Category Archives: Transport

Growing for Resilience

Now that the children have left for university and city life, the simplicity of the resilience kitchen shows through. I’ve been exploring this concept in depth recently, researching for my next book.

I’m exploring food resilience in a rapidly urbanising area. If the global food transport network became subject to frequent disruption, you might have to live on stored food supplemented by what you could grow within walking distance. Local farmers and growers would become an important part of your landscape again, in between the arrivals of imported foods at the declining supermarkets.

The erratic income of an author is well suited to such experiments. My colleague, Linda Benfield, and I acquired an allotment this year, in addition to our gardens. With the extra land, we’re quite well off for fresh vegetables now. Next season, we plan to grow wheat and tobacco!

We’re not small holders. We depend on local farms – we still have a few – for milk, eggs and meat. Potatoes, grains, sugar and spices come from the food co-operative; other supplies from the cash and carry. We can’t provide everything for our households from two gardens and an allotment, but we’re learning what else we need. A lifestyle more in tune with the unfolding seasons, more importance given to locally based food suppliers, more gardeners!

We’re resilience gardeners, cultivating survival skills, and every little helps!

potatos-in-tyre1

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Happy Resilient New Year!

London Trains

The news about the rail strike on the BBC condescendingly described it as ‘a dispute about opening train doors’.

It’s nothing of the sort. It’s about eliminating human workers inside the trains and ultimately on the platforms too. The driver, who one would hope is concentrating on driving the train, now has to ensure it’s safe to move off without any second opinion.

I suppose there would be a camera feed of the platform to his cab – unless it malfunctions. There’s unlikely to be sound. The cry of a mother to her runaway toddler, the eruption of an argument about to get violent, a lone woman traveller calling for help; all go unheard. The train moves off like a hopper on a factory conveyor belt.

It’s not just emergency response which will suffer through this shortsighted plan, underpinned by greed. The London train system isn’t just a transit tube for commuters. It’s a conduit for tourists as well.

On my return from Iceland, I landed at Luton Airport. From the ticket machines at the airport door to the unscheduled diversion which took me miles from my destination without warning, I found this system to be relentlessly user-hostile. As the commuters flicked through the small entry gates, I had to drag my heavy suitcase to the double doors. I’ve often observed that these are temperamental; luckily there were still staff around to manage them for me.

I have an Oyster card. I use it once a year or so. I have no idea how the amount of money on it relates to a train journey. I don’t want to show my credit card to a machine. I want to be able to pay in cash and ask some questions at a ticket window, but these seem to have vanished already. The new streamlined system only caters for travellers who already know it off by heart.

Communters are trapped in this system, but tourists have options. Machines can’t respond to unusual problems as humans can. The combination of ancient brickwork and automation will always look tawdry and sinister, never efficiently hi-tech. There needs to be the reassuring presence of knowledgeable and experienced people in recognisable uniforms.

Train and platform staff are crucial to the London tourist industry.

Readers of the Resilience Handbook may like to refer to one of the recommended reading books here. ‘Small World’ by Mark Buchanan, chapter 8 ‘Costs and Consequences’ (p131 in my copy), describes how transport congestion affects the expansion of airport hubs. If train services in London continue to develop down this dismal path, the third runway at Heathrow could well become redundant before it’s even completed.

I’ll be flying from regional airports in future, and I expect many other tourists will make the same decision. The network will shift focus.

May Diary 2016

Well, April was something of a disaster!  I had to cut my South West trip short as there were problems with my car – it turned out the alternator was slowly dying and communicating its distress to the steering and clutch through the wonders of modern car electronics.  At least I got my boots ordered first!

Peugot on Dartmoor
Peugot on Dartmoor

I did manage to explore the fabulous Scilly Isles, ancient haunt of pirates, for the day.  I dined on fish at the ‘Admiral Benbow’ on my return – yes, I know it’s not the real one from the book but it had to be done!  Penzance Youth Hostel was excellent, one of those with a lively sociable lounge and valuable parking space.

