Category Archives: Food

Food Stores – Recipes For Resilience

Storing food is an ancient human habit, taking advantage of a surplus to get your tribe through leaner times. The range of storage methods available to us today are considerable, yet fewer people than ever take advantage of them. The most popular strategy seems to be stocking up on frozen ready meals, then zapping them in the microwave. No actual cooking involved.

Is this resilient? Of course not.

In an emergency, the mains electricity may fail. After a few days, your freezer stores will be turning into a waste disposal problem. There could be extreme weather outside which forces you to stay at home.  An injury, or contact with a contagious disease, might mean you are stuck in your home for medical reasons.  You need a back up.

Tinned and dried foods keep well, even in challenging places such as your loft or shed. Only store what you’re prepared to eat. These stores will need to be rotated as they go out of date. Your survival recipes should be planned to incorporate any other food which might turn up – garden produce, a delivery of rations, a community food share.


a box of emergency food supplies

This 32 litre stack box fits under an average bed and contains enough supplies to last one person for a fortnight. Porridge for breakfast, pan bread if you’ve no oven, a selection of stews and curries. I haven’t calculated the calorie intake, or added up grams of carbohydrates, just worked out a sensible meal plan covering all the food types.

A fortnight’s worth of emergency supplies can be a valuable asset to a household. Using a selection of your normal foods, as pictured, you have a back up when you run out of tomato ketchup, milk, beans, coffee. You can restock as these foods come on offer!

These stores are tailored to my preferences; what would you keep? Do you have special dietary needs?

Remember that, in some emergencies, you may not have mains services. Stick to recipes which can be achieved on a camping stove (have you got one?), or even an open fire. Learn about Dutch ovens, understand the principles of cooking and how you can use ingredients inventively.

My book ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century‘ has full details of this food store, plus over 100 recipes and seasonal gardening tips for growing your own vegetables with minimum effort.
Sensible preparations mean you’re never caught out.  The essence of an emergency is the unexpected, and panic buying can be dangerous!

 

Can you make jam?

The second edition of ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ is due to hit the shelves in a couple of months. The draft Personal Resilience Assessment, currently free to download here, has been updated and is included in this print copy.

In the Handbook, I present practical resilience as a course. You can work out your current basic level with the assessment and improve this using the Handbook. Unlike sustainability, practical resilience can be measured.

The assessment isn’t just another list of ‘100 things you can do to save the planet’. It’s a professionally constructed set of questions, chosen from thousands of options and tested for over a decade. Safely sharing our team’s abilities in practical resilience was a challenge.

The tasks described are all designed to lead on to higher levels. Take the innocent-looking question from the Practical Skills section – ‘Can you make jam?’

Preserving surplus fruit is a valuable skill, and one which the resilient individual should certainly possess. So much for the basic level, and you can stop there.

empty shelves 1 mar 18

Do you – or your neighbours – have food stores kept in a freezer? After two days without electricity, these will transform into a waste disposal problem. You can salvage frozen fruit by turning it into jam, if you know how. If you’re in the habit of making jam, you’re likely to have spare sugar, empty jars and the right equipment.

Follow the Resilience Plan into higher levels and you realise that a strategy to deal with this rotting food could be important, if normal services are severely disrupted. The Local Strategies chapter touches on this, but you would have to think about it yourself, preferably in advance of any need.

Firstly, take photos. Contact your insurance providers if you can. Then preserve as much food as possible before it goes off – how long have you got? Double bag the rest and bin it outside. Make sure cats and rats can’t tear the bags open. Keep enough deep plastic or wooden stack boxes with lids to hold the whole contents of your freezer in case there isn’t room in your bin.

Suppose you don’t have an outside space for rubbish? This is where established relationships with other people in your area come in handy. If you’d paid attention to the Handbook, you’d be part of a local group and can discuss this problem with people in the same situation. Maybe someone will come up with a plan. Perhaps you could contact the nearest recycling plant, arrange to gather up the food waste yourselves and bring it over, if there’s a car trailer available.

