Monday 28 February 2011

Communications: When Push Comes to Shove - Transition Themes #3

At the beginning of February I was invited to Totnes to feedback on the first draft of the new Transition book (working title The Transition Companion). As well as members of the Network, there were Transitioners from Lewes, Forest Row, Belsize Park, Tooting and Edinburgh. It was an intense two days spent sitting in a circle, discussing the huge volume of work that has been going on behind the scenes since the 63 Patterns (now Ingredients and Tools) were unveiled at the Transition Conference last summer.

The book authored by Rob Hopkins is in two sections: the first a layout of the main structures and themes of Transition, including the drivers of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic recession, and the second, Ingredients and Tools, each of which has examples and success stories from initiatives from around the world, including TN's food projects (Local Food Initiatives), Transition Circles (Street-by-Street Behavioural Change) and this blog (Becoming the Media). The book is in six sections that set out how an initiative might form and then flourish, running from useful qualities through to setting up a Steering Group to Raising Awareness to community infrastructure to engaging with National Policies.

We fed back our responses. We asked questions: would this book be a replacement for the Handbook?(yes). Is it for readers who know nothing about Transition, or Transitioners? (both) We asked thorny questions about political frames, about Inner Transition, about the Big Society. We looked at our initiatives from the angle of the ingredients. We conducted two Open Space sessions on specific sections, notably those that involved groups, and afterwards went out for friendly and exuberant drinks.

One thing struck me: this is a useful, clear and intelligent manual, but not everything experienced in Transition is held within its encyclopedic covers. There was often a tension in the room, as people’s stormy experience of Transition (and most contributors had been in their initiatives for over two years) pulled and pushed with the book’s cool and calm setting-out of how Transition should be. The desire to draw an accurate picture struggled with the book’s necessarily promotional nature. We don’t want to put people off was a common cry. On the other hand Transition doesn’t promise anyone a rose garden. Gotta be a little rain sometime.

The roses are not hard to paint. It’s clear that engaging in Transition provides an exciting opportunity for people to combine their visions and skills in a way that is entirely new. But the wet is often hard to weather especially during that crucial post-honeymoon period after the initial sunshine fades. The reality is Transition is hard work. Communities and councils don’t always respond positively. People argue, fall out and leave. Often for reasons none of us have enough time and patience to understand at depth. There’s personal damage and a lot of unanswered social dilemmas. And the kind of design frame in which the book (and indeed much of the modern behavioural world) is set doesn’t give us a common language in which to discuss them.

Our premise is that we can start again with whoever is in the room, but our difficulty is that we are not just the people in the room. We come with history, our personal and planetary legacies. We come with class positions, with political leanings, archetypal constraints and religious beliefs, cultural differences, defence systems, unreal fears and hopes. Some of this is our own “stuff”, but most of it is our inheritance as social beings, a five thousand year old Empire that runs in our collective veins and we have to figure out a way to deal with that as that three-fold squeeze starts heading our way. We have been configured to think individualistically, to deal with every problem by splitting and attack and we have to transform ourselves into the kinds of people who can work together equally under pressure. Our hardest task is to dismantle the hierarchies that constrict our actions and imaginations with all the unkindness of a caste system.

If we’re lucky and we like each other, if we are engaged in strong, creative, practical ventures we can naturally pull together. That kind of harmonic convergence can overcome mountains. If we don’t no amount of design or psychology or spiritual right-on attitude right now is going to help us. Because when push comes to shove we have to have ingenuity and strength and genuine affection to hold together. We have to access our deep and intelligent humanity and forge a language in which we can communicate directly and for real. Anything phony will not serve us.

The tension in the meeting was the common media tension between marketing and editorial, between objective and subjective reporting. The official story written by me without me in it and the unofficial story with the “I” as the means by which the story is understood. The difference between saying what Transition Norwich is (the website/news blog) or how we experience it (the premise for This Low Carbon Life). This blog is unusual in that everyone is allowed to say how Transition feels, what it looks like, tastes like, what it reminds us of, in their own style. We can say what we like or dislike, express both difficulty and joy. That kind of allowance and editorial freedom is important because it allows people to know they are not alone with the thoughts they are thinking, and the feelings they are having. Those creative expressions are what bring about change. They act like strange attractors in the field, bringing chaos into order, breaking limit cycles, challenging the official version of things. All our upbringings prevent us from saying what in our hearts we know to be true, because all civilisations depend on the people keeping silent. Somehow we have to let them speak. Somehow we have to say that the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

You don’t have to be a writer or in Transition to know the pressure the status quo exerts on all of us. Everyone knows, for example, that how the Family appears in society and what goes on behind closed doors are two different stories. Sometimes the feelings are too great to bear and people spill the beans. And whole lives are turned around because they do. Somehow we’re going to have to talk to each other as if everyone can hear what we are saying. If we want to break down those ancient barriers that keep us apart and create the culture we say we want we are going to have to find a way to tell those stories in Transition.

Photos for The Transition Companion by Rob Hopkins; Ingredient 5h Community Ownership of Assets; 2f Visioning (Brixton); 3d Celebrating (Kingston); 4g Oral Histories; 2f Inclusion and Diversity (Tooting).

Saturday 26 February 2011

More Oil - Troubled Waters?

I had my Peak Oil moment some years ago, by which I mean a sudden all-at-once awareness of how utterly embedded I am in, and part of, a culture wholly dependent on fossil fuels for its existence and maintenance. And the shock of realising it hadn’t always been like this, and wasn’t always going to be like this.

I started taking notice of things I’d previously ignored. How is our economy set up and run? What does anthropogenically related climate change actually mean? How is the food I am eating produced? I joined Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich and have been looking at these questions and a million others in a thousand meetings with people who were asking them too. I worked out my personal carbon footprint for transport, home energy and food and reduced it. I morphed from vegetarian to freegan. I joined this blog and began writing about it.

It’s been an odd week. I borrowed a friend’s car yesterday to do a food shopping trip and take six months’ worth of bottles to the bottle bank. I’ve recently been going everywhere by foot, cycle, bus or train, so I hadn’t been in a petrol station forecourt for about six weeks or seen the prices (about £1.30 a litre). The Daily Express (no I don’t read it, it was on display at the garage) warned that petrol would be £8 a gallon in the near future and only the rich would be able to afford to drive cars. Meanwhile Libya becomes the latest country in the Middle East to explode in unrest. I had a feeling of deja-vu. And then became aware that the oil (and other crises) we've been talking about and preparing for in transition were actually happening now, not in some near or distant future.

And here at home the shock doctrine government spending cuts start being felt in so many areas. Suffolk County Council are planning to close several waste disposal tips, including the ones at Beccles and Southwold. Practically speaking this would mean a round trip of twenty to thirty miles to Lowestoft if you live in Bungay or Southwold and need a dump. And with petrol prices... Who will be on hand to prevent flytipping on the land?

