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Philip & Phoebe Macdiarmid

Thirty years ago, we decided to give up our urban life style for a simpler, rural one. Our four oldest children had left home, our youngest, Hilary, was fourteen. First the three of us spent a year on a belated/premature Great O.E., then we came back to the land we owned in the country. We had thirteen beautiful acres, part grass, part bush, with a river on the eastern boundary, and a creek, with a spectacular waterfall, to the north. We had a small bach, which we then turned into a house. The carpenter we employed to do this turned out to be oh, so slooooow, and for a year we lived in total chaos, with outside walls missing, and worst of all, no proper water supply.

The pipes, even the hot water cylinder from the wood stove were all in place, but the water came from a tank at ground level, and there was no simple way to get it up to the header tank. Cold water was okay, we had a hose coming in the bathroom window, but hot was a problem. So every couple of days Phil would climb on the roof with a rope, Hilary and I would fill the bucket, Phil would haul it up and pour the water into the header tank. After I think thirteen buckets full, Hilary would go inside and have a bath. Phil and I would go on filling the tank until there was enough water up there for us to share a bath after Hilary had finished.

However, when the carpenter finally finished, we had a huge water tank brought in by helicopter, and a header tank up the hill, and we were civilised again. We had solar water heating too, a very primitive system compared with the ones available now, but it worked, and we got a certain amount of electricity from solar panels on the roof, enough to run the water pump, and lights.

We never got a fridge, and I didn’t really miss it. By then we had stopped eating meat, and had limited dairy products, They’re the things you really need a fridge for. I think I missed a freezer more. But no washing machine was a bore. I’ve always hated hand washing. One day when I was driving through town, I saw a man putting up a great sign saying, “Laundromat”. It was one of the best days of my life. After that, we brought a couple of bags of washing into town each week. We had a great garden, and grew our own fruit and vegetables. And we had unlimited free firewood, kanuka and wattle mainly. We still have, actually, owing to the kindness of our son-in-law.

Hilary lived there for the rest of her high schooling. I don’t think she minded the austerity, but you’d have to ask her. Having her own horse was a great compensation.

Then five years ago age caught up with us, and we’ve moved into town. Now we have mains electricity, and all the appliances. Another of our daughters has taken over our old place, and they still haven’t got on the grid. Here we’ve still got solar hot water, a much more sophisticated system, but no room for a vegetable garden. Instead, on Thursday mornings we walk down to the community garden down the road. Anyone can go there on a Thursday, put in a few hours work, and go home with a bag of vegetables. Younger limbs than ours do the heavy work, we get the easy jobs like watering and supplying the morning tea. It’s great.

What made us choose a simple life-style and a semi-vegetarian diet (we eat fish, limited dairy products, no meat)? Because we preferred it. It wasn’t a matter of principle really, though the testimony to simplicity has always appealed to us. Perhaps we choose our principles to fit our tastes. We eat well, and enjoy our food. Our diet is for health reasons, but after all these years we’re used to it. I tried a piece of cold roast beef the other day. I didn’t like it. I gave the rest to the cat. I feel rather strongly that using land to grow animals for food is a squandering of the planet’s resources, but perhaps if I enjoyed meat I wouldn’t be so sure. I don’t know that I’m actually sure of anything, really, these days.