Category Archives: resilient communities

Diary October 2015

The Resilience Handbook has been out in print for a busy two months now. Distributing and promoting has taken up most of my time – learning to sell books from a standing start! I’m just about to go on tour, heading north through the scary urbanisation of the Midlands to Hebden Bridge for the Food Sovereignty gathering.

poster for Food Sovereignty

I’m planning to stay on and revisit the wonderful people at Incredible Edible Todmorden nearby – I hear their aquaculture project is thriving. Then, taking the North Wales Expressway which I hear so much about on the traffic news, off to explore Welsh bookshops ending up with a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. I hope the weather holds!

No wonder we obsess about the weather in Britain. I’ve had to pack for wet cold, dry cold, unseasonable warmth and days of torrential rain. I could get all or none of these during a ten day walkabout! I’m afraid I drew the line at taking a spade to dig myself out of snowdrifts, as my neighbour advised, though that may turn out to be a false economy.

Packing wasn’t the only weather challenge this autumn. There were two weeks of cold wet weather at the end of August. My optimistic crops of sweetcorn and chickpeas went mouldy where they stood. The slugs multiplied alarmingly, not even bothering to crawl into hiding during the long wet days.

Once things dried out somewhat, I had to clear up the wreckage and deal with Mollusc World Domination. I replaced the stone slab garden bed paths with oven shelves and bits of fireguard; metal grids providing no shelter for them, nor for Ant City. I’m normally quite tolerant of ants, but this year they managed to destroy an entire courgette crop and most of the broad beans with their bug farms. Chemical warfare, however, is just not on the agenda.

The elderberry harvest in early September was upset by this weather; it took far more trips to collect enough for the crucial anti-flu syrup and we may not have a full winter’s supply. Elder trees can exert a great deal of influence over their flowers. They will hold them back as buds during rainy days, then open them like sudden umbrellas as soon as the sun comes out. Much the same applies to their berry clusters.

My friend’s bees didn’t produce enough honey to see themselves over the winter, so they will have to be fed by humans. I don’t know if this was the weather. Perhaps they are on strike against pesticides.

Right. Departure delayed to let the high winds abate, but not for too long or I’ll get entangled in Rush Hour. I just have to check out Knit for the Planet – who are the Woolly Angels? – and pack some wool….

A Call to Action!

Today most people in Britain live in cities, in an environment constructed by other people, surrounded by things made by people.

It’s easy to become detached from the underlying reality, to feel that complaining about something on social media is radical problem solving behaviour. That if things aren’t going your way, somewhere there is another human being who is responsible for this, who needs to be goaded into doing something about it.

There is. It’s you.

The modern world is so vast and complex that it defies understanding and control. The authority figures you set up and love to hate have no more idea how to cope than you do. Often their core skill is in clawing their way to the pole position in a group.

You put them there.

By abdicating your continuing responsibility to participate in this understanding and control, you keep them there. Struggling to satisfy the needs of millions, while fending off predatory interests from outside. Nobody can succeed in this role.

Their only hope is to simplify everything. Let food be produced by huge farming industries, processed by a single firm, distributed through a vast network owned by one person. Then all the people they need to talk to can meet in one room. There is the comforting illusion of being in control of the situation.

If you’re happy to be painted grey, to fit in a box, to be collateral damage in someone else’s movie, then that’s fine. That’s where it’s all going; just keep calm and carry on.

Or start paying attention.

You can deplore the effect of supermarkets on the local economy – did you vigourously oppose their planning applications? – but are you still using them? Convenience is a word with a lot to answer for. Go exploring for alternatives. Make food an adventure!

When a chain store closes, is your community poised to replace it with a locally owned co-operative? Would people spend their money there to keep it going, to keep wealth in the area? If not, why the hell not?

It’s difficult and complicated to work this out. Food is only one of the factors you need to consider when reclaiming your responsibility. I wrote the Resilience Handbook to show you how to make a really good beginning to this process. It’s packed with information which you can research in more depth – almost every paragraph unfolds into a whole article, a speech, a coherent argument. The key feature though is the call to action, gaining the practical knowledge you need to develop by doing things.

