Have you ever had a dream that was so real the when you woke, you swear to yourself that it actually happened?
Well, I can honestly say that it recently happened to me. This dream was about our future. The future that we are unconsciously making for ourselves. The one with a slow decline in cheap energy resources, climactic chaos, floods, droughts, and pestilence. You know, all that old testament stuff.
However, before the end of my dream it had a message of hope. Even though it is set in the not-so-distant future, it feels real and probable. Some people may find it disparaging but I don’t see it that way. It feels like it is supposed to be.
It is my birthday today. I am sixty-five years young. Some say that I don’t look a day over sixty-four, but they are just being nice.
The great news is that Kim, my lovely wife of thirty-two years, needs some flour to make me a birthday cake. I love cake, so I asked Ben if he would like to join me for a ride to tow the bike trailer. If I was going out for flour, I would buy it in bulk to save another trip.
“Of course I will old man”, Ben said. “It should be a nice day for a ride.”
Ben is a grown man, having turned twenty-nine last year, and he is very fit. Even though he can out-peddle me in a heartbeat, I knew that he would keep pace to keep me company for the long ride ahead.
Flour. It was a luxury that we could barely afford these days, however as it was a special occasion, we decided that it was worth it. Even though the climate had changed, for the worse, especially over the last decade, there was still enough rainfall in our district to grow wheat and oats.
Gone were the broad acre mono-crops that were so prevalent during the age of cheap fossil fuels. Petrol and Diesel is a rare commodity that only the rich and industrious can afford to buy or make for themselves.
Farming became modest and organic in its practice, with many more hands required to work these smaller patches of land. Planting is performed by horse-drawn seeder, and often harvested by hand.
During harvest time, everyone around the district pitches in. After all, it is this yearly ritual that keeps us all stocked in the basic commodities now that the supermarkets have downsized into small grocery stores. Very similar to those around when my grandparents were children.
Ben snapped me out of my day-dream with a jolt.
“Watch out Dad”, he yelled. I narrowly missed a pot hole nearly as big as my front tire.
“Thanks Son, I nearly came a cropper”.
“No drama Dad. You gotta keep your eyes on the road around here.”
Ben was right of course. Ever since funding for road maintenance had been diverted back into the railways, the roads were not repaired like they used to. It seems so long ago when the roads were smooth and even.
We continued on our journey until we arrived at the produce store. Pete, the owner, greeted us as we rode up the driveway.
“Bloody nice trailer you have there fellas. Do you want to sell it?”, he asked.
“Pete, why do you say that every time we visit?”
Pete was a bit of a larrikin and continued, “Coz trailers like that are rare as rocking horse shit these days.”
He was right, bike trailers were one of those rare items that had become so handy since cars were no longer affordable to run.
“You know perfectly well that I warned people years ago about this sort of thing. But who listened?” I said.
“Blokes were too busy watching footy and scoffing down fast food to care, I suppose Gav.”
“You can say that again Pete. Bread and circuses for the masses, just like the fall of the Roman Empire!”
“’Cept it was us that fell this time Gav. Hey, enough whinging, me old mate. What would you like to buy?”, said Pete.
“May I have 20 kilos of your best bakers flour?”
“What have you got to trade? The regular?”
By the regular, Pete meant wheat beer, one of the most traded items around town these days. Ben learnt how to make wheat beer from local ingredients a few years back, and doesn’t taste too bad. Certainly as good as the beers before the crash.
“Of course. Will 10 stubbies cover it?”
“Make it a dozen and you’ve got yourself a bag of flour”, Pete haggled.
“Done.” Ben handed over the beer and we loaded the flour bag into the bike trailer. The journey down the road was twenty clicks towards our home.
Beer had become one of those luxury goods when diesel became prohibitively expensive. Transport companies went broke, one by one, as the fuel supply dwindled.
