Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The third thing

What I love best of all to do on a beautiful Summer's evening is to go to Transition meetings of course.

Oh no, it's not. But that's what I've done tonight so I'm rather tired and short of time, so a very quick blog tonight: Picnics.

Picnics are one of the best things in the world. Go have one.


Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Beaches


Where's the sunshine gone? I line up a '3 things to do in the sunshine' blog, and the sun disappears on day 2.

Ah well, if the sun does shine again this summer, my next suggestion is to get yourself to a beautiful Norfolk beach and spend a day thoroughly relaxing. Take a book, a camera, a friend, whatever makes your day perfect.

Try Traveline East Anglia to find out how to get to the beach of your choice by public transport- or fill a car full of friends: that's pretty low carbon too.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Things I like to do in Summer

You know those dreadful books? The ones called things like 1001 Places You MUST Visit Before You Die, or 1001 Wildlife Spectacles To See Before You Die, or the slightly more sinister sounding 1001 Escapes to Experience Before You Die. I really hate those books. As if the one thing that will really improve our lives is another to do list.


And I hate that they reduce the wonder of the world to yet another thing that needs to be 'done', that can be 'done'. The world deserves more than that. I've never picked one up, but I'd be surprised if they mention at all the ethical dilemmas of travelling to any of these places. I don't think even the wildlife ones will talk about the carbon footprint of flying, nor the increased extinction rate that will result from global warming. If they did, they'd probably still make the books, but just re-title them 1001 Wildlife Spectacles To See Before They Die.

So, my posts this week will celebrate the coming of the Summer and show you the things I do to squeeze every drop of joy from the most glorious of seasons: not 3 Things You Must Do Before The Swallows Fly, just 3 things I like to do.

First up is appreciating flowers. Every roadside, park and hedge is full of flowers at this time of year. How many times do we pass them with the most cursory of glances, on our way to somewhere else- thinking of somewhere else. So I try to make the effort to stop and really look at them. Admire the intricacy, be baffled by the biology. One of the things I will be sure to do, sometime in early summer, is to find a dog rose and spend some time really looking at it. It's surely the most perfect of flowers, complete in its simplicity.

The dreadfully overused phrase 'Stop and smell the flowers' isn't really talking about flowers, I know, but maybe it should be. My life (and my summer) is certainly improved by paying attention to small and beautiful things, and where better to start than flowers?

As the golfer Walter Hagen put it:

You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry. Don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Zero Carbon to Copenhagen

I was in a state of despair about climate change. All the science said we needed an extremely rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to avoid it spiralling out of control in a runaway greenhouse effect. We have never made such a fundamental transition in society before.

Or have we? War! That is the key. America made its first tank seven months after Pearl Harbour. We can do the same again, only making wind turbines instead of weapons. Nothing stops us from making the transition except lack of political will.

The first edition of the Zero Carbon Britain report detailing how we could go zero carbon in 20 years was published by the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2007, and that year, at their members' weekend, I asked Zero Carbon Britain project director Paul Allen if we could do it quicker than 20 years. His reply - yes we could, but the public wouldn't accept it 'because climate change isn't as visible a threat as Hitler'.

So, how do we make it visible, and how do we get across the idea that we need a new world war, a war on climate change? Then I heard a report on the evacuation from Dunkirk on the radio - the flotilla of little ships which crossed the North Sea and picked up the British army from the > beaches of Belgium in the darkest days of the second world war, a war we eventually went on to win. It's the sort of inspiration we need (though it might not exactly enthuse peace campaigners, and, as the German Green MEP Sven Giegold said when I explained it to him "This will not go down well in Germany!").

So, the idea of the zero carbon caravan was born - groups of people would travel to the Copenhagen climate summit - our last chance to prevent runaway climate change - without using any fossil fuels, cycling on land, and sailing in a flotilla reminiscent of Dunkirk over the sea to Europe. Tall ships would bring people from all over the world, from America, Australia, New Zealand. Thousands of cyclists from all over Europe would converge on Copenhagen. On the way they would collect information on how to go zero carbon to present to the delegates at the climate summit. Worldwide media coverage would have the delegates trembling, millions of people the world over would be demanding they sign a treaty which would save the world from climate catastrophe ...

Well, we all know what happened. Copenhagen was a disaster. But I did make it there, (starting in Wales on August 14th, finishing in Copenhagen on December 5th) though not with the army of people I had imagined, and I didn't get nearly as much media coverage as I hoped for. But I did get on TV three times, and had a few radio interviews, and got in lots of local papers. And I visited some really interesting and inspiring examples of the things people can do to get closer to the > zero carbon living which is both possible and preferable. And I did manage to collect these examples together and put them on a couple of datasticks, one of which I presented to Ingrid Nestle, the German Green Party MPs' spokesperson on energy economics, and the other to Colin Challen, who was at the time an MP and chair of the All Party > Parliamentary Climate Change Group (sadly, he didn't stand at the last general election, because the constituency boundaries in Leeds were redrawn and they lost a constituency, and he lost out to Ed Balls in the Labour Party selection for the seat).

Lastly, I met a truly amazing person called Kim Nguyen, who made my > journey from Wales look insignificant, as he cycled all the way from Australia http://www.rideplanetearth.org/. Not only that, he managed to organise rides all over the world just before the climate summit. And this year we are working together, organising rides all over the world, finishing with zero carbon concerts, to show both people and politicians that, not only is a zero carbon world possible, it's also much more fun - the people stopping it are those with vested interests in the fossil fuel industry, and it's time we took them on.

We're also working with 350 http://www.350.org/(who are campaigning for an > eventual carbon dioxide concentration of 350 ppm maximum) and 10:10 http://www.1010global.org/ (who made The Age of Stupid, and are now campaigning to get people to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010), joining in the Global Work Party carrying out practical actions to cut carbon emissions by starting preparations for the zero carbon concert events, doing things like building bicycle generators. So, if anyone from Transition Norwich wants to join in, please get in touch by visiting http://www.zerocarbonconcert.org/. And spread the word to everyone you know. Because maybe, just maybe, we can still rescue the world from runaway climate change, and it isn't too late after all.

Chris Keene

En route to Copenhagen: Klimahaus at night and with students, 6 November 2009.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Let's Hear it for Pedal Power!

Hello, I’m Tom Foxe, and my cycling travels haven’t taken me very far yet - holidays along the coast of Holland, in Southern Ireland and the Isle of Man. Mostly I cycle to and from work in Norwich, about 5 miles a day. I became interested in bike-powered gennies (short for generator) about 10 years ago, through the internet. There are dozens of bike genny sites and lots of clips on Youtube.

My first genny was the hub of a Rutland wind generator, the white disc behind the bike above. It powered a 12 volt sound system. A battery kept the system going while riders changed over, and when people pedalled, the genny kept the battery charged. Most people generate about 50 watts easily. This will run a 100 watt sound system at medium power.

