Monday, 30 November 2009
I’d been thinking a lot about those things people most fear giving up in a post-oil world. Charlotte mentioned hot baths, and according to George Monbiot, one of the most common luxuries people couldn’t live without is the daily hot shower. But I think one of the greatest luxuries that we take for granted is the constant safety net of our health service – the network of doctors, nurses, surgeons, health workers, specialists; all available to us free at the point of need. Not to mention the drugs, bandages, ointments, prosthetics and all the equipment used in operating theatres. That must be one big carbon footprint from end-to-end!
And this is where societies need to start making their choices and understanding what those choices mean. Do I think the UK needs to radically cut its carbon footprint? Yes. Do I think that the NHS is “too expensive” in its use of oil, plastic, energy etc. More difficult to answer. If you’d asked me while I was sitting in A&E, it would have been easy to answer - I’d have said “no way!” If it had been one of my children rather than me in need of A&E, I wouldn’t have even given anyone chance to ask the question! That’s what happens when choices are taken out of the abstract and into the real, dirty, messy, sometimes painful world. They become more difficult to make, and the consequences harder to predict or even to swallow.
Walking home from work today, I couldn’t help noticing how many shops, keen to maximise that all-important Christmas shopping time, had their doors wide open, heaters pumping hot air straight out into the cold street. What on earth are they thinking? What does that say about the choices we’re currently making about where we spend our imaginary carbon budget? If we have to start making difficult choices as a society (maybe from next week after Copenhagen) I know where I’d rather put my money.
Friday, 27 November 2009
Today I visited Primark for the first time, to find out what all the fuss is about. Every time I’m in the city centre I see lots and lots of people tottering around with two Primark bags along with whatever other stuff they have bought on their shopping spree. Why do they want all this stuff? How can they possibly afford it? More to the point for us in Transition, how can the planet sustain this shopping habit?
I found out pretty quickly why people want this stuff: because it is unbelievably cheap. For under a fiver you can get a fleece hoodie-style top; jeans at £6 – or £13 if you are feeling extravagant; windproof fleece-lined jackets at £10; wool blend chunky knit cardigans at £12.72; faux suede high heeled shoes at £9.
But look closer. This is the clothing equivalent of intensive farming. Marks for price: 10/10, so long as you don’t worry about counting the cost of producing things so cheaply. Marks for style: 6/10; I heard customers saying that they had seen this or that product picked out by style magazines. Marks for quality: 2/10, if I am being generous. These are not real clothes – they are simply fossil fuels reshaped to look like clothes. I read the label on the wool blend chunky knit cardie: how much wool? Just eleven per cent. The rest of the yarn was nylon and acrylic. Most of the things I inspected were 100% polyester. There is no indicator on the labels where these things are made and how they can be made so cheaply – there have been allegations in the media about child labour (feel free to sue me, Primark). Whatever the truth, the material and labour costs must be tiny.
Next door, at Wallis, things are marginally better. Prices are more sensible, although still unfeasibly cheap - £38 for a chunky knit cardie made from ‘luxury yarn’ (55% acrylic, 30% nylon, a mere 15% mohair) and at least the label is honest enough to tell me it’s made in China.
I’m horrified by what I see. My own clothes are expensive, but before you write me off in disgust, those clothes are made with integrity. They are made of natural fibres and produced in workshops that pay a fair price; I buy very few clothes and they last a long long time.
I’m reminded of something I read in Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful about how we are spending our capital (fossil fuels) as if it were interest (renewables). We’ve lost the understanding that most things are very expensive and have to be treated with respect.
If (when) China imposes realistic prices to offset all the carbon emissions created to feed our Primark habit, clothes and other products will become very expensive again. We’ll treat them with respect because we have saved up to buy them and we’ll keep them in active service for a long time. In short, we’ll go back to quality.
My closing pic, before handing over to who knows who as the next guest blogger, is at Riverside, taken from the new St Julian bridge (that’s a story for another day!). It’s the widest point in the river, where the Baltic barges direct from Russia could turn round. The warehouses, now converted into hotels and flats, held the most fabulous cargo from around the world – from China, from Istanbul, from Russia – in exchange for the equally fabulous products we made here in Norwich. How times have changed!
