When I retire, I will…

Last Sunday, whilst watching Germany pip Argentina to take the World Cup home for the first time as a unified nation, I started off on one of my usual end-of-weekend monologues. Mrs JAL is very patient when I get going on these, and I suppose it proves that we’re on the same page regarding where we are, where we’d like to get to, and why.


The oration was along the same lines as my usual Sunday evening wine-induced vocalised daydreams:


“Once I can stop working, I/we will be able to…”


I guess plenty of us do this, but it’s good to dream a little, at least just to keep the motivation – especially if the end goal still feels “a bit far away” (all relative of course).


Usually my list(s) involve a combination of travel and spending time with JAL junior, getting him out there to see the world with us. This time though, I had decided that if I didn’t have to go out to earn the daily bread the following day, I would be able to get much done around the house. We only moved back in earlier this year after renting it for 5 years, and there’s an endless list of things to be done. As my father told me: “it’s just the usual maintenance tasks that go along with home ownership, but they’ve been stacking up for the last 5 years so you’ve got them all at once”.


Apart from meaning that I get less time with junior, I don’t complain about this stuff and I’m really enjoying “doing it myself” and learning some skills that hopefully will serve us well when we pop a cap in the ass of the office life and try to survive (or even thrive) without job income.


I like the fact that when something needs doing, there’s often more than one way to do it. I’ve always had quite an analytical, technical mind, and I love problem-solving. These are useful enough traits in my career, but the fact that I can transfer some job skills that I do actually have – designing and building computer software to solve a specific problem or meet a specific need – into my new world of DIY, makes it more fun. I only have to learn the technical elements – how to handle the tools, which bits to use for which jobs etc. My Dad has always been so good at this practicaly stuff, he always did it himself and I never really got much of a look in as a kid (Note to self: let junior go wild with the circular saw if he wants.. or maybe not.)


Yep, I’m really getting into this DIY lark, and along with this increased confidence in “doing stuff” is growing an ever-stronger feeling to aim for efficiency, re-use, reduction of resources, and making the most of what’s available. By the time I jack in the job, we’re aiming to be able to provide roughly 35-50% of the food that we eat ourselves, by means of a small-ish vegetable patch, greenhouse and pots. We’ve started on this mission this year – our “trial” patch is going pretty well now, but whilst the endless supplies of lettuce and peppery rocket are pretty cool, we’re eager to start reaping some proper rewards! (AUBERGINEs, I’m looking at you!)


So, anyway, back to last Sunday’s sofa waffle, and combining the 3 things I’ve just alluded to:

1) Growing your own veg
2) Making the most of the resources you have
3) Designing and building systems to bring things together

Out of nowhere I heard the following words coming out of my mouth:


“You know, if I had the time – if I didn’t have to go to work – then I could build an automatic irrigation system for the veggies”


Wow. Eh? Dear 30year old JAL – did you ever think you’d be saying that in 6 years’ time?!

I expanded on that strange outburst:


“Yeah, we could harvest the rainwater, store it at the top of the garden, and then pipe it back down the garden to be released along the way, watering all the vegetables.”


Ok.. actually, this sounds kinda cool. And not really that difficult. Probably.


I wasn’t done:


“I’d build it as a modular system.”


Ohh, get me!


“Start with the basics.”


Now we’re talking.


“Collect the rainwater off the house roof and store it in one or more butts, depending on some calculations I would make about how much we need. Then we could fill the watering can from the butts, rather than the mains tap.”


Sounds sensible. We’re actually metered for water these days (i.e. not a fixed bill) so every drop counts. Not that we’ll save much ££ here – on the contrary, it’s gonna be years till we can hope to break even – but that’s not the point. We’re going “green” remember. Water is a vital resource, despite what many people in this “green” and pleasant land may think.


“Then, I would work out a way of getting the water to go “uphill”..”


(Ok, this could be the wine talking now.. good luck with that..)


“.. so we could store it at the top of the garden – get the butts out of the way of the house, out of junior’s way. From there, it will be a nice, easy, gentle downhill journey passing all the plants along the way. So I’d build an irrigation system that works directly from the butts.”


Ok, a bit lazy maybe, but hey, I’m really going on this now..


“Then… then.. I guess we could add a timer of some sort to automatically turn the taps on to water at the right times, morning and night, and we wouldn’t have to rely on Nan and Granddad to come and water for us if we’re away.”


Actaully, they’re thoroughly enjoying their own retirement and are rarely around these days, so we can’t really rely on that!


“And by the way, if there were pressure problems..”


… what, like with getting water to run uphill, for example..?


“… then a small pump would sort us out, you know, like the one we had in our campervan for the sink.”


Yep, that would do it.


“And of course, we could power it with a small solar panel and a generator – which I could knock up!”


Could I?! Hell yes, I’ll learn!


“Obviously we’d need some sort of system to keep track of the water levels, and maybe adjust the inflow and outflow accordingly..”


Amazingly, I already had something in mind for this. Once you get going with the creativity, it really flows. In my mind, it was already flowing like that water off the roof.


“And maybe a soil moisture monitor – no point turning the tap on at 9pm when it’s been raining all day..”


Ok, possibly a bit much, but this is the beauty of a modular system. You get to keep adding bits and improving things.


Well, Mrs JAL’s eyes were lit up. Who was this dynamic, creative, green-thinking man sitting (actually, standing at this point) next to her?


An automatic watering system to take care of our food production, using 100% natural resources (sunlight and rainwater) that are in plentiful supply to us and going to “waste” almost every day?


I finally slumped back on the sofa, regaining my former Monday-is-coming blues.


“If I didn’t have to go to work, that’s what I’d do. Anyway, back to the real world.”


I got up, went out the back of the house, filled the watering can from the tap and started the evening watering. As I padded back and forth, enjoying the warm dusky air and lubricating the leaves and soil – a pre-bedtime activity which I’ve really begun to enjoy – I started picturing the system of pipes and containers that I’d just been raving about.


I could do that shit, definitely.


If only I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow…










PS – To be continued..!