Thursday, 31 December 2009

Resolution 4: Keep campaigning for better public transport in the city

This picture was taken on the day after Boxing Day, but it's not at all unusual for the city centre to be gridlocked.

We’re lucky that our city council does want to increase the car-free areas. They’ve made steady progress over recent years, as the next picture shows. St Stephens will be next. But what can be done to keep cars from gridlocking the roads that they will still be allowed to use? How do we get people to stop depending on their cars?

What about buses?

People don’t like using buses and I have to say that I don’t blame them. A friend with a young family said: “Buses don’t appeal. I’ve got no idea of the times when they will actually run, so I’ve got no idea of how long we’ll have to stand and wait. The bus shelters are a target for vandals. The buses are never clean and they are expensive.” He lives in a city suburb, 40 minutes walk from the city centre.

What about Park and Ride?

“That’s no good to me either. We live too far away from the nearest one. But when we go to Ipswich or Cambridge we always use their Park and Ride. They’re clean and efficient.”

So, in principle, plenty of people don’t object to the idea of buses. They just have to be a lot better – affordable, reliable and safe.

Part of my resolution is to bite on the bullet and use buses more locally. In London I use them all the time, partly because I hate the Tube and partly because nobody in their right mind would dream of driving in central London. But here in Norwich they are so confusing. Different liveries, no map, no integrated timetable… and they are not cheap. But if I don’t actually try them, how can I find out at first hand what would make them better?

I’m a big fan of trams, but I’m told that they are very expensive to install. (This one is in Istanbul, where they hurtle efficiently through narrow medieval streets. ) I’m not so sure – they must be cheaper than the proposed Northern Distributor Road. Another part of my resolution is to find out more about cities that do have trams. What was the business case? How did they make it affordable? There’s a great book and website on car-free cities that I must take time to research further.

Along with the Transport group, I’m going to continue to campaign for all the good bits in the county’s transport strategy – the rapid transit buses, improved cycle routes, more car-free zones, exploring the return to water transport and more rail freight. And I’m going to continue to campaign against the Northern Distributor Road. Join me at the barricades when they start to construct the Postwick interchange!

Pix:

City gridlock, December 2009

Car-free city centre, summer 2009

Tram, Istanbul, August 2009

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Resolution 3: Support the local economy - local shops and businesses

I went for a walk with my family along Riverside yesterday afternoon. Not all that long ago the scene above would have been full of bustle and noise. Barges unloading goods onto the wharves; others loading up with Norfolk-produced goods for export. At its peak, Norwich products were traded in the bazaars of Istanbul and were valuable enough to attract pirates in the Bosphorus, according to contemporary accounts. We even exported top-quality textiles to ….er, China.

Even after the decline of the wool trade that made Norwich’s fortune, we made plenty of things in Norwich, with factories and workshops scattered throughout the city. The decline in manufacture in our city has been much more recent than you might think.

Then there were all the market gardens supplying the city market. A friend was telling me that 75% of the market was fruit-and-veg stalls until less than thirty years ago; now there are only four of them left. Across the city the little independent shops are struggling, while the supermarkets and chain stores are doing a roaring trade.

The other day, several of us were looking at the city model, which is currently stored at my house while waiting for a more fitting location; it’s less than ten years out of date. Alex pointed out a piano factory, another making handbags; the factory on the Chapelfield site – all gone recently. Boulton and Paul’s timber firm on Riverside, convenient for the timber barges; Read’s flour mill nearby; King Street sites; there are lots more in recent memory.

The same story is true across most of the country, of course. What’s different about Norwich is that it was once fabulously wealthy because of its manufacturing base here in the city; and the inexorable decline of its light industry has been much later than elsewhere in our region.

And today, we don’t sell textiles to China. We buy textiles from China. We fall for the convenience of supermarket shopping; we pursue cheap goods manufactured under goodness knows what conditions…

But there is a new economy emerging. To my surprise, I’ve been discovering recently that small-scale operations are springing up in the city again. There are lots of micro-breweries, doing very well. There’s the artisan bakers Dozen in Gloucester Street. Little independent workshops and small businesses are everywhere. And we must support them, instead of letting our money go out of the community.

Even better, we should have the courage to come up with innovative ways of doing business. There’s a big empty shop, conveniently close to the railway station and the riverside, that could be transformed into something very exciting, much better than its last incarnation as Woolies. Maybe this is the place for a new flour mill? And what about micro-financing, to help small businesses keep going and employ local people? What about converting all those empty luxury flats back into warehouses?

We could do a lot to transform Norwich’s economy. And the way to do it is to shop local and support the local economy.


Pix:

Entrance to Norwich harbour, heavily guarded by flint towers

The city model, a full-scale model of the city centre

Luxury apartments on Riverside

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Resolution 2: Eat seasonal and regional food

Of all my resolutions, this one is the easiest. Or is it? How far can I go? How far is sensible?

The seasonal aspect is simple enough: in summer, I want to put light food on the table (salads, sparkling seasonal treats like asparagus and strawberries); in the winter, my family and friends (and me) are looking for more robust stuff to keep us going – big stews, root veggies, comforting puds. In fact, it’s a pleasure, because the things that are in season fit with the seasons and ensure lots of variety.

But regional? The purists in Transition are aiming for a fifty mile radius or even less. For most of my food, it’s no problem. But… I can’t imagine starting the day without my kick-start of Kilimanjaro coffee. And if I want to add that essential interest to my food, I need some spices in the cupboard (saffron, nutmeg, black pepper), not to mention olive oil.

I thought that the reasonable compromise was to eat whatever was available to the Romans during the four hundred years or so that they occupied this country. Surely that was sustainable? Well, maybe not, on discovering that they were responsible for turning the Sahara into a desert and killing off unbelievable numbers of wild animals in the Colosseum…

… but on reflection, I return to thinking that this is a formula that is sustainable. For most of our food, buy local and buy what’s in season. Two excellent resources I’d recommend are Eat the Seasons website and a book: Seasonal food: a guide to what’s in season, when and why by Paul Waddington.

Given our chilly climate, I think it’s okay to buy some of our food from the Mediterranean – citrus fruits in particular. But not all. Nobody needs to buy strawberries in December. Here in England we can have whatever we want, regardless of the season – but at what cost? We need to challenge where food comes from. I saw apples from New Zealand in the supermarkets when English apples were coming into season. A friend tells me that it’s becoming the same in South Africa, where he was born. In his country, the quality of fresh fruit is outstanding, but on a visit last month he saw grapes on sale from Spain, because they are cheaper. We mustn’t buy on price, because there is a hidden cost.

And we mustn’t fall for convenience, because there is an enormous hidden cost there too. Are we really so busy that we don’t have time to peel a few spuds or trim the tops off leeks and wash out the gritty bits? Who is carrying out these chores on our behalf and what rate are they paid? If you take this argument further, what is going into those convenience foods?

