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The Price Of A Ditch

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Here is the Observer article in full:

The man who wakes up in a ditch... then goes to work at Sotheby's

Anushka Asthana meets Hugh Sawyer, 32, who has taken downsizing to a new level to prove that we can all get by with much less

At 6am Hugh Sawyer wakes up to the persistent ring of his alarm clock. He rolls over with a grimace and flicks on Radio 4's Today programme. He gets up, has a wash and a shave, grabs some breakfast and rushes down to the bus stop to commute to London. When he gets to work in the bids department of Sotheby's he is always spotlessly turned out in a Gieves & Hawkes suit, a stylish tie and polished shoes. The Oxford law graduate is a regular at the gym and often meets friends for drinks in the capital's bars.

In short, Sawyer leads the archetypal city life - with one exception. When his counterparts return home to their Shoreditch loft conversions or Notting Hill maisonettes, Sawyer heads to a ditch in the woods near Oxford. It is the ultimate in downsizing. The 32-year-old has given up every luxury to spend a year living outdoors. He hopes to prove he can lead a full and fun life with a fraction of his normal comforts.

'I want to make people think about how much they consume that is not necessary,' said Sawyer, who has been living in the woods near the village of Lewknor, Oxfordshire, since June. 'I am trying to prove it is possible to do everything you normally do, maintaining a full existence, while cutting back. I have realised I can lead my life without television, carpets, sofa, electricity, chairs, tables, a fridge and a freezer.'

Nicknamed 'ditch-monkey' by his friends, Sawyer tells stories of his new-found life on an internet blog - being woken by owls and fawns, having to choose a new ditch after nearly being mugged and falling ill when he tried to make Thames water drinkable with one purifying tablet.

Before he began his challenge, he cut down his belongings to just a few clothes, books and photographs that fit into his rucksack. At night he has a sleeping bag and cooking stove. If he thinks it might rain he has a piece of tarpaulin to attach to the trees, but he recently discovered the hard way that it failed to stop ground water gushing over him.

Despite the difficulties, Sawyer is enjoying his task. He began with a six-week trial but after finding that 'quite easy' extended the experiment. He says he feels 'completely at ease' and extremely healthy and is enjoying living in the countryside.

'When I first wake up I think: "Oh my God I am living in the woods," but then I get up and it really nice being surrounded by country. The amazing views on the way to the bus stop make it worthwhile and you can spot the changes in season.'

As well as raising awareness, Sawyer is raising money for the Woodland Trust. Staff at the charity were surprised when he first told them his plan. Christine Punter, regional development officer, said: 'As well as earning money for us he is showing that there are alternative ways to live.'

Nevertheless, colleagues and friends are bemused by Sawyer's unusual decision. 'It is pretty eccentric,' said Mark Chisholm, a 24-year-old who also works at Sotheby's. 'It is unbelievable that he can live in the woods and combine it with a nine-to-five job.'

Sawyer's morning 'wash' involves a few wet wipes and a shower in the gym or at work. When you meet him, Sawyer is smart and clean-shaven, with short blond hair. He is ambitious and hopes one day to become an art dealer.

When he first moved into the wilderness, it shocked his then girlfriend, 24-year-old Natalie Skidmore. 'I was really confused and not sure if he was serious,' she said. 'My friends think it is strange when I say he lives in the woods but now I am really proud of him.' But the student at the London School of Economics admits it shocked her parents. 'They were a bit disappointed he wasn't a home owner and were certainly perplexed.'

For Sawyer's own parents it did not come as a surprise. 'He was always interested in the environment,' said his mum, Diane. 'I think he is streetwise and able to be self-sufficient.

'Of course I worry but I am not drastically frantic about him and I am really proud.' She adds that she hopes he won't get cold, but Sawyer has yet to experience the British winter without central heating.

He admits to nerves about it. 'It will be dark when I get up and go to sleep and it will be miserable, wet and bleak.'

Another difficulty may be returning to full-time city life when Sawyer's time in the outdoors ends. 'The real question is what happens when he finally stops,' said Professor John Collings, a consulting psychologist from Leeds. 'If he sticks it out for a year, it will be difficult to return to the noise of the city.'

ditchmonkey.blogspot.com www.justgiving.com/ditchmonkey

How to downshift

There is a flurry of websites on how to downshift: www.organicfood.co.uk/inspiration/downshifting and www.handbag.com/careers/careerchange/downshifting/.

Many people downshift abroad. An organisation called Downshifting Downunder talks about the 'downshifting movement' in Australia.

The UK had its first National Downshifting Week in 2005 (www.downshiftingweek.com) and is now getting ready for the next one, from 22-28 April, 2006. Organisers provide the following tips: cut up a credit card, eliminate three non-essential purchases this week, plant something in the garden you can eat.

Calculating your 'real earning'. From your annual salary deduct the expenditure needed to keep going out to work to get your real income. Then calculate how much time you spend earning your money. Divide your real income by your real hours to get your hourly wage.

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When he first moved into the wilderness, it shocked his then girlfriend, 24-year-old Natalie Skidmore

Wait until she sees his boxer shorts....that'll shock! Her surname will seem very appropriate afterwards!

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What a fool - how's he going to cope in February having endured 3 months of winter. No doubt he'll stay in his local pub till the last moment before spending another alcoholic befuddled sleepless night freezing cold, wet and miserable.

George Orwell had an obsession with his characters living like tramps. Why doesn't this lunatic just read a good book instead of wasting a year.

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"The Oxford law graduate is a regular at the gym and often meets friends for drinks in the capital's bars."

"'I want to make people think about how much they consume that is not necessary,' said Sawyer"

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What a great article!

I have to admit that I have spent a night in Holland Park, so I have an idea of what he must be going through.

One of my heros was Thoreau:


He was a true pioneer of leaving civilisation to go live in the wild:

" Walden Pond is 1.5 miles south of Concord (pronounced locally the same way most people pronounce "conquered"), Massachusetts, 15 miles northwest of Boston. Concord is sometimes referred to as "Concord Center," to distinguish it from West Concord.

Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847 (2 year, 2 months, and 2 days), in a cabin he built himself. He wrote the book Walden over several years, and published it in 1854. Walden describes Thoreau's life at the pond, and his personal philosophy. I have a list of my favorite quotations from Walden on my web page at www.jagular.com/walden.shtml. For those seeking biographical information about Thoreau, I recommend Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1862 essay entitled Thoreau.

Today the park receives half a million visitors a year. The original cabin on the north side of the pond is gone, but there are stone markers and a plaque where it was located. There is a replica of the cabin near the parking lot, across the road from the main beach on the east side of the pond."

@: http://www.walden-pond.net/

- - -

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

@: http://www.concord.org/town/Walden/WaldenPond.html

Edited by HollandPark

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personaly i think this is a plublicity scam.

i bet his life will be told in his on reality tv show(or he hopes it will)

And at the very least hes getting some plublicity for his career.

i wonder how the woodland trust would feel if everyone just moved to the woods and did exactly what there hailing as good.

And if i was living in the woods i would certainly have a tent, why sleep in a ditch?

a tent will keep the water off and the wind out.seems quite insane noty to have one there cheaper than a pair of the fellows shoes.

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It would be interesting to know how much this downshifting uber-frugalist is spending in terms of money and resources every day in commuting from the wilds of Oxfordshire to his London workplace.

Enough to pay for a very low-budget house-share within a few miles' jogging distance of work (so he'd save on his gym membership too) ? Or is this too sensible?

And if not, don't they have ditches anywhere a bit nearer London these days?

Edited by hra

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