Monday, 25 February 2013

Keep Circulating in the Common Room or What Rosemary Did

I had planned on giving a pre-spring tonic Herbs for Resilience class at the second Common Room prototype day at St. Laurence's church in Norwich on Saturday. I was going to focus on plants like dandelion, cleavers and nettles to wake up our systems after winter.

Only it really wasn't 'after winter' on Saturday. It was after a week where the temperature never rose much above freezing and I'd had too many conversations with people who said they'd been feeling gloomy and low (including, unusually, myself) or who had had flus and colds that were taking an age to clear up - or both!

So on Friday I decided that the spring tonic was just going to have to wait. What we needed right now was something cheerful and warming for the End of Winter. Something that would clear our heads, lift our spirits and also keep us warm in the nippy air of St. Laurence's church!

Welcome to Rosemary! Known since forever as a herb that warms, stimulates circulation, helps clear the head and improve memory AND cheers the heart, it had to be you, bold, resinous Rosemary!

I picked some sprigs from the garden, packed up my teapot, and took some dried thyme and lavender to add to the mix along with some Norfolk honey. The class would be based around a cup of tea. 

Then on Saturday morning I sat down at home with a hot water bottle to tune in to the day and the class. The temperature was almost as low inside the house as out and I suddenly noticed my kidneys and hands were really cold. I placed the hot water bottle on my back to warm up my kidneys and carried on considering the class. Five minutes later I noticed not only was my back now warm, but so were my hands! Warming up my back and kidneys had warmed up my hands too. As my system was not just focused on keeping my organs warm, the blood was circulating further out to the extremities. 

"THIS," I thought, "is what I want to pass on to everyone at the Trade School today." Keep your internal organs warm with a hot water bottle. And make a pot of rosemary, thyme and lavender tea with a small amount of honey to help clear those old colds and cheer the spirits!

Ten people turned up for a lively class and in the way of skill and knowledge share and Common Room and Trade School, I was rewarded with friendly people and some lovely gift exchanges: a pair of hand-knitted fingerless gloves, a diary, organic fruit and veg and a jar of homemade Seville orange marmalade, all of which are already being loved, worn (fingerless gloves on as I type!), written in, cooked and eaten!

So thanks to everyone for those and for joining in so heartily. And also for sharing your own knowledge about the virtues of Rosemary, which is also an antiseptic:

"When my brother was a teenager, he had terribly smelly feet," said Sarah. "Our grandmother told him to bathe them every day in cooled rosemary tea. And that soon sorted it out!"

(i) For more on The Common Room in Norwich check out the website. There were all sorts of interesting and co-operative/collaborative classes, talks and demonstrations going on on Saturday, besides mine: from creative action for trees and grassroots media to origami and creating complementary currencies. The whole day had a great atmosphere with many people joining in in spite of the cold. And you can see some photos from the day, too!

(ii) I teach people in groups and communities to reconnect with the living world by taking notice of the plants growing right where we are and how that helps increase well-being. Here is some of what I've been doing recently:

Common Plants, Common Room
The Plants for Life 2012 Archive (a monthly series of talks, walks and workshops I organised last year with Sustainable Bungay)
Mark in Flowers

I look forward to doing more Trade School barter sessions at the Common Room! And if you'd like me to come and give a  plant talk (always interactive and practical), or lead a walk or workshop with your group, do let me know:

STOP PRESS: Common Room meeting tonight Monday 25 Feb 7-9pm at the Norwich Playhouse (42-58 St Georges St, NR3 1AB) to discuss next steps and how to move forward. This is your chance to join in with setting up a new and exciting community space in Norwich! The meeting is in the Playroom (the room to the right when you come in).

Pics: Preparing the blackboard and the tea at St. Laurence's Church (in an attic-like side room); Passing the rosemary tea at the herbs for Resilience class; Lovely things people brought in exchange for the class

Thursday, 21 February 2013

holding the front page

This month a new national newspaper, Transition Free Press was launched, and because I am the editor of the paper and also involved in its funding, distribution and setting up as a social enterprise and workers' coop, blogging for Transition has taken a back seat.