So, can you make jam?

 

‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’ goes into more detail around food – growing, storage and preparation. Find out how to improve your personal food security in cheap and achievable ways. There’s a recipe for making raspberry jam from frozen fruit.

The first edition of ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ is still available here.

Don’t delay – buy today!

How to be realistic about storing food for Brexit

Listen to my interview with Sam Mitchell of the Collapse Chronicles here, where I describe the concepts and history behind ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’

It’s very likely that nothing untoward will happen in the UK just after the 29th of March.  If it did, however, such a range of disasters have been forecast that you could hardly say you hadn’t been warned.

From the point of view of community resilience planning, the Brexit scare is a useful dress rehearsal.  With extreme weather, increasing global conflict and resource collapse, we’re bound to be ambushed by difficult situations in the near future.  Emergencies don’t normally book a calendar slot.

The possible effects of Brexit problems are centered around resource transport and distribution.  As I’ve pointed out in ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’, this system is far from resilient and needs steady progress in local sourcing to improve.  The abundance of single use plastic packaging is directly related to the way we move food around.

It’s unlikely that utilities will be affected, unless fuel shortages result.   Your freezer food stores should be safe in the Brexit scenario though I recommend using dried and canned food for your emergency stores as a rule.  A couple of days without power, and your freezer stock has turned into a waste disposal problem!

Store ingredients, not ready meals.  There may be some fresh food growing nearby, preferably in your own garden.  A random selection of rations may turn up.  Work out what’s useful to help combine a range of foods into a good meal.  I find gravy granules worth keeping, for example.

a box of emergency food supplies

Above is the demonstration box of 14 days stored food; the waterproof plastic container fits under most beds.  I wrote a blog post about this back in 2016 while researching for my next book ‘Recipes for Resilience’.  Below is a picture of the Resilience Garden, regularly described on this website.

Resilience gardening is designed to be low cost, in both time and money.  Replacing hand to mouth living with a combination of storage and forage allows you to ride out short localised problems without having to risk going panic buying.

If you don’t have a garden, get some potted herbs and practise keeping these alive.

Always keep food which you eat in normal life.  Even tins go out of date, so you’ll have to rotate an effective store.  Buy canned food with no added salt; in a different sort of emergency, you may need the water.

During a prolonged resource shortage, your neighbours may run out of food before you do.  There is a great deal to be said for establishing community food gardens in your area.  Paying attention to this can lead to a whole new local economy, as at Todmorden, Lancashire.  The Aquaponic centre and the Incredible Edible Farm, pictured below, came from grass-roots initiatives.

The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden

 

Incredible Farm Todmorden

I hope that the Brexit palaver will focus people’s attention on the fragility of a system dependent on imported food.  Buying local is more than just a slogan – it’s a survival strategy.

Buy ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ here while you still can – and look out for ‘Recipes for Resilience’, which has all the instructions you need to get started on the path to food security.

Food, Travel and Practical Resilience

Things have felt pretty relentless this summer – no sooner have I dealt with one thing than another challenge comes forward! Many other people seem to be experiencing the same problem; if you’re one of them, I think October should be a bit calmer. It’ll be a ‘new normal’ though.

With the struggle to keep the vegetables watered, we’ve had to let half of the Resilience Allotment go. The soil isn’t only poor, but infested with smothering weeds and disease. The brassicas succumb to a white mildew, peas dislike the exposed site and potato blight is endemic (because it’s ‘such a good idea’ to plant sprouting supermarket potatoes).

Beans, garlic and courgettes do well, and the raised beds used clean soil imported from the Resilience Garden so the potato crop was small but healthy. Due to years of selective weeding, this soil is full of seeds from edible plants. Left unattended for awhile, borage, marigold, rocket and spinach flourish. Unlike the perennial weeds they replace, these plants can be pulled up easily and composted.

allotment summer 2018

Towards the end of autumn, I’ll clear the ground and plant broad beans and garlic. Instead of the allotment area, I plan to build a few more raised beds in the garden. It’s easier to cultivate food plants nearer home when you have a busy lifestyle!

