Since the referendum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everything about Brexit is negative. The evidence from experts suggests, overwhelmingly, that leaving the EU is an incredibly bad idea. Possibly the worst idea any country has ever had. The result was apparently influenced by illegal data sharing and funding, blatant lies, a biased media, historically weak Prime Minister and wilfully incompetent opposition. (Among other things.)

Here is my attempt to change that universally negative perception. To explain, at last, the life-changing and life-affirming positive of this brave experiment – for us as individuals and society.

Before I get to the Good News (and it is very, very good), I need to provide some context in the form of my own Brexit story, which began nearly 12 years ago…

Screen wobble – eerie music – flashback – August 2006

Brexit family

Us in 2007, hours before we left for our glorious new life.

Life was comfortable, back then. I lived comfortably in a small mid-terrace house near the south coast of England. Worked as a freelance writer in London up to five days a week. And shared my life with the mother of my two young children (and the children).

Despite appearances, we were not 100% happy. We felt like we were existing (precariously) instead of really living. There was only enough money to pay the bills, which were always going up, while my day rate stayed the same. We contented ourselves with TV shows that matched our interests, reasonably priced wine, regular takeaways and the occasional night out.

But we couldn’t see the way forward. We had recently had a second child and would soon need a third bedroom; but three-bedroom houses were an extra £100,000, and there was no way we could find that kind of money.

Our Brexit moment

One evening, the mother of my children said, “Why don’t we sell the house and buy land?” An In/Out referendum that achieved a thumping 100% result for “Leave”.

This thought grew rapidly into a Big Idea. We would liquidate the asset and buy at least three acres, grow our own food, keep animals for meat and eggs, live in yurts and create the world’s most environmentally friendly (yet luxurious) yurt campsite. (That last bit was my idea.) This was 2006 – a time when the media spotlight was focused on the environment. Escape to River Cottage, It’s Not Easy Being Green and a host of other planet-friendly shows planted organic seeds in our fertile suburban imaginations.

What could possibly go wrong?

The glorious preparations

Armed with nothing but pen and paper, we invented some figures based on what the few other yurt camps were charging at the time and decided we could make €65K from three 18-foot yurts rented out for six months of the year. Magical, entirely un-researched numbers that promised more money than we’d ever seen. With that, we could even build a straw-bale house and be mortgage-free in (genuine, thin-air-plucked number) 10 years!

Within weeks, we had found and bought 10.47 acres of land in the Dordogne with planning permission for a house. We commissioned eight yurts from Sussex suppliers. We planned chickens, pigs, possibly a horse, solar panels – one day, maybe, a natural swimming pool. Paradise!

Bored of waiting for permission to open our perfect sustainable smallholding and business, we sold up, left the jobs, and drove off into our promising future. We arrived on August 16th 2007 with the unwavering belief that we would be open for business by April 2008. Yes, dear reader, we had even set a date. We couldn’t be more prepared!

What happened next

Have you ever dropped a crystal wine glass? I did once – in Nottingham – and it dissolved into a thousand pieces that flowed across the lino floor like diamonds poured onto a desk in a Bond film. Quite beautiful. And quite similar to what happened when our pristine dream met the immoveable object of French bureaucracy.

By Christmas, we had learnt that the mayor did not want the yurt camp; we could not live on our land in our yurts; the planning permission for the house was gone, never to return (and with it, most of the value of that land); and we would not be open for business in 2008.

Some months later, we discovered we would not be open in 2009, either.

écovallée yurt camp publicity shot

Opening shot for publicity purposes in July 2010. Success!

In fact, we weren’t open until mid-July 2010 – and only then in conspiratorial semi-secrecy thanks to the new mayor, and with only one yurt. By which point we had learnt that the actual holiday season is not six months, from April to October (as imagined), but about six weeks, in July and August. With few facilities, we charged a fraction of what we had planned and made so little (about €700), we had to borrow money to pay the tax.

BUT… if you ignore the bit about earning money, we had succeeded. We had the pigs, a horse and chickens (in that order – we later added rabbits and a couple of geese). We had a huge, well-fenced vegetable garden and orchard. We were working hard, seven days a week, earning a tenth of what we were before leaving our old life (and only because I had found something as rare as goat’s eggs in rural France – a job, which last long enough to qualify me for the dole).

