Friday, 31 December 2010

Changing the Frequency

In one of the last entries for 2010 on Transition Culture Rob Hopkins posts his interview with Christopher Alexander, a discussion of the links between A Pattern Language and the new Transition ingredients. At some point the architect and writer's wife, Maggie enters the conversation:

"If Transition was successful, what the community would feel - it would feel like home. Simple. Everyone can feel that feeling. You know it when you see it; it just feels like home. You walk down the street and somebody’s planted nut trees and they’re excited to tell you about all the nut trees they’ve planted . . . And how it can replace wheat or what it was you said. They’re excited because they’re making their home – that’s what it looks like!"

I’ve done a lot of giving up in my life - pleasures, habits and physical possessions. First when I went on the road in 1991, then when I joined the Transition movement in 2o08. So when people talk about giving up our materialist, greedy lifestyle, I know what they mean. Because I’ve done it. But it’s how we proceed, how we engage with life that’s really important. Sure you can cut your carbon emissions by half the national average, as some of us in Transition Norwich did last year, but can you still love the world? Can you make a place feel like home? Can you make Transition feel like home?

Alexander’s grammar of vernacular buildings speaks to us because our desire to belong goes deep. It’s an unspoken and unsatisfied force within us. We’ve come from a deracinated culture, deliberately alienated and set against one another in order that we aspire to the shiny, sugary, power-driven heavens manufactured by the empires of the world. But these are chimeras. We work hard to live in houses, but they don’t always make us feel at home. To belong is to become embedded in the living, dancing fabric of the earth. In all its colour and warmth, harmony and beauty.

When the writer Bruce Chatwin walked across the desert to the the ancient city of Persepolis, he noticed his nomad guide took no notice of the ceremonial tents erected by the modern rulers of Iran, as they passed by. When they arrive at the ruined city, Chatwin gazes at the megalomaniac inscriptions of its former tyrant-king: I fought, I slew, I conquered.

“Again I tried to get the Quashgai boy to look. Again he shrugged. Persepolis might be made of matchsticks for all he knew or cared – and so we went up into the mountains.”

Why did the young man not care about the city? Because the city was not in him. To live as a nomad, as a free man, to go home at the end of a long road, means you live by different laws. It means you follow a track, a songline, invisible to the naked eye.

The patterns that hold us happily within the fabric of the natural world are not mind-made or mechanistic. Don’t let Transition get mechanistic, cautions Alexander.

Don't imagine that science will save bees, only a change in our lifestyle will save the bees, declares Heidi Hermann.

I’m at the Bee Summit in London in December and the queen bee of the Natural Beekeeping Trust is laying down the law that science for all its cleverness cannot see. The honeybee lives within the sun-ordered rainbow-coloured frequency of the earth, absolutely in tune with her environment. Without the honeybee workers, 90 per cent of our crop species don’t get pollinated. The lawyers, politicians and official institutions are insisting that only when the scientific data is correctly submitted will Britain consider banning the neonicotinoid pesticides that are causing losses within bee colonies everywhere (the British Beekeepers Association has until recently received thousands of pounds to endorse the pharmaceutical companies that make them). But this is 2010 - a year in which the number of hives in Britain doubled - and this is a room full of beekeepers in a city one third of which is made of people’s flowering backgardens. Beekeepers from Highgate Cemetery, the Royal Parks, The Tate Gallery, Chelsea Physic Garden. A great murmuring has started up amongst us. The upholders of the mechanistic world get stung by intelligent questions from the floor. Heidi gets a standing ovation.

The world doesn’t change because you change your behavior. But because you let go. When you let go of habits and things you realise you have been living within a certain configuration, a certain frequency that keeps you trapped in an artificial empire. I came. I slew. I conquered. When bees are affected by systemic pesticides they lose their ability to orientate themselves according to the sun and find their way back to the hive. In their dramatic disappearances bees have been telling us something, and in spite of our acquisitiveness, our chemical dependencies, our arrogant left-brain thinking, we’ve begun to respond. From somewhere we had long forgotten about.

There is a shift out there and sometimes you can feel it. No amount of media control, of distraction, of police brutality can cover it up. You can’t legislate against it. Because it’s invisible and intangible, something you can’t see with the naked eye. It’s a collective human feeling, in synch with all the living beings on the planet. A frequency that happens when people start to link up, share their stores, their sweetness, tune back in, start acting like bees in each others' interests. And that’s a feeling you can’t stop. And that’s the feeling I intend to take with me into the new year. 2011. A year when millions of us start coming home.

Abandoned house in Detroit (www.sweet-juniper.com/2009/07/feral-houses.html; shut-up houses in Coleman Road, Norwich www.oneworldcolumn.org); beehive in snow from National Beekeeping Trust . Rosebay Willowherb from Plants for Bees project, Bungay Community Bees by Mark Watson. Quotation from The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Darkness Around Us Is Deep*

It is still dark as I write this in bed this morning. Already it feels like winter has been here for months. The sense of light increasing directly after the Solstice just doesn't seem to have happened yet.

***
I met a man just before Christmas who had spent years trying to build a PassivHaus. He was retired, he had the money and he was committed. He ended up moving into a modern energy-intensive home where he will install solar panels. Why? Because the planning laws were so obstructive they blocked all his attempts at building a low-carbon house for an energy-leaner future.

In the library yesterday a member of the local Labour party (yes, it even exists in Southwold!) told me that out of all the people he spoke to at a recent anti-cuts demonstration in Beccles, only 2 were aware of the true scale of the cuts to the NHS being pushed through by the Coalition government.

In the film Blindness (2008), based on the book by Jose Saramago, an epidemic hits an unnamed city and over the next few weeks everyone loses their sight. The first ones to go blind are herded under government orders into an old hospital and left to fend for (or fight it out amongst) themselves. Armed guards are stationed to prevent escape attempts and boxes of food are thrown into the courtyard. The governors and military who implement these short-term measures fail to consider they too will be struck by the "whiteness". Only one woman can still see. She pretends to be blind so her husband and their group can survive.

***
When I first thought about aspirations, resolves, intentions, I thought of how I could play with the word ‘Aspiration’, to bring it into a transition context with something of the flavour of energy descent. Call it ‘down-spiration’? ‘De-spiration’ maybe? But it just felt like one of those jokes that covers over something important that I might need to look at. And we’re going to need a lot more than wordplay for the coming future.

So in 2011 I’m going to do my damnedest to keep my eyes open, to keep sharp, to keep conscious. And also to stay positive in the true Transition spirit, which is a post End-of-Suburbia-moment positivity: You’ve been shocked awake to the realities and implications of peaking fossil-fuels, climate change and the fantasy of the economic growth model and all its gross inequality. And just how much suffering it creates. You’ve realised that most of the present laws are holding all this in place. And that only 2 people in town are aware of it.

But you have found some people you can talk and work with. Who get a feeling for the very real challenges facing us as individuals, as communities, as the human race, as part of the planet. Who, like you, are struggling to keep awake. And it's hard.

But I'm going to keep talking and working with them.


*Title from William Stafford's Poem A Ritual To Read To Each Other

Pics: Winter solstice sunrise 2010; And the band played on...