My picture today is of salad leaves, picked proudly from my allotment strip yesterday for today’s family lunch. They are an assortment of radicchio and other hardy salads. I’ve been surprised to discover just how many interesting things we can grow in this country that actually like winter conditions.

I’m going to take my foodie resolution in this way: grow as much as I can (not possible for lots of us) and select the most interesting varieties to grow; always buy seasonal food; support local producers; challenge where everything comes from and how it was produced.

Pic: Salad leaves, harvested late December 2009

Monday, 28 December 2009

New Year's resolutions! Resolution 1: Renewable energy, as much as possible

I’ve taken over the baton from Mark, with an awesome interlude from Erik – I can’t hope to achieve his standards of excellence in sustainable living.

Hats off to you, Erik!

Instead, I’ll try to set some festive targets for myself for the coming year. They are interwoven; you can’t separate them out neatly. They deal with hard numbers (eg how much energy consumed in units of therms) intertwined with an attitude to life that is changing in line with challenging times.

I’ve got through Christmas, a time of huge stress for lots of people for all sorts of reasons. For me, it’s a joyful occasion. I never miss midnight mass at our wonderful cathedral, then scamper home to fill stockings for children and grandchildren before putting a Christmas feast on the table. It wouldn’t matter if the stockings contained nothing more than a tangerine and a few sweets and if the feast was merely bread and cheese – what’s important is the celebration together. This year, a new baby boy has arrived safely in my extended family after a difficult birth –time for more celebrations. Neighbours too – this is a time to wish each other good wishes.

And after the feast, time to take stock and decide what I need to do differently – or better – in the coming year. Resolutions!

My first resolution is to use renewable energy as much as possible and to consume energy responsibly. No overheated furnaces here!

I’ve made good progress this year, encouraged by fellow-Transitioners. I’ve cut my gas consumption by half, while dressing like a womble at home. Electricity consumption is modest and has remained stable since switching to working a lot more from home; although I use more electricity because I am at home, I have also managed to cut it back by switching things off promptly. I’ve become much more interested in harnessing free energy from the sun in drying laundry in winter (very handy, having windows in a south-facing house). And I’ve decided to invest in a woodburner. I’m planting some hornbeam, which I’m told is perfect for coppicing, on my guerrilla garden, where today I tidied up my neighbours’ massive prunings of various overgrown shrubs.

My picture today is of Lion Wood. It's about five minutes walk from where I live and I discovered it by chance when walking (instead of driving) to see a business advisor. It's all that remains of an ancient wood mentioned in the Domesday Book and probably much older than that. While I was there I saw and heard all sorts of birds and watched the antics of a family of squirrels, not as much as a mile from the city centre. There's a lot of wood to be harvested here! Seriously, though, we have have forgotten a lot of the ecologically sound ways of the past. We have lots to re-learn.

Next, I’ll look at food, then transport. These are the ‘big ticket’ items for most of us, in terms of our impact and what we spend on our fragile planet.


Pic: Lion Wood, December 2009

Sunday, 27 December 2009

One planet living

I calculated my consumption ecological footprint for 2009, as I've been doing since 2001. I now have a sustainable lifestyle! That is, I use 70-88% of the bioproductive land there is if you divide all bioproductive land equally over the 6.5 billion human beings (, and leave the other 12-30% for biodiversity, which corresponds to low and medium estimates of what is thought to be needed). I give a range because I'm not sure how to budget my garden: do I include it all as average UK arable land, or do I count my organic garden as biodiversity land as my calculator says I should be doing. While digging up the Jerusalem artichokes I did also dig up a frog and what looked like a salamander to me, so there is at least something in the latter, but I'm also convinced that I still disturb the land at least to some extent. And then I haven't yet addressed all the other sources of uncertainty in my calculator. But there you go, this is the result and it might be an overestimate as well as an underestimate. So, how did I get there? I've written about that in slightly more detail here, but let me give the summary: 80 grams of waste per week, heating my home with wood I collect by hand in the wood next to my garden, since July growing all my fruit and vegetables (I expect to buy veg in the hungry gap of 2010 and 2011), daily travel by bicycle, 6200 km of train travel in 2009. I'm really, really pleased, as this means that if everybody in the world lived like this (quantitatively speaking that is, qualitatively speaking there is still lots of room for different life choices) there would be no global warming, no destruction of the Amazon, etc.

So, what's next? To achieve a sustainable production ecological footprint. Although UEA is moving in the right direction, there is some way to go yet.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Hollydays!

This is it, the big day, and I’m spending it in a small way, walking out into the quiet winter neighbourhood as we’ve been doing in the last few days, touching base. Bringing back kindling from the woods and greenery to deck the house. Edward Abbey, author and radical spokesman for the wilderness, once advised all earth activists to take time to go up into the mountains and remember why you were putting yourself on the line, why you were taking life into your own hands.

Locally-cut branches on the year’s first hoar frost – mistletoe, holly, alongside a branch of pine from the woods.

Hope all your socks were full this morning! This picture was taken by Helen (Simpson Slapp) of some socks she hand-knitted after she first joined Transition. Helen was the first person I spoke to at TN’s Unleashing and we had an animated conversation about what to do about not buying this year’s trousers and knitting dishcloths. It was the first time I had felt at ease with people in a long, long time. Later she invited me to two clothes swaps at her house, and heroically darned my wellington socks made from local Jacob sheep’s wool. Stuff is one of the things we’re all talking about giving up in our low-carbon world, but sometimes stuff can bring people together in a way woolly (sic) abstract conversations can never do.

Next year I’m going to have more earth in my world, as well as people. It’s one of my 2010 resolutions. To get myself in the mood I shinned up a birch tree on one of the local commons near where we live. Shortly afterwards I found an injured lapwing on the road and Mark and I slithered and skidded cross county to the Minsmere bird reserve to find someone who could give us a hand.

If you don’t know lapwings, have a look out next time you go past some agricultural fields in wintertime, especially near the coast. They are striking birds, piebald, flecked with green. They have a distinctive topknot on their heads and rounded wings and once stood for the earth's pied poetry because they are famous for leading predators away from their nest by feigning a broken wing.

To hold one of the wild things close is a rare encounter. She was quiet and alert in my hands for our perilous journey down the icy backroads. Sometimes to find the treasure of this life, we have to struggle very hard to make sense of it, the way you tussle with poetry to crack its code. The struggle is what reveals the mystery and beauty that lies deep at its heart. That’s something our ancestors knew and we have forgotten in our desire for comfort and convenience. And then sometimes, just outside an ancient tumulus on the turn of a year, you find yourself with a key. You remember what really matters, why you’re darning socks and learning to bake bread and engaging in this Transition – to keep life on earth going, an earth with woods and heath and rivers in it, and birds that gather in the sky.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Being At Home

It occurred to me after I’d posted Woods, Heath and River (22 Dec) that the line ‘What better time for it than winter solstice?’ was vague. What did I really want to say? What did it have to do with Transition?