PS: What's on your shopping list for Christmas presents this year?
Pix: Primark in Norwich city centre today
Riverside in Norwich, today
Thursday, 26 November 2009
This is Bury St Edmunds street market, a picture taken last February. The produce looks delicious, just what we should be aspiring to: fresh, healthy, lots of choice. What could possibly be better than this? But something is very wrong.
Look again and you will see that an awful lot of this produce is out of season. It’s early February, when Seville oranges (bottom right) are coming in from Southern Spain for our much-loved marmalade. That’s okay, because they have not travelled very far and they don’t need polytunnels – and anyway, local people in Seville don’t like them. In the middle of the picture, you can see Cox apples. That’s definitely okay, unless they come from New Zealand, because our local apples will store right through until March. Wet walnuts, probably from France, although they grow well in this country – also okay.
But apricots and raspberries? These are perishable stuff and they are only in season here and in Europe in high summer. Either they need a huge amount of heat to grow out of season here or they have come from the far side of the world by air freight.
They are on offer in the market because that is what people in this country want. We’ve forgotten the excitement of eating seasonally, looking forward to different things as they come into the shops. Quite a lot of us don’t even know what should be in season, because street markets now have to follow what the supermarkets do. (There’s a great website called Eat the Seasons if ever you wonder what should be in season right now.)
I was surprised – and impressed – to see a very different story in central France last month, where I was staying with friends.
This is Limoges market, where almost everything is produced locally – all right, not the pineapples – but most things, including dairy produce. All the milk and butter sold locally comes from the Limoges dairy, which collects milk from local farms. The cattle in the fields are hardy native breeds that stay outside all year, and they get to keep their calves with them. The bread is made from local grain, locally milled.
Of course there was an enormous hypermarket nearby, but the local shops do very well. There’s no death-by-Tesco here. I asked my friends why that was. “People like to eat seasonally. The shops only sell local produce because that’s what local people want. If we Brits want something exotic right now – say, a melon – we’ll have to go to Carrefour.”
We've got a long way to go before we can get back to the Limoges approach to food production and shopping. Most people in Norwich shop in the supermarkets, because it's convenient and it appears to be cheap. They also shop there because they don't know what to buy. According to the Daily Mail this week, people don't know what to cook either - most mums have a repertoire of just nine recipes that they turn out all the time, with no reference to the seasons. Top of the list is spag bol, followed by roast dinner and shepherd's pie - not exactly a resilient choice.
But things are getting better back home, in spite of the dominance of the supermarkets. Lots of us support farmers’ markets and have veggie boxes and are rediscovering good local food – and there are even new traditions emerging. I was listening to the food programme on the radio the other day, when they were talking about rescuing traditional farmhouse cheeses from oblivion. There’s definitely a mood of change for the better. On the cheese counter in Norwich market they told me that there is enormous interest in local cheeses; year-on-year they are outselling all their other cheeses put together.
And here in our very own market there are some interesting signs of resilience, in spite of steady decline for decades. There's been a market here for almost a thousand years. As recently as the 1970s three-quarters of the stalls sold fruit and veg, mostly produced from market gardens locally; now there are only four still trading. But in the last couple of years some new food stalls have opened up: Oriental (two), Hungarian and the latest, Portuguese/Brazilian; this new generation of Strangers is buying local produce alongside their much-loved traditional food.
And what about you, dear fellow Transitioners? Where do you buy your food? Do you support local producers and do you regularly cook more than nine recipes? If you do, we'd love to add your recipes to our Low Carbon Cookbook.
Pix: Street market, Bury St Edmunds (February 2008)
Covered market, Limoges (October 2009)
Norwich market (December 2007)
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
What’s going well? I’m no longer stuck in city centre traffic jams like the one above, taken on a Saturday very recently. I’ve invested in a second-hand bike, which I use most of the time. If it’s tipping down with rain, I walk. I used to take the car without a second thought, because it seemed so convenient, but actually I get in and out of the city much faster by bike or on foot. Not to mention savings in parking tickets… I’m the type of person who is wildly optimistic about the estimated stay in a car park and then picks up parking fines.