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Don't quit the bananas

Like the chimp in the cartoon I shall not be too ambitious with my aspirations for the New Year. In fact my main wish is to not take on any more responsibilities and to try and get more people to help with some of the things that I am involved with already. I think that it is better to be realistic about what I can achieve and to do that properly - rather than spread myself too thin and let people down. One aspiration that I'm already working on is to get more people to help on the Parish Council. There are elections in May for many Norfolk Councils and I'm hoping that people will take the opportunity to get involved in the local decision making process. Many Parish/Town council seats are never contested at an election - which is a wasted opportunity to change things for the better.

I will be trying again with a failed 2010 aspiration which was to grow more food over the winter. Jane gave me some seeds for winter leaf crops but the plants had barely started to grow when they got hit by the coldest winter on record - and slugs appeared from nowhere to attack the seedlings in the greenhouse. Which makes you appreciate how hard it is to survive a northern winter if you have to rely only on local produce.

I am famed for my love of bananas and usually eat one every day so the cartoon reminded me to take a look at the book that Elena blogged about earlier in the year. Fortunately bananas have a low CO2 footprint at 80gm/banana - so my banana addiction only accounts for .3% of my 10tonnes CO2/yr allowance. Bananas are grown in the open and need very little packaging, which I greatly appreciate - though there are problems with pesticide use and deforestation so I shall learn more about where my bananas are coming from.


Best wishes for the New Year and may you achieve all that you aspire to!


Cartoon from Science Blogs

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

how many eco-lightbulbs does it take to change a person?

I don't know what this title means and I have a temperature so anything could happen.
Aspirations are much better than resolutions. Although medical aspirations should not be performed except by a trained health practitioner or failing that someone who has seen it done at least once.
The photograph is proof if proof were needed that resolutions do not work. It is a picture of my purse when I was about 12. I have always lost things and continue to do so. So there is no point setting a goal that says 'this year I will not lose anything'. All that will happen is that you will feel sad about losing said item and then sad about failing in your resolution.
What is much more fun is to write a list of things you would like to do in the year. At the end of the year when you come to write a new one you can look at your old list (it will be a nice surprise because you will have forgotten to look at it for a year) and see which things you have done.

At the moment I am thinking mainly about January:

Make a rabbit or squirrel stew you can get these from buylocal (I can't find anyone willing to teach me to shoot a rabbit, I cant think why, maybe people have heard about the incident with the PE teacher and the javelin when I was 13)
Have a session of gift,clothes,book swapping
Learn to make stuff as part of the reskilling group such as making material from plastic bags
Do a stand up session about being green

Another nice thing to do is to look back at what you have achieved in the year, this would be my list;
helped to create the Magdalen street festival
made a bag out of felting a jumper
did my first stand up gig at a party
wrote a reading about green Christmas and read it out at the Octagon Chapel
had another year of not buying any new clothes ( apart from fairtraide underwear).

And if you think ethical is not sexy then think again.



Any answers to the question in the title are greatly received.

Monday, 27 December 2010

New Year Aspirations

After the almost inevitable over-indulgence of Christmas Day and Boxing Day, people up and down the country will wake up this morning with varying degrees of hangover, but determined nonetheless to Make A Change, Turn their Life Around.  For most people this will involve a Resolution - to give up smoking, eat less fat, go to the gym more.  The telly will be full of ads offering you the chance to do all these things - for a price, of course.  There's a whole industry dedicated to helping you part with your money, all for the chance of a "new you" - a dream that we know won't last and won't by itself make you happier.

Millions of people will be signing up for a resolution that will end in disappointment and self-recrimination a few weeks later, when the dark days of January lead them to smoke just one more cigarette, eat a comforting hot pudding rather than a yoghurt, or give in to the desire to stay in bed on a frosty morning rather than get up and head for a run or a swim.  The additional pressure of enshrining these in a resolution seems to just create a breeding ground for disillusionment and guilt.  At least, that's what the papers and pop-psychologists tell us.

So this year, we're saying a resounding NO to New Year Resolutions, and saying a big YES for New Year Aspirations.  Things we want to do, that we can strive for at any point across 2011, but not take a guilt trip over!  Sounds good to me.

From a transition point of view, 2010 was the year we put a lot of effort (and investment!) into saving energy in the home - insulating the loft, improving the efficiency of our hot water and heating systems.  We also made some progress on the travel front, taking the car and ferry for our holiday rather than flying.

Thinking ahead to 2011, I want to explore local food a bit more, building on some of the experiences I've blogged about over the last twelve months.  I especially want to try out the Dozen bakery Jane wrote about in our food week earlier in the year.  That sounds like fun - no guilt or disillusionment involved in top-quality local croissants!  I also want to get involved in a possible new community project near my home - the Wensum View Community Garden.  Maybe find out a bit more about community beekeeping.

And hopefully, these, and a few more I'm starting to think about as I look forward to the new year, will provide me with lots of fertile ground for future blog-posts.  Because whatever else I do in 2011, I'm looking forward to working with the other TN bloggers on taking this blog from strength to strength.

This week, in the run up to the New Year, the TN blog community will be sharing some of their thoughts on the year ahead and their aspirations for 2011.  I hope you enjoy it, and do let us know what you're looking forward to and some of your own New Year Aspirations.  We'd love to hear from you!

Picture from www.earthzine.org

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!


Merry, Green Christmas Wishes

from all of the Transition Norwich bloggers.

frost on the window pane

Friday, 24 December 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

When we talked about doing a "Christmas in Transition" week, I really wanted to take the Christmas Eve slot. I’m a self-confessed sucker for Christmas, and, if Christmas is my favourite time of year, Christmas Eve is far and away my highlight of the season.

For me, Christmas is not about presents, or turkey, or drinking too much or watching old films on the telly, it’s about the anticipation, the mystery and the magic of Christmas Eve. Whether your preference is for the secular excitement of Santa Claus and his sackful of presents, the Christian sacredness of the birth of Jesus or the beautiful magic of a cold and silent winter’s night - or perhaps all three – it’s a night that is somehow special.

Sure, the Christmas season has become horribly commercialised, with every retailer desperate to make up their annual profits in one month. Sure, can be massively wasteful and stressful.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Because what I love the most is gloriously carbon-neutral and also free in money terms. Christmas Carols. The radio schedules are full of Christmas carols *, or best of all, you could sing them yourself. I’d be willing to bet that everyone knows the words to at least a couple of carols, even if they haven’t sung them since they were at school Now that I have kids myself, I’m lucky enough to have two little people always happy to sing carols with me, day or night. You could take away all the Christmas paraphernalia - “the ribbons, the wrappings… the tinsel, the trappings”** - and leave the carols and I’d be happy.

I love them all. But my favourite is Handel’s The Messiah. OK, it’s unashamedly Christian sacred music so won’t float everyone’s boat, but the music is sublime, and the words have a universal message that can transcend narrow religious interpretation. There are many versions of the Messiah, as Handel left no written instructions for how it was to be arranged, but in my favourite, powerfully sung by the massed voices of the Huddersfield Choral Society, it’s a call to arms to build a different kind of society, one based on peace, goodwill and justice for all.

And if that’s not the true meaning of Christmas, I don’t know what is.

