Tuesday 30 October 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - Cold Comfort Food

It began last week. Not just the dip in the temperature, the closing in of night, the leaves turning gold and tawny in the lanes and the proliferation of mushrooms, but the unexpected appearance of those underground veg on the table. Although there were still cosmos and California poppy flowering in the gardens, winter had put his bony leafless hand on the pot and suddenly we were all thinking Roots.

At our Dark Mountain meet-up in Norwich last week, Jeppe (just back from Denmark) served up roasted veg - parsnip, swede, carrot - and Brussel sprouts. We all tucked in heartily to spicy and warming dishes of cous cous, quinoa and Puy lentils before discussing the hands-on practical side of the movement, here exemplified by Simon Fairlie's recent blog, Growing Up Dystechnic.

Our conversation was all about time. The time it takes to cook by hand, chop and watch the stove, to grind seeds and spices, using the ancient tool of the pestle and mortar (or in my kitchen a  volcanic Mexican molcajete). How those things link you in with other times and places and peoples in a way machine-mixed or  factory-made food can never do. How crafting the materials of life, including food, runs along another groove to gimme-now 24/7 consumerism. Time is what you need when you enter the slow cook, downshift winter. The days of quick tossed salads and leaves and the sweet and hot Indian summer dishes that were the focus of our Happy Monday's Mexican Fiesta are ceding to stews and soups and warm, wholesome stuff that requires a different attention. In the Chinese Five element system we're moving from the spleen "mother" foods (think pumpkin and sweet potato ) into the realm of the "father" (lung) where the tastes are pungent, strong and dark.

We will need to have recourse to this robust simple fare because out there the weather has been dire. The worst autumn on record, declared the Farmers Weekly, as growers everywhere are struggling to get their potatoes out of the ground, roots are rotting, leaves suffering from mildew and barley struggling to come through water-logged land. Across the UK and the world  food prices are rising. Animals are being mass-slaughtered as the price of feed, after a summer of drought in the US and elsewhere, has risen prohibitively.

Here a bag of organic potatoes that cost us £8 last year is now £24. Malcolm, who has been providing us with a box of veg for nine years has almost no apples, no parsnips, small onions and smaller potatoes, says it is unlikely we will get a box in the new year.

There is one bright green light ahead however:  the brassicas may yet be all right, he tells us.

Cabbage is one of our low-carbon winter mainstays. Somewhere around now I can't get enough of those greens: kale, Brussel sprout tops, wrinkly and straight cabbages, all for putting in the stew pot or for steaming and dressed with olive oil and lemon, or tamari and sesame seeds. Or best of all making endless creative varieties of coleslaw. Here is an economical, quick to prep, slow to cook recipe that warms up every meal. Enjoy!


1 small red cabbage, roughly chopped
I cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 red chili, whole
Handful of raisins
1 tsp of juniper berries, crushed
1 tsp of mixed spice
I sprig of fresh thyme  
I bay leaf
I tbsp redcurrant jelly (or similar)
1 tbsp of honey or agave syrup (brown sugar also OK if you use sugar)
Half cup of cider vinegar
Half cup water 
Salt and black pepper to taste

Method: put cabbage and apple into an earthenware pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to make sure everything is evenly coated. Slow cook for one hour in the oven. You can also cook this on top of the stove. Just bear in mind this dish, like a lot of slow-cooked meals, gets better the next day. You can adjust the seasoning before serving too depending on how sweet or sour you like your cabbage. Take out that bay leaf and chili, unless you like surprises!

Pictures from our Happy Monday, Mexican Fiesta and Medicine Soup by Mark Watson. Bookings are now open for Sustainable Bungay's next community meal on 19 November on Winter Comfort Food.

Monday 29 October 2012

Communications - Meeting up

This month we made two trips to the city. One to meet up with This Low Carbon Life bloggers to celebrate our third birthday at the Bicycle Cafe and the other for our monthly discussion with fellow Dark Mountaineers. At both the main topic was community convergence.

So this is a small on-the-ground post to remind ourselves that no matter how hard things become, especially economically, it's really good to meet up and share stuff and know you are not on your own. Even though our tendency is to shut down in tough times, we need to head out in the cold and the dark sometimes, and know there is a group of people talking about subjects that get scant attention in the mainstream media, or even in our ordinary daily circumstances. Projects, events, feelings, reflections we can feedback on and share. What struck me was the warmth and stability and coherence of these meetings. How we went home through the rainy back roads and wild winds smiling. How it hadn't always been like that in the city. And now it was.

At our Dark Mountain meeting Jeppe told us about Trade School and The Common Room where he and Vanessa and Mark are giving classes on the prototype day at St Lawrence's on November 10; Vanessa explained how Occupy Norwich segued into the local progressive community meet-up, Visions for Change, and the ethos behind the ex-airfield community space in Berlin. At our Bloggers meeting, Chris Hull talked about FarmShare, the restarting Transition Circle West, and the great success of the third Magdalen-Augustine Celebration, Jon talked about Norwich Community Bees (now tucked up for the winter), John about the Ceilidhs he organises at the Keir Hardie Hall, Simeon about a recent TN meeting at Inner Space and how the Economics and Livelihoods group's visioning in St Augustine's had led to the creation of The Stage Community Centre (hopefully we'll hear more about all these on the blog later on).

Since we all lead very different lives in different locations, in the city and out, it was a rare treat to meet off-line and kick back for a couple of hours without an agenda. How else do you find out first hand (from Chris Keene) about Zero-Carbon velomobiles? Or what life is like during the cuts at a regular office, or trying to find work as a graduate? Or, for that matter, as a 50-something grassroots journalist/editor.

