Monday, 31 May 2010
I've recently joined the Bungay Community Bees project (Britain's first bee CSA) and twenty five of us converged at Gemma's in Flixton to help build frames for the new beehives in time for the arrival of the first queen bees in June.
There really was a buzz as Elinor and Gemma reported on the progress so far. As well as getting our three hives (one of them donated), two more people are already being trained up as beekeepers and there are more and more offers of land where the bees can be kept...and of course, there's the bee blog. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Eloise are going to map out all the local wild and garden bee-loving plants and trees throughout the coming year.
Then we all got down to some serious woodwork. Luckily enough we had an experienced carpenter present - I haven't done any woodwork since school - a very long time ago - and I was not good at it!
People feel very strongly about bees. And particularly now with the loss of so many colonies here and abroad. Our neighbour Julia, who we bought the first hive from, lost hers in London. Waveney Valley beekeepers are reporting losses of about a third. And even the most experienced beekeepers say there seems to be no single, simple explanation. Keeping bees and providing organic, pesticide-free land with plants that bees love (like White Clover, pictured - pink when young and later turning white) has to be one way forward. See Sustainable Bungay's website for excellent bee links and information.
Yesterday I brought along Anise Hyssop and Mexican Hyssop for Gemma and Elinor. These are two of my favourite bee plants. I talk and fuss about them so much that Charlotte can't bear it any longer so don't tell her I'm writing about them on the blog! Anise Hyssop is also called Licorice Mint and the whole plant has an amazing smell of anis or licorice as its names suggest. The leaves make great tea. Mexican Hyssop has a more minty smell and is an ingredient in herbal medicine for the heart in Mexico. They are closely related and cross-pollinate so it's best to grow them far apart - especially as bees love them both madly and visit them with great gusto when they flower - which is over a long period in the summer. The seedheads are attractive, long-lasting and smell amazing. Enough! Enough of this encomium!
But the plant of the month must be Lemon Balm. Also in the Mint family, its Latin name Melissa means honey bee. Both the smell and the tea of Lemon Balm really revive flagging spirits and cheer the heart. And bees really do love it.
Pics: Bungay Community Bees people get to grips with hives, frames and foundations, and young white clover in a bee friendly field; Anise Hyssop or Licorice Mint on either side of Mexican Evening Primrose, July
Sunday, 30 May 2010
You have to know two things to really appreciate what we were all feeling at that moment: the first is we had decided that year to only eat local fruit in season (with the exception of oranges and lemons).
The second is to taste those strawberries.
Malcolm has an organic smallholding near where Mark and I live and for the last seven years whatever the weather I’ve been going there and collecting a veg (and sometimes fruit) box. He and Eileen used to run a garage in London and made their own Transition from oil to working on this corner of sandy soil about 25 years ago. It is thanks to Malcolm and Eileen that I’ve been able to fully engage and experience what it means to eat in season. All the very good things. Like never knowing what will be in our box and every week it being a surprise. Like being fully conscious of what it takes to grow food from sowing tomato seeds to storing apples so they last until May.
We can’t grow much of our own food because we don’t own our garden, but even if we could I’d still make that journey south each week and back. Because it’s about relationship with people, as much as it is about eating delicious greens and beans. It’s about those conversations we all have week in, week out, about the land, about the weather and how the plants are doing - hearing the turtle dove in their garden when it arrives from Africa and the marigolds still flowering around the stall in the snow. What different plants are being experimented with each year: tomatillos, Cape gooseberries, new varieties of squash, Cantaloupe melons, baby turnips you can eat raw like radishes. Making that journey and seeing the hedges shift in time from white cherry plum to the red-berried hawthorn, the stall decked with Spring herbs and midwinter bay (nearly all my herbs were originally grown by Eileen: thyme, lovage, sage, salad burnet). A certain kind of loyalty you learn from this relationship people call CSA.
This kind of exchange gives you something you will never find in books or supermarkets: we can say what kind of Mexican chillies are the best to eat and how to prepare them, Malcolm can tell us how to pinch out cucumber side shoots, or when to prune a hedge (and lend us the tools to do it). That’s not internet information, that’s knowledge, hard-won by experience and a love of the material world.
Sometimes Malcolm invites us in and we have a walk around the plots: looking at the cherry orchard in blossom and the newts stirring in the ponds, the new garlic crop and inside the polytunnels where this week our kale, spring onions and courgettes have miraculously sprung. You’ve never seen such green vibrancy in one place. Soon we’ll be tasting our first new potatoes and broad beans. Oh, great joy!
You might wonder why everyone in Transition goes on so about veg. Why this month on the blog its been non-stop plants and flowers.
But you’d have to live with the poetry and rhythm of the vegetable year to know. In slow time, deep time. To decide to live a low-carbon life without all those 24/7 international consumer choices. With your heart in charge, not your head. That way you find out that in this coming month of Roses, its most lovely and fragrant fruit is flowering gloriously now in Malcolm’s garden. That, in spite of the weather, some plans conjured in the darkest of moments really do work out.
Above: inside the strawberry cage at Swallow Organics; Eileen's thyme flowering outside the door; strawberry flowers.
Saturday, 29 May 2010
Peter Harper & Dave Thorpe
The picture shows my reverse reverse alchemy installation. It takes waste and turns it into compost. In permaculture this is called linking: taking the output of one process as the input of another. I didn't want to use artificial fertilizer, since nitrogen fixation takes a lot of energy, and peak phosphate has been projected to occur around 2030. And I also didn't want to buy compost, as I "don't believe in impoverishing one part of the Earth in order to enrich another"+. So I built this outhouse out of scrap wood. It's a great place to watch the birds in the hedge and to think globally, act locally.
