Polly Greeks’ Blog: An advert for the off-grid lifestyle


A fish-fuelled weekend has Polly dreaming of how to write the perfect advert for the off-grid lifestyle.

If cameras rolled last weekend, we’d have been a great advert for the self-sufficient lifestyle.

Scene One would open late Friday afternoon, with high tide gently slapping against Mangonui’s jetty. Suddenly the silken sea erupts in an explosion of fish. High-voltage energy snaps up the lines as fishing rods yank and bend and great silver bullets of thrashing kahawai are dragged from the water. Feverishly lines are recast and reeled in again; and again.

The fish smoker.

By the time the vast school of fish moves on, the wharf runs red with blood. Tourists gape while fisher-folk laugh in disbelieving glee at their bounty as the last dying fish feebly flop. They are big.

“They came like salamis,” four-year-old Zendo shrieks. He means tsunamis.

The camera can’t see that his line dangling optimistically into the water is missing its hooks. He’s caught nothing but tangles and enough enthusiasm to charge an electric train.

The next setting is home in the bush. Twilight trickles out from the shadows as we dine on fresh fillets and just-dug potatoes. Four more fat fish cook in the garden smokehouse. A panorama follows while I open the barrel of ‘fish tea’ to drop in fish guts and bones. It makes an excellent fertiliser.

The audience doesn’t need to view the accidental splash-back received from this nauseating mixture and the dry-retching that follows.

The advertisement cuts to Saturday morning and an empty bed. James slipped away before sunrise for a hunt. Wild sheep have been sighted on the forest periphery. The chickens and ducks have just been fed when he and a friend return home with a beast to skin, gut and hang.

The bit where our dog tries to steal the sheep’s head amid clouds of flies can be edited out. There’s no need to show all the duck poo spread over the lawn either, or the store-bought eggs I’ve resorted to because our hens never lay. We actually kind-of hate our last two remaining ducks and would gladly snip the vocal chords on our roosters to curb their 4am crows.

The soap that never set.

The next scene opens in the kitchen where my friend and I are surrounded by recipe books and soap-making ingredients. Afternoon sun glints off baskets of home-grown tomatoes and chillis as we combine beeswax and oils and pour the mixture into moulds. Outside our children roam the land, picking peaches and blackberries during their explorations.

We won’t show the parts where I bark angrily at my son for drop-kicking fruit down the bank and snarl at the thirsty boys for trying to enter the kitchen while we’re mixing jugs of caustic lye in the sink.

Lunch was smoked fish salad. Dinner is smoked fish curry. Did someone groan, ‘not again?’ That can be edited out.

The camera zooms in the year’s worth of garlic I’ve stripped and hung as James selects a bulb to dice; and zooms in again on the jar of dried chamomile flowers which we later add to candlelit cups of tea.

Sunday morning starts with slices of homemade sourdough toasted over the flames. There’s no close-up of my gluten-free loaf on account of it looking more like dough than bread. The soaps we made earlier have failed to set so the camera doesn’t linger there either.

Outside, James has resorted to his builder’s saw as he cuts up the sheep’s carcass.

The children select greens from the raised beds and pick beans to add to their salad while wild sheep chops sizzle on the barbeque. Later they help their dad unearth more potatoes for a roast. Perhaps we’ll keep the footage of them enthusiastically licking their plates after dinner.

Because one must also be self-sufficient with entertainment in the forest, the advert can end with the night stroll James takes with the kids to what we call the ‘weta-ry’, a colony of hundreds of weta occupying a tumbledown shelter.

Picture perfect garlic.

See the children’s fascinated horror as they peer up at the seething mass of vicious-looking insects? No need for Hollywood to inspire their animated dreams.

Never mind that Zendo has an epic meltdown on Monday morning as a result of going to bed too late. That’s the wonderful thing about marketing; one can be so selective in the presentation of facts.

I’ve been particularly mindful of accentuating the positive as we seek a tenant to rent our house for the four months we’ll be away over winter. Initially I advertised on ‘worldschooling’ sites where questions immediately flooded in.

What’s internet reception like? It’s okay if you stand pressed-up to the window of one room. A great place for a digital detox, I added brightly. We have very low EMFs. Several people clicked ‘like’.

How do you manage without a fridge or freezer? Meat can be eaten fresh but we’re actually the perfect place for a vegan, I replied. Although you’d be surprised how long cheese lasts in an airtight container. Our gardens feed us well. Four ‘likes’.

How isolated are you? Ours is a nature retreat, I enthused. You’ll drink from a forest stream and without electric lights at night, you’ll be amazed how aware you become of moon-time rhythms and the seasons. When rain flood the fords, you’ll feel like you live on a private island.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to slow down and experience living in wilderness. This reply was greeted with numerous love-heart symbols.

As an afterthought, I remembered our lovely dog who’ll need looking after. ‘He’s a wonderful companion if you’re seeking extra company.’ Another few ‘likes’.

Isn’t June winter in New Zealand, someone inquired?

It is, I agreed a little reluctantly before hastening to add: but this is the Far North – a subtropical zone. We grow bananas year-round from our humanure. My Alaskan follower responded enthusiastically to that.

Five different overseas families have inquired whether they can rent our house during 2020. This is encouraging, but it’s this year that we’re heading overseas.

So if you know of someone who would love to rent a modestly priced Unique Nature Experience peppered with self-sufficiency, tell them to get in touch.

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