Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Transition Dad and Other Unofficial Initiatives

My father lives in a mobile home on an ex-airfield in central England with electricity but no running water. The surrounding land is used for farming and until recently there was a scrapyard next door. There is also a caravan onsite. In the ten years he’s been there he has completely renovated the place himself, made a garden and built a shed, all re-using scrapped and salvaged materials.

The following excerpts are from emails he has written to me in response to This Low Carbon Life, where he talks as a lifelong craftsman and maker about his own experiences of rebuilding, repurposing and reusing.

When I was growing up, in the way of children, I took for granted the kitchen he made out of scrap wood and old insulator crates from the railway. Now I'm older and in transition I've come to realise just how valuable this practical expertise is. My father's name is Richard and in three days time he will be 72.

Hi Mark,
I have been reading your transition blogposts and find them very interesting. Did you get the photos of my abode? The whole exercise was one big re-purposing. I am pleased to see that you were paying subliminal attention to me when you were growing up in regard to finding new uses for things as that has been my way of looking at life…
Water and Heating
Hi Mark,
I have just been reading your latest blog and admire your push for simpler living. As you know I have electricity but no other utilities. I have seven water butts which collect rain from the roof, one of which I have now connected up to pump water to the sink for washing. I came into possession of a redundant central heating pump which is 250v. This had been scrapped. I stripped it down and found the impeller was blocked and not allowing water to pass though. After cleaning it out and reassembling the pump it worked perfectly.

Prior to this I was experimenting with 12v narrow boat pumps which were not really practical as batteries and some form of charging was needed. I used 1/2" plastic pipe which I salvaged from scrap. I had to buy some connectors and elbows and tap fittings. The electrical stuff I had collected over the years (sometimes it pays to hoard). The cost of it all was about £15.00. My next project is to make a solar water heating system out of scrap black plastic pipe which I have. This will be mounted in a large frame painted black inside with a silver reflective surface on the bottom. A thermostat will control the flow into a 45 gallon drum for storage. This will be in an insulated box.

If you know any Transitioners who have experience of making something similar I would be interested to hear from them. Give them my email address.

Love, Dad XXX

Hi Mark,
I thought you might like a few pictures of my garden. It was all done from recovered materials from the airfield and was completely covered in rubbish and nettles before I started work on it. The Sparrow hawk I took this morning. The greater spotted woodpecker flew off before I could get him properly…

I hope you are ok for the coming cold spell (Nov 2010). I have been collecting wood from the site but my chain saw is playing up so it's all hand sawing which warms me up anyway. Love, Dad. XXX


Hi Mark,
Glad you liked the photos. In reference to your blog on energy waste, I remember that in the 70's when we had the last energy crisis, we were told that oil would run out in twenty years. We had the three day week and were told to share a bath (with our neighbours?), pick up people at the bus stop and keep to a 50mph speed limit among other things. In carrying out service work around the country at the time, I remember that the businesses most profligate were the public utilities. When the time to clean up came I was astonished that in most cases the water was actually scalding hot, lights on in all the offices etc.

Since then car ownership and usage has increased dramatically with the focus on larger 4wd's. We don't need the brains of Einstein to see that politicians and governments only pay lip service to the concerns of peak oil and climate change.

You might be interested in what the farmer here told me recently. He has materials delivered by a transport firm who also collect paper and plastic waste from a massive depot near the MI for shipping to China to be sorted.

The driver told him that once sorted by Chinese children on a vast tip in a remote location they then burn the paper waste. If true, so much for the UK commitment to recycling and eco concern, as it must be sanctioned. Export licences and so on. I have long held the view that global and international trade and finance govern worldwide behind the scenes and that politicians and governments are just the puppet frontmen, paying lip service to the concerns of the people.

I know many people think this way and it is heartening to know that the transition movement is going some way to reclaim the imbalance. It seems the next logical step is transition communes where all the ideas and skills can be combined. Dad XXX
Hi Mark, the following photos are of the shed I made from 100% recovered materials that I scavenged from the airfield. The timber would have been burnt.

The space is at the back of the mobile home between two brick buildings. As you can see I had to extend the floor to get the size needed.

