Monday, 21 December 2009
The commonly agreed target for safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm). We've already overshot that: there is currently around 388 ppm in the atmosphere, with a need to reduce emissions as soon as possible to safe levels. According to my daughter Sophia, a calculation of emissions agreed in Copenhagen would lead to a very unsafe level of CO2 of over 700ppm by the end of the century and we'd have reached the point of no return long before that.
Two commentators have this to say today in the aftermath of Copenhagen.
In Requiem for a Crowded Planet, the Guardian's George Monbiot gives us some bitter medicine
Johann Hari wrote in the Independent that we're finally realising that Daddy is not going to look after us and only grassroots practical and even protest action will get us the changes needed.
I've been struggling with despair for the planet for again lately, which is not good for my new-refound physical health nor my mental health. I don't know where to put this information, and I wonder if anyone does. My belief in God has transformed into worship and gratitude more akin to that of indigenous people so that's no help. Perhpas, as Philip Carr-Gomm said on the solstice on the tump yesterday, when it's dark, just wait. The light will come.
I will have 10 days off with my family and friends over Christmas. I'll eat and laugh and sit by the fire and walk in the cold. I'll love my wonderful life. And then, come the new year, I'll start again to do whatever I can, anything in my power, to Be the Change I want to see. I've seen this coming and, alongside many others, I'll see it through.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
I recently visited the Land Girls exhibition at Brighton's Pavilion museum. It's a vivid illustration of how a group of people respond to a sudden change in circumstances. The general message was that although life was tough for the young women volunteering to feed the nation during the wars, good times were had. Freed from the binds of domestic life, some women, certainly, seemed to come into their power, driving huge tractors, managing teams of workhorses, barrowing muck from dawn to dusk. There are some hilarious stories, some from videoed interviews, of sharing bath water between several people and parties at the local officer's mess.
The girls were issued uniforms, with strict instructions about how to maintain them. Along with three pairs of socks came the advice to darn them using the gusset of old pairs of socks. Those well-worn socks looked so robust, so much better than the flimsy socks I get from M&S, on which darning hasn't worked, and which need constant replacing. So when I walked past Cathy Darcy's excellent Vintage Shirt Company on Mount Place, and saw some very fine pairs of English socks in the window, I had to buy a pair.
Made of Shetland wool in subtle colours, these socks are a wonder to behold and, frankly, I haven't taken them off since buying them. Along with a warm head, warm feet are important in winter. And although they cost £22, they are eminently darn-able, so these socks and I, we're going a long way together.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
In the lead up to the UN's Copenhagen Climate Conference this month I'm feeling a sense of awe and prayerfulness. The understanding of our planet's situation deepens and matures, with some insightful pieces of writing. Behind the white noise of Christmas advertising, some of us are starting painfully to understand the degree to which we are all complicit, as western consumers, in an unstable world, of which climate change - waves of rain, flood, heat - is only one symptom. And we're slowly, achingly, waking up to the idea that a better future is within our reach.
Last week, around 100 people of all shapes and sizes turned up at Lewes New School to discuss the future of North Street, since the developer's companies, who bought the acres of riverfront land, have gone bankrupt. In the Open Space discussion that ensued, lots and lots of fabulous ideas emerged, which will be presented to the town for discussion. Ideas for the land, healthy, sane, useful, inclusive ideas are emerging from people who live and work in Lewes, including those really essential people who work on North Street. These acres, surely, should be kept for a resilient, practical transition, rather than to feed one person's greedy neediness.
And despite all the western world's displacement activity, which includes flying here, there and everywhere for crazy reasons - holidays, spiritual retreats, sunshine, weddings, last chance to see... - some people, many people, are discovering that slow and simple are what we want anyway. Slow and simple. Breathe. Relax. The poet, Wendell Berry, says it all.
Friday, 27 November 2009
It's great to see a new butcher in Lewes as Martin Tebbutt of Boathouse Farm recently moved in to the Riverside. He sells almost exclusively local, organic meat, the best kind, really, for all sorts of common sense reasons. Recently, when I couldn't get to Boathouse's farm shop outside Lewes, I bought an organic chicken from Waitrose, and found it insipid and unsettling.
