Category Archives: travel

Ice and Mirrors

There was barely time to repack my bags before I had to head off for a few days in London.  I took a Berry’s Coaches bus to Hammersmith in the morning.  My neighbour was part of a group of retired Girl Guide leaders – we began to chat when she commented on my lucet.  Not many people would know what one was!

I navigated to my destination in the far West of London – the very area ravaged by H.G.Wells’ Martians – by bus. Regular travellers may complain about the incessant destination announcements, but they are vital to the tourist

My sister and I took the train from Surbiton to Waterloo for a day out on the South Bank. The Tate Modern had an outdoor exhibition by Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson, called Ice Watch.  Thirty blocks of ice from Greenland were arranged in a rough spiral, reminiscent of standing stones, and left to melt, as a statement about global warming.

ice watch exhibition at tate modern london dec18 1

Some of the ice had veins of subtle colour running through it.

ice watch exhibition at tate modern london 5 dec18

It became very cold that night.  I wondered what kind of statement it would be if the ice gained weight instead, and whether the effect of the cold weather on the pool of water the exhibit generated had been properly considered

We climbed the stairs to the Members’ cafe, which has a good viewing balcony.

ice watch from the members balcony at the tate modern december 2018

The traditional vista with St Paul’s cathedral was impressive too.

classic london skyline from members balcony tate modern dec18

The Hayward Gallery also had an interesting exhibition, called Space Shifters, featuring mirrors and transparency.  The rocks and pillars in the picture below changed colour in a most intriguing fashion as you walked among the frames, some of which were filled with glass.

colour changing rocks at hayward gallery london south bank december 2018

yayoi kusama at hayward gallery london south bank dec18

This picture is of ‘Narcissus Garden’ by Yayoi Kusama.

oil reflections richard wilson hayward gallery dec18

The exhibit by Richard Wilson was genuinely unsettling.  The metal structure is a walkway projecting into a room filled with used engine oil right up to the very level of the handrail.  Although the oil is deep black, it holds a perfect reflection of the upper half of the room.  The walkway narrows as you go deeper in.  One is held by the illusion, yet at the same time aware that to touch the edge of the walkway is to court disaster – at least for your clothes!

As a country mouse I always find the South Bank entrancing.  It seems to me to be the real heart of London, with the booksellers’ market, the colourful skateboard arena, and the performance artists.  This vibrant street life takes place against the backdrop of the art galleries, the famous Globe Theatre, the London Eye.  If you tire of land, you can lean on the handrail and watch the River Thames rolling slowly to the sea, washing scraps of history up along its gravel shores.

It’s a good place for reflections.

 

The ice blocks have melted now and there is a good timelapse film of this, which can be found on Olafur Eliasson’s website.  Like its subject, the film is already vanishing into the sea – this one of the discarded ephemera from yesterday’s social media.

It’s easy to find beginnings, new news, the latest topic.  Discovering what happens next, how it ends, is far more difficult.

Next post, by popular demand…..How to be realistic about storing food for Brexit

 

Reflections on 2018 – the Year of the Earth Dog

A strange year, which somehow seemed to span two or three, yet provide hardly any time for writing.

I’m sure the dramatic contrast of heavy snow in March with the searing drought of June contributed to this illusion.  It was certainly hard work to grow food, and we’re going to redesign the allotment towards even lower maintenance.

It’s being replaced by more raised beds in the Resilience Garden, to fully utilise the south-facing aspect.  When I worked at outdoor events, this area was paved to store equipment trailers; now the slabs look untidy, so I’m just creating another layer on top.  Our experiences with the allotment validated our use of raised beds in difficult growing areas.  One day town car parks may return to the market gardens they once were.

I completed my photo diary of Towntree Farm in all its seasons.  It’s a pity I couldn’t catch it under snow, but I’d never be able to get there through the lanes!  Now I just have to sort the pictures and decide what to print.  I plan to make an album as a gift to the farmer.