If you go to Cornwall in the summer, don’t take a car!  My landscape reading skills tell me that the narrow rocky peninsula is not kind to vehicles.  You can get a whole day’s travel on the buses for the price of an hour’s parking.  If there’s enough of you to fill a car, check parking on Google Streetview, look for reviews.  It’s more of an adventure to go on public transport!

Adventure was the theme at Falmouth Marine Museum.  Sailing out into the unfriendly Atlantic in a wooden ship, with no engines to steer you away from the jagged rocks lining this coast – no wonder so many pubs are furnished with the spoils of shipwreck!  There was a Viking exhibition featured too, a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of these fearsome reavers.

The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanantion of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta
The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanation of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta

I had to limp home and forego my visit to Tintagel and the nearby town of Boscastle.  The flooding there in 2004 inspired the ‘Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience’ which was an important influence on the Resilience Handbook.  Bringing resilience into play, I renavigated my course to the Bristol Survival School weekend camp to go by bus.

My goal was to learn to use a fire drill, as featured on ‘The Island’.  I achieved that, but also learned that anyone who’s good enough to get a fire going with this method in under ten minutes – and there were a few! – wears a flint and steel around their neck.  Fire drilling doesn’t seem to be the preferred method, and it is very difficult.

I continued my work on identifying burdock in its first year stage, which is when the large tasty roots form.  I’ve nearly nailed down the differences with the poisonous foxglove.  Please don’t go digging up wild plants though, except with the informed permission of the landowner.  Use your Resilience Garden space – even if it’s only patio pots – to cultivate your own forage plants.  You only need to get to know them, maybe try a few…

making fire drill

Above, the instructor is carving out a fire drill set from raw wood.  Below, an ember has been lit from the powdered wood created by the drilling process, and has been transferred to a piece of bark.  At this stage you use ’ember extenders’ to nurse it into a larger coal.  This is placed in a hank of dried grass and blown into flame, narrowly missing your eyebrows.

firedrill ember 20160423_200120

Malta – Transport and Trees

We thought we had come well prepared for the challenge of hiring a car in a strange country after arriving late at night. We’d printed out a full list of Google directions to the hotel at the far end of Malta. Luckily my colleague, Linda Benfield, had also bought a map at Bristol Airport.  It was a very valuable last minute purchase!

The directions relied on street names. We found one later, sixteen feet up a wall in inch high letters, some of which were missing. Navigation was a challenge even with the Marco Polo map. Signage seemed optional, the names of towns changed as you got nearer and EU funding had inspired a proliferation of new roundabouts. There was even an extra tunnel to the ones depicted!

Hedgehog sign
Beware of the hedgehogs!

Being resilient, we had a torch to do map reading with, and made it to the hotel. The ‘Riviera’ sign lights up blue at night and is something of a landmark as you drive the the hairpin bends of Marfa Ridge. There was no need to worry about Reception closing, as a coach full of German tourists had just arrived.

Discovering it only took ten minutes to go from really close to our sought after destination in central Mdina, to being confused on Route One at the northern edge of the island was a revelation, and explained why we spent the first few days visiting sites at random as we stumbled across them. We were simply expecting too much distance.

Malta is a small island with a long history. Everyone knows their way around. If you’re able-bodied, there’s an excellent bus service – without, alas, the iconic yellow buses, which were stood down in 2011. Walking is a good option too. Some of the important Neolithic sites can only be accessed on foot. Remember the summer sun can be merciless in this open landscape; take water and a hat.

Land here has been cultivated for centuries and deforestation is a problem. On their arrival in 1529, the Knights of St John – soon to be the Knights of Malta – reported ‘an island without trees.’

Rural landscapes are divided into tiny vegetable plots, there is neither space nor water for many large trees. Although it was only 20 C in January, the impact of the summer heat was baked into the very stones.

The contrast with Buskett Forest Gardens was startling. Here, we found open water, running streams, cool and damp air. This reforestation project dates back to its use as a hunting preserve by the Knights in the 1600s. It’s now a Natura 2000 site. Native tree species from Malta’s once extensive forests support a variety of rare wildlife, including many migratory birds.

