Tag Archives: writing

Musing on the process of writing

When I returned from my trip to Hebden Bridge I pitched straight into completing the first full draft of my new book, on food resilience. I’ve been working on this book for some years, piecing the content together from field trips, networking events and out-takes from the Resilience Handbook. Cultivating my own resilience garden supplied me with the vegetables’ point of view!

I’ve been living on experiments for months, as I calculate exact quantities for recipes I’ve used for decades without measuring. Food resilience combines rotating your emergency stores with whatever you can forage – your own produce, special deals, community orchard fruit. This has kept me so busy that I just don’t use the supermarket any more, except to replenish heavy items in my stores.

home made marmalade jars
You can’t make just a little marmalade!

I find I become quite obsessive at this stage of writing. Once I get past 40,000 words, I encounter continuity issues, even with non-fiction. Did I write on that subject in a previous chapter? Or did I just pencil in some notes? Finally weaving all the threads of a book into a single narrative requires intense concentration on my part.

turkish style rug on a frame loom
The knotted rug pictured in ‘Diary, September 2014’ finally completed this winter

As I rewrote the ‘Table of Contents’ ready to create a master document, and reach my personal milestone – the first word count of a full manuscript – I had that indefinable feeling that it was finished. There’s still a lot of work to do – chapters to revise, recipes to refine – but the book suddenly felt whole. I can take the scaffolding away; it’ll stand up on its own!

After over a month of relentless concentration, I can relax back into my normal writing regime. The book still requires work, but not to the exclusion of all else. Spring is coming, the new Resilience Allotment is prepared for planting, new adventures await!

The Resilience Allotment
The Resilience Allotment

 

Apologies to my followers for the long hiatus! I do appreciate you, and the whole blogging community. I learn marvellous things from these windows you open into other places and lifestyles – I hope I’m giving you food for thought.

The links on this site are selected to provide stepping stones to further knowledge. Inform yourselves through many sources, and fake news will stand out like the wrong piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

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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.

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

Buy the Resilience Handbook and support this project! Overseas customers will need to contact me directly, or buy through their local Amazon (sorry, it won’t be signed). Please let me know if you do, and leave a review if you enjoyed the book.

Happy Resilient New Year!

Resilience in Iceland

My trip to Iceland was a journey through the island’s past. I was well acquainted with the Sagas, set in the period just after Settlement, from about 900 to 1050 AD, which described a prosperous landscape. I knew that deforestation quickly became a problem and Icelanders avoided the fate of their relatives in Greenland by a very small margin.*

One of my first stops was the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik. This museum has been built over an excavated longhouse from the Saga days. Its inhabitants enjoyed Iron Age luxury in their spacious ‘hvoll’ surrounded by natural abundance.

Following the prosperity of the early days came the Little Ice Age which began in the 1300s and lasted nearly six centuries. The trees cut for firewood, building and smelting iron didn’t grow back. The topsoil was lost and barley cultivation ceased. The fjords filled with ice; the fishing boats rotted on the strand with no wood for repairs.

There wasn’t even enough firewood to boil seawater for salt, essential for preserving food through the long winters. Luckily cows were able to survive, presumably living on seaweed and lichens like the people, and there was plenty of whey left over from butter making. The Icelanders expanded traditional techniques of preserving meat in lactic acid.

There was no clay for making pots, no iron to repair pans. People used the volcanic springs to steam food wrapped in cloth, dug pits in hot sand. Icelandic cuisine became desperately inventive.

The climate change was compounded by hostile political conditions and by the Black Death in 1402. The population fell from 60,000 to 20,000. Then there was the Skaftáreldar eruption in 1783, which poisoned large areas of grassland.

As Europe began to prosper again, there was a market for the fine woollen goods from Iceland – the sheep had survived too, and just as well as there were no fibre crops for cloth or ropes. Finally permitted to prosper from their own trade, the Icelanders invested in boats. Their fishing fleet was revived; technology trickled in from the Industrial Revolution.

