Tuesday, 31 May 2011

swarm catchers

In today's post fellow transitioner, blogger and Natural Beekeeper, Adrienne Campbell of Transition Lewes speaks about the swarming of bees and holding life in your hands:

Last Saturday I was working on my allotment, near my bees, and heard a loud hum. I looked up and saw a swarm of bees that quickly moved over my head towards the woods beneath Landport Bottom. I jumped on my bike and tried to follow them but they were too fast and disappeared quickly towards their destination. They were not my bees but from another colony, excitedly and purposefully creating new life.

The air is warm, the nectar flow is on and swarming season is upon us again. Perhaps because of the decline of the honeybee, we now have over a dozen new natural beekeepers in the Lewes area. They keep their hives, often home made, in gardens, allotments and on roofs. Seeing themselves as ‘bee guardians’ rather than ‘honey farmers', they work on a very different basis to conventional beekeepers. They leave most of the honey for the bees to overwinter on, they try not to open up the hive without good reason – especially taking care not to disturb the brood chamber - and allow their bees to swarm as a natural part of the cycle. As a result, swarming is on the increase, thanks to natural beekeeping, as well as from the increasing number of wild bee colonies in Lewes trees, chimneys and eaves. So swarming in May and June will become a more common occurrence.

There’s fear and projections attached to swarming bees but really they are almost always docile. For example, last year I captured with my bare hands a perfect swarm hanging low from a small tree on Talbot Terrace; the children loved watching me do that; it was a community event. Swarming is abundance itself, the honeybees’ natural way to reproduce and break disease cycles. So if you see or even hear about a swarm of bees, stop to celebrate and marvel at them, and note where they land. Then ring one of Lewes’s swarmcatchers, who will transfer the bees to one of the many Lewes people who are waiting to start keeping bees naturally.

You can read the original article on Adrienne's blog 100 Monkeys

photo: Natural Beekeeping Trust

Monday, 30 May 2011

Into Deep Nature

Welcome to Deep Nature week on the Transition Norwich blog. Each day our regular and guest bloggers will be writing about their connection to and relationship with the natural world, why it is important we maintain them and what it has to do with Transition.

From the very beginning of the TN blog, Reconnection with Nature has been the most frequently used label to describe our posts. Two recent pieces, John's Toads Talk Transport and Charlotte’s The Sea Kale Project, give voice to how the natural world is present in our lives in a way that goes beyond nature as mere entertainment, a backdrop for our life-dramas, a nice view or something that’s, well there, but that we don’t take too seriously or want to keep under control at all costs.

Perhaps the most pernicious attitude towards the natural world in present times is nature as endlessly exploitable resource. Nature that we can simply extract from (think tar sands, see Gasland, read about Water Matters) to keep a certain high energy, high carbon, superficial and disconnected (see deep economist Bill McKibben's latest article) lifestyle going. One that pollutes the very planet we depend on for our lives. With no regard for the places, people, plants, animals, forests, mountains or seas that suffer in the process.

For me, Deep Nature is an attitude, an approach, more to do with tuning in and being open and aware of the connections and interdependency between things, than about sitting on a pristine mountaintop (one that hasn’t been open-top mined) in splendid isolation. Although that too may be useful sometimes. We can start right where we are. Right at home. I started in the 90s getting to know the wild and medicinal plants outside my door in the city. That was when I began to feel at home after years of travel. Years later I began planting seeds myself. Then last year I turned my attention to bees and pollination properly for the first time, when I joined Bungay Community Bees.

Being open and aware is not a fixed state you achieve and that’s that. It happens at a certain depth and tempo which is at odds with the mechanical rush of modern life which all of us are more or less subject to. Sometimes it happens almost by grace, like the day recently that bees, people, plants and place converged in Bungay.

Or when a schoolchild asks you if the sunflower seeds you’re showing them how to plant so the flowers can feed the bees are ‘awake’.

Or when a fledgling Great Tit stuns itself against your window and you hold it in your hand whilst it gets back its bearings and returns to itself.

But mostly it’s something we have to get into, negotiate. That takes effort. And practice. And it comes from a deep feeling for what's at stake if we don't.

Pics: Great Tit fledgling recovers its bearings in my hands; sunflower seeds, seedlings, dried head, Elinor's recycled paper pots and suma sunflower spread at Bungay primary school - both by Mark Watson

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Water Matters

One of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world is drying up fast – but few people have ever heard of the Ogallala aquifer. It lies under the USA, between Nebraska and north Texas, and has an area nearly the size of Spain. The Ogallala has been used to irrigate the major grain growing areas of the USA since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s and has allowed American farmers to feed many parts of the world with cheap food. Whilst this has had bad effects on the local agriculture of many African countries, many of those countries are now dependant on the US for their staple cereals. However, in some places 90% of the water has been extracted in the last 30 years.

So how is this relevant to us in Norwich? Well of course all of East Anglia is currently suffering a serious lack of rain and we also depend on underground sources for our water. But there is a major difference – our chalk aquifer does get recharged by the rain that falls on the land to the south, such as the Chiltern Hills - the Ogallala is shielded by an impermeable layer so only a very small amount of rain ever reaches it. The water was trapped between 2 and 6 million years ago during the formation of the Rocky Mountains.

In England we have rules that control who can extract water and how much they can extract – in Texas there is a ‘right to capture’ that means that if you own land over the aquifer then you can take as much water as you wish and sell it to nearby cities. Some farmers are trying to conserve the water but even if they succeed, the reserves are likely to be exhausted in 60 years. So there is a massive conflict between those who want to make short term profits and those that want to eke out the water long enough for the rest of the world to adapt.

For me, the Ogallala is just another example of why we need to have local resilience and manage our own food supplies. Water supplies are under pressure throughout the world and there are many places where ancient aquifers are being drained faster than they can replenish. It seems incredible to me that the world is paying so little attention to this problem – out of sight, out of mind.

Erik tells me that Norwich FarmShare can take water from the Yare for irrigation purposes – so let’s hope for some rain to keep our river flowing!

Pics from Wikipedia

Friday, 27 May 2011

Transition and Entertainment

Here are a few things I enjoy doing:
-Playing boardgames
- Reading about philosophy or economics
- Computer programming
- Salsa and swing dancing
- Architectural Design
- Designing websites
- Writing and playing music

Although it may not immediately be apparent, there’s one thing that all of these have in common, and that is logical thought. I can get totally engrossed in thought and be so engaged in it that little else matters for that time. I can often be starving hungry, and only notice when my lack of food has started to affect my thought patterns or I’m falling asleep. I often can’t sleep if I’m thinking too much about an idea or concept in my mind, and can only fall into slumber once a logical conclusion has been reached. Perhaps this makes me a geek, but nevermind, I love it!

So why is this relevant to transition? It’s in our attitude towards entertainment. There are several ways of looking at entertainment, only one of which the corporate world has been transfixed with for a long time – that with a producer and a consumer. The producer, often based in Hollywood, or some other such remote place to most of the world, will generate ideas for stories, comedy shows, films, characters and brands. They then film them, produce merchandise for them, create spin-offs. And then they sell their ideas, via intermediaries (cinemas, TV stations, chain stores), to “the consumer”, that magical entity that always has money to burn and is oh so willing to burn it.