So many commodities just don’t get sent out this far anymore. Many food stuffs remain close to production, so not too many luxuries leave the big cities. Either they transport it in via rail, or grow it themselves.
Certainly way too far for a bike ride. I could, at a pinch, ride my electric bike to the outer suburbs to trade some of Ben’s beer for better staples, but local will have to do as I just don’t have the legs for it anymore.
As we rode home, we passed many other riders. Some on bikes, others on horseback. We waved, as is common these days, and exchanged remarks about the warm weather during this winter, and the low rainfall. Things certainly have changed.
Passing old and abandoned homes along the way made me think back to the heady days of plentiful energy. People didn’t need to worry about conserving anything in those days, and just threw away the most useful things.
They also didn’t think very much about how they could service the huge debts they accrued on their massive homes. Once the office jobs started drying up, many were ‘let go’, and they couldn’t find alternative employment.
After a few months in arrears, the banks foreclosed on them and kicked them out, which really didn’t do much for the economy.
The greedy banks couldn’t sell these recently acquired homes, mainly due to the simple fact that only a very few people could now afford them.
Some were wise enough to go debt free once they saw the Eurozone begin to collapse shortly after the Cypriot fiasco.
The EU began to tumble, sovereign state by state, until the union was no longer. Countries wrote off vast amounts of debt and began anew much to the disgust of investors and common folk.
Thankfully, I was one of the wiser and somewhat luckier ones. During the second financial crisis of 2015, I was retrenched from my office job, one year before I had planned to retire at age 53. Thank goodness for the old labour laws. With the payout, I paid off the mortgage, bought the place next door at a heavy discount, and combined the two properties.
Both homes had grid-tied solar PV, so we bought some batteries with the spare cash and went off-grid.
Ben and his wife, Kylie, moved into the second house after he lost his job in the city. He managed to sell the small apartment, which they fully owned, for a decent price. They pooled their savings into the new family acreage.
Daydreaming whilst riding was becoming a habit, and I soon snapped out of it when Ben stated, “Dad, I am so glad that you and Mum took the time to home school me when I was younger.”
“Why is that, mate?”, I replied as I dodged another pothole.
“Well, you taught me all the necessary sustainable living skills that you knew that I would need in the future.”
“Not just a pretty face, am I!”
“No, you’re not even that, old man.” “Cheeky bugger. You are not too old to bend over my knee you know.” I teased.
Ben and I rode on a little further in silence.
“Dad, I really mean what I said.”
“I know Son, I just planned well, and knew that mainstream education was not going to offer you the right skills to thrive in this harsh, brave new world that I saw coming at us like a steam train at full throttle.”
“Well, I am glad you did old man.”
“Me too mate. Me too.”
As we arrived home, Kim waved to greet us, ready with the trolley to carry the flour inside. Being an experience homemaker, she whipped up the birthday cake mixture in no time, and placed it into the old gas stove that I had converted to biogas some time ago. It works as well as the previous fuel, which was heavily rationed by the local government, and only provided to essential small industry when absolutely necessary.
We were one of the early adopters of biogas in our town. I gave regular classes to show others how to set up their own methane digesters and how to make the oven conversion. It certainly helped to keep most of the towns trees intact when fuel became in short supply. Other towns did not fare as well and lost many trees to scavengers.
“Darling! Ben! Kylie! Dad’s cake is ready,” declared Kim.
“Thank you love, it looks like the best birthday cake ever”, I said.
“You say that every birthday Gavin. You must be getting another bout of oldtimers.” she joked.
“Speaking of oldtimers, Dad, do you remember when we used to just buy cakes from that shop? What was it called again?”, asked Ben
“I believe it was called The Cheesecake Shop, honey”, replied Kim
“Ah, yes. The Cheesecake Shop. Why did it take The Great Disruption for people to really begin to appreciate the simple life, and wholesome home cooking?”, I asked.
“Why indeed darling. Life is just so much better now. Slow, but much, much better.” She is a very wise person, my wife.