So for me, it's always about becoming our own media. Writing for this blog, now in its fourth year, editing the new Transition newspaper, but also going out, meeting up, catching up, asking questions, listening, and in many cases, giving each other an opportunity to speak directly: Here is fellow artist and Dark Mountaineer, Kevin Hunn's video for the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts, shot at the Magdalen-Augustine Celebration, to encourage people to march in London the following weekend:


Top image: Chris Hull (right) and other participants in Waiting, Shifting, Shopping at Magdalen-Augustine Celebration

Saturday 27 October 2012

Picking it up

A helper on a litter pick in better weather!
 Today is supposed to be when Little Melton has its autumn litter pick but the weather is so cold and so wet that we have postponed in the hope that it improves tomorrow! Litter picks are a strange mixture of good and bad, because on the one hand they bring people together to do something for the community but they should not really be necessary at all. Ten people work hard for an hour and at the end of it we have about 10 bags of rubbish, most of which will go to land fill as it is not easy to separate out the recyclables.

The majority of the rubbish that we pick up is food containers, thrown from cars – bottles, take away wrappers and the like. As I creep up the side of a busy road, trying to avoid being run over as I pick the rubbish out of the hedge, I wonder about the people who are so ready to chuck their rubbish out of their cars and the role that take away food has had in shaping their attitudes. Disposable packaging is clearly a waste of valuable resources but does it do wider damage by influencing people’s attitudes to the planet’s finite resources? One you accept that it is OK to use a bottle once and then throw it away does it then become easier to view more valuable items as disposable? There was a time when even a simple bottle would have been made by hand by a local craftsman and would have been worth much more than its contents. Throwing it away would have been inconceivable.

Throwing rubbish out of a car is not just a lack of respect for the resource but a shows a lack of respect for the countryside and the people and creatures that live in it. Does one lead to the other? If you don’t value the planet’s resources then maybe you don’t value the planet. If you don’t value the planet then you don’t value the community that you live in and the people who make the household goods that make your life possible. So it seems to me that fast food and disposable packaging has a lot more to answer for than the littering of the countryside – and that is before we consider the food itself!

The CPRE are fighting to introduce a deposit on bottles that will create jobs and go some way to reverse the throwaway trend.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Winemaking - 'For Medicinal Purposes'

For Sustainable Bungay's 10th Plants for Life event last Sunday, Winemaking - For Medicinal Purposes, Nick Watts invited a dozen of us to his house for a practical demonstration of how to make fruit wine, in this case (sic) from raspberries.

Nick’s front room was filled with people (including Sophie and Nick from Transition Norwich's Low Carbon Cookbook group),  funnels, demi-john’s with deep red liquid and when you opened the door of any one of the cupboards you would discover a large container filled with a fermenting fluid. One demi-john contains enough for 6 bottles of wine at 750cl per bottle. Nick calculated he had about 80 bottles of wine fermenting at the moment.

First we took a look at some of the medicinal qualities of  raspberries. I’d been aware of the raspberry leaf  as a uterine tonic during pregnancy and childbirth and have used it along with yarrow to make a salve for piles. But for me raspberry fruits were always a delicious sign of high to late summer, picked fresh or bought from a roadside stall, and eaten long before they made it home to be turned into anything else culinary, let alone medicinal.

Raspberries, in fact, are incredibly rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C. Eating them can help boost a poor appetite and they are useful in arthritis. See Hedgerow Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal,  for an excellent chapter on the many virtues and uses of  the raspberry, both leaf and fruit, with some great herbal recipes.

Penelope Ody in her book 100 great natural remedies has a simple recipe for raspberry vinegar: Soak 500g fresh raspberries in wine vinegar for 2 weeks, strain thick red liquid into a bottle and use in cough syrups, as a throat gargle or add to salad dressings.

Nick took us through the winemaking process in three stages, starting off a new wine and then using ones “I’d prepared a bit earlier.” He was keen to point out he was not an expert, having started about three years ago, but had really got into it and was happy to share what he knows with people.

This was the essence of not only this session but also a main impulse behind the whole Plants for Life project, and indeed Sustainable Bungay as a group and the wider Transition 'movement': If Nick could make so much and such decent wine (not to mention his delicious dandelion and burdock beer) from home and allotment-grown and foraged fruit by just doing it and immersing himself in it, then anyone with sufficient interest and initiative could. Watching Nick describe the process and go through it physically with a friendly group of people was absorbing and instructive, as well as good fun. It was a true skill-share.

What follows below is not necessarily the whole story, but what I learnt from Sunday's session:

In a big bucket with 3lb raspberries (you can choose your own fruit, almost any will do), Nick poured on 5pts of water and added a teaspoonful of pectin enzyme to prevent ‘pectin haze’. He then mashed the raspberries with a wooden spoon and covered the liquid with a tea towel (very important esp. in summer to keep insects out).

This is left for two days.

Add to the bucket between 1kg and 11/4 kg of sugar (preferably fair trade/organic, white) dissolved in 2 pts water off the boil. Add 1 tsp dried yeast with a little sugar all dissolved in some of the fruit liquid in the bucket.

It’s the yeast that turns the sugar into alcohol and the more sugar the sweeter the wine. Nick uses less (1kg) as he likes a drier wine.

This liquid is then stirred 2-3 times a day over the next four days, and the process is called ‘fermenting on the must’.

This is the messy bit, where you strain all the liquid through a muslin sieve, before funnelling it into the demi-johns and putting an airlock on it. This is then left to ferment for between 3 and 18 months until there are no longer any bubbles to be seen in the airlock. During the fermenting process a stable temperature is important. Nick doesn’t worry too much about whether it’s warm or cool, just that there is as little fluctuation as possible.

Decant into bottles and leave for 1-2 years depending on the fruit. Raspberries need less time than elderberries, for example.

After the demonstration, Nick invited everyone to taste some of the wines he's made. My favourite was the dry and fragrant Elderflower and Rosehip. I took half a bottle home and tried a glass with a dash of elderflower cordial - for medicinal purposes only, of course. And it was the perfect antidote to the recent gloomy days of continual rain and lessening light.

