“It’s an attitude,” I explained to Philip in the lane, talking about tents and The Holiday.
“Ah,” said Philip, “Bonnes vacances.”
We're not-going on a zero-carbon holiday. We’ve put the tent up in the garden and are taking turns to sleep under the greengage tree, moored in the long grass sprinkled with wild carrot. It’s a good space inside. A mattress, a stool, a wooden box for a table, a candle, a coloured mat, a glass of water. In spaces like these you don’t need much. There is something magical about their containment. Yurt, shed, studio, tree house, den, cabanas with rooves of leaves and a communal kitchen down the hill. Thousands of tent-dwellers are having this experience right now in fields and festivals everywhere in England, as they listen to the wind move around their small shelters like the rigging of a ship, as they step out each morning, bare feet on dewy grass. Fresh air. Sunrise. Mist. Today it feels like everything will be all right.
Half of our diseases are in our heads, and half in our houses.
That’s what Andy told me. He was reading a quote from the writer and wildlife artist, Ernest Thompson Seton who inspired the Woodcraft Folk in 1912. Seton advocated living as much as possible outdoors in tune with the elements. When Andy came down last Friday with Ollie and Antony, we walked along the windy cliff edge and jumped in the rough sea, and then we came home and talked in the tent. The boys played cards and whittled sticks. I made tea. It started to rain, and though there were five of us and it’s only a three person tent, it felt just fine.
That’s what I mean about attitude. Everything gets pared down. You do what is necessary. And that simplicity brings out the best in everyone. You feel connected to the planet and to your fellows. Most of our lives we do what is unnecessary. We work to maintain an empire that creates massively complex earth-damaging, people-damaging systems - systems of technology, systems of commerce, of psychology, of addiction, power struggles. But, like our bodies, what we really need, is neither fancy dishes with extravagant ingredients, nor junk food with a hundred additives, what we hunger for is simple fare. What we long for are picnics and campfires, blackberries and wild greens, sitting under trees, swimming in the river, walking on the earth, sleeping outside with the stars above our heads.
And maybe for the odd weekend, maybe for two weeks of the year, if we are lucky, we get to live this life we were constructed to lead. We call it holiday. But maybe it should be recognised as sanity.
If we could get a taste of that simplicity, that outdoor existence, and value it above everything, our lives would be much happier, We would be less stressed and less conflicted. But we would have to look hard at this indoor life first: these houses and our heads full of complicated nonsense – and find ways to deconstruct them. The houses are demanding and expensive. They suck up energy and time, need constant cleaning and decorating. They are full of machines that need servicing and replacing. Sometimes in our Carbon Conversations a feeling of hopelessness would come into the room. It felt out of our hands. It did our heads in. As if the lifestyle were running our lives, rather than ourselves.
Big house, big head, small world.
Last August Andy and the boys came and put their tent up in the garden and their visit sparked off an idea. Maybe there was a way we could chart this carbon cutting journey we were embarking on together (then called Transition Norwich 2.0) that would treasure all our small independent moves. This Low-Carbon Life was born. My first regular blog post (The Reality Business) in November was written from this tent. Since then, like some of my fellow bloggers, I have completed a year of reducing my carbon emissions by half. Done a cycle of Carbon Conversations. We’ve looked at electricity bills and car logs, swapped stories and useful tips. Now some of us are moving outside: we’ve started to dig gardens, chop firewood, swap vegetables and clothes, organise wholefood co-ops – working to create a culture that is stronger than the allure of the energy-sucking pleasuredome.
Where do we go from here? One thing I’ve realised: this attitude is a good place to start, where life does not feel out of our hands, or hopeless or ignoble, the place the poet calls:
A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything
We have to start where we feel things are all right. Where we are valued for what we do. Small tent, large universe.
Andy, Ollie and Mark (and Anthony) playing Go Fish in the Tent (rescued last year from Latitude Recycling point); Sustainable Bungay Summer Picnic; Mark taken by Andy at Covehithe.