The first (2003) Human Dynamo system was very basic – microphones + mixer + keyboard amplifier, but it sounded great and people loved pedalling the bike to power the system.

The folk group Seize the Day played in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich last Summer using the improved Human Dynamo system. We used good quality P.A. speakers and it worked so well, some people asked if we could please turn the volume down? We obliged of course.

People have asked me how a bike genny compares with mains electricity, and what can be powered by it? A one-person genny can only be used in limited situations, and cannot compare with mains electricity power-wise. In a recent TV programme the makers showed that to boil just one electric kettle (typically 2,500 watts) it took 30 or 40 people pedalling to produce enough electricity!

So what good IS a bike genny ? Well, being limited, it makes us think about using less – smaller and more efficient devices, and switching things OFF when not needed. This is a useful mindset to develop as Earth’s oil supply runs out. They now make powerful LED stage lights and Data Projectors which use 1/3 the energy of filament lamps and last many times longer. As oil runs out, unreliable mains power supply is very likely, so a backup system of batteries and bike gennies will be very useful. It will allow us to power some lights and also some important audio-visual devices independently of mains electricity, at least for as long as someone is able & willing to pedal!

Also, because of the dangers of mains electricity, outdoor public events using mains power have more red tape involved and insurance cover is more expensive. For these events, low voltage systems are much safer, cheaper and less hassle.
Having attended a bike genny workshop in May, I found there is a big demand for them - it was booked out 6 months in advance and people came from far afield, many from Transition Towns. It was a great workshop, but a no. of people doubted if they would actually get around to building their own genny afterwards.

So I decided to run a workshop in Norwich, where people will build and take away their own genny. As a bike lover, ex-electrician and electronics engineer I feel well placed to deliver this workshop, which will focus on Safety, Building the Genny and Applications.

The non-profit workshop, 1-5 p.m. Sat. 25th September 2010 in Norwich, provides a new Turbo Trainer, 250 watt generator, 12 volt battery and other parts, and costs £120 (significant reduction possible for cyclists with own turbo trainer) . For comparison, a commercial pedal genny, the Gazelle costs £100 and produces just 15 watts. There are 12 places, no special skills/knowledge needed. Mail tom7railway@yahoo.co.uk for full details.

The workshop will be followed by a Pedal Power Party (6-9 p.m.) to which Transition Norwich people and others are invited. This will feature pedal-powered lighting, cinema, live entertainment and that rare creature, a disco that doesn’t hurt your ears!

Tom Foxe

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Journeys

So, a journey. By bicycle. I'd known for a while I was down to blog on this subject, and as today approached I became gradually more and more desperate. Because, truth to tell, I've barely cycled at all this year, despite all my best intentions. Somehow there's never been quite enough time, or I've had too much to carry, or I've not quite felt like it, or...
There's always been something I could point to as a reason not to cycle.
But this week is National Bike Week; and my Bicycle Bonus pack arrived on Saturday. And I was given a pair of snazzy new bike lights and a book titled 'Cycling to work for beginners' at a cycling stall on Pottergate by a man who said "Hopefully these will help you get back on your bike again". And I was due to blog about cycling just this Thursday and -suddenly- the sun started shining.
All of a sudden I had more reasons to cycle than not to.


So on Tuesday I hesitantly got out my bicycle and wobbled off down the road.
A whole mile, to the nearest park and ride. Not much of a journey. But as I cycled past fields of barley- turned from mostly green to mostly golden in just the last week and gloried in the feel of the wind in my face like a dog at a car window, I remembered how much I enjoy cycling.
Today I looked at my work appointments, carefully studied google maps, equally carefully avoided checking the weather forecast, and set off.
I tussled with big scary roundabouts, abused pedestrian crossings (but not pedestrians), flew joyfully down the near vertical cliff of Carrow Hill (Oh no, not Carrow Hill, that's a one way street and would be terribly irresponsible. It must have been some other nearby hill) and then paid for it on the grindingly dramatic ascent of Harvey Lane (OK, so I got off and pushed).
I arrived at work sweatily triumphant and 15 minutes early.
My next trip was to Hellesdon, I chose a route through Mousehold that looked pretty, and proved to be a wonderful cycle path: a road that had been closed to traffic for the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians. I didn't realise such things existed; clearly I must study my cycling map of Norwich more closely.
Then, home. Via the UEA for pleasant cycling on quiet roads.
That all adds up to 17 miles cycling today- a real journey. And my panniers are packed ready for tomorrow.



View Larger Map

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

What's the time? It's Bicycle Bonus time!

Hello, my name is Matt and I have never blogged before. Now confession over, its time to talk bicycles! It is midway through National Bike Week as hopefully by now you will know.

I hope that many of you were aware of this year's events in Norwich- and that you have/will take advantage of the FREE breakfast on offer at the Forum courtesy of the Energy Saving Trust this morning. Organic cakes from the Greenhouse, organic fruit from Rob on his market stall and tea/coffee from Marzanos. If thats not worth cycling for I dont know what is!?

Well... how about a city wide discount scheme for cyclists? OK then lets do that as well! Or at least we will try to. The Bicycle Bonus reward scheme is a joint initiative with Norfolk County Council and it aims to reward those already cycling and encourage others to give it a go. When registered, cyclists will received a Norwich Green Travel map and a branded hi viz 'slap wrap' which they will need to show to participating businesses to receive a discount. You should be able to spot said businesses as they will be displaying a bicycle wheel window sticker. To find out more about the scheme please visit www..facebook.com/bicyclebonus where you can find links to register and check out the latest businesses to join in. Also, if you are on facebook please 'like us'- put your thumbs up to us and share it with friends. And if you know of any businesses that would like to participate all they need to do is register here... www.surveymonkey.com/s/bicyclebonusbusiness

I think cycling is the best way for getting from A to B, especially around the city centre- so quick and easy to park! And of course there are the financial benefits too. But many people also use cycling as a mode of transport to go further a field. To make this blog more interactive I would be interested in hearing where people have cycled to! Where is the furthest place you have cycled to? Where is the most amazing place you have cycled to? I am planning on cycling around Eastern Europe and Scandinavia later in the summer- I would appreciate any advice!!

All my bikes x

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Cycle paths - why we need them

I recently signed up for the Bicycle Bonus and was pleased to receive a free map of Norwich cycle paths and a snap band that gets me a discount when I cycle to some shops. This is a great initiative and hopefully it will encourage more people to get on their bikes to go shopping. I live in Little Melton and I can reach the centre of Norwich in 35 mins, which can be quicker than using the car at peak times – the great thing is that I can then park for free and wiz around the centre of Norwich. A couple of good panniers will take as much shopping as I can carry. I have to confess to a smug feeling as I shoot down the Chaplefield underpass and see that the car park sign is showing everywhere FULL and there is a massive queue to get into the multi-storey on the opposite side.