There are a great many alternatives to this model, as I’m sure you’re all aware and already partake in, and I’m willing to bet that many of those alternatives do not include you just as a passive “consumer”, but involve creativity, involvement, engagement and, to some extent, commitment. How many of you enjoy the relationships you have with your significant others, your children, parents and friends, all of which have taken commitment and engagement? How many of you have enjoyed gardening, music-making, art or computer programming because of the creativity that is involved?

Part of the reason I joined Transition is because of the opportunities it gives me to think, to engage and create. I enjoy tackling the issues that have been set before us in society because of the excitement of doing something that hasn’t been done before – of creating a world that isn’t just a struggling tired behemoth of times gone past, but is new and beautiful. There’s an enjoyment that I get out of being inspired by the ideas that I hear at transition meetings and, hopefully, others being inspired by mine! I also enjoy the sense of engagement that you feel – that you’re part of a movement, along with thousands of other people, all with that same vision of a rich, resilient post-oil culture.

But I was talking about entertainment – what, then, does a resilient entertainment industry look like? It certainly can’t work on the model of shipping our hard-earned cash overseas to international “entertainment producers” with nothing significant in return. No, what we need is local entertainment, produced by local people, for local people, and where the producers are the consumers at the same time. Singing with a choir is one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had (indeed, have!). It is free and often entertains other people at the same time. But there are so many other examples – writing, dancing, learning. We have the power to entertain ourselves all the time, but the value of these wonderful forms of entertainment have been artificially diminished by corporate advertising who claim that the only things of value are those which you pay for.

So I appeal to you – turn off the TV. Don't pay to be advertised at. Create, rather than consume. Engage, get involved and commit your effort to things which will pay you back in happiness many times over. I’m glad I live and always have lived in a TV-less household. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy TV. In fact, TV can be marvellously entertaining, in that completely passive way that one needs from time to time, but I’m glad that I have my other forms of entertainment, because without that sense of creativity, involvement, engagement and responsibility that comes with commitment, I don’t think I could ever be truly happy.

P.S. There’s a TEDTalk video on this subject which I highly recommend! Simeon Jackson

Images: playing chess at The Treehouse Festival 2010 (photo by Adam Jackson); me swing-dancing at Itchy Feet, Leeds; a crocheted strawberry lace, just for fun, again at The Treehouse Festival.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

lock on - notes towards an article on activism and transition

To take in what is happening an inter-disciplinary vision is necessary in order to connect ‘the fields’ that are institutionally kept separate. John Berger, Hold Everything Dear
“No is one of the most honourable words in the English language,” said Deepak. “It needs to be reclaimed.” Deepak Rughani is a campaigner and co-director of Biofuelwatch and he's talking about the defence of natural ecosystems, an area he feels the Transition movement ignores. Without action to prevent the exploitation of the wild lands reduction of carbon emissions becomes meaningless. Without stringent protection of the pristine grasslands and rain forest in the Amazon basin the world’s rainfall patterns are dramatically disturbed and thus our ability to feed ourselves.

I’m researching a piece for the Transition newsletter about the relationship between activism and Transition and finding it’s a giant subject. Too large really for one voice and one blog. People are finding it hard to put their experiences into one pithy sentence. And when we say activism what exactly do we mean? Does this include strategic campaigning and grassroots community activism, as well as direct action and civil disobedience?

I had met Deepak at our recent meeting to discuss Nicole Foss's talk on financial deflation and the economic future where he had given an introductory overview. That’s when I noticed a shift that was happening in Transition. We had been working diligently on our community projects, building culture and infrastructure, when BAM! the world stormed right back into the room. Although we were talking about local solutions we were also debating the big global issues: civil liberties, civil disobedience. The cafe was packed. There was a buzz in the air I hadn’t felt in a long while. It brought a reality and an urgency into play that had been missing.

2011 is not 2010. It is the year when politics came back into all our lives, as we found ourselves marching against the Government's public spending cuts, watching the uprisings in the Middle East with fast-beating hearts - a time when we are being challenged to take a stand in a way that was no longer just about saying Yes
It's frustrating that (activism) is usually framed as "negative" campaigning, as it's all about making a more positive world and those positive messages are usually there but just not heard as loudly. For example the campaign "against" GM crops also pushed the alternatives of organic very heavily, campaigners "against" nuclear power sing the praises of renewables, and "anti"-incineration campaigners promote reduction of waste, effective recycling etc. Climate Camp not only highlighted problems but modeled a sustainable eco-village of thousands with its own energy production, grey water, compost loos, vegan food, democratic decision making structures etc. Far more than just opposing stuff. As I said before - holistic. (Rhizome Co-op from the Transition Network Forum on Activism and Transition
The fact is many people in Transition are also activists and campaigners and as I began speaking with some of them I realised that we don’t talk about it much. We live our lives in separate stories. In our meetings we are Transitioners and in the “outside world” we are someone else. It’s a phenomenon of our culture that Paul Kingsnorth writes about in the second issue of Dark Mountain. In Transition Norwich there are people who are activists for Greenpeace, for CND, who go on climate actions and marches, who sign petitions, who organise flash mobs, who fight for the NHS, for higher eduction, for the forests, for the libraries, who protest against Tescos, against the Northern Distributor road, who lobby politicians and councillors, who are those councillors, who are the people who speak with everyone and do not close down.

Some of us find that saying yes inevitably means saying no. Chris Hull, a founder of TN and also an active anti-Tesco campaigner (see right as Darth Vadar!) observes that being involved in local business and local food production means you will be against supermarkets by default and no matter how far you go to speak with those in power and civic office, "you get to a point where you are pulling in different directions in subtle and sometimes in subliminal ways, where the business-as-usual model is directly conflicting with Transition."

Christine Way has just returned from successfully blockading a port in Scotland to bring attention to the containers of “green” bio-mass woodchips from Brazil for conversion into electricity. A fellow founder of TN she has always maintained that both forces for change need to work together. And that just as Transition needs to keep the bigger picture in mind in all it does – those drivers of climate change, peak oil and economics – so activism needs to include the positive moves that Transition works hard to provide, and not become snared up in battling against the Establishment.

What alternatives are you providing?

One of Transition's strengths is its fluidity and I’m becoming aware of this fluidity the more I speak with everyone. You can, as a Transitioner (as I've found out) be as much at ease talking with a Tory politician as you can with a TUC shop steward, a local Green Party mayor or an anti-nuclear activist. The movement is not stuck in ideology or dogma and deliberately doesn’t fight the enemy, or struggle for power. The empire divides and conquers. Transition works within the same complex dynamics as an eco-system: within diversity In this it has a unique ability to connect and work alongside the many incentives for change that already exist.

To embrace activism as a dynamic force within the whole pattern of Transition strengthens it. We need to include those dramatic actions that bring planetary dilemmas into the limelight because our consciousness is shifting towards what Jeremy Rifkind in The Empathic Civilization calls the dramaturgical and the bio-spheric. Acting within the collective consciousness of the earth. This is a radically different position from the one of control and safety most of us have adopted. And it means making moves in real life, not just in our heads. BecauseThis Is It is not longer a slogan on the workshop wall.

For a long time we have been able to be the audience to history, to live our lives theoretically. We can watch the world on our screens and shut out its inconvenient truth at the click of a switch. But now history is coming into our streets and into our lives and we need to know how to act, or support those who act on our behalf. If we cheer for those bold protesters in Tahrir Square, in Wisconsin, for the thousands of campaign groups that Paul Hawken wrote about in Blessed Unrest, we need also to cheer for those who occupy Fortnum and Masons and the Royal Bank of Scotland, who protest against the corporations who threaten those fragile eco-systems on which we depend. The people who climb nuclear power stations and coal smokestacks and oil rigs to bring attention to the crucial debate about energy and the citizen journalists that write and blog about them.