I’ve cut down my weekly commute from an astronomical 1,000 miles a week commuting to London every day on the train to just the occasional London trip two or three times a month on average. That’s in no small part due to the recession, but I don’t think I could ever go back to that pattern of two hours there, plus half an hour bus to Westminster or wherever the project took me, bus back, train back… five hours minimum every day, without factoring in the frequent breakdowns and delays on the line.
What’s not going so well? I’ve tried to use local buses, with mixed success. I’m used to an integrated bus/train/river bus service in London; even better in Rome, I’ve used my travel pass on metro/bus/tram; best of all, in Istanbul, exactly the same ticketing across an amazing integrated network of metro/bus/tram/ferry across two continents. In those international cities everything is joined up pretty well. Here in Norwich, there are lots of buses with different livery – there’s no clear local brand and certainly no integrated bus map.
In the city centre there are very good digital displays alerting you to when your next bus is due, but there simply isn’t enough information further afield. This bus stop does at least tell you which service stops here, although many don’t even give that basic information. But which direction do buses take from here? And how often does the service run? If I pitch up at this bus stop, I have no idea.
I’m keen to campaign for better public transport in and around our city, including the commuter routes into the city. If other medieval cities can have trams, so can we. If they can have river buses and buses that join up to railway stations and important destinations like places of work and hospitals, so can we. If other cities can have car-free city centres and bus services designed to suit the citizen rather than the bus operator, so can we. But we won’t get these things unless we demand them!
The alternative is the way of the dinosaur – gas-guzzling cars on ever-expanding road networks. I haven’t even begun to mention road freight...
Pix: Saturday afternoon traffic in city centre
Bus stop, George Borrow Road
Vintage Chevvies in salvage yard off Unthank Road
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Making bread is such an easy thing to do, once you know how. You don’t need flour improvers, bleach (yes!), enzymes sourced from pigs’ pancreas and all those other horrible things lurking in supermarket bread; you don’t need bread machines or food mixers. You don’t even have to have yeast, because you can make your own sourdough starter with just flour and water.
I arrived at Reydon with my secret ingredient, a portion of sourdough leaven that started life in Russia (acquired on my breadmaking course last November).
After a brief tour of the garden, full of rare and exciting plants such as tiny yellow Mexican marigolds and huge floppy umbrellas of banana leaves, Mark showed me the string of oil tankers just a few miles out at sea. “They are full of oil, waiting for oil prices to rise,” he explained.
We turned our backs on that ominous scene and got down to the business of baking. Mark wanted to make the Norwich loaf, which uses nothing but local ingredients – wheat flour from Wakelyns just down the road, instead of the imported Canadian grain that’s used for most bread in Britain, and Maldon salt from Essex. It’s a sticky process kneading sourdough, as Mark discovered; the secret is to use your fingertips, not the palms of your hands. Next we made quick-rising rolls with spelt flour from another local grower, Maple Farm; these are easier to handle and the perfect recipe for beginners. And last, we made gluten-free bread. I’ve never done this before. Because there is no gluten there’s no kneading; you simply mix together a mix of flours such as potato and chestnut, water, yeast and sea salt, then pour the resulting squishy mix into a loaf tin and leave it to rise very slowly.
Time for lunch: Charlotte’s take on a Moroccan classic, Seven Vegetables with Couscous – must get that recipe, because it transformed the contents of their veggie box into something spicy and warming. Back to our baking, when it was time to take the sourdough out of Charlotte’s ancient bread pancheon. Mark stretched the dough and folded it a few times before popping it into a tin to rise for several hours. Then we all pitched in to shape the rolls into little buns and left them to prove for half an hour or so while the oven heated up. Into the oven! Very exciting… and the smell from the kitchen was divine.
… then time for tea. Mark wanted to eat the rolls immediately, but it’s worth waiting just a few minutes for them to cool down before spreading with butter and home made jam. We used white spelt flour, which turns pale brown when cooked, very nutty and sweet. Delicious.
By this time it was dark outside – a clear moonlit sky with a fantastic view of Jupiter, like something out of a child’s storybook. There’s no light pollution here, no street lights, no urban glow. Time to go home! Mustn’t forget to take off my Mexican pinnie, kindly loaned by Charlotte.
