Watts, amps and volts…

This week was a big step forward in grasping the basics of both electronics and off-grid living.

I took ownership of the first in a series of devices that will accompany my journey into the technical world of electronic experimentation, with a view to understand what (or should I say watt?) works, what doesn’t, what our basic needs are and what luxury items one can still use whilst being isolated from the grid.

Dokio 100w Portable Solar Panel
Beaudens Portable Power Station

So the sustainable energy basics are already acquired, this week saw two exciting deliveries; the first a 100w portable solar panel, the second an entry-level 240wh power station.

I intend to review both items in time, but what it has already allowed me to do is to think in a different way. Us on-gridders invariably don’t think about how devices work, how much electricity they consume and how much it costs to run them, one typically plugs, plays, enjoys and pays the hefty energy bills at the end of the month.

With the start of the build of my “Cabin In The Yard” (the prototype for the build of over a dozen ecolodges at our retreat in Wales), only weeks away, I wanted to fully explore and understand the art of what’s possible without drawing any resources from the house.

Thankfully, my son is an electrical engineer and he gave me an electricity 101 to explain what watts, amps and volts are, how to find out the inputs and outputs of devices, and by doing the maths, I could work out the drain from each appliance on the limited power reserves I have.

What’s a watt?

I’ll admit the 101 didn’t make much sense until I started to do some research on which devices and appliances are powered by 12v batteries, USB or AA / AAA rechargeable batteries.

Once I found out the watts for each device, the penny dropped. By documenting the watts of each device, I knew exactly how much each one would drain from the 240 watt hours I had to play with on my power station.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer volume of devices out there that could continue (somewhat) a life of luxury, totally cost free (besides the initial investment of course), as long as the sun was shining (the fundamental flaw in my plan of living in the monochromatic grey realm of North West England).

Here is the list of devices I found, not exhaustive by any means and somewhat primordial when compared to those in the house for the likes of heating, cooking and lighting, but still an impressive list nonetheless (those marked green I already possess):

12v Appliances

🟢 Portable Showers (15w)

🟢 Cooler Boxes/Fridges (58w)

🔴 Heating Stoves (40w)

🔴 Travel Kettles (120w)

🔴 Hair Straighteners (20w)

🔴 Hair Dryers (150w)

🔴 Toastie Makers (120w)

🔴 Heater Fans (120w)

🔴 Travel Hoovers (12.5w)

🔴 Electric Blankets (55w)

🔴 TVs (40w)

🔴 Air Pumps (120w)

🔴 Water Pumps (60w)

USB Appliances

🟢 Desk Fans (1w)

🟢 Desk Lamps (5w)

🟢 Bluetooth Speakers (5w)

🟢 iPhones (5w)

🟢 iPads (10w)

🟢 Surface Pro (60w)

🟢 Nintendo Switch (25w)

🟢 Logitech Web Cams (5w)

🟢 USB C Computer Monitors (25w)

🟢 Mavic Mini Drones (15w)

🟢 Sony XM3 Headphones (15w)

🟢 Apple Watches (2w)

🟢 Portable Power Banks (15w)

🟢 Recyclable Battery Chargers (15w)

🟢 Oculus Quest VR Headsets (15w)

🟢 Portable Shower (15w)

🔴 Portable Projectors (15w)

🔴 Mini Blenders (65w)

🔴 LED Lights (45w)

Rechargeable Battery Appliances

🟢 Radios

🟢 Portable Speakers

🟢 Clocks

🟢 Nose Trimmers

🔴 LED Lights

Yes, I’m at the stage of my life now where nose trimmers have become an essential item!

The beauty of buying the items above is that they are all 100% portable, so not only can I use them in the soon-to-be-erected cabin, but I can take them camping with me later in the year, and if the zombie apocalypse does turn up some point soon, I’m sorted.

All systems working!

Clearly to stay connected, I’ll need to tether my phone to the internet-based devices I have, so not everything is free, but it’s a good start, and does go to show that the art of what is possible is both sustainable and achievable if you want it…

Off-Grid On-Grid…

As Rabbie Burns famously once penned, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”

It’s fair to say that as the dawn rose this morning, another day of being both completely healthy and totally locked in left me with feelings of melancholy.