* Two radio programmes I won’t be missing:
Christmas Eve at 18.45: Handel’s The Messiah
Christmas Day at 14.00: Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

** Quote from Dr Seuss' The Grinch that Stole Christmas (a great anti-consumerism Christmas fable!)

Photo from: http://old-print.net/7971895/7971895147.jpg

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Midwinter Weather Report

(i)
Yesterday afternoon at the library I checked the Met Office weather reports for Lowestoft, Southwold and Norwich. Heavy snowfall was due in Norwich in the mid-afternoon, but in Suffolk the temperatures would be 2 or 3 degrees above freezing and the prediction was for rain.

Do we go to the TN Christmas party? We decided to play it by ear. We’d have to leave around five. At half past three it SNOWED. It was NOT supposed to SNOW at all anywhere near Southwold.

I just missed the four o’ clock local weather report on the radio. I phoned National Express to find out about the state of the trains. There was an automated message that stated the trains were running on time AND a warning about poor weather affecting services in East Anglia.

Should we make the journey? Last week, coming home from the London Bee Summit along the icy back roads we found ourselves at ten o’ clock at night in a snowstorm. I didn't see the corner and we careened into a ditch on a deserted country lane seven miles from home. And whilst I’d since recovered my nerve (with the help of a fellow Transitioner from Sustainable Bungay who not only pulled the car out the next day but gave me an excellent lesson on driving on icy roads and chaperoned me home, thank you David), I still felt cautious.

It was dark by now. Then suddenly we found ourselves in the kitchen preparing coleslaw and fava bean salads and packing up plates and cutlery and apple juice. And putting on even more layers of clothes. I kept muttering about the weather and maybe we should just stay home, but physically I was doing something else.

I looked outside. It was raining and there was no snow on the lane. It didn’t feel too cold. It looked like we were on our way.

(ii)
“ICE INSIDE THE WINDOWS!” Didy shuddered. It was an early Sustainable Bungay meeting in 2008, we were talking about carbon reduction and central heating and Didy was suddenly remembering the bleak midwinters of her childhood. She wasn't the only one. No one wanted to go back there!

Last winter as part of Transition Circles' aim of reducing our personal carbon emissions, we decided to forego the central heating for anything but drying clothes, or when people came to visit. It was cold. We wore more clothes. We lit the woodburner once a week. We really enjoyed it when people came!

So though this is "the worst winter in 100 years", my body remembers last year's experience. I've toughened up.

(iii)
What was striking yesterday was the amount of time I spent worrying in my mind about taking the car out, taking the train, snow, black ice, WEATHER! But my body was in the experience. With its creaturehood, its earth intelligence.

On the night the car went into the ditch, neither Charlotte nor I were actually afraid. We locked the car and walked onto the lane. As we got to the corner we saw headlights approaching (very slowly!). We waved, the man stopped to give us a hand. The car was stuck. Peter insisted on taking us home in that blizzard in totally the opposite direction to where he was going with his daughter after a party.

The mind needs to have everything under control AT ALL TIMES. I Will Be Safe In My Little World. But then there's no opening for anything else to happen. It's when we lose control that something surprising appears round the corner...


Pics: Ice Inside The Windows, Snow Car Ditch, We Got To The Party (and Back) - Lights in the Tree and Elena's Paper Snowflakes

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Traditional Christmas entertainment

Every family and individual has different customs for keeping themselves entertained on Christmas day. If rumour is to be believed then many people now spend most of the day eating in front of the TV. Personally I think this is a sad waste of Christmas day, one of the few days in the year when you truly have the time to relax and partake of some more exciting forms of entertainment.

The Victorians had the right idea and they had an impressive range of 'parlour games' which they played, some of which may be familiar to you as childhood games. There is the game that I know as doctor, doctor where you stand in a circle and link hands, but not with those next to you. Then without letting go of hands you have to untangle yourselves. Alternatively there were several versions of simon says or, fairly self explanatory, is hide the slipper.

However, there are some games that have fallen out of fashion now, such as Snapdragon where you set light to a pile of alcohol soaked raisins and then have to try and snatch them and eat them while they are still alight....

Or slightly less dangerous, but more violent, Are you there Moriarty? involves two people lying on their fronts, blindfolded with their heads together, they clasp their left hands and have rolled up newspapers in their right hands. The first person says 'are you there Moriarty?' and the other person has to reply 'yes', the first person then has to try and hit the other person on the head with their newspaper! The roles then swap and the second person gets to try and hit the other on the head. Good amusement for the onlookers!

If these have caught your imagination then for more ideas check out this list

For slightly less physical or violent games, then there is a wealth of boardgames, card games and word games available. Articulate, Rummikub and Balderdash are ones that have always kept my family amused. Or making up your own Pictionary list is also amusing.

Of course not all entertainment has to involve games. You could also go and appreciate the glory of the snowy world with a festive walk or if you are lucky enough to have a musician in your midst then you could sing some songs, carols even if you are that way inclined. And of course you should also take the time to appreciate the good food, the company and the gifts.

These forms of entertainment may have been the norm in the past, but I believe that we could do worse than re-adopting some of them for the future. They are all low carbon, community building and good fun. So why not try out some traditional entertainment this Christmas?

Photo: Try building an igloo! - Norwich

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sun Rising

Solstice is a door you go through. Perhaps the greatest door of the year. Thirty years ago, when I was 23 I walked out of the door and left Christmas behind – all its sentimentality and gift-wrapped pressures, the small violence of drawing rooms. I left turkey and television and fled into the mountains with my friends. There we drank vino caldo and flew down the slopes and felt free. It was as if a spell had broken and I was suddenly released from the grip of December and could roam the world. I went skiing in Kashmir, swam in the Caribbean ocean, discovered Venice and New York, and finally I went travelling as a way of life in lands where tinsel time never came. But I also left Winter behind, and everything that meant in terms of time and a place on earth. I lived in a perpetual and artificial summer.

And one day I knew I had to come back and find a place to live. I went to Newgrange in Ireland, now the most famous Neolithic burial mound in the world. Once it commanded the hill and the wind sang through its abandoned chambers. Now it is a world heritage site, its stony face tidied up and fenced off. You have to take a shuttle bus with a tour guide who tells you what once happened here, as you stare obligingly at the three rocks that command the entrance with their mysterious spirals like giant snakes. The guide does not know what they mean. In spite of all this control the mound is an awesome space inside. As we sat in the dark our guide clicked on a torch and talked about the different kinds of mark-stones. On one there was etched a sheaf of corn. No one knows what that means either, she said and fell silent. And then she turned off the light.

We looked through the Winter Solstice door. It was quite small inside the mound, and you could sense people in the dark, strangers pressed together close, like animals, and in this silence I felt something unexpected: I felt suddenly how it was when the people came together and waited for the moment when the door of the great year swung open, when the sun came back to the earth and the darkness of Newgrange became full of sunlight, and your heart burst open with excitement. In the days when everyone lived according to the time of the sun and earth.

When I came back I wanted to discover what those snakes meant and those doors of time. And I walked for miles across the land, recovering myself as a dweller of these misty islands, as someone whose heart could leap at the sight of the sun rising. I wanted to belong, not to society, not to culture. but to a land shaped by ancestral forces. I wanted to become native, so that no one could tell me I did not belong to the earth or to life.