In the current forum on the Transition Network you can find Ghandi's famous quote: Be the change you wish to see in the world to illustrate the positive-only nature of Transition. Many people have fled environmentalism and activism and joined initiatives because they felt to say only NO was an exhausting and often deeply negative experience. Many decided to turn their backs on any overtly political activity, even to forget they had once taken part.

However in this desire to get away from the bad stuff we forget that Ghandi was an activist par excellence and encouraged people to put their bodies before the brute force of Empire. And went to prison for it more than once. We forget that The Guardian newspaper was created when the media of the day failed to report the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in which 60,000 peaceful protesters were attacked by the army. We live in a society that is the end result of thousands of civil uprisings and direct actions: thousands of people whose names we do not know who have put themselves on the line. Understandably we would rather be working steadily on our energy descent action plans over the next 2o years and shifting happily towards a low carbon way of life.

But 2011 is not 2010. And Transition is changing its tempo. We’re not in the slow movement right now. We have to see that the strength of Transition initiatives lies in its secure root within communities, in its network of communications and that these provide a stable base for changes in the way single-issue actions, existing as they do on the edge of society, over a short time, do not. We have to see equally that our ability to think in many disciplines at once, which we have practiced over these years, puts us at an advantage, gives us an ability to resist splitting into polarity, the kind of polarity that causes the violence and hatred that activism and protests can descend into.

The recent riots in Bristol were right in the middle of Transition Montpelier's neighbourhood. They focused around the new Tesco, although there was a lot more to it. A local campaigning group (No Tesco in Stokes Croft) had been peacefully protesting against the supermarket for well over a year.

The riots weren't really about the Tesco, but it became 'the story' that the media hung their hats on. They began when the police raided a squat across the road on an unfounded suspicion at rush hour on Maundy Thursday. They then stayed there for hours, winding everyone up, and everyone got very over-excited and it ended up in a big punch up. Tesco was only involved when the police mysteriously retreated, and left an unlocked police car outside the un-loved store at 1 am, after hours of street punch ups. Unsurprisingly, the crowd, left to their own aggravated devices, smashed up the car and then laid into the store. Then the police came back and the fighting continued.

The campaigning group had nothing to do with the riots, and everyone was saddened by the riots.The campaigning group became involved in the media storm that followed the riots; they were bombarded with calls and emails from journalists, and tried to present a balanced response under a huge amount of pressure.Some of the stories painted un-favourable pictures about the campaigning group, as you might imagine! A few local papers used the story as a
way to stir controversy.

Transition Montpelier had supported the peaceful protest from the beginning, as we weren't that keen on Tesco, and the campaigning group had always been suggesting positive alternatives to it.They still are - food hubs are underway, local cafes and more. And they are our friends and neighbours. We did have discussions about whether we should support the campaign as we're not a 'campaigning organisation', and agreed to share news and so forth about the campaign.

The riots, unsurprisingly, scared a lot of residents. The stories in the media, particularly the negative ones about the campaign, made a few of the residents feel that the campaign was negative and causally related to the riots. Transition Montpelier's support of the campaign was therefore seen in not a great light by these folks. Naturally, we don't know how many people it is, but didn't feel great about it all. It's all very complicated! We continue to support the campaign group and local food groups. (Ed Mitchell, Transition Montpelier)
Being rooted in neighbourhood, in place, people and plants, is what Transition Heathrow discovered after running a successful campaign against the third runway at Heathrow. When they began to grow plants in a deserted greenhouse in the once-threatened village of Sipson with the explicit support of most of the locals, the local MP and a spokesman for the local police. Here's a spokesman from the highly active initiative that has brought a fresh burst of energy into the movement
Before the Transition Heathrow project had even begun, one of our initial key aims was to combine climate activism with local community initiatives by adding a more radical edge to the Transition Towns movement. The co-founders of Transition Heathrow all had a background of taking direct action with anti airport expansion group Plane Stupid and so we had experienced the massive success and impact that direct action had on framing the debate around aviation in the UK. It was off the back of Plane Stupid's successful work around the third runway at Heathrow that Transition Heathrow was born. Although everyone in the movement against the 3rd runway was extremely proud that the runway was cancelled, as individuals we wanted to go beyond putting our bodies on the line for a day, to a way of creating change that lasts way longer than front page headlines in newspapers the day after an action. This is where the transition movement comes in and has a big part to play.

What was most appealing about the transition model for us is that it is about the direct action of everyday life. We all know that governments and corporations are failing us when it comes to environmental issues and so clearly we need to take matters into our own hands. This is why transitioners “just do it themselves.” So when we wanted to plant stuff - we did some guerrilla gardening. And when we wanted a site we
squatted some abandoned land and brought it back into use. When we wanted to support the BA cabin crew strikes we took part in a solidarity bike ride through terminal 5.
Whatever we're doing it seems to be working. What was encouraging about the shocking police raid of our community market garden Grow Heathrow was the recognition that we are clearly getting to those who hold the power. A revolution disguised by gardening perhaps. Bring it on! (Joe Ryle, Transition Heathrow).
It takes a lot of courage to take direct action, to cross the line, to look the public and the policeman in the eye as you challenge the status quo. Even in small ways. The first time I took part in an action was a simple thing: we were a group defending a patch of green land in Oxford against developers and rode in a barge up the canal to paint the builder’s hoardings with our loud protest. But my hands were shaking as I wrote William Blake’s lines on the wall:

Bring me my bow of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire.

That day something changed utterly within me. I had taken a step that a whole lifetime of well-behaved conditioning had tried to prevent. We all have those preventions in place inside. Our cultural conditioning keeps our minds compartmentalised, our emotions trained to seek security at all costs, to appear to be moral and upstanding citizens at all times. We have to see that without talking about our actions, without coming out about our radical nature, without sharing our private thoughts about the future, all our self-education that includes Marxist theory, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, the history of Levellers and Diggers, without connecting with all the land sovereignty movements that now exist around the world, Transition does not have the strength or wit or daring to challenge the dominant worldview. It runs the risk of becoming stifled by the tyranny of what Blake called "the polite society", by conventional good behaviours and small talk, and fragmenting as has happened in some initiatives. We are in danger of living in a never-never land of allotments and spiritual cliches. Thinking about the change we want to see as a result, rather than the being change that is the (often messy) process.

Not all activists who are also Transitioners agree with this premise however. In Lewes in Sussex there are
currently two projects running alongside each other: the construction of the UK's first community-owned 98kW solar power station, and the occupation of three acres of green land near the centre of town. The first is seen as a Transition project and the second is not. Superficially unrelated but in fact close in aim (localisation of production), the two activities have many people involved in common including councillors, Transition members and residents:
This is quite hard for most people to grasp in my experience. Long- term strategic planning and R&D are understood in terms of industry but not in terms of cultural and social change which mostly comes about through single-issue campaigns resulting in pieces of legislation which can also unfortunately be reversed. Transition is a design framework for cultural change which does not require changes in the law.