But we have started to raise our voices. The proposed cuts to the libraries have been met with fierce opposition and community engagement in many places. Sustainable Bungay have organised a World Book Night read-in next Thursday. But even here in Southwold, there are stirrings. The Labour Party’s Save The Library poster can now be seen in many windows (and not all of them red, I'm sure).

Meanwhile back to oil. In November 2009 I wrote on this blog about the ship-to-ship oil transfers off the coast between Lowestoft and Southwold. The government recently voted to allow this to continue (the only place in Britain it is permitted). The Southwold and District Chamber of Trade and The Southwold and Reydon Society pressurised the government into reopening public consultation. This gives us until 10th March to write letters to Westminster. And shows that public pressure does have an effect.

Stop Press: See Mark Crutchley's latest article for the One World Column: The End Of The Oil Age

Pic: Ship to Ship Transfer off Southwold Nov 2009 by Mark Watson

Friday 25 February 2011

Peak Oil! Peak Oil! - Oil! Oil! Oil!

Today I had planned to write about the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s Regional Conference on Climate Change and Food Security, which I attended last Friday at Trinity Park in Ipswich. But I’m finding it difficult.

There were probably 150 people at the conference, made up of farmers, lawyers, county councillors, politicians and transitioners. Although agriculture is not my subject, I am getting used to the flexibility that being in transition is requiring of me, so when I was invited to go and write about the conference I accepted immediately.

Professor Ian Crute of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board was clear and informative about climate change, although he ended his talk in what I thought was a very odd way. He showed us two pictures, one a detail of the Amazon rainforest before being cleared for agribusiness, and one after. He then said there was an argument for the second picture (a typical crop field which could be part of an industrial farm anywhere) being ‘better’ than the first. But didn’t tell us why.

The Agriculture Manager from Waitrose showed us how the company were going to increase their profits from £5 billion in the last year to £8 billion by 2016.

Then there was the unabashed and rampant display of pro-GM and biotech marketing by two speakers from the Conservative party.

But these are not the reasons I find it hard to write about the conference. I think it’s because the realities of Peak Oil were almost entirely absent from the proceedings. Representatives of several Transition groups in the region ( some of whom manage farms themselves) raised the subject.

The Waitrose man was unable to answer questions on oil price volatility, and how that would affect the supermarkets, it wasn’t his area. Other speakers just didn’t seem to hear the questions about Peak Resources. At least when (Lady) Caroline Cranbrook, who has worked closely with East Anglia Food Link, spoke out about phosphates already having peaked and asked “Is there a national larder in case of sudden food scarcity? ” she received the one direct reply I heard in the whole conference.

“No,” said chairmen John Gummer (former Secretary of State for the Environment), “is the simple answer to that question.”

Which means the just-in-time lorries serving the supermarkets are our only larder.

The conference was very much focused on the 'big picture' (the how will we feed the 9 billion people in the world by 2050? scenario), although one speaker, Lucy Wyatt, did tell us about her small mixed-farm, where she has set up an oilseed rape bio-fuel plant, providing her with electricity, and fuel for the farm machinery.

But there was no spokesperson for organic production and no representative of one of the community, small-scale projects that are happening all over Suffolk and East Anglia, like the Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm CSA, Joanne Brannan (Transition Ipswich) has set up. John Taylor, Suffolk's Climate Change officer, did ask about the small scale projects, but the question was not properly addressed.

And although I'm only a member of the mere hoi polloi, I'm inclined to say that a conference about climate change and food security that avoids the questions of Peak Fossil Fuels and small scale food projects is not really a conference about climate change and food security.

Well, I really didn't think I had anything to say about the conference, but there you are.

Just two more things for today. One is if you haven't read "The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century" by James Howard Kunstler, and you want a solid, readable, intelligent book which brings climate change, peak resources (especially oil) and the follies of economic globalism together in a coherent manner, then this is the book for you. Don't let his occasional coarseness put you off, it's just his manner.

Secondly, The Waveney Greenpeace Winter Fair is taking place in Southwold tomorrow - 11am - 11.30pm. Donations in the day and £5 in the evening. It's usually fun with good food and stalls. Maybe see you there.

Pic: Sprouts and Clover at Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm by Richard Mudhar

Thursday 24 February 2011

Biodiesel - A First Reaction

Last October I wrote about my meeting with a waste vegetable oil man in Beccles, and talked about the beginnings of our Biodiesel group in Sustainable Bungay. This is an update based on a December visit to a man who makes biodiesel at home and our own first attempts at a reaction last Saturday.

But first, why am I part of a Transition Biodiesel group, when I don't even have a car at the moment? Well, for several reasons, not least the social benefits of being part of a community group that's making something useful together. But equally, at a time when oil prices are soaring through the roof and with political instability in so many oil producing countries, plus the realities of Peak Oil, it just makes sense to engage in a project that focuses my mind and gets me thinking in a really practical way about these things.

And you can use biodiesel for other purposes - oil lamps for instance. (Though there are obvious drawbacks with used chip fat - unless you're into things like scratch and sniff!).

On a very cold December day Josiah, Kris and I took a trip down to Aldeburgh to see Colin, a retired chemical engineer who has been making biodiesel at home now for three or four years. Colin welcomed us with a mug of tea and showed us around his set up, explaining the process - from collecting waste vegetable oils from food outlets through cleaning the dirty vegetable oil, reacting the clean oil with lye, separating the crude biodiesel and glycerol and washing the crude biodiesel with water to produce the final vehicle-worthy product you can see in the photos.

Throughout the visit Colin answered our questions on everything from handling lye (the caustic which is vital for the trans-esterification reaction which converts the vegetable oil to biodiesel and glycerol) to the disposal or recycling of the waste glycerol. He advised anyone making biodiesel for the first time not to rush into producing enormous amounts.
“The thing is to start small, doing the reactions with some glass or plastic bottles,” he said. “Then as you get used to handling the liquids, you can increase the amount.” This came as a great relief as I had been eyeing that caustic lye with some trepidation.

The legal limit for home biodiesel production is 2,500 litres per year, tax-free. This is what Sustainable Bungay’s Biosdiesel group will aim at initially. For the project to get underway properly we would have to wait for wamer weather. Colin meanwhile invited us to come round the next time he does a ‘reaction’.

Last Saturday, 19th February a dozen of us turned up at Kris and Eloise's to have a look at the set up in their garage and to make our first three litres of biodiesel. We crowded into the living room where Kris introduced the project and we discussed everything from logistics to legalities before descending on the kitchen for Eloise’s delicious soup and homebaked bread, David’s tasty flapjacks (his first ever!), Elinor's ginger cake (no comment required!) and Brenna's polenta, lemon and orange cake, also a first. I ate three slices of that!