The stone door in the first picture is at Wayland’s Smithy, an ancient burial mound on a hill in Oxfordshire where I began my quest. These hills in central England are crowned with circles of beech trees with small tracks leading to them that have been walked for thousands of years. Carved into the hillside is a mysterious figure some call the White Horse and others the white dragon, indicating that this hill, like many mountains of the world, is where the treasures of the earth are kept. Wayland was the lame smith of the Saxon gods who wrought their fine jewellery but the burial mound on this hill goes back way before he kept his elven forge here. It contains the bones of certain people buried at a certain time who wrought another kind of treasure entirely. This burial mound comes before everything we know. It comes before the temples, pyramids, the cities and the libraries, before the gods and before the invaders of this island. I lay above my ancestors on this mound like a grassy whale in the centre of England and for the first time in my life felt entirely at home.

I delved into libraries and I sat under trees. I lit fires and marked the calendar of the year. I discovered that at the solstices an ancient struggle is enacted between the oak kings: the deciduous oak, the ascending sun, and the holm or evergreen oak (here the holly) who rules the dark half of the waning year. At the apexes of solar year, the light and the dark battle with one another, and one cedes rulership to the other. It's a mythology we know in fragments, in snatches of song, ritual, carol and rhyme, Who killed cock robin? (the bird of the oak). It was I with my little eye, said Jenny Wren (bird of the holm). I found that these mythologies are like a code that points us to where the real treasure of life is kept. Red berry, red breast, red blood. Solar fire.

The mythic language resonates within you in a deep place, in deep time - a language of stone and star, a track of geese flying across a liquid sky. Bone knowledge, heart knowledge. At the solstice you tap into that bone knowledge of yourself, the part that remembers everything about your homeland, as you wait scanning the horizon, across an empty field, on top of the hill. You know that no matter what fairy stories you have been told, gospels according to Luke or Darwin or Sigmund Freud, your human parents do not give you the spark of life - the breath in your lungs, the food in your mouth, the wood that stokes the fire, the rhythm that beats in your heart. And that the primary relationship lies not within the institution of family, but within the creative matrix of the earth and sun. If, as Jeremy Rifkin suggests we are moving beyond psychological consciousness towards the realm of bio-spheric, where we are empathic with all living things, it is this relationship, released from our bonds of tribal obligation, where our attention now needs to go.

In modern life it is hard to pay attention to the big things that matter, so prevented and distracted are we from the wild and the deep, the elemental, the ancestral, the true allegiance of our hearts. Yet waking this morning it is everywhere I look. Snowlight filling the house. A fresh breeze across the land. In the gaps of the clouds a full moon in eclipse and Venus shining, and to the East an invisible sun starting its ascent. A planetary moment under a great oak. A new day.

Happy solstice everyone!

Wayland's Smithy, Oxfordshire; yew, Box Hill, Surrey; sea forest, Borth, Wales; Solstice moon, Southwold, Suffolk.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Midwinter and Christmas in Transition

It seems highly appropriate to be writing this post from under a foot of fresh white powder (in Bedfordshire), because this week we are going to be discussing what it is like being 'in transition' during midwinter and the Christmas period.

Helen's Christmas shopping posts have led nicely into the Christmas part of this weeks theme. They neatly highlight what I view as the main challenge in having a transition-esque Christmas - namely avoiding the consumerism! How did the advertisers manage to convince us that to not be a scrooge you have to give all of your friends and family massive expensive christmas presents and buy an entirely new colour coordinated set of christmas decorations every year? Where's the fun in that?

For me the clue is in the word festivities - ie. have fun, celebrate, enjoy. Having to troop round the christmas shops trying to find expensive sustainable presents and decorations is not fun, therefore, my low carbon christmas plan doesn't involve it. My plan only includes truly festive things.

So the truly festive plan involves:
A) Make presents - Helen explained this part of the plan very well and I have had great fun this year making sweets and herbal remedies and all kinds of other exciting concoctions!
B) Make decorations - last year we made an awesome newspaper christmas tree and this year we have a little nativity scene made out of cardboard and paper
C) Have fun on Christmas day and/or enjoy spending time with loved ones - more on this on Wednesday.


D) Try not to over-eat/waste food/eat high carbon food - particularly a challenge at Christmas time, when traditionally it is a day of feasting and by its nature you tend to be spending it with other people who may not be as committed as you.
E) Try not to travel too much - this especially counts against the fun gauge when it has been snowing... I have failed on this count this year as I have to traverse the snowy countryside from Bedfordshire to Norwich and back twice during this festive period - bad planning/ the inconvenience of having a job!
F) Alternatively, consider another aspect of this weeks theme and celebrate the solstice instead!

As well as all the festivities, this time of year poses other challenges for those in transition, not least all this white stuff. So I hope that our week of musings and advice provides some entertainment and guidance in surviving this challenging period of the year with your low carbon credentials intact.


Photos by Julie Lane: A snowy scene on Sunday morning, Making the most of the snow with some tandem sledging, trees reflecting in the icy River Ouse.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Christmas shopping part three - things you can make

I have decided to do a hamper for my parents when I go and see them. In it I will put some plum jam I bought at a fair, a Christmas cake I made (not the one in the picture, mine was more burnt looking well er actually burnt, but I am thinking icing), some Chocolate brownies (jamie olivers recipe is amazing) some fairtrade wine and some cheese (binham blue maybe).

With one of my friends I showed her a book of felted gifts from which she chose a small bag which I made by boiling down one of my mums cardigans (before you ask, yes she HAD thrown it out and no she wasnt wearing it)

Another friend I knitted a caftiere cosy which I tried out on his caftiere when he wasnt looking and then realized it was too small and had to knit some extensions. It looks cute in a look-my-coffee-pot-is-wearing-a-balaclava kind of way.

Of course you have to have started this process back in November when you would have been pouring alcohol into your cake every week, practising your brownies and stealing I mean repurposing your mums sweaters. So bookmark this page for next year and get to the shops there are only 168 hours of shopping left!
or go to this website...http://www.buynothingchristmas.org

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas Shopping part two - gifts that you cannot see


This is part two of my eco guide to Christmas shopping. Today I am looking at the giving of time. I read this quote on my friends care farm website

You give but little when you give of your possessions, it is when you give of yourself that you truly give – Kahlil Gibran

Inspired by this I thought I could use my great wisdom of life the universe and everything to give free advice as presents. So for example to my older friends would be this advice:

1. If you are having a drink with a young person in a bar and they suggest 'going on somewhere' then this means a dark smelly place that you may have to pay to get into.
2. If that dark smelly place has dancing poles then dont try them. You will look like a trainee fireman and will at best ache for the next 3 days or at worst end up in casualty.

Anyway you get the idea, I am not sure it would work because people dont always like being given advice and kind of expect it for free anyway, unless you are a lawyer or something. Perhaps the giving of a skill would be better. I have taken peoples portraits as a gift before. This works only if you are any good at it and you sometimes charge people for the same skill so for example taking one on your mobile and then texting it to them does not count as a gift. A good gift would be having a party or making someone a nice meal.

My dad once read something out from Saga magazine which said that old people dont want slippers and smellies but would rather have things like magazine subscriptions (presumably for Saga) or theatre tickets. Don't write them a voucher with 'a weekly phone call from your daughter' written on it. This is about as thoughtful as giving a terminally ill person a five year diary.
Here is a sensible website that will give you some proper ideas without trying to be funny http://www.newdream.org/holiday/giftideastaff.php#time

So I hope I have given you some food for thought. Tomorrow I will be looking at things you can make. See you then.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas shopping part one - green forgiveness

Having been bought up a Christian I am well versed in feeling guilty and this time of year is the perfect opportunity for honing those skills. To help with the trauma of buying someone what they want instead of an ecologically sound gift I have developed a kind of green atonement or carbon offsetting for the individual.