Then electricity was invented! Icelanders swiftly caught on to the potential of renewable and volcanic energies. Huge greenhouses now provide all the vegetables they need for domestic consumption, and extensive reforestation is progressing. Recycling is taken seriously. So is trashing the countryside with off road vehicles.

You’ll find a great respect for the land among Icelanders. It nearly killed them. If you visit this paragon of resilience, don’t pretend you know what you’re doing. Hire locals to show you around, especially in winter!

 

*There’s a poignant description of the fate of one group of Greenland Vikings in ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond.  This is one of the recommended books in the Resilience Handbook…reading is a good activity in the winter!

There’s still time to order a signed copy of the Resilience Handbook before Xmas – email me after you’ve placed your order if you want it signed to another name!

Iceland Adventure

In the Resilience Handbook, I recommend going on regular adventures.  Travel by a method you don’t normally use, go to somewhere different.  It doesn’t have to be exotic – a week in a campsite is just as good for your resilience.  As a solo traveller, I prefer to use hostels.  They’re cheap, you can self-cater, and you meet interesting people in the communal areas.

The confidence I gained by hostelling around Britain enables me to explore further afield on a limited budget.  I did some research and packed appropriate clothes; there was very little I didn’t actually use.   Even an 18 kilo suitcase was a serious handicap on public transport though; it may be worth while paying the extra to fly from a closer airport next time.

Why Iceland?  With its renewable energy and reforestation programme, it’s an ideal destination for the resilience explorer!  I’ve got extensive notes to go over, and a return trip is already on the cards.  I never did get a recipe for putrefied shark – but I know the history behind it now.

Here’s some pictures

iceland old harbour
The Old Harbour is quite industrial around the bus stop – then you walk round the corner and see the bay open out towards the sharp snowy hills
My kind of tour bus! Off into the wilds for the 'Game of Thrones' tour. Winter driving in Iceland is challenging; use tours, not car rental.
My kind of tour bus! Off into the wilds for the ‘Game of Thrones’ tour. Winter driving in Iceland is challenging; use tours, not car rental.
The landscape north of Reykjavik from the tour bus - there was a strong wind that day, whipping the powdery snow up into a white out later on!
The landscape north of Reykjavik from the tour bus – there was a strong wind that day, whipping the powdery snow up into a white out later on!
iceland murals 2016
Many ordinary house walls in Reykjavik are adorned with amazing murals – the streets are full of random sculptures as well.

I stayed at Reykjavik City Hostel which is a little out of town but well serviced by the 14 bus from across the road, which takes you all the way to the Old Harbour (Grandi stop the return journey is headed Listabraut).  It’s right next to one of the best heated pools in town, Laugardalslaug and there’s a lovely park behind it.

The Game of Thrones tour is run by Grayline.  All the tours, and the airport bus, collect you from right outside the hostel.  This was a relief as, outside the main town, the suburban roads are quite exposed for the walker.  It takes less than an hour to walk to the other side of the town centre from the hostel though.

Another good day’s winter wander – keep in mind you have only 6 hours of daylight before the cold dark sets in! – is Oskjuhlid wooded park.  The number 5 bus takes you to the artificial beach with hot tub at Nautholl, then you can wander past the site of the new Asatru heathen temple and head upwards through the dwarf birch and evergreens to the Perlan at the hill top.  It’s a challenge – the paths are often icy and you can’t see the landmark building for the trees – but the view over town is wonderful and the cafe quite reasonably priced.  An 18 bus goes from the main road to the Hlemmur – bus station – where you can catch the number 14 again.

The 21st Century Instruction Manual

The global situation seems a little tense just now, and there’s been a lot of interest in the Resilience Handbook. Don’t be shy. It’s not another point-of-view book telling you how wrong you are. It’s not scary like ‘Protect and Survive’ civil defence textbooks. It’s the tale of how you can be part of a positive change, how you’re already contributing, how you could have fun and save money by doing more.

The Resilience Handbook is an instruction manual. It’s a book designed for the digital age. Densely packed with information, it’s a series of notes for you to expand on through internet searching, and through your own experience of trying out the suggested actions.