However, growing just that bit of extra food has meant far less trips to the supermarket, with a considerable saving in money. I got caught out the other day though. Hungry, and with a day’s wages in my pocket, I popped into the local supermarket to get a little piece of steak and some mustard. The bill for all the things I didn’t really need came to over £25! And I forgot the mustard!

Food is a major part of community resilience. It’s such a large subject that I had to write another book (‘Recipes for Resilience’ – out soon!) just to cover the basics of gardening and cooking.

Travel, on the other hand, benefits your personal resilience, as well as providing a welcome break from a dull or oppressive routine, You don’t have to go far – take a picnic lunch and buy a Day Explorer bus ticket. Pretend to be a tourist in your local area for the day.

Travel takes you out of your comfort zone and lets you practise carrying just what you need to get by. Combine it with attending a workshop on your chosen craft, or even go on a survival course for maximum resilience!

So that’s why I write a lot about food and travel. There are many other aspects to practical resilience however, and I’ll spend some time this winter going over the other sections of the Resilience Wheel.

Keep paying attention!

the resilience wheel

 

May Day in Glastonbury 2018

When Spring finally arrived in Somerset, it came with all the gardening jobs it was just too cold to tackle earlier.  May is proving another busy month!  The festival of Beltane, marking the start of summer, should be the time when you can relax, stop treading on the soil, and watch your crops grow.

This year, I had three batches of peas fail to come up – though one is starting to show now – which was a disaster, since this is a heritage variety called Telegraph which I’m seed-saving from.  The very last seeds were being soaked before planting – something I don’t normally bother with – when I took a day off to attend the May Day festivities in Glastonbury.

Morris dancing to celebrate Mayday in Glastonbury 2018

The Tuesday market was occupying the Market Cross, so the Morris dancing took place on the newly acquired patio of the Town Hall.  Speeches and bardic recitations followed until the Maypole itself was carried down the High Street by the Green Men.

approach of the maypole GB18

More speeches and announcements followed.  I was at the edge of a growing crowd and it felt like the sketch from the ‘Life of Brian’ (‘What did he say?’ ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers, I think’).  The procession wended back up the High Street, past the White Spring to Bushy Combe, as described in this post from 2015.

The White Spring is run by a committee of volunteers now, who endeavour to keep it open  as much as possible.  It’s well worth seeing if you’re in the area!

Glastonbury white spring rules 2018

The Maypole was duly erected following more ceremonies and recitations.  I would have preferred blessings on my peas to vague invocations of universal love, but few people appreciate vegetables these days.

It’s a colourful spectacle though; both celebrants and audience take some trouble to dress up for the occasion.  The practical aspects, such as untangling the ribbons as the pole goes up, offer plenty of breaks for chatting.winding of ribbons in the maypole dance Glastonbury 2018

Quite often in previous years, the ribbons ended up tangled in a big clump off to one side of the pole!  Now, enough people have got the hang of the right way to weave in and out that they can keep others on the right track – anyone at the ceremony can take a ribbon and join the dance.

This nice tight winding lasted all the way down.  During most of the dance, four strong Green Men braced the pole, as it takes a surprising amount of strain from the flimsy ribbons!  The completed pole is moved when all is done, and stored until next year when a new pole and ribbons are sourced, since the field is needed for other things.

 

The Community section of the Resilience Handbook provides advice on organising your own community events.  These are a good way to meet neighbours.  Even casual acquaintance helps, should you ever need to cope with an emergency together.  Make a point of attending local events, if only in a ‘walk-on’ role!