+Michael & Julia Guerra in: Patrick Whitefield (2004) The Earth care manual
Thursday, 27 May 2010
The reality, in this case, is that the caravans are ordinary touring vans that were towed to the site last autumn by a truck and not by the group of horses that often graze the farmer’s crops. The fire is not used for cooking but for disposing of the plastic waste from an al fresco scrap metal business that is run from the site – the fires create clouds of smoke containing highly toxic chemicals, which then drift into nearby houses. The family has 9 children and is being tolerated on the site so that the children can attend school. Clearly this is a good thing for the sake of children but the cost is that the cyclists who regularly used the path (myself included) have given up negotiating the obstructions and fending off aggressive dogs.
There is another hidden cost - the damage done to the relationship between the settled community and the authorities, who seem powerless to stop the clouds of toxic smoke or make a public right of way available to the public. In this case it seems wrong to me that one family can pollute the air and force many people to either give up biking to work or cycle much further on dangerous roads.
The real question is whether society is prepared to make space available for a small group of people to lead their own individual lifestyle and how we define what is acceptable behaviour. In a world of dwindling resources I can see conflicts over land, water and energy becoming more common. The Transition movement recognizes the need to engage with people at an emotional level and hopefully can influence how disputes are resolved between individuals, groups and even nations. Conflicts will always arise; it is how we deal with them that is important.
Somewhat less serious but quite annoying is the mole that is causing havoc in my vegetable patch! It is hunting for worms but in the process is destroying a lot of seedlings – in dry weather moles like to tunnel along a row of seedlings where the earth has been softened by watering. I’m afraid that I won’t be tolerating this uninvited visitor to my garden and will resort to putting burning rags in the runs - which stops the mole from smelling the worms and hopefully persuades him to move away.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
It was one of those days at work - I'd had a couple of tricky meetings, a report to write, a stack of emails to read through. My lunch just hadn't cut the mustard and I had a hankering for something sweet. I work in the centre of Norwich so I thought I'd pop to the supermarket and see if they had any nice cakes (obviously I planned to share the cakes with my team...)
So I found a nice cake on the shelf, and just thought I'd check out the ingredients before I took it to the checkout.
And I found, deep breath:
Mono and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids
Sodium Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids
Calcium Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids
Xantham Gum (a stabiliser)
Vegetable Glycerine (a humectant)
You what?? I can't even pronounce half of those things. And that was just in the cake sponge. The buttercream had another bunch of weird things in it. It wasn't even a "fancy" cake, just a plainish sponge. It was only 81p but I didn't buy it. I sneakily took a photo of the ingredients list on the box with my phone, and ran out, feeling like an undercover agent.
The gorgeous bun in the photo above is home-made. I didn't bake this bun, Genevieve did. Genevieve is three and a half years old.
OK, she did have help - she made a batch of them with my mum - but Genevieve cracked the eggs herself, helped weigh out the ingredients, mixed them up, and then decorated the buns once they were cool. I was pretty impressed. On the way, she learned about maths, about reading, about following instructions and working in a team. Genius.
The thing about cooking is it's so easy that anyone can do it. We started teaching the girls to cook when they were quite small - easy stuff like rice crispy cakes - and they took to it really well. They know that cooking is not playtime and they have to focus, but also that it's fun and that there's a little bit of magic involved.
Bookshop shelves are groaning with recipe books, and I've got a few myself. But, quite often, I reach for the books written for children. They're simple, well-planned and easy to follow. And you'll never find a list of ingredients in a cookbook like the one above.
You're never too old to learn how to cook. And you're never too old to enjoy making and eating jam tarts or chocolate crispies from a "Cooking for Children" cookbook!
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Monday, 24 May 2010
In 1987 I was still at school, and lucky enough to be at a school with lots of playing fields and a great number of huge and very old trees. My favourites were the oak trees, which were truly enormous and each Autumn dropped more acorns than could be easily counted.
During the Great Storm of that year, we lost many of those great trees, and, a year or so later, I got it into my head to plant an acorn as a way of replacing one of the trees that had been lost.
I went to see my biology teacher, Mr H. He was a great teacher, clever, passionate, irreverent and iconoclastic; one of those teachers whose lessons stay with you throughout your life. But, on this occasion, he shook his head and said "No" it can't be done. I can't remember the exact reasons; I'm sure they were rational and sound, based on science.
But whether it was arrogance or sheer bloody-mindedness, I decided to ignore him. I stuck four pins in the acorn and suspended it over a cut of water, the way you do if you're trying to grow an avocade from its stone, and waited for the acorn to sprout.
Four weeks later, in early December 1989, a tiny root appeared. A year later, I planted the six-inch sapling out at the bottom of Mum & Dad's garden. Twenty-one years later, the tree is probably three times taller than me, and, all being well, and if it takes after its parent, it will still be there long after I'm gone.
For me, it's become a metaphor for what can actually happen when you go ahead and do what conventional wisdom tells you cannot be done.
Which is why, despite all the deadly resistances we talked about last week, despite guilt, sloth, lack of time, denial - people telling you it can't be done - and our own conditioning, and all the many more things we could have written about - despite all these things, amazing people all over the world are doing amazing things to make the world a better place. Planting trees, raising crops, tending bees, learning skills, sharing and helping each other in all sorts of ways. It's all got to start somewhere.