After three years on-line (73 posts alone last year), I find my attention moving back to the printed page and the business of communicating the culture of downshift to a wider audience. We will continue to report here on This Low Carbon Life, but our posts will be more infrequent and perhaps hold a different content and intent. Much of what I have learned about producing a paper for these times, has been tried and tested on this blog with my fellow Transitioners and our guests, so it's a big thanks to them that this paper has its particular collaborative style and focus.

Anyway to get a flavour of our first issue I am publishing our welcome today. You can see an on-line version of the paper here. And hard copies will shortly be on sale in Norwich (£1) at The Greenhouse and also from our distributors, Chris Hull, Simeon Jackson and Lesley Grahame. Contact details are here. I will be teaching a class on Grassroots Media this Saturday at 12noon as part of the Trade School at the Common Room, Do come along if you would like to discuss the role of media in times of Transition. I'll have a stack papers too! Here's that intro:

 More powerful than armies, more powerful than law, is culture". At the heart of this Spring edition is an interview with author and activist, Mark Boyle. In it is discussed the key story of our times - the shift from an individualistic, growth-at-all-costs culturee to one that values sharing and ccommunity. It is the ‘mission’ of this new newspaper to cover the stories that form this new emergent culture and to show how, if we take matters into our own hands, the ship that looks to be heading for disaster can be steered in a totally new direction: a future we all want to live in. 

For many of us in the Transition movement this means learning to work together --  engaging in social projects, creating community gardens, regenerating our neighbourhoods. It requires a keen awareness of the bigger picture, as well as a personal capacity to downshift and be resourceful in times of economic and environmental collapse.  

In our first issue we look unswervingly at the realities of the forces now squeezing the eco-systems and lives of people everywhere -- from the fossil fuel industry, to land rights to the global food system. We also look at the solutions communities are coming up with -- in the areas of livelihoods, education, energy and food -- the "incredible things people are doing" everywhere, as Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the movement, records in his new book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff.  We started this paper, like all good creative enterprises, on the kitchen table. We rolled up our sleeves, pooled our skills and time, and after successfully publishing a preview issue last summer, decided to launch a 4-edition pilot for 2013. All of us realised that the mainstream media were not reporting the new narrative we saw unfolding. 

So we created a newspaper which could serve in several ways: to reflect the Transition movement to the wider world; to act as a feedback loop for Transition groups, and, perhaps most importantly, to be a communications tool for the people who have yet to hear about the other story happening around the world.  Over 40 UK initiatives have signed up to distribute 10,000 copies and subsidise its printing, and so it's thanks to them you are reading this page today.   We are aware that none of this happens on its own. We are a small and resilient people, and this is a small and resilient paper, but when we connect up --  – contributors, distributors, readers all -- we become a strong and vibrant network. What the new narrative shows us is that our innate ability to face ethical dilemmas and use our imaginations is what makes us stand out and stand together as human beings.   

Can we hold together as the storm advances before us? Can we share our gifts in time? This edition is all about the people who are responding to these questions. It starts with coming home to ourselves and our neighbourhoods; to a place where we no longer feel afraid or alone, but where we can fulfil our task of being alive on this planet of intense beauty and hidden treasure. We're rooted in place and time, connected to millions of others across the world in our hearts and minds. It is our hope, dear reader, that as you hold this paper in your hands, you can join us to meet what has been called the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. 

In solidarity and joy, from all of us on the Transition Free Press: Charlotte, Alexis, Tamzin, Trucie, Marion, Jay, Mark and Mike. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Making the best of a bad lot

My long suffering cherry!
It has been a strange start to the year. The weather has swung form very mild to very cold and the picture shows my beloved Morello Cherry suffering under a burden of ice when a neighbour’s gutter dripped in the freezing weather – it had better survive to provide more cherry pies.

In the Hethersett area we are seeing the final acts in some long running sagas that will shape communities for many years to come. Governments (both past and present) have decreed that more houses are needed for our ever growing population and the slow turning cogs have got to the point of examining the many planning applications. This puts local democracy to an extreme test where one set of elected representatives (District Councillors) have to implement to policies originated by others (Members of Parliament). Since very few people want their views over green fields to be replaced by a housing estate this creates a lot of conflict and has the potential to undo the efforts that some people are making to build local communities.