So why don’t I see more cyclists on my trip into Norwich? Well a quick look at my new map shows that there are few off road paths and my own route includes a section on Hethersett Lane that is described as ‘on road, useful part of the cycle network that is generally unprotected’ – my own description would be ‘dangerous, narrow road with cars doing well in excess of 60mph, deep potholes where the cyclists ride and branches intruding into the road’. I cycled this road last night on the way to the TN Solstice party and had an unpleasantly close experience with a car doing about 80 mph. I can’t see any measures that have been taken to make this road cyclist friendly.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to promote a cycle path to connect the NRP area to Hethersett, where a lot of the workers live. We have proved there is a demand and everyone agrees that it ticks the right boxes for getting people out of cars. Bikes really are the ideal solution for commutes of less than 5 miles and I look forward to people putting pressure on politicians to divert the relatively small sums required to provide cycle paths from the massive roads budget. Cyclists have to become the first class of road users – not consigned to the potholed edges.

Here is a pic of my bike, twenty years old and good for another twenty with the help of some replacement bits every few years. The lights run off a big rechargeable battery and make it really fun to go out round the lanes after dark and hear the owls and other nocturnal animals.

Happy cycling to all - (The Police and Dr Bike will be at outside the outpatients building at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on Thursday 24th June between 1pm and 3pm for free safety checks and bike security marking.)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Wheels of Fire

4.38am sunrise on the sunrise coast, East Anglia. The sky is banked up with cloud yet the light has a presence that is palpable. It emanates over dawn-coloured water, pulsing on the horizon. We stand at the tide-line and sense its unmistakable appearance. All over England today people have climbed hills and beacons and tors, lit fires through the night and waited for this moment. We can’t see the sun but we know it’s there. Not because we have clocks but because we can feel it with our bodies.

It’s a short journey to the sea from my house, about 2 miles, and the most frequent journey I make on my bike. When you’re cutting carbon, this is the kind of journey that represents a typical Transition decision: two wheels or four? It’s so easy to take the car and not to cycle or walk into town (30 minutes). But of course every time you do, you encounter the life of the neighbourhood and the earth all around you: sounds, scents, colour, people, creatures, insects, trees. Every time you experience your own vigour: the life force that lives coiled up in your cells, that hums through your blood, your breath, the strength of your form, your sense of balance. Reconnect with the fire that burns within, that infinite light. Everything in fact that makes you want to be alive, to know the world immediately, directly.

This morning we had the whole world (and the roads) to ourselves: the scent of elderflowers and wild rose in the lane, mock orange as we sped by the sleeping houses, fennel in the dunes, the purple opium poppies in the allotments, red sorrel on the Common, wrens singing in gardens, larks over the marshes, the slow roar of the invisible sea before the dunes, and then the hugeness of sea and sky

It’s a fast moment, the moment of summer solstice but suddenly it’s as if the year opens out and everything expands towards an infinite horizon. You think it’s going to dip down like one of those peak oil/finanacial downturn graphs, but it doesn’t. It broadens out. It’s no longer the young dappled summer of the woods and green meadows. It’s the high golden summer of the seashore and the waterlands. Soon I’ll be making this journey with my thermos and swimming towel. Three months of cycling down and watching the sun come up over the horizon. And everywhere people half naked and happily immersed in the physical elements of sun, sea and sand. The summer of summer holidays.

I got a blue bike for my birthday when I was eight years old. And I loved it in the manner of all children, because it meant independence and freedom. I was an acrobatic child, climbed trees and scaffolding and rooftops, somersaulted over gates, jumped stairs and spent hours inventing balletic bicycle routines in the street where I lived in the city. Something of that physical ease and happiness I kept with me all my life and even now I like the reckless feeling of going downhill, or swerving corners, one finger on the handlebar. And all bikes I’ve owned have been blue ever since.

Last week I went to see Barry to get my brakes fixed. I had been using an innovative stopping technique with my feet and was wearing out my shoes. I was thinking about getting another bike. Barry showed me a vintage Raleigh that had just come in. It was beautifully made and in pristine condition - stainless steel wheels, dark forest green with a basket and a bell. A classic shape, but rather slow looking. He mentioned a price. It was a bargain. I hesitated.

“Not exactly a BMW,” I said (Barry once sold us his very beautiful scarlet and chrome E reg in the days before we discovered peak oil).
“A Rolls Royce,” he pronounced.

It was a lovely machine, but when I tried it out down the sandy track by the garage something heavy and depressing came over me. It seemed to take an age to turn a corner. And then I realised: it was an old lady’s bike. I had visions of bowling sedately along the seafront with long skirts and cardigan, and I shuddered. And even though it was my 54th birthday yesterday I couldn’t quite do that sit-up-and-beg thing.

“I’m just a drop handlebar kind of girl,” I told him.
“Head down, bum in the air,” he said.
“Something like that,” I laughed. And sprang happily back on my second hand 5-speed Sun bike, terminally rusty from an encounter with the sea waves. Without a helmet, without a care.

Summer solstice: sunrise on the beach at Southwold; rock rose fire; solstice bonfire at Barsham, by Mark Watson

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A minor U-turn

I never used to be a very big fan of cycling. The infrequent family cycle rides that we used to go on were always too much hard work to be enjoyable and the sensation of having a car passing so fast and near while you are unprotected was not one I enjoyed. Walking was much more my forte and the travel mode of choice (although not necessarily practical for village life). However, I was still aware of the fact that the bike was generally a good idea, especially as my eco-awareness increased throughout my schooling. But it was not until my second year at university when I was suddenly living 40 minutes walk from university and the bus, although frequent, had queues so long that it took just as long to get in - cycling suddenly became the best option. This daily 10 minute cycle through every weather condition nature could throw at me on my beautiful old 3-speed road bike from Norwich Freecycle (now Freegle) slowly built up my cycling muscles and instilled in me a love (adoration even) of travelling by bike. The transformation is so complete that my summer now holds an epic cycling adventure!

Organised by the charity The Otesha Project (http://www.otesha.org.uk/) I will be joining 17 other volunteers to cycle the length of the country (Lands End to John O'Groats) stopping along the way at schools and youth groups to teach them about sustainability through plays and workshops. We will be living and breathing bicycles and carrying our lives on them for two months. Living communally, cooking local, low carbon food garnered on the way and sleeping in tents, school halls, village halls and anywhere else that will accept 17 slightly dishevelled and eccentric cyclists - It is going to be amazing!