You don’t get fit by talking about exercise.

 

A Resilience Adventure

One of the adventure challenges in the Resilience Handbook is ‘Visit a Repair Cafe and have a cup of tea.’ My budget didn’t stretch to a trip to Amsterdam or Germany, so I looked online and found the nearest one, in Bristol. This is held on the first Saturday morning of every month in All Saints’ Church, Fishponds.

I set off on the bus – I try not to take the car into cities – and navigated to the venue with the aid of my trusty A-Z map book. It took longer than I thought, and most of the actual repairing was finished before I arrived. There was tea though, and cake, courtesy of the church volunteers. I had a good chat with the organiser, Kate, and presented her project with a copy of the Handbook. It’s a pity there isn’t a branch of Repair Cafe nearer home!

Repair cafe banner

The networking potential of these meeting places was quickly demonstrated. Hearing me talk about resilience inspired a young lady to take me to the Feed Bristol Harvest Fair, a short walk away.

This event was so fabulous it was almost surreal! I felt as if I’d been transported into a Transition vision of a post-oil resilient community!

The Welcome gazebo was surrounded by tables of the most intriguing plants for sale – I couldn’t resist the Vietnamese Fish Mint – beyond which stretched polytunnels and plots under cultivation. Further in, excited children raced around tiny woodland paths, played in the sandpit, made paintings using mud and colourful flowers. Adults strolled more sedately, exploring the roundhouse, the herbal gardens, the tree plantings.

One could sip Fair Trade tea in the open marquee while listening to a string quartet playing in the autumn sunshine. It was a glorious day!

feed bristol harvest fair

The growing area – due to restrictions on images of children, I can’t show the actual fete, but there’s plenty of pictures on the websites

vietnamese fish mint

Vietnamese fish mint is not a mint, but does taste of fish!  And it’s very pretty.

At the Harvest Fair, I spoke with soap makers, food cooperative organisers, gardeners and teachers. The project is run by Avon Wildlife Trust; the remit is to create an edible yet wildlife friendly landscape, and it works very well. As I listened to the people who worked there, I began to realise that this project utilised the same core concepts as a Resilience Garden!

  • for use by the surrounding community
  • an emphasis on education, demonstration and experimentation
  • the abillity to produce large amounts of seed and spare plants to fast track other growing spaces in a crisis
  • creation of an edible landscape which supports a positive relationship with local wildlife, especially friendly insects and birds

Although defining a Resilience Garden is a struggle, I know one when I see it!

Areas like this should be a key feature in every housing development.

The Methane Saga

The Methane Saga

or

The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry

I was listening to a recording of the Kalevala, the Finnish epic poem, while crocheting. These tales were created to be spoken or sung, and I was struck by the way they harmonised with repetitive creative tasks.  One is busy but relaxed; it can be dull without listening to something entertaining.  Hence the popularity of knitting circles.

Imagine an extended family in a snow bound yurt dwelling.  After months together, interesting subjects for conversation may be limited.  How to amuse oneself while making socks or whittling knife handles?

“Tell us a story, Grandparent” comes the call.  Arthritic hands are no longer nimble enough to join in the tasks, but a fireside place is welcome.  And so it begins….

Tales created to be spoken communicate in different ways to those designed for the written word.  If you weren’t paying attention, you can’t turn the page back.  Listening to the Kalevala, I found that momentary focus on my work meant I lost a few lines, but not the gist of the plot.  Even if I had missed some crucial words, important concepts are repeated several times, key events padded out with description.

The ‘Hiawatha’ rhythm in which English translations of these poems are recited seems to bear little relation to the singing of the original.  There’s a sample of this on Wikipedia.  My musings on the ancient origins of epic poems may be mere fiction.

However, author Lewis Dartnell has speculated at length in ‘The Knowledge – How to Rebuild our World from Scratch’ on how we can preserve important scientific discoveries in the event of global catastrophe.  This style of telling seems well adapted to embed this information.  It falls into memory as if it were designed to, and the redundancy guards against attrition.

