Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Week of Penury is Over

And so it ends. The power is now back on at my place, and I am free to use running water and motorised transport again.

I rather enjoyed doing the Week of Penury, and felt that it was a worthwhile experiment. I may attempt another one if I can arrange for favourable circumstances, but not for a while.

Overall, it turned out to be a Week of Voluntary Simplicity more than a Week of Penury. Now I am tasked with replenishing the stock used on the Week. My water ration held out, and I even ended up with a surplus 3 litres. I could have made at least two more meals with the food that I had prepared, although next time I will put more consideration into my menu.

The final power meter reading of 63957 units, just as it was last Tuesday evening.

Thanks to everyone who supported me; I'd encourage you to try something similar.

Live well, and often!

Best Regards,


Day Seven: Tuesday

Another day off. Slept in until 10:30am, made cereal with milk from milk powder for breakfast. There's something disturbing about milk powder; could be the rather off-white-slightly-green colour, or the fact that I bought skimmed milk powder rather than real milk powder. (Come on people—skimmed milk? Our ancestors were drinking full milk in its fatty, creamy goodness for centuries before the invention of skimmed milk, and with no ill effects.) It is a similar enough analogue of the real thing, I guess.

Walked and watered the dog; received general approval in the form of slobber.

I needed to prepare for the big switch-on. Seeing as it was another fine day, I headed into town on Shanks' Pony (on foot, for all you non-Kiwis). This took an hour or so. Checked my private mail box on the way. I needed to buy a copy of the day's newspaper for proof of my abstinence from mains A.C. over the last week. The package I received for my brother also needed to be delivered.

After dropping in at work to say hi, I headed off in the direction of my brother's house. An hour later, I arrived to find that he wasn't home. Damn. I needed to borrow his digital camera to take the aforementioned photo proving my abstinence from mains A.C. After waiting a while, and talking with one of his flatmates about the relative merits of the European Union, the Scottish elections and how study was going, I raised him on the phone only to find out he wouldn't be back for another hour. Damn. He gave me the OK to grab his camera, and I left the package for him. I headed to a newsagent to grab a copy of The Press, and started home again. An hour later... I was quite tired.

This evening's dinner was the rest of the haggis, potatoes and peas, along with a beer; a good hearty meal.

I called J.H. to arrange computer access to post in the blog here, but as it turned out this wasn't possible. He headed over to my place with some of his belongings. We had a whisky as we waited for the time of the big switch-on to arrive.

It sounds odd, but I was a bit apprehensive about turning the power back on! Over the Week, I had gotten used to life without it, and found that you can live quite a decent lifestyle even with out electricity—for short periods at least.

When the clock advanced to 10:25pm, I took the photo, and flicked the power back on at the board. The fridge rumbled to life, and when the hallway light was turned on, it felt extremely bright.

After that, I helped J.H. unload his car, and he drove me to work to pick up transport for the following morning. We arranged to meet for breakfast the following morning. I drove home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Day Six: Monday

For me, Monday is a day off work. I do have a class at Polytech to go to in the morning though, so I had to get up and get prepared. I slept in a bit, since the lecture doesn't begin until 10:00am. Had cereal and milk (made with milk powder) for breakfast, and boiled water for the flask. Got out the door on time, and cycled to 'tech. I'm getting used to the bike ride now, and it seems to take less time than it did at the beginning of the Week.

I needn't have bothered. Class was cancelled today, as our tutor was ill. I decided to head over to work and have a coffee with the guys. There, I checked my email, and updated my blog, posting entries covering the last few days; Computer access has been sporadic at best.

This took until lunchtime, and by then I was ready of my museli bar, orange and banana. I headed up to the square to eat lunch in the sun. It was reasonably warm in the sunlight. After an hour or so, I remembered that I needed to check my mail box, so I wandered up that way. One package for my brother, and numerous pieces of mail for the previous box holders and other people I don't know. Also junk mail. I took my brother's package, put the other mail in the returns box and the junk in the recycle bin, and headed back to the Polytech library to do some research for the law assignment for my engineering management paper.

On the way into the library, I bumped into anyzoom and a friend, who were keen to hear how the Week was going. Spent about an hour in the library before I got bored, and decided to go home while it was still light, and before the rush-hour traffic. Cycled home again.