Statue at Towntree farm

Having retired from event services, ambushed by a lack of pension, I supplement earnings from my writings  by cleaning in some of the high-end bed and breakfast places locally.  The sense of ambience developed by arranging festivals is a completely transferable skill.  A room cannot be cleaned properly for a new guest in under an hour – if I can’t have that when travelling, I’d rather go to hostels.

However, there are only a limited number of hours in the day to accomplish this.  Visitors start to leave at ten and new ones will arrive by four o’clock at the latest.  The work should be done by then – many cleaners prefer to be unseen by guests, like invisible fairies!

The nature of the job is thus that one must work six days a week to earn enough to keep a house going at even the most basic level.  A room in a shared house would be easier to manage, but this is part of the resilience agenda where I encounter barriers.  Shared housing is increasingly popular among young people in cities, but not well supported elsewhere.

Despite the hard work and general air of gloom over the latter part of the year, I did manage a couple of short adventures.  My daughter took me to Cardiff to see Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ musical show, which was awesome!

waiting for the show to start war of the worlds dec18
waiting for the show to start

The whole concept is unique, harking back as it does to a book written 120 years ago, and the performers did it justice.  The way in which sound, lighting and special effects can be combined these days would surely delight the original author, whose love of science was well known!

We stayed at the Park Plaza Hotel, which was pleasant and well situated.  We were able to walk from the central station and leave our luggage at the desk, since we were early for check in.  Xmas shopping was in full swing; we picked up novelties like chocolate spanners and giant marshmallow teacakes, which haven’t made it to rural Somerset yet.

A rare double decker carousel entertains Xmas crowds in Cardiff
A rare double decker carousel entertains Xmas crowds in Cardiff

An excellent buffet breakfast in the morning, and more retail therapy in the big city, before returning to Somerset by train and bus.  I’m using public transport, instead of driving, far more these days – another car on the roads doesn’t seem helpful.

The Park Plaza Hotel grows some of its own kitchen herbs
The Park Plaza Hotel grows some of its own kitchen herbs – very resilient!

There was barely time to repack my bags before I had to head off for a few days in London….but that’s another story

 

When I speak of the plans based on ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ I refer to ‘Level One’.   This is, as described in the Handbook, the very basic level of practical resilience which should be second nature to any citizen, and is easily achievable even today.

The universal understanding of key infrastructure is crucial.  Remote, centralised systems should be moved towards local  management.  We need to become a resilient civilisation, and start the long process now.  There are clear, measurable goals at every level from personal to global.

I’ve refrained from describing further levels until now, collecting feedback on the first stages of the Resilience Project, but I have been exploring them.   The work I’m doing on food security would be about Level Five, I suppose.  It’s embedded in a much deeper lifestyle change though – living as though resilience was already happening.  What would be the same?  How might things change?

Buy ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ from this site, not through Amazon, so that the project actually benefits from your purchase. 

As the song says don’t ‘give all your money to millionaires’!

Next post – Ice and Mirrors

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

 

From Somerset to Germany by train

In the chilly Spring, following the late snowfall, a Continental holiday sounded like a good alternative to the usual wet British summer.  On impulse, I decided on a visit to Regensburg.  Our fellow tourists in China had been a group of Bavarians, and they’d recommended this city.

I have to say, I’d endorse that.  For the atmosphere of Old Europe – the cobbles, the tiny alleyways leading to the river, the baroque architecture – it’d be hard to beat, though I admit my experience is limited.  Night life looks cheerful and varied too; mainly around the theme of beer!

I booked a hostel for a few days in July, and considered the journey.  It didn’t seem enough of a challenge to fly; I wanted to see some of Europe from ground level.  I’d never been on the Eurostar – I decided to get the train.

Booking the trip was difficult.  Our upload speed here is so poor that security checks time out before completion, so I have to pay for orders by phone.  None of the budget train companies have an effective phone line for this; you’re routed around in a circle back to their website.