The side with the ladder was an old shed side that was on the bonfire, waiting to be burnt, as was all the other timber. The bath I took from the mobile to make more space inside and to use as water storage. The roof is 8x4 chip board with heavy asbestos sheets on top. As I said all the materials were on site.

An amazing thing happened. I needed a door which I was going to make. Having no windows the shed would be dark inside.

The morning I was about to begin, I went over to the the site where the fire is and there was the door with a glass panel in it laying there ready to be burnt. The only things I bought were the guttering elbows. Even the paint was free.

When I look at it now I am glad I did it a couple of years ago as my back is no longer up to it . You can add any of this to your blog if you want.

Love, Dad XXX

Chip Off The Old Oak
Nov 2011

Hi Mark,
Hope you are well, although I was a bit worried seeing your photo that you were in the process of being blogged up to Transitionland. Dad. XXX

Dec 2011

Hi Dad,
Got your message and hope you're keeping well. I've got some Bungay Community beeswax for you. Elinor, our beekeeper, did a great job of purifying it. On Sunday I went to her house and taught people from the bee group how to make yarrow salve using the beeswax. It turned out really well and smells amazing. I'll get some to you as it's excellent for the kinds of cuts, burns and abrasions you get when you work a lot with your hands.

It's really mild here still, twelve degrees with a strong south wind. I'm doing quite a bit of writing. And I haven't been transmigrated to Transitionland entirely yet!

What kinds of things are you making from the wood turning?

Keep well and warm,
Mark x

Hi Mark,
I continue reading your work with interest and I am sure it has an influence on peoples' thinking about the way forward towards a different society which I believe will come as more people are seeing through the bull**it that is disseminated through the media by those trying to cling to power. You know all this anyway.

I have been making various items from the old oak I got when they replaced the canal lock gates, so the wood is possibly 400 years old. The beeswax is ideal for getting a nice finish and I’ll make the polish myself. One of the things I hope to do is make a pole lathe from the scrap wood I have. The thing about working in wood is that it is entirely natural, and has for me a spiritual connection. When you take a piece of wood that was destined to be burnt as scrap and expose the inner beauty through either turning or planing it is a satisfying process. The next item I make I will send you before and after photos of the wood.

The weather has been very changeable with wind and rain but cold at night. I have been keeping warm as I hope you have. I have got loads of old logs and stuff to burn that are no good for making things from.

Lots of love, Dad. XXX


  1. Hi Mark,

    I've never met him, but I love your Dad! What great nuggets of pure gold.

    Puts me in mind of my aunt. She got me interested in plants and growing, especially veg, preserving, recycling, reusing. For her, as it seems for your Dad, living in harmony with the natural world is a way of normal everyday life rather than consciously changing behaviour or being part of any environmental group, project or movement. When I ask her to share more knowledge, information, instructions etc she gives me a funny look (which could be for several reasons), but I suspect she's either assuming everyone already knows about living this way; or that the knowledge and experience she possesses is not all that special.

    It's so special, and so few people are still here to pass it on. My aunt, your Dad, other people's relatives, are crucial to helping generations 'doing for ourselves', and reducing reliance on failing Governments and organisations. Totally with your Dad regarding "politicians and governments are just the puppet frontmen".

    Thank you so much for posting these messages.

    p.s. Happy Birthday, Mark's Dad. :-)

    Eco x

  2. Mark, that's one cool Daddyo you've got. Thanks for sharing with us and good to see someone in his 70s - an associate member of the Transition movement maybe - walking the walk and enjoying his life.

  3. There's no denying it - there is so much knowledge and wisdom bound up in the lives and experience of "older people". I am in the second half of my fifties and see so many people my age and a little older who are resigning themselves to filling otherwise empty days with the minutiae of daily living.

    For me there are endless interesting avenues to explore but many of my contemporaries seem to have lost an awareness of the possibilities of life and in particular of the current challenges. There are undoubtedly vast reserves of untapped talent, wisdom and potential and perhaps we need to consider how to awaken some of it. Practical folk like Mark's wonderful dad have so much to teach us and of course there are all sorts of other skills that people have.