Essex Bees Interview (Part 2)

In Part 2 of our interview with Essex Bees (here is Part One) Richard tells us about his interest in Permaculture and, with great alacrity, how you too can ‘downshift’ your life.

Where did you learn about Permaculture?

I first read about Permaculture in a magazine article. Looking into it further I found that it supports an ecological balance between people and their environment, it tries to create a sustainable life support system for the planet, and suggests action after observation – i.e. think about what you’re doing and don’t ride roughshod over everything else to achieve your interpretation of perfection.

It can also be used to repair damage that mankind has already made. I was previously interested in James Lovelock’s Gaia theory of the Earth as a ‘living’ entity and my personal long-held belief is that mankind is not above nature and ignores or destroys it at their peril.

I also fully appreciate and accept that I do not live this type of lifestyle to the full and do not actually see how I can do it living where I do. I focus more on trying to improve what is in front of me and building resilience into my life.

What are the pros and cons of ‘downshifting?’

My interpretation on ‘downshifting’ is a move away from a lifestyle of wealth creation, for money’s sake and conspicuous consumption, to a lifestyle that allows you to pay your way through life but also have time to enjoy and make the most of the ‘here and now’.

Sadly in this country you have to be wealthy to truly enjoy the ‘simple life’.

When working in London I earned a decent salary which allowed me to buy a modest property in a pleasant area (with the help of a mortgage). I also had a foreign holiday every year and didn’t really need to bother about what we bought as I could always pay it back. For that I left home at 5.00am every morning, got home at 9.00pm earliest, often worked ‘all-nighters’ as well as every other weekend. 3 to 4 hours commuting a day with a job full of demanding deadlines meant that I was permanently tired, living off takeaways and decidedly unhealthy. This had been going on for over 20 years.

When my daughter was born she was in and out of hospital for the first 6 months of her life and at times her life was hanging by a thread. I realised that not only could we lose her at any time but my son, who was 7 at the time, had already had a childhood that I’d missed out on due to work. That’s when I decided that actually it’s not all about money and what your peers think of you, one life doesn’t suit everyone.

The decision to give it all up was supported by my wife and we blissfully moved into the unknown. I set up a local business and earned a fraction of what I had before, but it meant I was home in the early evening to hear the family news, could cook the dinner and be on hand to take the kids to their various parties and sports meetings.

It also gave me time to do a bit of gardening and beekeeping too!

I now earn enough to pay the bills, just, but foreign holidays and new things are now no more.

The day job and the bees take up a lot of my time but I can work it around the family, although this year has been tougher due to the increasing number of hives I look after. In a couple of years when the mortgage is paid off I hope to be able to look after the bees almost full-time.

The pros for me have been more time to do things I want to do, be with people I want to be with, time and space to think, and also the necessity to make do with what I already have or can create myself. I only take a week off work a year as I do not need to recharge my batteries like I used to.

I also don’t miss meetings, commuting, deadlines, poor food…

The downsides are limited and probably more in my mind than anything else. My family fully supported my decision, but I do wonder if they would like to go away, or out, more often.

Downshifting is not for everyone; bills don’t go away (unless you live in a yurt in a field) and it’s next to impossible to grow all of your own food unless you have a very simple diet, don’t mind fasting at times and spend all your time growing it. Approached sensibly you can grow and raise a big chunk of it though.

If you opt to downshift then you are effectively trading possible monetary gain for time.

It is what you do with this time that is, in my mind, important.

I am often asked what’s it like and how do you do it. Many say they wish they could or were ‘brave enough’ to do it – maybe the ‘what if’ itch affects me more than them?

For those reading this blog that are interested then I’d suggest the following:

The first question to ask is ‘why?’ If you don’t like your boss you can change jobs, if you don’t like your job then you can retrain, if you’re stressed out then you can take a sabbatical, if you have paid off the mortgage then you can go part-time.

My downshifting was about making a permanent move to having less money but having time. My reasons for doing so included poor health, not seeing my kids, enough of the ‘system’ and the itch of ‘what if’. I will stress though that what I consider a downshifted lifestyle is for others the norm – maybe they got it right from day 1?

Then you ask ‘How?’ Like most people I thought about it a lot, seriously for about 2 years. In those 2 years I worked out what I wanted and how I could afford to do it (with Plans B & C in case it all went pear-shaped) – I then made sure my family were onboard, rather than railroaded.

Also opportunities arise that weren’t in the plan. Beekeeping wasn’t even on my radar, let alone written down in black and white.

I was slightly apprehensive but have always treated it like starting a new business, with all the excitement and apprehension that makes it worth doing. I never planned to sit back and watch thistles grow in the back garden, drinking home-made wine and waiting for my state pension.

You may not encounter the stresses of working in an office environment but when you’re running on empty at the bank and the boiler blows you need to know how you’re going to get it fixed.

With the ‘How’ and the planning time you can also find out if you do really want to do some of the things you think look great sitting in yet another boring presentation or sat on a sweaty train. The only way to do this is try it.

It keeps ‘The Dream’ on track and reminds you of what you are striving for. Therefore try/practice all the things you want to do – and then carry on when the weather is bad or you’re bored or you’re tired.

Then you find you’ve thought around ‘What?’ I mentioned before that you have to be rich to live the simple life. Unless you live in an off-grid, fully paid-off smallholding with limited family and dependents and can fix everything that goes wrong out of scrap then you need some income.

If downshifting is approached with a clear objective then debt can be reduced and skills learnt to get you ready for the moment when you say ‘Sod it, I’m off!’ I have absolutely no regrets, nor does Dan.

A note of caution – it’s very difficult to move back into your old life once you’ve downshifted – because of the freedom you’ve experienced and because it doesn’t impress most employers.

In Part 3 we hear more about growing your own food and how you can support the work of Essex Bees…

For further reading on bees, visit Amazon right now and see what you can find… Books About Bees


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