its journey towards carbon neutrality and that with oil prices staying lower for longer and Covid reducing the demand for product, they are taking very bold decisions to leave the black stuff in the ground, reshaping their business completely to pursue plans to migrate from an oil and gas major to a true energy company, investing heavily in renewables.

I also shared that I am working very closely with the company’s Sustainability Consultants to take a detailed look at how as individuals we can make a difference both in the work place and at home, creating as we do a gestalt/hive mindset that we can be greater than the sum of our parts if we all know what to do, how to do it and by when.

Clearly this lightened the mood and some words shared can start to paint a more positive light on an industry damned in all parts of society. Clearly we all have energy demands (everyone arrived by petrol/diesel cars for example), but we must all work together to realise our joint goal to save the planet before it’s too late.

“R” and “A” (our hosts for the day) took us through the woods over the next four hours, pointing out plants, wild herbs, fruits, berries and mushrooms that we could look out for in future bimbles.

Over the course of the day, we uncovered twenty different species, all of which are described briefly in note and picture form below:

=========================

1. Beech (Fagus Sylvatica)

Nut/Leaf. Good for mushrooms. Leaves good for gin. Small triangular nuts from the husks if the squirrels haven’t eaten them all. Only found one between the three of us, still hungry…

2. Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius)

Mushroom. Grows on slopes and among beech trees is common. Very edible, didn’t take a sample as we only found a few minute ones. One for the foraging list though.

3. Earthball (Scleroderma Citrinum)

Mushroom. Black inside. Not edible.

4. Porcini (Boletus Edulis)

Mushroom. Huge and when dried out, expensive to buy. Found under beech or pine. Maggots can burrow, can cut off yellow layer. Slice then dry then fry. Took one for home. Very happy!

5. Bramble  (Rubus Fruticosus)

Fruit. The ubiquitous blackberries. Can also eat stem and leaves too. Top bit of stem (end – youngest) like asparagus. Are several, very sweet, not tart at all. Nicest wild blackberries I’ve ever eaten.

6. Herb Robert (Geranium Robertianum)

Leaf. Also known as Stinky Bob. Good for herbs. All edible. Geranium family

7. Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Leaf. Good for salads (like cucumber).

8. Hedge woundwort  (Stachys Sylvatica)

Leaf. Squidge leaves and insert into wounds. Smells like rotting flesh. Squeeze together taste better.

9. Pendulous Sedge (Carex Pendula)

Seed. Starchy carb. Seeds used. Green used. Brown chaff. Paste on stone dry cook for crackers. A lot of work for little reward when out in the field.

10. Hen of the woods (Grifola Frondosa)

Mushroom. Found on dead oak stump. Similar texture to chicken. Darker colour than Chicken of the Woods (which we didn’t find – gutted as this was top of my list for the day. Fry with butter and garlic. Eat in small quantities.

As we say off a while, we had a discussion about foraging rules, one of which being the carrying of knives, only three inch blades were allowed, else it’s classified as a weapon. The one I used to take a cutting of Hen of the Woods was a bushcrafting knife with fixed blade, illegal in the current scenario. At least I know for next time.

11. Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella)

Leaf. The odd flower in a salad. Toxic if too much consumed. Stuffed in fish and used in sorbet. Found in woodlands where there is sunlight (edges and clearings)

12. The Blusher (Amanita Rubescens)

Mushroom. Not worth it because of the toxicity.

One key nuggets though was that the best time to pick mushrooms is dry day after rain. Noted!

13. Jelly/Wood ear (Auricularia Auricula-Judae)

Mushroom. Also known as Jews ear, named after Judas Iscariot and only grows on dead elder tree (“R” was keen to point out that this term is no longer used). It’s a dry jerky-type of mushroom, nice and crispy.

14. Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna)

Fruit/Leaf. Leaves edible in May (May pudding). The berries are collected in autumn and the squeezed into a pulp. Put in muslin and pour hot water through it. Skin and stone stay in the middle – fleshy pulp comes through, after which it can be dried out and turned into fruit leather (nature’s wine gums which lasts forever if stored in parchment. Berries are everywhere, defiantly going to try this (Ray Mears Wild Foods has an episode on making this)

15. Elder (Sambucus Nigra)

Fruit/Flower. Contains cyanide, use only flowers and fruit. Flowers (only a few days sometimes) make Elderflower cordials etc. Berries poisonous if raw. Cook or ferment. Wine gin and vodka, and cordials.

16. Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa)

Fruit. Produces sloes. Gin and vodka or hedgerow jam. Sour raw, I ate one, ain’t that the truth! Wait until they are ripe, pick them, freeze them (bletting) which gets them juicing

17. Dandelion (Taraxacum sp)

Leaf . Raw and peppery. Like rocket on salad. No too much as it’s a diuretic.

18. Crab Apple (Malus Sylvestnis)

Fruit. Bitter when eaten from the tree. Best use as cooking apple for pies and sauces

19. Birch Polypore (Fomitopsis Betulina)

Mushroom. Non-edible – used for stropping knives or as a wound dressing

20. Burdock (Arctium sp.)

Root. Used as starchy fibre. Cannot uproot on public land, can take on provide land with landowners permission

=========================

All in a very educational day with lots of take aways, and a reminder just how beautiful Wales is. Looking back, over my shoulder (using Crowded House parlance) saw the ridge of Offas Dyke in all of its glory as the sun was beginning to set, Foel Fenli, Moel Famau and Moel Arthur seem from below instead of on high. Majestic.

I guess the moral to the foraging story is to make up a shopping list as you would do for the supermarket, and target the items you know will be there (taking into account the location, weather conditions and season) and foraging just what you need and use them or dry them when you get back home so they don’t end up as bin food. It’s essential to know your locations and what grows there, (e.g. oak and beech woods after rainfall increases the chances of acquiring a chicken of the woods).

Easily the most fascinating discussion I had on the day was a side conversation I had with “R” which centred around Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin Cubensis), which we didn’t find on the day (they may have been there but he could hardly point them out!)

Back in my youth, I took the liberty caps once with some friends at home (with my parents and sister away on holiday). Although I took a relatively small dose (30-40 mushrooms in a Pot Noodle) the doors of perception did open, ever so slightly.

I recall initial giggles, the chess board motif of the linoleum flooring of the back kitchen began to twist and contort into weird swirling shapes. We took to our prostate positions in the living room and turned out all of the lights and put on an Ian Andersen (he of Jethro Tull fame) and tripped out. I recall laying with my back to the floor looking up at the ceiling, both of which soon became wall, with the window as the floor, the dimensions of the space around me changed. The only light source was the LED display of the video player, the heightened senses bringing the digits into full 8k high definition and bloated compared to their usual size. The digits then floated all around me, changing in shape and size. All in it was a very interesting experience, one I’ve never repeated but once the door is opened, reality is never really the same again.

“R” went on to say that there was a hypothesis that mushrooms were not of this earth, not part of the original evolutionary chain, and that some believed that they came in on a comet. A mushroom has its own kingdom (bringing with it a hidden blanket called the mycelium layer) and is neither animal, vegetable nor mineral. Fascinated, I agreed to take an action to research more into the world of the fungus, no doubt posting the findings here.

If that was enough to bake my noodle (not Pot Noodle), what he said next surely did.

“R” asked me if I’d ever heard of the Stoned Ape Theory by Terence McKenna. I said that I had not and he told me to go back home and look it up, but in essence what happened millions of years ago was that as the climate changed in Africa, primates came down from the trees as rainforests turned into grasslands and foraged for different food types.

As ancient bovines grazed and defecated, their patties gave homes to bugs and fungus, which as a source of protein our hairy ancestors ate.

McKenna’s theory goes that under such conditions, psilocybin mushrooms thrive and as a result of eating them, the doors of perception opened for apes and they looked at the world through different eyes and begin to think in a different way, so much so that new neurological pathways were created, new thoughts and ways of thinking allowed for the progression of tools and language and as such the brain began to evolve and grow bigger, until eventually we harnessed fire which gave rise to different diets and the further expansion of consciousness to make us what we are today.

So here we have a possible explanation for the missing link, thanks to the good old shroom!

What was to be a nice day out turned into a mind-bending, thought-provoking journey, not only through the eyes of the Palaeolithic people of Northern Europe, but an unexpected journey back to the dawn of man.

When I got back I dried out our days collection, and put the mushrooms in storage for a meal to come and retired for the evening, knackered.

What a day, what an epic day…

Biltong Update…

So after 4 days of drying, the inaugural batch of biltong was ready.

Armed with a brand spanking new meat cleaver from our flat pack Swedish comrades at Ikea, I took to slicing up each of the slabs of meat, careful to slice as thin as possible. Initial taste test was positive.

One thing I noticed was the quality of the meat, or lack of. When one peruses the shopping aisles for the best looking cut, it’s easy to pick the one that looks the best on the outside, but peel back the layers (like an onion) and sometimes it will reveal not so good news on the inside, as was the case here.

My loss was my old faithfuls gain, on-hand to snuffle the off cuts that otherwise would have been eaten by the waste bin (its disappointed open mouth, pictured right…).