Buskett Forest Gardens, Malta 2016
Open water in the forest

On Sundays, as we discovered, many Maltese families come here for picnics, and the car park becomes very full. We were hoping to find the famous cart tracks and caves, which were surely just at the top of that hill, but couldn’t find the way. Perhaps it was signposted from the other side of the plateau. I recommend hiring a guide!

 

 

 

Now the Carnival is Over…

Crowds gather on the pavements among the chip stalls and candyfloss vendors, along comes the marching band, the radio van, the glittering phalanx of motorcycles decked out in swirls of LEDs.

somerset guy fawkes carnival 1

The sound of music, the river of light reflects on the sky as the waiting pageant powers up along the bypass – and the first great float heaves into view.

carnival floats somerset

Up the narrow High Street they pass – dancing girls and solemn statues, whirling steam punk cogs and horses frozen in mid stride, mighty warriors and young farmers in drag. This is their moment, the pinnacle of preparation!

Who else is crazy enough to hold a Carnival in November? Bracketed by gales and lashing rainstorms, Saturday night was dry but freezing. The huddled spectators make an equal commitment to seeing the event through. Road closures and traffic control mean they cannot easily leave, come wet or cold. You take your chances, and the right equipment – resilience in action!

The Carnival covers several towns, quite far apart. Sometimes, when driving along pitch dark country roads in the hammering rain, one sees the secret movements of these mighty machines. They glide past you in convoy, eerie on running lights alone. A flash of grinning jokers, snarling dragon jaws, giant clocks – they are gone into the night.

And then it’s over. The floats return to their obscure sheds, the costumes are packed away. The coalman is just a coalman again and the tractors return to work. Somerset turns its attention to the next festival on the calendar. The Christmas lights can be safely strung across the streets and the fourth year of our Buy Local for Xmas campaign begins!

buy local for xmas

Support your local crafters – the community needs to encourage their skills. Make your gifts budget count, they’re relying on you!

Diary May 2015

This month was something of a landmark as I finally parted with the Leyland Pilot post office van which served me as a mobile HQ during my event organiser days. I gave it to a young crew member, who will have ample opportunity to learn welding on it.

The nucleus of crafters formed during the Free Craft Workshops project are determined to continue some form of meeting. Instead of competing for custom, crafters should unite to reclaim the market for basic household goods. Supporting local businesses needs to become a much larger factor in consumer choices.

Remember, the more local materials are in place, the more resilient an area is.

Following a Resilience Plan isn’t all knitting and gardening. It sends you on adventures too. This month, I went on a day sail on a tall ship as my challenge for Water. The Handbook explains these things in more detail.

The Lord Nelson is part of the Jubilee Sailing Trust, who offer adventure holidays for the disabled. I was very impressed with the adaptations – even a wheelchair lift! – and the excellent crew. Not many people could cross the Atlantic in a three masted sailing ship, yet display such patience and consideration for novices.

I chickened out of climbing the rigging, even though the little old lady volunteer helper assured me it wasn’t as hard as it looked. Steering was more my thing, and I successfully navigated the 400 ton vessel around a lobster pot on the way back in to harbour.

Back to work, with a trip to Hay-on-Wye, where the Book Festival was in full swing. I haven’t been there since the first one back in the late Eighties; it has changed a bit since then!  Accommodation was scarce in Hay itself but a regular shuttle bus ran from Hereford, where I stayed at the excellent Somerville House.

It was fascinating to be among hundreds of people all carrying books, reading while they drank coffee or waited in the queue to hear their favourite author give a talk. I had my eye on getting a signed copy of a Neil Gaiman or David Mitchell book, but the shelves were stripped of these by Friday morning!

I did pick up a copy of the ‘Civil Defense Manual’ from 1950, of which more later.

And so home again, back to the office and the to-do list.

London Transport

After my experience on the Road to Hell, I reconsidered my plan to drive to London that weekend. Clearly, more vehicles was not what the situation there needed.

I booked a ticket over the phone with Berry’s Coaches, a local firm. I boarded at Glastonbury Town Hall, read Private Eye and a newspaper, and was in Hammersmith before I had got round to the puzzles.

