Painting, parties and booze

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Even if you are as artistically latent as myself, painting is a magnificent way to spend a day whenever you can make the time. It’s even more enjoyable if you can make the paints yourself first, allowing you to draw a landscape with the very materials that came from that landscape. A work of art isn’t just about what it looks like visually – part of its beauty must come from how it has been produced, and its story.

Making paints from plants is easy, and what you want to use will depend on how much time you want to put into it. If you are going for the minimalist approach, you can make many colours simply by mashing fresh berries and flowers with a mortar and pestle. For yellow, three or four cups of marigolds (Calendula officinalis) should yield you a fair amount. For darker colours, such as blues and purples, you can go for plants such as blackberries and hibiscus, while field poppies will do a lovely red.(280) They don’t keep very well unless you add industrial scale ingredients, so pick fresh and use quickly. There are worse ways of spending your time than harvesting your paint, making incredible colours out of them, before painting the very landscape these ingredients originated from (or the people who helped you pick them). If you’re in the spirit you could even go on to share your finished work as freely with your community as Nature shared the materials with you.

Depending on where you live, many other materials can also be used – ochre clay for colours such as yellow/gold, purple, brown and red, chalk for white, black from soot or charcoal, and burnt apple seeds or ground rocks and bone for other colours.

Paintbrushes in medieval England were made out of animal hair, but because of the issues involved in modern day animal farming (unless you use roadkill squirrel hair) I prefer the Roman methods of using twigs, reeds and rushes. If you are an artist, you’ll know what qualities you require from your brush for a particular piece; all that is needed then is finding something in Nature that already has those qualities.

The mushroom paper I spoke of in chapter five is good for watercolours, but in terms of painting in general, anything can be a canvas – a footpath, a cyclepath, your house front.


Few of us know our neighbours anymore, a reality that perfectly symbolises the path that Western civilisation has led us down. It really doesn’t have to be that way though. I’m not suggesting you should want to be best mates with everyone on your street, but being able to walk down it and at least give a smile and say hello to one or two can really benefit your (and their) life and sense of connection and community.

The best way to break the ice is to organise a big party. Streets Alive(281) is a national organisation that advises small local community groups, such as a gathering of neighbours, on how to throw one hell of a street party(282) in a way that doesn’t alienate or annoy anyone. After having a few drinks together you’ll suddenly notice yourself talking with them as you pass by each day, or who knows, maybe even becoming close friends. I heard about one case where people who met via a Streets Alive party organised a weekly dinner party evening, with each person taking it in turns to cook for everyone else. It is a bit like watching TV show Come Dine With Me except a) nobody has to win or lose b) you actually get to eat the food c) you actually get to meet the people d) you don’t have an entire camera crew in your sitting room e) every word you utter isn’t going to be feasted upon by millions of viewers across the nation as they rip open the plastic covering of their own microwaveable TV dinner.

As simple as this act may seem, getting to know our neighbours again is a crucial prerequisite for any of the more technical solutions that we’re going to have to implement if we are to make the necessary journey to a fully localised society.


Whether you’re going to a street party, or just have a thirst after a hard day in the sun, you may want to add some booze into the equation. Being an Irishman, I must admit to enjoying the odd pint every now and then. In my years living moneylessly, going down to the pub was one of the few things I sorely missed. That’s not to say that I didn’t consider it a small sacrifice worth making for the gain of all the joys of complete freedom, but I did miss it.

Not being able to go to the pub doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good pint though.

Andy Hamilton, author of Booze for Free(283) and co-author (apparently he wrote the best bits too) of The Self Sufficient-ish Bible

Very crudely speaking, alcohol is made by a sugar fungus commonly known as yeast. The yeast will ‘eat’ the sugar then ‘wee’ alcohol and ‘fart’ carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, another fact is that sugar doesn’t grow that abundantly here in the UK, making it hard to have real UK booze for free.

I say hard as is it isn’t impossible. Indeed, the easiest booze to make for free is cider. The amount of sugars and even the yeast needed occurs naturally in the apple and on its skin. To make a drinkable cider is ridiculously easy to do too, in a few steps.

1. Crush apples
2. Ferment the juice
3. Drink
4. Fall over

I said to make drinkable cider, but if you want to make good cider then care also needs to be taken when selecting the apples. Here are a few pointers:

• Too many cooking apples makes a very sour tasting cider.

• Too many sweet dessert apples can mean a bland cider.

• Single variety ciders are not as full flavoured as a good mix.

• About three carrier bags full = 4.5 litres/1 gallon of cider.

The most efficient way to crush apples is with a cider press. They can be juiced if you have a juicer but the waste to cider ratio is rather high and I known plenty of people burn out their juicers this way, meaning it can be a rather expensive business, quite the opposite of what we are after.

A cider press is a little more appealing. In some villages people still go around with a cider press offering to crush apples in return for some cider or apples. Ask about to see if anyone does the same in your neighbourhood. Here in Bristol there are a few groups that got together to make a cider press, and each year they pick wild apples together and press enough apples for 100 litres of cider for each group. Not bad for an afternoon’s work!

To crush, cut up the apples, place into a nylon bag (or pillow case) and press!

The resulting juice is then placed into a clean and sterilized demijohn. I got half of mine from Freecycle (see page 97) as retired booze makers are often glad to get rid of these bulky items to make more space, and so are frequently listed. They all came with airlocks and bungs too. These help seal in the juice/cider and protect it from any airborne contaminants whilst also letting the CO2 out.

If Freecycle proves fruitless, you can also use a plastic 5 litre container, make a small slit in the lid and ram in an airlock.

Leave the demijohn in a place with a regular temperature of between 10-25ºC for about 6 months or until the bubbling has ceased. Siphon into bottles.

The bottles you use can be obtained from recycling bins, from saving your own or by throwing a bring a few bottles of beer party.

If you can get hold of a capping machine then great. You could reuse old caps, but too many times and they won’t seal properly. Otherwise the swing top bottles can be reused, so perhaps try and forage some from a posh friend.

Using the same principles outlined above you can also make wine, just replace the apples for grapes.