Mostly, making the time to go out and tune in to the seasons and the earth cycles puts everything into a larger context. It’s then not just about trying to control or save the planet (or change other people). It’s more to do with being aware of where I am and not wanting to be somewhere else.

This awareness has practical consequences, not least in terms of fossil fuel.

I remember a winter in England in the mid 90s. After spending Christmas in a freezing caravan near Lyme Regis and having no luck finding a place to settle, I thought sod it and flew to Mexico, where I had studied, travelled, worked, loved and lived in earlier years.

Since those days my desire to rush off or escape to other countries has diminished to almost zero. I’m happier to be at home. To visit people and places within East Anglia. To eat locally grown food in season. To seek out and find the beauty right here where I live.

This doesn’t mean that the countryside I live in is idyllic. I’m surrounded by arable fields full of pesticides and fertilisers. The pollution from street lighting in the towns has increased. And there are those oil tankers on the horizon.

Still there is the living planet itself, there are the cycles of the year. There is birdsong, there are great trees, there are the woods, the heath, the river.

In the library yesterday the people on the computers either side of me were on the search for holiday flights, away from England, away from winter. I suddenly realised I didn't have those desires any longer. I didn't want to get away from home.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Hoar Frosts and Sourdough


Up early this morning to get a sourdough ready for baking later. This time for the starter I used Maple Farm's (Suffolk) rye flour in addition to the leaven, and then for the second dough, strong white flour grown and milled in Garboldisham and Wakelyn's (Metfield) strong wholemeal. The wholemeal smells great as you're kneading and stretching. As my hands moved around deep inside the pancheon I felt really in contact with life.

Outside it was just below freezing with a thick hoarfrost in the garden. In the kitchen it was about five degrees. But my hands warmed up in no time kneading the dough!

Last night I called Jane to check how long the leaven needs to be left after adding the rest of the new starter. She said in a warm place probably only a day or so. In our house that means the airing cupboard. As I write this in the (only slightly warmer) library the dough is being left to rise. I've been so pleased with the loaves I've made since Jane came and spent the day with us showing us how to be resilient home bakers, I'm going to give this one to Joan down at the community centre as a present.

(A few hours later: see above today's sourdough fresh from the oven)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Woods, Heath, River

In a recent message about the TN2 skills list I'm compiling (more on that another day), Chris asked me whether I was enjoying the woods. I realised that I'd been so caught up with Transition activities, meetings, documents, gatherings and waves and then the Copenhagen talks that I hadn't been to the wood for months. Or to the sea, the heath or the river. And I'd begun taking much less notice of the natural world than usual. So on Saturday and Sunday I went with Charlotte to the wood and the heath and the river and did some reconnecting. What better time for it than winter solstice?

Walking along the lane to the wood - a long way from the Spring Tonic walk in April

Pheasant tracks

Hazel trees touch hands along the path

Spindle berries

Birch tree on the heath

River

Monday, 21 December 2009

Solstice Sunrise

Over the field, through the oaks, just after eight in the morning, shortest day of the year. The great movement of the planet we live on and the star which brings us all to life.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Chilly Times

We're snowed in, cut off from the rest of the world… Well, in our case, that’s not literally true, more that the entire household has been struck down by the flu. And because everyone’s feeling ill, none of us is really in a position to enjoy being (almost) snowed in. The snow is perfect in the back garden. There's hardly any traffic on the road outside, even though the gritters have been along, and it's beautifully quiet and peaceful. A totally different world. I'm longing to take a walk through the snow, maybe across to the park but with two little ones that refuse to get out from under their blankets on the settee, I have to content myself with looking out the window.

I hadn't really thought too much about the change to a more sombre mood when I started my second stint as blogger at the beginning of December, but yes, as others have so eloquently described it the last couple of weeks, the trend is there. My first week as blog writer was in the autumn, when all the leaves were glorious and the season was inescapably full of the mists and mellow fruitfulness Keats was so taken by. Now the trees are bare, it's icily cold and it feels like the sap has frozen in more than just the trees!

Copenhagen has been hard to watch. The hopes that have dissipated, the feeling that even if there is such a thing as "natural justice" it doesn't mean that it comes naturally to us. I haven't had the chance yet to really understand what it means, and what it doesn't, though the pundits are already picking it over.

It can be depressing to think about. But, I also remember Kyoto and how that looked like it was going to be the beginnings of something marvellous... With hindsight it now looks like something very very different. So perhaps it's better to at least know at the beginning what the next steps from Copenhagen may look like. And if you think of so many of the great social movements in history – from the peasants’ revolts to suffragism, from the trade unions to the birth of the labour and anti-Apartheid movements – none of these started from a good place, and all of them changed the world.

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice – from Tuesday onwards, the days will get longer, the nights shorter. The changing seasons mirror the changes in ourselves, and the cold and dark December days allow us to reflect and plan for the new spring. So whatever happened in Copenhagen doesn’t mean the problem is too great and that we have no choice but to give up. It means the opposite, we have to try harder.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Taking Life into our Own Hands

“Blimey, the blog is gloomy at the moment,” said Jane. She was tempted to put in something jolly, especially after hearing that the Northern Distributor Road, which she and the TN Transport group had rallied to avert, had just been given the go-ahead by the Department of Transport.

“It’s a solstice thing,” I said.

Outside there is a layer of snow on the ground and a bitter North wind is howling past the house. Inside it’s 7 degrees and I’m looking at the week that is coming to an end in the waning light of Copenhagen. At the second round of blogs in fact and seeing how they have shifted in tone, starting with Jon Curran’s post about his experience in the A&E when he began to ask questions about the effect of peak oil on the heath service.

One of the most successful meetings I went to in Transition was about Wellbeing, mostly because among the ten people present five of them were working or had worked for the NHS, one was a chemist and two of us knew about medicine plants. Each of us had brought an object to introduce our medicine stories: Mark brought a horse-chestnut tincture, Richard brought a quote from The Glass Bead Game and a small volume on homeopathy. Alex brought a daisy. He had been at a seminar in the Schumacher Institute when the deep ecologist Arne Naess, then in his eighties, had surprised everyone as he leapt through the window with a daisy in his hands. It was the medicine of vigour, Alex said.

What made this meeting vigorous and deep was the reality each of us brought into the room. Suddenly our discussions which up to then had been abstract, workshop-type encounters, full of spiritual possibility and solace, held our gritty experience of the world. When some of us exchanged opinions about our modern medical system, Angie, who had been a nurse on intensive care for 19 years, said simply:

“I hope when I need to be turned some of you will be there to turn me.”

And there was a silence in the room. As we realised what it would mean for us to take our own health, our lives, into our own hands.

When Jane wrote about gloom she quoted Winston Churchill. When he was asked what the secret of his success was, the old war leader replied: Seven words. Never give up. Never ever give up.