But we were very happy in our grinding poverty. For a while.

A short boom, then bust

It got better. We added a second yurt in 2011, had almost exactly 15 minutes of fame on TV, then added a third yurt in 2012. Our income increased, although most of it was spent on infrastructure to improve what we were offering. Glamping had become A Thing and competition was everywhere. In our best year, we made about €16,000 before taxes.

Then we became me, as the relationship with the mother of my children came to an end.

écovallée yurt and orchard

Our new life at its peak, with yurt three over there.

We ran the family campsite together for an awkward summer while we were separating. Then I ran it for another season, having re-positioned it as a campsite for solo parents. The once-fruitful veggie bed returned to the wilderness. The poly tunnel was destroyed by a storm. I had stopped killing animals and become vegetarian. A fox slaughtered all the chickens and I gave away the one remaining goose. The olympics, media-inspired fear of terrorism, the rise of airbnb, treehouses, great weather in the UK and other factors conspired to suppress the tourist trade here. Last year, I tried one final, loss-making season, after which I closed for the final time.

The whole bubble lasted 10 years and burst back into nothing. I am currently supported by the state, despite having several “jobs”, and have been bailed out by friends and family when the harder times hit (January and February are particularly tricky months). I am asset-stripping what I can and have applied for planning permission where it is most likely to be granted, after which I will put it all on the market for a fraction of what we paid for it.

That, dear reader, is the context. You don’t need me to point out the parallels with Brexit. But you may be wondering what this wonderful positive I mentioned at the start could possibly be. Because, in conventional terms, the project has been what some people might call an unmitigated disaster.

Obvious positives

On the plus side, I have learnt more in the last 10 years than the previous 40. I have lived fully – body, mind and spirit in total harmony – in the environment in which we evolved. I can create structures from materials at hand. I can kill and butcher (although I don’t any more). I am resourceful, resilient, comfortable living below the poverty line and happy with my limited economic activity (although I still “work” up to seven days a week).

These are all useful skills. But there is a positive that is unimaginably greater than all this. You may not like this positive, so you should prepare yourself to feel some strong emotions. As these emotions rise in you, I encourage you to pay attention to your breathing, feel your feet on the floor (if you have feet) and, if necessary, look around at familiar objects for comfort and reassurance. Or listen to the sounds in your immediate environment (if you have hearing). You are, right now, absolutely fine. You will always be fine, right up until you die – and even then you will still be fine.

Before we get to the spectacular, life-changing positive, I need to provide a last bit of context. I won’t sugarcoat the positive, but it might help to see how it came into being.

Happiness is immaterial

When the mother of my children left (with my children), my ego collapsed. The oh-so-clever “me” that came up with the world’s-most-luxurious-yet-eco-friendly yurt camp part of the Big Idea – the unbending “me” that forced it into existence in the face of unrelenting bureaucratic resistance – the patriarchal “me” that co-led my family from wealth into poverty – dissolved. The dream of a sustainable smallholding and business was exposed to be just that – a fabrication of the mind, corrupted by time and events, despite our best efforts to patch it up.

For a short while, I considered falling into depression. I had the perfect excuse. I could drink and smoke myself into oblivion and no one would judge me harshly, surely? In my mind, I saw a vortex, like a black whirlpool, and knew I could just step into it and be gone. I also knew that, if I did, it would take a very long time to get out. So I backed away from the abyss.

Shortly afterwards, I was handed two books: Autobiography of a yogi and The Power of Now. Read at the perfect moment, in the midst of what might be called suffering, with a mind and liver clear of intoxicants (thanks to a timely dry January twinned with yoga and meditation), these books reminded me that genuine peace and joy are available to everyone, all the time – in the space beyond thought.

Take a moment to calm down, if you need to. Just breathe deeply and come back to the text when you are ready. Or not. I hope you will, because this is important.

