Tag Archives: Diary post

February Diary 2017

It’s been a busy year so far! The astrologers say there may be a short respite in early autumn, but otherwise things promise to be relentlessly hectic.

I’ve set aside the time from January to April to finish my book about food resilience. It’s based around the seasons; it became quite disorientating, writing about the warmth of May when it was January outside.

I took a break, wrote an essay for the Nine Dots Prize then went up North on a brief networking mission. I stayed at the splendid Hebden Bridge hostel – used as a refugee centre during the 2015 floods – and spent a day in nearby Todmorden.

The Incredible Aquagarden was running a course that day, which was lucky. I caught the morning session, on soil science. It was interesting to compare the teaching styles with those of our local Feed Avalon organisation.

The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside
The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside

I met up with Estelle Brown from Incredible Edible Todmorden at lunchtime for a quick tour of their edible landmarks. The medicinal herb beds beside the canal had survived inundation, though nearby buildings had suffered badly. Pollinators’ Avenue, originally a temporary installation, was still going. The locals were fending off a planned retail centre on the site, having a perfectly good market next door.

A new mural in Todmorden
A new mural in Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
Pollinators' Avenue
Pollinators’ Avenue

Although it was chilly and getting dark, I trekked back through the amazing park to the Aquagarden for the last part of their course. This dealt with aquaponics itself; I was able to thoroughly explore the process by viewing their demonstration equipment, complete with pet fish. This aquagarden is evolving into an educational centre, unlike the one at Mark, in Somerset, which is a commercial operation.

The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden

At the end, I was presented with a set of hydroponic pots to take home – and, fortunately, a lift to the railway station. You’ve no idea what a novelty local trains are to someone from Mid-Somerset!

There was some time the next day to visit Hebden Bridge before we left. The Bookcase is open again – you can buy the Resilience Handbook there now! The comic book store is back too, though there is still a scattering of boarded windows in the main street. The water level overtopped defences based on previous floods by several feet.

At the old mill, the Archimedes screw survived, though it was a near thing. Everyone had flood stories, but the millkeeper’s tale highlighted an unforeseen hazard. Tree branches caught on a bridge just upstream, creating a dam which suddenly burst, hurling a tidal wave at their mill house. Only the window glass held back this surge; fortunately it wasn’t broken by the debris. Riverside properties in similar situations could consider adding metal grids to their flood protection strategies.

Archimedes screw
The Archimedes screw generates all the electricity for the mill building. You can see some heat exchange pipes in the water at the right of this picture, which provide some of the heating. 75% of the energy harvested at the mill is resold to the Grid.

Back to Somerset, night driving in the rain through relentless traffic. It was worse than my last visit; yet more housing was planned in the area. Is there some kind of crazy motorway Jenga going on – a game to see how much traffic you can pile into a system before it collapses?

And so back to the writing desk…an icy rain sweeps the garden as I imagine the chore of watering plants in hot summer sunshine, whilst browsing on fresh raspberries…

Worried about  global uncertainty?  Buy yourself a Resilience Handbook and start learning the power of community resilience!  We need informed debates centred  around practical, ground level solutions.

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October Diary 2016

It’s about time for another diary post, since it’s been a busy week here in Somerset.

Thursday was the Community Food Forum, an annual event organised by Feed Avalon. Around forty people gathered this year – its third – to network and exchange ideas. It was great to see projects like Plotgate, a community supported agriculture venture near Barton St David, developing from their initial fund raising to a successful business!

There seems to be a steady increase of interest in growing food, with new sectors engaging every year. This time there were people who work with mental health, where its therapeutic benefits are being recognised.

Saturday saw the Glastonbury Town Council hold a public consultation on possible uses for a splendid old building they have just acquired for the community. It would be ideal for a practical crafts centre; I’d like to see that combined with an ‘eco-college’ like Dartington Hall in Devon. We could explore local materials for textiles and ceramics – Somerset having a lot of wool and clay.

edible flower baskets in Glastonbury
edible flower baskets in Glastonbury

In the evening, I went to the energy evening hosted by Green Wedmore. The purpose of the presentation and following debate was to explore future energy options for the local area. The range of these on the table was impressive. Not only solar, wind and hydropower, but also biomass from the surrounding RSPB nature reserves and anaerobic digestion using farm waste.

Vince Cable, former business secretary, gave the introduction and Pete Capener from Bath and West Community Energy provided an inspiring talk on how the renewables industry is adapting to a hostile government. I chatted to a long-serving member of the parish council, who’d recently had an impressive 16Kw array installed on the roofs of her farm buildings – using panels built in Wrexham. We snacked on excellent smoked trout vol au vents from the nearby aqua farm. The people of Wedmore intend to take quality with them into their sustainable future!