There's been an interesting debate about the future of meat in a low-carbon world recently, with Sir Nicholas Stern of the Stern Report suggested we become vegetarians. That's fine, if you're inclined to be one, but I do like to eat a small amount of local, organic, meat about once a week. In fact, I'm moving rather away from pulses, grown overseas and more towards local food, with high proportions of nutrition-packed local fruit and vegetables and small amounts of high-quality protein. Last weekend I got a small amount of stewing steak from Boathouse and stewed it in loads of gravy, long and slow with leeks, swede and carrots and topped the whole thing with a thick layer of sliced potatoes. The meat cost £2 for the four of us and the whole thing less than a quid a head. Yum yum!
Traditionally, that would have been a typical meal, with the Downs supporting sheep and the market gardens supplying our veg. Now, of course, the dozen or so market gardens of Lewes are all car parks and housing developments. An acre of land on North Street, now that it's no longer in the hands of Angel Properties, would grow a huge proportion of Lewes's food in raised beds, which is what they reverted the car parks to in Havana when Cuba ran short of oil recently. Growing on North St would also be a great source of training and employment, and a real, handy use for an area that was always a productive, working area and, let's face it, never really meant for a developer to grab for housing and take out of community use (come to this Saturday's hugely important Open Space if you want influence the future of the land).
All around the world, amazing urban food projects are springing up in vacant lots. In Chicago, where there are huge problems with urban blight, residential areas are being re-zoned and re-prioritised for food production over housing. And in Britain, Incredible Edible Todmorden, with the support of the council and businesses, is aiming to grow a significant amount of its food within the town.
According to Local Food, a Transition book, there is a myriad of ways to grow food locally. Transition Town Lewes's food group, for example, has run a successful Open Kitchen Gardens project, opening edible gardens for public inspiration; its Food up Front Lewes has run a year's pilot and is considering another year; Common Cause is running food-growing workshops on the community Lottie, and a few transitioners created, in an afternoon, Eat Lewes, a mini forest garden of perennial edibles in a tiny triangle of land outside my house. In this, its first year, the plot yielded rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, tayberries, horseradish, 10 different herbs and greens, and an impossible amount of Jerusalem artichokes.
I also notice an increasing number of Lewesians growing food on land out front of their houses, a celebration of resilience. You can grow loads of food on small urban patches, measured in food feet, and it's terrifically exciting to think of the delicious food we'll be growing all over Lewes in a decade's time.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
I've just returned from visiting our oldest daughter Sophia as she settles in to life at Exeter University in Falmouth, Cornwall, where she's studying environmental geography. It's been a strange experience having my first child, who's been with me for 20 years, leave home. I don't miss her, or my second daughter Anna who's also left home recently, although I think of them both very, very often. I have a sense that they're still with me, in a timeless way.
I've returned from my visit feeling excited by Sophia's idealism and optimism in her new life. As part of her new, experimental life, Sophia's decided to give up plastic for a week, inspired by a fellow student who has been living what she calls post-plastic consumption for three weeks. Her friend Ruthie 'got to the point where she physically felt sick when she threw away plastic. Because it can't disappear - that's only an illusion - it stays around for a very long time.'
Curious, I asked Sophia for tips for people reading this column about how to kick plastic out of shopping. She told me, 'The main way of doing this is being prepared in advance - taking tupperware with you when you go to the fishmongers, carrying cotton bags, having a network of friends who can help each other out, like picking apples from your neighbours' trees when they're not using them. I'm not using supermarkets as there are enough local shops around and I have the time. It's a very idealistic way of living because there's not a widescale framework for this way of living.
'The main reason I'm doing this,' she told me, 'apart from reducing my carbon-embedded consumption, is to inspire other people. As a young person I realise I'm a symbol of the future - I am the future, and that's powerful.
'When people say that I'm just being idealistic, I say, idealism pushes the boundaries of the norm, allowing more movement for mainstream society to be radical. I'm not saying what I do is feasible for everyone, but what I can do is to help remind people that it is possible to live in less carbon-intensive ways. It's also about community and helping local farmers in Cornwall, remembering the traditional way of living and maintaining that for future generations, at the same time as living in modern times. You can't go backwards, you can only go forwards.
'My friend Mark, who created the Freeconomy, writes a blog on his year of living without money, which ends on Buy Nothing Day on 28 November. I know a lot of people who are getting into this kind of thing. Living without money, or with less money, living more simply, is very related to buying no plastic. A life like this is also a lot less mundane, it's a life where we rely on and connect to each other more. This way of living is an integral part of inhabiting the earth, which is the only direction we can go in.'