Then we cleared all the food and utensils out of the way to do the reaction. Great care was needed (and taken) pouring the lye/methanol first into a glass measuring jug and then into plastic bottles with vegetable oil. As it was our first time (and the weather had not yet warmed up), we used clean vegetable oil, which does not go hard as lard in the winter.

Kris wore protective goggles and everyone handling the mixtures wore gloves. David and Josiah took photos. We kept the windows open to avoid suffocation by noxious fumes. My nervousness about caustic liquids was allayed both by the presence of Mike, a chemical engineer, and the fact that Kris was so calm.

We had to keep the temperature of the mixture at below 50 degrees for the reaction to take place safely (methanol is volatile and can produce an easily ignited vapour at higher temperatures), so the bottles were placed in a pan on the stove for about an hour. Meanwhile we went to look at the reaction vessel.

I had to leave shortly afterwards but here below is the result of our first biodiesel-making session.

Pics: Pouring the Oil (notice no gloves here!); Colin's Biodiesel; Pouring the Lye/Methanol mix (serious glove time!); Still in the Garage; First Bottle of Biodiesel - Photos by Josiah Meldrum, David Poston and Mark Watson

Wednesday 23 February 2011

how to lose friends and alienate people

I have been spending time recently away from home I have been thinking about how you share your green values without causing a rift between you and the people who matter most especially when you are sharing living space.

So if your dad is buying the shopping because 'you are my guest so I wont let you pay' its kind of awkward to ask if the chicken is local, free range, organic and wearing a knitted jumper in the winter.

It seems that whenever one makes an ethical choice whether it be vegetarian eating or refusing to fly, others will start to defend themselves as though you had directly asked them why they are eating a melt in the mouth bacon sandwich or wanted a to go on holiday where it was guaranteed not to rain.

It reminds me of when I went on a detox for a while (Gillian McKeith has a lot to answer for) I would enter someones house and be offered a drink and end up with a glass of hot water with them looking on thinking 'there must be something I can offer her, I wonder why she is drinking water, maybe its a lesbian thing'.

Of course if you are writing a blog you are expected to be greener than a very green thing and so the slightest whiff of a tescos bag and eyebrows are raised. People are less judgemental of cycling, they will just assume you are poor or an exercise freak or both but if traveling with your elderly parents they probably wont accept a 'backy' as we used to call it.

I hope you are not expecting any sort of answers at this point, this is just me thinking aloud and if you are wondering what that picture is then its my very good friend Joan Woods who has a farming project in Ireland called Growing Connections and I havent managed to alienate her but then she does drink hot water and raise free range organic chickens with woolly jumpers....

Tuesday 22 February 2011

life the universe and chocolate

I have recently been thinking about lent. Traditionally a time of doing without and reflection before Easter. I always thought it was a clever trick because there wasnt much food around at that time of year anyway. Pancake day at the beginning of lent was for eating up the leftovers (if I was on QI there would probably be a big buzzer going off now!)

Doing without can be a very spiritual time even if it is imposed by outside circumstances rather than self inflicted. Instead of a loss it can be a time to find other more meaningful uses of money and time. I went to the library to find that book by the woman who didnt buy anything for a year. It seems that the person who last borrowed it had decided not to buy a book and had not brought it back!

On a national level it seems we will have to do without too. Health and social services are set to change radically. Although saddening this may be a time to make things more local and transitional. I have always thought it a strange idea to ship people with the same disability off to a day centre in a bus the other side of the county when they may not need that if their community was more accepting and cohesive. If people were not driving off in their cars to go shopping but were hanging out with their neighbours and chatting in the post office then people would need less care from the state. I have recently been starting to spend more time in Peterborough with my dad as my mother has dementia. Again if our family was less spread out and the church they belong to saw it as their role to help him then the state would be less involved.

Amidst all these changes there is only one constant - Easter means chocolate.

What? we don't grow chocolate in Norfolk? what about the chocolate factory? Its gone and they imported the beans from abroad? things are worse than I thought. We can still make alcohol here cant we?

Saturday 19 February 2011

Secondhand Chic

Before I started university I used to have the impression that Charity shops were full of smelly old ladies clothes and wouldn't have dreamed of buying anything from them. But over the past four years I have gone through quite a decided shift in outlook and I am now proud to say that the vast majority of my wardrobe is from charity shops or clothes swaps.

To begin with I started using charity shops as they were better for the planet and its people and although the clothes I bought were alright I always felt a bit self conscious and it felt like a compromise I was making for the planet's sake. However, in the last few years - I'm not sure whether I've changed or what's in charity shops has changed, but I now have an embarrassingly overloaded wardrobe full of beautiful charity shop and clothes swap finds. I now feel confident in what I am wearing and I love surprising people when they ask where I got the admired clothing from. Coupled with my recent enthusiasm for clothing making and altering and I am well down the road of secondhand chic.

And its great. So much more exciting than rack after rack of slightly different clothes, marred with the child labour and injustice, that everyone else will be wearing. You can be unique and wear what you like rather than what is in fashion. You also get the choice of all kinds of different styles you wouldn't normally come across and it lets your creativity run wild.

Not that I'm advocating rampaging secondhand consumerism here. Our societies obsession with stuff is damaging whether it is new or secondhand. But I believe that there must be enough clothes in the world at the moment to last us at least 30 years without making new ones*, so we might as well share them around a bit, alter them to actually fit us rather than the one body shape that highstreet clothing fits and celebrate the variety, the individuality of secondhand chic.

And when the clothes are all worn through and they need a new lease of life. Well then we can make them into draught excluders!

Photos: Me in secondhand chic (Mark Watson) and Slitherus the draught excluder who was a table cloth in his previous life.

*completely based on opinion, no facts here!

Friday 18 February 2011


This post is about the problems of dressing for cycling and also includes contributions from Kerry and Chris. The title comes from a friend who cycles everywhere but bitterly resents the expectation that she should dress ‘for battle’ in protective, fluorescent gear - just to make a trip to shops.

A lot of people only cycle in the summer and jump on their bike in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, but anyone cycling year round in this country knows that choosing what to wear on a bike is an art! Once you get moving on a chilly day the wind chill will quickly freeze unprotected ears, fingers and feet – other parts will warm up and need ventilation. Trousers have to be roomy enough to allow your legs to move without cutting off circulation to vital parts. If it is raining then you either have to add waterproof layers or just accept getting wet and take a change of clothes for when you arrive – which is what I did every day when I cycled to work across central London (and managed the same door to door time as using the tube) . My cycle journeys are now often after dark and include sections on rural roads, where traffic can appear round corners at high speed - so I’m very keen on being visible and that means fluorescent and reflective jackets and ankle bands.