Alchemy - Mark and Charlotte kneading the sticky sourdough
Teatime tasting - Charlotte and Mark scoffing spelt rolls
Those Mexican pinnies!
Monday, 23 November 2009
And, today, coming full circle, I’ve spent the day with Charlotte and Mark at Seakale Towers passing on some of the bread-making skills I learned on that course. In between kneading, shaping and baking our bread we talked a lot about what Transition means for us (I’ll come back to that tomorrow).
Last November, in common with an awful lot of professionals, I found myself abruptly out of work. Project budgets were being slashed; the market was flooded with City boys (and girls) desperate to find contracts and undercutting the old hands on daily rates. Everywhere my friends and colleagues were finding themselves with a lot of time on their hands.
The timing of that revelation about Transition was perfect. I’d felt increasingly concerned about the frenetic pace of our modern lives, always too busy… somehow missing the point. And suddenly my work circumstances (or rather, lack of work) gave the ideal opportunity to challenge all that. The Schumacher College course, combining two things I’m really interested in – Slow Food and real bread - sounded wonderful. I dismissed the idea at first as far too expensive and then thought: “But it might be just what I need to help me find my way forward. I can’t go on like this, even if the work is available.”
And that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in years. Schumacher College is an extraordinary place that aims to help people to ‘understand and find solutions for the most pressing ecological and social concerns of modern life’. I’ll come back to the Schumacher experience later. The important point here was that several of my fellow-bakers were very enthusiastic about Transition and one said: “Surely you know that Norwich is a Transition City?” Well, no, I didn’t know. I was determined to find out more. And I did!
So how much has Transition changed my life? I’ll try to answer that: how it’s changed my attitudes to transport - hugely, as a previously thoughtless car-user; to energy use - now a paid-up shiverer in multiple layers of cardies; to food - much less wasteful but already a passionate advocate of seasonal and regional food and a life-long foodie – and much more. Importantly for me, challenging the short-sighted policies of our government locally and nationally; we can make a huge difference, as individuals and collectively. Along the way, acquiring so many new friends; that’s something beyond price.
Saturday, 21 November 2009
A few weeks ago Tully wrote, "long johns are a forgotten but important item of clothing for us blokes. Forgotten because central heating rendered them unnecessary. Even in my Board meeting, though (where people ought to know better), a colleague stopped in mid-sentence, stared at my leg, and asked in a shocked voice, 'are you wearing tights?'"
I've enjoyed writing these posts this week, but only with my previous post did I begin to get the feeling Jon and Charlotte spoke about of not wanting to stop!
So, after the weekend it's over to you Jane, and here's wishing you the happiest of blogging.
Friday, 20 November 2009
cars go up and down and lights go on and off
because it is a large town
but i know nobody here
outside this house
i have not been here long and yet i seem always to have been here
no, i don't mean in this house nor even in this town
watching lights go on and off and knowing nobody
At the Diss regional gathering www.transitioncircleeast.blogspot.com on Saturday I chaired a group conversation in the Troubleshooting section which I called "Facing Profound Lifestyle Changes". People spoke about comfort zones and spiritual practices in India, being unemployed, being in a good job, how to harness the energy of the young and disaffected, how to deal with work colleagues who laugh at the suggestion of using IT for a meeting rather than flying to Frankfurt.
Through it all I kept focussing on facing the subjects which were bringing us all to the table: Peak Oil, Climate Change, the economic collapse. And how we could work together to face things we haven't really had to face before and have little or no experience of. One man suspected we wouldn't really grasp the situation until oil was $300 a barrel and most of us literally couldn't afford to drive to where we wanted to go.
The lights on the sea horizon in the picture are the lights of oil tankers; I counted twenty seven when I took the picture yesterday at dusk. They have been there for months and the lights blaze through the night. They are moored some miles out from the East coast. This is the view from Southwold, near to where I live. The tankers are involved in ship-to-ship transfer of oil. The oil companies are waiting for the prices to rise.
Looking back at this poem and that time, long before I had heard of Peak Oil or Climate Change, or experienced my own economic downturn, I realise how even my small wealth allowed me to keep myself apart. I could afford not to know people.