It is easy to get depressed by this and unfortunately some dedicated people have been hit hard by what they see as big government stamping on local wishes. Certainly for anyone involved in Transition it seems like a step in the wrong direction to cover more fields in concrete and create more traffic. However there is always opportunity in adversity and the much discussed cycle path is now firmly written into the plans – we now need to work for allotments, sports grounds and green spaces in order to provide facilities within the local communities. As Chair of the Parish Council I have done my best to be open with people and to keep them informed and the majority of people have reacted with admirable composure even if they don’t like the outcome. We may even get some new help on the PC.

Most initiatives in Transition are focussed on working with likeminded people – it’s a lot harder to work with the general public but there are grounds for optimism. I’d never openly describe my role on the PC as a Transition project but most people are aware of the issues that we face and most want to live in a supportive community. The difficult part is to persuade them to get involved. Small steps are being taken but in the right direction.

I’ll be doing my best to make sure that lots of trees get planted around the new devel- opments. One of the PC trees got Weeping Canker and I had to fell it – but the good news is that cat will have fires to lie in front of next winter and my run of free winter fuel extends to 34 years!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Writing on the Wall

So this is it, the final week of our crowdfunding appeal for Transition Free Press. Tense nail-biting behind the scenes, as the outcome will determine whether the crew will be paid a small fee for the last six months' hard work and we will be able to cross the financial bridge to our next May issue.

At the time of writing  we have reached our 1st  target of £10K and are now racing to our final Valentine's Day target on Thursday for £15K. We have over 90 terrific backers and need about 40 more to make this big deadline.

All contributions, from the new £5 Kind Supporter level through to the Highly Esteemed Change Maker (£750) are welcome. You can also become a TFP Friend and sign up for an annual subscription (£15).

So, dear reader, if you are reading this post and thinking of contributing we would love to hear from you at our on-line appeal asap! Many thanks. Here's the link: FreePress

Meanwhile there are reports of brisk sales of TFP Issue 1 in fairs, festivals, farmer's markets and film showings around the UK. We've also had 2547 reads of our on-line version. These pix are from the stall we (that's Mark Watson, distribution manager and myself as ed) shared with Greenpeace at their Waveney Valley Winter Fair on Saturday. Over 50 copies sold and with lots of good conversations too. Let's keep this new media and Transition comms tool going! We've already started on Issue 2 . . .

The Common Room: I will be teaching a class on Grassroots Media at the Common Room on 23rd February at 1pm. We'll be looking at working with a crew, starting up our own media hubs and disseminating a different story than the one published by corporate media. Do check for details here

Copies of Transition Free Press will also be available on the day and after this date in the city. Check for our great Norwich distributors and outlets here.

The Common Room will be open from 11am-4pm at St Lawrence's Church, Benedict Street.

Selling TFP at last Saturday's Greenpeace Fair in Southwold; messages in a bottle, The Common Room, November 2012

Friday, 8 February 2013

Seeds of Spring in the Common Room

Over the winter I have been doing a LOT of this sort of thing:

and not much of this sort of thing:

So when Jeppe, who is co-organising the second Trade School  at the Common Room in Norwich on 23rd February, asked me a few weeks ago to teach another Herbs for Resilience class at the event, I was so immersed in winter and snow and the distribution for the first issue of the Transition Free Press newspaper, that I said, gosh I'd love to, but I just haven't tuned in to the plants yet this year. Gotta tune in to do a class!

Basically at a Trade School class, you share some of your knowledge and people pay you in kind. Trade School calls this bartering for knowledge. It's a lovely way of doing things.

I got a bit worried that I wasn't connected to the plants though, and then I realised that's how it can often go in the deep of winter. And just a day or two later, with the snow melted and the imminence of what some call Imbolc at the beginning of February, I discovered a pot of rather neglected Aloe Veras behind a curtain in the living room, just calling out for some TLC. So I attended to them and since then the plants inside and out have been resurfacing into my awareness slowly but surely... and this week I made a plantain ointment from an infused oil I prepared last year. Been meaning to do that for ages.