Eurostar did eventually answer their phone after a long wait and confirmed that they did take payment on that line.  However, I had to check the rest of the travel first, so I called Deutschbahn.  I expected yet another recorded information line, but was pleasantly surprised when the phone was answered after two rings by a helpful lady who spoke perfect English.

I bought a ticket, including the Eurostar, for about £200 return.  There were a couple of seat reservations – which turned out to be important – and exchange fees in there too.  The tickets arrived within the week, carrying a stern admonition not to lose them.

It’s always useful, or at least comforting, to carry photocopies of important travel documents like these.  Your travel insurance may be able to help if there’s a problem.

Somerset is a bit disconnected with public transport, as well as the internet.  The most chancy part of any journey is the bus from the end of my road to Bristol, where international travel begins, so I never cut it fine with timing.  Booking on the 6.13am Eurostar had saved me nearly enough money for a cheap hotel in St Pancras, allowing the trip to London to be made in a leisurely fashion.

This time, however, it wasn’t the 376 bus which let me down, but Great Western railway.  I was warned the previous day, by email, that trains would be disrupted and it would be good if I went another day.

temple meads train timetable trouble

I had to go to Bristol tiresomely early, and got on a very crowded train to London Paddington.   However, as part of the research for my adventure, I’d read ‘Infrastructure‘ by Brian Hayes, and was soon diverted by observing the complicated arrangements of wires, poles and boxes whose functions I was learning.

railway infrastructure

Navigating the oppressively hot Tube to St Pancras, I arrived an hour early for check in at the European Hotel in Argyle Square, a couple of minutes walk from the station when you went the right way.  I had lunch under the shade of the trees in the little dusty park opposite while I waited.

Once I’d left my luggage in the tiny room, I walked to the British Museum, not far away.  There was an interesting exhibition of ethnic art, mainly from sea-going communities, but the place was packed and the air conditioning inadequate.   The streets were depressingly litter-strewn as well, and the bins not emptied often enough.  For a major tourist destination, London could do with some work!

st Pancras International July 18

It was much cooler the next morning at 5 o’clock when I headed for St Pancras International.  The check in for the Eurostar resembles that for air travel; you’re advised to start the process an hour before departure.  Although manual check-in was quiet at this time of day, it had been quite crowded the previous afternoon.

With Deutschbahn, the ticket is a Fahrkarte.  The other official bits of paper are only the Reservierung, reservation slips – make sure you have the right one ready!

The Departure lounge had only one cafe-bar, and probably not enough seating for busy periods.   Boarding begins about 20 minutes before the train leaves, when there is a terrific rush for the right platform – pointless as all seats are reserved!

Eurostar destination board

It was difficult to find the right coach, as their numbers were shown on a digital display which one needed to be looking directly at.  From the side, it seemed to be a plain metal insert of some kind.

The train was quiet at this early hour, speeding through the waking countryside.  A brief glimpse of the sea, then we plunged into a dark and featureless tunnel.  Emerging into daylight, it was difficult to believe that this was France.  The pylons were a different shape, and the sea was behind us.

Brussels Zuid and Midi

I’d been a bit worried when planning my journey that trains to Germany left from Brussel-Zuid, while the Eurostar arrives at Brussel-Midi.  They’re right next to each other.  Exit the Eurostar platform towards ‘Correspondances’ and that takes you to the Brussel-Zuid end of the station.

Find your train on the departure board.  It’s useful to know the train number, which should be on your ticket.

destination board at Brussels Zuid

I headed for Platform 5, but this soon became so crowded with passengers and trains for Paris Nord, that the Frankfurt train was relocated to Platform 3.  Luckily I’d been chatting to a Belgian lass, who tipped me off, as I wouldn’t have known from the announcements.  Keep a close eye on those destination boards for last minute changes!

Platform train info Brussels Zuid

Your train vanishing from this helpful platform display may be another clue that it’s not coming!

