I am ill – again! After a brief respite around Christmas I’m back to coughing like an aged coal miner; sleeping with a spit bucket by the bed (yuk) and leaving a trail of snotty tissues everywhere I go, which is not far in this state. I blame it entirely on living here, in a cold stone cottage with an average room temperature of -2 degrees C. I pull on a down jacket, hat and scarf just to venture to the toilet. The only compensation for feeling so utterly lousy is that I can respectfully start drinking whisky, in the form of an entirely medicinal hot toddy, by about 5pm.
The kids spent most of the Christmas holidays glued to their screens. To my horror, we now have the capacity to stream. In the past our internet connect has been so slow there wasn’t a chance of watching even a brief YouTube video without a seriously annoying amount of buffering and waiting. Now, some mystery satellites have aligned and the wifi connection has improved. We are on the crest of a wave apparently, soon everyone will be ditching their broadband cables and going satellite. I had in mind a set of hand axes as a gift for all the family this Christmas, engraved on the handle perhaps, – indispensable for a wood dwelling family like ourselves, not lest for keeping up with the need for dry kindling. Hubby and the kids wanted Netflicks. Guess who won?
You’d imagine living in the woods, the kids would be outdoorsy types and grow up to be clog makers or yurt designers – but so far, they are technology addicts just like the rest of the class.
The other day they were faced planted in their devices when I ventured to ask what they were playing. “Minecraft” came the reply. Hallelujah. Usually when I ask them a question during ‘screen time’ they ignore me completely and I have to repeat so many times I end up pinching myself to make sure I really am standing in the kitchen calling them down for dinner, or whatever, and not actual asleep and dreaming.
“So what’s so good about Minecraft?”
Ok so I didn’t exactly get an answer then, but over the following few days I’ve learnt quite a thing or two about Minecraft. It turns out, for example, that you grow your own vegetables in the game. Marvellous! ‘You lucky boys don’t have to do that on a tiny screen, you have a real garden right outside the window there”. We grow vegetables, masses of them every year, surely better than pretending to grow them? Right? And there’s more, in Minecraft you collect wood to burn and coal too. Sound familiar? Living Offgrid I spend half my life hauling in fuel (for the woodburner which heats our hot water and coal for the Aga), surely my own little darlings aren’t hooked to doing it digitally but so reluctant to help out in real life (unless paid with serious amounts of pocket money) but yes, this apparently is the case. In fact the more I learnt the more I realise that Minecraft is uncannily like a digital version of our life here. You live, in the game, far away from anyone else (ditto), you have chickens (ditto), use the eggs to make cakes (ditto) and sometimes kill one to eat (ditto that to). You even have a dog to train! Get that, I’m nagging the youngest to take his adorable fluffy Border Terrier out for a walk while he’s sat there on his phone training his digital dog.
So I am cross, then confused, then, in the enduring tradition of mums everywhere wracked with GUILT. The harsh realities of living offgrid like we do, sometimes cold, dark or uncomfortable, has meant my two feel an irrepressible urge to escape into a digital world where you can play at survival from the comfort of your own armchair. My two boys, who as infants were put to bed by candlelight because we didn’t have any electricity back then, are now drawn like moths to glow of the computer screen.
“Boys,” I ask them “is it too much living here?
“Don’t be silly mum,” comes the reply. “We just like this stuff because we’re kids”.