Photos: Raspberry wine fermenting in demi-johns; Nick instructing; Mashing the raspberries; Straining the liquid; Cheers on a rainy day (Mark Watson)

Monday 22 October 2012

The Firm

Last week on the Social Reporting Project we looked at the role of the Transition Network within the wider network of people involved with the movement. We  looked at several of its aspects from the movers and shakers to its communications system. Here is mine focussed on the Board:

My name is Charlotte and I am in Transition. Maybe I should rephrase that and say I’m in the Transition movement, or the Transition network (small n). One thing is for sure: I’m in a Transition initiative that is five years old this November.

Originally we were turned down by the Network (cap N) as an official Transition town. We then became one of the few initiatives in the UK to be unleashed, though our projects are small and unfunded and ignored by the local council. We have never been mentioned in the Network’s monthly dispatches. From the outside we would be dismissed as white and middle class by one set of people, and a bunch of hippies by another. Not “fit for purpose” either way.

The truth of the matter is however we are a group of people who would have never met and worked together otherwise. We do ordinary things in extraordinary times. The effects of what we do are subtle and unquantifiable. We sit each month in a circle and discuss our events - bees, recycling, food, films, pig club, green drinks. We are from all classes and ages, upper to lower, 20s to 70s. At our community table the proud and the meek sit down together, pensioned, low-paid, unemployed, house owner, renter, Tory and Marxist, hunter and vegan. We make ourselves at home in each other's compnay. If you asked the group: are you in transition, a movement, or a network? most would smile and shake their heads: we’re in Sustainable Bungay, they would reply.
into the fire
My name is Charlotte and I am in Sustainable Bungay. I start here because in order to write about the Network as a social reporter, I have to begin in my initiative (or one of them). Few in my group know about the Network, use the website, read the books, go to the Conference, or engage in any of the Ingredients or Tools. When I asked if anyone would like to come and hear Rob Hopkins speak about The Transition Companion last November my neighbour turned to me and said:

Who is Rob Hopkins?

When I told Rob Hopkins that he laughed. That's perfect, he said. We were giving him a lift to Norwich station the next day and he was telling us how his house burned down in Ireland and how he had become wary of entangling his family too much in Transition as a result.

I am in Transition the network (small n) because, like Mark and Josiah in my group, I have made it my business to be. I have immersed myself in Transition culture for five years. I have made contact with the people who work for Transition at three Conferences, and know them as comrades, “engaged in actions on the edge of consciousness” as the chair of the Network, Peter Lipman described it. I don’t know Peter, and yet somewhere I do. His commanding attention and presence hover over the movement, like an eagle, that some might mistake for a CEO. But that's not what I recognise in him, or any of the people who have put themselves on the line for the movement.

We know, as many of us in Transition do, but rarely say, what it is like to live in a burned house and have people be wary around what you do. The toughness and beauty and the opportunity it brings. Thanks to this awarenThe Transition Companion and Peak Money. The Network has given the Transition Free Press crew £1000 to help fund the preview issue of the newspaper, I have worked with Ed Mitchell for six months to set up this blog and received expenses to meet all the reporters and to go on line at my house. I am not in the Network but I am in the network. When I imagine the map of Transition I see dots of light in towns and cities around the country, and a circle in the West that is Totnes. I want to open the circle and join those dots up.  My business within the network is as a connector. No one gave me the job, it’s just what I do wherever I go. Just like Josiah and Mark.
ess I have taken part in discussions about
From the air
One of the most damaging effects of specialist culture is that we do not see what goes on behind the scenes. Goods and services are available on-lline. Events and entertainment appear like clockwork. Food arrives at the supermarket, petrol in our tanks. We judge everything by its show, as consumers. We are critical without appreciating the work that goes into creating all these things. Sometimes we don't care to. Once you know the workings of something, you have to take responsbility for your role within it.

This week we are looking at the Network in order that we understand its function better, and to define on our part. We have already focused several of our weeks on its different strands: Transition Training (Naresh Giangrande) Inner Transition (Sophy Banks), REconomy (Fiona Ward), as well as the role of the TN website (Ed Mitchell). Most of the staff and board members have written blogs for us from Steph Bradley on Rank and Privilege to Ruth Ben-Tovim on the role of the arts in Transition. For today’s post, I spoke with three trustees on the Board: Peter Lipman and William Lana, who have been on the board since 2006, originally with Rob and Ben Brangwyn (who have since stepped down) and Sarah Nicholl who joined in 2010 when the Board were looking for people who were deeply immersed in their local initiatives. We had three long intense discussions and though I cannot fit our dialogues within this post, this is a fusion of those conversations.

We wanted as a crew to explore the nature of the organisation in the collaborative spirit of social reporting. Eco-systems and human cultures work when all parts are in touch with each other and in communication. As a communicator I wanted to find the connections between the official Network and the unofficial network, in which it is embedded. Because no matter how you swing it: you don’t get one without the other.
at sea
To look at an organisation you need to look at its structure, and the people who take up the roles within that structure. The Transition Network is a registered charity. It has (paid) staff members and a board, as well as affiliated individuals, such as Filipa Pimentel (national hubs) and Isabel Carlisle (education) and Nick Osborne (group facilitaiton) and the Conference organisers, who work on a freelance basis (both paid and unpaid). The board has eight members all of whom have been selected on the grounds of their skills and experience in areas of economics, diversity, community, systems knowledge, the arts, inner work and employment, among others.

The board meet six times a year. Four regular meetings in three locations (Totnes, Bristol, London) and two “awaydays” in Totnes where they meet with staff over a weekend, generally hosted by Sophy Banks and Naresh Giangrande. These are opportunities to deal with specific issues and to “get their hands dirty”, as Peter described it. The subjects range from diversity to strategy to inner work, and include workshops, constellations and celebrations.