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Of course we can all think of momentous shifts that actually have taken place historically, and against the odds: the ending of slavery, votes for women, the independence of India (from Britain), the fall of the Berlin wall..........but somehow these are often regarded as exceptional.
Yet there are numerous, but less well known, examples of small groups overcoming the "it can't be done" resistance. Take a household name like Oxfam. Years ago I used to go around schools in Norfolk giving talks about various Oxfam projects. With smaller kids especially, I liked to tell them the story of how Oxfam began. It goes like this:
In the thick of the second European war (in 1942), 2 very ordinary citizens of Oxford met in a house to decide to act on the plight of refugees in Greece, which at the time was occupied by Hitler's forces. They decided, these 2 people, to organise a local clothes collection, and before long a committee had been formed - small amounts of clothes were sent to occupied Greece to assist the refugees. The idea caught on, and larger and larger shipments of clothes were sent. Within 9 months, the shipments became so large that the U.K. Government's War Ministry (yes, it was called that), became worried enough to write to the group - called the 'Oxford Committee for Famine Relief' - worried that the clothing would fall into the hands of the occupying forces. Does this sound familiar?! The group persisted, and by the mid-1950s, it was sending clothes and money to several war-ravaged countries.
Fast forward to 2010, and Oxfam, as it became known, now works in over 80 countries and spends £235M a year.
I have a quotation on my desk: " People who say that it cannot be done, should not interrupt people who are doing it".
Doing it, may not lead to change, or some big organisation - but not doing it, can't possibly lead to anything (except sloth or supporting the status quo!). Put another way, saying "it can't be done" is a self-determining argument.
Doing it doesn't always lead to success, but it does always teach us new skills, makes us wiser, and above all keeps idealism alive. 'It' - the doing - can always be done.
Friday, 21 May 2010
Denial is not a river in Egypt.
It’s the first time I've come across the word. It’s not the first time I’ve come across denial of course. That’s why I’m starting with this picture from way back: because Karen, part Native American like Jamie, had a way of speaking that came directly from the heart and shook you to the core. At a farewell dinner before I broke away from my old London life, my family was chattering away in the restaurant as if nothing was happening. That’s when Karen said:
“They’re not listening. She’s out of here!”
Denial is the response to things that are happening to us we don’t like, can’t face or deal with. Our minds blank them: we minimise or project them away from ourselves. We might acknowledge the words, but not the feeling reality. This is a psychological denial. A cornerstone of childhood and addiction therapy, of 12 step programmes. Family stuff, personal stuff.
When Jamie Sams talked about denial it was within the context of the new age, during the 90s when it was widely believed that American-style inner work would turn the world around. Denial was a word bandied about like “judgement” and “transformation” and for a long time during those travelling years, I thought it signalled a wilful kind of refusal to “deal with your stuff”.
But that’s not really the reason why the people I had spent the first 36 years of my life with fell away. When I joined Transition I came to realise that denial is intricately built into our culture and that it’s social and political as much as psychological. (“People like us don’t leave the country and explore themselves”). We’re blinkered from birth by our upbringing and our education to fit what class and creed we come from and to uphold the status quo. In order for those artificial systems to work we need to dismiss a lot of contradictory evidence. Most of all we have to deny and minimise the suffering that entails. Our own humanity and the world of feeling creatures we live among.
The reason denial is a deadly resistance for Transition is that in order to shift from “oil dependency to local resilience” we need to unravel our conditioning and see the colossal difficulty we’re faced with: our home planet entering an emergency state. This is no easy matter. Our culture denies the consequences of History, of capitalism, of industrialisation at every turn. We deny the effects of our consumerism every time we shop. We leave out information, jump facts and distract ourselves with fantasies and pleasures, including the kind of spirituality that has told us that a global “shift in consciousness” is something that happens on its own keep doing the yoga. As a result we literally don’t see what is in front of our eyes. We are elsewhere in our minds.
The fact is we are all part of an empire that has been exploiting nature and other peoples for millennia and we’re facing the consequences of that domination. In order to act, we need to see, and in order to see our superior, escapist, know-it-all minds will have to cede to the kinder authority of our hearts.
Transition gives us a frame in which to switch tracks. It gives us a chance to undergo change and explore unknown territory, so long as we engage in it on a real and radical level. If we do the 12 steps and don’t think of it as another environmental pressure group, or in terms of our own vested interests. Or that life is going to continue in the same way, just with solar panels and bicycles. If we don’t deny the people in the room, our comrades in Transition. If we have the courage to feel everything that we have left out and take responsibility (that’s real responsibility, not guilt!) and drop everything we don’t need (yes that’s us, not them!), then something extraordinary might happen on this planet we call earth. Something all our relations have been waiting for. For a very, very long time.
Above: outside Tea and Sympathy in New York, 1992; Dandelion clock with dew, Suffolk, 2010.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Modern life, for all its benefits and pleasures, can sometimes feel like a rat-race. For twelve years I lived in London, commuting daily, first into the city, then out of the city, to industrial and commercial estates along the M4 hi-tech corridor. R and I rented a flat together, got a car, got a mortgage. We worked long hours. We ate out. At the weekends, we went shopping. Bought stuff.
And we never stopped. Never stood still. Looking back, that period of our lives is just a blur. What did we do with our time? It seemed we never had any. People talk about the modern symptom of being "cash-rich, time-poor". I'm not sure we were ever cash-rich, but time-poor, yep, I can relate to that.