After my experience, I can tell you with clarity that the human obsession with material things is completely at odds with our true self and selves. It is a false path that has seduced us for centuries – and a path that has run its course. We are entering an age where we will remember that we are, first and foremost, immaterial beings. We are about to become conscious that we are consciousness itself. People who can explain this in more detail include Eckhart Tolle, Gangaji, Rupert Spira, Mooji, Adyashanti, Byron Katie and others, and I strongly encourage you to explore what they have to say.

Our butterfly moment

What Brexit will do – the positive of positives – is plunge the UK into chaos, poverty and deprivation the likes of which no developed country has ever seen. Everything of value will become worthless. (Or, at the very least, worth less.) There will be tremendous suffering, after which the individual and collective ego responsible for the “win” will collapse into nothingness. Then, out of this nothingness will come incredible peace, joy, love and harmony.

If you are already on your spiritual path, this will make sense. If you do not yet know that you are, this may seem like the raving of someone who has lived too long in the woods. But I promise you, by sacrificing the economy and security of an entire nation and embracing suffering on a monumental scale, Brexit will raise the level of consciousness of millions and set an example for others to follow.

At last, as a species, we will stop chasing the unsustainable, fictional, unrealisable economic dream and notice the astonishing beauty of the world we have now. Instead of being seen as criminally negligent captains steering the previously good-ship Britannia towards certain doom, May and Corbyn can be celebrated as the midwives of a new humanity, to be born in the hell of an economy on fire, but destined to co-create heaven on earth.

And I can’t imagine a greater positive than that.

PS I know I’ve said this before, but this really will be my last post on this blog. For anyone wishing to be prepared for a post-Brexit Britain, please explore the archives and links. You may also want to make contact with your local Transition Town initiative. If there isn’t one, you may want to start one. Best of luck, Alex.

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Two days after I decided to close écovallée, I met someone who told me she had been asked to keep an eye out for a venue in France for yoga and meditation retreats. Which planted the seed of an idea that grew quite fast.

This idea is now a seedling strong enough to plant out…

In 2017, écovallée will re-launch as venue for healing retreats, courses and seminars. It is clear that the world needs healing more than holidays – and I can’t think of a better use for this land than as a centre for personal (and global) development.

Here is a short document aimed at those looking for a low-impact place in which to explore the ways in which we can have a positive impact on our planet. Please feel free to retweet and share widely:

the écovallée venue (pdf)

I am leaving this blog online, because it contains some useful information, but this will be my last post. My journey continues and I am travelling light. Thank you for being a reader and I wish you all the best in the years ahead.

With love, Alex.

Facebook Likers already know this year’s HUGE news – that the écovallée yurt camp will be closing at the end of this season. To help it go out in style, I have slashed the prices and extended the season until the end of October.

Here are the new – and final – prices, if you want to come and experience the fruits of our last 10 years’ labour of love.

*This price is if you bring your own sheets and towels. I'm asking for €20 per person to cover the cost of local laundry, because I don't have time to do it all (see all previous posts for details).

*This price is if you bring your own sheets and towels. I’m asking for €20 per person to cover the cost of local laundry, because I don’t have time to do it all (see all previous posts for details).

So, why am I closing?

Many reasons. In August, it will be 10 years since we came up with the idea. The full 10-year plan was that we would have a yurt camp and a house at the end of those 10 years. What we failed to include in that plan were two things: (1) the campsite would be a “success” in conventional terms; and (2) we would still be together as a couple and as a family.

Let’s take a closer look at those two things.

The campsite, despite increasing the number of guests and the turnover each year, and despite being one of the most beautiful, lovingly made yurt camps on the face of the planet, cannot be seen as a success on paper. I don’t have the exact figures to hand, but I’d guesstimate that it has cost us well over €170,000 excluding eight years of (wo)man hours, multiplied by two. Last year’s highest-ever turnover (if you’re taking notes) was about €16,000 before tax. This year, business has fallen off a cliff. I have availability every week between now and the end of October. For almost all of those weeks, as of writing, the availability is 100%. I’m not alone in this, although it’s not widely discussed, and you can imagine your own reasons for this collapse in tourism. But you’d have to say, on paper, it has been a disaster. (If I were a bank, in fact, the taxpayer would be bailing me out.)