I acquired a second-hand touring bike (fittingly also hand built in England) from Gumtree to carry me on my travels and have been discovering the new joys of long(er) distance cycling. The freedom and exhilaration of setting off into the Norfolk countryside with my trusty cycle map and properly discovering the beauty and quirks of this county that I am making my home is unbeatable. As is the sense of achievement, satisfaction and moral worthiness (!) I felt from getting the train to Cambridge and then cycling the 60 miles home for my mums birthday, rather than getting the train all the way into London and out - even if it was a bit of a challenge after a weekend of climbing mountains in the Lake district! I very much hope to be able to do more of my long distance travel by this method in the future and I'm definitely going to be getting in the practice this summer!

As well as my personal cycling experiences and plans I also wanted to share my favourite bicycle facts about their amazing efficiency. Bicycles are more efficient in terms of distance travelled for energy input than any other man made machine or animal. They are 3-4x faster than walking and use 5x less energy! (Ivan Illich, contemporary philosopher) Bicycles are also the fastest mode of transport.

Rubbish, I hear you say. Well consider the amount of time that you spend earning the money to pay for your petrol/ car insurance/ train ticket/ bus fare that you could save by travelling gratis by pedal power. Now if only economics worked on this kind of common sense logic (derived from permaculture you won't be surprised to hear).

For more bicycle facts and sustainable travel sense I would like to recommend the transport section of the amazing Otesha handbook - the ultimate guide to greening your life. http://www.otesha.org.uk/25/the-otesha-book/about-the-book.html

I will be writing some blog updates about my cycling adventures so do stay tuned.

And here is wishing you peace and bicycle grease. May all your rides be puncture free and your gradients downhill.

Photos from the top: my lovely 3-speed bike leant up against my favourite tree; cycling through picturesque Woodbastwick; Off-roading through the dunes North of Yarmouth.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Vehicle of Revolution?

'Is the bicycle a natural cycle, or a vehicle of revolution?' So ran the slogan on a London Cycling Campaign badge in the 1970s.

I'd say its both.

I'd even say as an invention, the bicycle revolutionised personal transport in Europe to a greater degree than the horse. In 1950s Britain, over 55% of people travelled to work by bike. Today, according to the last Census, it is about 4%. In Holland a much healthier 30% or so of people use the bike to get to and from work.

The bicycle is cheap, simple, easy to maintain, long-lasting, zero-carbon on running ( except the methane from the rider), and keeps you fit and happy - all the ingredients of a tool for transition!

I got my first proper bike at the age of 13, and promptly went off on long rides in London without a thought. The sense of freedom and independence for me was more exhilarating than when I passed my driving test at double that age.

The car - my car - nearly took over in my late 20s, but some seed of the romance, practicality and simplicity of the bicycle had been implanted in me, and I never lost it.

A wonderful book then came my way, which really helped germinate that seed, to the extent that you'd now be forgiven for thinking I am rather addicted to bikes and cycling. The book was 'Richard's Bicycle Book', by Richard Ballantyne, and it is now on something like its 35th year and 14th edition - it isn't described as the "cyclists' bible" for nothing. First written long before green or eco credentials became trendy, this book extolled the virtues of cycling in all its forms at a time when the motor car was god, and sophistication rather than simplicity was king.

Ballantyne in his book somehow encapsulated the cyclist's psyche, as well as giving sound advice on handling traffic and aggressive car drivers ( and dogs).

Nowadays, I admit to owning 4 bicycles, and no cars. I think I am probably addicted to cycling in the sense that I feel lethargic and irritable if I spend longer than 4 days off my bike. I can think of worse addictions though.

In modern cities the bike is easily the quickest way to get around, and fortunately those marketing guys seem to have come up with some practical and smart ways of carrying stuff on a bike, without arriving at a meeting looking like you have just arrived from Betelgeuse 5.

Of course there are huge challenges to getting cities like our own Norwich much more cycle-friendly - the most obvious of these being more segregated cycle paths, lower speed limits, more car-free zones, and a lot more driver education on shared use of roads and courtesy to other road users ( cyclists and pedestrians). I'll leave these crunchy issues for later writers on this special week of the bicycle.

And... look forward to hearing more bike stories to inspire us all to get onto the streets of Norwich and the lanes of Norfolk by bike.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Doodle Power: scribbling your way into awareness

As this is my first ever post I will start with a brief introduction. I have just graduated from UEA studying environmental science and alongside my studies I am an active member of TN, involved in everything from carbon conversations groups to organising the reskilling sessions - more on them in the future I am sure.

But today I would like to talk to you about doodling.

It all started in May with a monthly challenge in the Otesha project newsletter (more about this on Sunday). They took their inspiration from this committed consumer's plan for cutting down (http://www.obsessiveconsumption.typepad.com/) and challenged everyone to draw everything that they bought for a month - everything from rent to bills to food shopping to underwear - draw it all!

Now being in the middle of exam revision this seemed like a brilliant opportunity for procrastination! So I decided to take up the challenge. These are some photos of my doodlings. I managed to keep it up for the whole month (and I'm still doing it) and it was a bit of revelation. Not only did it give me an excuse to unleash my creative side on a regular basis it was also very powerful to actually see on the page in front of me everything that I had bought. I am tempted to make excuses about the amount of snacks and alcohol on there being down to exam stress - which they are! - and all the bicycle equipment this month being necessary for my epic adventure this summer (update on Sunday), but I've realised that this isn't really the point! I can justify my consumption anyway I want, but until I can look at my doodles of a month's purchases and not feel slightly disturbed by what is on there I can't fool myself into believing that I'm happy with it and don't want to change it.

There are some drawbacks. I felt a bit like cheating to ignore all of the things that I 'consumed' but didnt pay money for, whether exchanged or given to me etc - but including those starts to get complicated so it is a useful beginning. And it can be quite challenging to work out how to draw some things, but I like a challenge.

I have found this process of drawing everything I buy actually helps me to change my consumption as well making me aware of it (it is truly a wonderous thing!), as it makes me reflect on every purchase that I have made and whether I would go about it differently next time. So having extolled its virtues I now challenge you to try drawing all that you spend money on for a month and see what you discover - drawing ability irrelevant as you don't have to show it to anyone!

The results of the Otesha challenge can be perused here (http://blog.otesha.org.uk/238/money/you-buy-it-you-draw-it.html)

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Stoneleigh Effect

On the red wall in the old students’ union there were sign-up lists for all the workshops – Zero Carbon Farm, Tales for Transition, Community Ownership of Assets, Wild Zones, DIY streets... One at the end was covered in signatures. The title was Making Sense of the Financial Crisis in the Era of Peak Oil.

Nicole Foss writes under the name Stoneleigh on the influential blog, The Automatic Earth. Unlike most disciplines which only look at their subject on its own terms, Stoneleigh looks at the Big Picture, and the Big Picture in 2010 from the financial and resource perspective is looking none too good. In fact it became obvious through this intense one and a half hour lecture that we are facing a meltdown, within which the financial collapse (already set in motion in 2008) is the defining event. This is because finanical markets move far more quickly than resource markets. They change in the speed of an email or a phone call. Fear spreads like contagion and positive feedback is the rule.