Lack of time prevents us from doing. It can prevent us from getting involved with our communities, from sharing our time with others, from joining movements like Transition. And it can limit our ability to do what we know to be right. If I'm perpetually in a rush, it can seem like a reasonable thing to just jump in the car and zip over to Asda to get a loaf of bread. "I just don't have time to walk there," I'll tell myself. Food becomes "fast food", "convenience food", our streets becomes places we rush through to get to work, to the shops, to somewhere else, anywhere else; our neighbours just people that we wave to, briefly, as we hurry on our journey. Must dash. Gotta go. People to meet, things to do.
Modern life caters for, and perpetuates, this constant motion. Feeds it and feeds off it.
When I became a parent, I swapped one form of time-poverty for another. Parents of young children rarely get time to themselves, or even time to think. Yet, in a very real sense, my children forced me to slow down, to approach life at their pace. They're not interested in deadlines, they're only interested in the moment, and at its best, that moment is simply about being with you, playing, reading, cuddling, just being.
And so my children made me, happily, reappraise my own relationship with time. And if I can slow down, anyone can. It doesn't have to be children, of course. If there's something in your life that encourages you to slow down - a hobby, an interest, a commitment to someone else - then embrace it, and you may find your life the richer for it.
It doesn't always work out quite right. I have a demanding job, a family. I'm still very busy. I'm not as active a Transitioner as I'd like to be. But I've made the time, and made a start, like being part of this Blog. Making a positive choice to slow down allows me to take more notice of what's happening around me, make better choices, travel more lightly on the earth. Sure, I still have days where I feel like I'm a rat in the modern maze. But less often. And the quiet days, the still days, are the more precious for it.
The August 2009 edition of National Geographic had an article about the Bedouin of the Arabian peninsula. I read:
Their culture, rooted in the nomad's need for perpetual motion, values the relative luxury of stillness and calmWe could do worse than learn to do the same.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Ten years ago during a campaign to preserve the Oxford Canal, a fellow activist Emma told me she was practicing permaculture and had her own plot. It all sounded very sustainable and planet-friendly, and without asking any questions I said, "Well, I’m doing that already."
Now I may have been somewhat ecologically aware, I may have heard about permaculture, and been studying wild plants, their medicine, relationships with people etc. But I was not practising permaculture. I knew nothing about it. We didn’t speak about it again.
Our modern education gives us a very superficial knowledge of the world. But still we like to think we know it all. We want to be the One Who Knows, not the one who doesn’t. We have wikipedia knowledge for all occasions. I once asked a Polish girl working in a local restaurant what the Polish forests were like. She looked perplexed then said, "Come tomorrow after I've been to Internet and I''ll tell you all about Polish forest!"
We've read a newspaper article and we're an expert. We go on a weekend course and we're all Master composters, Reiki masters and masters of goodness knows what else. We think we've got it down. But we haven't. We think our opinions on things are more important than real experience. But they aren’t. And we don’t know what the future holds.
When I joined Transition, I realised just how much I didn’t know about Peak Oil and Climate Change. I had to immerse myself in books, films, and conversations with people who knew more than I did. I had to talk to people. And listen to them. (I finally got round to doing an Introduction to Permaculture weekend aswell).
Now I'm the one experiencing the ‘Well, I’m doing that already’ syndrome. Listening to people who say: ‘I don’t need to read the Transition Handbook,’ and ‘Transition is not a grass roots movement.'
You could call it Emma’s revenge.
On Saturday at the TN Plant Swap, Erik was explaining positive feedback in climate change to Rose and me. I became aware that the word positive here carries a quite different meaning than normal. It’s by ignoring the so-called negative responses of the planet as a result of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions that the positive feedback is set into motion. The negative response is reinforced and climate change happens.
Transition works partly because of its positive (in the usual sense) focus – you get together with people and see what can be done in the face of immense difficulties. You grow and share food, swap plants, clothes and tools, exchange skills, write blogs about life in transition. You pay attention to things you would have hitherto ignored: where your food comes from, the resilience of the transport system, social equity.
Transition requires being open to what's going on in the world rather than staying in a bubble trying to control everything and insisting that our business will go on as usual. But it won’t happen if we carry on being ignorant know-it-alls.
Pix: What Is Permaculture? From Sustainable Bungay’s Permaculture Course Jan 2010; Positive Feedback and Climate Conversation and Newspaper Potmaking at the TN Plant Swap May 2010
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Way back in the last century I used to run a Friends of the Earth group and I still have a vivid memory of people coming to meetings and their first words would be ‘You could do xxxxx’ – only rarely did someone say ‘I will do yyyyy’. There was no shortage of great ideas – enough to keep all the FOE groups in the country busy – but a great shortage of people prepared to do some legwork.
The Sloth is inactive because its food provides very little energy, humans don’t have that excuse. The problem that I see is that since the middle of the last century people have been brought up to believe that someone else will fix every problem. Politicians will sort out the state, doctors will provide a pill for every ill, someone else will pick up the litter. In many ways our quality of life has improved, people live longer and more healthy lives but we have handed control of our lives (and our diets) to the state and to global businesses.
I understand a key tenet of Transition to be that people act as individuals to make changes to their own behaviour and that the many small actions taken by individuals builds into a big wave of change. I very much agree with the tenet and I don’t think that politicians and business are going to provide the leadership that we need but I’m worried by how few people are prepared to get involved in – well, anything really. It is so much easier to sit in front of the TV, consume unhealthy things and wait for someone else to sort out the mess.
