Thursday, 26 August 2010

parallel worlds

Since previewing a brilliant short film called Beyond the Tipping Point, which is to be shown and debated in Lewes this autumn, I’ve been pondering the issue of how people are coping with the now well-established information that our collective behaviour (in the West) is taking our stable climate to the brink, some say beyond the point of repair (well, for a few million years).

I’m bewildered that so few people are talking about it. You’d think there’d be a mass conversation going on right now, as there would if, say, a world nuclear war was about to break out. But it’s a bit of a conversation stopper, the scale of the problem overwhelming people, sending them into a place of denial or hopelessness, or hedonism. No wonder alcoholism and gaming addiction is on the rise. Then there’s the problem, my young friend Bethia told me, of ‘why should individuals change when society isn’t?’ An extra disincentive to make real personal change is the fear of being ridiculed for being green, extremist, abnormal, a fear of not fitting in, of not being liked by friends for taking an ethical stand, one that can be interpreted as mad or superior. I’ve been accused of that lately; it shouldn’t hurt but it does.

Yet I’m also meeting individuals who tell me –‘I’ve given up flying’, ‘I’m making my own clothes’, ‘I’ve installed a solar panel, ‘I’m loving local’. I’ve heard some voices accepting that it’s not BP who is responsible for the Louisiana disaster, it’s us, who buy BP oil and who invest in it. And, come to think of it, maybe it’s the wealthy citizens, living on 3-8 planets, as we do, who are partly responsible for the flooding in Pakistan. One can, as my friend Anuradha Vittachi writes, measure how many lives are affected by one’s choice to fly. I know this talk puts people off change, but how big does the crisis have to be for us to start to talk about it?

And there are some pretty creative community-wide moves afoot. Lewes District Council last week launched a town-wide car club. Using cars to reduce car use, an initial two cars in central Lewes are now available for the pubic to book and drive; they’re inviting membership now from the Commonwheels website. The Lewes Car Club is a venture being partnered by Transition Town Lewes, who wrote the feasibility study. TTL is also still going strong, with a new weekly market and a renewable power station in the pipeline, plus a website, promoting among other things, events every Wedneday at the beautiful Linklater Pavilion. TTL isn’t out to convert everyone to being green. Rather, I think, it’s being pretty successful in gradually co-creating a basic parallel public infrastructure that can be scaled up as and when.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

pilgrim's progress

I walked to Forest Row last week, a walk of about 20 miles that I will remember for many years. It took three days, though some people can do the walk in one. My daughter Sophia and I set out at seven in the evening and reached the Anchor Inn in Barcombe at nine, just in time for a glass of wine and a quick meal and then a bed down in our warm sleeping bags and all-weather bivvy bags in an adjacent field, with the river at our heads. I was woken later by splashing in the river and hoped we wouldn't get trampled on by an otter or rat. Next morning we woke early and set off up the Ouse, swimming after breakfast in a gently sloping swimming hole surrounded by himalayan balsam and honeybees. A short while later we passed a woman who must have been about 80, lustily smashing rubble off bricks a a volunteer with the Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust, repairing the lock at Isfield. There we once 19 locks on the Ouse, which could, in their heyday 130 years ago, be navigated all the way to Haywards Heath. Their restoration, one by one, is a courageous act, and may prove to be important to life after cheap oil. After Isfield we headed off towards the pretty village of Fletching, where we had lunch and stocked up on provisions. That prompted a little nap in a field, then we got distracted by field mushrooms growing in fairy rings. We got lost later in the Sheffield Forest and arrived in Chelwood Gate at six, just as it started to rain. After supper of (field) mushroom risotto with friends we set up camp on the Ashhdown Forest, most of which is closely-grazed heathland. We spread our sleeping mats out and did some shooting-stargazing, on the night of the gorgeous Perseads. Because there was no moon, and little light pollution, the stars were like a blazing blanket above our heads. We camped in a little copse, sensing that wild camping on the Forest is frowned upon. I slept deeply, belly to belly on the soft, pine-scented soil. We slept late, and emerged to amble over to Gylls Lap on the other side of the Forest, meeting friends for a picnic before walking in to Forest Row. 

Apart from the joy of spending uninterrupted time with my daughter, what struck me was how gentle and - feminine - the experience was. Walking over the land, a slow exploration, is kind and non-violent, especially compared to the cars we encountered a couple of times. Walking through fields of corn and wheat, at the beginning, which gave way to sheep and cattle towards the Forest, you get to know the land's intimite details, to appreciate the roll and the plains, the brooks and the different trees. I was strangely moved by the experience. My body ached by the end of the walk, but I feel great now and I'm longing to walk again, further, longer, to be, as Satish Kumar recently said in his talk in Glynde, not a tourist on Earth but a pilgrim.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


I started writing about staycations a week ago when faced with a fortnight with nothing much to do. Kids gone to festivals, and apart from one day's work, my diary was empty. So since we’re not going away this month, I decided to attempt a staycation. In my own home.

Here are some of the things I did the first week. Stay in bed late. Have a long bath in the morning. Paint my toenails. Check out 20 books and dvds from the Library. Go back to bed in the middle of the day. Walk around town, slowly, looking in shops I don’t normally look in. Sit in a cafe, with the papers. Have a cranial treatment. Have lunch with a friend. Fall asleep on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a book, in the daytime. Spend a whole day on my allotment. Drop in on a friend. Cook a different recipe every day from Ottam Ollenghi’s brilliant vegetarian cookbook Plenty. Spend an afternoon sitting by my bees. Scrump plums from the Landport and make plum jam. 

Here are some of the things I didn’t do: turn off the phones. Turn off the computer. Stop doing the chores. Get sidetracked into a drama. So one week in and I'm not doing that well. Holiday is a state of mind, but a very difficult one to achieve.
And now I’ve had a holiday forced on me. Our router has gone bust; it’ll take ten days to get back online. And I’m setting off this afternoon on a walkabout, with my daughter Sophia. We’re taking sleeping bags, bivvy bags and a stash of food and water. We’re turning left out the door, left up the river towards the Ashdown Forest and, ultimately, Forest Row. We’ll sleep when tired and eat when hungry. I'm looking forward to it.