My main ambition in life is to escape from the rat race and lead a life that is sustainable. Ideally I would live in a smallholding that could generate its own power and provide enough food to survive independently. It's partly a moral choice, but also a selfish one as I'm fairly certain that life is going to become a lot harder unless our governments make some radical policy changes. I don't want to be dependent on a fragile infrastructure.
Does that sound alarmist? Perhaps, but I remember the petrol crisis of 2000 during which a Government agency predicted that if the supply chain was halted for more than two days, civil order would break down and a state of emergency would be declared. We have gone a long way from the nation that was virtually able to feed itself during the Second World War.
Therefore when a television series was made about a family trying to switch to an ecologically sustainable life, I had to watch it. 'It's Not Easy Being Green' featured the Strawbridge family, who swapped a happy life in a Worcestershire village to renovate a derelict Cornish farmhouse.
It was a very enjoyable series, but unless I have £600,000 to invest and an entourage of specialists to assist me in my engineering and horticultural projects, I'm not sure how relevant the programme is to most people. However, what did inspire me was not the green politics but the Strawbridge family themselves. Whilst I accept that television sanitises everything, it was quite clear that the Strawbridges were a happy family. Normally reality television leaves me feeling depressed about the human condition, but every member of the Strawbridge family was so likeable that I ended up feeling very inadequate.
I tried to imagine my family emulating the Strawbridges, but all I could see was my wife complaining about the cold and my sons saying how bored they were without Game Boy. The Strawbridges seemed to have an endless supply of friends who thought nothing of giving up a couple of weeks to help them build a water wheel. I can't think of anyone I know who could spare more than a day. I want to be Dick Strawbridge.
Further disilutionment set in when I read about the Brithdir Mawr eco-village in Pembrokeshire. For years I had imagined that this was the gold standard in sustainable living and thought that it would look something like this:
But the reality is quite different. Instead of cutting-edge high-tech, low-impact design, we have something that is more Steptoe and Son...
The loo is al fresco
And here is the interior...
I don't wish to seem disparaging about Brithdir Mawr and I know that this dwelling isn't representative of the whole settlement, but if we are going to convert mainstream society to the cause of sustainable living, this isn't the way to do it. To be fair to the occupants pictured here, they never set out to publicise their activities. On the contrary, they minded their own business and as far as the authorities were concerned, didn't exist until a series of satellite photos alerted Pembrokeshire County Council to the presence of unauthorised dwellings.
We desperately need a model that ordinary people can follow. Not a £600,000 farmhouse or a £600 teepee, but a solution that will convince the ordinary person in the street that it makes sense to change.