"Okay, you've twisted my arm, I'll sign up for it," I replied, when Jeppe asked me again. "We'll  look at some of those spring tonics."

The first Trade School at the Common Room was on 10th November last year at St. Laurence's Church in St. Benedict's Street (where it will be held again this month). I wrote  a post called Common Plants, Common Room, on This Low Carbon Life a week or so before it happened.

On the actual day, I went to Jeppe's Time Skills session, learnt Origami with Vanessa (and with very patient help from Olaya I managed to make a lovely gift box) and Jon brought me a coffee plant from the Eden Project. And my class went really well to boot. Although the classes are set up so people book in and bring you something you want that you've put in your request list, I really wasn't expecting anything, so the box of organic fruit and veg from Vanessa and the packet of seeds from Laura and the Common Room team were lovely surprises.

It was a really great day! The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, you could teach, learn, hang out and meet people, and there were delicious hot drinks and snacks. Plus the event was making social use of a space which would otherwise be neglected. The 23rd February's looking just as good. Check out the classes here! Learn about Energy Use Reduction in Buildings and Grassroots Media (and get hold of a copy of the excellent Transition Free Press at the same time). There are all sorts of other pop-up events happening on the day too, see here. Come and join in the exchange!

The Common Room, including Trade School, Saturday 23rd November, 11am – 4pm, St Laurence’s Church, Saint Benedict Street, Norwich NR2 4PG For further information contact Jeppe Graugaard

As well as writing on This Low Carbon Life, managing distribution for the Transition Free Press and teaching community groups and people how to connect with what's growing on around them, Mark writes his own (occasional) blog Mark in Flowers

Pics: Packing a bundle of TFPs for delivery to Transition Tynedale; Last winter, under the Oak; *Teaching Herbs for Resilience at the Common Room, Norwich, November 2012 (all images Mark Watson except *Jeppe Graugaard)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Chain Consuming or Systems Thinking

The biggest news story in recent weeks seems to have been the collapse of high street chains HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster. Apart from the news reports, there are various comments and opinion pieces, with various different attitudes. It’s a really big issue, and for so many reasons!

What I want to talk about here specifically is why the attitude of both big business and government in tackling this issue are wrong, and how we should be looking at our high street economies to help them thrive and be resilient through hard economic times.

So what’s the problem?

Some of the comments relating to this news story seem to point the finger at the businesses. “They simply haven’t moved forward; they are stuck in the past hoping what worked several years ago will carry on working, but we all know, it doesn’t”, John N says on Streetlife. I agree that there’s no point in a businesses that provides services that no one really wants, or can get much easier and cheaper elsewhere.

Other comments blame the government for high business rates or failing to provide the services which help businesses (like good public transport, for example).

The truth is though, that what is lacking is systems thinking. Each organisation is just looking at their little corner of the pie.

The businesses are looking at how much money they can extract from an area whilst keeping their costs as low as possible. Capital costs are only justified when their future value can have a firm price tag associated with it, even if that capital cost is only arbitrary and only really there to keep banks and accountants happy. It’s different in the oil industry, or in manufacturing, but in high street retail, value is created through experience and service. Why are we willing to buy a coffee for £2.50 when we could get something of equal quality for less than a pound at home? We are paying for the experience, service and environment of city centre shopping! I buy my books from high street shops, knowing full well that I could get the same book cheaper on the internet, because I want to be able to flick through it before I buy it, I want to be able to ask the employees whether there are other books by the same author that I might enjoy, and want to be able to take the book straight across to the nearest coffee shop and start reading it! All of this value is not recognised by national chains, and unless they start to recognise it, and invest their money in it, high street chains will die, and the companies will be to blame.

But businesses don’t only have themselves to blame. The entire system creates this rather sterile environment, and it must be a team effort to combat it. It’s lovely that individual shops strive against the odds and offer something unique, but to solve it more permanently, and for local communities to become resilient for the future, we need to work together. And we already have a system for working together in local communities. It’s called local government.