So my cycle clothing is dictated by what is practical and comfortable and other people will just have to avert their eyes from bright jackets and bare legs if that offends them! I always keep in my pannier a pair of disposable gloves for the inevitable day when the chain comes off – chain dirt is the hardest thing on the planet to remove from clothes! Kerry and Chris have their own views – and sense of style it seems :)

I used to get quite embarrassed about walking into places all dressed up in my cycling get up, but I think a summer more or less entirely in lycra and high viz has cured me of my squeamishness - note the photo! There are however still certain drawbacks. Quite a few of my trousers and skirts have oily marks on them where they have, at one time or other, been eaten by one of my bikes and eternal hat hair is something I still haven't fully come to terms with. Cycling in heels is actually less of a problem than people seem to think it is, in fact it is arguably easier than walking in them! However, no-one would argue that cycling in a skirt is a right pain. The best solution I have come up with so far is tying most of it up with an elastic band (tucking it into your tights isn't very ladylike!), but it does leave you with rather a crumpled look and borders on indecency if you are not wearing thick tights or leggings. It is also fairly difficult to cycle in mittens and any gloves you are wearing you must be willing to sacrifice when your chain falls off, either that or spend the next few hours with grease stained fingers.

I think my favourite item of cycle clothing that I have seen recently is the high viz helmet cover, that reminded me wonderfully of a fluorescent yellow shower cap! Kerry Lane

As a County Councillor, making my regular trips to county hall by bike, I always had to dress hybrid, as it were. Top and trousers suitable for the occasion, but cycling shoes (and overshoes in the winter), to change out of when I arrived. This was fine as long as I remembered to bring my 'proper' shoes to change you can imagine the looks when I arrived one day realising I had forgotten my propers, and had to sit in a carpeted meeting room wearing shirt, tie, smart trousers....combined with cycling shoes with bright yellow flashes down the sides. It was actually fine, with one person commenting that he was surprised the shoes weren't green, to match my tie.

Generally speaking it is not a good idea to arrive in cycling shorts and all the rest, perfect though they may be for the rider. That's an easy decision. For me, it is a more difficult balance pacing myself in non-cycling gear, so that I don't get too hot for when I arrive - which means not being tempted to catch up that car that just brushed my pedal at the last set of traffic lights. The joy of cycling in the city is that, even at a moderate pace like this, you can get to places on a bike quicker than you can by car or any other means, and you can time your journeys more accurately.

Is the bicycle a vehicle of revolution, or a natural cycle? I reckon it's both. Chris Hull

Thursday 17 February 2011

These Shoes Aren't Made For Walking ~ Built-In Obsolescence

“If they’re the ones I think you mean, I can’t mend them,” said the man at the local cobblers. “Not even with some glue?” I asked.
He shook his head.

Well, that can’t be right, I thought. There’s that black gummy stuff (the name escapes me) in a tube. I saw it in a skateboard shop once years ago. It was popular with young clubbers for mending the soles of trainers. I mean it's obviously a(nother) petrochemical bi-product, but if he had some I wouldn't need to buy a tube. It would need the tiniest amount.

I asked him about it. I told him the shoe did not need to look perfect. He shook his head again. “You can bring the shoe in for me to look at if you like,” he said.

I got the shoes from Sustainable Bungay’s Give and Take Day in 2009. They were attractive, comfortable, almost new and I loved them. The guy they’d belonged to had loved them too. But they squeaked when you walked in them and he probably didn’t want to be known as That Man Whose Shoes SQUEAKED! Apart from that there was nothing the matter with them.

I was not concerned about squeaks, however, but about the split which had appeared between the upper and the sole. It looked easy enough to mend. I would ask a second shoe repair man. And this time I took the shoe in.

He’d seen it all before.
“They’re impossible to mend,” he said, and showed me that what looks like stitching to hold the upper and sole together is in fact a sort of faux stitching. The leather upper is not actually stitched to the sole. They are held together only by a thin strip of plastic or rubber (I’m not sure which). This strip is what had broken.

“Super glue?” I asked.
“It’ll just come apart again in next to no time. And the rest of the shoe will follow.”
“A design fault.” I offered.
“A deliberate one.”

This is what the first man had hinted at, but I was so intent on getting my squeaky shoes repaired (THESE SHOES CAN AND WILL BE MENDED!) I hadn't noticed. Now disappointment was giving way to curiosity.

The shoe repairer told me he had stopped buying Clarks shoes because of this particular “design fault.” He was unhappy that the company was trading on its reputation for good quality shoes whilst supplying poor quality short-lived models. Which in addition weren’t cheap.

I still might have a go at supergluing my give-and-take-attractive-fashionable-clarks-made-within-the-context-of-the-global-economy-deliberately-built-in-obsolescence-wasteful-there-must-be-profit-at-all-costs-never-mind-about-the-physical-constraints-of-an-already-beleaguered-planet-growth-growth-growth shoes together. Or does anyone have any of that black gummy stuff? But whatever steps I take (sic) these are shoes of a short lifespan.

Next time I visit the shoe repair man I’m taking a pair of well-worn 5 year old Doc Martens along, where the seam has also come apart. I’ll let you know how I get on…

Pic: Shoe Splitting Seams

PS: I liked this post on Transition Footwear by Joanne Poyourov in Los Angeles.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Fashion made fair

To be perfectly honest I've never really been that bothered about clothes other than as functional items.  Maybe it's a guy thing, maybe it's just a me thing.  I've still got perfectly serviceable clothes that I bought when I was 17 and I tend to wear things until they literally fall off me.

However, in my professional life, I work for a big blue-chip and I have to make a bit of an effort when I'm in the office.  So, usually about once a year, in January, I drag myself around the shops (or better still, the internet) in search of something to update my work-wardrobe.

It's hard work if you're looking for clothes with any kind of ethical or local-sourcing credentials.  Ethical and fairtrade clothing is still something of a niche market, most people think the idea of organic clothes a bit weird, and "local" tends to mean UK at best.  It's even harder when you're looking at smart clothes - the shirt and tie variety that I need for work.  Short of bespoke tailoring (way out of my income bracket), I've been unable to find anything at all in Norfolk, and when I contacted the company I buy my shirts from, they told me that they used to make their shirts in London but have since offshored it to the far east.  They also took pains to tell me about the standards they impose on those offshore suppliers.  Well that's something I suppose.

However, it's incredibly difficult to determine whether any particular company is just paying lip service to ethical principles or has them genuinely at the heart of its operation.  According to War on Want's Love Fashion, Hate Sweatshops campaign, much of the UK's clothing is still made at great cost to the producers in poor countries, and the People and Planet website's Redress Fashion campaign highlights the terrible environmental and human cost of the cotton industry.

Thankfully, there are a few solutions out there to these particular issues, and the number of solutions are growing fast.  This year, I was determined to check out the state of ethical clothing before I bought anything, and found the Ethical Junction website, a one-stop catalogue linking many providers of ethical, fairtrade, organic and non-cotton clothing.  I was pretty impressed.  OK it was more expensive than Primark, Gap, Top Shop and various other high-street retailers, but there's no doubt a good reason for that.  I couldn't get everything I needed, and sadly, there was nothing I could find that was made in Norfolk (the nearest, I think, was Northampton) but my favourite was definitely Global Seesaw.  Not only do they make fabulous campaign t-shirts like the one pictured above (now the favourite item in my wardrobe), but they're made by a women's cooperative in India that gives work and dignity back to street-workers - you can read the full story on the website.  They also do great courier-bags!