There is a lot of current talk about Blitz spirit, Dunkirk spirit and digging for Victory, as if the kind of rallying we need to tackle climate change and reverse our fortunes is the pulling together and keeping cheerful in the face of adversity, as Britian did during WW2. But the only way you can do this is by realising there is adversity. To have blitz spirit you have to recognise there is a Blitz. To never ever give up means you have to know the consequences of giving up. This is sharply obvious in the middle of a world war. In England where the consequences of climate change, including resource wars, are elsewhere, the reality of our situation is more difficult to see. It is easy living in England to avoid looking at the truth. Constantly bombarded by the “weapons of mass distraction” launched upon the populace by the media and the commerical world, it is hard to see that we are even in trouble.

I first joined Transition because I saw a film called What a Way to Go, Life at the End of Empire. It was being shown the Fisher Theatre in Bungay and there were, as is common in Transition awareness-raising, only about 30 people in the audience. We’d hesitated to go to what we thought was an environmental film because we didn’t want to be downloaded on. We certainly didn’t want to stay for the discussion afterwards. The film was relentless: a one man’s quest to find the truth beneath the Great American Dream, to document everything that occurs to our environment as a consequence of our life-style and everything that conspires to prevent our seeing it. For the first 20 minutes we wanted to run out of the room. At the end of the film I whispered to Mark, Shall we go? But something extraordinary had happened. We couldn’t go. We couldn’t wait to join in with the discussion. The theatre was buzzing with excitment. Everything all of us had been feeling or having nightmares about was out in the open. I hadn’t felt so invigorated for years.

“Whose the captain of this lifeboat?” I asked Kate who was faciliating. “Is it you?” She laughed, as in that moment the great ship Transition welcomed us on board.

What is really gloomy is waiting for other people, governments of the world, to take charge. What is really gloomy is denial. The insistence that everything is fine, that you can create your own reality and that business is as usual. Now in the second phase of our blog, we’ve been looking at what is going on underneath Transition, straight up. We’ve been going on climate actions, reporting on meetings, talking about our inner “dark side” experiences. Ed wrote about a difficult encounter in London, I brought some of our Dreaming of Norwich work into play. And in doing so we’ve been going beyond the Handbook and its Heart advice about personal oil addiction. Because our difficulties, as Tully pointed out in a searing and rigourous look at his own, are not simply personal. Depression, which has taken a monumental leap in the last few years, is directly linked to what is happening on our planet and our seeming inability to halt the spiralling destruction of eco-systems. Transition, which offers a good model for grassroots action, for a shared structure, is one of the ways to reverse this process. To begin the great work of transformation and regeneration. But we can’t just do this on optimisim. Or indeed on our own.

At the end of the film the author takes a long walk into the rain towards the Great Lake. After two hours detailing the massive effects of peak oil and climate change on the planet, he is listing the small actions we can take, including community participation and medicine herbs. Find your people he says, as he waits by the shore, and looks towards the Northern horizon. Build your lifeboat.

When you look at reality straight up the way ahead becomes clear: we have to meet these challenges the way warriors do, with impeccability, the way poets and artists do, with beauty, and most of all we have to meet them the way small tribes of human beings have successfully done for aeons, together.






We are the people we’ve been waiting for


BUTTERFLY AND FLOWERS ENDNOTE: We had a tech hitch on Monday uploading Helen's video, which is why I'm writing on what appears to be Helen's post! Here it is again with Helen's notes, in case you missed it the first time (incidently both Helens -Wells and Simpson Slapp - who provided the lovely pix for this week's blog, both work and have worked also for the NHS - in mental health.)

"The film shows a mutually beneficial relationship: buddleia the survivor, persistent, growing in the most extreme of places, along railway lines, in scrubby corners as well as in gardens and the butterfly, ephemeral, delicate, transient, transforming. The butterfly feeds on the nectar of the buddleia, the lightest of touches, and in its delicate flight from one slurpy waving pennant to another it polinates, part of the buddleia's life cycle, essential, propagating life with a light touch.


Its symbolic for me of what are mutually sustaining relationships and how nature teaches us. Its the kind of sustaining relationships we will need to develop in transition."


video

Butterfly and Buddleia- a mutually beneficial relationship by Helen Wells.

Daisy Chain from detail from Midsummer Party Flowers by Mark Watson.

Text: Charlotte Du Cann


Thursday, 17 December 2009

Dealing with It

Winter Solstice Tree on Mousehold Heath by Helen Simpson Slapp (NR3/Reskilling)


Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth.
Deal with it. (popular car sticker c.2007)

Yesterday I found a poem I hadn’t read in a long time. It’s called It Allows A Portrait in Line-Scan at Fifteen by the Australian poet Les Murray. I heard it when I was working for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival back in 2005 just as Transition was starting up. Sinead Morrissey, a young brilliant poet from Belfast was performing what is known as close work - delving into the depths of the poem and coming up with gems.

You can read the poem in full here.

http://www.clivejames.com/poetry/murray/fifteen

I don’t think I would have noticed the poem so much otherwise. In that 15 minutes intense attention to its workings, Sinead handed us a key that opened the door of the poem. You see, the Portrait is of the poet's son who is now fifteen years old. “It” is the condition of autism that holds him captive – only allowing under certain circumstances the feeling relationship with other human beings that most of us take for granted.

When you read the poem, you realise it’s not just his son that Murray's talking about. He’s talking about an autistic world. The people who aren't listening in Copenhagen. The troubles we've been encountering on the dark side of Transition.

As we head towards the darkest and coldest part of the year, as the door of Solstice opens to let in the new light I considered what this It does to all our communications:

It talks in meetings with a voice like a cyborg. A dead pan voice that goes on and on and wears us all down.
It is made of mind. Data, facts, machines, correct spelling, precise rules and timings, rituals, mantra, constructs of all kinds.
It has an agenda it’s sticking to. A secret one it does not divulge. That makes our meetings go round and round, get lost in details, come to no conclusion. Most of all It wants its own way. This is because it has to have control of situations at all times. Everything outside of It is a threat to Its total power.
It has said things to me like: You have to accept the fact you are second-rate and You are just a.n.other. We don’t want to know what you think. I have learned to not go under when It is talking.
It talks of love, but, being heartless, exudes only a kind of passive coldness into the space between us. Even when the heart is angry or bitter it is warm. I have learned in these years to recognise the difference between words and action by their temperature. You could say the rising temperature of our home planet is a response to the coldness of Its empire, the way a fever burns up an infection in the body.
It outwits psychology and sometimes is psychology. Has been the bane of many a wise man, even caused the wily magus Gurdjieff who articulated its every mechanical move to close the curtains in his flat in Paris and start cooking for his friends.
In Diss when we all gathered there was a pink post-it note in the centre of our wall: it read unconscious sabotage.
It is a big problem in the world. Inside our own heads where it lives. Inside the meetings where we are trying to co-operate and find out a different way of doing things. Dreaming a different dream.
It doesn’t dream. It likes to feel good and keep in control. Dreaming means out-of-control which equals BAD. When it feels bad it starts to throw a fit, throw its feelings outwards onto other people in the room. We’ve been intimidated by Its moods and tantrums, its bone-chilling voice for aeons, so we keep quiet. It speaks with the power of gods and governments. Institutions and corporations are made of It.
It does well in school, where a lack of empathy with the object of study is essential.
What It hates most of all are poets. Poets see It coming and use their art to expose all its invisible workings. It has a pathological fear of being seen. Of being questioned by the heart. If It has a chance (which it has many times in history) It sends these all-seeing, all-feeling poets off to the gulag, to the trenches, to the Tower. Mostly it wears them out.
Fairy stories warn us about It many times. They are tales of how to outwit the saboteur and his wife, the cruel stepmother, what to do when the mirror enters our eyes and freezes our hearts, when we become trapped in reason, walled up in ourselves, held in a glass coffin, asleep.

