Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Everything is Material and Everybody Knows

It's 2nd January 2012 and I'm sawing logs off a big old hawthorn branch which is blocking the footpath. I'm thinking, if anyone asks me what I'm doing I'll tell them I'm clearing the path and sawing some logs for the fire.

But isn't this private land? Well, yes but it's a public footpath and the branch is blocking it. I’m thinking that there’s far too much private land in the world and far too few Commons.

And I'm thinking that I would welcome any kind of conversation, because I'll write about whatever happens tomorrow on the blog. It's all material.

But no one came along the path. I took some photographs. And a bag of firewood home.

This plant is probably cow parsley, but I could be mistaken. Common as it is and despite the beauty it brings to the lanes in May, I’ve never paid close attention to it. Umbellifers can be tricky to distinguish and these leaves seem just a bit too dark and shiny. Cow parsley is edible and is also known as wild chervil. I've never eaten it but I shall this year, and get to know it better.

However this plant, which I discovered along the footpath yesterday when we went for a walk (actually it was Lesley who pointed it out - "Is that a plant in flower over there?" she said, as we all turned to see the white blooms glowing in the pre-dusk light), also looks quite like hemlock, which I don't want to eat, fond though I am of it. But it lacks the signature purple spots of hemlock. And doesn’t smell of mice.

Whatever plant it is, one thing I do know. January 1st is not its normal flowering date.

Yesterday a neighbour came round and asked me if I'd do her a favour. And handed me a tower of treats. No, really.

"I got it as a Christmas present," she said. "And I'll never get through what's inside it. I’m not quite sure I know what's inside it."

I was delighted and horrified at the same time.

Delighted because I'm a dyed-in-the-wool freegan these days. I love receiving (and giving) gifts, especially of the reskilled, recycled, past the best-before date, handmade, homemade, homegrown or secondhand kind, and I immediately saw all sorts of uses for both the round boxes and the contents: the boxes as seed stores, containers for food or presents. The contents – sweets, biscuits and mince pies - for when children come to visit.

And I like to see my neighbours.

Horrified because of the scandalous packaging. Five strong boxes all glued on top of one another and tied with a ribbon. When I opened them there were a few chocolates in one box, some biscuits and fudge in the others, four mince pies and ALL of the contents fitted into the bottom box. On the base the usual list of industrial food ingredients (including ‘vegetable fats’, read palm oil).

And suddenly I saw this unwanted Xmas gift multiplied to the power of millions. All over the world people giving each other things they don't want or haven’t asked for. Made in factories of precious resources. By people working in appalling conditions on low pay.

How much of this stuff goes to a scavenger neighbour, a charity shop or a Give and Take Day? How much of it ends up in landfill?

What’s it really being made for in the first place?

It was mean inside the tower of treats.

“Let’s listen to the Leonard Cohen one,” Charlotte said. Shaun Chamberlin of Dark Optimism had put together an 'album' of fourteen songs he’d chosen at New Year 'all in some way pertinent to the state of the world as we enter 2012.'

"Everybody knows,” growls Cohen in his bass voice that sounds deep even through the tinny built-in speakers on our shared laptop, "That the boat is leaking... and the captain lied."

"Does everybody really know?" I asked Shaun, in an off-the-cuff pun on Twitter.

"I'd say they do, somewhere inside," he said. "But there's a certain logic to ignoring a problem if you can't see any way to change it. That's why sharing practical responses to that nagging, suppressed knowledge can be such a powerful, motivation-unlocking thing."

And I suddenly felt ashamed at my own flippancy.

Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe's still pickin' cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

Some practical responses to these things:
(iii) Buy nothing year - Adrienne, did you get your ten people?
(iv) Dark Optimism, Transition Social Reporting Project and an article on global meltdown by Guy McPherson

Deep inside everybody knows

Pics: Sawing logs on the footpath; flowering umbellifer Jan 2nd; Charlotte and Lesley in Oak Jan 1st; tower of not so many treats Jan 2 (all by MW)


  1. Lovely post, Mark, thank you. Yes everybody knows, which is why so there's such a feeling of sadness around. But if only we'd talk about it we could turn it into a party. I wonder sometimes if the debate is deliberately being suppressed because of all the collective power we'd all discover in not consuming the things being offered to us by the industrial society.

    Can you imagine what might happen if we all at once just went, no, sorry, I'm not buying that cr*p any more! If we all discovered how much FUN there is to be had in getting off the treadmill and making do with less or very little at all. I can't wait!

    Love to you and Charlotte.

  2. Ah Mark, don't feel ashamed! Nowt wrong with a bit of well-timed flippancy, even it is hard to detect through Twitter ;)

    Do recommend checking out the Seize The Day track though, if you liked our Leonard's effort!

    A good soundtrack makes such a difference to my motivation and joy as I go about my life.

  3. Your plant looks like cow parsley apart from what look like blue as well as white flowers and the fact that cow parsley usually flowers from mid-spring to early summer. I think it may be hogweed. Be careful as cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris, known as Cow Parsley, Wild Chervil, Wild Beaked Parsley, Keck, Mother-die or Queen Anne's lace) is related to other diverse members of family Apiaceae, such as parsley, carrot, hemlock and hogweed.


    The tripinnate leaves are 15–30 cm long and have a triangular form. The leaflets are ovate and subdivided.
    Cow Parsley grows in sunny to semi-shaded locations in meadows and at the edges of hedgerows and woodland. It is a particularly common sight by the roadside.

  4. I totally agree that there is too far much tat bought at Christmas but most of it can find a loving home at http://www.norfolk-freegle.org.uk/ rather than the bin.

    My present from my wife was a well made pair of secateurs with a sharpening stone, from a manufacturer that sells every part as a spare. I hope eventually to pass the secateurs on, in good working order, to my descendants - but not in the near future!

  5. Thanks for your responses everyone.

    @Adrienne, Yes, less stuff, more lots of other things, including time spent without having to worry about the stuff we're grasping for and clinging to!

    @Shaun, Certainly will check out the Seize the Day track. I love their song 'Flying' which I've seen them do live twice, once at a Zero Carbon fair in Norwich then at The Wave climate demo in Dec '09 in London. Awesome. It made me cry both times.

    @david It's definitely not hogweed. I'm pretty sure it's cow parsley, but like I say, sometimes those umbellifers can be tricky! Especially when they're in flower at this time of year!

    Hey @John, you'll be clipping for a long while yet!