Thursday, 12 November 2009
During this week's World Cafe conversation at Bill's Cafe about supermarkets, I realised how insane it is to eat supermarket food when delicious, vital, colourful, word-free food springs up out of the ground all around us. For instance, last night our family ate a wonderful organic supper of baked potatoes with butter and a yoghurt sauce, butternut squash roasted with masses of garlic, and rocket salad with a honey dressing - a very cheap meal using what was available, now, from my allotment, from my home stores and Laportes. Sure, I did have to grow some of the food and tend the bees, but I probably spent less time and probably had more pleasure than many people do earning money to pay for supermarket food and other accoutrements of the modern world.
Meanwhile, Tesco's application to expand in Lewes by 50% is still pending, despite already taking a full 2/3 of our retail spend out of our community; Waitrose is arguably simply a plusher little brother. We know that industrialised fossil-fuelled supermarket-driven agriculture feeds on and uses up soil, community, health and wellbeing. Yet the sheer rut of habit runs deep.
Many people I talk to know they want to change their food-buying habits but feel powerless over the situation. Yet as with all addictions, change can be easy, one step at a time. To step out of the rut, it can be as simple as: Turn off the TV, get informed and get a veg box delivered from this link. In these extraordinary times, when our addictions to lifestyle threaten life itself, I believe we are called to question everything. We're being called to adventure, to live at our own edge and reconnect the broken threads. Deep within each one of us lives an indigenous soul, a natural human being. It's time for that being to jump up and live again.
Thursday, 5 November 2009
This whole week is the time of all Hallows, or Samhain, the celtic/druid festival. A time of year when the veil between the worlds becomes thinner and we can, say some cultures, connect with our ancestors. During my spiritual practice this morning I felt the qualities of a young native American ancestor within me. I often wonder who he is, his story having come to me in glimpses of ancestral memory over the past three years. So, this evening I decided to ring my aunt in
She told me of our ancestors, some of the early settlers in
I’m fortunate to have native ancestors who are so recently connected to the land. Since the first Cro-magnon (wo)man, we have lived close to, and utterly dependent on, the earth for 40,000 years before that. So the vast landscape of our collective ancestry is native. Sometimes I wonder whether, in these pressing times, these people, my people, are talking to me now, across time. I would like to slow down enough to hear what they’re saying.
Since writing this blog, I watched Ray Mears's TV programme about the settling of Canada, describing the hunting to extinction of the estimated 7 million beavers to make felted European hats. You can watch his inspiring programmes here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00nsh7c/Ray_Mears_Northern_Wilderness_The_Company_that_Built_a_Country/
Friday, 30 October 2009
I worked slowly, savouring the moment. I had time to think about the things I’d read about the world, the previous day on the internet. Things are happening fast. Science and politics seem at last to agree that we’ve got a problem, or a great convergence of problems. Most still seem to think that technology and carbon agreements will get us through, though the pragmatists say: look folks, we’re already beyond the 350ppm tipping point. At 387ppm we in the West can only now look at radical reduction of consumption and conservation of forests, soils and oceans.I hope this isn’t the autumn of the human race, even though the external signs indicate that it is. I’d rather believe that we’re growing up at last. Mother Earth has given and given and we have taken and taken. I’d like to think we’re starting, one by one, on a very personal quest, in which we will learn to take personal responsibility, to become accountable. In the blessed absence of a judgemental God, we only have our own conscience, our sense of interdependence, our own mothering instinct, to be accountable to.
This video made me happy.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Like a hunter tracking its prey, I’m always on the look out for signs of the Great Turning. Sometimes you find the tracks in the oddest places. Last week I got a flyer in my door from Milk and More. My milko, now celebrating 150 years, has, over the last couple of years, evolved from a beast at the edge of extinction, under threat from the great supermarket giants, to a multitasking, all-song-and dancing delivery scheme. He now offers me not only our usual organic cows and goats milk, but 150 ‘essential items’ including bread, yoghurt, cheese, veggies and baked beans. OK, these are big national/international brands delivered by a national chain, but that will change. And, surely a sign of the times, among the usual tacky Christmas offers, there’s an energy-saving ‘novelty’ draught excluder – in the form of a cat or a dog – for £2.99! But most brilliantly of all, I can order online, up till nine, the night before my 5am delivery. No more last-minute bread baking/neighbour cadging (which used to be supermarket dashes) for lunchbox materials. Milk and More has come to the rescue.