There was more trouble in store for me at Frankfurt, where I accidentally got off at the Frankfurt Main (Airport) stop.  A main station in Germany is, of course, a Hauptbanhof; ‘Main’ in this case was referring to the river, as I realised much later.  However, everybody else was leaving the train, so I followed.

By the time I had worked out what was going on, it was getting late.  Hastily buying a ticket for a regional train which would take me to Frankfurt Haubtbahnhof and my connection to Regensburg, I raced to the platform.  We all dashed over the bridge to another platform when the train arrived there instead (this seems to be a popular sport!), then there was a painfully slow journey as it stopped very thoroughly at a number of stations on the way.

I arrived three minutes before my train left, found its number on the destination board, identified the platform and ran down a very long concourse to arrive with seconds to spare!  It was some time before I could catch my breath enough to look for a seat!

Someone had mine; the conductor found me another one when the train got busy, and people were sitting in the corridor.  I discovered the reservations were marked on more of those obscure digital displays beside each seat.  I had wondered how people identified free seats.

more railway infrastructure

Despite the difficulties, most of the trip was relaxing, and I did get a good view of the changing countryside.  Deciduous forests changed to conifers and back; there were fields of solar panels, and grape terraces.  Clusters of whitewashed houses stood among pasture; sometimes we effortlessly outpaced motorway traffic to a backdrop of clean white factories.

I arrived in Regensburg at 5.30 pm.  Head straight for the exit at the station – don’t get drawn into Retail Hell, from which it can be hard to extract yourself!

Regensburg station July 2018

The number 17 bus to the hostel was not every 6 minutes as Google had suggested, but more like once every hour.  I managed to navigate to the Microverse using my printed-out map, and asking locals in my rudimentary German; it was only about twenty minutes walk.

Once at their office in Arnulfsplatz, I picked up one of those splendid town maps which are torn from a huge pad, and appear at hostels all over Europe.  Bus stops, street names and tourist attractions were all ready for a few days’ exploring!

 

Your travel insurance may help if you miss a connection due to a delay or other problem with the trains.  Try and get someone to sign something for you.  

If you miss it through stupidity, you could well be on your own!  Luckily, buying a train ticket just before departure seems to be the same price as advance tickets in Germany.  A valid credit card provides a useful contingency plan.

 

An Encounter with Swans

Following on from my visit to Town Tree Farm nature garden in early Spring, I decided to create a photo-journal about it, visiting every six weeks or so and recording the changes.  The trees around this urn sculpture are now in full leaf.

Urn sculpture in May

A more spectacular transformation is taking place in the  wreckage of the mysterious plants – the chair is much larger than a normal one!

Towntree chair and giant dead flowers february

This was the scene in February.  In March, a very few tiny green shoots could be seen in these great piles of fallen stems and flowers, but by late May, a whole jungle was springing up!

Towntree chair and giant dead flowers february

Below is another clump (without a chair in the way).  You could use that image to try and identify it – search programmes struggle to come to terms with the scale.  It probably isn’t a West Indian gherkin.

Giant flowers at Town tree in spring

The Nature Garden is a labyrinth rather than a maze.  There are only a few places where you can take a wrong turn and get lost, and these are service tracks, only visible in winter.  The paths are usually bordered on both sides by water – pool or wide ditch – so when you encounter a family of swans  there’s no way around them!

swans guarding young on Town Tree Nature Walk

We persuaded them back into the water on the way into the gardens.   The male chased us furiously up the lake once the cygnets were safe, but stopped short of following us along the path!

Unluckily for us, they were back when we returned.  It was now early evening and they were settled for the night.  Why a creature would spend so much effort adapting to life on the water then park its young on a path which must be used by every predator in the district is a mystery to me!

They recognised us; they didn’t like us.  We retreated to consider our options.  Swans are quite dangerous, but my companion walks with a stick and it was several miles to the road by the other route.

There was a big pile of dead pine brush by the track.  Arming ourselves with long branches tipped with large fans of twig, we approached the birds in what we hoped was a confident manner.  They hissed and raised their wings, glaring menacingly, but as long as we kept the twigs between us, they couldn’t get to us and we managed to edge past!

