Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Transition Camp Journey

I am a reluctant traveller these days, rarely venturing beyond Bungay or Norwich, let alone East Anglia. And it’s strange. Having lived in the Americas in the 80s and 90s and experienced incredible landscapes, people and ways of life, now, after ten travel (and money)-lean years, I’ve learnt to totally appreciate the odd train trip, whether it's going to London for the Transition Conference in September or travelling up to Norwich in the carbon conversation days through the Norfolk broads as the sun goes down.

Last weekend I went by foot, bus and train to the 5th Transition Camp in the Sussex Downs at the Wo-Wo campsite. And I loved it. From the moment I walked in when Mike greeted me and Alice handed me the key to the Little Owl yurt where I’d be sleeping, I felt welcomed and relaxed. It was a weekend where you could kick back, lead or participate in workshops and talks, sing around the fire at night and have transition conversations that the normal rush of life just doesn’t leave time for.

"These seeds," said Rebecca from Transition Crouch End, who opened the camp in a circle around the fire on Friday afternoon, “represent what we would like to plant here this weekend, so take one as they go round and consider for a few moments what you’d like to give and receive from the Camp. We’ll put them all in a saucepan and on Sunday, they’ll be cooked up and we’ll share in the stew.”

“They are called Victor beans,” she said, holding up a postcard that was now very familiar to me. I withheld my desire to whoop out loud. But I got my opportunity to speak when we went round the circle saying what we’d like to experience.

“Well, I’ve already experienced something amazing,” I said. “Those are native East Anglian beans, grown very near where I live and Josiah, who runs the Great British Beans business that promotes them is a friend and fellow transtioner in Sustainable Bungay. They make great hummus and falafels too by the way and feature regularly in our monthly Happy Monday meals. Talk about making connections. If the rest of the weekend is as enjoyable as that then I’ll be a very happy camper!”

It was. From working up some great harmonies round the fire on Friday as we sang into the night, to being lent a soup bowl by Claire and dry wellies by Nigel (mine were leaking and that first night was very wet); from learning the Basque word sapori (which means 'taste') from Urtzi, who also taught us how to start campfires, to learning the basic steps of the Charleston with Jo in a very dark tent as we sang along to the Muppets theme song. When I just couldn’t keep step, Christy took me gently by the elbow and guided me through. The Camp was like that; friendly, fun and people giving each other a hand when they needed it.

Most people at the camp lived in East Sussex, and were involved in local transition initiatives or wanting to start them up. But there were also transitioners from London, Buckingham, even Aberdeen. Peter, who was visiting from near Aylesbury gave such a great rendition of Singing In The Rain that we all asked for an encore the next night, even though it was dry by then and the stars were out.

Everybody was asked to do a stint in the kitchen, chopping veg or keeping the water fresh in the washing up bowls. Every morning there was hot porridge, fresh fruit and bread, yoghurt and raw milk from the biodynamic Plaw Hatch Farm nearby. Lunch and dinner were equally abundant (and very tasty) and made from scratch by the good-humoured kitchen volunteers.

Martin from Brighton led an introductory session the first night where we said our name out loud each time we spoke. Although the repetition felt awkward at first, I soon got used to it and remembered people’s names for the whole weekend. Not that I would forget Martin’s name. We shared the Little Owl yurt, talking and laughing late into the night and taking it in turns to keep the fire alight. Even though we’d only met briefly once before I felt like I was staying overnight with a friend from school again. It was great fun and really liberating. I reckon we could run a pretty good ‘inner adolescent’ workshop for jaded over thirty-fives! I even managed to turn three X-Ray Spex songs into lullabies and impose them on Martin before he went to sleep! (He did actually fall asleep in the middle of Oh Bondage Up Yours!).

If you ever need anyone to break the ice for a meeting so people can get to know each other, Martin’s your man. On Saturday morning he did another introductory session where each person told two truths and one lie about themselves. Where else would you find out that Lynne sang in a punk group called the Decaying Bogeys in the 70s (or was that the lie?), that Rebecca crossed the Sahara Desert, that I will be 52 next year, that Mike lived in a hippie commune on Ibiza or that Martin was a famous child star? True or False? Answers on a postcard.

On Saturday I held a Plants for Life workshop and spoke about my work in Sustainable Bungay this year organising the Plant Medicine bed and monthly events. St. John’s Wort was the plant of the workshop, and I passed round Rose’s bright red oil for people to smell and rub on and guess what it was. Then I read out the St. John’s Wort chapter from Charlotte’s book 52 Flowers That Shook My World, which was published this year. I passed around the hawthorn leather I made for people to share at the camp and we took a look at ragwort, a plant that brings up strong reactions on any wild plant walk. See here for a balanced, sober look at this plant. The hour and a half sped by and I finished by showing people how to roll plantain balls for bites, stings and incipient cold sores.

Don arrived on Saturday afternoon with the sauna - a bright pink converted caravan with a wood burning stove. Over the next 24 hours, the brave and hardy would cool down by jumping into the nearby river. Some just sprayed water on themselves from a container outside the caravan. I, of course, jumped into the river at every opportunity! Truth or lie?

There was a fascinating workshop making Sterling engines run by Louise from Buckingham in Transition with her partner.
“Buckingham. That sounds familiar. Did you start up the herb garden there?” I asked her. ”I saw a post about it some months ago and I’ve been meaning to get in touch.”
“Yes, that’s me,” she said.

It also turned out that the rocket stove Charlotte made at last year’s camp and that now sits in our conservatory, was the product of one of Louise’s workshops. There are a hundred and one instances of connections like these, but it’ll make this post far too dense to give all the details.

The weekend was filled with workshops on rhythm and resilience, permaculture and fairy tales for children. A foraging walk on Sunday led by Tanya Lodge, focused on the medicine chest in a stretch of hedge no more than thirty feet long at the edge of the campsite field. Dock, nettles, elder, rosehips and cleavers were all discussed along with how to make tinctures and dry herbs. And the redoubtable plantain made a robust appearance at the end. Did you know that plantain helps draw out toxins and heal wounds. Chewed and kept in  the mouth it can also helps with teeth abscesses. The plantain book grows by the moment!

At a talk on fracking and extreme energy, Olly introduced the latest data on Peak Oil, spoke about the work of Frack Off and showed us a short Australian film about a rural community who have united to keep coal seam gas (CSG) out of their area.

Suddenly it was 3 o’ clock on Sunday afternoon. Mark Boyle, The Moneyless Man, gave a sober and unapologetic talk about our relationship with money and how it affects our relationship with the world. Speaking about money exchange as a way of saying "I want no more to do with you", and examining the hidden pain and exploitation behind the consumer products we take for granted in our society, Mark exhorted all of us present to open and FEEL the damage that maintaining a consumer lifestyle is wreaking on our fellows both human and not, and the planet that gives us life. And to keep open and keep feeling...

Photos: Mike doing the morning shout-out of all the day's activities*; Great British Beans in the community pot; Woodland and Kitchen yurt with Saturday's talks and workshops*; Reading aloud from 52Flowers That Shook My world in the kitchen yurt**; the pink sauna caravan; Mark Boyle burns money By Mark Watson, *Mike Grenville and **Matt O'dell

This post first appeared on the Transition Network Social Reporting project on Saturday 13th October 2012

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