Of course if you are Kirsty Allsopp you will have unlimited time and a constant supply of soap makers, seamstresses and flea markets and all your grandchildren will be delighted to receive a secondhand jam jar full with jelly beans instead of a galaxy tab but for mortal souls we have to make compromises.

So the next three days I am offering my thoughts on how to negotiate the season relatively guilt free (keep watch for my survive January blog)

My first carbon offsetting is to buy as many ecologically sounds gifts as possible for those that will accept them. Norwich has a number of places you can now buy handmade goods. St Lawrences textile centre has a great selection of vintage clothes and handmade crafts ( where you can also find Anne McCrudden's highly sought after teacosies)St Gregories Centre for the arts http://www.stgregorysart.co.uk also has great secondhand, homemade, vintage goods and the most amazing cake. Elm Hill has several good shops and one new craft shop that has opened has handmade socks amongst other things.

The gloves I am sporting in the photograph are from a shop in Scotland. They are made by a 90 year old local woman who used charity wool knitted to a pattern named after the Duke of Buccleuch who encouraged the hand knitting industry over 150 years ago.The pattern is called Sanquhar named after a town in Dumfries-shire.

Another offsetting is to come home from shoppping and do some mending and drink some nettle tea, you will feel very groud (green and proud).

More tomorrow on green gifts....

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Thinking Like A Creator - Transition and A Pattern Language

I first came across A Pattern Language with Adam. He and his boyfriend were reconstructing an adobe house with their own hands in the cattle-blasted valley outside town, and we were walking around the "garden", talking about the plants they could sow back into this red earth where only creosote now grew. They wanted to turn it back into the native grassland that used to wave golden in fall, mile upon mile, right down into Mexico. Adam was reconstructing his life. He had to give up his work as a graphic designer in New York because he had developed an allergy to almost all chemicals. He had become so sensitive that you couldn’t wear any kind of artificial scent around him.

The house was small and deserted in that great space. The empty swimming pool was full of frogs and leaves and the dead cottonwood by the porch had two great horned owlets inside. It had the kind of dilapidation and promise that made you feel you could start again. Right here, right now. He lent us the book. “It’s brilliant,” he said.

Christopher Alexander’s masterwork of environmental design, written with several other architects and academics over eight years, lays out a practical and imaginal map for human dwellings and settlements. When you open the pages it brings that same excitement I felt that day in the desert. It’s a peculiarly European response to North America (Alexander is Austrian, educated in England, worked in Berkeley, California). A sudden release from an old cluttered history into a new unexplored world. The feeling you can start all over again with the best of everything you left behind.

The book contains 253 patterns that go from planning large conurbations to making natural doors and windows. It sets out problems of design and then solves them with the elegance of a mathematician and the eye of an artist. Each pattern cross-references and interlocks with others, and as you work your way across the rooms and gardens, the squares and park benches, coffee shops and workshops you feel a delight in what planners call the “built environment”. Each pattern brings a sense of discovery: Different Chairs. Farmhouse Kitchen. Quiet Backs. You look at houses and streets differently afterwards. As if they matter.

A Pattern Language is the inspiration behind the Transition Patterns (or Ingredients) now being compiled by Rob Hopkins, as the baseline for starting up and developing initiatives in the way the 12 Steps did previously. It follows the same layout: presenting 63 Patterns that move from the small (the individual in Transition) to the large (the initiative working with government) and cross-referencing them in six sections. But in its content the similarity starts to part ways.

Transition does not have eight years to compile a beautifully-made book, published by an academic publishers (OUP), selling for £25 a copy. It does not have the benefit of a cultural past to lean on. All those lovely old facades and piazzas. Those black and white photographic gems by Kertesz and Cartier Bresson. Alexander’s book is alluring to both professional and lay readers because it presents places and situations we want to linger in: arbours and arcades. Places of desire.

Transition Ingredients come out of necessity. Crucially the patterns are not physical. They are verbs or qualities rather than nouns. Standing Up to Speak, Becoming the Media, Personal Resilience. Running Successful Meetings. You engage in them, rather than possess them or receive them as a passer-by. It's difficult to convey in images and words the real value and beauty of what happens inside when we come together to create the future. When we communicate. The pictures of Transitioners doing our thing in assembly halls across the world do not appear like the stuff of dreams. So the feeling on encountering this workbook-in-progress is very different. You feel you have to make some effort to get to grips with it. And like everyone else in this time of downshift, you’re not sure you want to do that right now.

Except of course we don’t have that kind of choice. “We are a culture shifting from well-having to well-being” as the voice-over reminds us in The Eleventh Hour, and moving our minds out of a consumer framework is part of that shift. Thinking like a creator means you have to consider everything as you forge a new way forward. You have to flesh out the blueprint, reconfigure yourself and your neighbourhood and make a record as you give everything a go. You can’t buy Transition, or sit in the audience and make a critique, you have to do it. It’s an active thing. A responsibility thing.

And when I say you I’m using the vocative case. I mean me too. I’m finding it mightily hard to write comments to the Patterns that have been going up now almost one a day for the last few weeks on the Transition Network. But tomorrow I’m going to give it a go. Give some examples of what we’ve been doing in Norwich and Bungay in these last two years. Starting up this co-creative community blog for one. Planting a few seeds in the scorched earth. A few ideas to inspire an exhausted world. Starting over again with the best things we have in our hands.

A Pattern Language in Pattern No.128 Indoor Sunlight; sunrise on the east coast from Personal Resilience, August; Mark and Josiah Being the Media, kitchen table, May.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Sisters Are Doing It For Ourselves

“We didn’t make a good job before,” laughs Apache Ray. “We’re going to leave it to the women this time.”

Apache Ray, brought up in a Mexican neighbourhood in Los Angeles, has returned to his native homeland in the Dragoon Hills and has opened up a trading post as a communications centre. We’re here looking at a patch of land behind the store he wants to turn into an indigenous herb garden and he has asked for Greta’s help. Greta, 25, has just written a paper about Apache medicine plants that grow all around these hills and arroyos. It’s a beautiful Spring day in the desert at the turn of the century. Gold California poppies ribbon the highway, blue lupines shine on the hillside and rings of evening primroses cover the red earth, like white handkerchiefs.

I had a feeling then as we all sat under the ramada of what is was like when people could come together without rancour and start again. When wild flowers could recover the earth like a rainbow. When the fiercest tribe in America could lay down their arms. And say that perhaps there was another way of doing things.

* * * *
“You have to be the thread,” said Eloise and we laughed. “Feel the thread and do it anyway,” I added, mostly to myself. We’re doing Button Holes today. Last week it was Zips and the week before Darts. It’s a sewing class on a Sunday afternoon at Bungay Library. We’re reskilling ourselves. Or rather I’m reskilling myself as surely the world’s worst needlewoman. Descended from generations of brilliant seamstresses and having worked in fashion with some of the world’s most beautifully-wrought clothes for over a decade, and yet I can hardly thread a needle. Originally I felt complete and utter resistance to coming here. Like everyone else I like shining at what I am good at. Not failing. In another context I would not have returned given the hopelessness that engulfed me when faced with this recycled, ferociously fast Singer sewing machine that seemed to have a will of its own.