I’m not sure who is at fault here, the farmer for the feed he/she/they give the cow (does corn-fed or grass-fed make a difference?), the supermarket for buying inferior and mass-produced cuts, or me for not acquiring meat from the local butchers, opting instead for convenience as most of us do. Probably a mix of all three.

That said, the overall process worked well, and the taste was great. My eldest son is a big fan of biltong and he gave me a five star review (out of five not ten) for the first batch so I’m happy with that, and I wouldn’t disagree with him.

By far the best cuts were the ones which had dried out more and had more of the dry rub on them, less so the ones which were still relatively pink in the middle.

After a long day, the wood-burning stove went on and the wife and I settled down to watch a new drama about Dennis Nilsen, one of the UK’s most notorious serial killers, armed with our own selection of dismembered cuts of flesh and a glass of South African Pinotage (my favourite wine) to wash it down with.

Needless to say the supermarket limitation of 35g portions don’t apply when making ones own and we managed to snuffle quite a bit, very moreish.

I vacuum-sealed the rest in small bags, but I suspect they won’t last long either.

Outside sourcing better meat from the local butchers and not supermarkets, some tweaks to the drying box are required. Magnetic strips to replace the Velcro ones on the door and hatch will provide a tighter seal on the unit and improve airflow, a tighter mesh on the vent will prevent flies getting in, a metal tray inserted at the bottom of the unit instead of just tin foil will catch any juices and prevent a spoiling of the wooden base, a non-LED bulb will give off more heat (I can’t find old-school bulbs anywhere which is good for the environment of course so not complaining too much) and a place to dry the meat (garden shed as opposed to kitchen as the box is quite big) will prevent grumbles from the her-indoors.

All in all, a good experiment and one that yielded very positive results, not only in taste and cost savings, but in the knowledge that once we go off-grid, no off-cuts or left over meat will ever go to waste.

The Path…

One of my favourite films of all time is Into The Wild, an existential journey of a man who turns away from a promising career in law and instead chooses a life less ordinary by today’s norms.

The inspiring yet ultimately tragic tale of Christopher McCandless (portrayed expertly by the then young Emile Hirsh) strikes a chord for those trapped in a similar situation, faced with a life changing choice.

The film resonates on several levels, of how important nature and relationships are and how unimportant material possessions and conformity really are.

Most of us choose our own paths, although sadly some have paths chosen for them, victims of society or oppressors. Seldom it seems do we make life-changing alterations to our paths, instead opting for safety and reduced risk.

JFK said it best when he exclaimed (in relation to going to the moon):

“We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too”.

Last weekend, I met up with my old buddy “M” for a walk in the Clwydian Hills in North Wales, the first time we had been in each other’s extended company since our “Not the New Years Eve Party” on the 3rd of January this year.

We set off early (separate cars) and reached our destination as the early morning field mists began to dissipate as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Opting for the forest route, we bimbled and talked for almost three hours about Life, the Universe and Everything, taking in the flora, fauna and vistas as we wove in and out of copses and along the long and winding path.

Our paths have not been too dissimilar to date, both work in IT, married with children, houses, cars, pensions etc.

We both have a passion for consciousness theory and spent most of our morning discussing time; does it really exist, does the arrow of time only ever go one direction, is our life path predetermined or do we have free will to influence it, are there infinite paths which all play out in hidden dimensions and it is our choices that steer us to the one we perceive as reality?

We talked about our shared goals too, to retire as soon as we were able and lead that life less ordinary, and I shared my own vision of what that may look like; a small holding off-grid, away from everything that has polluted humanity to the extent that we see today every time we turn on the news.

One thing was for sure, time flies and before we knew it we were back at the cars and heading home.

As I drove home, a song came on my playlist from a prog rock band from the UK called Haken. “M” and I had seen them live a few years back (back when live music was still played – I miss it so much), after which we chatted to the lead singer a while, blood nice chap.

Decanting my hiking gear from the car and sitting down with my mid-morning brew, I chanced to read over the lyrics of the song, and how wonderful and poignant they are:

“This life is a dream
A gift we receive
To live and to love
We forge The Path

Our nightmare in birth
Our struggle for worth
In vain we carry on
Our mission to become

Adapt to this world
It’s a chance we must take
We’ll sing our song
We’ll play our hand”

We are all on different paths, our own journeys through time and space, yet sometimes our paths converge with those of others. We should cherish the moments where we can walk along side others, for those moments, those fleeting moments (like my morning trek with “M”) interlink kindred spirits and it is the metaphysical relationships with fellow man that makes us what we are, human…