We’re on the third day of our housesitting adventure near Marvao in Portugal. We’re surrounded by trees and woodland, there’s a river running past the window and we’ve been passing the days feeding the animals, collecting and chopping wood, making fires and generally doing the things needed to survive.
The “house” we are sitting is a Mill house in 38 acres of land. The electricity comes via the solar panels, the water is from the river and needs to be filtered before drinking. There is no television, water needs to be boiled the old way on the range in the kitchen that needs to be constantly fired up. Having a bath involves stoking up the boiler in the bathroom and waiting for the water to get hot. There is a freezer that works on a timer if there is enough power in the solar batteries, a washing machine that can only be used on a cold wash at midday. The only really mod con is Wifi.
Everything gets recycled in one way or another. Food waste goes to the pig, the chickens or the donkeys. The toilet is a wooden seat on top of a composter. Just add sawdust every time you go. And at night there’s a sawdust bin in the bedroom to save you from heading outside to the daytime loo.
In short, we are living off grid. Okay, we go to the shop which is a half an hour drive away for provisions, but it’s not like nipping round to Tesco if you forget the milk. Shopping lists have become an essential part of existence, and it’s amazing how little you really need. We’ve been told that there is cured pork in the freezer that we are free to use. It comes from the sister of the pig we are looking after. I’ve grown a bit attached to the pig (it doesn’t have a name as it was originally marked for butchering) so I think I’ll stay away from it for now.
The above is just a description of where we are and what we are doing. What it doesn’t capture is this:
I have been struggling this last couple of weeks on our adventure. I have mental health problems, specifically Panic Disorder which left unmanaged takes me into depression. Si also thinks I may have ADD so need to be occupied mentally all of the time. Being in a van on holiday for several months was always going to be a challenge. I was surprised during the first couple of weeks how easy everything was and how much I was enjoying it. And then, slowly, everything started to crumble. Too much time to think. Or feel. No-one to talk to. Everything became focused on Simon and it wasn’t pleasant for him. I have seriously questioned our relationship for the first time and thought the trip might be the end of us. Both of us were really worried about what was going to happen to us left isolated in the middle of nowhere Portugal, but we had committed to housesitting and couldn’t let our friends down.
But here’s the thing (and it may only be short lived). Since getting here I have gradually become more relaxed. I am worried that the pig isn’t getting enough food, that there is a hen that has no feathers on her back. The donkeys haven’t been waking me up in the morning for breakfast… are they unhappy? Should I get myself out of bed at 5am to feed them anyway? Is the pig going to knock me over in her enthusiasm to be fed? Are the dogs going to try to get the chickens? All of these things are in the present. I don’t seem to be worrying about tomorrow, or what we are going to do next week.
I have always been somewhat sneering and unkind to people who talk about getting away from it all and back to nature, bleeding hippies and all that – but somehow this currently seems to be working for me. Of course there is the constant and ever present danger that I will catch a snippet of news about Trump’s latest fuckwittery and, being removed from any resistance, catastrophise. Or get anxious about getting anxious. However, for now, I’m happy enough chilling with the pig. As long as she has been fed.