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Search for Simple Life fall fowl

I've decided to turn my back on materialism. I'm giving up money completely (sorry, kids: it's a holiday in the living room this year) and will instead be bartering my services for things I really need, like food.

So, what do you reckon today's article is worth, eh? A bag of new-season spuds, a bunch of carrots and a tray of mushrooms? Or how about a couple of chickens? Live ones, of course, because that way I can get eggs into the bargain.

Oh, by the way: did I mention that I'm also going to be self-sufficient? I'm going to live off the land and grow my own vegetables in my garden. There are still a few wrinkles to be ironed out, mind you, like how I'm going to pay certain bills.

"Hello, Mr ESB man, how much do I owe you? Mmm . . . okay. Would you like that in turnips or tomatoes?"

All sounds a bit daft, doesn't it? But don't mind me, I'm just trying to follow the example of the Rev Peter Owen-Jones, star of How to Live a Simple Life. He, in turn, is trying to follow the example of St Francis of Assisi and live a life without money.

Although if I recall correctly, with St Francis, life actually meant life, whereas Owen-Jones is only doing it for a year. Also, as far as I know, St Francis didn't have an Opel Astra to drive around in, or kindly neighbours to fill it up with petrol when the tank runs dry.

But in the fantastic world of television, these are minor quibbles.

Owen-Jones is a busy TV presenter and part-time vicar in a Sussex village. Lately, however, he feels he's been doing too much TV-ing and not enough vicaring.

The credit crunch set him thinking that he has become too preoccupied with money and possessions, at the expense of important things, like helping his fellow man.

"I feel caught up in an endless cycle of working and consuming," he says. He reckons we're all caught up. "It's high time we made a change in our way of measuring our worth."

Now, some of you might feel that the best way for Owen-Jones to make a change would be to not make another TV series. But there you go; another minor quibble.

So he sets to it, acquiring chickens, growing strawberries and tomatoes, and doing odd jobs like shovelling hay, mowing lawns and washing up in the kitchen of the local pub in exchange for a few pints.

Did St Francis live near a pub? Did he drink? I don't think so.

Mostly, his neighbours regard him with a mixture of mild bemusement and good-natured indulgence. Except for one woman, who questions whether what the vicar is doing is "a mature and adult way to live". She thinks it's a bit foolish.


I'm with her. It's foolish and it's artificial, and I don't for a moment swallow any of it. I don't swallow Owen-Jones, either.

He's a bit too studied -- a bit too rockstar-ish -- for my liking. In fact, if you cut his shaggy hair and took away his hippy beads, cowboy boots and big floppy hat, he'd be a dead ringer for Bryan Ferry.

Next week, Owen-Jones takes his St Francis of Assisi tour out on the road around England, where he'll be depending on alms from strangers. That's begging to you and me.