In need of cheering up, I took it upon myself to make my wife a Valentine’s Day breakfast, her favourite of poached eggs on toast with sea salt and cracked pepper. With two small gifts and a hug or two exchanged, my mind quickly returned to the great outdoors. As the snowflakes fell again upon the cold ground, I could not help but feeling that this year was another one that is going to pass most of us by, certainly in the UK.

Mrofa Nefyn, home of Ty Coch, tenth best beach bar in the world…

The extra-currlcular project that I am working to invent and create an eco-retreat in North Wales couldn’t seem further away than it actually is geographically (i.e. anything beyond the Boris Johnson invisible line of seven miles is out of bounds according to the latest “guidelines”). Here we will have something that when deployed, will bring so much personal achievement for me and my comrades, as well an avenue for many others to enjoy nature, commune with others and return to an acceptable level of mind-body-spiritual balance, all of which are out of kilter for the vast majority of the populace.

I am resigned to the fact that it’s not going to happen this year. With so much uncertainty and blockers, my proposed project plan is already slipping to the right with no actions yet completed.

Someone said to me recently to only concern oneself with the things one can control and let go of the things one cannot. Wise words.

With those sage words of advice keeping my tinnitus company this morning, I took to YouTube for inspiration, and man was I inspired!

Dave and Brooke, inspiring couple

After several attempts to find the right viewings on creating ecolodges, I came across two wonderful individuals, known in cyberspace as Bushradical and the Girl in the Woods (move over Sarah Beeny and George Clarke).

Very recently, they have created what I had been dreaming of for the eco-retreat, an off-grid cabin/lodge erected simply and quickly from standard materials one can find at the reclamation/builders yards and hardware supply stores.

So impressed am I with the simplicity, speed and quality of the build, I simply have to share the videos below, in a hope to inspire myself to build a copy of their creation as a prototype in my own compact and bijou back yard, and if successful use the same design and materials as a template for our retreat.

Bushradical

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Girl In The Woods

Part 1
Part 2

After being totally consumed by these videos today, I started to put pen to paper to see how I can use Dave and Brooke’s template to create my “Cabin in the Yard”.

With the temperatures at zero outside, there is plenty of time now to draw up my plans on what the dimensions of the cabin will look like, and what materials I need to procure over the coming weeks. The planned build is to commence on the Spring Equinox (21st March).

Cabin in the Yard, initial plan on a page

Hope springs eternal, the eternal springs hope…

Future Bites…

What the future has in store for us is a point most debated just now given the state of things in the world. What is becoming clearer as the days turn into weeks and months, is that it will not be what we have been used to over the past few decades. Irrespective of the origins of Covid and which side of the debate one falls on, things will be different, change is inevitable.

I fall in and out of love with Russell Brand, who seems to float between his high-ego and higher-self a bit too regularly for my liking, but in general I think he has matured into a person who has the greater good at his core. Although he seems to sit on the fence a lot more these days, he offers up thoughts and themes for us to ponder on, no more so than his latest output on YouTube following the completion of Davos 2021:

It does appear that governments and big business have a flagrant disregard now for smoke and mirrors. The things they say and do are well and truly in the public domain, whether it be awarding contracts without tenders, billionaires updating their personal biographies with a single word which results in huge volatility in the stock markets increasing their own wealth, to some blatant messaging from organisations advising to the public they will own nothing, they will rent everything, and a huge majority will be displaced, but they will be happy.

Fundamentally, it comes down to a binary decision (like most things seem to do these days); does one go with the flow or not. Masks, vaccines, guideline compliance, political alignment and consumerism, we either do or do not. Control and self-control are two key aspects of the human condition, ultimately we either offer up the control of the self to others and have our outcomes decided for us, or we apply self-control and choose our own outcomes (although that too can be influenced by others).