Which is not to say that designers can't also be campaigners and vice versa. Many initiatives have convergent aims but differ in methodology. These range across political, philosophical, economic, social and psychospiritual pursuits. So for example someone who protests in London against tax evasion can also be setting up a local food group in her home town and developing personal effectiveness and empowerment. She's engaging in activism, transition and transformation! While these categories overlap and provide mutual positive reinforcement, they preserve functionality best by remaining distinct (Dirk Campbell, Transition Lewes).
This is a working document. It's an ongoing conversation that's happening in Transition at the moment, one that has only really just begun. It’s a radical conversation because we are trained by our civilization to think and work in separate “fields” and not make connections when we speak to one another. To talk within the narrow confines of the room and the present moment. rather than engage with the full breadth of our physical experiences, through time, in relationship with the living, breathing world outside the door. It’s a vital discourse because we’ll be speaking not only within the deep frame of change, but also of liberation.

So I’ll end this (rather long!) inquiry with a review of a documentary that brings home the kind of courage and energy and risks many people take on our behalf to to free the world from its “mind-forged manacles". It’s a grassroots film that like Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change is a story told from the people who take part - the actors in this bio-spheric drama some call evolution. It’s not Hollywood, it’s not the BBC but it is what is happening right now in a town near you. Lock on.

Just Do It reviewed by Adrienne Campbell (Transition Lewes)

Just Do It is a new documentary film that follows the lives of several environmental activists over a year of civil disbedience and direct action.

Watching the various actions, I started to feel involved and even concerned for some of the young people as they put their bodies in the way for the sake of what they believed in. Although I'm a dyed in the wool transitoner, I've done a little playful, lawful activism on the side, and was inspired and emboldened.

I recommend this film to transition groups who might want to attract a younger audience and who also might wish to explore the wide, largely unexplored zone of playful activism, which sits beween normal behaviour and unlawful behaviour. Of course, Transition isn't about campaigning or activism but there is significant overlap and perhaps attitudes and skills to be learned.

The world launch of the film, which was funded through crowdsourcing, at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in June will be followed by showings at local cinemas. If your transition group would like to encourage your local cinema to show it, please contact the film makers from the informative website here



Holding the banner at The Wave, 2009 (Mark Watson); protest banner, Greenpeace USA; Writing on the Wall, Bristol (Ed Mitchell); Poster from Grow Heathrow; ZAD (Zone a Defendre) demonstration, France; South East climate camp, St Anne's School, Lewes.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

the event

Last Sunday our neighbour Irene appeared in the garden with some tickets in her hand. She and Philip couldn’t go to this concert, would we like to go instead?

So that’s how we wound up in the new Studio at Snape Maltings amongst an audience of grey haired smartly-dressed people, drinking white wine and talking to each other intently like a gathering of hawks. It was the final concert in a weekend of Beethoven and Schubert– two late chamber works from the maestro composers. One an intense and unbroken struggle with form, the other a sublime intoxication with harmony. The Belcea Quartet were equally intense and brilliant, and I spent most of the first half marvelling at their sychronicity. I hadn’t listened to classical music in years, though I spent most of my youth carrying a cello around and hanging out with professional musicians, so I know how hard these works are to perform.

Then I closed my eyes. The Schubert quintet is famous for its intense adagio, for its beautiful slow sustained sounds with plucked notes underneath. It’s the kind of music that you don’t want to stop, because it seems so perfect.

But where was this music taking me?

Our culture is built around events like these. The people who go to them have been visiting these concert halls, these opera houses and theatres all their lives. A knowledge of these classical works defines us as civilised, educated and refined. At the first Heart and Soul, Arts, Culture and Well Being meeting at the Norwich Playhouse the question was asked: what will happen to this culture in Transition?

It was a good question because entertainment – high or low- is all about shifting our attention away from the present moment. When we’re engaged in listening to haunting sounds we’re not looking at the stuff that’s happening outside. We’re escaping into perfect harmonious spheres, into fiendishly difficult forms, being reminded of things that were or might have been. In history, in our own past. I’m remembering the times I came here to Snape, sailing up the river, to listen to Britten, Bach, Shostakovitch, Rostropovitch. . . going backwards to the 1975 to Kubrick's film, Barry Lyndon which used Schubert's music to chart the rise and fall of the rogue aristocrat.

I’m remembering how it was to work 60 hour weeks as an event manager to keep a community theatre (also housed in an old maltings) running, the strange sounds that came and went in the building: Tibetan monks blowing giant horns, arch-druids playing fairy harps, virgin choirs singing about loving Jesus, preachers playing cinema organs, children maniacally toe-tapping as their dancing teacher shouted: You can be special! You can be a star! Sometimes as I handed the performers a cheque or brought them a drink on the house we exchanged our looks of exhaustion.

What I remember most is the repetition, the kind of repeat cycles Sebald writes about in his melacholic work about this coast, The Rings of Saturn: the actors repeating the same lines, the musicians playing the same phrases, and how it felt as if I were in charge of some kind of machine that only cared that this show was repeated over and over again. And how our ancient folk wisdom warns us about not listening to the fairy music and getting lost for centuries.

At the interval I stepped out to the grassy terrace that looks over the marshes of the Alde river towards Iken church. The warblers were singing in the reeds and the swifts squeaking in the sky. The great red chestnut trees were in flower and the floor was scattered with white poplar catkins. It was a beautiful evening at one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. It didn’t take me back, or away. Everything was here now.

In Transition we hold events of a very different kind, in humble venues: village halls and libraries. We organise seed swaps, community suppers, film nights, energy days, bicycle rides, picnics, talks, workdays. They are not glamorous, grand affairs, nor expensive to put on; nor do they confer any kind of status or come with a longing for a place just out of reach. They bring us to the present moment, to look at a future that is uncertain, in which our decisions are crucial.

Last week a group of us went to Tom Abbott’s barn on the edge of the common in the Saints. We said our names out loud and where we came from and the organisations we were all part of: Greenpeace, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Sustainable Bungay and then we watched the documentary, Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change.

The people are not beautiful and the film is not beautiful. What is happening to the Arctic is not beautiful though the landscape takes your breath away. The elders of the village speak to the camera about how the temperature has changed, about the shift of the winds from North to East, how the fish is contaminated, the seal fur degraded. How the icebergs they consider as living beings no longer visit the bay as once they did. They speak about how they were trained as children to go each morning out into nature and observe everything - animals, wind, clouds - to sense the living fabric of the land and their place within it and how that place is being shaken at its roots.

Afterwards we debated the difference of consciousness between the Inuit and the visiting “expert” scientists – one that sees the people as intrinsically part of the land and the second that acts as if seperated and in control of it. The Inuit, for example, say the radio collars on polar bears interfere with their hearing and their ability to hunt and thus drive them to starvation. All their criticism seems to be directed at the “wildlife biologists”, observed Martin (himself a scientist) wryly, rather than the Southerner’s way of life that is causing the climate change. We spoke amongst ourselves, each of us in turn, telling our story. How our education teaches us to think our worldview is superior to anything indigenous people might see or say, including that native land knowledge we hold inside ourselves.

On his deathbed Schubert requested Beethoven’s late quartet to be played as his body slipped away from the earth. It was a radical work for its time and in many ways heralded the disharmonious sounds of the modern world to come. It was there that Sunday, like a shadowy dream, and then it was gone. But the film stayed with me. Because it was about life. What it was saying affects the marshes I was looking at and the migrating birds in the sky.