In future, we may avoid the Nature Garden on spring evenings!  Once the cygnets can fly, the family departs on their travels.

 

 

 

The 67 Bus

Even though the whole globe has been mapped out and uploaded, adventure can still be found in the details. The Somerset Levels are best explored by cycle or on foot, but there is one bus which crosses them. The number 67, from Wells to Burnham-on-Sea via Wedmore, takes the intrepid traveller right through this iconic countryside to enjoy a couple of hours at the seaside.

A distinctly rural minibus pulls up at Wells Bus Station, down the platform from its sleek, Bristol-bound brethren, and we are off on the ancient trackway to Wedmore. The modern B3139 follows this intricate path, connecting two projections of higher land separating broad expanses of marshland. Building space was limited on this dry ridge; the hamlets are strung along this narrow, twisting country lane, almost submerged in greenery at this time of year.

wookey cottage garden

Exuberant hedges are covered in flowers; creamy elder, clouds of pink-blushed hawthorn, spikes of lilac and chestnut, curves of honeysuckle. Gaps in the foliage reveal little orchards, families of black sheep, contented donkeys. We pass through Yarley, Bleadney and Theale, past ivy-draped stone walls, verges scattered with the white flowers of cow parsley, fields decorated with buttercups, and into Wedmore.

Here, there are elegant town houses, stone built cottages with purple flowers pouring over garden walls, and foxgloves in full bloom. Wedmore, founded by the Saxons, was a busy market town in medieval times. The Market Cross dates back to the 14th century, and there are some other building of historic interest. Wedmore is the home of the infamous Turnip Prize for modern art, and an annual Real Ale festival.

You could plan a few hours wandering around this pleasant area and return to Wells, but we are changing here for Burnham-on-Sea.

bus transfer at Wedmore
Changing buses at Wedmore; the blue one returns to Wells

Our next driver was a trainee, learning the invisible stops on the route. The passengers cheered when she edged past a horse box on a lane where ‘single track road’ would be a generous designation.

The countryside is more open as we approach the sea, crossing the old tidal marshes on our rocky ridge. Black and white dairy cows, familiar to Glastonbury Festival followers, graze in the summer pastures. Swans resting by willow-hung streams are a reminder that these fields are the domain of waterfowl in winter time.

Another set of villages is linked by this slender road, like beads on a wire. We pass quaint churches, pubs, an aquafarm and an Aikido centre. The bus begins to fill up, mainly with elderly local residents. Sit at the back if you can, as many passengers have walking frames or shopping trollies. There isn’t a bell to ring; call out if you need to get off before the terminus. The other passengers join in until the driver responds!

The gentle rural lane ended at the A38, the main coast road, lined with caravan parks. We detoured through Highbridge and arrived opposite the Old Pier Tavern in Burnham.

old pier tavern at burnham on sea

It’s a short walk – about two minutes – to the sea front. There’s a typical British seaside sort of building there, housing the Bay View Cafe, a remarkably well stocked Tourist Information centre, and public toilets.

Bay View Cafe Burnham on sea May 2018

I picked up a leaflet for the Heritage Trail in Burnham, found the main street easily, past the bucket-and-spade shop. There was a Farmers’ Market going on, and the second hand shops were worth a visit; there were coffee shops and cashpoints, icecreams, seaside rock in strange and wonderful flavours, chips and amusement arcades. Everyone was excited about the Food Festival on Saturday; unfortunately the 67 bus doesn’t run at weekends.

pier amusements Burnham on sea may18

Back at the seafront, there was a good view of the Low Lighthouse, Burnham’s iconic landmark. This was built in 1832, and is still operational; the remains of the previous lighthouse are now part of a hotel.