Someone had brought a particularly backward article just published in the Times. After spending much of the last forty years off grid, I view people who harp on about ‘the lights going out’ with the same astonishment as I’d view a flat-earther. Lights are easy. Washing machines, even freezers, are well within the scope of a modern personal renewables system without mains backup.

Tumble driers now, you could have a point.  It’s not such a rousing battle cry though – ‘without nuclear power, you might have to actually hang your clothes out to dry!’

Meanwhile, the smart consumer is considering the benefits of making their own electricity…..

solar power regulator

The best way to start this process is by looking at the devices you use already, and finding out how much electricity they use.  In the Energy chapter of the Resilience Handbook, task eight asks ‘can you calculate how much of your home could run on a supply of 2 kilowatts?’  This level of supply is not only possible with a personal solar array, but designed to use a small ‘suitcase’ generator as emergency backup. ( More power requires a larger, noisier generator.)

Once you know the answer to this question, you’ve got a much better idea what local energy can do for you – it’s more resilient than a centralised power supply!

For more information about food and energy resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

June Diary 2016

I expected June to be a quieter month than it usually is for me, as I’m not going to the Glastonbury Festival for the first time in many years. There’s no going against the rhythm of the seasons though, and events conspired to make this month every bit as hectic as before!

I’ve been working hard on my next book, about food and resilience…this involves a lot of experimental cooking and field studies. We finally got an allotment garden for our project; it’s quite overgrown. Although late in the season, we’ve managed to plant out the last of our seedlings, and there are quite a few food plants there already which only need the undergrowth cleared away.

Linda hoeing our new growing space
Linda hoeing our new growing space

It was the Green Scythe Fair on 12th June, which is an annual fixture for me. Strolling among the colourful stalls is like visting a future where everything has worked out fine. People gather around to admire the latest electric car on display, discuss the merits of the various tools offered for sale, consider hand made clothes or choose a pair of angora rabbits to breed for wool. The faint tap of peening scythes underscores the murmer of conversation. A woman plays her fiddle while children dance; other youngsters make nests from the cut grass.

A tremendous selection of local delicacies are to be sampled here, from crystallised flowers to venison steaks.

sea buckthorn juice stall
A stall selling juice made from sea buckthorn

You can get anything you can think of to do with honey, including a hive of bees. All the brand names, the shiny labels, are absent though. The cafe heats its water by wood-fired rocket stoves; the electrical power is from storage batteries recharged by renewables, including the lights and entertainment at night.

In the Craft area, one can see blacksmiths, stone masons and thatchers at work. There’s a stall selling hemp twine, another with leather pouches. A man haggles for an enamel basin, a woman picks a new copper kettle. The plough horses watch curiously as you pass by; yesterday they were demonstrating techniques for a land workers’ training session.

The centre piece of the event is the scything. A grand marquee is set up like a scything supermarket, with blades, whetstones, files, all the odds and ends of the craft. You are ‘fitted’ for the right size of handle, consulted about the appropriate blade and shown how to attach it. The complete novice is given a introductory pamphlet, but it’s wise to enrol on one of the day courses. Like any skill, it’s best learned alongside a master.

On the day of the Fair, however, all these craftspeople were out on the long grass in the centre, where the competitions were taking place. There were trophies to be won, reputations to be made! A sudden downpour had flattened much of the grass – how would this affect the form? The skilled scythers – men and women in separate heats – would cut their allotted square down to the length of a well trimmed lawn in only a few minutes. Assistants raked up the fallen grass while the judges inspected the quality of the job and considered points.

After the business of the day was done and the cups awarded, the music and carousing began in earnest. The stalls closed up and stole away; the families left. Only the crafters and campers were left to wind the evening up in traditional style and wobble gently home across the dark, empty fields.

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

April Diary 2016

March seemed to be a busy month, though I couldn’t exactly say how.  I built a new tyre garden on a derelict car park, harvesting a windfall heap of spent mushroom compost donated to the Red Brick Gardening Club.  Once there’s a few dry days, I’ll paint labels for the plants and take pictures.

Gardening was the theme – the long wet winter has delayed planting as the soil here was too cold and wet.  Seeds tend to rot in those conditions.  A greenhouse would have been useful to me; my neighbour has one they don’t use much.  The issue would be access for watering.