 

 

 

 

 

More about Foraging

Wild garlic, or ramsoms, is growing in profusion now.  It can be used in many recipes, added to soups and stews, or washed and munched raw.wild garlic growing

Below is the young leaf of a Cuckoopint, or Arum Lily.  These often grow in the same patch as wild garlic – weed them out of your own forage area.  Pay attention to the leaf veins.  They are branched, as opposed to the garlic which has parallel veins like a grass blade.  The arrow shape becomes more pronounced as the leaves mature.

arum leaf growing

If you eat cuckoopint by accident, it will cause a burning sensation in your mouth which can last for several days.

bluebell roots and leaves

Bluebell comes out a little later, so it’s fairly easy to tell the leaves apart from wild garlic, which will be moving into the flowering stage by then.  It occupies the same woodland habitat as the garlic too.

All these leaves vanish completely in the summer, except for the cuckoopint which goes on to produce its vivid orange berry spikes.  These are also poisonous to humans.  No sign of any of these plants is visible in autumn and winter.  However, the edible bulbs of the wild garlic are still there underground.

When learning this plant series, it’s identifying these bulbs which you should concentrate on.  Without any other clues, it could be tricky; you need to avoid including cuckoopint or bluebell in your forage.

wild garlic close up bulb

arum lily bulb close up

bluebell roots

Establish specimens of each in pots and watch them grow.  Dig up some roots and study them.  Wash your hands after breaking up the cuckoopint; if you have sensitive skin, it may be worth wearing gloves.  Once you have thoroughly learned all three, you are equipped to forage for them in the woods, should you ever need wild food.

In order to protect these important plants, it is illegal to dig them up in the UK without the permission of the landowner.  Hence you should grow your own for study.

When you do, you will observe  that the tiny first-year roots of all three look much the same – an oval white bulb about the size of a match head.  Only gather the larger wild garlic bulbs which have developed the brownish root skin.

Action task 9 in the Food section of the Resilience Assessment  requires you to go on a walk to identify edible wild plants.  Look for wild garlic in local woods or under trees in parks.  Are there more plants which grow in that area, such as daffodils, which you need to be confident of identifying?

The simple questions in the Resilience Handbook encourage you to establish a layer of underpinning knowledge upon which you can build your resilient lifestyle!

April Diary 2018

The weather in the Summerlands went straight from cold and icy to cold and wet.  I planted some onions, but the peas went in the neighbour’s greenhouse to get started, and the potatoes are still chitting in the shed.  I found out that you should wait until the soil is roughly the same temperature as the potatoes before planting them.  I’m experimenting with new varieties this year, so there should be notes.

The wasabi plants thought they might die, so they flowered again; they haven’t done this since the last snow, seven years ago!  There are four pots, all cloned from the same rootstock, and they all flowered at once, even the one kept some miles away at the allotment.

wasabi flowers UK

Starting with a scrawny two-year plant from the market, over the years their leaves have become smaller, glossier and tougher.  Wasabi are awkward customers in that they like damp but cope badly with slugs; they make up for this by thriving in the cold weather.

I planted out the burdock salvaged from the resilience field.  Three plants had shared a pot over the winter, and their calorie-rich roots grew so fast that there was hardly any soil left.  I’m hoping to start a breeding colony in the woodland strip.

I’ve written about burdock in ‘Recipes for Resilience’ as it’s a good emergency food source.   The root fattens up in the first year, and is used up in the second summer to produce the large flowering stems.  This is a good time of year to harvest these roots, but only the spring leaves can be seen.

spring burdock

Compared with….

The spring leaves of poisonous foxglove

Growing both these plants in your Resilience Garden enables you to study them in detail, so you won’t dig up the wrong one – note the foxglove is kept in a pot.  Feel the leaf textures and observe the shades of green.

Practise  identifying them on a forest walk – but don’t dig up wild plants as that’s illegal in the UK unless you have the landowner’s permission and it’s not an endangered species.  Take pictures, and return later in the year to see if you were right.  It takes a couple of years’ study to really learn a plant.