The glaciers of the deep North are melting. It's not time to be distracted by fairy music, to get lost in shadows. It’s time to go out and observe and connect. We need the event to come together, to gather and to pay attention collectively to something we need our wits and our imaginations and our hearts to engage in. Because we’re not the audience anymore, we are the players.

Pics: Mark at Snape Maltings; elders and iceberg from Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change; still from Barry Lyndon, 1975; drinking wine before the concert; Happy Monday at Bungay Community Kitchen; talking around the fire by Kris and Eloise's yurt.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Sea Kale Project

Along the sandy dunes and shingle banks of the eastern seaboard there is a front line of wild plants, the ancestors of our allotments and fields - wild carrot, wild cabbage, sea beet, sea pea, sea kale, sea rocket, oraches, sorrel – and our medicine cabinets - wormwood and eyebright, sea buckthorn, sea holly, scurvy grass. Of all our ancient companions, the sea kale with its abundant flowers and rich detoxifying leaves is the largest and most impressive. Its tap root sinks deep into the shingle and holds fast in a rocky and uncertain time - the kind of plant that can weather a storm.

The plant marks a territory that runs along the shoreline from Norfolk to Kent. It’s a geographical, ecological territory, but also a place you can map in time, in the ways that make meaning of our presence on the planet since our forebears first ate those salty iron-rich leaves.

I came across the sea kale in Dungeness. I had gone there because of Derek Jarman. I had read his journals and noticed the flash of wild flowers in the text, as he struggled with the elements that howled through his shingle garden and to keep own tenuous thread to life. He had come in search of bluebells and found instead the bleak shore and the sea-kale that grew beside the nuclear power station. It was a singular territory that he made his own: wind-broken, austere, at the end of the line.

We had, like the artist, driven out of the city at bluebell time and found the crambe's crinkly purple leaves pushing through the stones. We had been travelling and were looking for a place to live. We walked past the black fisherman’s hut and its now-deserted garden, sat amongst the flowering dwarf blackthorn and crab apple. As we drove away, I looked back and the familiar mosaic of marsh and sky and sea sparked something in me. It was the memory of somewhere I used to know. A certain strand of my life that began when I was a child in Sandwich Bay and Felixstowe.

When we settled in Suffolk Mark and I began an open dialogue with the wild places along the coast, following a practice we had developed working with dreams and medicinal plants – visiting, holding a discourse within the territory, cohering our findings, keeping a creative log. It had become clear that for the future to happen we needed to be realigned with the natural systems and to recover our aboriginal ability to speak with the earth. How could we do this in our native land?

The dialogue began with a question: Who is this self in this territory? How can we communicate in an intelligent and vigorous way? What effect does the land, its moods, rhythms, creatures, weather, have on our imaginations, on our memories, on our realignment?

In 2008 we began a project that mapped the mosaic of eco-systems and their relationship with the human settlements along this shifting coastline. We named the project after the study seakale communities. Having this kind of dialogue means you don’t walk the track you choose. You encounter what is there. going out without a plan, meeting what crosses your path. Not just the beautiful, but also the difficult. We began just as the sea asters were setting seed n the marshes. On November 9 there was a massive storm surge. A powerful northeasterly wind ran against the high tide and the estuaries flooded their banks. We ran out of our houses and stood by the shore as the rivers merged with the sea and swamped the houses down at Blackshore harbour.

After the flood people everywhere began speaking about how to protect the land. Small bands collected together, stacked sandbags against the river wall, spoke out for the birds and the spirit of the place.

“Just a few cows”, we were told by the greysuited men from the Environment Agency in Reydon village hall. The agency were refusing to mend the broken banks of the Blyth as the government announced its retreat back to the metropolis.

"What about the fishermen?" I asked. "Fishing is not economic", he replied.
"What about the tourism?"
"They will go elsewhere".

The cows in the watermeadows didn’t count. The birds didn’t count. The land didn’t count. The people in the coastal seatowns didn’t count. Only the populations in the industrial towns would be secured. The oil prices began to rise. Suddenly I realised I was living in a different time. A time I did not know.

This was the time I found myself talking to Charles Clover, environment editor of the Daily Telegraph, our paths crossing after 25 years. He was telling me about the fish in the ocean he has spent his life defending, and a book he had written called The End of the Line. I told him what was happening down by the sea’s mouth. The agency was abandoning all the defences of the rivers and their harbours along the territory of the sea kale – the Blyth, the Ore, the Alde, the Deben. It was business as usual in the hotels in town, down at the pier, at the fish shop (The show must go on!) but some of us were beginning to ask why.

"They are going to take everything!" he said.

We walked the coast line from the statue of Neptune at Lowestoft, towards the Martello tower of Aldeburgh, from November to the following late summer. We stood on the beaches with 1700 others making a human SOS protest at Walberswick, watched an adder slither by through the sea peas as the police and activists outwitted each other at Sizewell power station, watched the sky burn as the reeds caught fire at Easton Bavents.

We swam in the ocean, with the seals, in the high waves, watched the sea become glass-green, pewter, azure, opal, bruised, mad with foam, tipped with fire. We swam in the wake of Roger Deakin, and walked in the footsteps of WG Sebald. Above us the sky raced with clouds, the wind blew sharp and salt, and warm, scented with heather, hail clattered on our heads. The sands shone silver, the cliffs flashed gold. The land pulsed with light, We pocketed treasures: sea coal, sea peat, a glass bead, a worn kitchen tile, an oyster shell, a deer skull from the tumulus at Dunwich at winter solstice. The sand martins departed their cliff dwellings, the barnacle geese arrived, the starlings rose like spectres over the marshes. Stags roared in the reeds. Seasons came and went. In the mornings standing at my window, I would see the sea like a shining band on the horizon, like a mirror. It’s a good day, I would say to Mark. Let’s go out.

Today is such a day. And I’m writing about this project, about the resilient sea kale, because you notice in a droughted spring, it’s the plants with strong tap roots that flourish. It’s the tap root that keeps us alive. To belong you need a story, and to have a story you need a territory. You need a strong tap root to keep you anchored in a hard time. Sometimes the territory you find yourself in is not the place where you think you belong. It is not the lovely bluebell wood, or the rose garden where you sit alone with your thoughts. It’s not a tropical ocean or an Aegean island cove. It’s a windy English beach with people and houses and oil tankers on the horizon, where you encounter a thousand difficult questions about power and nature and exploitation. And the story you need now is not the story you were born with; it’s a story you have to discover, that you are challenged to go walkabout and find.

Part of me when I began the project wanted to stay on that wild ecstatic shoreline with the flowers, with the birdsfoot trefoil and centaury and harebell, to put all my attention on birds and stones and light, to keep hold of the outsider position of the artist and dreamer, but that shoreline kept taking me to the people, to face those awkward questions: to the protesters at Sizewell, to the campaigners in the village halls. It took me back into journalism as I found myself writing an article on the project for a local community magazine, the first I had published in 2o years. It didn't take me to paradise, it took me straight into the heart of the struggle.

It took me back into society, into Transition, to the place where we all meet, the place at the end of the line, at the edge of the narrow land, England, at a point in time where we need to come to certain decisions about the future. Decisions and meeting places I'll be writing about this week with some of the people who have crossed my path.