Round Tower and church tower Burnham on sea May 2018

The abandoned jetty speaks of a busier past. Steamships from Wales would arrive here, connecting with the railway service whose tracks used to run right out to the dock; now even the station has gone.

jetty Burnham on sea May 2018

The seawall is high and curved, there are storms in winter. The tide was out, exposing the mudflats. Rippled channels of water were almost invisible on the gleaming surface, swiftly filling up the flat expanse, bringing the sea back to the sandcastles.

Curved sea wall Burnham on sea may2018

Gulls loitered in the seaweed crusted dampness  under the pier; it was a quiet day at the beach.

burnham pier may18

A short one too; the last bus leaves Burnham at one o’clock. Still, I had a good couple of hours at the seaside and a relaxing journey through beautiful countryside – just like being on holiday!

 

This service got dumped by First Bus, since it wasn’t profitable, and has had to be patched back together by the town and parish councils along its route. It’s the only public transport for the outlying villages. Taking journeys like this is good training for using local buses in unfamiliar countries.

Some key points need to be considered wherever you are.

  • Timetables may be out of date. Check your return journey, or connections, with the driver before the bus abandons you in the middle of nowhere. Have some useful phrases printed or practised if you’re in a foreign country.
  • Buses may be early. A rural bus with no passengers waiting is bound to be ahead of schedule at some points on its route. Arrive at the stop in good time.
  • The bus may be full. A popular journey, such as the last bus back, may be crowded. Have a Plan B; an alternate way of getting back. Plot another bus route if possible, or check local taxi services before leaving.

Testing your personal resilience with small, accessible challenges is a great way to build up your self confidence.

Read the Resilience Handbook for more information, or just go straight to the free resilience assessment to see how good you are already!

 

May Diary 2018

The challenges of growing vegetables continue; a very brief Spring has been swiftly followed by long hot days with no rain.  The seedlings, root systems stunted by the unseasonable cold, struggle to gather water from the hard soil.

A greenhouse is becoming essential to cope with this erratic weather.  If you plan to assemble your own, read the instructions carefully and proceed slowly.  Photos of the demonstration model in the garden centre could prove useful.

Greenhouse and field may18

Watering the allotment, some miles from where I live, is a daily chore.  Mature plants are doing far better than fresh sowings, but I’m still concerned about the meagre amount of food coming up.  The Resilience Garden benefits from waste household water and a handy tap.

The role of water in cultivation is highlighted by this drought.  The kitchen gardens of old came as much from the availability of used water as from the convenience of having herbs to hand.

Early summer is a time of leisure for the resilience smallholder, of watching the plants grow and enjoying the flowers.  Many events, cancelled because of the snow, reinvented themselves.  Seedy Sunday became Seedling Sunday…

Seedling Sunday RBB May18

Somerset Day was celebrated…

Somerset Day May18

…and there was a Graffiti Day at the skateboard park.

Skateboard park may18

We went to try out the archery at Mendip Snowsports Centre, and discovered Frisbee Golf!  Although not all the baskets were this deep in woodland, my frisbee always headed for the nearest nettle patch!

Frisbee Golf at Mendip snowsports centre

The centre offers bushcraft and target shooting, as well as the artificial slopes for snow-related activities.  There’s a pleasant cafe and bar; a good place to have a day brushing up your resilience skills.

Networking is an important part of community resilience, a whole section of the Resilience Plan.  People need to exchange news after the winter season, when travel can be limited.  It’s important to be aware of dangers and opportunities in the local area and beyond.

The concept of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ was identified before the internet was developed; we need not be dependent on technology for our world news.  Local events, with their travelling pedlars and performers, were once key information nodes, and often more fun!

The free soap nuts were a great success!
The free soap nuts were a great success at the Repair Cafe!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Hour Chard

Earth Hour is an annual event which celebrates a global network committed to creating a sustainable world. It’s organised by the World Wildlife Fund, and began as a ‘lights out’ event in Sydney, Australia in 2007.