It’s also a briefing document, condensing basic knowledge about each topic so you can participate in an informed discussion with others. That’s why I included a ‘resilience exam’ in the project. There’s no assessment for sustainability, no means of weighing contributions to a debate. Resilience has much clearer goals and heads in the same direction. There are certain things you need to be aware of, to have actually done, to know how to use. These can be identified and listed.

Read more about the test in the ‘Learning Resilience’ tab. Download and print the free resources. What’s your score? Where are the gaps in your knowledge? Create a resilience plan, start doing things you don’t normally do. Take your time, enjoy it!

What do you achieve by this? The actions and research I suggest are carefully thought through. They’re based on decades of experience. Once you’ve worked through the plan, I expect you to be more confident in an emergency. More aware of your environment, what you eat, who you are.

A wheel can’t move unless it’s balanced.

the resilience wheel

Iodine and Radiation

Iodine is important in the thyroid gland, which produces hormones affecting the entire body. A lack of iodine can stunt mental and physical growth in children; it causes a variety of symptoms in adults. Goitres – where the neck is swollen from an enlarged thyroid gland – used to be common in certain areas. The provision of iodised table salt has helped eliminate this uncomfortable problem.

The thyroid is a temperamental part of your body. It can be overactive; this makes you ill as well, and can be brought on by an excess of iodine. The USA recommends a daily intake of 0.15 milligrams (150 micrograms) for adults.  Most people in developed countries take in more than this RDA, around 0.25 to 0.4 milligrams.  In Japan, where the diet is full of iodine-rich seafoods, people can be eating up to three milligrams a day. One milligram a day is generally considered excessive though.

The effects of too much iodine are most pronounced when suddenly increasing your dose. This effect was observed in the salt supplement programme, and is a danger if taking iodine as protection against radioactive fallout. You should have a pack of the right type of iodine tablets in your emergency stores as speed is crucial to protect your thyroid, and they are quite hard to come by in Britain. ‘Thyrosafe‘ is recommended by some prepper sites.

The tablets need to be taken on exposure, and while the risk of breathing contaminated air lasts. They also protect your thyroid gland – and only this – against radioactive iodine from fallout dust in your food and drink. Iodine-131 and many other isotopes of iodine released by a nuclear accident decay over the course of days if not hours – hence the need for speed. By taking in clean iodine, you are preventing your body from taking up the poisonous sort. As your body excretes the unused portion, you have to repeat the dose every 24 hours until out of danger.

The risk from radiation will reduce over time; the pills may make your neck feel swollen and uncomfortable. There are other unpleasant side effects, even severe allergic reactions. The Thyrosafe ones contain 65 milligrams of iodine each, which is way over the RDA. You have to balance the dangers; the situation differs for children and the elderly. Have a packet of dried seaweed in your stores to keep up good iodine levels in an ordinary diet.

Don’t drink the sort of iodine you dab on wounds. This is poisonous tincture of iodine and not meant to be swallowed, though it can be used to purify water for drinking, as can bleach. Do some serious research before you try out any of these emergency life savers. Uninformed use can be harmful.

The Resilience Handbook is a book designed for the digital age. The information in it is tightly packed and depends on you getting involved with the suggested actions to unlock it. I’ve supplied a framework from which you can explore the wealth of knowledge available in the internet to fill in the details according to your own way of life, the options you have.

When I looked at iodine and radiation, researching for my next book, I learned that not all forms of iodine can be taken in by the body at all. There were a large number of ‘iodine supplements’ on the market. Many of the websites offering these for sale were full of cookies and pop-ups. I don’t trust these sites for information.

I looked down the search list and picked some more reputable sites to get the scientific version. The FDA have published ‘Potassium Iodide as a Thyroid Blocking Agent in Radiation Emergencies‘ which explored its use post-Chernobyl. From that information, I was able to refine my search, filtering down through survivalist sites to a market place and finally to a UK supplier. You’ll expect to pay about £35 for a ten day supply; half of that seems to be shipping from the USA.

For more information about emergency planning and food stores, 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!