Among the seakale on Sizewell Beach, 2011; Derek Jarman in Dungeness, 1992 (by Howard Sooley); Greenpeace protest at Sizewell A, 2003; SOS protest at Walberswick, 2008: Sea Lale Project notebook, 2009; Mark, seakale and Sizewell B, 2011.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Whose Land Is It Anyway?

In the first of our occasional Sunday cross-posts from other Transition blogs, Adrienne Campbell of 100 Monkeys and Transition Lewes reports on the local climate camp held at St Anne's School in her weekly column for Viva Lewes.

At the climate camp last week there were discussions of what to write on a banner to drop off the side of County Hall. ‘Get off my land’ was a popular choice: after all, whose land and whose council is it anyway?

The Climate Camp
passed peacefully and met its main aims: to practice and demonstrate living lightly together on the land as well as carrying out peaceful direct actions against nearby climate ‘offenders’. But, as one interesting column asked, is that all that Climate Camp is for? Is there a call to work more deeply with locals on their issues? And a Lewes academic reminded us of the role of local in preserving things we value when democratic routes fail.

A consensus at the closing of the camp agreed that a group of people – activists, homeless people and local residents – stay on the site as long as possible to buy time for Lewes residents and councils to allow us to have a say in the future use of the three acres of prime ground in central Lewes. We put in some Freedom of Information requests, with the help of a government employee codenamed Puffles, for information about what has been discussed, planned and surveyed for its future. Rumours abound from within County Hall that demolition of the buildings had been imminent. We need to know. Whose land is it to dispose of for building, car parks and the like? STAND – St Anne’s Diggers – is forming around this issue and will be putting a call out for participation. The grounds are open for any resident visitors or campers as well as every Sunday a picnic from noon and community meeting at 3pm.

Last week, as I was scouting St Anne's boundaries with County Hall, I came across a little sign hidden in the undergrowth next to one of County Hall’s car parks: ‘Designated Biodiversity Area’. This was a thin strip of cow parsley and long grass, a portion of which acted as a dumping ground for the clippings from the lawns. The huge County Hall site itself is probably 98% buildings, car park and lawn. It says a lot about the mentality of our council that it even trashes, unopposed by any employees, the tiny area allocated to ‘biodiversity’.

Because biodiversity means ‘wild’. It means the place that many other beings live, because they can’t live on concrete and lawns. That’s what’s so lovely about the St Anne’s site: it has been kept secret and virtually unused for seven years, allowed to grow and stretch into itself. Having spent 10 nights on this land, belly to belly, I have started to fall in love with it, as have other Lewesians coming onto it for the first time. Strong words, but a completely natural response to a gorgeous terrain. It’s this visceral response that helps us to care about natural places, especially wild places which are inhabited by the other beings such as trees, bats, birds, hedgehogs and bugs and which makes us grieve when those places are ripped up and turned into money.

I’ve seen a strong desire to interact with this place, to tame it, plant it, inhabit it with treehouses – turn it into something for our use – and County Hall says it has a fiduciary responsibility to make the most money possible from land. But my personal sense is, for now, let’s leave it, let’s visit it lightly, let’s go gently and leave only footprints. Because, whose land is it, anyway? Adrienne Campbell



Video by Felix Gonsalez of You and I Films
and Transition Brixton

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A Leaf or Two out of the Low Carbon Cookbook

The Low Carbon Cookbook meeting this month took place at the Bicycle Shop cafe. The few minutes it took me to walk down Benedict St were the same few minutes it chose to rain in Norwich that evening and I arrived wet. But who’s complaining? After months of no rainfall and the ground so dry and plants, crops, farmers and gardeners all struggling any rain is welcome. Erik and I talked about the time we each spend carefully watering our respective plants, both of us getting up earlier in the mornings, both loathe to waste water. It’s good to know you’re not the only one!

I went downstairs to say hello to fellow TN blogger Helen and her gardener friend Jo. Main subject: We need more rain. Rain dance anyone?

This month we said goodbye and all the best to Kerry as she went up to Scotland to start her new green job. And welcomed Olivia, low carbon cook, writer and blogger, and permaculture practitioner. This was a great opportunity to review what we’ve been doing since we started last September, meeting monthly, cooking and eating food together, investigating where that food comes from and what goes into producing it. Paying attention. Gathering material for our cookbook.

“It’s quite a permaculture approach,” I said.
“Yes, that’s right,” said Olivia. “Observe for a year.”

It can take someone new to join a group sometimes to make you realise just how much material you have gathered.

So Charlotte took out a large piece of pink paper and as we went round the table taking turns to describe some of our favourite low carbon recipes (both those we have already brought to meetings and those for the future), she wrote down the bones and a structure for the book began to form. We talked seasons, seeds and lactofermentation. Herbs, flowers and fruits. Bee arrived a little later, entering the circle and the conversation. Going round the table like this is great - everyone gets to speak and listen.

And we all got very hungry! I’d already eaten, but normally we would have been enjoying Bee's winter slaw and omelettes, Charlotte's oriental slaw and tuk tuk salad, Erik's pumpkin soup and pickles, my freegan pizza and medicine jelly, and Olivia's Norfolk Black Turkey Egg n’ Nettle Quiche with Spelt Pastry, and all the compotes, breads, freegan gleanings and homegrown and foraged leaves, roots and sprouts right now!

The evening passed quickly and we were still swapping recipes, tips, wild Mexican marigolds and heritage cucumbers and courgettes as we took our leave.

I mentioned to Erik how lovely I found the flowers of salad burnet.
He looked at me askance. "Possibly under a microscope. They're just green and brown and dangly," he said.
"Oh no, they're a lovely rosy pink," I replied.
I said I'd take a photo of them.

We were both right. On the left is a flower from the plant Erik gave me last year at TN's seedling swap. The other two are from the smaller plants which grow profusely in my garden. The leaves taste very similar on both and give a good astringent tang to salads, a typical quality of the rose family.

So I'll leave you there for now. Who knows? In a year's time you may be reading The Low Carbon Cookbook, paper version.

Pics: Medicine jelly; Salad burnets by Mark Watson

Friday, 20 May 2011

Once upon a time not very far away....

Once upon a time in a small artist's studio 3 people who live in the north of Norwich were sitting round a table trying to work out what to do. We love Transition Norwich, and we love where we live, but no one comes to our meetings what are we to do? So they scratched their heads and knitted a bit (this always helped them solve problems) and started to talk. What do people love? What would get people enthusiastic? They started to brainstorm or whatever you call it now. After half an hour they came up with the only legal answer: A PARTY!! And so the Magdalen Street Celebration was born. There was only short time to plan and no money so they rang all their friends and talked to the local people and at the next meeting there were......20 people!

After that day there were many more meetings and cutting out of material to make bunting and other crafty things.

And so the big day came and there were morris dancers dancing and taiko drummers drumming and face painters painting and historical people teaching - all manner of festivities and all the people of the street and surrounding areas came and made merry.

The Sheriff of Norwich walked around and declared that it was a fine street party and all the people cheered.
And after that that day the people of the street always remembered that day and hoped that one day it would happen again. But in the meantime they started to talk to each other more and recognize each other in the street and have cafe conversations.

Then came the next year and......... well you get the idea. Basically we want to do another one and we want it bigger and better so that North Norwich becomes even more greenier and a fun place to be where people are friendly. So if you want to join in then go to the blog spot. or join the facebook page or come to the next meeting which is in the lovely Aladdins Cafe on 7th June at 7 p.m. We need lots of help and you dont have to live in the area. Whatever your skills we can find a way for you to be involved. So come along and join the celebrations!