These days I no longer sit behind a window watching lights go on and off and knowing nobody. Since joining in with Transition, I now know people in Bungay, in Norwich, in Diss, in Downham Market, and in other places. We meet in the city and in the country, in libraries, in pubs and in our homes. We sit together at tables sharing food and seeking ways of preparing for the dark and difficult times looming on the horizon. Times we won't be able to get through on our own.
poem and picture by Mark Watson
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
The bread is a Downham (Market) loaf which Carol and John brought to the gathering on Saturday and gave to me afterwards. I'm not always that keen on brown bread, but this is wonderful and melts in the mouth. It is made from locally grown and milled wheat by a local artisan baker. Talking of bread, if you've been to any meeting with Jane (Comms and Transport), where there's a shared meal, you'll know what a wicked baker she is with her Norwich loaves and sourdoughs. And she uses flour from Wakelyn's Agroforestry in Metfield.
PS Before you cook the quinces make sure you smell them with a good deep inbreath. Fragrant doesn't begin to describe it.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Charlotte and I have had the tent up in the garden for a few months now, and are still sleeping in it, though not every night. In the day when the sun shines it's a really warm place to be, and I love the spare, uncluttered feel of the space. It's just great for working in.
When we got back from the Gathering on Saturday after a full-on day of meeting people, Open Space sessions and introducing the new Transition Troubleshooting, those strong winds and rain had dislodged the pegs and down the tent had gone, the mattress and bedding was damp, it was too dark to get to grips with it and so we brought what we could in and left it till the morning. After repairing a few rips, I got the tent back on its feet late Sunday morning just as the sun broke through the clouds.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
A quick search on Traveline confirmed that the journey would be possible by bus, though considerably longer than by car.
I awoke on the day of the meeting to howling winds and lashing rain beating against the window pane; stuffed my breakfast down whilst printing off a google map of Diss and wrapped up warmly for the walk to the bus stop.
Stepping outside, braced against the weather, I realised that the wind had dropped and the rain thinned to the odd spot. Walking, I thought that this experience of using the bus would be an interesting start point for a blog post about how my expectations about travelling are so distorted by oil. I expect to be able to leave my house, jump in my car and travel: warm, dry and insulated from the world, direct to the door of my destination.
Standing at the bus stop I was caught by the magnificent green fields in the storm light. I watched the rooks; some flying overhead, some still hunched in trees. The few birds still singing so late in the year took the place of my car radio.
On the bus I met others travelling to the meeting and we talked. From the bus windows I saw a hare, a herd of deer and a covey of partridges. I watched the low sun sweeping the fields and burnishing the trees, and I realised that a blog piece that started off being about our false expectations about the ease and pleasure of travelling facilitated by our private car ownership was becoming a piece about my false expectations about the difficulty and undesirability of using public transport.
In Transition, we all start from different places and we all travel in different ways. But I'm enjoying the journey, and I'm learning along the way.
Saturday, 14 November 2009
Friday, 13 November 2009
Resilience is one of the key words in Transition. It refers to the ability of an eco-system to withstand shock and hold together within radically different conditions. To invent ways of dealing with change. To evolve.
Last March Mark, Josiah and I interviewed Professor Martin Wolfe at his research farm, Wakelyns Agroforestry in Suffolk. The plant pathologist told us that it is the diversity of species working together that enables evolution to take place. He's developing what is known as Composite Cross Populations of wheat, organic wheat that will flourish in the kind of adversity that peak oil and climate change might bring (as well as providing the flour for the future local loaf in Norwich).
The strength of living systems depends on things, he told us, that cannot be measured by conventional agricultural science. Something Darwin first recognised as he observed the natural species-rich grassland around his house in Sussex: that the greater the diversity of species that existed in a place the greater its abundance.
The memory of how to thrive and be abundant in diverse conditions happens when many species work together. The ability to find solutions to the difficulties we face also depends on things that cannot be measured, or even recognised in a conventional and monocultural world.
As it is with flowers, so it is with people.
Next week Mark my comrade-in-Transition for the last 19 years takes over this blog for a week. He doesn't like this picture of himself Josiah took at the last gathering, (with shared lunch and Open Space "laws"). But I think it captures the spirit of the times. You know he's speaking to you when you look at that picture. There's a wild fire coming through that's sparking something alive that has been forgotten for centuries. I've been hearing it in people's voices during the last two weeks, as I've been preparing a document about the 28 Transition initiatives that have sprung up in the Eastern Region over the last two years. Talking with people from the villages, market towns, cities and bio-regions of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex http://www.transitioncircleeast.blogspot.com/.