Why is this a sign of the Great Turning? A recent important report from the UK Energy Research Council, authored by Lewes resident Steve Sorrell, predicted that despite recent discoveries, peak oil would hit within the decade, with very little government preparation for a bumpy, chaotic, irreversible energy descent. In a future with less cheap oil, we are going to have to be more resilient, that is, flexible to unexpected changes and shocks. Mainly, that means, more interconnected, more local. Local means fresh, real, food, which means more local markets and, probably, more deliveries. Life will – if we make a planned, managed, rather than resisted, Turning - look a bit like Victorian times, in terms of food, though in other ways, very different. Problem is, much of our resilience/infrastructure has been destroyed in the meantime. But not the milkman. Long live the milkman.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
Conversely, ‘traditional’ beekeeping has involved increasing levels of intervention and, one could say, corporate violence. Some people have likened this approach to the way chickens are kept in battery farms. The film Vanishing of the Bees, which I saw on Tuesday at the Duke of York’s, implies that there’s no one cause of the vanishing of the bees, and although nicotinoid pesticides are likely to damage the bees’ resilience over generations, there are other factors, including lack of biodiverse foraging, and the way the bees are treated by traditional beekeepers.
Despite the British and US governments’ refusal to ban nicotinoid pesticides, and as the British Beekeeping Association continues to be sponsored by Bayer, the manufacturer of the main nicotinamide, there are many voices calling for change. Meanwhile, there’s lots we can do to help the honeybee, apart from training as a natural beekeeper. As Michael Pollen, food commentator from the University of California, says, simply by eating organic, local food we are creating an environment with less toxicity for bees. And, he added, we can turn our lawns into bee-friendly havens.
Rudolph Steiner predicted – 50 years ago – that in half a century, the traditional approach to beekeeping would cause a crisis for the honeybee. He rightly pointed out that our existence depends on honeybees (2/3 of our food species are pollinated by them). In order to take care of ourselves, then, we have to take care of the bees.
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Thursday, 1 October 2009
My only refuge is to reconnect, with Spirit, with nature and likeminded souls. So it was with relief that I turned up to the Transition Camp, last weekend, convened for all the Transition initiatives in the South East of England. It was hosted by Wo-Wo, a wonderful campsite just 20 minutes north of Lewes, that allows open fires and gives a fantastic welcome to families. We were in a field surrounded by woods and a little stream, where nestled yurts, a wood-fired sauna and compost loos. In true transition style, several dozen of us turned up and tuned into what we could offer and what we wanted.
So this glorious Indian summer weekend was filled with rich experience for my head, heart and hands. One minute a wild food forage, the next an intensive Joanna Macy Conference of all Beings. A bicycle workshop, a seed saving talk with a biodynamic expert, and exchange of seeds. I helped someone make fire with friction and led a visioning session. Much of the time we just sat and chatted. In the evening, after a delicious meal, we sat around the fire receiving training in consensus decision-making followed by music and a warming sauna till I tumble into my sleeping bag with owl song all around.
In an insane world, it’s healing to let go of the pain of bewilderment and allow myself to be Be-Wild-ered.
More and more people are discovering the joy of living a low carbon life. One of the first steps for our own empowerment starts with measuring our carbon footprint. This is the amount of carbon dioxide we emit each year as a result (mainly) of using fossil fuels: petrol, oil, gas and coal. There’s a good website for doing this. The Carbon Independent tool is both accurate and easy to use; it takes a few minutes.
Currently the average emissions for someone living in England is about 12 tonnes. The average emissions of someone living in India is about 1 tonne. That’s about where we have to get to (by 2050) and what the Copenhagen agreement is about, if we want to aim for a world where every person emits (consumes) equal amounts. In an unequal world we need to aim for 3 tonne living.
Over the last couple of years our family has been able to halve our emissions from about 9 tonnes to about 4.5, quite easily, through small steps that have also saved us money; I've documented many of them in this column. Roughly 1.2 tonnes of that is emitted for me by the government in terms of roads, hospitals and war.
One of the easiest ways to go on a carbon diet is to reduce inessential flights. A return flight to New Zealand or Australia emits 12 tonnes – doubling our annual load. To South Africa, Beijing and Bangkok it’s 6 tonnes; New York, India it’s 4 and to Greece, Moscow, it’s 2; Rome is one tonne and Dublin is .5 tonne. We’ve become rather addicted to non-essential flying and somewhat forgotten the joys of local living. So by getting a life you’re also getting other people a life. Which can only be good.