Thursday, 19 May 2011

News from Norwich FarmShare

Sorry to be posting this so late in the day: I've been working on the farm today, and when I got home I lay down for just a moment to rest my eyes. Next thing I know, it's two hours later and I haven't written the blog or done the washing up.

There's so much to talk about that's happened since last month.

The main thing that's occupying all our minds is this damned weather. We had planned on installing an irrigation system in the summer, expecting April showers and spring rains would keep our plants healthy until then. But there's been barely a drop of rain on the farm since Laura started growing there in March.

We realised that we had to change our plans and fast, and now (phew) we've got an irrigation pond which holds water we can irrigate our crops with as we need. Even with our spanking new irrigation system, it's hard to keep up with the amount of water the plants need to thrive. Lots of the seeds we've sown haven't even germinated yet as they haven't had enough water. Still, at least the local geese are enjoying our new pond.

There's been good news this month too, with an excellent write up in the EDP and Tully promoting the project in an interview on Radio Norfolk.

After interviewing several applicants we're pleased to welcome Tierney, our new part-time assistant grower, to give Laura an extra pair of hands on the farm.

Laura, Tierney and I headed-up a very well attended Open Meeting at Take Five earlier this month, a chance for people to come along and find out more about our farms and produce. We were delighted to fill the top floor of Take Five with local people keen to find out all about Norwich FarmShare, and to sign up two new members on the spot.

We're still looking for more people to sign up, as the farms can only be a success if they are able to sustain themselves financially. Each vegetable share that people commit to contributes to the money we need to pay our staff, buy seeds and machinery, run our tractor and van and all the other expenses that go into a farm.

As things stand at the moment, we do not have enough members to cover our costs.

This is why we need help in signing up more members. If you think you might like a share but you're not quite sure about the details, do get in touch with us via our website and we can give you more information.

If you've got friends or neighbours you've not yet told about Norwich FarmShare, now's the time!

We're holding an Open Day on the farm at Postwick on June 11th, starting at 12.30 pm, Absolutely everyone is welcome on the day: we hope to make it a real celebration of everything we've achieved so far. Laura and I will be offering tours of the farm, introducing you to all the crops we're growing and showing you the wildlife that shares our site. We'll have an opportunity for anyone who wishes to join in with the work on the farm for an hour or so, and lots of fun activities for children. We're also looking forward to a chance to share with you all the plans we have for the future.

We hope that you'll join us, and please do invite family and friends to come along on the day.

We can only be a success together.

Elena, on behalf of Norwich FarmShare

Pics: Baby peas in April, Elena. Geese and Open meeting, with thanks to Laura Creen.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Do we control money, or does money control us?



Like many of Transition Norwich’s theme groups, the Economy and Business (now Economy and Livelihoods) group was set up in October 2008. It attracted a lot of attention throughout 2009, but dwindled somewhat at the end of 2009 into 2010. With Nicole Foss’s recent presentation, and the follow-up discussion, it is time to revive it! So what is the group all about?

At present, our monetary system dictates much of our activity. It is through our wages that we are directed to work in the interest of our employer. And once we have earned that money, it is through advertising, legal obligations (such as mortgages) and other forms of persuasion that we are convinced to spend our money in the interests of others. These “others” are often corporations, governments or other institutions that in themselves have obligations to their stakeholders and are willing and able to direct the activity of even more people to ensure that they meet those obligations. What makes this worse is that the obligation for corporations is no more complex than “to make profit”, and that therefore a large portion of our human effort goes towards the continual and unsustainable expansion of an ultimately doomed consumer society.

There are numerous books, videos and websites which explain these concepts much better than me, but what is clear is that this structure is wrong. It is fundamentally opposed to our individual freedom to do what we want with our lives, and makes money a master, rather than a facilitator in exercising our liberty as it should be.

The primary function, therefore, of an Economy and Livelihoods group is to establish what our requirements are for a monetary (or other exchange) system, and to try to shift from the current paradigm towards something which more satisfactorily meets those requirements.

Although there will be differing opinions on what those requirements actually are, the following actions would undoubtedly move towards it:

- Sharing knowledge about what the current financial system looks like, so that we can make informed decisions about government economic policies, as well as personal decisions, such as where our own money is invested and what we expect to be the benefits and risks. This may be through discussion sessions, talks and blog posts.
- Investigating, establishing and promoting alternative exchange systems that more closely meet the needs of people, including the promotion of existing local trading schemes, where appropriate.
-Stimulating a resilient green local economy, by encouraging development in renewable energy generation, energy conservation, local production of goods, sharing schemes and other enterprises that enable a low-carbon lifestyle.

The above is provisional, and may be added to and changed depending upon the discussions that we have as a group together. I therefore invite you to join us for the first meeting of the revived Economy and Livelihoods group upstairs at the Bicycle Shop Cafe, 17 St Benedict's Street on Tuesday 24th May at 6pm. Simeon Jackson

Picture from http://oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com/, which tells the story of the man who, starting with a paperclip, traded his way to obtaining a house; cover of Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Toads talk Transport

Each spring I help organize the Toadwatch Patrols that this year saved over 15,000 Norfolk toads from being run over whilst on the way to their historic breeding ponds - we carry the toads across the roads in buckets. Toads often move on wet and windy nights so patrollers find themselves out on the roads with just a torch whilst everyone else is indoors watching the TV or driving around in their heated, air conditioned metal boxes. It is interesting how quickly being out in the dark with just toads to talk to makes you see the world through different eyes. The humans rushing past in their cars and hidden behind their curtains become an alien species whilst you identify with the toads, and the foxes and owls that are out hunting them.

One wet night in February I picked up a large, old female toad on her way to the pond and she asked me why there were so many more cars going through the village now, compared to twenty years ago when she was just a tadpole. I explained that the pub in the village offers cheap meals so many people drive here from miles away. The toad asked why the people didn’t use pubs near where they live – I replied that lots of pubs have shut because of lack of custom. The toad asked whether people in the village walked to their local pub. ‘No they mainly drive to pubs in other villages’ I said. ‘So they can squash other toads?’ - asked my friend. I didn’t like the way this conversation was heading and at this point I spotted two toads in the road and a vehicle approaching. I always wear a hi viz jacket and it is a 30mph limit (in theory) so I shone my torch on the toads and stepped out to rescue the toads – the car was still some distance away. I picked up one toad but the driver of the large 4wd drove on till there was an audible plop as his massive tyre stopped directly on the other toad. Our eyes met across the bonnet – clearly he was furious at having been made to stop but I could not tell if he had seen the Toad Crossing signs or had any idea of what I was doing in the road. I moved and he screeched off in a cloud of diesel smoke.

I took my bucket of toads to the pond and watched as they swam of to join in the mating frenzy that has occurred each spring for more than 300 million years- since amphibians were the first vertebrates to colonize the land.

Being out with the toads makes you realize just how pointless are a lot of the journeys on which we squander our precious oil. You see the same cars going back and forth. Parents spend hours transporting children miles to clubs in other parts of the county yet getting people to help with facilities in the village is difficult. People drive to supermarkets yet village shops and post offices are closing. The toads can’t tell us what we should be doing but they have seen off big footed dinosaurs and are confident they will still be here when the only oil fuelled cars are in museums.