But I did come back. And mostly because Eloise is running the class. She shows us her grandmother’s examples of perfect stitching, and we find ourselves effortlessly getting on with the clothes we have brought to make or mend. If we get stuck, we ask. It’s not really a class at all. You absorb everything as you go along. Mia and I make tea, Mark reads Keziah (Eloise’s 3 year old daughter) a story. And suddenly we all start singing Dancing Queen (Abba! Oh, please). There’s a good vibe in here, industry, self-organisation, creativity, inclusion. In that kind of harmony you can find connections and solutions that a competitive and controlling set-up would not allow.

“How is it going with that speech, Ellie?” I ask. Elinor rolls her eyes skywards. Elinor is in charge of Bungay Community Bees and she’s been asked to speak at the Capital Bee Summit on Thursday in London. Everyone wants to know what the Business Model is for the UK’s first Community Supported Apiculture. Our local Transition sub-group has inspired the start-up of community-owned beehives all over the city and it’s difficult to put what happened this summer in the neighbourhood orchards into a rational "left-brain" format. How can you describe something that catches people’s imagination? How can you describe why an enterprise works because joining it makes you feel you belong to life and to people and to the earth? Because it’s in synch with the eco-systems and with the time we are living and you just “get it”? Because it’s a group organised by female workers. Just like a hive.

So you see when I say sisters are doing it for ourselves, I mean another way of doing things is an intrinsically female way of doing things. This has nothing to do with the patriarchy or the matriarchy, or feminism, or Women are Better Than Men, it’s a beehive approach. A structural shift to right-brain perception, free from duality and me-versus-you. One person is the queen bee and because she is in that position, tirelessly productive, in tune with the whole hive, we all can get on with what we do. Which is bringing back sweetness and storing it up for future generations.

Writing about honey in a book on medicine flowers, I once wrote how the artist Joseph Beuys set up an installation in the 1970s called Honey Pump in the Workplace. Fat and honey were pumped around the gallery, creating a space in which new human communications could happen:

“During the war as a Luftwaffe pilot, Beuys had crashed into the snow-bound steppes of the Crimea and been rescued by Tartar nomads. He had been wrapped in fat and felt to keep him alive. It was an encounter that informed all his subsequent work. Many of his installations juxtaposed the vibrant dynamics of nature with a modern industrial life that produced cold-blooded human beings with materialistically-hardened thoughts, incapable of empathy or mystery. The warmth and movement of natural substances (in this case fat and honey) that related to the warmth and movement of our blood, activated the higher centres of our consciousness: thought became imagination, feeling became inspiration, and will, intuition. In short, the alchemical presence of honey provided the warmth and vibrancy in which real, heart-felt communication could take place.”

Transition gives you a starting point. It gives you a defined space in time, untarnished by history. Here we are: we have to relearn and restore and start again. We would not be here together singing in the library if this were a craft class, organised by the old community system. We’re here because it’s a new way, and we’re here because it feels good to be together. And in that warmth and camaraderie another world can happen. And that’s why in the year 2000 in Cochise, Arizona Apache Ray asked Greta to plant his medicine flower garden.

We can dance. We can jive.
Having the time of our lives.

Cathy; Charlotte, Eloise and Kate in Margaret's garden, Sustainable Bungay Core Group meeting, August 2010; Eloise teaching the art of zips, Bungay Library; Elinor teaching beecraft, Barsham; evening primrose in Cochise county, Arizona.

Monday, 13 December 2010

We Don't Talk About That Kind of Thing Around Here

For a long time there were two subjects you never talked about around the table: Politics and Religion (you weren’t supposed to have any emotions either but that’s another story). They were considered dangerous topics. So it wasn’t until I went to university and fell in with a crew of Northern working-class radicals and lived in the slums of Birmingham that I discovered my political self. Not until I took a class called Politics and Religion in the English Revolution did I realise how whole populations can be controlled and changed by ideas. Not until I met Mark and travelled to the high mountains of South America in my mid-30s did I know anything about spirit. I could have spent my life avoiding both experience of and contemplation on those big shapers of human destiny.

If I had stayed obedient to the polite rules of my upbringing, I would never have discovered my innate radical nature: the ability to change myself at the root and thus the world I lived in. Transition, equally radical in its vision, has up to now also avoided the P and the R word. We have in our initiatives focused on the positive aspects of building a resilient community, priming ourselves to downshift into a low-carbon economy. But the climate of the world is changing and with it its mood. In spite of a distracting and manipulative press, we are as people getting smart about a lot of subjects that were once the province of professionals. As our consciousness expands and thousands of grassroots movements across the planet push upwards, so the corporations and those who wield power on their behalf push us back down. And push down hard. We want things to change radically in terms of social justice and the environment. And they really don’t.

Last week Rob Hopkins published two long articles on his blog, Transition Culture. One was about The Big Society and the other a response to Michael Brownlee who was calling for Transition US to evolve and split from its original genesis in Ireland and England. His argument, as Mark mentioned last week, is that "the Sacred" needs to be at the core of the movement, in the same way as Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (the seminal design work on which the new model for Transition is based).

The Network decided to endorse neither, for many clear and cogent reasons. It was a relief, not just because I had no desire to go along with a Conservative agenda (or for that matter a split from America), but because a social taboo was broken. The upper classes avoid talking about Politics and Religion because they know they are based in the ruthless power of the will which once unleashed can break up dinner parties and the fragile relationships between guests. Transition has avoided them for a similar reason. They separate and divide groups and can lead to non-constructive discussion and actions. Encouraging the energy of against rather than for.

However these historical forces need to be out in the open. We need to be aware of what we are up against and how power and ideas can split people into factions. This is a time for coming together, not defining differences according to country, religion, class or political party. The ability to bring diverse peoples together and work as a composite is one of Transition’s greatest strengths.

So my own response from the waterlands of East Anglia to Brownlee in rocky Colorado is that the core of Transition is the collective heart of people, not an abstract “spiritual” force, or worse still some non-human entity with apocalypse on the agenda. Climate change is scary enough without the threat of raptures and purifications as well. Transition is essentially about descending, not ascending or transcending. We need to be down-to-earth and very human indeed to make it to the lifeboat.

Having cosmic moments on mountains and enlightenments in forests are a matter of personal perception and destiny. They are internal and extraordinary events. But they don’t cut the biscuit when it comes to community, to reconfiguring the way we do ordinary things like reducing carbon emissions or exchanging skills. Spirituality does not make a good common ground between people as it is neither common nor ground. The archetypal world in which most spiritual systems operate is hierarchical and lofty: it turns ordinary modern people into gods and priests, gurus and shamans, pure, elected, evolved and way above the non-sacred folk on this so-called non-sacred planet.

I spent 17 years investigating “the shift of consciousness”, reconnecting with the earth and reading all kinds of right-on spiritual works. By 2008 I was well connected with nature but alone when it came to my fellow human beings. It wasn’t until I joined Transition that I could really talk with my neighbour as myself. Any encounter with the planet right now would direct us towards people and neighbourhood, to break down the barriers between us: because it’s not trees or rivers that are the cause of our planetary dilemma. It’s our civilisation.