The Network is grant-funded, though a small amount of money comes from the sale of books and films and the trainings. As a consequence a good part of the agenda is around financing and fulfilling their obligations to the funders. Like a ship that has to change course according to the prevailing winds, the Board is also engaged in a continual process of self-examination. Is the Network doing the right thing? It uses the annual conference as a weathervane to find its direction in the rough ocean of the world. In 2009 this was diversity, in 2010 financial collapse, in 2011 social enterprise, in 2012 international expansion.
At present the Board are looking at the structure of the Network and themselves (there is no official term of office or a rotating chair). After two years of negotiation they are bringing a director on board who will keep the ship on course and the crew more coherent. They will also shortly be publishing a long-awaited communications strategy. It is recognised that the exciting cutting edge phase of Transition needs to cede to establishing resilient and flexiible procedures that can withstand the rocky road ahead. More hardy perennials putting down roots, than annual plants throwing out seeds and breaking ground.
On the ground
Many people who criticise the Network see it as an entity like the Government, an abstract "Them" whom we are powerless to communicate with or influence. But of course it’s not: it’s a small group of people configured in a certain way in order to hold a large organisation together and make it work more effectively. The charity structure of board, staff and volunteers could be seen as a bit clunky and stiff and behind-closed-doors for a grassroots movement that is in a constant state of metamorphosis. Most Transitioners would not describe themselves as “volunteers” and unlike most charities which are tapped into the status quo and business-as-usual, none of us really know where we are headed, or whether this "social experiment" will work. What we have in common is a knowledge that this is the best opportunity we have right now of working something out together on a local and national level. Everyone I spoke with shares a sense of urgency and a need to support initiatives more clearly. The Network however is a  small organisation with few resources, and so its scope is limited.

On the ground there is little recognition of this: sometimes there a resentment that some people are getting paid to do things that others have to do for free, that there is a Totnes mafia, a tyranny of structurelessness, that it is too academic, too corporate, not corporate enough, that decisions are being made without consultation, that the "leadership" is enjoying life at the top while the rest of us struggle unrecognised, that the model doesn't work, that no-one gets back to inquiries, that “They” should do this and that for us, should come and sort out this mess my initiative is in! And how come you never told us it would be so hard?
The truth of the matter is that Transition not been done before. This is a creative act and like most creations, has emerged assymetrically and organically from its material – a civilisation in a state of entrophy. It doesn’t fit the known industrial world: it is quirky, intelligent, frustrating, good-hearted, prolific, and not always that efficient. In short, awkwardly human.

At the 2011 conference workshop on Financial Collpase, led by Peter and  Naresh, there was a fevered demand for a workbook about the financial system. How can we talk to people in our communities about money? everyone asked. It was responded to, but with a marked reluctance to behave in a proscribed, top-down manner:
We are not policemen. This is a bottom-up movement we can’t tell people what to do. (PL)
The strong language used at the conference wasn't backed by a willingness in people to do it themselves (WL)
This is a key question: What do we want the Network to do for us that it is not doing? More than books and films, conferences, courses and resources posted on a website? Mostly we want, if we are honest, someone to take the pain away about the houses we see burning all around us and the people we love who look at us askance. We want someone to take the rap and all the responsibility. We like talking, but not necessarily acting. We are consumers and specialists, and Transition forces us to be activitsts and generalists and, more obliquely, to suffer as we shift towards a partnership culture. We have, brothers and sisters all, to do it for ourselves. And once we have figured that out and accepted that it’s just us in the room and the cavalry are not coming, what then? Is this really a client-server relationship we are engaged in, or do we have the beginnings of a different kind of organisation? There is talk of a federation of national hubs, but what about a national hub here as Jay suggested? Who is talking for the initiatives within the network to the Network?

My name is Charlotte and I wouldn’t be telling you my name if I wasn’t in Transition. I am tapped into a network of people that is Sustainable Bungay, and also Transition Norwich, that is the social reporters and their initiatives, that is hundreds of readers and conference-goers and thousands of people I don’t know and yet I know are there. It is a network of small lights that stretches across these islands, and is sparking alight elsewhere across the globe. We hold these pilot lights inside ourselves and in our groups, in our towns and cities, and when we meet up we make a fire. Every month I sit down alongside my fellows, come rain or shine. We share a language, the shape of our meetings, of core group and sub-group, the concepts of gift economy and co-operation. These came from the Network and from its creators. This network turned my life around. It’s turned thousands of people’s lives around. We walk out alone from our meetings, and yet we are connected. These connections are everything. Because a network is the dots and the connections and the people who make them.

This is not a feel-good moment in a workshop. This is for real. Let’s not blow it.

Richard sweeping up after a Sustainable Bungay Give and Take Day observed by Monty; The Happy Mondays kitchen crew at the Mexican Fiesta, September 2012; Josiah and Mark on the bus to the 2012 Transition Conference; Peter Lipman chairs the Peak Money Day; Sarah Nicholl with Transition Belsize in the Transition Companion; William Lana on the Atmos Project; Transition Conference (Mike Grenville)

Sunday 21 October 2012

ARCHIVE: Occupying the Conversation

Wednesday 30th November, Lowestoft I've just got back from the High Noon Rally and public sector workers' strike march up Lowestoft High Street and the meeting afterwards where I sat with Kate and Rita and Charlotte in the packed United Reform Church, listening to people speak about the effects of the government’s austerity measures on their lives, pensions, families and future prospects.

Teachers, therapists, cooks, retired gardeners and trade unions representatives all spoke about how the government (and the system) was ennabling more than ever the richest to rob the poorest, pushing mercilessly for privatisation, for fewer and fewer workers’ rights or job security and longer hours for less pay. For YEARS to come. How it considers ordinary people as being of no value whatsoever. Like the starlings Jon wrote about on Monday.

A woman who had worked as a public gardener for thirty years told how her annual pension of £2,500 was officially considered ‘gold-plated’. Another who had been a teacher for twenty years said she loved her work, it was all she had ever wanted to do, but the prospect of having to wait until she was 68 to retire made her feel like she was being squeezed of all her life force and there would be nothing left by then. And how that marred the love she felt for her job.