Monday, 17 May 2010
Assume that my prayers are for the planet and you get the idea
the moment i wake up before i put on my make up
is make up environmental?
but if i dont wear it i will look ill and people will not listen to my environmental message cos they will be thinking that all those hippie types always look half dead
I say a little prayer for you
while combing my hair now and wondr'ing what dress to wear now
I say a little prayer for you
well all my clothes are from clothes swapping but they are still originally from sweat shops but if I wear tie dyed hemp i dont think i will be taken seriously at work
I run for the bus dear
while riding I think of us dear
thats good, I am on a bus. But it still runs on petrol. maybe I should cycle but I cant be bothered
At work I just take time and all through my coffee break time
I say a little prayer for you
its fairtrade organic thats good but its not local but then that dandelion stuff tastes like sh*t
So what to do? Firstly I have noticed I am giving myself a hard time and the next step is to be kinder to myself and acknowledge more of the good progress I have made. This goes with the philosophy of transition which is to be positive. The most important thing is not to give up trying just because you are not yet using your home to create alternative energies that feed into the national grid!
I feel so much better now, thanks for listening. Its kind of been like the cross between CBT and a confession. I think I will have a knit now.
love to you all
Saturday, 15 May 2010
But there are some shifts nobody knows about. Because they are the shifts of our human evolution on earth. And some of us are waking up at the moment and feeling everything has changed, except we don’t know quite how to express it.
What’s strange about your life? asked Naomi one night at our Strangers’ Circle. Tully said that everything in his house had suddenly broken down and this had forced him to think about how dependent we are on stuff working and being repaired and what would happen when those services were not available anymore. I didn’t get my chance that night but later at the Low Carbon Roadshow rehearsal we picked different futures out of a hat and improvised who we were and what had happened between 2010 and 2110. Mine was Unknown Quantity. When I took the stage I found myself saying: one day people just stopped and started to do something completely different.
What I had wanted to say at the Circle was that I had noticed that a certain drive had stopped inside. And as a consequence life was feeling strange. Once there had been a great noise and now there was a kind of silence.
For thousands of years the merry go round of civilisation has whirled ceaselessly - the wheel of fortune, the wheel of karma, the wheels of commerce and capitalism. It whirls generations round in a frenzy of speed, music and colour. It seems like everything happens at that funfair: everything fashionable, interesting, important. Relinquish the wheel, advises the Buddha. Don’t linger in fairyland, warn the Ancestors. It’s all an illusion. But no one takes any notice. The pace of our lives is tempered by that glittering speed. We are compelled to go faster, bigger, buy more houses, more clothes, more holidays, more movies, more machines, more cake. If we step off the ledge for one moment we can’t wait for our next turn on that great production line.
The world is made of that speed and that drive. It is the drive of the will. The will to succeed, to overcome, to conquer. Even Transition has been party to its ambition. Partnered with the unkind reason of the mind, it is the force that has run rampage over the globe. It runs through all our lives like Alexander. We drink to keep up with it, always late, on a perpetual deadline. 24/7. We cut corners, skip facts, betray our friends, forget the green world outside the window. We are restless, never satisfied, never sure what we want, looking over our shoulder for the powerful people, to be invited to the right party, to wear the perfect suit, to walk with the gods. We fight time and nature with that drive – even Transition - with our passionate intensity, our desire to escape into all the fun and fantasy of the fair.
We are holding that drive, that inhuman artificial energy in our bodies and sometimes those bodies, those minds, break down.
And sometimes we real human beings break through. That’s a 5 Skin thing. A moment when we align ourselves with everything else on earth and powerdown. The drive stops suddenly, the way going to night-clubs once stopped. You wake up and you can’t do it anymore. It’s not that you decided to. It just happened. Sometimes this happens to individuals and sometimes it happens to a people: it happens because something else has begun to go on in the neighbourhood, something our unkind minds and ruthless wills had not considered. A harmonious way of doing things, of engaging in the world, that affects our inner and outer lives in ways we never imagined. Small bands of people coming together, swapping seedlings, sharing things, writing about everyday events, feeling at home. Focusing on the small things: on bees and walnut trees, a fiery soup and the kindness that can exist between people. Remembering what really matters about being alive on the planet.
The politics of the heart, the new government of the world.
Yesterday in Transition: Walking through the bluebell wood; Mark and Josiah (and Iris and Rueben) working on the kitchen table after lunch.
Friday, 14 May 2010
Our carbon conversation this week was about home energy and what made us choose the places we live in. Space, style, appliances. “Is it because your furniture is comfy?” asked Ann as she scoured the list in the workbook. “Oh no,” I said “My furniture is really uncomfortable. “And your bed?” “It’s horrible,” I laughed. My third skin, the house we found eight years ago, however has a conversatory and I think it was this light-filled glass room that made us decide to stay. We had pocketfuls of seeds from our travels and Mark dearly wanted to plant them – desert bluebells from California, coral beans from Mexico, sacred datura from Arizona. Moving all these years, living in cities, we had never grown anything before. The conservatory and the pots around the house became our living library. Everything we had learned about plant medicine was catalogued there. Growing plants made returning to England possible.
One thing I’ve learned from shifting from place to place: the world doesn’t change course because of reason and facts. Poets know that, which is why empires, which are built on reason and facts, hound them so. It turns around because of small unexpected things, events that remember us: soups that reawaken a desire for life, words that break open hearts that have become frozen, an ordinary house that welcomes you home down an East Anglian lane.
The Walnut Tree
This year there are some unusual leaves growing in a small pot in the conservatory and here is the story that goes behind them - a letter I wrote in September to all the Transitioners who had decided to cut their carbon emissions by half the national average over a year.