The new Underground trains were a little disconcerting. There aren’t any divisions between the carriages. You can see down the whole length of the train, how it twists and leans on the track ahead. With an Oyster card, a stranger in town has to take the fares on trust, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by its remaining balance. The entire return trip from Somerset cost me under £30.

Cheaper than the diesel for my somewhat rural camper van. No worries about overheating in traffic jams, finding somewhere to park or straying into the Low Emission Zone! I have to admit that the air quality in central London is greatly improved due to this policy, which excludes elderly diesel vans, even if it puts me to some inconvenience.

News is easy to come by here. If you’re not hooked into the direct feed of your smartphone, there are free newspapers everywhere.

I read about the London living wage campaign, to which many firms have already signed up. If workers could afford to live within walking distance of their jobs, this would reduce the commuter traffic.

Labour threatened to change the name of the House of Lords to the ‘Senate’ and move it to Manchester. This too would make a major contribution to reducing congestion. The frantic dashing of lobbyists between Houses would be offset by the regular travelling of the support staff.

Finally, such a valid reason for the HS2 that one wonders which idea has precedence here. If there’s a joined up plan, why not share it with us stakeholders who will have to pay for it?

Life in the Slow Lane

I don’t often drive to London or the South-east, but I had to travel to Hastings recently.

We came in on the M3 onto the M25 and down the A21. There were traffic jams on all these roads, sometimes over twenty minutes long. Once in Hastings, we navigated around the city at a crawl. On the way home, we paid close attention to the traffic news.

A crane broke down in the anti-clockwise carriageway just north of the M3. Traffic was at a standstill in all three lanes, and eventually the gridlock seemed to stretch all the way up to the M1. Luckily, we were on the other side, and it only took us four hours to win clear of the congestion.

While on the M25, all we could see in front of us was row upon row of tail lights, four cars wide, stretching to the horizon. From the side, more vehicles edged into this choking stream. Lanes full of cars trying to leave lined the slip roads. Lorries, run out of legal driving time, were beginning to park on the hard shoulders.

The air was thick with fumes as gallons of precious oil burned away in this insane exercise. Has no-one told you people that this is crazy?

It wasn’t freight traffic causing the problem, but thousands upon thousands of people in cars. As it was early evening, one would have to assume that they were coming home from work.

Developers are allowed to create residential deserts, devoid of any meaningful employment. Companies working within London – and other cities – take no responsibility for bringing in thousands of workers daily.

The whole situation is driven by greed and need. There is a lack of joined up responsibility here which urgently needs to be addressed.

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

What do you need from transport?

You need to get yourself, possibly your family of young children, an elderly relative, maybe a dog, from here to there. You don’t want it to be prohibitively expensive, you don’t want to have to wait around in the rain or lug heavy bags a long way.

A car was the answer! Everybody got one, and then two, even three!

Then you begin to fall out with your neighbours over parking. The cost of running a car goes up by the day. You are getting unfit because you drive everywhere, so you consider a bicycle. The roads are too dangerous because they are full of cars. You think about the bus, but they are costly, infrequent and often unreliable or non-existent in rural areas.

Depending on your car means depending on oil, mainly from other countries. The news is full of the trouble and deadly conflict caused by arguments over who controls these fuel resources. You hear of the vast areas of pollution surrounding extraction sites.

Always the price you pay for fuel rises, and a disruption of supplies brings your entire lifestyle to a stop – this is not resilient!

We are addicted to the use of oil. It will not be easy to cut back, but it must be done. Local initiatives are the key to encouraging government and business to get involved. They will not do so without public pressure, both political and by the use of your spending power.

Change is happening slowly, but it needs more people to engage with the process. Here’s a couple of good places to start.

The Urban Walking route planner gives you a route map between any two points, including your journey time, calorie burn, step count and carbon saving. It’s quick, free, healthy and green!

Sustrans is a charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day. They work with families, communities, policy-makers and partner organisations so that people are able to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys, with better places and spaces to move through and live in.

 

© Elizabeth J Walker 2014