But the local government is riddled with red-tape, ego trips and hangovers from previous governments. It looks for ways to cut its spending, without any regard, seemingly, of the wider effects on the local economy, for which they are partially responsible. They take political lines based on what their national parties decided in Westminster, rather than what they, as elected representatives, think is best for local people. And they uphold the status quo for no more reason, really, than because it would take too much effort to no something new and ambitious. In the same way as businesses, the return from investing in the capital costs of better systems is not recognised.

So what if businesses and local government truly started to look at the big picture, the whole system? Rather than basing value on arbitrary figures in pounds and sterling, what if it was valued in the ability to provide for human need, in a sustainable and resilient way?

Systems Thinking

When I look at Norwich, I see a massive resource, with so much potential, but that, under its current, very conservative Labour group, is being mismanaged. Some of the many resources which Norwich city centre has are:
  • A historic market, which some see as being “sterile” since its latest transformation.
  • A wealth of city centre buildings, picturesque streets, heritage assets and spaces that people enjoy being in, as long as they are kept clean and well-maintained.
  • An expansive pedestrianised zone, with plenty of space for events and pop-up markets.
  • A potential workforce in its unemployed people (Over a quarter (26.48%) of residents in Mancroft Ward, which covers most of the City Centre area, are on state benefit, unemployed or lowest grade workers, according to 2001 census data – that’s a lot of potential work that could be mobilised!)
But there are reasons why they are failing, and they’re not that hard to solve, either, if the council only took on a systems thinking approach:

Most generally, all decision-makers should look at the effect of their decisions on the local economy as a whole, not just themselves. Where does the money they spend go? Who benefits and who loses out? This means that when the local authority or any decision-maker is choosing a supplier for their major services, they should be asking themselves how much of the money they give that company will be staying in the local area. Does the company employ local staff? Is the company locally owned? Will profits be reinvested in the local area, or taken straight to London or abroad? Does the company pay its employees fairly, pay its tax and contribute to the community? Does the company care about sustainability and is willing to invest in local energy efficiency measures (which will benefit the local tradesmen who supply them too), rather than just fork out more and more for gas or electricity (which will only benefit multi-national energy companies and their greedy investors)? How much money that is spent will return to us by way of it circulating in the local economy?

More specifically:

Currently Norwich Market has lots of empty stalls and generally suffers from stagnation of both traders and customers. If I were managing the market, I would hold short-term events to fill all the empty stalls for, say, a week at a time, with a theme. Such a theme might be “collectables”, at which one would invite collectables shops within Norwich and across Norfolk to trade their wares, as well as individuals who can’t commit to running a full-time shop. It would be advertised in city and regional media, and at the market itself, to ensure that plenty of customers who’re interested in collectables would be there, and whilst there, they would also use the food stalls and all the other shops in and around the market. Other themes might be furniture, local groceries, comic books and toys. Successful traders might then consider taking up a full-time stall, increasing the vibrancy of the market in the long term.

If I were local authority planners looking at the city centre, I would immediately try to encourage more of a community there. The city centre seems to be a place for people from outside of Norwich to come to shop and drink coffee. Where is the city centre community? Apart from a fair chunk of housing at Pottergate, much of which is council housing, the city centre doesn’t really have a community. I would want this to change, and would suggest that planning policy should encourage more residential flats above city centre shops. There’s loads of potential for it, and many of them are already empty. You just have to look around the city for signs above shops that say “3500sqm of office/retail space to let”. There are loads of them! Surely they’d be filled much quicker if they were residential. There would be many benefits apart from getting empty buildings into use – there would be more people in the city centre using the shops for their daily items, eating out and enjoying the nightlife without the worry of parking, petrol and drink driving. Crime would reduce because there would be more people keeping an eye on their streets at night.

