Monday 23 November 2009

That ‘Damascus moment’ – what a difference a year makes

It’s exactly a year since I had one of those rare 'Damascus moments' that change your life. I found out about the Transition Towns movement and decided on the spot that this was something I wanted to be part of. I was at Schumacher College a short course Real Food, Slow Food, where a group of around twenty of us were learning hands-on about making artisan bread.

And, today, coming full circle, I’ve spent the day with Charlotte and Mark at Seakale Towers passing on some of the bread-making skills I learned on that course. In between kneading, shaping and baking our bread we talked a lot about what Transition means for us (I’ll come back to that tomorrow).

Last November, in common with an awful lot of professionals, I found myself abruptly out of work. Project budgets were being slashed; the market was flooded with City boys (and girls) desperate to find contracts and undercutting the old hands on daily rates. Everywhere my friends and colleagues were finding themselves with a lot of time on their hands.

The timing of that revelation about Transition was perfect. I’d felt increasingly concerned about the frenetic pace of our modern lives, always too busy… somehow missing the point. And suddenly my work circumstances (or rather, lack of work) gave the ideal opportunity to challenge all that. The Schumacher College course, combining two things I’m really interested in – Slow Food and real bread - sounded wonderful. I dismissed the idea at first as far too expensive and then thought: “But it might be just what I need to help me find my way forward. I can’t go on like this, even if the work is available.”

And that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in years. Schumacher College is an extraordinary place that aims to help people to ‘understand and find solutions for the most pressing ecological and social concerns of modern life’. I’ll come back to the Schumacher experience later. The important point here was that several of my fellow-bakers were very enthusiastic about Transition and one said: “Surely you know that Norwich is a Transition City?” Well, no, I didn’t know. I was determined to find out more. And I did!

So how much has Transition changed my life? I’ll try to answer that: how it’s changed my attitudes to transport - hugely, as a previously thoughtless car-user; to energy use - now a paid-up shiverer in multiple layers of cardies; to food - much less wasteful but already a passionate advocate of seasonal and regional food and a life-long foodie – and much more. Importantly for me, challenging the short-sighted policies of our government locally and nationally; we can make a huge difference, as individuals and collectively. Along the way, acquiring so many new friends; that’s something beyond price.

Jane Chittenden

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