“It’s as if [the people running the system] want you to die so they don’t have to pay you any pension,” said someone from the floor. Everyone cheered.

One primary schoolteacher had left a well-paid media job in London to come and teach in Suffolk after he discovered that all the money he was paying into his private pension would bring him almost nothing when he retired.

“I keep hearing this one word,” he said. “It just keeps speaking to me - solidarity. Now more than ever we need to stick together. We can’t afford not to. Solidarity.”

The atmosphere of the march and the meeting in the church was alive, attentive and engaged. People were listening to each other. I wondered whether I should “stand up to speak” something about Transition or Occupy, mention fossil fuel depletion and energy constraints and the preparations we are making in our local initiatives in the face of these along with climate change and economic instability. After all, Transition is where most of my attention has been focussed for the past four years.

But I felt a bit tongue-tied (even though I hadn’t said anything), and there didn’t seem to be an opening. I thought, well I’ll write about the rally tomorrow and bring in the links with Transition and Occupy then. Better go and get on with that Transition Norwich bulletin. So I tapped fellow Sustainable Bungay transitioner Kate on the shoulder and mouthed “Got to go, see you soon…”

At that moment a woman stood up and brought Occupy into the meeting. I sat back down. She’d been to OccupyLSX and Occupy Norwich. It was really important to consider this movement, she said, because its presence in all these cities of the world brings constant attention to the vast economic and social inequality which exists and is exacerbated by the present gormengahst of the global financial system. Because of Occupy more and more people are seeing what they didn’t see before. And as Arundhati Roy once said talking about the social and environmental ravages of dambuilding in India, once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it.

And take care not to just side with the mainstream media when they talk about finding drug needles and the presence of alcohol at the London Occupy site, the speaker reminded us. This is the middle of London. Every day food is provided free and there are tents to sleep in. Of course you’re going to get homeless people, maybe even people on drugs. That’s what’s going on in our society. “I’ve been there a couple of times and I’ve noticed that the homeless are included. Maybe included for the first time in a long time. Not everybody here may agree with the protesters but it is a non-violent movement, with a lot of young people concerned about a future with few prospects. Just like we are here."

The people in the room cheered again and the retired gardener with the ‘gold-plated’ pension stood up and exhorted everyone to make sure their trades union leaders supported Occupy.

This was the cue for Kate and me. We put our hands up. Kate went first, introducing both of us and Sustainable Bungay and a few core Transition concepts around building community resilience. This is the woman who a few years ago at one of our core group meetings stood up and delivered a two minute talk on Peak Oil and Climate Change with no props and you just got it. It was also Kate who stood up at a climate conference in Bungay in 2007 and exhorted the people in the room to get together to come up with some solutions. That was the beginning of Sustainable Bungay. So she had to speak first! And it made me feel far less nervous about standing up to speak.

I said one of the most important things about Occupy was how it opened up and held a space for conversations to happen which aren’t normally granted any space at all, certainly not in the mainstream public discourse.

And what could be more mainstream than the vast and growing social inequality wrought by a small elite via an oppressive machine-like system that ultimately has no one’s best interests at heart? This is a time when our very humanity is at stake. We need to be talking with each other.

Pete then said how at OccupyLSX he had witnessed an intense conversation start up amongst a group of besuited city workers visiting the site. They were talking about it, too.

I‘ve visited OccupyNorwich a few times now and experienced this openness, both in listening to what other people have to say about our human situation and in being listened to myself. And I've encountered warmth and intelligence each time.

As I left the rally for the library yesterday a young woman at the door offered me a ticket for the Murphy's Lore gig later in the evening. I'd have loved to, I said, I really like Murphys Lore. But I have to write an article and help prepare a bulletin. Help keep the spaces open for those conversations...

Mark Watson

Pics: High Noon Rally in Lowestoft yesterday; Marching up the High Street; Occupy Norwich general assembly; It's the private sector too; You don't have to be a Socialist Worker to read the Socialist Worker, Kate and I at the public sector strike meeting

Thursday 18 October 2012

A Transition Camp Journey

I am a reluctant traveller these days, rarely venturing beyond Bungay or Norwich, let alone East Anglia. And it’s strange. Having lived in the Americas in the 80s and 90s and experienced incredible landscapes, people and ways of life, now, after ten travel (and money)-lean years, I’ve learnt to totally appreciate the odd train trip, whether it's going to London for the Transition Conference in September or travelling up to Norwich in the carbon conversation days through the Norfolk broads as the sun goes down.

Last weekend I went by foot, bus and train to the 5th Transition Camp in the Sussex Downs at the Wo-Wo campsite. And I loved it. From the moment I walked in when Mike greeted me and Alice handed me the key to the Little Owl yurt where I’d be sleeping, I felt welcomed and relaxed. It was a weekend where you could kick back, lead or participate in workshops and talks, sing around the fire at night and have transition conversations that the normal rush of life just doesn’t leave time for.

"These seeds," said Rebecca from Transition Crouch End, who opened the camp in a circle around the fire on Friday afternoon, “represent what we would like to plant here this weekend, so take one as they go round and consider for a few moments what you’d like to give and receive from the Camp. We’ll put them all in a saucepan and on Sunday, they’ll be cooked up and we’ll share in the stew.”

“They are called Victor beans,” she said, holding up a postcard that was now very familiar to me. I withheld my desire to whoop out loud. But I got my opportunity to speak when we went round the circle saying what we’d like to experience.

“Well, I’ve already experienced something amazing,” I said. “Those are native East Anglian beans, grown very near where I live and Josiah, who runs the Great British Beans business that promotes them is a friend and fellow transtioner in Sustainable Bungay. They make great hummus and falafels too by the way and feature regularly in our monthly Happy Monday meals. Talk about making connections. If the rest of the weekend is as enjoyable as that then I’ll be a very happy camper!”