The best use of spiritual knowledge any of us might have gleaned from practice would be to dispel our civilisation’s grand illusions (including spiritual illusions) and to bring fellow feeling into play. We do not need to be further separating ourselves into holier-than-thou communes. Or escaping into “woo woo” worlds. Or criticising Transition because it doesn’t uphold to our grandiose ideas of ourselves or how life should be. We need to get our feet on the ground and start forging a common language, a culture that makes sense of energy descent. Most of all we need to unlock and share our practical and creative genius and work together without falling out.

The structure of the Transition Patterns or Ingredients are there for everyone to use in their own initiative’s style. If we engage with them whole-heartedly they will bring rewards. Even if we took just one and worked with it as a practice within our community. Alexander’s A Pattern Language is more creative than spiritual. There is great poetry in the patterns and their relationship with one other, as Alexander makes clear in his introduction. There is great poetry in what Transition is doing. But we talk to each other in prose. That’s important. Many of us recognise the cosmology that Brownlee is writing about, but to seek to live everyday in those kind of “sacred” dimensions is ultimately isolating. We don’t meet each other in the dreamtime. We meet each other here.

Banner at the Great Norfolk Anti-Cuts Demo; path up the mountain, the Andes, 1992; sitting under the neighbourhood cherry tree, Southwold 2010; patterns of ice outside the kitchen window. Photos: Mark Watson

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Stored Sunshine

So the Cancun Climate Conference has ended with an agreement of sorts, though with no binding targets. Pundits and commentators from all sides of the opinion spectrum will be poring over the small print for days and weeks to come to work out the implications.  It still seems like the world isn't taking climate change seriously enough, and still wants to put narrow national interests ahead of the common good.

Back in the UK though, it's still cold and dark, and events in Cancun can seem a long way away. We need a bit of stored sunshine to sustain us through the cold winter.

I been sustaining the summer sun by reading the Sustainable Diss 2030 booklet by fellow blogger Dr Gary Alexander.  Even though I don't live in Diss, there's something about the clarity of the vision and the attractiveness of the proposition that gives that welcome burst of warmth in these winter months.  It really gives something to think about and plan for.

Gardeners tend to use the dormant winter months to think about and plan activity for the spring and summer.  Reading Sustainable Diss 2030 gives me the chance to think about plans for next year.

If, as the signs seem to be, the UK still isn't pushing for action on climate change as hard as it could, there'll be more work than ever for us all to do.

Friday, 10 December 2010

"I don't want to change the world..."

In the United States, opinion on climate change seems to be split along party lines; in general terms, Democrats follow the science, Republicans, well, don't. In the UK we haven't yet followed that pattern. It could just be a matter of time though; British politics is a strange beast at the moment.

At the UEA on Wednesday night, my great hero, Billy Bragg, played to a packed house - one man, three guitars and a bellyful of anger. Alone on the stage, stark in the spotlights, he was a titan, a musical demigod. I first went to see Bragg 21 years ago, also at the UEA, and I've seen him six or seven times since then up and down the country, his songs the backdrop to much of my adult life.

His politics have evolved over the years as Britian has changed. I saw him play during Thatcher's premiership, then during the Major years; at the Hackney Free Festival the weekend after Labour's landslide victory in '97, then again during the invasion of Iraq. And now, in coalition Britain, the day before the university fees vote, when the streets of London became a battleground.

Bragg's often dismissed as a lefty singer, a remnant of 80's Red Wedge idealism. But his passion for justice defies easy labelling. In between classic songs about personal and political struggle - A New England, Levi Stubb's Tears, The World Turned Upside Down - he talked about fighting racism, fighting cynicism, the need for strong public services and social justice for all, for community action and for looking after each other.  As if people really mattered.

And the point is, that unlike the American polarisation around climate change I mentioned at the beginning, these things shouldn't divide on party lines, left and right, liberal and conservative, but should be based on a common and universal respect for each. Bragg is unashamedly socialist, but he talks of socialism, not as something dreamed up by Marx or Trotsky, but in terms of the language of "institutionalised compassion", a community based on respect.  Something beyond Labour, Tory and Lib Dem.  I really like that idea.  That's something I can sign up to.

Bragg told us that singer-songwriters can't change the world.

Each time I see him on stage, I'm not so sure.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

“Global warming eh? Why’s it so cold then? Hur hur…”

It had to happen.  Sooner or later some bright spark was going to ask the question:

“If there’s so-called global warming, why is it so cold?”

I saw it on Facebook first, which is perhaps inevitable given there’s 500 million people there (apparently even Sarah Palin is on there), and the very next day, skidding my way into the Coop on Dereham Road, I saw it on the front page of the Daily Express: “Global Warming: If Only”.

The subtext is clear – if global warming doesn’t match my experience of an unusually chilly November in England, it must not exist.  Even worse, it must be some kind of pinko conspiracy, dreamed up to fleece hard-pressed middle-Englanders of their hard earned money; the “squeezed middle” the media is so fond of.

Frankly people should know better.  Climate is not the same as weather.

Luckily the fabulous Marcus Brigstocke came to my rescue with a rant on that very subject, courtesy of BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy “The Now Show”.  I fell about laughing.  So, if you happen to hear someone make a banal comment to you linking the early snow to global warming and you feel your blood boiling, Marcus will provide you with all the answers and rebuttals you need!  (You’ll have to be quick and listen to it before the weekend though.)

Laughter is a form of resistance and a form of resilience.
Listen to this and the laughter will sustain you through these literal and metaphorical dark days, I promise!

Pic from www.bbc.co.uk (Marcus Brigstocke in the middle with the offending piece from the Daily Express)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Re-purposing

“I’ve repurposed my summer trousers,” I declared to Eloise in Sustainable Bungay’s Sunday sewing class in the library.
You’ve what?” she chuckled.

“Yes, it’s a new term I’ve come up with – repurposing*. I’m using an old pair of summer trousers for pyjama bottoms, and they’re great. Not much to do with sewing, but you know, all part of the reuse, repair, recycle thing.”

I can count so many positive changes in my own life since I joined Transition over two and half years ago. The huge social benefits which come from getting involved in common projects with other people preparing for an energy-leaner future. Learning new skills and sharpening up old ones. On an inner level, constantly working my way beyond ‘little me’ to defeat the isolating individualism that’s so strong in our culture, and which seems such a treacherous path to continue on. And just being more relaxed and able to speak with so many more people, in transition or no.

Some of this has come about by a sort of ‘inner repurposing’. During the 80s and 90s I had some (okay, a lot of) new-agey ideas about, well, a New Age. I was into Limitless (personal) Growth and Abundance. I read all the books and did the affirmations. I made a living telling people they could be into limitless personal growth too. I did not think in social terms then or of economics, or see that this 'spiritual' growth (which often came down to 'I want the perfect job, car, house, income, relationship') was predicated on the earth's very limited fossil fuel resources. I just wanted to get what I wanted. I wasn’t religious but I had my own spiritual ideas and I was most liberal about sharing them with others. If they didn’t understand them, well that was their problem. I had my purpose and I was in touch with it!

The first awakening I had that this wasn’t quite right occurred in Venezuela in a hotel courtyard full of flowers in 1996. I was 34. From the reception I heard a booming male European voice fervently declare that we all Create our Own Reality, a New Time is Coming, there is No Separation, We Are All One. On the way to my room I passed the man, who was about my age. I don’t remember the person who was with him. Whoever it was wasn’t getting a word in edgeways.

