We know very few things for certain about our future both as individuals and as part of a wider society.
There are however a few certainties.
The social structures we inhabit in are going to undoubtedly change and a large part of this change will be driven by climate change and our response to it. (Any climate change deniers should exit this post now and never come back)
This will affect us all.
Every single person who is reading this, along with the much, much larger number of people who will never read this, will have to dramatically change their lifestyles in order to prevent the coming ecological catastrophe.
We need to consume less, pollute less, perhaps even reproduce less.
An experiment in living in the future
As you may be aware, back in June Des and I took part in The Clearing Project - a post-apocalyptic vision of the future set in the grounds of Compton Verney, a Stately home turned Art Gallery in rural Warwickshire.
The Clearing is a collaborative artwork by Alex Hartley and Tom James - part experiment, part installation, part live performance.
Running for most of 2017, The Clearing will be kept alive by a series of Caretakes, who come to "live" in the project for a fixed period of time. Often these Caretakers come to produce art of their own, from poetry to crochet.
The whole project is centred around a Geodesic Dome, a type of structure which became popular in the 1960's/70's.
At The Clearing there is no access to running water, indoor plumbing, heating and only minimal solar powered lighting. Cooking facilities are limited to either a wood bringing stove or outside wood fuelled fires. The kind of faculties you might expect in a crumbling society facing fuel scarcity.
This was to be our home for a week as we explored the future.
Day one: Out of the cooking pan, into the fire.
We arrived on a very hot Monday morning after staying at my parents the night before (I'm originally from Warwickshire).
The heat and my very poor reaction to it was to be a main feature of our stay...
Out first mistake was to try and light a fire for lunch at midday, which not only was ill timed temperature-wise, but also mildly embarrassing.
Neither of us really knew how to light a fire, let alone feed one for long enough to make lunch. This was my first taste of a skill I had long forgotten about - perseverance in the face of inconvenience.
Our modern life primes us to drop tasks when they become too annoying/hard. Either we simply stop doing it in favour of the million other activities available to us, or we can easily outsource and order a better solution from Amazon etc,.
When there are no other options (no fire = no food/hot water), you keep on going until you get it right. Which we eventually did, 100 matches later. In fact by the end of our trip we were both getting very good at the whole fire thing.
Day one: Boredom is under-appreciated
By the end of the first day I has pretty much exhausted exploring our surroundings and the nuances of Dome life. I had even braved the compost toilet, which was surprisingly sanitary and smelled a hell of a lot better than most public toilets.
Boredom however was starting to creep in.
Normally in this kind of situation I can readily find a source of entertainment, in fact most of my life is centred around keeping myself entertained, as I'm very restless and hate being bored. That's partly why I started this blog...
I was also surprised that even despite our lack of amenities, we still had a lot of free time. Yes, we had to walk 5 minutes to fill up our water containers and cooking took a couple of hours. However once our immediate physical needs were met, there were no other demands on our time.
We had no day job to go to, no access to emails, no phone calls to catch up on. No external pressure to spend our time in a certain way or undertake tasks at a certain time.
In fact, the only really solid events of our day were centred around the chickens, whose care we had been put in charge of during our stay.
In the morning we had to be up with the sun to let them out of their coop, an event which we were made aware of through their increasingly loud squarks. In the mid afternoon we collected the eggs they had been working on all morning. They then filed back in as the sun set, ready to be locked away for the night.
Apart from the "demands" of the chickens, my time was my own to do with what I pleased. This was disconcerting at first, I didn't really know what to do with myself really. I kind of wandered about looking for things to do and failing to find anything which would provide the immediate entertainment I have become habituated to through years of iPhone/laptop/iPad use.
After a while though I started to find myself idly reading, doodling or simply sitting and thinking. I didn't really choose these activities, I just sort of settled into them without thinking.
An extreme sense of peace overcame me, a feeling which I have never experienced before in my 26 years on earth. I think I was truly content for the first time.
Day Two: Creature comforts
Our first night in the Dome was a slight ordeal. Due to the design of the dome, all the heat gets trapped and there is nowhere for it to really go as it rises to the top of the dome.
We slept with the door open, allowing a slight breeze to wash over our bodies. I decided to sleep on the floor, closer to the airflow. We eventually managed to sleep after a couple of uncomfortable hours which ran into the early morning.
Our second day was slightly more bearable temperature wise, however it will still hot enough for us to have a bucket bath in the early morning, having heated the water slightly on the dying embers of our breakfast fire. Due to our limited water carrying facilities and desire not to make too many trips, we only used 5 litres or so between the two of us.
Surprisingly this makeshift bath did the trick and I actually felt pretty clean during the whole stay. The only inconvenience was really when it came to washing my hair, which is now quite long and unruly. The solution to this would be to shave it off, which is certainly the path I would take if I were to live in the Dome long-term.
There was obviously no need for make-up or beauty products during our stay, which further lightened my grooming burden. I also made the choice not to deal with body hair, which I continued as an experiment after our stay. This was very liberating in many ways, but I also found myself moving back to my old grooming habits ungrudgingly a while after being back in my "normal life"
The main modern comfort I missed was most definitely a dishwasher, or even just a sink with running water. You don't realise how amazing these things are until you don't have them...
However it must be said that we became a lot less wasteful in our consumption of food and subsequently the use of crockery, as even putting on the kettle was an act which required a lot of dedication. First you needed to get the water, then you needed to light the fire in the Kelly Kettle (which took a while during those first few attempts), after it came to the boil you then had to go back in and grab your mugs and teabags from the Dome and assemble everything outside.