It was. From working up some great harmonies round the fire on Friday as we sang into the night, to being lent a soup bowl by Claire and dry wellies by Nigel (mine were leaking and that first night was very wet); from learning the Basque word sapori (which means 'taste') from Urtzi, who also taught us how to start campfires, to learning the basic steps of the Charleston with Jo in a very dark tent as we sang along to the Muppets theme song. When I just couldn’t keep step, Christy took me gently by the elbow and guided me through. The Camp was like that; friendly, fun and people giving each other a hand when they needed it.

Most people at the camp lived in East Sussex, and were involved in local transition initiatives or wanting to start them up. But there were also transitioners from London, Buckingham, even Aberdeen. Peter, who was visiting from near Aylesbury gave such a great rendition of Singing In The Rain that we all asked for an encore the next night, even though it was dry by then and the stars were out.

Everybody was asked to do a stint in the kitchen, chopping veg or keeping the water fresh in the washing up bowls. Every morning there was hot porridge, fresh fruit and bread, yoghurt and raw milk from the biodynamic Plaw Hatch Farm nearby. Lunch and dinner were equally abundant (and very tasty) and made from scratch by the good-humoured kitchen volunteers.

Martin from Brighton led an introductory session the first night where we said our name out loud each time we spoke. Although the repetition felt awkward at first, I soon got used to it and remembered people’s names for the whole weekend. Not that I would forget Martin’s name. We shared the Little Owl yurt, talking and laughing late into the night and taking it in turns to keep the fire alight. Even though we’d only met briefly once before I felt like I was staying overnight with a friend from school again. It was great fun and really liberating. I reckon we could run a pretty good ‘inner adolescent’ workshop for jaded over thirty-fives! I even managed to turn three X-Ray Spex songs into lullabies and impose them on Martin before he went to sleep! (He did actually fall asleep in the middle of Oh Bondage Up Yours!).

If you ever need anyone to break the ice for a meeting so people can get to know each other, Martin’s your man. On Saturday morning he did another introductory session where each person told two truths and one lie about themselves. Where else would you find out that Lynne sang in a punk group called the Decaying Bogeys in the 70s (or was that the lie?), that Rebecca crossed the Sahara Desert, that I will be 52 next year, that Mike lived in a hippie commune on Ibiza or that Martin was a famous child star? True or False? Answers on a postcard.

On Saturday I held a Plants for Life workshop and spoke about my work in Sustainable Bungay this year organising the Plant Medicine bed and monthly events. St. John’s Wort was the plant of the workshop, and I passed round Rose’s bright red oil for people to smell and rub on and guess what it was. Then I read out the St. John’s Wort chapter from Charlotte’s book 52 Flowers That Shook My World, which was published this year. I passed around the hawthorn leather I made for people to share at the camp and we took a look at ragwort, a plant that brings up strong reactions on any wild plant walk. See here for a balanced, sober look at this plant. The hour and a half sped by and I finished by showing people how to roll plantain balls for bites, stings and incipient cold sores.

Don arrived on Saturday afternoon with the sauna - a bright pink converted caravan with a wood burning stove. Over the next 24 hours, the brave and hardy would cool down by jumping into the nearby river. Some just sprayed water on themselves from a container outside the caravan. I, of course, jumped into the river at every opportunity! Truth or lie?

There was a fascinating workshop making Sterling engines run by Louise from Buckingham in Transition with her partner.
“Buckingham. That sounds familiar. Did you start up the herb garden there?” I asked her. ”I saw a post about it some months ago and I’ve been meaning to get in touch.”
“Yes, that’s me,” she said.

It also turned out that the rocket stove Charlotte made at last year’s camp and that now sits in our conservatory, was the product of one of Louise’s workshops. There are a hundred and one instances of connections like these, but it’ll make this post far too dense to give all the details.

The weekend was filled with workshops on rhythm and resilience, permaculture and fairy tales for children. A foraging walk on Sunday led by Tanya Lodge, focused on the medicine chest in a stretch of hedge no more than thirty feet long at the edge of the campsite field. Dock, nettles, elder, rosehips and cleavers were all discussed along with how to make tinctures and dry herbs. And the redoubtable plantain made a robust appearance at the end. Did you know that plantain helps draw out toxins and heal wounds. Chewed and kept in  the mouth it can also helps with teeth abscesses. The plantain book grows by the moment!

At a talk on fracking and extreme energy, Olly introduced the latest data on Peak Oil, spoke about the work of Frack Off and showed us a short Australian film about a rural community who have united to keep coal seam gas (CSG) out of their area.

Suddenly it was 3 o’ clock on Sunday afternoon. Mark Boyle, The Moneyless Man, gave a sober and unapologetic talk about our relationship with money and how it affects our relationship with the world. Speaking about money exchange as a way of saying "I want no more to do with you", and examining the hidden pain and exploitation behind the consumer products we take for granted in our society, Mark exhorted all of us present to open and FEEL the damage that maintaining a consumer lifestyle is wreaking on our fellows both human and not, and the planet that gives us life. And to keep open and keep feeling...

Photos: Mike doing the morning shout-out of all the day's activities*; Great British Beans in the community pot; Woodland and Kitchen yurt with Saturday's talks and workshops*; Reading aloud from 52Flowers That Shook My world in the kitchen yurt**; the pink sauna caravan; Mark Boyle burns money By Mark Watson, *Mike Grenville and **Matt O'dell

This post first appeared on the Transition Network Social Reporting project on Saturday 13th October 2012

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - the foragers

One of the greatest gifts of Transition is rediscovering the simple joys of doing seasonal things together - cooking, cycling, swimming in the sea, having a picnic. They bring sense and meaning into everything we do. Nothing though is quite as delightful and satisfying as foraging - going out into the wild territories and finding stuff to bring home and eat. This Spring the cookbook was all about leaves and energising wild salads, the Summer about flowers and refreshing drinks, but as Autumn stormed in our focus switched to the fruits of the hedgerows. We set out into the lanes and commons collecting berries, nuts and roots.