Tomorrow we're all meeting up at the Second Regional Gathering. It's also the day my first column for 17 years comes out in the EDP http://www.oneworldcolumn.org/ an article about Transition called Leaving the Pleasuredome. I've just become part of a co-operative of 6 writers and each week we appraise and encourage each others' work. This community blog works in the same way - with Jon Curran, John Heaser, Tully, Elena, Jane, Helen, Andy, Mark, myself and others who have yet to join us. It's how life works, how people work best -in co-operation, in collaboration, in communication - how we get to enjoy ourselves together on this rough and beautiful earth, And now facing the greatest challenge we have ever faced - the triple crunch that Transition has articulated so clearly - it's also how we stand together and evolve.
In life, for life. See you there!
Above: Circle of summer flowers from the Midsummer Transition Party, 21 June 09 by Mark
Below: Mark in his famous brown jumper at the First Transition East Regional Gathering, Downham Market, March 7 09 by Josiah
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Besides, who hasn’t got a huge carbon debt in the Western World?
We need to be prodigal and return to our senses, but we’re not going to do that if we are burdened with a debt we can never repay. If you undergo a radical change of heart, you don’t want to have to deal with accustations and judgements for your past follies as you walk back down the mountain. At the Climate Change talks last night it became clear in order to keep our emissions below that scary figure of a 2% rise in planetary temperature, we are going to have to drop our fossil-fuelled lifestyles pretty damn quick. And those of us who have used profligate amount of oil in the past, have lived in the fast lane, know the ins and outs of priviledge and glamour, know exactly how to do it. Because if someone like me can change, anyone can.
The fact is we didn’t know until now. We were brought up in illusion. I had never considered carbon emissions until I joined a bunch of community activists in Oxford and someone said something mildly about how much fuel aeroplanes use. The year was 2001 and I had spent the last ten years travelling in aeroplanes, buses, trains and cars across the Americas. When you know you know and you can take action - so long as you are free to do so. One of the speakers last night was the economist and driving force behind the New Green Deal, Ann Pettifor. She is famous for leading a worldwide campaign to cancel approximately $100 billion of debts owed by 42 of the poorest countries Jubilee 2000. The moment you cancel the debt, you can start to liberate yourself from the constraints of Empire.
The consequences of our life-style have now become clear. Since the 70s our carbon use has trebled. Climate change is directly due to our increased consumption, our flying round the world, our industrialised agriculture. None of us knew this at the time. Not because we were ignorant but because we are products of a civilisation that has deliberately blindfolded us to the effect of our actions, distracted us with entertainments, numbed our emotions with feel-good highs and hostility. We can do something about those things. We can wake up and not take those flights. We can ask questions rather than escape into our minds. We can join up and share food and houses and tools and fires. What will hold us together is our human relationships. The feeling that we want to see each other again.
So this is a call for amnesty for all prodigal sons and daughters. Forget the debt. Come home.
Above: reeds at Minsmere Marshes, Suffolk - the plant tribe at the root of Western civilisation and the world’s first source of paper by Charlotte
Below: Me, Josiah and Reuben with a pan of nettles for soup - Spring Tonic Walk, April 09 by Helen
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
After a winter picnic of Jane's frittata under the now-leafless plum trees, my coleslaw of red cabbage and carrots laced with lemon, green chilli and roasted pumpskin seed oil we drank a masala chai tea boiled in a Kelly kettle. Kelly kettles were apparently invented by Irish fishermen and they are just the sort of useful tool you need on damp November afternoons. They're like an aluminium thermos with a bore hole through which the fire heats the water contained inside a metal jacket. You light your dry twigs in a small dish, put the KK on the hob and five minutes later, hey presto! you have your perfect zero-carbon brew.
