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.