The idea is for people, organisations and businesses to turn off all non-essential lights, and other electrical devices, for one hour. The hour begins at 8.30pm local time, so the effect ripples around the world. City landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Shard, participate now, as well as millions of individuals.

chard earth hour list mar18

Some people organise whole events around the occasion, and one such is Earth Hour Chard where I was booked to talk about Resilience. Their first event had been a magnificent street fair, betrayed by a bitterly cold March wind. They’d hired the Guildhall this time, for a whole day’s programme of activities supported by a cafe, bar and numerous stalls.

chard art stall march 2018
Some of the colourful hand made local products on sale

I arrived early; the kids’ activities were in full swing. Everyone was busy, so after I unloaded and parked, I took a walk to the museum.

chard museum earth hour march 2018

In a county of farming communities, Chard always stood out as a factory town. The textile industry was important, particularly machine made lace for net curtains and clothing. As outlined in the Resilience Handbook, the presence of machinery in the area encouraged a support network of craftspeople. These skills were then available to inventors.

 A very comfortable 'donkey chaise' in the foreground
A very comfortable ‘donkey chaise’ in the foreground

It was in Chard, in 1848, that John Stringfellow’s Aerial Steam Carriage first showed that engine powered flight was possible. Other major advances credited to the town include the development of articulated artificial limbs and of X-ray photography. Today, it’s the home of the Henry vacuum cleaner.

chard British icons march 2018
British icons!

I strolled down Fore Street, admiring the remaining old countryside architecture, the thatched houses and diamond pane windows, arriving back in time for the judging of the colouring in competition. I hastened over to the Phoenix Hotel; the talks were being held there while the Guildhall was set up for the evening event.

chard phoenix hotel mar18

I’d decided to create a new talk, outlining how the Resilience Project came into being through a fusion of Transition’s Energy Descent Action Plan and local emergency planning, with decades of experience in living off-grid thrown in. Jason Hawkes covered ecological footprints and housing; Kate Handley talked on local food.

We packed up in time for the music; a selection of bands often seen at off-grid festivals, compèred by Tracey West, publisher extraordinaire. Simon West manned their Word Forest Organisation stall on the top floor, where the poetry slam was going on.

It was a very entertaining evening, networking and enjoying quality performances. We didn’t turn off the lights in the venue for Earth Hour – a health and safety issue – but at least the people attending had turned theirs off!

Thatched cottages in Chard Somerset

Although Chard is poorly served by public transport, it’s worth a visit. I found some charming hotels with reasonable prices, though in the event I stayed with one of the organisers. Check for parking, as this may be a local issue.

Sadly, the nearby Wildlife park at Cricket St Thomas has closed and is now on the Heritage at Risk register.

chard ration foods mar18
From the museum…I eat less meat then that already…more cheese and eggs though

The Forbidden City and the Dragon Throne

Our last day began with a trip to the Temple of Heaven, a large pagoda. The bus dropped us as near as possible – parking is very difficult in Beijing – and we walked through an adult exercise park.

Adult exercise park beijing

Retired people could get cheap season tickets; it was quite a community gathering. Further in, groups of elders played cards and board games with great excitement, and a small choir practised in the park. The ‘maybe later’ marketeers added ping pong bats and feathered shuttlecocks to their repertoire here.

Temple of heavenly peace

This Temple has been used since Neolithic times, to hold sacrifices for a good harvest. Bamboo scrolls and brass compasses on sale here may hint at record keeping and feng shui functions too, but we couldn’t understand much of the information. The artwork was marvellous though.

Paintwork on temple of heavenly peace

We scrambled back on to the bus before its parking time expired and stopped off at the Chinese Medicine Academy for a foot massage. This was partly to give their students practise and partly in the hope we’d buy something. If you want to take Chinese medicines out of the country, you need a certificate from the prescribing doctor.

Reception desk at Chinese Medicine Academy

Finally we arrived at Tiananmen Square. It was smaller than Linda had expected, and less crowded than I’d thought. There were red flags, neat soldiers and police, impressive buildings all around.