The dismal, threatening weather meant the planned Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Giving was filmed for YouTube.  None of us were confident about travelling to Lyme Regis, given the weather forecast!  Although we didn’t get much snow here in the South, the rain was relentless and there was a lot of water on the roads.

Saturday itself was almost a nice day.  I worked on some of the infrastructure projects in the garden, feeling that these should have been finished weeks ago.  The plum tree is blossoming with the utmost caution; the bumblebees are about, but I haven’t seen any honey bees yet.

plum flowers 2018

Winter slinks out of the door, turning to snarl “I’ll be back!”, as Spring tiptoes tentatively in.

 

 

 

 

Some Notes on Apples

It’s starting to look like a late Spring here in a thawed, but still shocked, Somerset.  Plants are cautiously emerging, but the buds on the trees remain resolutely closed.  As their roots are still dormant,  you’ve a little time left to plant out saplings.  This should be done before late March.

Apples are such a staple food that it’s good to have a tree in your garden.  Our estate was built on an old orchard, and a few of the original trees are left.  My neighbour has one, left to grow to its full size over several decades.

You don’t necessarily want one that large.   Techniques for growing smaller trees have been developed over the centuries since the sweet Chinese apple came over the Silk Road to Europe.  Our native crabapple was bitter, but adapted to the climate.  The sciences of grafting, pruning and cross breeding were known to ancient cultures.

Today, a vigorous rootstock is grown, then the top part of this tree replaced with a branch from a ‘fruitstock’.  The resultant apple tree takes on the shape of the root variety, yet provides fruit  from the graft type.   You can buy dwarf trees, bearing your favourite apple but staying quite small.

These aren’t cheap, and will be something of a fixture; it can be several years before you get any fruit at all.  It’s worth going to a short course with an expert to learn the basics of orchard management and how to apply these to your garden.  Knowledge of this kind is a community asset, as described in the Handbook, so I went on a refresher course.

Anthony Ward, our tutor, is the keeper of the Chalice Well orchard in Glastonbury.  We were planting some trees in a new field at Brook End Farm, situated where the Levels rise into hillier ground to the east.

You can see the knobbly bit on the trunk from the graft.  If you have a pot-bound tree like this, dig your hole square so the roots can spread out easier.

The stake is driven in after the tree is planted.  Modern ties allow more movement, as the action of the wind strengthens the roots.  The grass is kept away from the trunk with a mulch; a precaution ignored with less valuable trees.  For the first few weeks, make sure the sapling neither dries out nor sits in a puddle.  Then forget about it till it needs pruning, which is a whole other story.

This is the apple tree in the Resilience Garden.  It grew from an apple core hidden in a plant pot by my daughter.  Although it produces good red eating apples, it clearly wants to be a very large tree.  It’s an example of very bad pruning;  I tried to make a ‘goblet’ shape without taking into account the shading from the fence behind.  After that, I appreciated the courses more.

The mulch to the right of the tree is the filling from a defunct futon mattress, which I’m covering with a thick layer of leaf mould.  I have access to a large pile of this; otherwise I’d use soil exported from the raised beds.  The green shoots are wild garlic; they’ll be ready to harvest soon.

Wild Garlic Pesto

2 rounded tablespoons of crushed nuts (50 grams; 2 ounces)

2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed and shaken dry (100 grams; 4 ounces)

1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese – vegans can substitute yeast flakes

4 – 6 tablespoons of olive oil (100 – 150 ml; 4 – 6 fluid ounces)

a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt to taste

Blend everything together and serve with pasta!

I couldn’t resist adding that recipe, from ‘Recipes for Resilience‘…..wild garlic does make a lovely pesto and it has quite a short season.  I grow a lot of it under bushes and in the wild areas, as very reliable spring greens.  The nettles are coming up too – vitamins arriving at just the right time!

I’ve been asked to talk about resilience at the Earth Hour event in Chard, Somerset on the 24th March; I’ll be signing Resilience Handbooks too.   The daytime events are free, so drop in if you’re in the area!