Fortunately, I am not bound by conventional Western thinking. So, I’ll brief explain why it has been a success.

One of the things I’ve come to realise, this year, is that notions of success and failure are just that – notions. They’re not real. The only thing that’s real is what is going on around you, right now – what you can see, touch, hear, taste and smell. When you start comparing what’s real with notions in your head, you start to get upset – which is utterly pointless! Looking at what we’ve created, écovallée is perfect. It’s a stunningly beautiful campsite, in a tranquil valley, filled with wildlife, in one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of France. Everything has been done with love – and to our own satisfaction. With our own hands. Using natural materials. When I think of a way that it can be more perfect, I do that, too. It’s all a joy.

So, we did that part of the 10-year plan, in the teeth of astonishing resistance from the authorities (resistance I now understand, don’t agree with, but accept).

Which brings me to that second thing.

I wasn’t happy about The Former Her Outdoors’ decision to leave. I won’t go into detail, but no one was treacherous to anyone. The relationship wasn’t working any more – hadn’t been for some time – and she was able to see it and take action. But, now it’s happened, everyone seems to be happier. She is living in a house, The Daughter and Boy have their own bedrooms for the first time and I live in what many people in the developed world would (notionally) see as paradise. It is paradise – and how could I possibly be upset to live there?

But I’ve struggled to see how I can continue to run a family campsite as a single guy. It seems a bit weird. I knew that écovallée would have to evolve as my Liddle Chillen became Big, but I couldn’t see how it was going to change. The fact that the 10 years of the 10-year plan are up this year makes a nice round number to draw the project to a close.

So, if you’d like to come and stay, this is your last chance.

Coming soon – dramatic changes following my decision to close. (Involves chickens.)

At the risk of sounding like Swiss Toni from The Fast Show, self-sufficiency is a lot like perpetual motion. It seems like a lovely idea, is probably impossible, and almost completely useless. 

Considering impossibility

In Christmases past, I used to argue with a friend of mine’s dad about perpetual motion. “Alex,” he would say while shaking his head and re-filling his pipe. “You haven’t considered entropy.” (He’s a nuclear physicist – they say things like that.) And he was right. I only recently looked it up.

But fundamental laws of physics aside, I am happy to concede that if a perpetual motion machine was invented, it would serve no useful purpose. As soon as you started to draw power from it – and why else would you be building a machine – I suspect it would stop working.

So it is with self sufficiency.

Ignoring the grim reality of the self-sufficient life for a moment – the making of clothes from your own wool, the exposure of your crops and animals to the vagaries of the weather, the impossible number of skills you would need to master, the relentless work – as soon as you wanted to draw money from your labour (to pay property taxes, exchange for school meals etc), I’m sure your carefully woven life-support system would unravel.

What’s the point?

And what’s the use of self-sufficiency anyway – even if you did achieve it?

Sometimes I read that producing food for yourself and your family is a right-wing thing. It smarts because, although I’m nowhere near that end of the political spectrum, there’s more than one grain of truth to it. (Selfish sufficiency might be a better term.)

Like many people who have started working towards having control of their own food supply, of wresting control for their destinies from amoral corporate bodies and faceless bureaucracies, I could not happily feed myself if other people went without. Like the Ubuntu legend (you know – the one where African children all win a basket full of sweets by approaching it hand in hand), I could only be truly happy if everyone else was OK, too.

Which is why, in 2013, like God facing the irrefutable evidence of his own existence in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, self-sufficiency as a goal vanished in a puff of logic.

I have to say, it’s a bit of a relief.

A much better idea

No doubt following another fundamental law of physics, a new goal rushed into the aspirational vacuum in my head. This idea, which if it’s any good should need no explanation, I’m going to call: Community Sufficiency.

You’ll be reading more about this in 2014, and experiencing some of it if you come and stay in écovallée.

In the meantime, I hope you and yours have a wonderful, happy mid-winter festival, Saturnalia, or whatever else you choose to call the celebration of our hemisphere’s darkest day. After tomorrow, the light’s coming back, it’ll soon be spring, and the future is ripe with possibilities.

If you’re interested in following what happened next, you can always read my new blog here: here