The graphs came and went. The patterns of deflation were spelled out. Bubbles burst through the centuries, pyramids collapsed. With fossil fuels the bubble has expanded like never before in history. 1600 trillion dollars of virtual money in 30 years. For every slice of financial cake that exists there are now one hundred claims. Because these expansions are built, as Stoneleigh pointed out, not on the reality of wealth, but on a perception of money. At some point the spell breaks. We are running off a cliff and our legs are still working, but very soon we’re going to look down and realise there is nothing to hold us up. We fall bigtime.

We looked at the screen: credit disppearing, affordability decreasing, house prices going down, prices for essentials going up. People hoarding and the lack of lubricant money halting the interactive flow of goods and services. What do we need to do now? Stoneleigh advises us: look at your structural dependency, deal with debt, and make relationships you can trust. In effect, be part of Transition.

The lecture hall was packed and everyone sat in a stunned kind of silence. Afterwards we reeled out to a second leg of Open Space and after lunch the next day entered a Big Group Process in the Great Hall. It was a new Transition experiment. We gathered into our “home groups” (groups of eight people formed at the Mapping of the initiatives at the start of the conference) and looked collectively into the future. We explored what we felt would happen in one year’s time, then five, then ten. We closed our eyes and put ourselves in a frame to see what would lie ahead, as Sophy asked questions. What does it mean we are so much in debt? What are our feelings about what is coming? Then we discussed the matter between ourselves and drew our thoughts in images and words. At the end we held up our sheets of paper in a living gallery. 2011, 2015, 2020. Everywhere there was a split between breakdown and breakthrough, fall and transcendence. In amongst the dark scribbling emerged butterflies and the phoenix. Through the dualities of hope and despair, the good ship Transition sailed on towards the future.

The Stoneleigh effect rippled through the weekend. It was the most talked about event. Not because most of us are unaware that things were going to change radically, but because the reality of the figures made the reality of what we might experience come home to everyone in the room.

Transition is well known for its positive outlook, for the fact it sees an opportunity for living very differently on the planet as fossil fuels become scarce and costly. It deliberately steers a different course of activism from environmental or social protest against the old powers; it does not encourage endtimes glee, the mind's arrogant dismissal of life. It works very hard to make new connections between human beings, to forge resilient communities, to enter the field of possibilities rather than follow a trajectory that we have been trained to see is the only way. But the fact is none of this can happen without the old structures that hold that trajectory in place breaking up.

You don’t get to the butterfly without the caterpillar dissolving. And that dissolve is what we were looking at in the Stoneleigh graphs as they dipped. It was the pattern of collapse of a civilisation.

Resilience, the key concept of Transition, is the ability to weather shock, to adapt and still thrive. This is the kind of unexpected shock we will have to weather, as Sophy explained later. The lecture was a last minute addition to the programme and interrupted the Open Space sessons; it sent people reeling and some to sit for hours in circles talking about their experiences. It influenced the way we thought, what was discussed around the tables, under trees, at the bar. But in many ways it was a relief, we didn’t have to be Pollyannas anymore. It was OK to talk about the difficulties we will face. Because it was clear we were all going to face them. That made a difference. Because instead of being alone, we will be together.

That evening I went swimming with Adrienne. There were five of us and we met up in the canteen in the self-organising style of the conference. The river Dart runs through a wooded valley, free flowing, tan-coloured with dark mossy rocks on either side. We went down a track through the trees and jumped naked into the cold wild water and swam together upsteam, and then floated back with the current. The sun spiralled through the green leaves and I remembered a long, long time ago a moment in Australia: a boy had fallen into the rainforest pool from the cliff and I was beside him waiting for the shock to subside and a turtle swam by and I heard the wind blow through the gum trees and looked up and saw a group of men, women and children standing naked in the water, in complete syncronicity with everything around them and there was a peace and a silence between us that seemed to stretch to infinity and I realised I was looking at the future.

Because who knows what happens when we take off our clothes, divest ourselves of our caterpillar lives, what butterflies we might become? Who could predict that I would have met Adrienne again after 25 years and that we had so many deep and shared experiences to talk about in a way that we could never have known in our careless city youth? What underlying pattern brought us together, connected the totem bird of the Conference, a fledging jackdaw with the fledging jackdaws I wrote about in the blog before I came? What patterns of strength do we find within us when the shock subsides, what depth of feeling, what intelligence and skill arises when other possibilites lie ahead?

What wings do we discover when we look down and see there is only space beneath us?

STOP PRESS! Nicole Foss coming to Norwich on 25 March 2011. Further details are here.

Photos: Sophy introducing the conference in the Great Hall (Ed Mitchell); Tully before the Stoneleigh lecture; mapping the future; Adrienne facilitating our Communication and Media session; bottom up initiative - swimming upriver (Mike Grenville).

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A Pattern Language

There was a seismic shift underway. This was the fourth conference and Transition was no longer at its start-up phase. There are now 350 official initiatives world-wide and hundreds more beginning. Some of these initiatives have been active for years (TN has been active for three). So we’ve got experiences and feedback that are meaningful for the whole enterprise. Up to this point Transition has been structured by a 12-step process – a guide for people and communities starting to respond to those drivers of peak oil and climate change (and the “third driver” of economic breakdown). This year the Transition Network broadened its territory. We were no longer on an energy-descending ladder but standing within a complex weave of essential elements: the subtitle of the conference was introducing a new way of explaining Transition.

A Pattern Language
was inspired by an architectural book of the same name written by Chritopher Alexander out of Berkeley in the 70s. Almost an academic cult classic it takes key elements of buildings and settlements, villages and cities and looks at what makes them work. Why, as Rob Hopkins says in his introductory workshop, walking through Sienna you feel joyful and Slough wretched. The book’s dynamic comes from a system of cross-references – a forerunner as Hopkins pointed out of the hyperlink process on computers. How everything from sunlight through windows to market squares relates in a harmonious way, so that you want to be in those rooms and neighbourhoods in the same way you might want to be in a wood or by the sea. It’s a design system, but one that has been organically-formed. It takes as its strength thousands of years of people living together. A vernacular way of life.

The pattern language of Transition was displayed down one of the corridors at the Seale Hayne college and so we walked down them together, discussing and writing notes over them. Because with our experience we can respond to this new structure, strengthen and enliven it. This is not an empty workshop exercise: it has meaning because we are attempting something new. We’re feeling our way to reassemble some key elements that have been within humanity for thousands of years and we’re looking at the ones that work and make us feel OK about living together within a time of turbulence, a time of radical social change. We’re looking for some base notes that underpin a new kind of society that speaks to people everywhere and can be as diversely spoken (as it was at the Conference) everywhere from Norwich to Sao Paulo, from Bungay to Fife, island, city or remote village, north or south.

