Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday, 15 November 2010

The winter quiescence

I've just started to read Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin.

Just the forward, so far, by Thomas Berry.

He writes of "the springtime singing of the birds, the summertime showers, the autumn ripening, and the winter quiescence."


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 may refer to:
  • In fluid mechanics, it refers to the state of a fluid that lacks any movement
  • The G0 phase of a cell in the cell cycle; quiescence is the state of a cell when it is not dividing
  • In neuron bursting, it refers to the quiet phase of a spike train when a neuron is not emitting bursts or singlets
  • In plants, it is the non-active state of a seed in which the only requirement for seed germination is water and oxygen; Contrast with Dormancy
  • In behavioral neuroscience or zoology, quiescence refers to a behavior where an animal is vigilant but relaxed and immobile. This may be related to a recuperative response after an encounter with a predator
  • In volcanology, when an active volcano is not actually erupting
  • An electronic amplifier or filter is said to be in a quiescent state when no signal is applied to its input
  • Quiescence search, In Game searching (adversarial search) in artificial intelligence, a quiescent state is one in which a game is considered stable and unlikely to change drastically the next few plays
  • In computer science is a data item that is not actively being changed

I feel this. Do you? Right now. All I want is to stay home. Why go out and do all these things and see all these people when I could stay home and practice piano, and cook, and read, and feel like I have contentment and everything I need in abundance?

And even that is fairly busy. I could go further into not-doing. The autumn leaves are almost all gone. The winter quiescence is drawing me in...

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Coming Insurrection

"'Fewer possessions more connections.' Are they mad?"

Monday, 14 June 2010

I've got a goat!!!

Ok, not a real goat. Yet...

I've got a sign I just pinned on the kitchen pin board that says 'This entitles the holder to one goat.'

"It's like the ultimate Oxfam gift," said my friend Mark as he gave it to me and I hopped whooping around the kitchen and hugging him. "You're like the only friend I have - probably the only friend I'll ever have, actually - who I can actually give an actual goat to."

This means I have to Do It. I'm moving to Wales this Autumn. We're buying a place and seeing who wants to chip in and stick something like a woodland or something on the side. I was thinking about making some kind of local goat co-op so we can share the strains and the gains of goat keeping.

And now I have a goat token. So I Have To.


I am delighted.

I'm going to call my first milking nanny goat 'Mark.'

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Plant where you stand

I'm just home from a lovely weekend with Limina people at the beautiful Quadrangle in Kent.

We've been talking about how we want to live.

Frank Forencich is a Stanford-trained biologist and play specialist.

Looking at indigenous wisdom from around the world, he says, the 'Mind Body Spirit' trinity has missed its other half:

'Land, Tribe, Ancestors.'

The yearning for connection with Land and Tribe that I feel is so widely shared, it seems.

One important thing came out of the weekend for me.

The notion of plant where you stand.

I've been slowly developing the idea of an intentional blended community and visitor place where people can try out practical skills and a blended lifestyle.

Wrong thinking, I realise.

If lots of the people with a strong orientation towards nurturing healthy connections with land and tribe all exodus from our existing communities, what will happen?

Plant where you stand, our conversations seemed to conclude.

I'm going to move somewhere quite small.

See who in the local community wants to start a goat co-op.

Embed it rather than separate it.

That's where I'm doing.

Lean into the cracks. Nestle and nestle into the concrete forms we've inherited until they soften and open into new structures that support new ways of life.

IT's possible.

I'm excited about Limina. It's got a good feeling to it. It's perhaps the main place for people who share this yearning to connect, inspire, enable, challenge and support each other. That's certainly what happened this weekend.

It's a good thing.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


Thanks to Dan for sending me a link to this incredible ted talk by Isabel Allende.

"I need mavericks," she says, "dissidents, adventurers, outsiders and rebels, who ask questions, bend the rules, and take risks.... Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. They only make good former spouses."

Sunday, 6 June 2010

BBC: How to lead a simple life

Thanks to Charlie for sending this BBC iPlayer link. The Rev Peter Owen-Jones tries to give up his "addiction to money" and develop a "simple life" (haybales, sheep etc) following the teachings of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology.

(If he puts you off a bit in the beginning, stick with him, gets quite adorable by the end.)

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Land, productivity and the blended lifestyle

In the beginning of the 19th century 10% of us lived in cities. 100 years later, 90% of us did. (Rogers).

We left the land - some by choice, others by force - in order to participate in the growing industrial economy.

The land available for us to live and farm on was reduced, so that we would have to turn to wage labour to sustain ourselves.

"Lord and Lady Stafford were pleased humanely, to order a new arrangement of this Country. That the interior should be possessed by Cheviot [sheep] Shepherds and the people brought down to the coast and placed there in lots under the size of three arable acres, sufficient for the maintenance of an industrious family, but pinched enough to cause them turn their attention to the fishing [i.e. waged labour]." Patrick Sellar, Lawyer, 1815

1912, Kenya - Lord Delamere:
"If... every native is to be a landholder of a sufficient area on which to establish himself, then the question of obtaining a satisfactory labour supply will never be settled."