Source: 3 Tonne Handbook, written by Ann Link, a transitioner – available at Lewes Farmers Markets on the Lewes Pound stall.
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
I wrote about the economic downturn in these pages long before it happened and it’s now very interesting to watch the fallout, as it were, from the future. Newsnight commentators, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, a year on from the Lehman bank collapse, agreed in this fascinating debate, that we were probably in for a long period of little or no economic growth, and that this would be a good thing. And they also agreed that they did't know what might replace capitalism as a more viable culture or ideology.
The environmental imperative is that economic growth that is based on consumption is brought to a halt and then even reversed. You can have a growth in services, in value added, and so on, however, and that’s what the new social entrepreneurs are going to be taking up in the future. But continuing to over-consume trees, metals, fossil fuels (especially by travel and transport) water and topsoil (thanks to supermarket-fuelled agriculture) is taking us to the brink of existence.
My personal view is that the change will take many forms – emotional, practical, spiritual - and is in the form of a wave. For many of us early-adopters, we’re already focused on building our own resilience, localizing, downsizing and changing the way we work, shop and spend our time. We’re aware of the paradigm shift and in some ways, say, through the Transition Movement, spending our new-found spare time helping precipitate it in a 100-monkeys kind of way. This isn’t a smug, middle-class indulgence. It’s more about cutting edge survival: learning to live realistically within the limits of our planet. And, as a writer commented in a piece about the ethics of climate change, it’s about becoming the kind of person I want to be.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
But more and more people are questioning the promotion of this 'traditional' way of beekeeping, which has remained unchanged for 100 years. This involves taking off almost all the winter honey supplies and feeding the bees with sugar over the winter - surely a disaster for their immune system. It involves going through the brood - the intimate core of the integrated bee colony - every 10 days during the main flow to check for pre-swarm queen cells. And it involves chemical intervention for disease instead of creating a terrain for general good bee health.
The Soil Association this summer launched a campaign to get the government to ban nicotinamides, which have been found to be one of the causes of colony collapse disorder. The British Beekeepers Association, still the source of most of the standard beekeeping courses, receives sponsorship funding from Bayer, a major manufacturer of nicotinamides. So beekeepers are having to flout their association and go to the Soil Association's petition.
New forms of beekeeping are emerging - or perhaps a revival of old forms based on an old, indigenous, more caretaking attitude towards bees and nature in general. One of the pioneers, Biobees, last week launched the Natural Beekeeping Network, which is also a research arm as well as supporting top-bar beekeeping. More locally, in Ashurstwood near Forest Row, the Natural Beekeeping Trust, based on biodynamic beekeeping, also launched last weekend. They have two courses coming up in October. For more about biodynamic beekeeping, read this page.
Lewes's walled, biodiverse gardens were once full of beehives. Wouldn't it be lovely if Lewes's gardens, allotments and parks were, in a couple of years, buzzing with honeybees? There's already a bunch of us supporting, mulling or experimenting. Contact me if you'd like to get involved.
Thursday, 3 September 2009
Talking about cutting carbon emissions, this week saw the launch of an exciting new national initiative called 10:10 whose aim is for us all and collectively to reduce our carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. The point is that it's all very well for us to aim for 85% reduction in emissions/fossil fuel use by 2050 a la Copenhagen, but it's what we also do in the interim that matters: the line of trajectory. Transition Town Lewes's forum agreed last night to take this on as a major theme and I will be writing about this in the months to come. At present we in the UK each emit roughly 13 tonnes of CO2 per year. We'll need to aim for around one tonne by 2050 (if we're going for international equity). The first step is interesting: 10% - that's more than just recycling and turning down our thermostats, which I think we've all done now. It's about changing our habits more profoundly: changing the way we source food, buying far less stuff, halving our flying, sharing things. See here for some ideas about practical actions.
It's actually quite diffucult for our family to reduce our carbon emissions further: we're down to about 5 tonnes of emissions since we started as a household a couple of years ago, and apart from not flying, it's all been quite easy. Two of those tonnes are down to central government decisions on roads, airports and schools. But Dirk has just had a thousand pounds of surprise royalty from a piece of music he wrote and, inspired by Transition Town Lewes's Open Eco-house event in July, we're finally going to spend it on on an eco-lite retrofit of our house: perspex secondary double glazing from http://www.365plastics.com/, interlining our curtains in our main room; low-energy lightbulbs throughout (except the main kitchen light), reflector behind the radiators and draughtproofing windows and doors. I find the prospect strangely exciting.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
PS last week's column about Tesco's proposed expansion was incorrect - Lewes District Council's planning office says the decision will be 'some time in the autumn', when all the necessary information has been gathered. I hear that there is a zombie invasion of Tesco afoot (If you want to join in, please ring 07910411071).