So where the original Pattern Language is based on things, on nouns, Transition’s Pattern Language is based on activities, on verbs on doing things together. You can download the work-in-progress here (8MB pdf). Many of these are the words and phrases we have had quickly to master and manifest: speaking in public, working with local businesses, great reskilling, great unleashing, food coops, energy descent action plans. Each of the 63-patterns contains a challenge and a solution and all follow a sequence of 6 evolutionary phases - from the groundwork before an initiative begins to Scaling Up. It starts with the personal shock of peak oil discovery and ends where grassroots initatives begin to dialogue with the “top-down” structure and influence how things can shift from an oil-dependent civilisation to a new resilient way of exchanging and interacting as a people, in synch with the eco-systems of the earth.

Transition is about working-together in the face of immense physical and emotional challenges, learning to take matters into our own hands. It’s about creating a way of living that is fair both to the planet and to its peoples. One in which we are by virtue of our task capable of divesting a heavy, materialistic way of life for one of necessary lightness and simplicity. One which will require us to let go of our illusions of grandeur and separation and face a common reality - to transform within and without us the consequences of the power-hungry, acquisitive, high-drive, domineering Western world.

We need to be conversant, fluid with this language because it is what we have in common, what will enable us to hold together when everything else is falling apart. It is the language that makes it easy, for example, for 300 people from diverse places to be in complete harmony with one another. This is because we are speaking to one another from the material. Not just our mind’s opinion of Transition, but words that match our physical and emotional shared experience of Transition – a language spoken by people who matter, who have the matter in hand. Patterns of language that configure a different world. Because the network of Transition is communication, and we can’t weather this shift on our own.

Why we can’t create the future on our own I’ll be reporting about tomorrow . . how the 2010 Transition Conference received its own shock and how some of that reality came home. Meanwhile if you'd like to read more about the Conference do check out Rob Hopkins's blog http://www.transitionculture.org/ or the Network's coverage on http://www.transitionnetwork.org/

Sun solutions and break-out circle by Ed Mitchell; annotated Patterns in the corridor; spiral dance by Mike Grenville.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

On the Road (to Totnes)

I hadn't been out of the region for a long time. In fact this journey to the 2010 Transition Network Conference was going to be my third venture beyond East Anglia in eight years! Six hours cross-county in midsummer by train. Moon daisy country, elder blossom country.

I had forgotten: England is beautiful. Even before the train drew into Newton Abbot we had been past the green Chiltern hills and the willowy Thames, through meadows and rivers, the tree-clad valleys of Somerset and along the boat-sprinkled estuaries and red-cliffed Devon coast. It's a cliche I know, but the sea really did sparkle, and those hills did shine. It took my breath away.

300 people converging and tuning into Transition took my breath away. The conference was almost three days long, with workshops, lectures, lunch, dinner, meetings, process, discussion, break-out, breakdown, big group, small group, spiral dance, free form dance, open space, open mic, opening up . . .

There are several highlights I'll be reporting on during the next few days: Pattern Language (a new way of explaining Transition), Stoneleigh's shocking report on the Economic collapse, meeting my old friend Adrienne Campbell from Transition Lewes and how five of us went swimming without our clothes up the River Dart.

Meanwhile here's a pic by Ed Mitchell of the man in action at the introductory workshop on Pattern Language. Stay tuned!

On the Rhododendron Road in the East; Rob Hopkins at the Seale Hayne Agricultural College in the West.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Transition Conference, Low Carbon Cat and 14 Degrees

This weekend Transitioners from all over the country have been meeting up in Devon for the yearly Transition Conference. Charlotte, Tully and Christine have all been in the action and it finishes at lunchtime today, so this week (from tomorrow) we’ll have posts from the West. There should also be a guest post or two from other initiatives, so do stay tuned.

I stayed at home holding the fort and feeding the birds and the cat - although the cat is very much feeding herself on an extremely low carbon diet with distance travelled counted in food yards. I won’t go into the details, only to say that she’s not vegetarian. Fortunately, though, she has no interest in birds and her food source is not an endangered species here in the rural outposts.

Oh, and can someone do something about the weather, please? I know it’s different from the climate, which we are all trying to do something about. But the thermometer read 14 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day last Thursday after the mists had rolled in from the sea the night before. And I was wearing a jumper. Too much!

Pic: Last Train Arrives at Lowestoft after Carbon Conversations - the mist rolling in

Sunday, 13 June 2010

confessions of a transitioner or how to lose friends and alienate people


When i was at Sunday school they taught you that when you point the finger there are always three pointing back at yourself. I had forgotten this recently until a Shaman reminded me by something he said.
The other day I bumped into a facebook friend and her son who was holding a toy bear. Without thinking I looked at the label and she immediately began apologizing for buying stuff from Ikea. This filled me with shame to think that I had made someone I hardly knew feel guilty about buying a toy for their child. So this blog is about saying sorry for that and to all the people that I have made feel bad when in fact the whole point of transition is to face challenges with a positive outlook and a 'can do' attitude.
I would also like to confess that every year I buy about a thousand pounds worth of electronic equipment, yesterday I ate an Angus burger at Burger King , I have just driven hundreds of miles in a four by four and I ran over a squirrel.
But of course this doesnt make very good blog reading but perhaps an occasional confession would make us realize that transitioning is exactly that. We live in a world that demands we get everywhere fast and look a certain way and fit in with society and with fellow transitioners. I personally prefer to strike a happy medium so that everyday people find me rather odd and transioners look down on me for my takeaway food indulgences.
I will leave you with the image of a cow floating away over a field with her fellow cows shouting up ' its ok to fart, don't worry about the methane!'
kind regards
Helenofnorwich
ps it wasnt true about the squirrel

Friday, 11 June 2010

Objects of desire

I was having a chat with a friend of mine, about consumerism and the need to become more aware of its impact on the environment. We had a really good debate. It was fun. We were putting the world to rights.

Then, later that morning he happened to mention the HMV sale. They were selling the five-disc definitive boxset of Bladerunner for £6. In a limited-edition metal tin, with all three versions of the film. About a million hours of extra commentaries, interviews and documentaries, a selection of postcards and some sort of plastic hologram of a film-still. All my certainties went out of the window! All that for six quid? I love that film. I'd be mad not to rush straight out and buy it. As I reached for my coat I was virtually salivating. I’m not kidding…

In the end, I didn't buy it. But I didn't feel good about it either. The powerful thing about consumerism is that it just feels so damn good. Whether it just does of itself or whether we're conditioned to it, I don't know. I realised though that buying stuff is addictive, and when you don't feed that desire, it hurts.

It was a close thing. I got away with it this time. I know there'll be lots of other occasions when I won't. There'll be so many things I’m going to really want to buy. Sometimes I will and sometimes I won't. If breaking our addiction to constantly buying stuff feels like this, it's gonna be a tough ride.