“Today I planted a walnut. I bought a stack of walnuts from a roadside stall outside Beccles. They were small but delicious and as I sat cracking and eating them on my doorstep I thought of Rob Hopkins and his walnut trees, I thought of Roger Deakin who loved walnuts and lived (and famously swam) here, and of Dr Bach whose walnut medicine is for those who are resistant to change. Amongst all these mental arguments about climate science and resilience indicators, carbon sinks and footprints, I suddenly felt I had to do something Transitional that was connected with the physical earth, something that would make sense of what we are doing and take root in the real world.
Who knows whether the seed will sprout. Who knows whether we will succeed in our venture. Whether we will be able to hold together and create a new culture. I planted the seed because I needed to make a strategic act. To do something that had beauty and meaning. Even if my small carbon-cutting enterprise goes unrecognised, this walnut would exist. I would be able look back and say, well at least I planted a tree! (a very lovely one at that).
Norwich was once a city of orchards. Around the country (including some Transition initiatives) people are mapping their neighbourhoods, planting communal orchards in vacant lots, finding trees that bear fruit. Sometimes they go out together in gleeful bands, and glean this harvest that most people do not even notice.
When the walnut grows strong I’ll plant it somewhere in my neighbourhood. Maybe one day someone will come along and say: Hey that’s that Transition Walnut Tree! Remember that time when a gang of crazy people in Norwich decided they would swim upriver against the flow, and cut their carbon for real?
If you have a moment have a look at http://www.growsheffield.com/. It could teach us some things.”
Top: conservatory, cat and Neruda's Memoirs; walnut sapling; Essential Neruda: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe 2010) published last month; wild cherry hedge and garden apple blossom.
Thursday, 13 May 2010
I think I made all my connections with people down these network of lanes where I live through the plants and trees. A few years ago we all came together to save our lanes from a development. We were all different and lived very separate lives in the way people do in England. We were the inheritors of all kinds of historical hostilities. But when we stood together in defence of the neighbourhood oaks, the bluebell woods, blackthorn hedges and moon daisy meadows all those unspoken difficulties disappeared. We still live in our differently shaped gardens, quietly behind hedges of elm and hawthorn, but there is a different feeling now between us. Everyone waves and smiles.
That’s what plants do. They bring people together. So what is happening in my garden is really my neighbour’s garden. It’s the neighbourhood garden – half cultivated, half wild – and all the exchanges that are going on there.
These are flowering redcurrant bushes in Julia’s garden next door where I have licence to pick as much as I like when they fruit. In summer we exchange greengages (from my tree), cultivated blackberries and honeycomb (from her allotment in London). Last year I decided to eat only fruit in season and with the exception of oranges and lemons, only local fruit. That’s when you notice what’s growing in the gardens as well as the wild neighbourhood – blackberries, rosehips, crab apples, plums and bullaces.
Elinor and Gemma with a Bungay Community Beehive. We just started up the first bee CSA in England. Mark bought the beehive from Julia and this Spring it’s going to house our first Transition bees http://www.sustainablebungay.com/.
Working Lane. Underneath my favourite damson tree, outside Philip’s studio where I am typing this blog. As I’m not on line at home I come here some mornings to work (as well as the library). The studio is in Philip and Irene’s garden skirted by a meadow and next to a pond, now glimmering with golden marsh marigold.
The Primroses on the bank (top pic) were taken on my way to take some tomato plants to David Moyse who grows some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. He gives me all his green ones at the end of the season and I make chutney and give him some in exchange. His grandmother used to live in my house when his grandfather was the head horseman at the local farm.
Narcissi on the windowsill. I love flowers in the house, but only buy local cut flowers or ones from my own garden. These are from Norman who has a market garden at the end of the lane and sells his vegetables in all the local shops (brilliant leeks and cauliflowers).
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
We'll be holding it at the Playhouse bar, on their pretty terrace overlooking the river. We'd love to see as many of you as possible. If you have plants to swap, bring them along. If you don't you'll still be welcome to join in, we'll just ask you for a small donation towards future Transition Norwich events.
See you there!
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Why not try visiting traveline to plan a trip there by bus?
Monday, 10 May 2010
Well yes, probably you can.
I forgot about it for a few days, then got a book out of the library and there it was: how to make pots out of newspaper.
I think they'll be much more stable once they're full of compost and plants.
For the shape to form them round, you need any straight sided object with one open end. A glass does it but feels a bit hazardous for squashing. I've used an ancient pot that used to hold mixed herbs.
Saturday, 8 May 2010
Two years ago I went with Charlotte to see the documentary What A Way To Go – Life At The End of Empire, which Sustainable Bungay were showing at the local Fisher Theatre - one of a series of films for bringing attention to peak oil and climate change. I almost left in the first half hour, feeling trapped in my seat whilst a monotonous American voice droned on about the end of the world of the American dream, accompanied by images of the mining, burning, deforesting, bombing and drilling of the earth. Something compelled me to stay, however.
The central image is of a train that’s headed for disaster, whilst the genteel passengers in smart clothes chat away and have food served to them, unaware of anything beyond the train. The solo voice of the writer-director gives way to interviews with other writers, artists, psychologists, friends and relations who all see or sense our predicament. At the end of the film, Tim Bennett walks out into the land, down to the shores of Lake Michigan in the rain, where he joins a group of people. His messages for the times ahead: build lifeboats, get to know the land in your area, the medicinal plants; find your people.
Afterwards the lights went on and Kate led a discussion, which the whole audience joined in with. No one left. Some people found the film depressing. But more than a few of us, myself included, felt liberated by it in some way. As if suddenly we weren’t on our own.