I’ve long admired Steven Wilson and have waited patiently for his new album The Future Bites (annoying the title and the tracks are all in uppercase, a thing this pedant can overlook, just!). As creative output has been very limited over the last twelve months, the album was on repeat for the whole day yesterday, at the end of which I was (as per usual) rather impressed. Wilson continues to depart from traditional arrangements and instruments, and whilst this album uses electronica in most of its songs, its still has that unmistakably Wilson feel to it. It may irk the purists who see him make in-roads into the world of pop-rock and away from prog, but it is lyrically sublime as always, irrespective of the accompanying tune; a very accurate critique of the human condition, and all too familiar to the listener and reader of his post-modern poetry.

At the core, Wilson shares his own view on the rank state of play at present, with an overarching message that we have entered a period of devolution, a period which is seeing us break away from tribes, traditions and a sense of community, and moving towards a world consumed by image, self-worth, mindless consumerism and materialism. There is also a nod to the fact that social media is a plague of its own, a virtual cancer that eats away at compassion and decency. I have not had any online presence (besides this anonymous blog) for over eighteen months now and I’m better for it. Others close to me sometimes share titbits with me, often to my utter horror. Friends I have had since my school days are taking to such platforms to share the most bilious and vile rhetoric and insults, demoting them from friends through acquaintances to people I once met.

Music can be, and often is, a channel for talented individuals to use their prowess and influence to draw attention to the problems we face as a race, putting across to the listener a message (clear or otherwise – and that is the beauty about it, we can take what we want from a song and turn it into something deep and meaningful to us) which can often be more powerful than what is presented by the authorities via their preferred media channel outlets.

For those who have not heard of Steven Wilson, his entire back catalogue is on Spotify (all forty studio albums), which includes his early days in Porcupine Tree and splinter projects and collaborations (Storm Corrosion, Blackfield, No-Man), but a good place to start is Insurgentes, the opening track of his first solo album, and one of his best songs to date).

I have no doubt that the future will indeed bite, but no doubt there will probably be a vaccine for that, too…

Mushroom boleh!

Today marks the official harvesting day from my first crop of white button mushrooms.

Whilst the yield is less than expected, small is beautiful, the most perfect little mushrooms have appeared.

First crop…
Raise the roof…
The mushroom is more beautiful than the rose…
Fungi family, just add love…

Looking forward to my first homegrown mushroom omelette (locally sourced eggs and smart garden sweet chilli).

Micro-self-sufficiency at its finest…

Serpents Rising…

There is no doubt that energy is shifting daily like the sands on a windy beach.

Getting back to nature last week and living life temporarily outside the chaos has brought new light on dark times. Ignoring the pandemic, turning off the news and revisiting the positivity of the past has of late rekindled introspection and what gives me inner peace.

Experiencing the sensory and physical aspects of reality – the flora, the fauna, the cloud formations, the rush of the sea at high tides, the setting sun, the rising moon, as well experiencing the mystical and metaphysical aspects of reality too on just what it feels like to part of something so incredible, I find myself at times in awe of such beauty and the associated feelings experienced are rekindling forgotten spiritual connections I have with some people that I have lost touch with over the years, giving me such a huge internal boost in these troublesome times.

It is seven years ago to the very month that I took my reiki training, opening the neural pathways to something quite alien, quite astounding, tapping into hidden energies that had been hitherto out of reach for the materialist I once was (and have been again over the last couple of years).

Once again it was my wife that reminded me of just who I was back in 2013 and how of late bits of my old self had returned. My “being” back then was born out of abject negativity and selfishness, with me operating as it were as a mid-week bachelor and weekend dad (replicating the abhorrent behaviour of my own alcoholic father).

Such was the shame at this realisation that I was becoming him if not already, that drastic action was required else my strong-willed wife and children would be gone, something my mother sadly never had the strength to do.

So an awakening took place, and with it a connection to a hidden and healing energy, a cosmic current taped into for the first time, opening my eyes to the fact that there was more to this reality than the five senses could serve up.

Buddhists and New Age folks say that things go around in seven year cycles, and here we are exactly seven years later and I find myself knocking on the door of my old reiki master “L” who has “upgraded” to kundalini yoga, and has her own practice based out of a majestic place in the heart of the Wirral countryside.