In Sustainable Bungay we served foraged blackberries at our Happy Mondays Mexican fiesta and talked about Autumn Berry tonics made with sea buckthorn, elderberries and rosehips at our September Plants for Life workshop.

Our wild kitchen discovery of 2012 has been hawthorn leather. Here is Mark's first sculptural attempt. The second batch sweetened with apple worked a treat. Medicine for the heart and stomach.

Nothing, however, beats mushrooming.

This Sunday Josiah, Nick, Janet, Mark and I set out at sunrise to Outney Common in search of breakfast. It was fairly slim pickings but a great morning's foray. We found oak milk caps under the trees and parasols along the path, alongside ghosts of the summer meadowsweet and a bright blue patch of devils' scabious. The river Waveney winds through the dry and wet territory of the common, like a slow and friendly snake. One of the best swimming holes in the valley is down here.

"Usually you find the best mushrooms at the last minute," said Josiah as we crossed the footbridge home by the massive distribution centre of Clay's printing works. And true to form we did. There on the green under the lime trees were several fairy rings and two cracked boletes. Oh, and a sign saying Help Yourself to windfall cox apples. Janet filled her basket.

This weekend Nick will be showing Low Carbon cooks from Norwich and Bungay how to make fruit wines and root beers. He's planning to demonstrate his famous late raspberry wine in three stages and also how to start off a dandelion and burdock beer. Stay tuned for the write up next week.

Meanwhile if you would like to join the TN blog team, or come and celebrate our third birthday tomorrow with us and discuss the future, do swing by the Bicycle Cafe at 6.30pm. Come and have a dance too at the Keir Hardie Hall, starting at 8pm. Hope to see you there!

Sunday 14 October 2012

ARCHIVE: The Occupy Movement with pragmatist-tinted glasses

A year ago tomorrow a world-wide protest kicked off against the global financial system and people sat down together in city squares everywhere to discuss the future. This was the Occupy Movement that informed many of last year's blogs on This Low Carbon Life. Today's archive post is by Olaya de la Iglesia, one of the movers and shakers within Occupy Norwich, which held a protest camp on Hay Hill from October 15 2011 to February 2012.

To be able to put this into context I feel you need some background. I have worked full time since the age of 19 when I emigrated and I have gained a qualification through work and a student loan which I will be repaying for many years to come. I am now a healthcare professional who has worked up the NHS’ ‘ranks’ during the course of 10 years. I am what I would consider middle class with some quirks; I come from divorced well educated parents, grew up in an incredibly nice house for Spain in the 80s and my mother, who raised me, is a self confessed politically minded feminist who grew up in a fascist dictatorship but loves the fact I was hand-fasted for several years before I decided to get married. Up until 3 years ago I was apathetic and uninterested in the state of the world we live in. I did not understand or care for politics and I avoided watching the news because it depressed me slightly. I was asleep.

Then I started noticing that my life was not getting any better despite the promises that getting a better career would be fruitful. I was earning slightly more but with the increase in daily living costs I was still struggling to make ends meet. When I graduated the job market started to deteriorate and I ended up working 25 miles away from home. By this time it was the end of 2008 and nothing had changed much despite the ‘credit crunch’. There were talks of recession; apart from the rising diesel price I was not feeling it. But then came the day that I realised that banks were being bailed out and I started to feel slightly annoyed. I looked further into it and one day, while I was ‘Stumbling’ I came across the Zeitgeist movement movie ‘Addendum’ and then my blood started to simmer. I was outraged that this was allowed to happen. I wanted everyone to know but bringing this up at lunch, the pub or a family dinner, was answered with negativity and a sense that I was scaremongering. They would say ‘there is nothing that we can do about it’, ‘They would not allow things like that to happen’, ‘That is just a conspiracy theory’ . So I stopped talking about it.

In the meantime I was finding myself yelling at BBC breakfast quite often because all I saw was a small percentage of people getting away with huge bonuses for contributing next to zero to society. At work I saw the care I could provide deteriorate and I saw the consequences of lack of social and health service availability for vulnerable people. I was now getting annoyed enough to do something about it. I wrote to my MP and despite the fact I am not allowed to vote in the general elections I looked into manifestos to inform other people of policies and options. But they all turned out to be lies, ‘manipulated truths’. Promises were unfulfilled and the austerity measures were beginning to hit me. It was when the Health and Social Care Bill hit the limelight that I realised politicians were not representing us. They were failing at demanding transparency, accountability and responsible behaviour from the financial institutions that caused the downfall of our economy. They were getting away with it. The more I looked the more I realised the depth of the problem with widespread corruption and profiteering in the US and UK which had done nothing more than crunch numbers and speculate. Now I was angry.

I decided to start looking at the news in Spain to see if things were any better there and a couple of months later, on May 18th 2011, I saw online news of the ‘Indignados’ in La Plaza del Sol. I was awestruck; I kept looking for videos, blogs, Facebook pages, web sites. There were 30,000 people in a square protesting because ‘Politicians do not represent us’ and they were ‘not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers’. They were camping and by the beginning of June there were reports of camps all over the country where the aim was to take time, sit down, discuss the problems and use each other’s knowledge to provide solutions; this was getting deeper.

Tahrir square had shown a youth that was angry because their problems are worthy of anger. In Spain the graduates that still lived with their parents for lack of jobs and housing, got out on the streets and started to educate each other and devote their time to reach conclusions through consensus led assemblies. Soon older people started to join because those on the streets were their children and because as a worker or a pensioner they also had lost a lot in this crisis. But we were hearing nothing about it… at that point the line between ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘hidden truth’ began to blur.