Friday, 14 August 2009
Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 25 years later (p252)
with commentaries by E.F. Schumacher.
Hartley & Marks Publishers, Inc., 1999.
Friday, 7 August 2009
Thursday, 16 July 2009
Friday, 10 July 2009
The launch party for the new higher denominations of the Lewes Pound was a blast - with hundreds of people from all walks of Lewes life, at the stunning Harveys Depot. A woman in the pub afterwards actually kissed me when she heard I was one of the team behind the Lewes currency. I feel deep delight to have been part of this initiative, and though I've only been cheering from the sidelines for the last few months, I've held it in my heart (like so many others) and keep on buying and spending Lewes Pounds at every opportunity.
A few months ago the group asked Lewes traders for feedback about improvements - in fact we have asked for frequent feedback wherever we can spare the time, as volunteers (none of us are paid a dime). Three consistent messages were - higher denominations, more issuing points and more incentives for locals to use it instead of spending sterling in town (some people already realise that 80% of money spent locally stays local whereas 80% of money spent in chains leaks out of Lewes, according to the new economics foundation). After some consultation we devised a plan whereby 5% of Lewes Pounds go into a Live Lewes fund - the first fund specifically to support eco-projects in Lewes. This money goes into the fund when traders trade LPs back to sterling. So for every LP21 traded for sterling £1 goes to the Live Lewes fund.
Some traders will now be deterred financially from simply going to their nearest issuing point and turning the LPs spent in their shop back into sterling - which some of them have been, We wish to discourage this since if the LP continues to circulate locally it builds wealth locally. Traders can still keep LPs circulating by paying for local goods (perhaps finding new local suppliers) or paying their staff or themselves or by giving it back to the customer as change - a popular move among high-volume LP traders such as Laportes. And they can, after all, simply opt out.
We really do have it in our power to build the world anew. But together. This transition is not going to happen if we sit back and wait for someone else to tell us how it's done, or complain if it doesn't work straight-off. That's the old paradigm. What's new about the Lewes Pound and the whole Transition Town concept is that - like it or not - the new world is going to be built, brick by brick from the foundations. I won't go through the reasons for this imperative, though Colin Firth put it well in a recent column: 'We are not in a position to choose whether or not we have a relationship with our own society or with the world's poorest people. We can choose the nature of those relationships, but either way they're there'. Last week it was announced tht a billion people are living in chronic starvation, but I digress...
Yes, we can do it different and better but we're not sure how it's going to happen. We'll get there, not through fear, opposition and polarisation, but through creativity and courage, by developing a conversation about how we can do this together. The Lewes Pound is an experiment. It might not work. But I say it deserves the chance to be tailored, cherished and nurtured into being by us all.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
I was feeling pretty low about losing all the top bar bees, though there is a conventional colony in the churchyard and one in the woods. But Mike invited me to visit his bees today - he's taken three swarms this season and they are well established in his top bar hives on a farm outside Lewes. They were actively flying in and out of the hives and took no notice of us gingerly lifting up the lid. Inside the hive it's nothing like a standard beehive. The bees get to make their own comb, hanging in arcs from the topbar. I don't think I can describe both how natural and right that appeared. It's what I was trying to say last week - the man/nature balance; it's subtle and we need to do things differently. This fortnight I made some mistakes and also the bees had a mind of their own. I learned a lot, and I feel more humble.
Friday, 26 June 2009
Then one day I turned up and next to a shrivelled larva shell was an yellow ladybird with no spots. When I next looked at the beetle, the spots had gradually faded into being. Was it next going to turn red? Now there are hundreds of red ladybirds with spots all over the plants. Just in time to consume the aphids, which are also proliferating on the fruit trees and other sensitive plants.
Last week a large snake appeared in the long grass at the edge of the allotment, to die. It was three feet long, probably a grass snake. I sprayed water on it but it was on its way out. After it died, I noticed it had been bitten, perhaps by a fox, which had left its poo on the path edging the allotment.