In the post-apocalyptic landscape, you can bet people will have to knit socks, possibly in a yurtish sort of dwelling. So I wrote the ‘ The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry ‘. It’s very long, a good sock’s worth to a fast knitter, so it’s on its own page. I’ll be checking the technical details with the biochar people, but as the epic points out ‘ And with care prevent explosion’!

The Resilience Handbook will be out soon!!

You can place advance orders here

May Day in Glastonbury

May Day – known by ‘rustics and dwellers on the heath’ as Beltane – has been a big celebration in Glastonbury for many years. People begin to gather around the Market Cross in late morning. Some are garlanded, or painted green and festooned with foliage. Singers and drummers arrive, the druids and bards in their regalia.

At exactly the right time, the rune carved Maypole is lifted onto the shoulders of the Men of Glastonbury, who felled and trimmed the tree it came from. They carry it up the High Street to the place where the Red and White Springs meet, on Chalice Lane. A merry throng follows them; children, elderly wizards leaning on their staffs, local politicians, gardeners, mechanics….

Everyone pauses at the Springs, to drink and mingle, to hear the next episode of the Summer story being told. Outside there is dancing in the sun, but in the dark pillared cavern of the Wellhouse there is an eerie, otherwordly atmosphere. The reflections of dozens of candles ripple in the flowing water, illuminating strange icons, masked and horned, in shadowy alcoves.

The place echoes with a wordless singing. No-one is performing. It is the separate voices of the people wandering gently around the maze of pools, each lifting up their voice in a single note as they pass through.

The occasional traffic becomes impatient, and the motley crowd moves on to Bushy Coombe. The hole for the Maypole is already waiting – dug by the Women of Glastonbury, of course. A huge circle froms around the May Queen with her consort and entourage. The chief druid steps forward and calls upon the elements, personified by costumed celebrants. The Green Men ready themselves to lift the pole as the Queen attaches the ribboned crown.

“I like your pole,” she says to the King.

“It’s a very long one,” he replies slyly.

Up goes the Maypole, wedged securely in place. A brief instruction on the dance follows but, since everyone is welcome to have a go, it is soon a round of happy chaos. One of the bards sees to the loose ends, while the others prepare to close the ceremony. They dismiss the elements with thanks; the Royal Pair retire to their willow bower to dispense honey cakes and mead.

Gradually the participants drift away, heading home in their bright clothes like windblown confetti, to the wonder of passing tourists.

Shop Local for Xmas

It’s beginning to seep into national awareness that independent, locally based businesses might serve their communities better than identikit chain stores with obscure agendas.

With the destructive competition these small enterprises face from multinationals, the few that still populate the High Street need your support. It’s estimated that around £40 billion will be spent on Xmas in the UK this year; over £750 per household.

Spent locally, remaining in your area instead of instantly vanishing into a remote Head Office, this money could bring about a serious increase in prosperity.

Take a long tea break to think about this, and plan your holiday spending. Shopping in the scattered local outlets will take longer than a trolley dash. Spread it over a few weeks. Be organised so you don’t buy something twice in the last minute rush.

Set a budget for presents. See what you can find at craft fairs. Socks, especially good hand made ones, are underrated. Bath products are often welcome.  Of course you’ll be able to buy more industrially produced items for the same money. Quality is the point here. It’s a gift; it’s the thought that counts not the weight.

Traditional crafts are struggling to stay alive, despite their key role in a resilient society. The few people who persevere have to price their goods at the luxury end of the market to compete with factories. They need your custom more than the supermarkets do, and give far more back. Choose your loyalties.

Half of the total Xmas spend is on gifts. In Somerset alone, this comes to over £80 million, the same as a quarter of the annual County budget.  Another third is spent on food and drink.

Write a shopping list. There’s plenty of food you could buy well in advance. Farm shops often sell chutneys, jams and pickles. Xmas cakes keep for weeks and are often on sale at markets. Consider making your own mince pies.

