Thursday, 21 December 2006

Vision or business as usual?

According to Einstein, intuition is the most important thing. Sometimes you just know. Like Virgin airline boss Richard Branson offering a $25 million prize for the first scientist to come up with a technology that removes carbon from the air. That’s just wrong. Intuitively, morally - are they the same? Like our District Council’s planning department last Friday putting Angel Properties together with 19 stakeholders who without exception are people the developer has consulted, and calling it a Visioning for the North Street area. That’s just wrong, isn’t it?

Apart from anything else I’m disappointed with our elected officers for hijacking the precious V word. I could lobby, protest and write things like this, but I don’t want to. Having paddled in the waters of spin, greed and denial the last few weeks, I’ve decided that this is not my bag. It’s there; it runs the show. For now. But what I’m most interested in is the twin sister. Hope, truth, honesty. Intuition. Vision.

Real vision is what I experienced at the first event of Transition Town Lewes last Sunday. End of Suburbia was documentary film about a post-peak oil future that was both shocking and strangely encouraging. Afterwards, the 81 people who attended stuck up post-it notes: ‘One step I can take’, ‘One step Lewes can take’, ‘One step government can take’. The intentions, collated and emailed back to the filmgoers and now on the Transition Town Wiki page, are beautiful, juicy with personal vision and hope. That’s the reality I choose.

Friday, 15 December 2006

Christmas present and christmas future

Here are some ideas, from entries to East Sussex County Council’s recent Green Christmas competition: Wrapping paper from Christmas presents can either be saved and re-used or torn up into little bits and put in the garden composter. Don’t buy presents for the sake of it which may get stuck in cupboards; if possible spend the time and money making a meal (organic if possible) with your friends. Make your own crackers. Back to the basic Blue Peter idea of loo rolls! Wrap presents with newspaper and use recycled string to tie them up. Add a gift label made of old Christmas cards. A funky look and excellent for the environment.

There’s a very interesting book called Find Your Power, by Chris Johnstone. It’s about breaking out of the depression of the consumer dream, moving through the grief, fear and stuckness and allowing us to face the bigger picture and think differently about our capacity to participate in and influence the future.By the way, An Inconvenient Truth is showing again this Sunday 6.30 All Saints. It’s still a must-see film, and it is probably the adventure story of our time.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Flight pledge

I adore travelling. I was weaned on it. Literally (I was once the youngest baby to fly transatlantic to New York, to my christening). But I’ve reached the point where my actions can no longer coexist with my beliefs. This world is changing and I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. So I’ve done it. I’ve taken a FlightPledge as an early New Year’s resolution. This means not travelling by air in 2007, apart from family emergencies. It’s taken me the best part of 2006 to decide this and in the process I’ve gone through anger, denial, fear, guilt and grief (what an addict!)

How to ‘Be the change you want to see’, as Gandhi put it? It boils down to changing my habits; there’s no other non-deluded way around it. Giving up air travel is the best thing we can do (George Monbiot’s Heat goes through all the reasons). The silver FlightPledge, by the way, means you can cut down slowly. For something closer to home, East Sussex County Council is giving away recycled Christmas baubles for the 50 most interesting Reduce/Reuse/Recycle Green Christmas pledges received by this Friday.

Pledges, or promises - commitments, really, are wonderful things. They push you to the edge of your comfort zone. And the amazing thing is that on the other side of ‘letting go’ are huge reservoirs of freedom, power and pleasure. Letting go generates time and money and many other hidden treasures.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Blokes who fix bikes

I have a deep respect for people who love what they do and are really good at it. Exactly what ‘it’ is doesn’t really matter. Pete Barnes and Chris Franks are two such people: the ‘blokes who fix bikes’ in the Precinct most Saturday mornings (10 to 12). They’ve been doing it, for free, for 15 years because, says Chris, they like to see people on their bikes and, says Pete, it’s their form of civic responsibility. They’re based outside Fizroy House, the ‘front garden’ of Chris’s parents. They help some people on low income and when they get donations they resurrect old bikes and pass them on to others who need them.