More and more, I'm seeing books, articles, interviews that refer to the concept of affluenza, the state of mind where too much is never enough. And I don't want to be ruled by that. I want to be in control of my own mind.

So I'll keep trying. No pain, no gain, as they say.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

At War with Nature

I've been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is described as a "thought experiment" imagining a world where humans have simply vanished. Despite this potentially rather bleak premise (depending on your point of view!) the book is actually a fascinating exploration of the lasting impact we have on our planet, for good and ill.

So there I was, sitting out on the decking in the glorious late evening sunshine, reading this book, with a cup of tea next to me, enjoying the breeze and the sight of the swallows swirling overhead. A blackbird sang from the top of a nearby tree.

Then I became aware of the sound of the washing machine in the background. And the dishwasher, both of them busily slooshing water down the drain. Water loaded with detergents, enzymes, inorganic surfactants, optical brighteners. The chapter I was reading was about how some common man-made chemicals are impossible to break down and will just last forever, unless some future microbe evolves to break them down into harmless substances. It made me realise that, intentionally or not, we are all, through hundreds of small daily actions, permanently at war with nature.

Another example. I've had eczema since I was a small child. It went for a few years in my late teens and then came back with a vengeance just after A was born. Over recent years I've used a variety of things to try and control it (see a small selection to the left). Nearly all of them have a petroleum base with a host of unpronounceable chemicals making up the rest, and (I'm guessing here) most of them probably don't biodegrade that easily... I've also tried the other stuff too - diet, allergy tests, appallingly smelly Chinese herbal stuff, accupuncture - the lot. None of them worked. But eczema is a funny thing that we still don't understand properly. A number of studies point to environmental factors. It's made me think how about how the things we put into our environment maybe have a habit of coming back to us, how maybe some of the things we do for the good of our health could actually be the things that in the longer term come back and damage our health in ways that we don't yet understand.

Reading "The World Without Us" makes me wonder about the kind of chemical legacy I'm leaving the future because of the things I do, almost unconsciously, right now, every day.

If we're all at war with nature, now is the time to start thinking about a lasting peace. Before it's too late.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Fledging

Can you be here as the bringer of space in any situation? Eckhart Tolle

Each dawn I wake to cacophony. In May there were sweet sounds, but in June there are cacklings and croakings and cawings. The jackdaws are fledging. For weeks they have been in my chimney, their parents flying around the neighbouring fields and returning, jumping in and out of that small space. Jack, jack, jack. This morning they are out on the telephone line: all eight of them, making an unholy din. How eight of these large sooty birds can fit in that brick chimney I cannot imagine. Now they are taking part in a flying lesson: how to crash land into oak trees whilst making a loud running commentary, the way all members of the crow tribe love to do.

Buckminster Fuller once said modern people are like birds in an egg: we are hatching, but we don’t know it yet. We think our world is coming to an end. Food is running out, space is running out, what can we do? Without thinking we start tapping against the limits of our containment. Breaking through the shell. I think we are like those immature crows, stuck inside a dark chimney. It’s cosy but rather squashed and stinky in there. We get fed, but we’re hot and restless inside, fighting like mad with our brothers and sisters. Peak oil! Climate change! Economic collapse! Environmental disaster! There’s a whole new world out there: a world of lightness and air. Somehow we’ve got to get out of that hole.

This picture is of my father when he was young, with three baby greenfinches on his head, the moment before fledging. It was snapped by a local reporter in Sussex where he lived before he went to university and became a lawyer in the city. When I was a child he would tell me stories about the nature he loved in those years, the birds and the trees, about the French revolution for which he had an unusual passion. Like everyone else, I inherited my father’s world, with its rules and regulations, its traditions and teatimes. This world governed by bourgeois values, the world of possessions and form. But something in those stories about the earth, about people breaking out of limitation, out of an unjust rule, made me quit that comfortable nest and seek the light and air. Within a generation, those values disappeared in me.

Millions of us on this planet dream of freedom, of a liberation from that old restrictive mindset that holds the physical world in chains. We don’t know what shape it will take. We look back at History and we shudder. We look forward and see a blank space. What can we do? We can meet within the frame of Transition to see our predicament in a way that is not bound by form. By our compulsion to repeat what we have been told by our parents and teachers. We can create conditions and ways of exchange that are not hostile. We can provide the space and the time to allow something else to happen. Something that hasn’t been done yet. Because even though people may live bound by the laws of the ancien regime, they also carry the dream of the Earth and self-governance of the people within them.

The dream they sometimes tell their children, because they cannot imagine how to live it out themselves.

Today Chris and Tom are coming to visit us and we’re going to rehearse for the Low Carbon Roadshow in the garden. We're planning to do some street theatre for the Community Arts Fair Helen was writing about that the NR3 group are hoping to organise. They’re having their first meeting tonight in St Augustine’s Street. We’re planning to create a play for Transition. It’s new territory for all of us. We’re going to start where we left off at The Earth Hour outside the Forum at Spring Equinox. Four beings coming from different futures a hundred years hence, returning to the present to work out a way forward that will be of benefit for all beings – not just the privileged few, not just the humans. A new earth. A leap from the immense space we hold inside us, from our imagination, into blue sky.

In the crow's nest: Charlotte Du Cann in a (sycamore) tree, 2010; Dicky Du Cann with birds, 1945.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Downshift

It happened last night. Just as we arrived back from our Strangers' Circle we came into the wet dark garden and the scent was everywhere. And so we opened the letter box to let the fragrance of the flowers permeate the house, come up the stairs and into our dreams.

It was the honeysuckle moment. Each flower has its moment: it spends weeks developing its individual show and then it bursts out into the world in a glorious mass of colour and beauty. When you learn to love flowers, you wait for those moments and treasure them when they arrive: the shocking moment when the bluebells shimmer in the woods like liquid fire, when the poppies ripple through the barley. Last week it was the hawthorn moment, this week we’ll head for the coast and find the sea kales flourishing in front of the nuclear power station at Sizewell. And for that moment we’ll immerse ourselves in the scent and presence of the great Krambe maritima growing in spite of all odds through the shingle. Holding a deep root in a hard time, for the flowers and for ourselves.

We had been talking about resilience, which is the subject of our new sequence of Transition Circle meetings. People talked practically and spiritually, about energy systems and political systems, about economic collapse and peak oil and how our complex global supply chains have become increasingly dependent on computerisation and special parts and therefore vulnerable. Some of us were pessimistic, not sure if we will be able to live without this stuff. Some optimistic and felt we had possibilities within us that had yet to be tapped. Resilience is the ability for eco-systems to weather shocks, to absorb their impact and regroup, adapt and hold together. We talk about community and getting into alignment with the earth, but we live with the spectre of History, where societies habitually fragment in the face of difficulties; where the rich triumph, the poor go to the wall, and those of us who speak out for love and freedom board the train for the gulag.