It says fairy stories are for children.

We like to think we are beyond our childish games of it too. But It touches everyone. It comes through the young and pretty and clever and the wild man in the torn overcoat who is shouting too loudly in the room. In Transition when It gets the upper hand, people start leaving meetings. Groups dissolve. Good ideas get shelved. Initiatives run out of steam. Dealing with It in Transition means we’re having to face people when It comes through. If we’re going to succeed we're going to have to find ways of naming It’s moves. Not running scared, or becoming enraged or bewildered or worn out.

Gotta get smart!

Last Thursday the Transition East Support Group met in Dereham and we exchanged our tales of the It girls and boys in our various meetings. How some of us are reconfiguring the way we are coming together centering on working parties and creative projects. We decided we are going to look at some of those Troubles that were written down on the wall and work through them in 2010. Communication about these difficulties we decided is the key that would open the door.

On Saturday four Transition Norwich dreamers - Mark, Helen, Alex and I - met and explored a conflict that had broken out between us. Helen showed us her painting of our four previous Dreaming journeys. It was a circular map of blue and green with a red dragon, a castle, a river and Mark standing amongst the weeping willow like a silver fish outside Julian of Norwich’s cell. Dead wood from a sweet chestnut tree pointed into a white space where the circle was incomplete. “There’s a gap,” Helen said. We looked into that howling gap for three hours and It allowed us to shout and weep and stand in each other’s shoes and feel what that was like on the other side of the tracks. "Storming" in groups sometimes calls for what is known as conflict resolution, but what we really need is an agreement to look closely into the eye of the ice storm together and create new ways of proceeding, finding the gems that are hidden in the dark.

That's when you realise that the dreaming of cities is not in the buildings or history, or even the land that supports them, it's held within the people who live there and the strangers who come to their door.

At some point It has to become Us.

Sweet Chestnut Tree by Helen Wells (Transition Circle West)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

My Life as an Antibody

Charlotte has been writing about the darker side of Transition - the uncomfortable aspects we'd rather not discuss. Ed wrote movingly about his experience of talking to his friends about climate change. So I thought I'd try to explore the sadness, you might say depression, I've been experiencing recently.

What do I mean by depression? Well, the usual stuff. Not always wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Feeling tearful in the face of everyday difficulties, or for no reason at all. Lacking the courage, at times, to take on tasks that are in any way challenging or out of my comfort zone. Feeling weak and lacking in energy. Or just feeling sad.

Why am I experiencing these feelings? Well, probably for more than one reason, including the fact that I was recently made redundant. But I believe a significant part of it is my growing understanding of climate change and how serious the threat is that the world, and how little we're doing to avert it. I think it's important to say that it's not Transition that's depressing - on the contrary, Transition and other efforts like it provide a glimmer of hope. What's depressing is the threats to which Transition is a response, and particularly climate change.

It occurs to me that these feelings of sadness can come from two quite different conditions, grief and depression. Grief is a response to loss - of a loved one, a relationship, a job or whatever. It's a healthy and natural response and the trick is to go through it, feel the feelings, and come out the other side. Depression on the other hand is a kind of illness. Angie tells me that often it occurs when we're angry at someone or something but don't express those feelings. So I wonder if I'm experiencing grief at the loss of my old beliefs and expectations for the world. Or whether I'm feeling angry with someone about climate change. But, as Charlotte pointed out in her blog about The Wave, the trouble with climate change is that we're all responsible for it, so it's difficult to be angry with anyone in particular. Possibly I'm angry with everyone in the world who has yet to wake up to how urgent this problem is - which is just about everyone.

Those whose job it is to help us back to mental health sometimes tell us that it's best not to focus on environmental issues, because they're bound to be depressing. In fact, I rather believe that if I were to seek out a counsellor to help me with this sadness, he or she would almost certainly tell me to forget about climate change. The view seems to be that to face up to the reality of the climate crisis is itself a kind of mental illness. But that strikes me as a really strange perversion of the truth. In fact, it seems to me that to live in denial of reality is a clear example of mental illness. If I am saddened by the knowledge of what we are probably deciding to inflict on ourselves and our children, can it be healthier to ignore that reality and instead to wait until our inaction brings those events into being? Won't the reality be even worse than the anticipation?

Would it be better not to know? As Adam found, the tree of knowledge is a dangerous place to eat, but an irresistible one. As we gain in knowledge we lose our innocence, we have to grow up and take responsibility. If we are the antibodies in the world's immune system, then our job is to fight its infection. It's not necessarily a job one would choose, but it's the job that we seem to have been given. If you're reading this, you've probably been given it too.

So, I'm not going to stop being concerned about the climate crisis. Where I find some relief is in my family; in taking some practical action to reduce my own contribution to climate change; and in the company of people like those in Transition Norwich who share an understanding of the urgency of the issue and are also trying to take action. I hope someday I'll feel more cheerful about it.

Monday, 14 December 2009

The Butterfly Effect

Last month I spoke to 29 Transition initiatives across the East of England and asked them how Transition was going in their villages, towns and cities, how they began, what projects they were engaged in, what their successes were, what difficulties they faced. Some of these difficulties I catalogued in a paper called Transition Troubleshooting http://transitionculture.org/wp-content/uploads/Transition-East-Roundup-Edit.pdf. Later when we met up at the Diss Gathering we wrote our troubles on the wall and then sat down with one another to try and work out a way to proceed. http://www.transitioneast.net/

Looking at these lists you can see the overwhelming difficulties the Transition movement faces lie not with the outside world, but within with the meetings on which Transition culture is based. And now in Copenhagen, “the biggest meeting in history”, where the future of humanity’s culture is based. The question we began to ask ourselves was: are these meetings really a consensus between everyone present? Or are they simply a means whereby agendas that suit the most powerful in the room are agreed?

Or is something going on in these meetings that we haven’t woken up to yet? Naresh Giangrande in his first post from Copenhagen on 11 December http://www.transitionculture.org/ is bewildered and downhearted to see that, in spite of the world’s scientists agreeing over climate change, the rich and powerful are not listening to them.