Tiananmen square with forbidden city view

From there, we entered the Forbidden City at last. It’s vast; the guides warned us to keep up with the flag, as we had a lot of ground to cover, and the bus was meeting us at the far end.

Map and flag Forbidden City

The courtyards were huge. I could imagine the officials waiting in throngs for their instructions, standing in the cold dry wind. I hoped they let them go inside if it snowed!

Inside Forbidden City

Our guide lectured us on the various structures, their purpose and history. The roof decorations on the pavillions represented the Emperor riding on a rooster followed by nine dragons; this was considered to be a fortunate emblem.

roof detail Forbidden City

There were a number of large metal cauldrons throughout the city. These were for firefighting; charcoal could be lit under them so they didn’t freeze in winter. Their stone stands, and most other surfaces, banisters and doorways were all intricately carved, often with a dragon motif.

Cauldron stand Forbidden City

We crossed the second large courtyard, Harmony Square, and climbed the steps to the Palace of the Supreme Harmony, where the Dragon Throne sits. The prospect of actually setting eyes on this legendary artefact had excited me more than anything else about the trip!

dragon pathway Forbidden City 
Stairs to the Dragon Throne

Tourists weren’t allowed to enter this palace, but you could join the small crowd around the doorways to view the Throne inside, and take a picture obstructed by a pillar. Already used to the rules about not photographing the Buddha statues, I didn’t see this as an imposition. Given the effort required only a few decades ago to get this close, I felt a short glimpse was enough of a privilege!

Dragon throne

There were many Chinese tourists patiently waiting for their turn, so we didn’t linger. We had a better view of the metal ball hanging over the throne, which falls on any would-be usurper. It’s said that some Emperors shifted their seat a little to the side!

Ball over dragon throne

We turned off to the side through the next courtyard, to view the charming Western Palaces. These used to accommodate the second wives and concubines of the Emperor, including the Empress Cixi. A long alleyway linked a number of little courtyards surrounded by wooden houses, which now hosted various exhibitions.

Courtyard bird statues Forbidden City Western Palaces

Time was pressing, the light was failing. There were many more exhibits. Some, like the clocks and jewellery were extra; however the ticket office was closed by the time we got there. To really see a place this vast and historical, you’d need a full day and a guide book.

courtyard dragon forbidden city

Dusk was falling on our last day in China. As we reached the Imperial Gardens, we had to hurry. Loud music began to sound, like a scene from ‘Inception’. Barriers were coming down around us, our group had to look sharp not to be separated.

We walked quite a distance to the bus, past the moat surrounding the Forbidden City, past the ‘maybe laters’ with their fake Rolex, past street vendors selling red sticky things on sticks, to a street corner where the bus driver hastened us aboard.

As we climbed on, we were serenaded by an old couple busking with a traditional stringed instrument, almost like a farewell to China.

Imperial gardens Forbidden City
Imperial Gardens, Forbidden City

 

You certainly cover a lot of ground on an RSD trip, and face some interesting challenges! As an independent traveller, I find them invaluable for getting to know somewhere I’d struggle to make my own arrangements to visit. Linda and I had already been on their tour of Turkey, and we may yet follow through on our independent plans to spend a week visiting Troy and the hot spas in more detail, if the political situation improves there.

In China, almost everywhere we went could do with another, longer visit. Our favourites would be a week in Shanghai, another river cruise, and a whole day in the Forbidden City. A Great Wall hike sounds lovely, as long as it’s warmer, and we’d like to spend some time in the South too.

We felt a bit nervous about this adventure, and most of the time were probably well out of our depth. Our tour guide, Kevin, shepherded us around diligently though, despite the British tendency to irrational overconfidence in a totally strange country. We always feel that being polite gets you a long way, and this does appear to be true in China.

It ‘d be quite hard to make any but the simplest travel arrangements yourself. You have to give the addresses you plan to stay at on your visa application form, and may have to make bookings on the phone with someone who doesn’t understand English very well.

However, the resilient traveller loves a challenge!

Next week – Return to Resilience