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LIFE for the medieval peasant woman was hard, but was it more rewarding than life in the 21st century fast lane? Asphyxia, her partner, Paula Dowse, and their seven-year-old son, Jesse, decided to take inspiration from their forebears to find out for themselves.
They began growing their own fruit and vegetables and preserving the excess for winter, making bread, pasta, cheese, yoghurt, candles and clothes. A few years into their journey they are self-sufficient for water, use solar-generated electricity, ride bikes to get around the neighbourhood and have a composting toilet, which provides fertiliser for their vegetable garden.
“We’ve swapped time in the car, time operating machines and shopping for the jobs the peasant woman did,” Asphyxia said. “Over and over again I’ve noticed that the peasant woman activities are more satisfying, more wholesome to my soul and more enjoyable than the ways women often spend their time now. “I discovered that when I’ve spent two hours chopping apricots and preserving them ready for winter, while I’m working my mind is free, it’s relaxing and enjoyable. “When I’m done, I look at the beautiful rows of apricot jars on the shelf and think of the apricot pieces we’ll eat in winter and I feel really satisfied. But when I spend two hours on my computer, answering emails – well, at the end I feel sort of brain-dead and discombobulated.”
Jesse said he liked the self-sufficient lifestyle, but also enjoyed playing games on the computer. “I’ve got my own garden and it’s got strawberries, cabbages, lettuce and a bean plant,” Jesse said. “Paula’s teaching me to cook.”
The family lives in a cosy mud brick house that Asphyxia built, which looks as if it’s been modelled on gingerbread houses featured in fairytales. “I chose mud brick because at the end, the house will return to the earth, instead of making more rubbish,” Asphyxia said.
The small, cosy kitchen is often filled with the smells of Paula’s cooking, which revolves around what is available in the garden. “We always have bottled tomatoes and we use whatever else we have in season,” she said. “It does feel satisfying cooking vegetables we’ve grown ourselves.”
The family keeps chickens, so eggs are plentiful, and recently obtained beehives to enable them to harvest honey. Their giant angora rabbit, named Fluffy Queen, is an indulged pet, but also provides wool for Asphyxia to spin and knit into warm clothing. Asphyxia said next on the medieval peasant to-do list was to live without a fridge and learn to slaughter chickens for meat.
Wonderful things have happened since the article came out….
A guy called Chris who Paula knows from soccer told her that he and his wife were planning a dinner party. The wife was going to buy a new dress for the occasion and they planned to get some gnocchi to serve. After reading the article, they changed their plans. The wife ditched the new dress idea. And they stayed home together and MADE gnocchi! Hooray! If that article saved the world one new dress and the plastic packaging for the gnocchi, I’m rapt. But what really thrills me is that if Chris and his wife were inspired to make changes, well maybe other people have been too. May the ripple effect ripple!
Another wonderful thing. In the article, the last line says my next step is to learn to live without a fridge and to slaughter chickens for meat. I gulped when I saw that in print – it seems so final, and so… potentially offensive… But guess what? It worked like an ad! This weekend Roderick, who I’ve known for years through the touring circuit, came up to me after reading the article and told me he knows how. Not only that but he’s happy to share his skills! Yippee! So we’re cooking up plans (so to speak) to raise a batch of chickens together this summer. It feels SO MUCH EASIER to have a mentor buddy on hand. Thanks Roderick.
Maybe now someone will turn up who can teach me how to live without a fridge?!