And then we set to work. Serious digging with forks getting the bed ready for the Spring. I was going to wait for J's photo to come through of me, fork in hand, turning up the couch grass, but here is one from Kathryn Siveyer who does the most lovely blog about her Transition allotment http://www.transitioncityallotment.blogspot.com/ in Canterbury that inspired us all in the beginning. I'll post that one tomorrow.
Short post today as I'm on the road. Writing this in the Norwich Library and about to go to the Copenhagen Climate Emergency talks . . . watch this space . . . Oh, here's that pic!
Top: Sprouting Broccoli by Kathryn Siveyer
Bottom: Charlotte at Bluebell Allotments South by Jane
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
“It is hard to know that this magic carpet exists and that one will no longer fly on it,” Jean Cocteau once wrote. The artist was writing about his life-time opium addiction. Opium is one of the most powerful natural medicines in the world. It has relieved the physical suffering of people for thousands of years. But it has also distracted us from reality and stimulated our minds to such a degree that we find ourselves prefering to live in the stately pleasuredomes of our imaginations rather than face the (often terrifying) truth of the situation. Fossil fuel is one of the most powerful and addictive power sources in the world. It has enabled us to live like kings, flying over the planet, whizzing up and down the country, eating luxurious food out of season. But the fact is millions of us are destroying the real world in order to live in an artificial paradise.
Some of us in the Transition Circles are struggling to awaken from a life-time’s addiction to that cruel dream.
There were some sober moments in the kitchen last night. I live frugally, partly because I am poor and partly because I’m in Transition. But even without the central heating turned on and minimal use of electricity I am still 1.5 tons up with personal energy use, without considering transport or food. If we are cutting our personal carbon footprints from 6 tons to 3 this year, it’s going to be tough to cut more.
“There are those daily baths of course,“ said Mark.
I’ve been going cold turkey for years. I’ve kicked lines of cocaine at parties and little glasses of wine at six. I’ve given up supermarkets and holidays, I don’t have a freezer or a tumble dryer or a dishwasher, I don’t eat chocolate or bananas or go to restaurants, all my clothes are falling apart. But oh oh oh, HOT WATER! I’m finding that one quite tough. If you live in a cold house and get up at five to write there is nothing quite like that fragrant steaming tub to steep yourself in at breakfast time. Scented with juniper berries for stiff joints, lavender for a sore head, sea salt when your circuits are jangled, rosemary when you need a bold burst of sunshine. . . in those warm scented waters all those fractious thoughts and tangled-up feelings dissolve and a door inside swings open. 90% of my inspiration comes from lying immersed in H2O. This year I started sharing baths with Mark (taking it in turns), using only half the tub, using the water for our clothes, for the loo, for the plants. But whatever way we swing it, it’s still an oil-fired habit.
If I lived in Morocco or Turkey I’d go and scrub myself clean in the neighbourhood hammam. If I lived in Australia I’d walk down the beach to the tea tree lake at Byron Bay. If I was in New Mexico this morning I’d walk through the Apache pine forest and sit in the rocky hot springs of Jemez .If I was at this moment in Quito, Ecuador, I’d take a ride up into the mountains at dawn and immerse myself in the waters of Papallacta, watch the cold Andean mists evaporate and hummingbirds drink from the tree datura flowers that hang over the steaming sulphurous pools. I’d jump into the cold river and back again into the warm baths, and have a breakfast of freshly-caught trout and bitter South American coffee. Sometimes I think about all those mornings, those lovely waters of the earth I have bathed in thanks to the magical properties of fossil-fuel, and like Cocteau, it is hard to know I will never go there again.
Opium flower by Mark
Monday, 9 November 2009
When we began this blog last month I wanted to hear about what it’s really like for people to live through Transition, and for us to keep some kind of record. And when I read of John Heaser’s pride in his woodpile, of Jon Curran’s delight gleaning chestnuts with his family in the woods, or of Tully’s anger taking his children to the city fireworks, those experiences stir my heart and make me feel it’s all worth it. Reality is hard to come by in an I-pod, me-only world. It’s so easy to get grandiose, sitting at our computers like the Wizard of Oz, issuing big corporate statements about peak oil and politicians, wearing spiritual cliches like Eygptian priestly robes (We are All One! The Power of Now! Be the change!) doing the great marketing spin on our lives. But actually what turns everything around is the treasuring of our small and roughly-hewn humanity. Feeling and thinking deeply about ourselves and our fellows. Paying attention to the details.The fact that we are who we are together, engaged in an almost impossible task: downshifting from the great pleasuredome of the Western World.