So while my smart workwear remains something of a challenge in terms of its sustainability and ethical credentials, some of the new breed of online entrepreneurs with ethics at the heart of what they do are providing a growing range of options for those who need to look good, but want to feel good about it too.
Pic from

Tuesday 15 February 2011

mad as a hatter?

For sometime now I have been studying the idea of creating a hat that is completely made in Norfolk. A Norfolk beanie perhaps. Something that is not merely an experimental piece of wearable art but a viable, affordable and marketable hat.

Finding the wool.
Norfolk is not known for its sheep. Although there are some but it is rarely made into wool on any industral level and there are no spinning factories in East Anglia. There are two places that sell alapca wool alpacas of norfolk and Adzu although I find the wool a bit fluffy and one of them bit me during my research and they are quite ugly (maybe that's why he bit me, he can read my mind). For colour I have used charity shop and left over wool from other projects and the recent closing down of the textile centre in St Benedicts street.

The design.
I spent some time studying local fishermans designs and fairisle patterns before coming up with the windpump pattern as above. The only problem is that most people see a person (dont ask me what the third leg is!) or a white diamond and it takes ages to make. then I came up with the idea of a helmet design but the sides rolled up and made you look like a milkmaid! Lastly I changed the design so it would be like a trapper hat and could fold up in warmer weather.

A fleece sells for about £1.50 which is more than the cost of hiring a shearer. The black sheep shop in Aylsham sells British wool at £3.30 for 100g which would make one hat. It takes about 4 hours to make one. So you could sell it at £25 and feel like you had earned a wage. In fact I have sold one for this price. Of course knitting can be done in front of the TV. Not anything too complicated or visual. Lark Rise to Candleford would be the kind of thing. Not You've Been Framed or you will miss all the drunk people at weddings and the feeling of superiority from knowing the you have never danced stupidly at a family event or fallen backwards into a paddling pool while playing swingball or been bitten by an animal that you were researching for wool, oh actually those things may have happened.....

Monday 14 February 2011

Riches-to-Rags - Our Fashionable Stories of Stuff

I confess. I was once a fashionista. I worked for Vogue and Harpers and Queen and Elle, I observed catwalks, I styled shoots and interviewed designers in swanky restaurants – Jasper and Issey and John – and when the Japanese were In wouldn’t have been see dead in the capital cities of the world without a black turban and black lipstick. No one saw my hair for a year.

“You’re wearing your coat inside out,” said my friend Alexander in Rome. "I can see the hook”.
"It’s a fashion detail," I said. "It means this jacket is by Jean Paul Gaultier."

It was the most expensive beautiful thing I owned, a moody tangerine cotton frock coat with gold buttons (well this was the 80s!). Alexander, who was studying for the priesthood, laughed. He didn’t know anything about Jean Paul Gaultier. But he knew the work of a clever devil when he saw one.

Sometimes l think about the clothes I used to own and it shocks me that I remember my wardrobe more intimately, more joyfully than I remember my friends of that time. The question I ask myself now is: is this because we were damned, fallen angels trapped in the colourful lures of the material world, or is it because our relationship with matter, with the fabric of the earth, has never been truly celebrated or understood? Or is it that our letting go of Stuff, our powerdown, has become the most urgent and most interesting story of our times?

When I joined Transition Norwich the very first conversation I had was about fashion. It was with Helen. We were sitting at the Arts, Culture and Well Being table at the Unleashing, discussing the lecture on Peak Oil by Ben Brangwyn, and she asked me:

“What are we going to do about last’s year trousers?”
“We’re going to have to wear them and not worry about them,” I replied.

The truth was I had given up worrying about this year’s Look a long time ago, when I had chucked my job as a fashion editor and gone travelling in search of Life without a Hemline instead.

I now wore thrift store clothes and darned my own socks. My coat was worn. I hadn’t visited a dry cleaner for a decade. It was a different time. In 1998 I had tried on a hand-knit in Gap and felt the sweat-shop labour of children and had shuddered. Conscience and the consequences of the fashion business had pricked my consumer bubble.

This week we’re going to be writing about that wake up call that millions of us are experiencing as we connect with the planet, with our fellow human beings, and the decisions we are making to turn our materialistic world around. What it takes on the inside to shift that fierce possessive love of things to loving the earth and its peoples in relationship. As the Spring collections are starting up in Paris, Milan, New York and London and Norwich (once the weaving capital of Britain) is having its first fashion week the Low Carbon Life crew are going to look at clothes in Transition, waking up to the facts behind the textile industry, celebrating charity shop style, making our own hats, mending our shoes, our own stories of stuff.

The picture is a photograph of a wild cotton plant in Arizona, one of the most lovely bushes in the world. Because our consumer story, like the story of Sleeping Beauty, starts with a needle and cotton. With the very first industrial machine, designed in the North of England in 1764, the Spinning Jenny. If you follow the thread you find out who is in charge of the wheel . . .

Photos: cover and inside picture of last century's trousers from Vogue's Modern Style; desert cotton flowers by CDC.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Come one, Come all with your low carbon living questions

The Transition Norwich blog has a new member! Please give a warm welcome to J. Bloggs, the brand new Transition Norwich agony blogger. Most Sundays JB will be here to answer your queries, problems and requests on how to live a low carbon life in Norwich and its hinterland. So if you have a burning question then please send it to and they will do their best to provide you with the answer.
We have a tricky conundrum to start us off. (another kettle!)
Dear J.Bloggs,

I have an old broken electric kettle. I do not think it can be repaired as it is a good 5 years old and it contains so much limescale that its probably doubled in weight! I want to get rid of it, but I don't want to just chuck it in landfill. What can I do?
Kerry, NR5

J.Bloggs will be answering Kerry's question on Sunday 27th February, so make sure you check in to find out their top tips. Also if you have any answers to the questions then please feel free to comment.

**disclaimer** J.Bloggs does not have all the answers and takes no liability for the consequences of any suggestions!**

Friday 11 February 2011

Never doubt

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Thursday 10 February 2011

Top tips for hot drinks

Kettles! I love a hot cup of tea in the morning. I love a hot cup of tea when I get home from work. I love a hot chocolate before bed. So I'm understandably very fond of my kettle, and I've spent some time pondering its energy use. Two of the simplest pieces of energy saving advice I know are about kettles, and one of them was all my own idea!

"Only boil as much water as you need at a time" they all say. But the scale on my kettle doesn't know how big my cups are, so its scale is not helpful. I drew my own on. It works a treat. I have 2 sets of lines, plus the minimum the kettle can cope with just below that.