People’s lack of knowledge about bikes is truly frightening, says Pete. Most people are put off riding bikes because they don’t even know how to change a tyre, and they’re not prepared to spend money on a bike, unlike a car. Pity. Bikes are on my ‘These are a few of my favourite things’ list. Without cheap fossil fuel we, like Cubans, might suddenly understand the amazing power of the bike. Chris and Pete could become recognised as the local heroes they already are. Meanwhile Chris and Pete like the fact that something can be genuinely free, with no obligations. They like Lewes. They like to be able to be informal. ‘We like to confound people’s opinions about what society should be.’

Friday, 24 November 2006

Community Wholefood

It’s official! Last week environment minister Ben Bradshaw urged shoppers to take direct action by leaving packaging at their supermarket checkout, to force the giants to cut down on excessive waste and packaging going to landfill. Let us know how you get on. (Tupperware, by the way, is very useful for carrying away your cheese, fish and meat).

There are many reasons why I’m slowly giving up supermarkets themselves: health, ethics, community, financial and time (and that’s not smug, it’s pragmatic). For a positive alternative, Just Trade is one of those great Lewes social enterprises. It’s a bulk food and goods collection organised by Common Cause, Lewes’s non-profit co-operative, and it takes place every other month at Lewes New School. Once you get your head around transport (they also deliver) and storage it’s much easier and cheaper: a 5kg sack of organic rice costs £5.41, 2kg of BioD concentrated washing powder costs £5.58, there’s less waste, and there’s that wholehearted pleasure of being part of a community process. This month there are some gorgeous things to eat, drink and give as presents. The order form can be downloaded from their website; deadline for orders is 27 November, collection is 8 December.

I discovered the power of my purse many years when through the customer suggestions book I persuaded my rural mini-supermarket to stock organic milk, then vegetables, then meat. I still like to believe that we create our own reality, one step at a time.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Beautiful day

One day this week I woke up before dawn, poked my head out the door and breathed in the sharp cold air. The frost was on the bare trees and as the light appeared in the east the birch branches started to drip and melt from crystal white to deep gold. The blue tits and sparrows and crows began to call to each other and the pheasants screeched, newly arrived from the mown fields.

I threw on a scarf and boots and set off. That day I walked around a Lewes lit by cloudless skies, with a deeply poignant feeling about the future these skies bring. We live in an abundant nature reserve here, much of it hidden in gardens and (shrinking) wastelands and edges, allotments and untended plots. There are fruit and berries and herbs, miraculous small things, rose hips and roses, even this late.

For a whole week this summer I watched the sun rise from a spot in the cemetery. I’m becoming re-bonded with nature, almost in love, and that healing relationship has motivated me hugely. (Fear is a bad reason for being an environmentalist, as Satish Kumar wrote in the last issue of Resurgence). Below are three links, one to help make sense of it all, two more for local ways to walk more deeply and develop essential skills in our precious habitat.

The Great Turning
Souls and Soles

Thursday, 9 November 2006


I bought a gadget the other day that recharges normal batteries up to 60 times, as well as rechargeable ones. However, being cheaply made, it broke after one day, which led me to mourn the demise of well-made things. One advantage of being relatively old is that I can impart such wisdom to my teenagers as, ‘It really does pay to buy things that last.’ To which I now add: ‘Only buy stuff if you REALLY need it.’

I discovered this summer that you can put almost anything outside your front door in Lewes and it’s guaranteed to disappear within a day. Once I hung a ‘please take’ sign on my railings over a box of clothes and some clever clogs left the clothes and took the sign. And now there’s Freecycle Lewes. It’s a free online service that is what my kids call funkadelic. It started earlier this year and already has 513 members in the area. You can get rid of what you don’t want and wish for things you want. The Freecycle network started in 2003 in Arizona, USA as a way to keep stuff out of landfill. It’s a grassroots and non-profit movement of now 2 million members in 50 countries. So far our family has got rid of some shelves, some books, some sheets and a minibus. We’ve acquired a saw, a lamp and a winter’s supply of cooking apples. Clutter clearing never felt so good.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Earth: we have a problem

After this week’s local and national news and events, you’d have to be an ostrich not to be aware that this lovely planet of ours is taking a nosedive.The fact was brought home graphically by Mark Lynas, author of High Tide, in fascinating conversation with Susannah Waters, local author of Cold Comfort, at last week’s Lewes Live Lit festival. The general message was, Yes, it’s already happening, and not just at the poles but in Africa and Australia and our own back gardens now. What can we do? While waiting for the government to impose carbon budgets on us, we can start to live like we care: give up flying, find alternatives to cars, start eating local. ‘Re-localisation’ seemed to be a theme, and a medieval lifestyle with some of the mod cons sounded pretty appealing. (Though there will still be the problem of the displaced millions to contend with.) Susannah spoke eloquently of celebrating her localness, even when she had projects big enough to take her out of town. Totnes was given as an example of a community working together towards a 10-year ‘transition’ plan.