When I was on job-seekers allowance last year, I got totally frustrated that the Job Centre and the local council were not making efforts to actually encourage the creation of jobs for me and the other unemployed people there. They essentially just tell you to keep looking at the adverts, brush up your CV, broaden your search criteria. As I’ve said before, all of this does nothing to change the number of jobs that are available, so all it really does is makes job searching more competitive, and more stressful for applicants and human resource managers alike. Under a systems thinking approach, the council would look at the job market as a resource, through which they can stimulate the local economy as well as get things done that need doing. They may be able to develop some policy that might actually create new jobs, or bring back jobs that have been sent overseas. The unemployed community probably have a wealth of knowledge and skills that the job centre, let alone potential employers, are even aware of, but just don’t have the resources to actually use and progress those skills. Here’s an idea: a business incubator, which does not pay staff, but offers them accommodation and cheap food on the condition that they spend working hours developing their new business. It would be no more expensive than distributing job-seekers allowance and other benefits, but successful ideas would pay back a proportion of their turnover to keep the scheme going.

Working together

The short phrase above has become a bit of a cliché, particularly in green (and Transition) circles. But I think the vision that I have in my brain when I think about working together is a little different to the quite fluffy idea that phrase might naturally conjure up. Last week I attended a lecture by Karen Armstrong, in which she talked about “Socratic dialogue”. This is the type of working together that we want. In Socratic dialogue, it’s not about winning, defeating and humiliating the opponent, but “it [is] a joint effort to obtain new understanding: you expressed yourself clearly as a gift to your debating partners, whose beautifully expressed arguments would, in turn, touch you at a profound level”, as Karen Armstrong puts it.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Low Carbon Cookbook - Update from the Resilient Larder

The Low Carbon Cookbook has been on the back burner for a while. First the Transition Free Press took us away from the stove (now out with great food pages edited by Tamzin Pinkerton). Then I was in bed with flu; then it was the festive season and everything in Transition came to a halt. So in the new year, I planned to report a cook-up with the Community Kitchen crew for our Happy Mondays Goes to Kerala January meal (with lovely squash curry and apple fritters).

But then it SNOWED.

Sometimes the greatest acts of invention come when you are faced with limited resources. As the year turned and the world was held in suspense, I went back to the kitchen and I realised I hadn't done much holiday prep. So, like all cooks when faced with a challenge, I went into the larder to see what I had forgotten, and might just turn into a dish.

on the shelf

Fist I found a bag of local wheat and spelt flour and discovered that flat breads from scratch - pittas and focaccias - are the easiest thing in the world to make. They went down a storm with Mark and Nick after hefty woodcutting, especially with sliced chillies from the conservatory and rosemary sprigs from the garden. Then I found a bag of dried chestnuts. Our foraged pile from local trees were toasted and eaten by the fire weeks ago, but Eloise, who comes from sweet chestnut country in France, said that people in her village boiled them up and made them into thyme-flavoured patties. So I mixed mine with parsnips and made a plate of sweet, rooty rissoles served alongside a sharp and tangy slaw (see below). Later, I bulked up a veg stew, and made a classic seasonal soup with sage, garlic and potatoes.

Another discovery was a packet of tiny chia seeds that Mark had originally sown to grow into massive blue-flowering plants. Chia is one the superfoods finding its way into uptown smoothies and granola. However it is a traditional famine food, and can be soaked in water overnight for a strong and sturdy blue porridge the next morning. I cooked mine up and it was a really tasty and warming breakfast with almond milk, pears and honey - somewhere between tapioca and amaranth.

finger on the pulse
But the new stars of the LC larder this winter are the East Anglian peas and beans produced by Hodmedod's. This month the new shapes of Kabuki peas and whole Victory fava beans have appeared on sale, to be followed in a couple of weeks by the wonderfully named, Black Badger peas, once a traditional street food:
Black badgers have been grown in Britain for at least 500 years – and older similar varieties of marl peas have been cultivated for centuries more. Variously known as maple peas, Carling peas, parched peas, black peas, black badgers and grey badgers, these peas are traditionally associated with the north of England where they are served ‘parched’ (cooked and then oven dried or soaked in vinegar) as a snack on bonfire night and as a Lenten dish eaten on Passion (Carling) Sunday.
Peas and beans have been the British staple food for centuries but since the advent of cheap factory meat and industrial processing, they have fallen from grace and from our supper tables. As we tucked into a great bean and parsnip soup, before editing the Bungay newsletter last week, Mark, Josiah and I talked about the folk stories around beans and peas (as well as the modern news stories in The Guardian and interview on Transition Culture). Josiah, who has taken the original Transition Norwich food project into a national arena, was saying how the fairy story was a parable for our times.