One cup - minimum level.
2 normal cups - next line up.
1 normal cup and one super-sized Elena cup- top line.


The second tip I heard or read somewhere and thought YES! That's absolutely right! It was "Never leave the room when you boil a kettle". I inevitably get distracted, come back 10 minute later and have to boil it again. On a bad day, I might boil that kettle three times before I get a cup of tea out of it. And only boiling the right amount of water doesn't help if you do it three times!

I'm feeling inspired, so I can part with a third tip tonight: It's really easy to make your own drinking chocolate- which means you can choose where the ingredients are from and how they're traded. I prefer to buy local beet sugar and fair trade cocoa- a combination that's hard to find in commercial hot chocolates. Put sugar and cocoa to taste in your mug: I like a small teaspoon of cocoa with a big teaspoon of sugar. Add hot water and milk if you like. Yum. Night night!

Wednesday 9 February 2011


A few years ago, I spent a weekend in Sherwood Forest with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, clearing fast-growing sycamore trees so that the slower oaks would be able to compete in their traditional setting.  There were about ten of us and we learned how to fell trees using saws and axes, using ropes to control the taller trees as they fell, and we learned all about the natural habitat in which we were working.  It was a really great couple of days.

So, as soon as I saw the notice on the
Transition Norwich News website about a day of tree and hedge planting at the Norwich Community Supported Agriculture site, I knew I wanted to be there.

And so on the last Sunday in January, I headed out to Postwick with a shovel and a flask of tea to lend a hand.  It was a beautiful day; it had rained overnight so the ground was soft, and free from the chill and frost of the previous days.  The sky was blue and there was the promise of spring in the air.

We were there to plant 60 metres of hedging along the border of the site, a mixture of native species such as field maple, crab apple and blackthorn.  I learned how to tell the plants apart, how to skim the soil before planting, and how to plant clusters of bushes so that they wouldn’t compete with each other.  So although I gave up a few hours of my Sunday morning, I learned a totally new skill that I could use again and again.  And it was such good fun, we had a great laugh, and the time simply flew.

We’d originally planned to stop when it got dark, but as it happened we finished around lunchtime.  It’s amazing how quickly you can get a job done when there is a group of you working together for a common goal.  There’s got to tell you something.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Woolly Thinking

"Norwich, with a population of probably under 6,000 in 1377, was the only town (London apart) with a population of over 10,000 in 1524...  The communities of the surrounding rural area were very active in the manufacture of (woollen yarns), and Norwich was the principal centre of their sale.  Norwich's prosperity lasted and her population grew... throughout most of the fifteenth century."

The girls wanted to make some pompoms, so we popped into a local charity shop that we know sells wool. It was only later when I looked at the label, I realised that the “wool” was actually 100% acrylic and made in China.

The next day, I was talking to a friend of mine who owns some sheep. I asked him what he did with the wool. He told me that it costs more to shear a sheep than you can get for the wool. In fact, he couldn’t even give the wool away, no-one wanted it. It’s not so much that it’s hard to turn the raw wool into the knittable kind of wool, but you have to wash it first to get the lanolin out, and it’s that that requires a lot of effort, and you have to be careful that the lanolin doesn’t clog the drain.

It seems to me an odd situation that we have the two ends of demand and supply so close to each other, yet in order to satisfy that demand, we import from many thousands of miles away a product that is actually a substitute for what we really wanted in the first place. And we’re substituting a natural, renewable resource (wool) for one made from chemicals(acrylic). Add to that the fact that people with dry skin buy big pots of lanolin at the chemist, yet it’s a waste-product of the wool-making process that’s simply going down the drain. I’d never really thought it through like that before.

The process whereby a sheep’s winter coat becomes a knittable product clearly requires a bit of thought and effort, but our current system does seem daft. Instead of throwing wool away, we could give our local (or national) farmers and producers an additional income, reduce imports, reduce waste, and revive a part of the economy that has served us, in Norwich's past, very well indeed.

If there are readers out there who would like to get their hands on some wool, or readers who have access to the raw product, do get in touch and I’ll do what I can to match you up.

Quote from English Society in the Later Middle Ages 1348-1500, by Maurice Keen

Monday 7 February 2011

Starting Somewhere

I’ve had some really interesting conversations over the last week or so, inspired, no doubt, in part by the ongoing “austerity measures” that are really starting to to be felt by the ordinary person in the street.  The conversations run along the line of “I really want to do something but I don’t know where to start”.

There’s a feeling that it’s all too much for people – they don’t know what to do and feel paralysed.  Classic shock syndrome.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers, far from it.  But, for those guys, and you know who you are, here is my personal top ten of where to start.

1. Pay attention – to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, it’s very difficult to know what you don’t know.  So you have to get out there and find out what’s really going on in the world.  Read the news (real news, not the slop that passes for news on much of the TV and the tabloids), read magazines, blogs and books.  Norwich library has hundreds of books on various subjects, and some great “dummy guide to” style books.  It’ll take a bit of effort, but once you learn about some of the things happening in the world – happening in your name - you will Get Angry.

2. Get Angry – research suggests that people will only make a change in their lives once they reach a certain point of anger and frustration.  That point is different for different people, but we all have it.  To actually want to do something, you’ll need to get angry. One of my favourite cartoons of last year reminded me that so much is interlinked – peak oil, climate change, economics, social justice, respect for people and planet.  So whichever subject floats your anger-boat, you’ll be in good company.  But anger can be very unfocussed, so it’s important to Arm Yourself.

3. Arm Yourself – with facts (not guns, obviously).  There are lots of people out there who will tell you that a) you’re wrong, or b) that you’re just a dreamer and it won’t make any difference.  Prove them wrong.  Learn some facts about climate change, about economics, whatever.  The more you learn, the more you’ll want to learn.  And also, make sure you learn the counter-arguments.  Learn the rhetoric of the other side of the argument; some arguments you’ll never win, but you may give the other person something to think about.  The important thing is to Get Involved in the debate.

4. Get involved – this should be an easy one in the sense that the country is buzzing with debate around the economy at the moment and the government’s various proposals of how to deal with it, from tax reform to selling off the forests, to restructuring the NHS.  People will want to know your opinion, so let them know.  Not just colleagues and friends, but also your MPs, councillors etc.  Make sure these last two know what you want from them, regardless of the party they represent.  Remember, they don’t represent a party, they represent you.  Make sure they remember that too.

5. Build Resilience – one of the challenges to getting started is feeling that you’re just one insignificant person facing a sea of indifference at best, strong resistance at worst.  But you’re not alone; look around you, there are hundreds of groups, thousands of people all wanting to make a difference; make things better for the many, not just for the few.  Transition Norwich is one such group, and there are many more, big and small.  Working with others will remind you that you’re not alone, and that together, people can work wonders.  If you don’t believe me, think of the suffragist movement, the trade union movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall; look at what’s happening in Cairo at the moment.  Think about the growth of Fairtrade or the Transition movement. Working together will build your personal resilience and inspire you. So, be inspired, and then take action.  If you’re not ready yet to jump right in, you could dip a toe in the water and Start with the Small Things.