Once home, I took the dog for a walk in the park, and thought about dinner. Tonight's meal would either be haggis, potatoes and peas, or canned salmon with tomato sauce and pasta. I went with the haggis; this would give me another meal the following day. With dinner, I also had one of the beers left by C.S. and J.S., which was rather nice. After dinner, it was the now familiar routine of listening to National Radio and reading by candlelight. Later, I took the dog for another walk, and treated myself to a dram of whisky before bed.

Only one day left to go!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Day Five: Sunday

Like Saturday, work starts later on Sunday, and finishes earlier. Slept in a wee bit today. Decided to try making cereal for breakfast, using the milk powder. This worked well, although the reconstituted milk is only vaguely analogous to real milk. It was OK. Also decided to have coffee at work; I packed some instant coffee and 'Splenda' sweeteners with lunch, boiled water to take with me in my small flask, had a wash and headed off to work.

Lunch today was another banana (gotta love those bananas), a pear and a museli bar. And hot coffee! Like the milk, the sweeteners bear only a passing resemblance to sugar, but worked well enough. Incidentally, I understand that athletes are particularly partial to bananas, as they release energy slowly and are rich in vitamins and minerals. That's good enough for me. My boss, C.W., went next door to get Burger King for lunch.

There was a bit of a headwind on the way home, so it took a little longer to cycle home after work. It was still light when I arrived, and the dog was happy to see me. Took her for a walk in the park near where I live—I can only do this during daylight as it isn't lit at all at night.

Set another fire when I got home, although this was hard work. The wood I had picked was not seasoned enough, and was still full of sap and moisture. It took ages to get going. Eventually, the sap boiled out of the ends of the logs, but the fire didn't produce nearly as much heat as the previous night's had. With careful addition of kindling and repositioning the logs, they burned better.

Dinner was another can of soup. Pea and ham this time, with the last of the bread, which had gotten progressively harder and harder as the Week progressed. Being a crusty loaf, it was already tough when I bought it. I must say that I'm impressed with the bread from the Sydenham Bakery. It seems to keep for much longer than bread bought from the supermarket, which is rip-off if you ask me; usually, you have at most three days to use the whole loaf before it goes mouldy. Conversely, the bread from the Bakery lasts for a week or more before it starts to go off. And it's good bread into the bargain.

I stayed in tonight again, by the fire. Read some more for my law paper, and listened to National Radio. Also started reading the "Linux Network Administration Guide" by O'Reilly books, in preparation for turning the power back on and J.H. and B.N. moving back in.

Later, I felt the need for a whisky: one dram of The Glenlivet, and afterwards, one of Glenmorangie. Went to bed very relaxed at about 11:30pm.

Day Four: Saturday

On Saturdays, work starts at 10:00am, so I got a bit of a lie-in this morning—great! I had set my alarm to go off at 6:30am, but this was totally unrealistic of me. Of course, I hit the 'snooze' button, and duly woke up two hours later. Had time to make porridge, coffee, and had enough hot water to have a wash too.

The gas stove has worked really well: it has been a worthwhile investment. The only reap issue with it is that I can only cook one thing at a time on it, as it only has one burner. Not a huge issue if you're making one-pan meals or just boiling water. It did present a problem when I made chilli and pasta, as the chilli cooled down while the pasta was cooking.

So far the water rationing scheme has held up, although I now think that I didn't budget enough for the dog; she really needs about 1.5 litres per day, as opposed to the 1 litre I had budgeted. This has eaten into my ration. Even so, I have still managed to stay within the limits. At the end of each day, I have been adding any surplus water to the next day's ration, and so far I have had enough to get by. However, I have not washed any dishes yet. I have managed to have a 'shower' (in the bath), and wash my hair. I also managed a shave on Friday morning, although it is not unusual for me to turn up to work or tech looking rather scruffy. Considering that I'm not using any bottled water to flush the toilet, I think that the 3 litres per day recommended by Civil Defense is quite a tight limit.