 

Beijing and the Quest for Carrefour

We left the Grand Dynasty Culture Hotel and drove through the choking smog of the morning rush hour to Xi’an airport. We had a lot of turbulence on the flight to Beijing, but landed safely and were whisked off for more sightseeing.

It was much colder here; the ‘maybe later’ marketeers sold fur-lined Mao hats and warm gloves. Tired from the flight, it was difficult to properly appreciate the beautiful Summer Palace.

Summer palace lake with lotus

The Dragon Boats were moored for the winter; in the summer season, these rowed out on the lake. Once, the entire court used to sail between the Palace and the Forbidden City.

dragon boat Summer Palace

Although our own camera batteries were nearly done, we did feature in a lot of photos. Despite the crowds, there were very few Westerners here, and we were a centre of covert attention every time we stopped.

We crossed the Palace grounds at a brisk walk from East Gate to North Gate along painted cloisters (restored after the Opium Wars of 1860) used by the Empress Cixi. She was the widow of the Emperor, and ruled for 48 years until her death in 1906 at the age of 73. Her son predeceased her.

cloister windows Summer Palace

The sun set behind hills on our way to the hotel. Autumn had been and gone here, the leaves already fallen; it seems quite abrupt.

We were in a Mercure hotel, out on the fifth ring road of seven. Security was high; there was great confusion in the lifts before everyone realised you had to swipe your room card before you could select a floor!

The next day was to be a long trip to the Great Wall, which was apparently even colder than the city. Linda needed a hat and gloves; we were both out of camera batteries. There was rumoured to be a supermarket just opposite the hotel; we were highly motivated to go out and look for it.

Mercure hotel beijing

Careful to pick up a ‘please take me home’ card from the hotel reception, and take a photo of the entrance, we set off. There was nothing but a large empty courtyard behind the buildings directly opposite; we headed for the road and turned left, away from the hotel.

Most of the high rise surrounding us were decorated with coloured lights, so it was quite easy to identify landmarks. At the next intersection, we risked another perilous crossing – you have to watch out for cars turning into your road, even when pedestrian lights show green. The cycles and scooters are in a world of their own when it comes to traffic control, but they travel quite slowly.

Spotting a Pizza Hut in the distance, we made for that, and found a large shopping mall tucked away behind it. Our quest for a cheap hat led us deep inside, past the designer outlets, right to the far end. Here, we found a Carrefour sign and an escalator down to the strangest supermarket I’ve ever seen!

Camera batteries and gloves secured, we turned our attention to food. The mystery vegetables served at dinner were displayed in heaps; so much fresh meat was out that it was a wonder what they did with it at closing time. Bread and a profusion of little cakes were supplied by an in-store bakery; there was a selection of chocolate and biscuits, some of which were actually familiar.

Back at the hotel bar, we heard the tales from our fellow adventurers. Some people had found the supermarket; many had missed it and found other places; nobody got entirely lost!

view from room Beijing

In China, the culture is to buy rather than rent. A boy’s family must be able to purchase a property and pay for the wedding, or no girl will marry him. The families like to plant trees for their children in order to make furniture for their new home. Although Ikea is an important source, one or two pieces should be traditionally crafted to ensure a long marriage.

The relaxation of the one-child policy, dating from 1979, allows only children to have a second child without the usual massive fine. This is to help with elderly care, though youngsters employed by private companies are reluctant to take it up as they fear losing their jobs. Generally both parents must work, but childcare and schools are good.

Next week – The Great Wall of China

Chongqing and the Dazu Rock Carvings

We spent our last day on the boat relaxing. I made it to the early morning Tai Chi, then drank coffee on deck and sketched the Shi Bao Zhai pagoda while the others visited it. Sailing on to the Ghost City, we avoided another tour and watched one of the Bavarian group flying his drone.

This made the ship’s security officer quite nervous, especially when it disappeared over the hill.

Made in China,” commented the owner, as he packed it away.