The best way to buy your Xmas dinner is to order fresh locally reared organic meat from the independent butcher. If you’ve never done this before, consider there may be a bit of a queue on collection day. Bring an umbrella, a newspaper, be prepared to chat to people, live a little slower.

Spend your Xmas surrounded by food, drink and gifts which that have meaning, not just labels. Start planning now!

local craft shop
Buy craft materials for friends at shops like Glastonbury’s Over the Moon
Stevens butchers on Glastonbury High Street
and while you’re in the High Street, check out the more exotic preserves at Steven’s Butchers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radiation Measuring Devices

One click on a Geiger counter signifies a single nuclear disintegration, but not the type of radiation released by it. This could be alpha, beta or gamma. The clicks per second can be easily translated into becquerel, and will give the rate at which the living tissue is receiving radioactive particles. The intensity of the radiation source is being measured here.

The biological effect of this, expressed in sieverts, depends on several other factors. A conversion between these units is not easy. Modern devices provide a ‘best guess’ of the sievert equivalent. Some may not detect alpha or beta radiation. Incorporating a mica window allows these particles to be measured, though calibration to sieverts becomes more challenging then.

Microsieverts (µSv) are the most common unit. American equipment may be calibrated in millirems (mrems). One millirem equals ten microsieverts.  Millisieverts (mSv) may also be used; one millisievert (1000 µSv) is a dangerous dose.  [100 mrem; the recommended maximum yearly exposure for the general public]  As radiation is accumulative, you should leave the area as quickly as possible.

Some Geiger counters will give data on dose per hour. The average safety limit for workers in the nuclear industry is 20 mSv/year. Firefighters at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant received an average 12 Sv over their period of exposure, from which all were ill and 30 died quickly.

Radiation on food or in water is harder to measure. Dust from a nuclear incident lands on these and contaminates them. Careful calibration against background radiation and long measuring periods, up to 12 hours, are required. Although the intensity of these sources may be low, the biological effect is compounded by ingesting them. Covering food, bringing farm animals indoors and filtering water can help.

A Geiger counter will not tell you what kind of radioactive sustance is present on food. Safety limits range from only 10 becquerels per kilogram when dealing with plutonium, to 10,000 Bq/Kg for tritium or carbon-14.

The best use of a Geiger counter in a serious emergency is to find a safe place, with a tolerable level of radioactivity. You should remain under cover until the majority of the fallout has dispersed. Four days is a recommended minimum, so a reading of 10 mSv would be the upper limit.

Remember you are keeping dust out, so you are better off in a building. Make sure there is enough water. The longer you can stay there the better, as fallout will now be covering the ground. The danger comes from inhaling or ingesting these fine particles.

Good luck with survival. You might wish you’d been less hostile to wind power.

 

Measuring Radiation – Sieverts and Greys

The International System of Units (SI) is the most popular system of measurement globally. Radiation units have been brought into this. Becquerels measure quantity and coulombs per kilogram are used instead of roentgens to denote exposure.

Grays (Gy) measure the absorbed dose. A gray is defined as the absorption of one joule of radiation energy by one kilogram of any matter, not just air as with the roentgen unit. One gray is equal to 100 rads. Five grays at once is a lethal dose. Diagnostic medical treatments are usually measured in milligrays (mGy).

An abdominal X-ray gives a dose of 0.7 mGy, while a computerised tomography (CT) scan is higher, at about 6 mGy. Cancer treatments exceed the lethal dose, but in small increments. Up to 80 Gy can be given, in doses of 2 Gy at a time.

Any given amount of radiation may not have the same biological effect. This is influenced by differences in the type of radiation and the conditions of exposure. Where X-rays and gamma rays are concerned, the absorbed dose is the same as the equivalent dose. If alpha particles are involved, the biological damage is more severe and weighting factors are applied. The sievert is the resultant unit.