This blog is about the small things. Small paradises, small moves, small moments of affection and respect between people hard-pressed on all sides. This week I want to write about some of those moments and some of those people. It’s a busy week. Tonight I’m going to a Stranger’s Circle meeting, one of our neighbourhood Transition Circles, out in the hinterland at Naomi’s house in Mangreen. On Wednesday I’m visiting the TN Allotment with Jane, reorganising the website with Andy and manning the TN stall with Christine at the Climate Emergency Talks. At the end of the week I’m helping co-ordinate the Second Transition East Regional Gathering , when 27 initiatives will be converging on the market town of Diss to talk about the future. Stay tuned!
Morning Glory in the conservatory by Mark
Sunday, 8 November 2009
I’ve been surprised at the feelings this leaves me with regarding my role as a consumer and what is says about my place in society. Leaving the job centre on Thursday I walked along Gentleman’s Walk, looking at the shops and the coffee bars and all the people still filling the streets on their way to buy stuff. And I was aware that I’m not, for now at least, one of those people. Norwich has felt like “my city” for most of my life, but at that moment it felt like it belonged to those other people, not me.
Then last night I took the kids to a firework display in Long Stratton. There were some fireworks, but no bonfire (health and safety, presumably). But what there was lots of was stalls selling unnecessary plastic objects (hook a duck, get a prize). My three children were with me, and spent most of the evening hassling me for more money to buy more stuff. I hated every minute.
It seems to me I have three powerful reasons to try to consume less. One is that, especially now, we can’t really afford it. Another is that I want to help create a more resilient, low-carbon economy, and buying tat from China doesn’t help. And the third is that for a long time I’ve felt a distaste for it all: I really don’t enjoy either unnecessary plastic objects, nor unnecessary positional goods.
I’d rather be producing than consuming. There’s a pleasure to trying to do useful work in the world. There’s a pleasure, that I’m just beginning to discover, to being here at home (the picture is the view from my window as I write) raking leaves or gathering firewood or baking bread (when I get around to it).
But our public spaces are mostly about consuming. The centre of Norwich is a temple to that insatiable hunger for tat. The public celebrations of bonfire night – Samhain, the end of summer and the closing in of the nights – are now just about more tat. It seems to me that, if we’re going to make the move away from consumerism attractive, we’re going to have to give attention to creating new public spaces that celebrate community rather than consumption.
Just a quick update on the allotment. I’ve spent a little time there this morning (Sunday), after doing some work on it during the week with Brenna.
I've forked over the first strip and planted:
- three sorts of broad beans (so we can do some trials of what works best)
- spring cabbage plants
- onion sets
- three sorts of garlic
- some Italian winter salad (might be too cold, but we'll see).
Mr Fox paid a visit and left us a lot of footprints but no presents (phew).
On the rough dug patch to the right of the pond I was going to sow green manure, but I discovered that there is just time to put more broad beans in if I get a wriggle on. Stan has given me some broad bean seeds that he has saved, so it would be very nice to have our first TN bean crop from TN seeds (many thanks, Stan!).
We now have four types of broad bean to compare, plus some more spring cabbages; and I’m taking a gamble on some Cicoria Rossa di Verona – who knows, it might be colder in Verona than Norwich.
Mahesh is going to organise soft fruit bushes for us over the next few weeks - a block of raspberries to go round the far end of the pond on the right; and assorted fruit bushes to go along the back.
So, now is a good time for us to start collecting cuttings of herbs, fruit bushes, strawberry layers etc.
Do come along to check up on how our TN garden grows. See you soon!
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
200 g Plain flour
100g Wholemeal flour
3 tsp Baking powder
2 tbsp Cumin
1-2 Grated carrots
200 ml Milk (plus 1 tbsp)
- Sieve flour and baking powder together.
- Rub butter into flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add Cumin and carrots and mix.
- Add milk and gather mixture together into a soft dough.
- Roll out and cut into rounds.
- Brush with remaining milk and pop onto a tray
- Bake at 220 degrees C