In the tale, the luckless Jack trades a cow for a handful of coloured beans. The milk cow is a symbol of prosperity, and beans one of poverty, so it seems a poor exchange. But this is an old initiation story in which the fool turns out to be wise. Jack takes a gamble and finds his treasure in the giant's kingdom, and the story has a happy ending.

"Maybe we should rename it 'Josiah and the Giant Beanstalk'," I said.

Maybe if will all let go of our addiction to meat and dairy products in favour of beans, we will all find our golden goose.

Beans are the wise staple of the downshift kitchen and its great to know you can buy local varieties when most come from Canada and China. I usually cook up a pot to have with rice or potatoes, and then turn in to soup the next day. You just need to add more stock and a handful of coriander or parsley leaves, finely chopped leek, any left-over veg, a big squeeze of lemon and hey presto! Lunch.

What all these rib-sticking peasant dishes call for however is a little lightness and zing. In summer this is typically a fresh tomato salsa, but in winter The Slaw comes into its own. The favourite side of our Low Carbon Cookbook bring-to-share meals, they are a dish where everyone's imagination can take root. Seasonal grated veg - beetroot, fennel, carrot, white and red cabbage, celery - is creatively and colourfully sprinkled with seeds, berries or currants (dried cranberries and pomegranates were new 2013 additions), livened with fresh citrus, umi plum seasoning, root ginger or perky shredded greens, sweetened with rose hip syrup or apples.

Here is one I put together at the recent Dark Mountain meet up at the Sustainability Centre kitchen in  Petersfield:

Celeriac with Seville Orange and Pears
1 head celeriac (organic if poss - those big football ones are woolly)
1 Conference or other hardish pear
1 large Seville orange, squeezed
Goji berries, sprinkling
Pumpkin seeds, sprinkling
Good dash of hemp oil (or other oil)
Celery leaves (optional)

Grate the celeriac and pear and mix together in a bowl. Add other ingredients. If you can't get hold of a Seville orange, a blood orange and lemon is a good substitute.

Potato seller from Memories of Mr Seel's Garden, Liverpool (lead food pic in Transition Free Press); Maple Farm flours; Hodmedod's Peas and Beans

Friday, 1 February 2013

ARCHIVE: A Day in the Life of a Transitioner

What a difference a year makes! This is a blog written in our week on How Transition Changed My Life. as I headed up to Norwich on the day the year turns and there's a shift in mood outside: birds singing, buds in the trees. Today exactly one year later, some of us communicators in Transition have published a newspaper: and looking back I realise there's a different mood in 2013 than there was in 2012. Everything feels more real and less poignanat. Is that me, or is that something else stirring underfoot?

It was cold when I woke up last Sunday. The jackdaws were gathering in the fields and there was a hard frost on the ground. Ah, good I said to myself. Then I sighed, put on two large jumpers and went downstairs to put the kettle on for coffee and a hot water bottle. Switched on the computer and got down to work. It was 7am.

How has Transition changed my life? Utterly, completely, forever. This is not how I would have started a Sunday morning several years ago. I would not, for example, have known why the birds were feeding in the arable fields, I would not have rejoiced in and lamented the frost, thinking simultaneously of the vegetables and the fruit trees that need a winter to flourish and the shivering people in the Occupy encampments. I would not have put on two recycled jumpers or got down to write a blog at 7am. The central heating would have automatically warmed up the house, and I would be up around nine, thinking about my private world, lying in a hot bath.

I could go through each moment of that Sunday and every detail would form part of a Transition narrative: from my breakfast millet (Sustainable Bungay buying group) and apples (our Produce Swap day) to our neighbour's car that we now share. But most of all it would show how that narrative is shaped by the times I go up to Norwich and my relationships with the people there.