My hope, my optimism springs from my home, Totnes and all the other Transition initiatives. It springs from the desire and that is apparent here at the people’s conference to create a sustainable world. I feel no hope yet from COP 15. The road from here takes me home.

The problem with the Rich and Powerful is that they are trained to have no fellow-feeling in order to personify huge figures of authority, like small autistic gods. They have been force-fed vast amounts of attention and live in constant terror of being humiliated and annihilated when that attention is removed. As a result they control all reality around them and refuse to acknowledge what is staring at them in the face. How to find a way out of this shut-down will not necessarily be found in the conference halls of Copenhagen.

You might find it somewhere else in the city. Hans Christian Andersen would have no difficulty recognising the situation all of us face. The deaf and the heartless are under the spell of the Snow Queen, he would say. In the story he tells about a sister who releases her brother from enchantment, the tale begins before the children are born, with a “troll mirror” that shatters and scatters the earth. The mirror distorts the world and gives the power of the negative to all those who gaze upon it. When a splinter enters Kai’s eye he falls under the spell of the Snow Queen and disappears from the city. Gerda sets out on a difficult journey through the winter landscape to find him, frozen stiff, on a lake known as The Mirror of Reason.

How do you break a spell? The industrial trance that holds us all captive? The fairy story is clear on the matter. By seeing and feeling who is in front of your eyes. By remembering your heart.

Though the grand illusions of the Western World are controlled by the rich and the powerful, life on earth is underpinned by quite a different story. This year four of us from the Transition Circles– myself, Mark, Helen and Alex - took part in a project called The Dreaming of Norwich and this video of butterflies amongst the buddleia was painted and filmed by Helen.


We had seen the flowers as we went walkabout in the city one Saturday in July. They flourished in amongst all the cracks of the city walls, great fragrant spikes of deep purple and lilac, in bridges, carparks and wastegrounds. We were following the contours of one of the three rivers that flow in and about the centre, dipping our feet in the cool water, skimmed by emerald dragonflies. 2009 was a good year for insects, especially butterflies. One Saturday in August I counted 2oo on the buddleia in my garden.

The butterfly is the universal expression of transformation because during its lifecycle it literally and dramatically changes its form. It’s an image that’s frequently used to describe the process of Transition. You can find it in books from The Great Turning by David Korten to Earthdance by the biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris. In 2007 interviewing a poet from Totnes called Matt Harvey (now the unofficial poet laureate of Transition) I learned a crucial fact about butterflies. Harvey had gone to a butterfly centre and it had transformed his life. He had not known that when the caterpillar enters the cocoon its body dissolves. It becomes liquid in order to transform itself into an imago. Suddenly I understood my life, the poet said. Everything had been collapsing all around me. Nothing was making sense, and I was falling apart. And suddenly I knew why. I was turning into a butterfly.

When the butterfly appears it signals profound change and a vast switch of direction. Its effect was first recognised in chaos theory, where it stands for the small factor that sparks off a radical transition within the non-linear systems of the planet - in the shapes of clouds, the flow of rivers, the populations of reindeer, when one element turns into another. A moment of turbulence in which limit cycles are broken, energy dissipates, structures shift and the planet keeps itself in a state known as far-from-equilibrium, so that life can happen. When the explorers of chaos theory looked at what kept everything in motion they found a shape they called the strange attractor. Drawn by the meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, it appeared like owl’s eyes, like a lemniscate. Most of all it looked like a pair of butterfly wings.

All outcomes of the weather patterns Lorenz discovered depend on initial conditions. Everything that occurs on the planet loops back to initial conditions. How things begin determines how they end - something that indigenous people have known forever, which is why they pay close attention to the creative acts of their ancestors and keep singing their songs, dancing their dances, telling their stories, dreaming their dream. Once upon a time . . .


The old order which the Rich and Powerful represent, which the establishment in all its forms maintains (and our allegiances to them), is the greatest challenge we face in all our meetings, whether in Norwich or in Copenhagen. The transformative presence of the butterfly creates antagonism, stonewalling, denial, dissonance, terror and ridicule.

Above: Lighting a candle for Copenhagen and talking to Sam from Totnes at the 350 Vigil on the Millenium Plain on Saturday's International Day of Protest

The imaginal buds of the new butterfly fail when they first emerge: the great backlash of the caterpillar's immune system destroys all their fragile colour and beauty. At their second attempt however they are older and wiser. They learn to hold the new form of the butterfly by linking up with other buds.

The fact is the world has entered a state of turbulence and the caterpillar is fighting hard to hold on to its territory. Though the Rich and the Powerful and all who serve them resist the emergence of the butterfly, and appear immune to change, they are in fact trapped. They are, like Kai, trying to spell the word Eternity on the ice, heedless to the tears of the world as it tries to melt the hardness of their hearts. They have forgotten the way home. To remember they would have to look into their sisters’ eyes and feel. They know that by this act they would lose the power the mirror has given them and have to return to the humble life of their grandmother’s house in the quiet neighbourhood of Copenhagen.

The butterfly has no power. It carries the colours of the dreaming in its wings and in the shape these wings make in space and time it remembers the infinity present within all finite forms. To know the beauty of the earth, of the real Transition that is taking place we need to relinquish our devouring of the world and go inwards and dream. We have to re-imagine our lives. And as we let our former identities dissolve, our voracious small-minded caterpillar forms, we will start to know ourselves as we really are, to see each other in our true colours:

scarlet admiral
orange-tip
yellow brimstone,
green hairstreak
adonis blue
holly blue
purple emperor
white admiral
peacock.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Tales from the Dark Side of Transition

Last month I wrote up an Open Space session from the Transition East gathering in Diss http://tinyurl.com/yl9ys3t. It was called How Best To Tell the Story of Transition in the Present Media and Culture. Six of us from Norwich, Framlingham, Saxmundham, Downham Market and Cambridge recognised that one of the greatest challenges we face is the glossing over of the dark and difficult parts of Transition. Nor is there any medium, even within the Transition movment itself, where these experiences can be creatively expressed and treasured. We have to create our own media was one of the conclusions we came to.

This week as one of our contributors was unable to post it was an open-space week for anyone to write in, keeping Copenhagen in our sights. Next week I'm going to explore some of these shared difficulties and find some ways of making sense and beauty out of them. To kick off here is Ed Mitchell from the Transition Network on a "dark side" encounter he had at the Wave last weekend:

" I'm in London visiting some mates and going on the Wave march, and found myself in the pub last night, facing three of my best mates, all pointing their fingers at me, telling me that nothing could change, and why was I complaining as we have it so good, and no-one has time for this hippy shit, stop berating supermarkets - they are an effective way of feeding a population etc. etc.. And then I fell into conversation with a chap who had overheard who decided he would tell me that it was my fault for having these silly eco ideas and the government taxing us all to death for this nonsense was because of me stirring up this nonsense and it was all nonsense etc. etc. I asked where he got his information from - had he ever seen the graphs indicating CO2 and global temperature? No he hadn't. It had all come from the papers. And actually, he couldn't point to a single piece of information that actually had a fact behind it. (To be fair to him, it did look like a little light went on in his head at that point).