We are the people we have been waiting for.
This was my entry into Transition.
Recently I've been making what I call medicine jellies, using a basic vegetarian jelly mix and adding all sorts of herbs and fruit. Here there is peppermint, lemon balm, ground ivy, mugwort, slices of lemon and blackcurrants stored from last year. Only the lemon and the jelly mix are not from the garden.
I made the first one for Charlotte to help shift the remnants of a cold which had affected her sinuses. They taste (and smell) really good, not at all medicinal. And they're really fun to do. Just drop the chopped fresh herbs and lemon into the liquid jelly right at the beginning and stir once or twice before it sets (I use the handle of a wooden spoon). I put the (cooked and defrosted) blackcurrants in slightly later than the rest of the ingredients.
The jelly in the picture I took along to the Strangers’ Circle on Wednesday. It was a great digestive after our celebration feast. I took it as a good sign that it disappeared without trace almost before I’d put it on the table.
Talking of jellies, the picture at the top is of a jelly bag with the remains of a bunch of cleavers, which I chopped up fine and squeezed first into a bowl, then into this jar before adding some runny honey. This is called cleavers succus. A friend showed me this marvellous green medicine she'd made after the Bungay Plant Swap. When I tasted it I got so excited I had to go and make some myself. The recipe can be found in the excellent book Hedgerow Medicine. Cleavers, or clivers, or goosegrass, is a lymphatic cleanser and general tonic. It’s scrambling everywhere now in the lanes and garden. It's best used before it flowers, so now is a good time to gather and squeeze - or brew – especially as you can’t use it as a dried herb. Cleavers is related to coffee, which might explain the electric zing I get when I drink the tea or take a teaspoon of the succus.
And with that I bring my latest three day week of Transition Tales to a close. Wishing you all the best of the Maytime green.
Friday, 7 May 2010
We'd all been patiently (very patiently this year) growing our seeds for allotment and garden in homemade newspaper pots, toilet rolls and even ordinary pots. The tables were laden with vibrant healthy lettuces, currants of all colours, tree saplings, cosmos, mints, aloe vera, grasses, lemon balm, foxgloves, snowdrop bulbs, wild flower seeds, seed potatoes, cucumbers, the list goes on. And you had to be pretty quick as plants swapped hands even before they got on the tables. Especially the sturdy tomatoes which several people said they'd been having difficulty growing so far.
By the way, don't be misled by these photos into thinking only a few people came. I kept getting into plant conversations with people and forgetting to get the camera out! Here I am with Daphne, Josiah and Nick discussing the merits of 'Totem' dwarf bush tomatoes.
Burgeoning fennel with Josiah's hand and Charlotte's boots
Inside the library Gemma had set up a table of the homebaked cakes and biscuits from the cafe she runs in a local garden centre. (She also gave me an amazing chocolate cake for my birthday).
When the top of the huge tea flask got stuck and seemed set to stay that way, I turned half jokingly to David, who is a craftsman and maker and said, ‘have you got some tools round your belt to fix this?’ Actually he had, and immediately produced an impressive looking penknife he never goes out without. We laughed and I turned away to talk to someone else. Two minutes later he handed the fixed flask back to me. Then he showed me how he had done it and I can now fix seemingly irreparable tops of hot water flasks. Reskilling on the spur of the moment! And everyone could have a hot drink.
People are always talking about community in Transition and suddenly I realised: here it was! parents reading books to their children, conversations about what we might do for the honeybee and Elinor (who runs Bungay Community Bees with Gemma) said she loved the look of the datura I'd brought along, but maybe she'd wait till she was about fifty and the kids were grown before she had one at home.
As we left, Kristian, library manager and fellow plant lover, gave me a bottle of his delicious home-pressed apple juice - another birthday gift!
What also came home with us: rocket, lettuce, chives, pot marigold, lemon balm, lovely black grass and a rowan sapling
PS Don't forget Transition Norwich's own
Plant Swap on Saturday 15th May at the Playhouse.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
The food was awesome. Elena's Indian-style tomato and lentil soup with tamarind and cassia bark silenced us all, and we're not a quiet company! There was freshly baked bread, just-picked asparagus, Naomi and William's pasta bake, Tully and Angie's spinach roulade, fluffy baked potatoes and Alan's homemade cider (pure nectar). All delicious. There was more to come, but first to work.
With quick and nimble fingers, Charlotte, Elena, Tully and Naomi set about weighing rice, chick peas and lentils and packing them in old margarine tubs and used plastic bags. Dusk was falling and I darted about with the camera, trying to keep things focused and not use the flash, with varying degrees of success. I tripped up and splashed licorice tea over Elena's cushions and some of Naomi's order, which they were both extremely nonchalant about. William did the washing up, Alan checked the football results for Naomi on the internet, Tully checked the figures on the order, Charlotte and Elena poured and packed. And it was all done in about half an hour.
Back in the kitchen Charlotte raised a toast with the champagne Naomi had brought and we sang a version of Happy Birthday, which we altered on spec to include wedding anniversaries. And we ate the stunning chocolate birthday/anniversary cake Charlotte had baked all with organic ingredients, creme Chantilly and last year's blackcurrants, and decorated with local strawberries and the edible wild and garden flowers of the spring. On the top we put tiny beeswax candles with holders Angie had made on the spot out of tin foil. It was lovely. We decided to host a Transition Circles Midsummer picnic on 21st June at Mangreen in celebration of our low-carbon year in TN2. There'll be a carbon cutting quiz and Naomi will be Quizmaster! Everyone is welcome.