I gathered bags of the compost to fill up my own raised bed, made a trip to the seaside for seaweed, and finally began the planting.  Leeks and broccoli are the staples; carrots grown in large pots with extra sand.  The broccoli is from saved seed, but I’m still having trouble getting viable leek seed.

carrot seedlings in sand with a background of mature broccoli leaves
carrot seedlings in sand with a background of mature broccoli leaves

I’m planting Valor seed potatoes in the ground, and Stemster in tyre stacks.  The peas, soaked for a few days and beginning to sprout, have been buried beside their climbing frames.  I’ll buy in tomato plants and squashes this year.  They need that head start to be ready by the end of summer.  There’s only so much green tomato chutney a household can eat!

I’ve been out with the Resilience Handbook a few times too. Earth Hour in Chard was splendid, if bitterly cold.  Chard has an interesting history; industrial rather than farming, unusual for Somerset.  The Magic Oxygen Literary Prizegiving day in Lyme Regis was excellent, like a miniature Literary Festival!  I gave a talk on food resilience, which went down well.

signing Resilience Handbooks a t Chard Earth Hour Day

 

In between outdoor work and excursions, I’ve been working on my new book ‘Recipes for Resilience’, plus designing some talks and workshops.  I’ll be talking at the Green Wedmore meeting tonight.  I haven’t been out on an adventure for awhile now, so I’m planning a trip to the furthest south west – the Scilly Isles – promoting the Handbook and looking out for resilient recipes!

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….

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.

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.

Diary February 2015

It’s been a quietly busy winter.

I finally paid attention to completing my English teaching course before the deadline, and was awarded the certificate with its shiny hologram. The grammar section was surprisingly challenging, even for someone with an ‘old-school’ education!

Still looking for a distraction from waiting for the Resilience Handbook to work through the publishing process, I set up a series of free craft workshops. Reskilling is a vital part of resilience plannning.

So are adventures.

‘Why don’t you come to the Lyme Regis LitFest?’ said Tracey, my publisher.

Why not? It is the sort of excursion expected of a writer, and I could meet many of my fellow authors from the Magic Oxygen stable.

I stayed at nearby Monkton Wyld Court, a hostel and education centre. The peaceful community of today is a contrast to its lively decades spent as a St Trinian’s style progressive school.

Arriving early, I spent a day wandering along the Jurassic shore, admiring the delicate outlines of ancient ammonites sketched on the mudrocks, collecting driftwood and flotsam for art works. The air was cold, the stony beach quiet apart from the tapping of fossil hammers.

A literary festival turns out to be just the sort of event a writer enjoys. There were some excellent lectures and discussions, although I had to miss the weekend programme. Meeting authors and having the chance to leaf through a book is far more satisfying than buying online, or selecting from the promoted range of titles in a supermarket.

Home in time to deal with the final details of the first craft workshop session, which went very well. I had been prepared to sit there on my own if necessary, but there were over forty visitors during the afternoon, despite the problems we’d had getting publicity out.

Next craft workshop day is 1st March….next adventure may well be a day trip on a tall ship.

Diary, December 2014

The Resilience Garden glitters with frost, which should finally put a stop to the ravages of slug and snail. The September rocket sowing bolted due to the warm weather, a November replacement sprang up with enthusiasm but then settled down to wait out the winter as seedlings, and the molluscs ate most of the spinach.

Feeding the leeks has worked, though.

Waiting for a book to get published is an arduous task. I’m using the time to develop my own Resilience Plan some more.

This has involved me in adventures with an anti mould paint based on calcium hydroxide. The resilience pioneer can study the manufacture of this and other basic chemicals in The Knowledge. Use your Xmas tokens. It’s a good ‘man book’.

I’ll be appearing on The Knowledge website as a guest writer in the New Year, covering some of the amazing projects I’ve found on my travels!

Meanwhile, I’ve been designing learning modules to go with the Resilience Handbook, exploring more strange landscapes, repainting the house….

…and working with CREW HQ to organise a series of free craft workshops next year!

These will be held fortnightly on Sunday afternoons at the Red Brick Building between Glastonbury and Street, in Somerset. The first one is to be on February 15th. We’ve been part-funded by Aster Communities, and about thirty local craftspeople signed up at the Frost Fair last month.

Traditional crafts are going to be demonstrated and visitors can learn some simple techniques on the day. You can learn to fix things, get advice on your own projects, and generally network with skilled artisans. If you’d like to talk about a Repair Cafe, starting or joining a community crafts group, building a career as a craftsperson or anything like that, do come along.

I’ll be there teaching resilience. How resilient are you now? Why are practical skills important? Try out the questionnaire and design your plan.

Best Wishes for the New Year!