They all looked so angry.

I was gutted. It made me never want to bring it up again, put my head back behind the parapet and try to pretend that I didn't know all this stuff, and didn't care, and saw our privileged lifestyles as some form of natural selection like others say, and stop moaning. But I've never found myself at ease with the way things are, and can't do that. You can't de-remember this stuff. And this stuff you can't de-remember puts you at odds with an alarming number of people.

And then they said 'well what are *you* going to do about it?'. I spieled off a little list of things I thought they could easily achieve as well, but they said they didn't have time for that (e.g. clubbing together with 4 households and bulk buying your staples from a co-op), or that people didn't want to know their neighbours, and for every thing I said, they had a reason not to do it, or not to bother. Or that it was just a middle class throwback, and OK for some etc. etc. Even when I talked about projects like community tree planting days, free for all, couple of hours on a Saturday, they tutted, kind of knowingly, knowing it was pointless.

It was a total brick wall.

I'm familiar with opening difficult subjects with groups of people, so it wasn't a totally new shock. It's that it was my mates; totally aware of what is going on, keenly aware of the illusions of control the government spin to us, radio 4 listeners, and generally with very low carbon footprints anyway. Because it was my mates I could say that they were in denial. There was some shrugging. Maybe. But so what?

So I'm shedding a few tears of frustration, feeling a little isolated, reaching out to someone else who knows how this feels (you right now).

But what did I learn?

How can I bring this up without raising people's hackles so much next time? What angles are there to encourage people to do projects while not making them feel angry or guilty or like they are hanging out with middle class hipppies? How can we navigate the dark side? Actually, they're not in denial, they're in 'grief'. Different approaches for different people (denial, anger, grief, acceptance, action)?

In fact, perhaps I can only thank them for giving me that chance to process that experience... (?)
.....

Hope you don't mind me dumping that on you! I'm tempted not to send it and see this as a therapeutic exercise but I'm a relentless extrovert, so can't help but share it... and I do feel better now... :)

best,
Ed "

Thanks Ed for sharing (and daring!) And if anyone else has some Transition tales to tell . . .this is your blog!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Lights Out Along the Thames

As we travelled back from London along the Thames on Saturday evening after The Wave Climate Rally, looking through the coach windows I was struck by just how many lights were blazing away in the city's buildings. The blocks of flats and the shops in the streets were one thing. The towering buildings of the new financial district in Canary Wharf were something else. "End Times in Atlantis," I thought to myself.

I was born in London and lived here for years, but I haven't been since joining the Transition movement. This morning we entered the city from the eastern outskirts passing the bleak landfill sites with their flocks of seagulls, the huge food distribution centres and (further in) the American-styled Canary Wharf towers. I felt like I was revisiting a scene I'd only read about. Or heard about. Or dreamt about. I felt a kind of shock, the sort that comes when you see something you haven't really seen before. Right in front of your face.

The discussions we've been having and the actions we've been taking in TN2 and the Transition Circles have centred on personal reduction of fossil fuel use and therefore our carbon and ecological footprints. What I was looking through the window at was obviously not home consumption, but that of banks, businesses and shops. All that energy to keep those lights on!

So in this week of the Copenhagen Climate talks, it was great to see Maria and Mark of TN's Buildings and Energy group on the BBC's Politics Show East on Sunday walking through Norwich city centre at night carrying out a light audit of shops and offices. And to hear about the Night Light scheme they are starting up to encourage businesses in the city to turn their lights off at night. You can see the show over the next few days here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/the_politics_show_east


PS Both Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay feature in this programme dedicated to the Copenhagen Climate talks. The section on Transition Towns starts at around 36 mins.

PPS Message to LORNA from London who was waiting for friends near Big Ben on her bike (for two hours!). The pic I took of you came out really well and if you'd like it do leave a comment here with email and I'll send it. Best, Mark





Lights in the coach and lights outside

Returning home to East Anglia after The Wave Climate March


Photos by Mark Watson

Monday, 7 December 2009

Waving Not Drowning

A crowd flowed over Westminster Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many
, I quoted to Mark. We were passing by the statue of Boudicca raising her spear towards Parliament as our fleet of East Anglian coaches charged onwards towards Hyde Park. We were about to take to the streets as a new kind of blue-faced tribe. Climate warriors battling not just with the industrial wastelands as they encroach upon the earth, but with the denial and apathy of the multitude, unwilling to look, comprehend, feel and respond to the urgent situation in which we find ourselves.

We had come to take part in The Wave, the biggest climate march in history, designed to bring attention to the planetary crisis now about to be discussed by the nations of the world at Copenhagen.

At Speakers’ Corner the premise was clear. Climate change was not the only change on the agenda. Under the plane trees the speakers included MPs, Climate Camp organisers, campaigners against the third runway at Heathrow. All of them eloquent and fiery in their call to attention and the issues that brought us together on this day: fossil fuel depletion, resource wars, social justice, green jobs. "I have been speaking to the Native American people in Canada whose lands are being used for tar sands," declared the Liberal Democrat, "I have speaking to the people on the coast of Dorset where the oil tankers are waiting for the prices to rise"(as they are in East Anglia).

"It’s run on love ladies and gentlemen, it really is," said Nick Hutton, treasurer of Campaign Against Climate Change www.campaigncc.org/ who, with the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition www.stopclimatechaos.org/, had organised The Wave.



With the Climate Emergency banner at Speakers Corner. Above: Mark at Grosvenor Square.

As the helicopter roared overhead, the radical roots band, Seize the Day, sang about giving up flying: What will you do, what can we do? Don’t take my wings away.

Sweet Thames run softly till I end my song.

Grosvenor Square, historic starting point for all great marches, was filled on all sides with blue people: blue wigs, blue dragons, blue faces. We moved slowly and inexorably through Mayfair and down Piccadilly. My feet knew all these streets. I had walked them, cycled them, taken underground trains below them night and day, as a child, a lover and a journalist and now almost a stranger. I walked past magazine offices I once worked in, danced a jig to the SOAS samba band in front of Fortnum and Mason where my grandfather used to take me for tea. I knew the kinds of changes that were being required from a city-shaped people. It wasn’t just about turning down the thermostat, it was about giving up an exclusive way of seeing and experiencing the world. Letting whole histories, whole parts of yourself go and letting something else sing inside.
I wore a rainbow hat and stood between the statue of Winston Churchill and Big Ben and watched the crowd as it wound its way down Westminster, over Vauxhall Bridge, past Lambeth Palace and back again in a great aquamarine loop. The people had come from all over the country, from Southampton, Birmingham, Cardiff and Poole. There were people in Transition, people on cycles, grandmothers in blue hats, babies in shawls, monks and priests in habits, young anarchists dressed as bankers.