A sievert (SV) is the standard international measurement of equivalent dose, replacing the rem. Sieverts express the potential for damage to human tissue, and are related to grays. One sievert is equivalent to one hundred rems, which would be a lethal dose. A microsievert (µSv) is one millionth of a sievert. One tenth of a microsievert is the natural radiation found in an average banana.

part four ‘Measuring Devices’ to follow

Measuring Radiation – Curies and Becquerel

Devices are available to measure radiation, from expensive Geiger Counters to smartphone apps. There are several different units used. Some areas or items have naturally high radiation levels which confuse readings. It’s difficult for an amateur to work out how dangerous a source might be.

Curies and Becquerel

A curie (C) is the original unit used to describe the intensity of radioactivity. It is based on the physical properties of radioactive material, as the dangers of exposure were not well understood at the time. One curie is the radioactivity of a single gram of radium.

A microcurie is a millionth of a curie and a picocurie is a trillionth. Thirty seven billion becquerel (Bq) equal one curie. A becquerel is thus about 27 picocuries (pCi). Modern convention has replaced the curie as a unit with becquerels. As these are tiny, measurements are often given in kilobecquerels (1000 Bq) or megabecquerels (1,000,000 Bq).

The unit is named after the French scientist who discovered radioactivity, Antoine-Henri Becquerel.  It describes one atomic disintegration per second. These disintegrations release energetic particles, which are the basis of radioactivity. The process is called decay.

Alpha particles are the largest, the same size as a helium atom. Beta particles are smaller, but can be stopped by a shield only a few millimeters thick. Gamma rays, a sort of proton, can penetrate up to two feet of concrete.

Skin and clothes protect against the larger particles. If radioactive atoms enter the body, however, these particles will hit cells directly during decay. A nuclear incident distributes these atoms in the air, water and food.

Radioactive material presents two types of hazard. There is the danger of being too close to an emitting source, and the risk of ingesting small fragments of it. This risk increases dramatically if the source explodes. Nuclear fallout is the resultant dust.

Although the luminous properties of radium and other elements were exploited for various gadgets, the dangers of emitting sources are now recognised. The public are unlikely to come into contact with them, except during medical treatments.

X-rays and radiotherapy both use radiation. A means of measuring the risks to patients and staff was needed. New systems were explored, designed to express the biohazard aspect, the actual damage done to living tissues.

Part Two ‘Roentgens, Rads and Rems’ to follow

© E J Walker 2014

 

A community transport hub

Imagine not a simple bus shelter, but a small building in every village, at every key location in towns and cities. It’s furnished with cushioned chairs, magazines and a water dispenser. The place is kept clean and maintained by a rota of local people. The solar panels on the roof provide power for lighting – including the ‘Stop’ light outside so that the bus driver knows there are passengers to pick up.

Buses come every hour at most and there is thoughtful scheduling of connections. No matter how long or awkward your journey, you never have to wait more than an hour to catch your next link. Fares are cheap. A day pass costs scarcely more than a single journey. A conductor helps you on with your luggage, and can advise you about other services.

There are lockers in the building, operated by tokens or small coins, where you can leave your shopping and go for lunch. Or lock your bicycle to the racks outside and store your wet weather gear to catch the bus for the trip to work in town.

Shoppers are transported directly into the town centres. The independent shops do well, local produce sells and is encouraged, money stays within the community. Many new jobs are created.

There is a community notice board at the hub, with news of events, official meetings, items for sale or wanted. At busy times, a local business brings a small mobile stand for newspapers and refreshments. There is a roll-out awning on one side of the building to protect a weekly produce stand, or a sale in aid of some project.

The buses are partly run on electricity, and there is a charging point close to the hub, perhaps powered by the community windmill. The surplus is available to local disabled people to charge their small electric cars.

A network of bicycle tracks links these hubs. They often use different, traffic free routes with the occasional shelter along them in case of heavy rain. Footpaths sometimes follow these routes, sometimes diverge into wilder, more scenic areas.

Where does the land come from for these hub buildings?

Car parks.

© Elizabeth J Walker 2014