Perhaps the snake had been attracted by toads there. I noticed one when I was picking redcurrants from the forest of currants; it’s cool and dark and damp there, a good place for a toad.
The blackbirds are still singing as I pick the currants. They love redcurrants particularly, and I wonder from the poo on the leaves whether they’ve had their fair share. The hungry gap is over and the land has started to yield a crop for us humans as well as others.
I am in love with the whole thing, and every part, as well as the interconnectedness. Of ladybird, blackbird, snake and cabbage. Compost, soil, nettle and worm. The lessons just deepen and will never end.
I look at the yield of my allotment neighbour, who used to be a farmer. It’s far better than mine, at least double, even triple. He's a top-notch grower, and everyone's envious of his yield. Yet I doubt whether he has any ladybirds, snakes or toads. There’s no room for wild places on his allotment; he uses every square inch and he’s an avid weeder. He uses slug pellets and goodness knows what else. Bless him. This is the situation of our world: we humans want to maximize our crop, our income from the earth’s ‘resources’, but what happens to wild nature? I doubt we can exist without it. I welcome a time when we humans discover our own interconnectedness, learn to walk on the wild side.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Thursday, 18 June 2009
It’s often been said that what doesn’t kill us heals us and I’ve felt for a long time that this cancer has come to teach me how to really live. You could even say that I have chosen this path. As Aristotle commented a couple of thousand years ago, breast cancer can be caused by grief, and part of my healing is to end – now, in this time and for my line - the huge grief and even despair I have felt for mother earth, which is linked to and sensitised by my own mother’s death when I was three.
So nowadays I’m living firmly on the lighter side of my own edge – in full trust in the process of the Universe, which is where meaning is for me. And by trust I don’t mean sitting back and watching life unravel like a movie. I mean being actively involved in the extraordinary art of co-creation, yet with trust and acceptance.
I recently walked with my friend Viviana past this sign on the building site off Western Road. At first glance I was convinced it said No Hat, No Boobs, No Job. A zen-like description of how I feel, and how perfect that feels.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
What got me thinking of this was John May’s new Vision for Malling Brooks (read it at the new Lewes Coalition website). This is a wild piece of green-field land of 2.7 hectares surrounded by houses, which the developer Charles Style has proposed to pave over and ‘develop’ in to light industrial units and parking. The land is a cornerstone for Style’s proposal to develop North Street, so he can move the remaining light industrial users to Malling Brooks.
Malling residents are outraged by the proposal, since the land was under four metres of water during the last floods; further development of this floodplain would, they claim, increase the risk of flooding to their homes and be dangerous to the development itself. The District Council’s planning committee has twice postponed a decision about the application on technical grounds, and it goes back to planning in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile I ran into John May at the Farmers’ Market and he told me how he’d come up with the vision. He’d been trying to find a fault in the application on the basis of damage to the wildlife. But Style’s plans had included a comprehensive survey and proposed moving the wildlife to a corridor in one corner and managing it more intensively. May took a long walk around the site and woke up the next morning with a vision for the whole area – to leave most of it as a managed wildlife sanctuary as well as creating some much-needed allotments for Lewes residents. One of the reasons why our planet is becoming eroded is that money and markets and national development policy speak louder than nature. As Prof Michael Sandal said in this week’s Reith Lecture by turning everything into commodities, we lose sense of its real worth to us. OK this vision doesn’t make anyone money, but it is deep ecology and it is common sense, which, says May, is lacking in our society.
I love the way that visions, however impossible-sounding or against the materialistic status quo, have an irresistible magnetism, a life of their own. Positive visions seed themselves in our minds and take root; they grow in our imagination so that pretty soon we’re living AS IF they have already happened. I do believe that once you have a vision, it’s virtually already happened. So kudos John May and the Lewes Coalition for dreaming dreams.
Friday, 5 June 2009
The other colony was a swarm clustered on a wall along the Winterbourne seasonal river last night. They’d been there for at least a day and were unusually tired, hungry and aggressive. I got a sting to my ankle, which has swollen up. But Steven got the bees in to the box and then in to his top bar beehive. When I looked yestarday many of them had died – of starvation. I fed them syrup to try to save the rest – assuming there was a queen –and today they are flying in and out quite purposefully, but it will be a month before we know whether both queens have survived and their larvae are hatching.