We also decided to look at Resilience in our next six meetings (beginning with a discussion about this key transition concept) and Tully spoke about the feasta report in respect to current non-resilient systems. Then Charlotte briefly mapped out a joint project for our low-carbon cookbook... because we couldn't stay off the topic of food for too long!
Pics: The Strangers' Circle celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and co-operative food buying; A Transition Wholefood Circle of organic rice, chick peas, lentils, peas, gluten free pasta, ring of fire chillies and a bay leaf, by Charlotte
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
'How was your day?' is a question that is often asked, but which matters more now than we think. For those of us privileged to be in the field of change and challenging business-as-usual in whatever guise, it seems that the line between work and play has all but disappeared. In the last 20 years, even conventional business wisdom has 'clicked' that employees who enjoy their jobs do the best work, make the greatest impact, and are changing the most.
I've been inspired by Godin's book as one of those which seems to affirm things I dimly knew but had stored away somewhere, and at the same time exudes confidence to all of us involved in the world of change and challenge - to lead even.
Aha! I've popped that word LEAD. I've often wondered why the 'L word' provokes such reaction - as it seems to - particularly in the world of activism, campaigning, NGOs, and volunteering. Godin says, " leadership isn't difficult, but you've been trained for years to avoid it". Sometimes scepticism about the need for leadership comes from the experience of management, and management is most often about keeping the status quo, not challenging it.
More commonly, however, I think leadership gets confused with ego. Many 'leaders' in the public domain do big egos, which furthermore seem to thrive in the limelight. We can instantly sniff this sort of thing when it appears. Authentic leadership, however, involves the opposite. Think humility and service, and think Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Eckhart Tolle.... we all have our ideal leaders.
Maybe another problem is that when we think 'leader', we think 'big', and we think 'leaders have loads of followers'. Not necessarily so. One of the traps which many NGOs and campaign groups fall into is to think 'bigger is better', and that involving more and more people will mean things get better. Also, not necessarily true. Godin's response to this comes in a great little piece called 'Most People Don't Matter So Much'. It goes like this:
Most people work hard to fit in so other's don't notice
Most people want the world to stay as it is, but calmer
Most people are afraid
Most people didn't use Google until last year
Most people aren't curious
You're not most people
Not only aren't leaders most people, but the members of the most tribes aren't most people either
Most people are really good at ignoring new trends or big ideas
You can worry about most people all day, but...they're not worried about you - they can't hear you, no matter how hard you yell.
Almost all the growth that's available to you exists when you aren't like most people and when you appeal to folks who aren't most people.
Hmmmm.... so I'll sign off there on that note..... and ponder at the end of the day, how it was.
Monday, 3 May 2010
I've been eating rhubarb from the garden for 3 weeks now - and shared some with people at the TN meeting last Monday - but it is a big moment when the first 'proper' food of the new season appears. Something that we can easily miss in this age of global food production.
Saturday, 1 May 2010
Happy May Day everyone! I'm just back from the woods shimmering with new bluebells and there I found the pond which was covered in one of England's shyest and rarest flowers -the water violet. It was raining quietly and then the sun burst through the hazel and hornbeam trees All the birds were singing - blackbird, wren, thrush, robin. The bittern was booming in the marshes. Cows lowing in the village. Today the world is green, green, green and there are flowers everywhere.
The most revolutionary thing in a black and white world is to go for the rainbow - to bring in as many colours as you can into your house, as much beauty as you can into the hardness of the streets, as much harmony within the discord, as much laughter in a dark time.
Deep purple: pasque flower; True blue: emerging bluebells; sky blue: forget me not
Here's that extract . . .
"Venus, the earth’s mysterious sister, appears in the morning and evening, shining brilliantly in the sky during the month of May. You cannot look at her directly, as her surface is veiled by cloud. The veil hides a planet of volcanoes. No man or machine can land on her fiery body without being blown apart. In the painting Venus appears out of the sea, naked, balanced on the half-shell. You gaze into her pale vacant face and fall at her feet in adoration. But this is a manufactured Venus. The real Venus is active and fiery, not static and pale. When she comes naked into the world she brings revolution and May day parades, she does not bring consent. When you work with the wild flowers that emanate her presence in the month of May you know that artificial glamour has no power of itself. It is an object that can be worshsipped and possessed. Real beauty cannot be possessed. It can only be beheld. And only those whose hearts can match its fiery revolutionary nature can really know the love for which Venus is also famed.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees
Going green: green goddess; arum on the marsh track; unfurling horse chestnut bud
Beauty emanates the high frequency you feel in all living things. It arrives suddenly, unexpected; in the high intensity of a butterfly wing as it brushes past, in the startling presence of the quince outside the window, the perfume of a jasmine flower at dusk. It is almost oppressive that moment, unbearable as if this colour, this scent were pushing all the unkind things within your being out into the light. The frequency Venus brings has dramatic transformative powers. Sometimes you turn away from that kind of beauty. But if you hold that moment you undergo a kind of alchemy, as you shift from the base mindset of the world into the high frequency of the heart. This alchemy begins by pressurising the lowest elements down into their base material, forcing the beast out of the matter. Once Venus has forced everything ugly out of its hiding place, it can go about its radical make-over.
While the planet, regardless, keeps pushing up more and more radical beauty each spring."
Keep weaving that rainbow!
Radical Red: geranium flower by the conservatory glass door; mossy stonecrop, the tiniest flower in England on heathland