I woke up. I realised I was not alone in feeling cheated and exploited. Validation brought me new resolve to raise awareness. I started a Facebook group and posted all news I found about Madrid, then the rest of Europe, Greece and, as I searched I followed educational links in sites, YouTube videos, lectures… I started to really look into why; I looked further into economics, politics, corruption, environmental issues. I was convinced this was going to spread far and wide because the conditions were ripe and a lot of ‘developed’ countries were at a tipping point.

Then, in September came Occupy Wall Street. I was amazed at the quick progression but was also confused by the lack of uptake from my Facebook friends and people in general. I was even accused of spamming by some and I have come to believe that too many are still unaware, asleep. They might not be affected enough (yet), they might not realise it, or they might simply be trapped in the freezing stupor that is apathy (I was there not that long ago), all this underlined by the lack of mainstream media coverage of the events.

Thankfully Occupy Wall Street teemed up with ‘Adbusters’ and called a day of ‘Global Occupation’ for the 15th October 2011. I searched day after day and soon found a local initiative and joined under some premises which were the few known characteristics of ‘Occupy’:
  • There would be no leaders so ‘facilitation’ and contribution to assemblies would be voluntary and shared amongst all.
  • There would be a ‘consensus’ framework where all had a chance to speak and discuss, finally agreeing on some actions in the future.
  • There might be a camp that would require maintenance but would outweigh its demands by providing a point of communication and a space for education while raising awareness. The camp was the pebble thrown in the pond.
  • We would aim to use the knowledge available to us and form Workgroups to educate each other and reach conclusions about the problems we face and possible solutions. Also events would be planned to raise awareness and aim to bring the 99% together in a public and open forum.
A lot of these things did happen but we also realised, like hundreds of other occupations worldwide, that our society is in disrepair and that a community is something some of us have to work at. Really hard. Many occupations became a beacon of understanding and social contact for those that are not able to maintain what we have come to consider a ‘standard’ lifestyle. I was faced with a daily choice between inclusiveness and maintaining a space that the majority of the population (the 99%) would feel identified with. This was for me a hard task. I am goal driven, to some extent I am a ‘means to an end’ and ‘glass half empty’ kind of person and, ironically I just saw Occupy as too big to fail, but highly likely to do so.

Regardless I got stuck in and I have contributed in the ways I could depending on what I felt was most beneficial to the movement. I camped when I thought that was helpful and I stopped when I thought it was more productive to utilise my time in other ways. Through the last 12 weeks I have learned a lot, changed my mind a lot, gone through emotional turmoil (mainly as a result of my impatience with lack of change) but I have come to some conclusions:
  • The financial system is broken, it’s unsustainable, it’s programmed to funnel wealth to a small percentage of the people in this world at the expense of everyone else.
  • We need to change financial processes to avoid speculation and overuse of limited resources for the sole purpose of profit and consumerism. In order to achieve this we need to change the law and socioeconomic policy.
  • The current political system is geared to benefit profit-driven enterprises (neoliberalist to generalise) instead of having social wellbeing at its core.
  • We need a political system that has dialogue, transparency, reflection-based change and accountability as their pillars.
  • In order to implement socioeconomic change, politicians and political process must also change.
  • For politicians to change and for the democratic process to evolve ‘the people’ (or the 99%) that are not represented by elected governments need to exercise this right proactively.
  • For the people to feel empowered and able to participate they need to educate themselves and others, raising awareness. If we all understand the system we can be involved in the dialogue to find solutions and implement them.
  • Greed is not, in my opinion, part of human nature. It is a cultural noxious trend and change needs to come from the individual, with the support of the wider community. We need to return to cultural values and a system where being productive to society is much more rewarding than abusing it solely for personal gain. We have to bring out our moral compass and start using it.
  • I want news establishments I can trust to tell me the truth, not some biased and misleading report or lack of coverage altogether.
  • Our planet has not limitless resources and the current system works under the premise that it has. We need to change the system but also ourselves to stop the consumerism and waste that is destroying the world we live in.
While ‘the global village’ is a beautiful concept, I feel localisation of resource gathering, markets, politics and general way of life is the only way to make change possible. There was a time when the leader of a community knew all its constituents by first name and probably had shared a meal with them. Now we have been disconnected from each other in a way that is impossible to truly empathise. We need to get out there, speak to each other and gain an understanding of the impact of our actions on others. Take action and once local communities are better managed we can set our sights further afield. There is some truth in the saying ‘You have to look after yourself before you can look after others’.


We start by changing ourselves, our way of life, and once enough of us are clear in what our aims are and are actively participating in a open dialogue we will begin to improve this unsustainable and unjust system. We have to think in terms of global community, serving each other rather than ourselves because surely, in a very selfish way, that would be a much nicer world to live in; supporting each other instead of screwing each other for money…

In the meantime, those that are awake can help the rest by condensing years of research and knowledge into bite sized chunks that we can explore at our own pace. And when we need it we can approach an Occupy initiative or other alternative source (i.e. alternative to current corporation funded institutions like news channels or governmental bodies) for further information and dialogue where the information exchange is two-directional, asking questions and getting answers from a physical person that you can build a trusting relationship with.

At the moment Occupy is in its infancy, and given that it is an inclusive movement there are many different standpoints on what we should DO. Some are set on getting the causes of the collapse written on stone, others rather wait for it to hit rock bottom because they can see that many will not join us until they stare at the abyss.

Some of us are keen to begin the discussion about solutions for many reasons but we can also see that we cannot rush the process because we all have different ways of communicating and working. It might just be too soon. One thing is certain, one by one we are all waking up to the injustices we suffer for the benefit of a few, and through revolution or evolution this will change because humanity needs to survive for the next generation to enjoy. The bottom line is self-preservation and nowadays predators wear Armani suits and talk about ‘how the rich contribute to society more than most’. But they do not have the upper hand because we ARE the 99%. Olaya de la Iglesia - Occupy Norwich

Photos: poster and black and white photographs from occupy Norwich gallery; colour photos (Charlotte Du Cann)