Work also finishes early on Saturdays; 4:00pm. I cycled home again, this time in daylight. Played with the dog for a while, outside in the fading sun. After she tired, I went inside and set a fire, since today was quite a bit colder that it has been during the rest of the week. This was great: the insulation which the landlords had installed last year really made a difference. During the first winter J.H. and I had spent in the flat, it was freezing cold, even though it wasn't a particularly severe winter in Canterbury. The problem wasn't helped by the fact that our flat is heavily shaded by a huge oak tree growing in the grounds of the Baptist church next door. This means that the flat doesn't get direct sunlight until about 10:00am.

Anyway, once the fire was burning nicely, I made dinner. Vegetable soup today, with more bread. I ate this by the fire and relaxed, listening to National Radio and reading. As Saturday was half-way through the Week of Penury, I also had a celebratory museli bar. When dinner had settled, I took the dog out for a quick walk around the block. Later, I got my guitar out and did some practice.

My ex-flatmates J.S. and C.S. came over to pick up the last of their belongings and some mail, and were quite suprised to find the house in darkness. I thought I had told them about what I was doing, but evidently I hadn't. Everyone who I have told about the Week of Penury have been both amused and supportive, which has been encouraging. I'm not sure that they would necessarily have a go themselves, but they have been interested to hear about what I am doing and how it is affecting my daily life.

Went to bed at about 11:00pm.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Day Three: Friday

Playing catch-up again! Friday went better than Thursday. Didn't sleep in this morning. Got up at about 7:40am. Had porridge with raisins and honey for breakfast, got washed, put water out for the dog, got on my bike and made it to work a whole five minutes early. This gave me time to recover from the chronic morning rush-hour exhaust fumes.

Lunch today was a banana, an orange and a museli bar. In addition, i had made a jam sandwich; one piece of rather stale bread folded in half with some jam in it. Still edible, though, and on the whole it made for a more satisfying lunch.

I've been quite lucky so far in that the weather has been good; cycling in the rain is no fun at all. It did rain a little this afternoon, but it had cleared up by the late afternoon.

Cycled home after work, getting to the house at about 6:50pm. I'm getting used to the routine now, and didn't reach for the light switch today. Once my legs had stopped aching, I took the dog for a walk, which she was very happy about. Made some minestrone soup for dinner. Of course, the soup is condensed, and I discovered it takes about 400ml of water to reconstitute it. One whole can of condensed soup is really enough for two people, but I was hungry after all the cycling I've been doing. I had this with more bread, which softened up nicely.

Listened to National Radio for a bit, and did some reading for my law paper. Later on at about 8:50pm, I decided to head out to take some mail to my friend J.H., who—along with B.N.—will be moving back in with me at the end of next week. I took the dog with me so that she'd get some thorough exercise. This turned out to be a very long walk. I got to J.N.'s place at about 9:40pm, and talked with him for about 15 minutes. He was keen to hear how I was doing on the Week. Then I walked all the way home again, by a slightly different route.

As it was Friday night, all the boy racers were out in formation, generally being a bunch of pricks and putting everyone in danger. Got home about 10:40pm, knackered. Flopped into bed soon after.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Day Two: Thursday

Apologies for the lack of post yesterday; I had no computer access. I'm posting this brief update at work in my lunch break.

Yesterday got off to a poor start, as I totally slept in. I've been getting much more physical exercise than I'm used to, and as a result, I was totally worn out from cycling around so much. I woke at about 8:20am, threw my clothes on, hurriedly grabbed a banana, a pear, a museli bar and some water for lunch, and headed out the door without breakfast. Big mistake. By lunchtime I was feeling light headed, and I had drunk all of my water ration. Lunch wasn't enough to bring me back. I spent the rest of the working day feeling weak and tired. Lesson learned.

Thursday also happened to be the last day at work for one of our staff, T.N., who is moving on to greener pastures, so I made an exception for the occasion and joined him and the rest of the crew for a beer or two and some chips. It would have been rude not to. I paid the price for this, though, as afterwards I had to cycle home in the dark, a bit drunk and quite tired. The beers went straight to my head because I was dehydrated.

Got home about 7:15pm, fumbled around for my keys, and let myself in. Immediately reached for the light switch - then realised, of course, that there was no point. Habit is hard to break.