Footnote - Toads secrete a poisonous protective substance called bufagin which is made up of a hallucinogen, bufotenine, and several glycosides similar to the heart stimulant digitalin from Foxgloves. Some people have been known to lick them to get high – NOT recommended but I do pick up a lot of toads and may have absorbed some bufagin! I should also point out that many drivers are considerate and once they are aware of the toads they do their best to avoid them.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Transition Themes Week #5 - High Speed Broadband Connection

FRIDAY 6.30PM "Hey Erik!" I said to a familiar form cycling up toward the Earlham Road. "Are you on your way to a meeting? You have that determined look on your face". "No," he said. "I’ve just come from one!" We laughed, and then exchanged news about the CSA up at Postwick (Erik is on the Norwich FarmShare board), about the new assistant grower, about rain and rabbit fences and lettuces, about how brilliant it was Kerry got her Transition 'green job' in Glasgow and where the Low Carbon Cookbook meeting was going to take place this week. 10 minutes intense communication and then he was gone and I was walking to my meeting at the Alex with fellow OneWorldColumnists. It was a warm night and the great street trees were shifting overhead with their new spring leaves.

Our meeting was unplanned. Our paths had crossed unexpectedly in the city. No-one could have organised it. I’m not in the FarmShare, yet after our conversation I feel I know what's going on in the field, about the vegetables that Erik grows in his permaculture garden out in Hethersett.

On the train home I read an article about Tahrir Square in a magazine Trevor handed me as we parted outside the pub. What struck me reading about the events that took place were their spontaneous and speedy nature. People had been thinking and talking independently for years, activists had been campaigning and suddenly when the time came, they converged without planning anything. When they met up, they knew what to do.

Everything self-organised. Suddenly.

SATURDAY 1Pm “We were speaking from the same situation,” Josiah said, talking about his BBC radio interview with other community activists for Save Suffolk Libraries. Each of them had been running separate campaigns for their local libraries, organised individual events, written for their own blogs, yet when they came together they spoke as a united front. Each person contributing a different strand. We had just been to a meeting where people from different library campaigns, anti-cuts campaigns, Transitioners, TUC shop stewards and local movers and shakers sat round a table and discussed how we could co-ordinate and communicate with one another. What had struck us was how the old formal ways of running things didn't fit this fluid and composite structure. We could all be components together, but one way could not dominate.

That’s when I remembered how it was at last year’s Transition conference. You didn’t have to know anyone in the way you have to know people ordinarily at social events, or in the workplace, hidebound by procedures or protocol, you could just ask: what initiative are you from? and immediately talk as if you knew everything about each other’s groups and projects. Some other social structure was in place. Something we don’t have the language for yet, but recognise when it’s in play. When you find yourself acting and knowing what to do, even though you have never been told, or taught.

SUNDAY 3PM "This is a very medieval situation!" I say as I walk into the library courtyard. Men in the garden, and the women upstairs in the solar sewing!" Richard, Mark and Josiah are repotting a giant aloe and twenty offshoots that someone has donated to the community garden. Elinor, Eloise and I are discussing what we’re going to do for our Bungay Community Bees week at the local Primary School. Keziah (aged 4) is unpicking her skirt, stitch by careful stitch. I’ve gone downstairs to talk with Mark about teaching children to plant sunflowers and how bees collect pollen from their spiral centres, what’s it like to grow something from seed. How long it takes as it sits on a sunny window sill to grow to its full height.

"I don’t know anything about teaching," he says.
"None of us do," I say. "Ask Keziah about that plant."

Keziah looks gravely at Mark and gives a progress report on a liquorice mint he gave her a couple of weeks ago. She was concerned that it only had leaves. "It’s a little bit dry," she says. You need to water it some more, he tells her, and then the flowers will come in July.

That’s all you need to do. You make a connection and you foster a relationship. Something happens in your imagination, with your physical hands: you get tapped into life. Something happens when you hand the child the plant, and the responsibility for being its guardian. It seems like nothing is happening. That all our thoughts and desires go nowhere, that some of our best-laid plans in Transition have gone awry, that the meetings we thought were the real meetings did not give us what we imagined and what should have happened didn’t take place.

But it is taking place. Thousands of small encounters, hands held across the divide, all criss-crossing and making a new pattern. The kind of culture where it matters that we know how long it takes for a plant to flower, the whole process, not just the end result. And that provides living soil with proper conductivity and mycorrhizal underground communications that are normally destroyed by global mono-culture.

We haven’t flowered yet. We are patiently putting out leaves, waiting for rain, grateful for dew. What our roots tell us is that we are not alone. We are invisibly connected, not just to the people we meet in Transition but to many people we do not know, who have been working in the same way, now and for hundreds of years through time. We feel that connection when we meet in the street, or the library. Mostly it happens in public spaces and often by chance. It happens when we meet organically. Which is to say when we meet in an atmosphere that is conducive to our gathering, in which ideas flourish and actions follow swiftly. What matters is not the form, nor the shared meal nor the expert facilitator. Not the debate about legal structures, nor the sharing of our emotions in a circle. What matters is that we care deeply about the subject at hand and we get engaged in that subject as social beings. As beings in touch with all life.

MONDAY 10AM We live in a culture that is all about result and engineering that result. About spin and data, about power and control and individuals who make it to the top. But Transition is not built on that culture; it’s grown according to the principles of permaculture - the fostering of beneficial relationships between all living beings. Fairshare, peoplecare, earthcare. It takes time and relishes all the steps of that process that leads to an outcome we don't know yet, but will recognise when we get there in the same way we recognise a flower when it's in full bloom. What we need now is the kind of dynamic medium in which to flourish, in which the best of people comes out.

A lot of us "get" Transition, but it's the articulation of what we get and the physical action that follows that matters. That's what creates culture. Otherwise we find ourselves talking and operating from old structures - as volunteers, as controllers, as people who follow orders or give them - bound by class and hierarchy, uttering the buzz words and cliches of the day. The reason why many Transitioners do not want to take up political or civic office is because they feel hampered by form, old configurations that keep people stuck in fixed power positions, unable to change or to express new ideas when they meet together.

A bio-diverse culture needs us to be diverse, which is to say we need to be intrinsically ourselves - rooted in place and within our skills - and working as part of the whole. Coming from a broad frequency band, rather from a narrow, seperated point of view. This is a new way of working in the world: one that combines a modern city intelligence with an ancestral knowledge of the land. So a key move in Transition is allowing people within the initiative to be fully engaged in what they love and are really good at - Richard as the guardian of the community garden, Josiah heading the Library campaign, Elinor as chief beekeeper, Eloise as an organiser of events, Mark overseeing plants and reconnection with nature . . . and me, well . . .you guessed it! Co-ordinating communications and heralding the act that follows . . .

So here it is, the line up for our fifth Transition Themes week - blog diversity at its best. John (Transition Hethersett) with a toads-eye view of local Transport, Simeon with an introduction to TN's new Economics and Livelihoods group, Elena with a field report from Norwich FarmShare, Helen with an update of the Magdalen Street Celebration, Mark with a round-up on the Low Carbon Cookbook and Adrienne Campbell, cross-posting from her blog 100 Monkeys with a report from Transition Lewes and the Climate Camp at St Anne's School. Check us out!

Native sunflowers on a car in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Erik; Tarahumara sunflower, Suffolk; dancing the rainbow at Geldeston Locks, Suffolk on May Day - pics by Mark Watson