Although I had not seen her for many years, it was clear that time doesn’t exist (does it anyway?) when it comes to a rekindling of spirits. A quick non-non-distancing hug and catch-up revealed that we would pick up exactly where we left off and both agreed that paths we have taken across the years seem to be forever intertwined.

The same for my wife too. She has been struggling too over the last six months as a furloughed complimentary therapist with too much time on her hands, consuming the chaos, facts, lies and conspiracies for most of her waking hours, minutes and seconds each day. She too needed to refocus by joining me on this journey.

I decided after our trip to Devon to remove meat from my diet. The previous seven days had seen us consume half a farm, chickens, pigs and cows were all present on our daily calorie count and a return to the homestead made me feeling bloated and like a badly cooked steak, over-done.

I was a vegetarian for around eighteen months when I took my reiki training and with the new outlook, new friends, new energy and new lifestyle, it was only natural a diet forms part of the new me.

We have all consumed too much during the lockdown, grazing from cookie jars and overdosing on Netflix for too long over the last six months and our portly figures provide the evidence of that, so a dietary change was a must. I’ve also been out every morning running, cycling, kayaking and land-boarding before everyone else opens the curtains, and boy what a difference a week makes.

Tuesday saw our first kundalini yoga session with “L”. I like to understand what I’m getting myself into so spent sometime on Tuesday morning researching what kundalini yoga was all about. I had heard and read some negative and sensational reviews of the kundalini experiencing, ranging from mental instability to whole body orgasms and a lot of other stuff in between. Classifying it as fake news (but having an awareness of it in case I experience such – yes to the orgasms!) we joined the class and took part in what was such a different experience to the Hatha / posture-based yoga I have always undertaken.

Relatively easy positions were counter-posed by vigorous breathing techniques (breath of fire) leaving us both exhausted yet conversed completely invigorated and energised by the end. Everyone in the group was lovely, warm and welcoming, leaving us with the opinion that in some way, we had found our way home.

We spoke fondly of our experience on the drive home through the shadowy country lanes and with energy still racing when we got back home, I went for a run with the old and faithful pooch, giving new life to old legs.

Land-boarding on the promenade and looping the local marina in the morning sun as the open-water swimmers raised the mouths for breaths the next morning reminded me what if felt to be alive, a positive feelings I’d not felt in a long, long time.

If the early part of the week blew us away with positive energy, then what we experienced on Thursday made that look like a mere ripple on the sea compared to the the tsunami which was about to take place. When we have good weather and as we live close to the sea, when the conditions and tides are right, then “L” conducts her kundalini yoga class on the beach, which is accompanied by evening swims and paddling (sea kayaks and stand up paddle boarding).

As we approached, the beach car park (usually only partly occupied) we were surprised by how was rammed it was with vehicles. As we decanted our kayak and paddling gear, we looked up to see over 100 yoga mats laid out facing the sun, a welcoming inward tide and our spiritual instructor for the day in the lotus position waiting to begin. Incredible.

The session was the same as the “kriya” as Tuesday so we both knew what as to come, this time it was easier as we had had the practice, the session was more magical than the previous one, given the setting, the sheer volume of people and the communal and positive energy by all, resonating a common frequency of happiness.

Feeling again totally energised, we spent the next hour kayaking on the open and warm waters of the Mersey Estuary, totally at one with the universe and the like-minded souls we were spending time with.

Without sounding like a stuck record in reference (reverence) to Westworld, the words “Some choose to see the ugliness in the world, the disarray, I choose to see the beauty” never rang so true. If you are in the position to commune with nature and seek out opportunities for serenity, there is no better time than now. I’m mindful that we are not all in that position presently, with my friends and colleagues in India under almost full lockdown so I have to tone down my own personal journey at the moment, so not to fan their flames of despair, but they are in my thoughts and non-religious prayers.

I’m not one for taking good photos, but every now and again I hit jackpot. As my wife was paddling in, I stood waist-deep in the sea as the sun was setting and pressed click, the result of which reminded me of the ethereal Pink Floyd album The Endless River (Sea in this case), which sure seemed to be that way with nothing visible on the horizon, almost suggesting that infinity beckons…