I took my dog for a walk, which she enjoyed. She has been a bit maligned lately, and I felt terribly guilty about not having more time for her. The Week of Penury hasn't really been a big change for her - although she must be puzzled about the lack of light in the house.

After this, I reheated more of last night's chilli and pasta, which went down a treat. Listened to some radio, then called my parents. They were a bit suprised to hear about my experiment, but were supportive. The call lasted an hour and a half, and it was good to speak to them.

By the time I had got off the phone I was ready for bed. Hit the sack at about 11:30pm, which is early by my standard, but I badly needed to rest.

Another update to follow shortly.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Day One: Wednesday

The first day of the Week of Penury went reasonably well. Had some last minute crises, like the camera dying just before I needed to take the photo of my meter late last night. I had bought a 10-pack of spare AA's; however these turned out to have been on the shelf for a very long time and were flat! Had to rush out to a garage to pick up some more, high power batteries before the Week started.

For those who are wondering what the heck I'm up to, I have committed myself to live for a week in my own home without mains electricity, and without motorised transport. No big deal, I hear you say. But this actually entails giving up more than you might initially think: electric lighting, my computer, electric oven, hot water, refrigeration and electric heating. It is Autumn here in NZ and getting chilly. (In case you are wondering how I posted after the fact last night; I took the photo, switched off the power at the mains at home, headed over to a friend's and used his computer, then cycled home.)

I got home at about 11:30pm, found my way into the house, found my torch, then lit some candles. I aim to use the torch as little as possible. Adjusted to life in the dark by having the last of the cheese in my fridge with some crackers, and a wee dram of Glenmorangie. Listened to some radio on my walkman, prepared lunch in advance, then to bed.

Woke at 6:30am this morning. It was still dark outside. Stumbled into the kitchen and boiled water (on my portable gas stove) to make porridge and coffee, and to have a wash. In accordance with the Civil Defence instructions, I have allowed myself 3 litres of water a day for everything I might need it for, plus a litre a day for my dog. I should mention at this point that I have also restricted the use of running water to toilet use only: no drinking, cooking or cleaning water can be drawn from the cylinder. So to cover me for the next week, I started with 21 litres plus 7 for the dog.

After washing, I got on my bike and cycled to work, getting there about 40 minutes earlier than I normally would.

I am still going to work this week, as the opportunity to do the Week of Penury came up at short notice and I couldn't get time away. While this isn't what I had intended initially, I have factored it into the equation. Originally, I had also intended to do without my phone for the week. However, my borther injured himself a few days befor I was due to begin, so I needed to be contactable. I had realised (only a day before) that I would not be able to use my phone without the power on, since it is cordless: the base receiver must be on for it to work. I got around this by borrowing my friend's standard land-line phone. My mobile is also still available for the purpose of contactability.

Lunch at work was a banana, a pear and a museli bar. I noticed that I got hungry again quite soon after lunch.

After work, I cycled home again, stopping to check my private mailbox on the way. I finish work at 6:00pm during the week, by which time it is dark outside at this time of year. At home, I found my torch again and lit candles. Quickly knocked up some chilli, using the minced beef that had defrosted in the fridge, kidney beans, a carrot, and half an onion. I threw in a beef stock cube for good measure, and added half a tin of tomatoes. This turned out suprisingly well.

One problem I face is only being able to cook using one pan at a time. I boiled water to make pasta, while the chilli cooled. I realised that rice is probably better than pasta in this situatuion, since the rice absorbs the water, whereas you throw out the water from cooking pasta.

I scoffed this quickly, as I needed to meet with my brother at 8:00pm.

I used his computer to type this post.

Well, now I must head home to get to bed at a quasi-reasonable hour. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Week of Penury

The Week of Penury has officially started, as of 10:25pm on Tuesday, 8th of May 2007.
This is a social experiment, in which I live without electricity or running water* at home for one week. I will be posting daily with an update of the day's events to let you know how I'm getting on, and also with more information on what is involved.

I must be mad...The power meter at my place, with a copy of today's Press, showing 63957 units the meter and today's date. I will take another photo at the end of the experiment to demonstrate that I haven't used any power at home.

More soon,