6. Start with the Small Things – magazines and Sunday supplements are full of articles on the “ten things” that will save the planet, save the environment etc.  I’m fairly sceptical of these top tens, because they all tend to be pretty similar in subject and in scale.  Changing your lightbulbs to energy-saving ones and lagging the loft are all small things, and to my mind, lack ambition.  But hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere, and let’s start with the easy wins.  Have a look at your house and lifestyle and see what you can change. The plus side is that a lot of these Sunday supplement suggestions will also save you money, so you’ll get a warm fuzzy feeling from your bank statement as well as your conscience.  And, hopefully, as with learning to walk, once you’ve taken your first tottering steps, you’ll soon want to learn to run.

But before we embark on the big changes, it’s worth pausing to take a Look Behind the Curtain.

7. Look behind the Curtain – the world is a complex place, and what seems clear cause and effect isn’t always the case.  There are hundreds of examples, but one of my favourites is that of the Somali pirates.  Quick caveat – I’m not condoning piracy or the violence that goes with it.  Obviously…  However, there’s a view that the rise in piracy off the coast of east Africa was directly related to the overfishing and subsequent depletion of our own fish stocks.  Once we’d fished out the North Sea, then the North Atlantic, we in Europe sought new fishing grounds to keep the supermarket ice-counters full.  The industrial fleets moved into the Indian Ocean, and displaced the traditional fishing lifecycles of the people already living there.  So, skilled sailors with boats suddenly had no jobs, no income, and no way of supporting or feeding their families.  Next thing, Saga cruises are being held up by pirates. That’s a simplistic assessment of the situation, but the kind of scenario that you see when you look behind the curtain of the traditional media explanations.  There are many, many similar stories.

So if that kind of thing really hacks you off, maybe it’s time to start doing the Big Things.

8. Do the Big Things – you know the kinds of things I’m talking about – the things we discuss a lot on this blog.  Flying, shopping local, buying organic, making things, reusing things, changing your personal financial model, cutting down on consumption, challenging the economic growth model.  These are the things that can frighten people, but they’re actually the things that really mean something.  They can require personal sacrifice, or sometimes they just feel like they require personal sacrifice.  Once you make a change, you might wonder why you hadn’t done it before.

9. Live like you M
ean It – we had a laugh at work on Friday as I said I wouldn’t get a bacon bap for breakfast unless I knew where the bacon had come from.  I was kind of joking as I’d already had my breakfast, but there was a serious point too.  I do have a personal code that guides the decisions I make.  I don’t always make the right choices; other things get in the way and I have to compromise – that’s life.  But I try and I think we have to keep trying. I want to leave the world a little better than it was when I entered it; leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren that I can be proud of.  I won’t Give Up.

10. Enjoy Yourself and Don’t Give Up – my children constantly remind me that you can’t take yourself – and life –too seriously.  The challenges facing us are great, but working towards solutions can be a lot of fun – that’s one thing that Transition Norwich has taught me.  There’s a great bunch of people working towards a better, more equitable future, so join in.  Don’t give up, and have some fun on the way.


So there it is – a very personal view.  What do people think?  What have I missed?  What would be in your top ten, or even top three?  Leave a comment and let us know.

Pic from

Saturday 5 February 2011

Read All About it!

Today is Save Our Libraries Day and I'm writing this in Bungay Library, one of our local Suffolk libraries, planned to be closed down by the Government. We're taking part in a big Read-In and the library is packed. People are taking out books, using the computer (I'm certainly using the computer!), taking out books and DVDs, reading papers, signing forms and communicating. The library has never been so noisy.

This is the community in action. All ages, all classes, all professions (including our local councillors and MPs and authors) coming together to show their solidarity, as well as their affection for the place and the culture that allows us to be intelligent, in contact and share our resources. Like many places Bungay Library is not just about books. It's a meeting hub for all kinds of collectives, from poets to environment groups and of course for Transitioners. Over the last year Sustainable Bungay have created a community garden in the paved courtyard, based on Permaculture principles, invited school children to plant bulbs, we've swapped seeds and produce ideas out there and in here had most of our core group meetings, our energy days and our reskilling sewing sessions.

We've helped organise this Read-In too. So I'd better go now and do my welcome-would-you-like-to-fill-out-this-form and pin your Why I Love the Library story on our giant pinboard . . . more news (and pix) later!

Next day: 220 people came through the door in two hours. Children were busy painting banners, everyone writing on the notice board, shelves were emptying fast. Elizabeth Jane Howard presided on the main reading table and at about 11.30pm there was a crescendo as the community confronted David Richie from the Suffolk Country Council and Peter Aldous MP. Just waiting for some pix to come through so you can see what that looks like. Meanwhile here is one of our Community Garden as some people kick-back from the fray . . . oh, and read a book!

Pix: noticeboard and poster by Josiah Meldrum; Bungay community with Transition Kate, Elizabeth Jan Howard and Peter Aldous MP; library community garden by Mark Watson.

Friday 4 February 2011

It's All About the Bike - Book Review

Back in August on the TN blog, I said that I would like this book for my birthday in November and sure enough it appeared - though as a Christmas present! Still, better late than never.

I've just finished reading the book and enjoyed it a lot. The book is structured around the story of how a life long cyclist decided to assemble the best components from around the world to build a dream bike that would last him the rest of his life. Rob Penn visits people who are the best at their craft - one company has been making leather saddles in the same way for 100 years - another builds frames by hand to fit the rider exactly. On the way, he covers the invention of the bicycle and its evolution from wooden boneshaker to the first form of transport that was available to the common man and enabled people to travel further to work and for leisure - which in turn shaped housing and road development in the UK. There is plenty of humour and I was pleased to learn the origin of the Jock Strap and how it got its name.

I'm not sure that travelling to the USA to get some hand made wheels is justified but that aside, I'm confident that anyone with an interest in bicycles will enjoy a book that is as unique as the finished Dream Bike that adorns its cover. (I will however not be emulating RP and spending £3000 on a bike, I will be sticking with my trusty 20 year old cross bike)

by John Heaser

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Today is the day of emergence when the ground springs awake and the winter turns. I'm writing this in Totnes at day break. There's a robin singing outside in the garden and I'm getting ready to take part in another kind of chorus. It's my third invitation: it came, like the rest, completely unexpected, when Rob Hopkins asked me to come and discuss the new Transition book (working title The Transition Companion), based on the Patterns Directory he and many others have been compiling on the Network for the last two months. People are converging from all over the UK to take part in this workshop (I'll be reporting on our meetings in our Transition Themes week later this month).