Thursday, 26 October 2006

A very inconvenient truth

Last weekend Lewes Cinema showed An Inconvenient Truth, the film by Al Gore that describes in graphic detail the crisis facing our planet, people and creatures. About 500 local people saw the film. Here’s the viewers’ (including some young ones’) response:
M: The acceleration of how things are heating up is terrifying. And I feel sorry for the polar bears [drowning].
G (her daughter): It was a bit confusing because of all the tables and facts. I was shocked. Afterwards I felt, ‘You need to make a difference.’
A: There was a really scary graph that showed that because of our carbon emissions we’re going to heat ourselves to death.
R: It was a powerful documentary. Yes, it was political but it needs to be political. Once I saw the statistics about what was happening in the Arctic and Antarctic I woke up. It was a very effective film.
T: I knew many of the facts but I was quite shocked because I’d never seen how fast the ice caps are melting.
A: It was very interesting and powerful and thought provoking. The message was that everyone can do something within their own everyday life. Also you have to make a commitment on a bigger scale.
It’s not a film I could say I enjoyed. Al Gore said that people tend to go from denial to despair. The middle choice is action. It’s a moral imperative, he said. We live in interesting times…

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Towards Zero Waste

Last week’s events around the incinerator going ahead despite huge local opposition, set me wondering whether zero waste, the alternative, is doable. So my long suffering family has spent the last week trying to live without sending waste to our bins. As we all know, reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra in that order. We started on this path a year ago by gradually cutting out supermarkets. A prerequisite; you can understand why. Bear with me though, before panicking. Monday morning was an abrupt jolt: we couldn’t have the usual porridge because the milk was in a tetrapak (not recyclable). We’d soon set off to Barefoot Herbs to source milk in a plastic bottle, as well as dishwasher powder in a cardboard box. On to Beckworths who does a fine line in Fairtrade coffee, freshly ground, in a bag. The week progressed surprisingly easily, with occasional debates about margarine vs butter packaging. And what to do with yoghurt pots. Things we learned: Laportes sells local butter wrapped in paper. You can get refillable flagons of ale from Harveys, and at some of their pubs. It’s quaint taking Tupperware to the butcher and cheese shop in Riverside. How great is it these shops and breweries still exist!By the end of the week, we had a carrier bag of honest waste (all plastic packaging), about half of which could have been avoided. Zero waste mentality is like composting: a gateway to another reality, and you don’t have to have loads of time or money (believe me, you save a lot not going to supermarkets!) Before you know it you’re walking around local shops, chatting and smiling and well fed. Things start to get very happy and simple, like that wartime feeling my granny used to speak of.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

The Baked Bean Car Club

Luckily my growing allergy to cars and the stuff around cars has neatly dovetailed with an imperative to reduce our ecological footprint in order to save the planet. So last week we gave away our car: a Ford transit minibus, in fact, on Freeserve. It was claimed by a local charity. 

This idea has been brewing for a year. At first I felt deprived and curtailed at the thought of it. But we started using trains more, walking around town more (it helps not shopping in supermarkets and getting most of our food delivered free) and planning things differently, so we ended up not using the wheels much anyway. But I do like to go to the woods once a week. So we’ve started a car share between five people, using a friend’s car. The cost is £100 refundable deposit to pay for the initial service and insurance, and then £1 an hour or £10 per day, plus petrol. We’re reviewing and refining it as we go along. 

Car share schemes are springing up all over the country. Imagine them springing up here: a shared car/bike/minibus/van on every street in Lewes, with free parking. Imagine the council paying someone a salary to manage this. Apparently it costs £2,200 a year to keep a car on the road and it’s getting more expensive. So we’re saving loads of money. Plus we get to be smug about something we were going to do anyway!