After a peaceful journey through pitch dark empty valleys, we awoke the next morning to the New York style skyline of Chongqing. It was all high rise blocks and suspension bridges here!

The New York style skyline of Cjongqing, a Chinese megacity on the Yangtze River - adventures of a resilient traveller

We had to be ready with our luggage at 7 am, flasks full and lunch foraged. There was the chance to buy more food, if you could decipher the labels in the supermarket where we paused to provision ourselves for a day’s sightseeing. The dried beans flavoured with star anise were interesting, but the spicy snake wasn’t so popular!

Browsing the supermarket in Chongqing, few of the labels are in English

Meat floss bread - more ambushes for the vegetarians!
Meat floss bread – more ambushes for the vegetarians!

Chongqing is a steep mountain city, so cycles are rare. Bus and land rails supplement private car use. A few large houseboats were moored in the river; this megacity is at a key confluence.

Houseboats on the Yangtze at Chongqing

As we drove, we learned about housing and the cost of living. The high rise flats are sold by floor space in square metres, rather than the number of rooms. There’s no fittings when you buy a new build flat. It’s only a concrete shell with one tap, one electrical point and the standard underfloor heating. You add everything yourself. Ikea is big in China.

Entrance to the Dazu carvings complex

The Dazu carvings were right at the end of a huge modern complex comprising various courtyards and steps; it was quite a walk. Luckily the weather was still dry and warm. We crossed the Bridge of Separation, festooned with padlocks and ribbons. Red was for fortune and yellow for health. The path wound on through a pleasant forest until we came out at the central cliff face.

The camera is cunningly disguised as a palm tree

These huge, intricate murals were cut between 1170 and 1252 CE, at which point a Mongol invasion scattered the community. The carvings were gradually concealed in the jungle, and only recently rediscovered.

Ancient rock carvings at Dazu near Chongqing

The murals show various aspects of Buddhism. Heaven and Hell are pictured, with a disturbing emphasis on demonic torture. Rather extreme examples of filial piety and parental love are also depicted. The figures aren’t statues dragged into place, but a three-dimensional mural cut into the rock face itself. It’s quite a feat of engineering for the time!

More Buddhist carvings at Dazu

Our flight to Xi’an was delayed the next day, so we had time to look around Chongqing. They’re fond of sculptures here; we saw some very evocative bronzes. 

The time teller walked the midnight streets of old China, and always knew the best ghost stories!

The time teller, portrayed above, walked the midnight streets of old China, and always knew the best ghost stories!

statue at waterfall shrine Chongqing

There was an opera house, fronted by a collaged mural. Informal mosaics of broken pottery were a feature in this area; they were said to bring good luck.

Collaged mural on the front of the old opera house in Chongqing

snake and bridge Chongqing
The old and new are never far apart in Chongqing

The banyan tree is the emblem of Chongqing; we have no idea why this one was being drip fed. It was one of the many mysteries we encountered.

Banyan tree with bottles Chongqing

The guide rounded us up and we were off to Chongqing airport, where we lost our water and lighters again in the security check. A couple of sinners in the party had accidentally left lithium batteries in their hold luggage, which had gone on ahead of us; our group was called over to the naughty desk!

A couple of hours flying, and we were in Xi’an, the ancient capital city.

 

We occupied ourselves during the flight by reading the sign on the back of the seat. We’d finally worked out how to use the Chinese-English dictionary to look up words, and were very pleased with ourselves! It only took us a couple of hours to read six characters!

If I’m visiting a country where I don’t understand the alphabet, a small dictionary can be helpful, like a paper version of Google Translate. It covers the areas that phrase books don’t reach, such as ‘orthopaedic surgeon’, though it only works in countries where most people can read their own language.

It seems to me that reading Chinese is more like understanding a picture than reading a sentence. The meaning of each character is influenced by the ones surrounding it, which is why translation programmes struggle.

Keep off the grass image

 

Next week – The Terracotta Army