I have, like most people in this country, been able to avoid History and do not know how things would be in England if our social fabric breaks. I have however been through many individual shocks. A lot of them forced me to leave places and people, set-ups I had taken for granted, to look at the flimsy things I had depended on: spiritual fancies, culture, friendships, beliefs, reputation, innocence. Some of them made me abandon my biography entirely and start again. All of them broke me out of a small space. All of them made me more human. Only a heart that is broken and bitter knows how to feel beyond its personal circumstance and reach out for its fellows. When you have nothing to lose is when life opens up. When you are terrified of losing, you close down and don’t see the bigger picture, you only care for yourself, your space, your cherished beliefs about the world.

To be truly human, aligned with life, resilient, we need to hold on to what is dear and be prepared to let everything else go. To respond to that shocking moment we have to be flexible and open and to know how to work with people, so that History does not repeat itself and mash us in its maw. We have to practice thinking together, working together, exchanging things, sharing knowledge, knowing that the shocks will come and we can keep coherent and not fall apart. And like all resilient eco-systems, we need to be in communication and feedback what we experience and feel. Gathering up sweetness the way bees do from flowers. What we can’t afford to do is shut down.

So there was a different mood at Naomi and William’s last night. We discussed our wholefood co-op order and our new project, the Low Carbon Cookbook, but our usual exuberance about dishes we brought had shifted. We were no longer looking at carbon reduction in the light (sic) of reducing energy, as if our way of life was going to continue only more ecologically. We were looking at something else entirely around the kitchen table. A moment of radical change. A change which we can only look at for real when we are together, because each of us carries within us a vital component that makes that possible, both to see and to bear. Because that change is about coming together after decades of individualism. Because something about this moment is extraordinary, fragrant, unexpected yet known. Coming out of the dark, permeating the atmosphere, like honeysuckle after a storm.


Underneath the May; hawthorn flowers; honeysuckle and bumblebee door; Tully talking about resilience with the Strangers' Circle at Mangreen.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Sailing to Little Japan

video

I had wanted to go back there for as long as I can remember. The small cove had lingered in my imagination, beckoning me through the years. A strip of river sand with soughing wind-bent pine trees on the cliffedge and a stretch of shining water. Only accessible by boat.

And then last week I went back. Mark and I set out up the Alde River with our neighbour Philip in his gaff-rigged boat Snow Goose. Philip spent a childhood sailing on the Deben further down the coast and now we all live alongside the Blyth. To live happily in East Anglia is to be kin to the water and its relationship with the land – reedbed, estuary, broad, marsh, fen. Eastern rivers are slow-moving but tidal, tricky to navigate. The Alde is broad, so at high tide you can have a good sail if the wind is fair. I know this because I used to spend all my summers here with the friends of my youth. This place urged me to leave the city, my desk, to make a leap into freedom. For years I yearned for this scent of salt and reeds, of open water and sky and the haunting curlew’s cry.

We rounded the bend and there it was: the shoreline dotted with pied birds, a small breeze on the green water, the squiffed red pines still guarding the clifftop. Utterly beautiful in the way that East Anglia is beautiful for those of us who love the waterlands.

It was perfect, a perfect place for a picnic, as it had always been. I held the moment in my heart, and then I let it go. We couldn’t land because Snow Goose has a fixed keel and this is a shallow inlet, and so we went about and tacked upriver along Blackwater, where the rhododendrons shimmered along the bank. A swan took off and flew past us. The spell of the past broke inside.

What has this got to do with Transition – apart from the obvious fact that sailing is about as low-carbon a way of travel you can imagine, only using the dynamics of wind and tide and current and your own human ingenuity and skill? Apart from the realisation that Transition has made us socially bold and confident on almost any topic - economics to ecology - so that we could have a dynamic friendship with our neighbours that might not have happened otherwise?

It’s got to do with Transition because nostalgia, a yearning to go back to places and times in a possible future, prevents us from living in the now, where we now most urgently need to live.

Because if we don’t love where we are and who we are with we won’t make it. We’ll be looking to be someplace else all the time, wrapped up in ourselves and our great sadness. We won’t put the best of ourselves on the line. We won’t have a reason to be in this neighbourhood, with this group of people, happy to be holding this dish of humble vegetables in our hands.

My three posts this week are about loving where you are. Not escaping into a holiday Earth that requires vast amounts of fossil fuel, but making steps to belong wherever you find yourself. Getting together with people and doing things in the creative way that Helen was talking about last week, taking care of the physical world in the craftsmen’s way John was talking about, paying attention to small things and thinking of the bigger things the visionary way Mark was talking about Bolivia: what some people call hologrammic imagination. Tapping into the workings of the world.

You see, Little Japan was called Little Japan because the quirky-topped trees look like the stylised trees in Japanese paintings. Of course they are nothing to do with Japan; they’re Scot’s pine, our oldest native trees, guardians of burial grounds and often planted as windbreaks in the sandy soils of Suffolk and Norfolk . Now I know about trees I don’t need to cover the place up with cultural references. It is as it is. Just as the Alde is all rivers, The River, and we are all people, navigating with the tiller in our hands, listening to the sound of water running underneath the boat, feeling the wind on our faces, in tune with ancestral fabric of the place, with each other.

On a broad reach, coming home to who we really are.

Sailing upriver towards Snape; rigging the Snow Goose with Philip at Slaughden Quay; Mark at the tiller; approaching Little Japan.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The art of mending

On Friday we had the first meeting of the Hethersett Circle and we were talking about how we could promote skills exchange at a local level. This reminded me of a photo that my daughter recently sent me of herself using a 1930s lawnmower that was once owned by her grandfather. Tamsin has recently bought a small cottage and the old lawnmower was ideal for her tiny lawn but first it needed an overhaul. My retired neighbour likes to tinker with lawnmowers, so he offered to do the job but disaster struck when a bearing broke as he was dismantling the machine. The bearing was an Imperial size and I first thought that this was going to be the end of the lawnmower. However a quick google revealed that Simply Bearings had one in stock and a replacement arrived in next day’s post. A bit of improvisation provided the tools needed to press the new bearing onto the shaft.

So the power of the Internet combined with some old Imperial spanners and assorted bits of metal from my own and my neighbour’s sheds got an eighty year old machine back in working order. The wooden handles have been triple varnished and the machine painted and it now looks very much at home in the garden of an old cottage. There is no reason why it should not go on to serve another three generations.

I think that cheap foreign labour and increased health and safety regulation have combined to make it very difficult to mend our own appliances. Instead we throw away things that are still 90% functional and then have to work harder to buy new ones. Freegle has a steady stream of CD players and ink jet printers that have minor faults but cost more to repair than new ones. (RecyclePC will refurbish old PCs).

I look forward to sharing practical skills and tools with people in the village so that more people can mend their own things.