I didn’t immediately see the correlation between myself and this man. I just felt immensely irritated by him. It took a while to dawn on me. I had not yet realised how the talk of 'no separation' could feel so separating.

There's a discussion going on in the Transition Network at the moment. Michael Brownlee of Transition US believes the 'Sacred' should be at the core of the Transition movement, rather than community. It is well worth reading both his post and Rob Hopkins' response and the ensuing comments.

I once met a man who'd built a healing centre in Arizona with his own hands. It was an amazing place of wooden huts and geodesic domes and always full of visitors. He'd lived on site a long time. I asked him how he responded when people began to talk about their personal spiritual and healing experiences.
"Please don't," he said.

So what has this got to do with the small example of my trousers-cum-pyjama-bottoms?

Well, a few years ago I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility of repurposing - myself or my nightwear. A few years before that I would have actively rejected the idea. Trousers in bed? Darling, I was creating my own reality and I had my silk pyjamas sent to me by a friend in Hong Kong. And I'm not joking.

REPURPOSING n. The changing of the purpose of a thing from its original intended use to another, hence REPURPOSE vb. To give something a different purpose instead of or in addition to its original.

*I've just checked this term and discovered it has in fact been in use for some time, so I can't claim I invented it. However I wrote the above definition yesterday before I found this out.

Pic: Repurposed trousers-cum-pyjama-bottoms with blue woollen scarf repurposed as hot water bottle cover

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Public Transport – A Private View

I went up to the Anti-Cuts demonstration in Norwich on Saturday by public transport. When I got on the Anglian bus to Lowestoft, I discovered the return fare had suddenly gone up from £3.80 to £5.20. That’s roughly 40% in one go. The driver gave me the new day ticket for a mere £5. I could now travel all day anywhere within Zone C. But all I actually wanted was a return ticket to Lowestoft. And it was still a costly increase at over 30%.

The drivers on this route are normally cheerful and friendly. It makes a real difference to the journey. Today, this man looked tired. “It can’t be making your life easy at the moment,” I said. “Being the first port of call for the bad news.” He rolled his eyes up and I had a vision of all the drivers in the front line facing the passengers’ annoyance whilst the people making the decisions sat in offices - and not just the Anglian ones - shielded from it.

So I called head office this morning and spoke to Anglian's accountant. He told me some fares in the region had actually gone down (Harleston to Norwich for instance), whilst those from Halesworth to Norwich (bus 588) and Southwold to Great Yarmouth (bus 601, the one I was on) had gone up. The 601 is an unsubsidised commercial route. It does have to do with the cuts and loss of grants and council subsidies.

"I agree yours was a particularly sharp increase," he said. "We've introduced the day tickets. But that's still a £1.20 rise."

He then said that Anglian had increased their fares early in order to shield from further sharp rises in the future, although that wasn't guaranteed entirely. And that rural communities would be particularly hard hit.

"I am surprised by the lack of feedback from the public so far about the changes," he said.

The man at Head Office said he was also perplexed why there were oil price increases now the economy is said to be 'in recovery'. I mentioned Peak Oil and resource depletion (after all it is a bus company I'm talking to), and he told me about the dual fuel buses they are planning to use with methane generated from landfill. These are not in place yet.

There was also no increase in pay for the bus drivers beyond the 2% they received in October.

"Are the drivers unionised," I asked.
"I don't really understand why they would want to be."

So then what about the fact they were in the firing line of passengers annoyed by the fare rises?
"Yes, that's not great, they're a really good bunch of guys."

I looked at Anglian's website afterwards and found only the most oblique reference to the fare changes. About the day passes for Lowestoft, Yarmouth and Norwich: "In some instances a ticket may be cheaper than buying a return ticket !!"

At this transition time of peak resources and climate change we need to be using public instead of private transport, and making sure there is reasonably-priced access to it for people in rural areas on low income. And there are many of us. These fare rises, like the cuts themselves, hit hardest where there is the least leverage.

It takes effort to be bothered about these things. To give feedback. Even when they affect us directly. This does affect me directly and I really didn't want to pick up that phone this morning and call Anglian. I forced myself to. And that's because I really don't want to return to some Victorian world of vast inequality, with a ruling elite who despise the working class and the unemployed underclass are sent to the equivalent of workhouses, providing labour in return for the bare essentials of existence.

And who can't afford to get on the bus to Lowestoft.

Pics: Merry Christmas from Your Local Bus Company Day Ticket; Me on the bus holding The Long Emergency - Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by James Howard Kunstler and The Rough Guide To Climate Change by Robert Henson. I had intended to review these books this week but I was overtaken by the bus.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Great Norfolk Anti-Cuts Demonstration

For the first post of this 3-day slot, I want to take you on a journey in words and pictures of the The Great Norfolk Anti-Cuts Demonstration organised by the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts, which took place on Saturday. I had never been on a march with trades unions before. But the government cuts affect me as they do millions of other people. And this is a time for joining in.

The snow and ice had mostly turned to sludge by the time we got to Chapelfield just before noon and the temperature was a few degrees above freezing. Elena came up and greeted me from behind. "When I got here there were more police than marchers," she said. "It was a bit alarming."

Then just before noon the crowd swelled in size and and the line we were forming suddenly got much longer.

Then there were over a thousand people, holding banners from Unison, The National Union of Teachers, The Labour Party, The Trades Union, NorwichPride... The mood was relaxed. I wasn't even put off by the icy water seeping into a split in my left sole. Why did I wear these shoes!?! Well, because it was -4 Celsius last night when I went to bed and I wasn't expecting a thaw!

We walked slowly from Chapelfield down to St. Stephen’s Street, past the market up to the Forum, chanting

“When they say cutback, we say fight back.”
“Cut cut cutback”
“Fight fight fight back.”



And "No ifs, no buts, NO EDUCATION CUTS."

The carousel in front of the Forum went round and round.

Everyone cheered as we passed the group of firemen outside the fire station. They've already got the T-Shirt!




We arrived back in Chapelfield to listen to speakers from the Green Party, Stop The War Coalition, United Kingdom Disabled Peoples' Council, the National Union of Teachers, to Cath Elliot, Guardian blogger and unapologetic feminist and to a 'Postie' from Royal Mail. Everyone was greeted with cheers. One speaker reminded us of the simultaneous March on Parliament for a Zero Carbon Britain and a Million Climate Jobs organised by the Campaign against Climate Change.

When the speakers had finished and the water in my shoe was very cold, we headed over to the Greenhouse in Bethel Street for a cup of tea. There we found a cafe full of fellow marchers. Some were also fellow transitioners. Kerry was behind the counter doing a grand job of getting drinks and cake out to everyone; Tom came by and told us how well the recent Zero Carbon World Concert went. I laughed with Teresa about the rather alarming hand dryer in the toilets, which she told me had peerless low carbon credentials. And we all thawed out.

Then we took off for our train and bus home. As we walked to the station I felt heartened that people from all different parts of society are joining up and coming out in the face of the heartless and cynical destruction of the welfare state. Me too. I'm glad to be part of the resistance.

You can also read Charlotte's excellent post on the demonstration in the OneWorldColumn.