Here I am at 11.30am talking to Kit at Occupy Norwich about Occupied Times in London. I've put some stuff in the kitchen, I tell him, freegan soya and some organic Suffolk potatoes and onions. It's really cold on the streets at Hay Hill, and they are hard pressed, holding an anchor in a week when the Occupy camps are under fire and yet still organising an arts festival in the city this weekend.

Afterwards I head up to the Forum to meet Mark and Marguerite from the One World Column where we discuss the rota for our weekly blog. We have lost two valuable writers this year. Can we keep going? We look at each other, knowing that we will keep going because something larger than our small lives impels us. Because we are not just Mark and Marguerite and Charlotte. We are also Greenpeace and the Norwich Carbon Reduction Trust, Stop the War and Transition. At lunchtime I go onto a meeting of Dark Mountain Norwich where ten of us discuss an event we are planning in June over celeriac soup and skip oranges in Diana's main room. Here we are, writers, students, scientists, artists, filmmakers, designers, singers, makers, in a circle as the event self-organises before us. Holding a space open so the future can happen, responding to the times we are in. And none of us strangers in this endeavour.

Here I am in the centre of Norwich where once I just came to visit the market, the library or go to a film. Here I am where every street corner I see now through Pattern Language eyes, through the meetings and events I have experienced with Transition Norwich. Here I am outside the Forum where the Low Carbon Roadshow opened the Earth Hour, where I protested against GM potatoes, lit a candle for Copenhagen. Here I am in Bethel Street going past the police station where I once sought a licence for our first Transition Norwich party, past The Greenhouse which hosted the Low Carbon Cookbook's inaugural meeting, where This Low Carbon Life crew meet to discuss the rota. Here I am with people I would never have met had I not been in Transition, able to make this easy passage between different movements, as we link up like the imaginal buds of an emerging butterfly.

How does Transition change your life? Utterly, completely, forever. Because if you embrace what it does, in the way my fellow reporter Jo Homan wrote about so beautifully last week, it will turn your life upside down - like a love affair. It will satisfy you in a way no consumer dream can ever do. It will broaden your intellect, it will engage you with the physical world, the earth and your own body, it will break you out of a tyranny of isolation as Mark wrote on Monday, and all the self-pity and antagonism that goes with that state. It will make you empathic with your fellows, connect you with the spirit of the times. And most of all it will give you back yourself.

Because in the old world I am, like everyone I else meet, negligible: a nobody, struggling to appear like a somebody, so some institution or 1%er won't come down on my head and crush the living heart and soul out of me. But in Transition, in this emergent future we co-create, I know my presence is as vital as frost and winter apples - and so is the presence of Kit and Mark and Marguerite and everyone at Diana's that Sunday. Our meeting up means something. And those conversations we have bring a depth and immediacy into our lives that is hard to put into words. Somewhere inside us we know it is this struggle for meaning in times of adversity that makes everything in life worthwhile, even suffering of the greatest sort, as writers from Vaclav Havel to Viktor Frankel have testified.

Our skills and abilities that job centres and governments consider negligible have complete meaning and relevance here. In the three years I have been in Transition my own communications skills, which have no worth in mainstream media, have resulted in hundreds of posts, four community blogs, two newsletters and a fledgling national newspaper. They have brought all kinds of people together and allowed us to relate our own experiences, where none of us had space or context or impetus to do so before. I have been able to pass on my trade of writing and editing - the great art of telling your own story-which-is-not-just-your-story. Thanks to Transition I have visited my fellow social reporters around the UK, met up in Finsbury Park, covered the Sunrise Festival, the Uncivilisation Festival, the Conference, and this May will publish a book I never thought would emerge into this sunlit world.

Sometimes you put your life on the line for a vision. It is a small light that burns inside you on a cold day. It appears to take everything you ever loved away, and then it gives you everything you have ever loved back. It's a return story. It's our return story. The story we tell the world, as we walk down the mountain, in the dark, together.

Photos: winter apples from Bungay Community Garden Produce Swap; Bank of Ideas at Sun Street, London; lighting a candle for Copenhagen outside the Forum, 2009; Josiah and me at the Greenhouse, just before the first Low Carbon Cookbook meeting; sunflower detail by Mark.