Friday, 26 February 2010

ban the draught

I dreamed of draughtproofing last night, which shows me how obsessed I've become about blocking up the winds that sweep through our Victorian house. Until this winter I'd been quite happy to live with the cold until my stepdaughter came to stay to have her baby and we needed to have the house at a steady, warm temperature. Then I realised that as soon as the heating went off the temperature dropped back down to the icy levels of the outside, with frost on the inside of the windows, and so on.

It all culminated in a Transition Town Lewes Draughtbusting Sunday last weekend, a demonstration of all the things I had done and was planning to do. In the amazing absence of any online resources the energy group and I prepared a basic information sheet. The research was so complicated, my lack of basic carpentry skills so lacking, and the learning curve so steep that we felt that we needed to start pooling our wisdom and courage to get anything moving. Half the housing in Lewes is pretty ancient and as I keep on saying, many of us are totally unprepared and unresilient for when energy prices really rise, especially if climate change means more winters like this last one.

Apparently, since up to 20% of our heating goes straight out the door, windows and other cracks, that's a potential 20% of heating bills saved withe some draughtproofing, much of which can be done on the cheap. My favourite tool in the draughtproofing armoury is a roll of gaffer tape, available in white or black from Wenban Smith. As a quick fix, you can go round the rattling sash windows and simply tape them up in the winter. If you don't want to mess up the paint, there's other proprietary brands, including brushes for under doors and around the front door, from Architectural Seals, who are offering a 12.5% discount (thanks to Transition Town Lewes) for Lewesians (code LEWES125). A lot can be done with secondary glazing, which can range from cheap plastic film that you put on each year to the full blown replacement windows, via a cheap local chippie, Kai - all revealed in the instruction sheet.

But I'm obsessing. I really need to get out a little.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

you're welcome

This week we welcomed a baby girl into our household. It’s a deep privilege to support Hester, my stepdaughter, with her rite of passage that is motherhood and to help her practically with Wren’s transition in to the world. Wren’s birth has reminded me of the miraculousness of life creating itself, and the total innocence, nakedness, with which we enter this world.

And how does that innocence turn into the level of overconsumption and unbalance that we are witnessing today, with one billion people obese and another billion starving? How have we brought ourselves to (some say, over) the brink of our own survival? How did the indigenous soul, used to living in balance for perhaps up to 100,000 years, go wrong? I don’t think mankind is programmed to self-destruct, as some people say. I prefer the line taken in extraordinary novel Ishmael in which author Daniel Quinn describes our ‘taker’ culture as simply a culture of beliefs, that arose about 6,000 years ago, with the advent of patriarchal societies, religions and agriculture. Unlike genetics, beliefs can be changed.

Innocence is a big theme for me as I try to shed blame from my communications about climate change, whose facts still remain. I’ve been wrestling with the question: how can we do what we do in full knowledge of the effects? How can my neighbour, a green activist, fly around the world, knowing what he knows? And inevitably, as my finger points with three fingers pointing back, the question is most usefully turned around to me: why am I behaving self-destructively, knowing what I know? As someone who has lived through the near-death experience of cancer, why do I indulge in alcohol and dark thoughts?

All I can say is, I’m working on it, just as we all are, of course. It helps to remind myself that I’m innocent, to ask forgiveness for my flaws, and to be immensely, wondrously, gloriously and joyfully grateful for the wonder and flow of life living itself.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

the wasteland

A little pleasure garden is rising out of the rubbish and brambles on the North Street industrial estate. In the marginal land between a building that used to house the fire brigade and the walled-in river, a patch is being tended, tenderly, by a few people thrown together through the love of it. It’s a community garden in the making, so everyone’s welcome. On the first day we picked up the litter and cut back the brambles. The stronger among us hoisted logs to make a hexagonal raised keyhole bed. At the next session we planted strawberries, raspberries and an artichoke in it and made some paths using an old pile of woodchip. A little boy pitched in with his bucket and spade. An artist made a path around a welcoming mound by the entrance, on which we’ll plant crocuses, primroses and forget-me-nots. Soon we’ll make a swing, a fire pit and somewhere to sit, and a willow dome for the children, all out of scraps and unwanted things. A friend is running a biodynamic compost making workshop there soon, which will help revitalise the polluted soil. It’s becoming a place of beauty and intention.

Last week’s Costing the Earth spent 30 minutes covering the New Diggers, a new wave of people reclaiming unused land all over Britain in order to feed themselves. It’s a visceral collective response to climate change and peak oil, a move to empower ourselves in the face of uncertainty.

We all garden for different reasons, and this patch is special to me because of the people I am working with and because I love marginal places, derelict land where nature shows up through the cracks. That’s the reason why I never pay to visit National Trust gardens and the like; to me they’re sterile, forced arrangements in comparison. No, the wild places, the edges, are where it’s all happening. Last night’s totally gorgeous Natural World focused on the Wild Places of Essex. And there are plenty all around Lewes, when you start to look. From the moss on a wall to the tall grasses on the mounts and the wild patches near the castle, nature is constantly reasserting herself; you can never keep her down, never tame her. So we’re helping her along, a bit of Earth repair in our little Pop-Up garden, a place where people can be together and do what comes naturally.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

my planet too

I’ve finally come to terms with something that plagued me for the whole of January: blaming so many of my friends for taking long-distance flights. It was for the usual reasons: spiritual gatherings, second homes, conferences, filming, swimming with dolphins (really)... I have sympathy with people who fly to visit family: Love Miles, they’re called. But non-essential flying at this time, especially by people in the know, is questionable. You might say it’s none of my business, but it is: it’s my planet too, you see.

Part of the problem is that the very people who’ve been flying are the light bringers, friends who are on a psycho-spiritual path or profession. While many of my practical friends are being mindful about flying, these light bringers seem to feel some kind of absolution. I’m hearing some bizarre reasons: that nature is so ‘old paradigm’, that the spiritual work they are doing somehow offsets the damage of the flight. The reasons boil down to ‘God will sort it out.’ So I wonder, is the New Age betraying nature, by transcending rather than transitioning?

I’ve been Theodore Rozak’s fascinating Ecopsychology, in which author Ralph Metzner writes that the the big problem of modern man is that the human-nature bond has been so broken – through the religious beliefs that we have to overcome our ‘lower’ animal instincts and conquer our body to become spiritual and attain ‘heaven’ or enlightenment. ‘For most in the West, their highest values, their noblest ideals, their images of themselves as spiritual beings striving to be good and come closer to God, have been deeply associated with a sense of having to overcome and separate from nature.’

But, he writes, ‘We are part of nature, we are in the earth, not on it. We are like the cells of the body of the vast living organism that is planet Earth. An organism cannot continue to function healthily if one of its cells decides to dominate and cannibalise the other energy systems of the body.’

The fact is that we 20% richest westerners are consuming 80% of the world’s finite resources, and thereby creating 80% of the pollution. So, it’s clear that we need to consume less, especially flying, which increases our personal carbon footprint so massively. Yet much of the New Age/psychospiritual, ‘Ask and it shall be Given’ thinking reinforces this sense of abundance in a closed system. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and while I totally agree with the main idea, which is to align ourselves with what makes our heart sing in order to manifest abundance, flow and health, I feel we need to combine that with practical action. Not from fear or scarcity, but because we’re mature and wise enough to see that not just our thought and feeling but also our behaviour is totally linked to the whole. Trust in God and tie up your camel, as the Sufi saying goes.