"You’re on a march", said the policeman to a young couple, "you’re supposed to be shouting!" "What do we hate? Climate change!" chimed some children melodiously in response. It was a big march but it was a mute march. The ready-made placards supplied by the Co-op and the various charities and NGOs said it all for us: Power to the Poor (Christian Aid), Act Fair, Act Fast (the Co-op), Our Climate in Our Hands (Cafod), Capitalism Means Crisis and Climate Chaos (Socialist Worker), Carbon cuts, Not Welfare Cuts (Green Party). The buildings stood impassively as they have stood for centuries. At three o’clock there was a great shout as we did The Wave all together, and then we started to go home.

It was hardly reported by the papers. A massive taking to the streets by 50,ooo people. Was that the media or was it us? Is it that we have no way of communicating the complexity of what is being discussed at Copenhagen? Is it that "the scientists" seem to hold all the data (or not) and the corporations all the power, that ordinary people, united in that moment by the colour blue, have nothing crucial to add? Or is that that the words themselves we are using are inadequate to express what we feel? All these well-spun, marketed, corporatised, psychological, tele-texted words? The demonstration had none of the raw angry edge I remembered from the 70s - strike marches or Anti-Nazi League gatherings. There were no police charges or wild breakouts. It was perfectly orchestrated, without an enemy in sight - unless you can count a bunch of buildings by a river as an enemy.

A woman once asked the Native Americans of central Canada what they could do to help solve the problems about their land. You could start by realising you are the problem, was the reply. How can you march against yourself? Your neighbour, your friend, your own children?
Something else is required of us that is far subtler and more intricate than a public demonstration that depends for its energy and impact on black and white, Us and Them antagonism. Something like the decision the singer made when she gave up flying and realised she couldn’t see her grandmother in America and her sister in Australia again. What people used to call a sacrifice. A giving up of what you love for life itself.

DA What have we given?


Whatever happens in the conference halls of Copenhagen as the minds and wills of the world’s governments argue about figures, this is the kind of change the planet is really requiring us to undergo. A radical shift of attention, a sea-change. A decision that can only be made deep within the chambers of the heart.

All pictures by Mark Watson. Further pix available by Josiah Meldrum (TN2) on http://tinyurl.com/ye2xjvv

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Raising Expectations

Many of you will know that I'm campaigning for a cycle path - the details are here. We had a publicity event on Friday and the picture shows MP Richard Bacon joining children on the ride to school (Councillors Richard Bearman and Bert Bremner are also just visible).

The event went well and lots of important people have agreed to support the campaign. However, what has really worried me since starting this campaign is how low people's expectations are - they say 'Yes that is a good idea but nothing will get done'. We live in one of the most open democracies in the world yet people act as if it is a dictatorship where everything is determined in secret. I'm the chair of the Parish Council in a relatively affluent village - yet hardly anyone shows any interest in the PC.

The Transition Movement can show people what is possible and can inspire people to change their lives as individuals - and that is a key role that has to come first - but more people are also going to have to get involved with the process of local government if we are going to get the infrastructure needed for the mass of people to reduce their oil dependence.

Lots of people here would like to get on their bikes but they need a safe path to cycle on - not a dice with death in the form of speeding commuters and huge lorries!

Photo by Peter Steward

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The New Wave - London

This morning Transition initatives from all over the region are climbing aboard coaches and heading down towards London. It's the biggest Climate Action March in history. We're waving banners and wearing blue and joining thousands of others from all over the country. Some of us have never been on a demonstration before, some of us are old hands, some of us (like me) haven't taken to the streets in decades.

What's making us take part? What does it feel like to be there? Will our oceanic presence dissolve the rigid mindsets of Parliament?

Watch this space for a report tomorrow!

Local initatives joining the lively and colourful samba-led demonstration and Climate Emergency rally in Norwich on 21 November.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Time and effort

The banks are back in the news today, with anger over proposed bonuses. This week I also received a mail from Amnesty International asking me whether I knew if my bank was funding producers of cluster bombs. And this week’s article on George Monbiot’s blog highlights one bank’s support for Canadian tar-sands oil production.

I’m pretty comfortable that my money isn’t going to fund any of these activities as I took the time and effort to understand my bank’s position on the issues that I care about. Jane talked about Primark last week and (jokingly,I’m sure) invited them to sue her. I’d be if surprised they had the time – War on Want have a full-on campaign highlighting high street retailers’ stance on poor labour conditions, and calling for improvement. These things all influence the decisions I make every time I hand over my money.

They say that the vote of the pound in our pocket is every bit as powerful as the vote we put into the ballot box. I'm not 100% convinced that that's true, but it's certainly true that what we do with our money, as much as what we do with our ballot paper, can have profound consequences. And it can sometimes be very difficult to tease apart all the threads of the tangled web that is our modern globalised world, but it's absolutely worth taking the time and effort to do so.

Something to think about when you're doing your Christmas shopping.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Visioning the Future

Jane’s pictures of the market in Limoges rekindled in me the common British desire to live in France. As countless TV lifestyle and property shows will tell you, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the French way of life that really appeals. We travelled to Brittany a few years ago to visit my wonderful piano teacher. She lives in a traditional house in a small town with winding streets, a steepled church, and boulangeries and patisseries galore. From our bedroom window we could see the peaceful rooftops of the town; we visited the markets, and sat with our café au lait and croissants at pavement cafés. We talked about how we would one day buy a place in France – “it’s the quality of life that’s different,” we said.

One of the challenges of foreign travel, notes popular philosopher Alain de Botton, is that you can never truly leave yourself behind. Being on holiday in France allows us to relax and unwind, and drink coffee in pavement cafés, but eventually we have to go home and carry on with our old lives. But why is this? Why don’t we do the same kinds of thing in England as we do on holiday in France? OK, the weather can sometimes be an issue, but I don’t think the Breton weather is that different from that in the south of England?

It’s our state of mind that’s different. At home, we’re often governed by the pace of life around us. We have mortgages to pay, bills to pay, things to buy. We do everything at breakneck speed, and all the trappings of modern life both cater for that speed, and promote it. And, each of us, in the decisions we make day in and day out, both accept and promote that pace of life. We drive to the supermarket because we don’t have time to shop in any other way. We have no time because we feel we have to be constantly on the move or be left behind.

It seems strange that all the things we love about France (or Italy, or Spain, or any other place we go on holiday) are the things that we don’t seem to value at home, that we relegate to two holiday weeks in our year.

What would it be like if the other 50 weeks of our year reflected the things we love in those precious two? Local shops, bustling markets, cafes selling local specialities? That feeling of real quality of life. 100 years ago, the centres of Norwich and Limoges were probably similar in their very uniqueness. What changed?

I’m certainly not blind to the benefits of the progress we’ve made in those last 100 years. In many ways, there’s never been a better time to live in. And we're incredibly lucky to live in Norwich, with all its Lanes and many local and independent shops. But it’s worth thinking about those things that make life special that we think we’ve lost. And remember that their loss is not reversible. We are the architects of our own world.