I met my friend Adrienne on the train at Reading and we talked non-stop about our respective initiatives. She told me about how the groups move and change, what kinds of extraordinary and diverse people are in them, how when she met Ben Brangwyn (whose house we are staying in) in Lewes in 2006 they both realised how massive Transition was going to be, how it is at that moment when you realise that it is the only thing that makes sense of the world, the only thing you want to do with your life. The breakthrough moment.

Gotta put that stuff in the book, I said.

It's the moment of emergence when the roots stir and the shoots move upward. Everything stored and consolidated in the winter comes awake. Through the mist the late sun burnished the green-mantled hills of the West, the old man's beard shone whitely, the hazel trees lit their golden candles. Under one of these hills so the legend goes, Arthur's warriors lie sleeping, hazel staves in their hands, ready to awaken when the kingdom needs defending.

There's a new mood in the land right now. People are waking up, I'm waking up, realising what lies at stake as things we took for granted are being taken away: our forests, our health service, our schools, our libraries. At Bungay Library we're having a Read-In this Saturday. Adrienne just took part in a Tea Party protest outside her local Boots (recently the high street store has become corporate and moved its finances off-shore, so now pays only 3% tax and is set to take over sections of the NHS as it is privatized). These are the kinds of moves we pay attention to in this blog, in the OneWorldColumn, in our conversations. It's important we realise this together. In a depressed low vibration everything disperses and separates. No one communicates. Nothing seems possible. A people who are alone and hopeless are easy to control and to sell consumer dreams to. In a high spirit of convergence, in the feeling of engagement, your energies, thoughts and feelings soar. The mood shifts, everything becomes possible. That's the real mood of Transition.

Gotta go now and get ready for that meeting. Take some of that mood with me. Have a beautiful day!

Photos: hazel catkins, Suffolk; tree protest, Forest of Dean.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Delivering the Message

It came out of the blue the day following the Transition Norwich First Anniversary Party in 2009. The same week we launched this blog, This Low Carbon Life.

Would you like to join the OneWorldColumn? The invitation was from Rupert Read who had founded this weekly “alternative” column on the EDP six years ago at the height of the Iraq War. We’d like you to write about Transition and food, he said. So there it was after 20 years, an invitation to join a shared column with five other writers on subjects ranging from globalisation, peacemaking and human rights to international relations and the environment.

I joined with a happy heart, thrilled that the ethos of the Transition movement would be out in the open. I wrote about peak oil and climate change, what it was like to join the Wave in London and the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts rally in Norwich, about the marketing of the Big Society and how John Gummer MP had told a woman at an Energy Fair in Suffolk that wearing a woolly hat was a Very Good Thing (whilst keeping five cars in his garage). I wrote about the oil that Chevron had allowed to seep into Ecuadorian rain forest, how 50 billion farm animals are slaughtered each year in the industrial food system. I reviewed Avatar and Food, Inc. and wrote about things that deeply affected me on a global and planetary level and what Transition was doing at a local level to reconfigure the world that had got so out of balance: seedling swaps and community gardens, Transition Circles, Bungay Community Bees, all our decisions to use less energy, eat differently, come together in small bands and work to build a low-carbon culture.

Each week the six of us would send each other our column and peer review what we had written, I read Lee Marsden on right-wing religion, Rupert Read on future people, Trevor Phillips on unions, Marguerite Finn on nuclear power, David Seddon on South Africa, Mark Crutchley on sharks and the perilous state of the ocean. We made suggestions and gave feedback and the column brought a rhythm and communication to the week. Unlike this blog it was hard to write those 642 words, because when you write for conventional media, you’re writing against invisible forces that don’t necessarily like what you are saying, with an eye on the news desk, knowing that anytime those paras can be cut (which sometimes they were). What made it work was we were not on our own.

Then last August equally out of the blue the EDP told us we would not be needed any more. It was "time to ring the changes".

But that was not the end of the column. We decided to keep writing on the blog where six years worth of writing from 12 writers had been archived. And we were going to continue. Instead of falling apart we came together and pooled our resources. We began to meet at the Alexandra pub and talk about ways we could expand ourselves and "make the OneWorldColumn blog a focal point for all the activities that were taking place in the region; to start a conversation that would not only bring the organisations and disciplines we represented together (Green Party, Greenpeace, the peace movement, Transition movement, Campaign against Climate Change, international development), but to unify all the different strands within the local progressive community". We are academics and politicians, philosophers, activists and campaigners, the subjects we write about are equally diverse, yet what struck me when we met is how we speak the same language. It’s as if we’ve known each other forever.

Last week we gave a party to launch our blog at the EPIC Media centre on Magdalen Street. We were throwing open an invitation to all progressive organisations in the Eastern Region. Last of the six to speak I stood up and told a story about working for newspapers. It was in 1990 when I was working on The Independent as a fashion editor and Mark was singing with his band, The Love Fund, at a gathering in Milton Keynes called the Sacred Run. A band of Native American warriors were running from America to Russia to deliver a message of peace. I persuaded the news desk it was a good story and went to interview their leader, the activist Dennis Banks:

“I run to remind the world that the eagle is still the eagle and the owl is still the owl," he told me.
"Does the world want to know?” I asked.

He looked at me, cocky little journalist, French designer jacket, Japanese tape recorder in my hand.

"It’s doesn’t matter who gets the message" he said. "What matters is that the message is delivered."
"Well," I replied (rather pleased with myself) "Thousands of people will read this tomorrow."

But the fact was they didn’t. Because the story was never published (the photographer hadn't found a good shot). I left the paper to travel to America and didn’t appear in newspaper print for another 20 years. A year after the runners returned communist Russia fell.

At some point all our empires end. The ones we think will go on forever inside us, the huge corporate machine that strides the present earth. This blog, the OneWorldColumn blog, seem small things in the face of such powers. Our task in Transition seems immense. But if what we are saying is the Right Thing, if we are saying what we feel in our hearts, if we are People in the same way the eagle is the Eagle, and the owl is the Owl, then it matters that we keep delivering that message. The invisible forces are strong because they don’t want people to say what they really feel, what we know in the core of ourselves to be true about the earth, about social justice, about freedom.

The empires may control and close down the official communication channels, but this new media will keep finding new ones. It’s easy to be persuaded that unless thousands of people are reading you and you are backed by powerful newspaper magnates and surrounded by the glitz and glamour of the world, what you say is irrelevant. But it isn’t. That's the beauty of modern social networking. It’s run and written by people who know that when you are a messenger that’s what really matters. Because when you’re in communication you are not alone. TheOneWordColumn is written by six people, This Low Carbon Life is a community blog, The Transition Norwich news that comes out today is the work of fifteen different contributors. We’re not on our own anymore. We’re in convergence.

Photo: With Jacky Howe at the OWC party at the EPIC centre, Magdalen Street; Dennis Banks and Russell Means of AIM at Wounded Knee, 1973; Avatar poster