Day Three: Unbearable Heat
The Dome has been built on a sturdy decking platform which juts out into the lake. This body of water forms a central part of the landscape designed for Compton Verney by the venerable Capability Brown in the early 18th Century.
Most of the time this location was absolutely perfect. We sat outside most evenings to watch the wildlife go by, spotting Herons, Dragonflies, Kingfishers, Great Crested Grebes and even a solitary Tern. During the day I spent a lot of time sitting on the decking to read or draw. However down by the water it was rather humid and also a haven for mosquitos.
Another feature of our stay was the fact that we were tasked with interacting with the public - mainly visitors who had come to visit the Gallery. This provided a welcome distraction during opening hours.
Most of our conversations were generally focused on explaining the project and answering questions about how we found the experience, however on Wednesday we noticed a distinct trend amongst our visitors over a certain age.
"Today will be the hottest June day since 1976!" they all exclaimed within minutes of meeting us.
With no access to the weather forecast, we had no idea whether this statement was true or not, but by midday the sweat was tumbling down my back as I struggled to stay cool in the shade.
As the afternoon wore on, I moved higher and higher up the bank, trying to get away from the humidity of the water's edge. My head was starting to pound and my vision was becoming fuzzy. The early stages of heatstroke were starting to make themselves known.
At this point we decided to retreat for an hour into the air-conditioned Gallery, as I was starting to feel extremely unwell in the above 30 degrees heat. Without this refuge, I may have had to seek medical attention as my body was starting to completely freak out. There was nowhere to go in our Dome environment for respite.
This provoked a number of thoughts. Firstly, my limited medical knowledge actually allowed me to self-diagnose the early stages of heat-stroke. As educated Western individuals, we all have a basic understanding of the human body and common conditions. This would be invaluable in a society with limited or no medical provisions, assuming we managed to retain and pass on this knowledge in a post-apocalyptic future.
Secondly, most homes in the UK are not built for hot weather. You only have to compare our houses to those in the far warmer Mediterranean - who boast flat roofs, whitewashed exteriors and shady courtyards (a generalisation, but you get my point).
If our future is going to feature hotter summers and milder winters (which most models forecast), we will need to radically re-think our built environment.
Day Four: Respite and Recuperation
At 11pm on day three it was still 28 degrees, therefore we suffered another hot and stuffy night (made only bearable by my parents who visited us to celebrate midsummer with a contraband bottle of chilled champagne.)
We woke in the morning however to a gloriously cool breeze, as if the fever of the past few days had broken.
This was to be my favourite day by far.
During the week I had been experimenting with creating a variety of inks out of charcoal, berries and whatever else I could get my hands on that would yield a pigment. This kind of experimentation reminded me of being a child again, it was essentially playing. I used the inks to draw and write.
Des also spent a lot of his time during our stay meddling in creative pursuits, however he had a much more concrete artistic vision. We had made concessions for him to bring a camera, upon which he took various videos and images for a large A/V piece which will be completed in the Autumn. We hope that this will be complimented by a short-story/novella that I am concurrently working on - both inspired by the idea of this imagined future.
In the afternoon Des' brother joined us to stay the night. The extra pair of hands was greatly appreciated, as we had been tasked with improving the security of the chicken's coop.
The day went by calmly and quietly. I finally felt at ease in my environment and worked my way through several books, including a number on Communes which has ignited a lasting interest in alternative ways of living.
Day Five: Experimentation
We were treated to another cool morning, which again was welcome and appreciated.
After breakfast I decided that I would experiment with washing some clothes, as the noticeable affect of cooking on a wood fire is that everything ends up smelling like woodsmoke sooner or later.
(Also I may have split my breakfast all down myself.)
Drawing on a half remembered programme about women's work washing in the Victorian period, I concocted a method using a boiling pan of water, grated soap flakes and a washing board fashioned out of a cutting board (next time I need to use something with a rougher surface).
It worked. It was water intensive, sure, even more labour intensive, but it worked.
I felt a sense of triumph in the mundane as I hung out my clothes to try. This was not even dented by the fact I came back to find them blown back into the dirt later on. I had figured something out for myself.
We spent our final night watching the stars come out whilst sitting overlooking the lake. Bats silently darting around us.
Day Six: Final thoughts
We left fairly early on our last day. If I'm perfectly honest, I was gagging to wash my hair, which by now resembled an oil spill.
Driving away from the The Clearing, we both felt a bout of extreme sadness; we had been very, very happy there. Des possibly even more than I - he had found a space in which he absolutely thrived creatively.
My main takeaway from our experience, which I have repeated in my blog post for The Clearing website, is the realisation that we experience a high level of physical comfort in modern life. Living in the Dome vividly highlighted this, along with the wonders of showers, washing machines and gas stoves.
Noticably I did not miss my laptop, my phone, all the other bits of crap I've felt compelled to fill my life with out of boredom. I didn't crave new clothes or consumer goods. Enough was enough.
At The Clearing I undoubtedly experienced a much greater level of mental and spiritual comfort, away from the pressures of modern life and the unrelenting connectivity of the modern experience. I felt free.
Whilst I would never deny that the future imagined through The Clearing would involve a lot of suffering, my experience has strengthened my resolve that modern life does not offer the only blueprint for happiness.