I am starting to form a relationship with the bees. I visit them and ‘tune in’ to their energy – sometimes I sit and hum and sometimes I just sit. Ever since my scrape with death I just don’t care how that sounds. My hair is growing back now the chemotherapy is over and I have dared to expose my head to the sun and other people – which has been really liberating. I suppose that after a certain amount of life experience, or surviving a serious illness, you can either batten down the hatches and live within your comfort zone, or just let go of, or leap over, self-limiting inhibitions and boundaries and feel an intense freedom. I love being around people who embody that freedom, and here’s a video of someone else who seems to know a thing or two.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
Thursday, 14 May 2009
Friends who shop at Tesco tell me it’s cheaper and more convenient. Those are partly myths: various recent surveys have shown that local wholefood is cheaper than Tesco’s. And in terms of convenience, you can redesign your habits to make local shopping easier, getting most of your food delivered.
Bulk delivery (including loo rolls and the likes) from Infinity Foods three times a year £35
Weekly veg boxes delivered from local farm Ashurst Organics £15
Occasional meat from Boathouse Farm; fish from Riverside £20
Additional fruit, cheese, bread, butter, tofu and other fresh staples, mostly from May’s, Laportes and Barefoot Herbs, and Waitrose when I’m lazy: £80
That’s £160 a week, £27 a week each on food, or £3.80 a day, including lunchboxes. We could even cut that budget in half if we had to.
Tesco already gets two in three of our retail pounds. It wants to expand in Lewes by 50%. The application goes to the District Council’s planning department in early June. If you object, stop shopping at Tesco. And write to the Lindsay Frost, the director of planning mailto:email@example.com and the councillors below, referring to planning application number: LW/08/1395.
See the Tescopoly website for the issues that the planning committee will consider. Though personally, I think being a major contributor to the destruction of the local economy, communities, the environment, the creatures such as honeybees, our national farming and our health should be good enough reasons to object.
Cllr Bob AllenCllr Rod Main (Chair) Cllr Sharon Davy Cllr Ian Eiloart Cllr Peter Gardiner Cllr Barry Groves Cllr Tom Jones Cllr Ron MaskellCllr David Mitchell Cllr Robert Worthington (Peacehaven)
Friday, 8 May 2009
In this week-long bee immersion I’ve been finding out some truly shocking information. The British Beekeepers Association has allegedly been accepting large sums of money from agro-giant Bayer, the manufacturer of the powerful modern insecticides, called nicotinamides, in exchange for allowing Bayer to market these pesticides to farmers as ‘bee friendly’. These pesticides, used extensively in Britain, were banned from France, Germany and Italy from 2001, when the beekeepers there protested after large swathes of the bee population were decimated by the agrochemicals. What is tamely called colony collapse disorder here, is very likely to be caused by Bayer’s toxins, which are systemic poisons, in that once in the plant they continue to work against insects throughout the plant’s life. More worryingly, they wash off the land into groundwater - their half life is two years – where they are taken up by the weeds and other wild foraging plants loved by bees. The effect of such chemicals, which, according to Bayer, work as low as two parts per billion, is that honeybees and other insects get disorientated and cannot find their way home, or dance the dance that shows the rest of the hive the source of nectar. The colony starves, collapses, even in the peak of the nectar flow.
Private Eye this week quoted environment secretary Hilary Been as insisting that "We haven't seen any evidence that [pesticides] have an adverse impact on bees". This love affair between our leaders and corporations is taking the honeybee, which has been around for 50 million years, and worshipped by wiser humans than us since the beginning of humanity, to the edge of existence. It bears repeating that 30% of British honeybee colonies have died out in the last two years and that we depend on the honeybee for pollinating 80% of our food.
How to deal with such outrageous information without tipping in to denial and powerlessness (which is the numb-down route taken by so many of us in the western world at the moment) or despair (the route of illness and loss of the essential life force needed in this time of change)? Philip Carr-Gomm, our resident chief druid, spoke of this in an evening hosted by the Transition Town Lewes Heart and Soul group last week. He called for the need to look at such information with ‘bifocal vision’ – to see things simultaneously as whole and also as sick. Dancing on this edge, we can stay sane in an insane world and be alert and effective change-makers.
And we are powerful, each one of us like a honeybee in a colony; we can manifest goodness and health if we work together. What can we do to help the honeybee? The answer is clear. Short-circuit the corporates through choice; eat local, organic food. Do it now, and do it as though your life depends on it. And watch this video to make you smile.
Wednesday, 6 May 2009