Both quotes from Soil and Soul, p94. Pic from internet shakespeare. 

That industrial economy has brought us very useful wealth.

It is now unsustainable.

But we cannot slow or reduce the economy, we believe, because people will lose their jobs and incomes.  Without jobs and incomes, how will we meet our needs?

My answer to this question is, by re-organising our use of land, such that we can work for money part-time, and be self-sufficient part-time, total employment can stabilise or reduce with wellbeing at least maintained, and probably enhanced.

200 years ago, it was thought that people would not want to move from local self-sufficiency to employment, so they had to be forced to, by reducing access to land.

Now, few people would altogether give up our jobs and put both hands on our spades. We like our incomes, our professional identities - some of us, at least - me for one.

So we need not fear that by increasing opportunities for self-sufficiency, you reduce the available workforce. Rather it will reduce the necessary workforce and enable the economy to explore what sustainable growth means in practice.

By taking parts of our lives away from the money economy, we give it a bit of a breather, and let it find its next, unprecedented form.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Become Uncivilised

I'm very much looking forward to the Dark Mountain festival in Wales, 28-30 May, with Alastair McIntosh , Jay Griffiths, George Monbiot, and me! Among others. Having a big, fat, disorganised, creative, collaborative conversation about the emergence of the new and how we want to live.


This is their ning site and this their website.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


I'm back at the lovely Canon Frome Court.

Five baby boys last night! All in two hours, triplets and twins, mums and babies all happy and well.

(ok, this wasn't them, i got it off flickr...)

Ok I'm totally abusing this blog now and using it as my own note keeping tool but here's what I learnt.

1. Generally the mums get on with it and you stand back, wearing overalls, with a flask of tea and hopefully something nice to nibble on.

2. Try to co-ordinate the knocking up of your different animals so that they're due about the same time. Then when they're due, check on them every three hours, day and night, for signs of early or full on labour, or immanent birth.

3. First you see the water sack. That comes out and breaks and dangles around for a while, then the lamb (goats are the same they say) should come out front hooves first followed soon by head, coming out in a little dive. Once the first half's out, mum has a little rest before pushing the hind legs out.

(if it comes out head first you have to push it back in. If it comes out hind legs first, have a look, it might work, did last night for one of them, but might need "intervention" and I don't know how to do that.

4. The lamb is covered in a gooey sack which seems to constrict its breathing so mum sets straight away to eating it off. Once free of sack, after about five minutes of arriving the lamb is up on its feet, and finding the teet.

5. Once lamb 1 is clearly healthy, on its feet and suckling, mum goes into contractions for number two, and so on. Last night there was 30-60 minutes between babies.

6. The first bit of milk that comes out post birth is super concentrated good stuff. If twins, the second twin needs to suckle on the Other Nipple because the first twin will have got all the good stuff from the first nipple. You kind of grab them and move them to it. That's ok.

7. Now it's time for Paperwork. You need to check gender, identifying marks, and have a piece of paper where you tick things and check the eyelids and stuff. I don't know if you do this for you or for Defra or what but they do it here and they do things well here so that's what you do.

8. You will have pre-prepared a Birthing Unit - a little 1m x 1.5m or so fenced off area full of straw with lots of hay to eat and water to drink, safe from foxes. Now you Pick Up the babies by the forearms and hold them in front of mums face - walk backwards showing the lambs to mum and she'll follow you to the birthing unit. (It's good that this is a different space to where she gives birth because the latter is gooy and wet). Then you shut them in safely, check none of the others are going into labour, call it a job done and go to bed feeling warm and happy.



Oo and then after that they run around and spring jump a lot for no reason and it's really funny which, apart from getting to eat them in a few months, makes the whole thing make sense, to me...

But actually, I prefer Alpaca wool to sheep wool. I wonder what their meat tastes like...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Would you build your own house?

I met the good Viv Goodings recently. If you remember Ben Law's woodman's cottage that was on grand designs, Viv was the guy who led the building and told the volunteers what to do.

In the end, the house cost Ben £20,000; because it was built by volunteers learning how to build a house, there were no labour costs, and because Ben got the land in exchange for work, he only had to pay for materials.

Most parts of building a house are very simple, Viv told me. All you need to know is what order to do them in. So really you only need one expert and lots of willing participants to build a house.

It made me think of Alastair McIntosh's description of community house-building in the Hebredes when he was a child.

"On this particular day the school bus had been delayed... Isobel and I wandered into the new house to keep warm. Nobody ever knocked on doors in those days, and many houses had no locks fitted. You went in and out of other people’s houses as if they were extensions of your own. If you were hungry, you would be fed; if you were cold, you would be warmed by the peat fire; if you were naughty, you would be ticked off, because the village was like an extended family. 

"As Isobel and I stepped inside the half-completed bungalow that frosty morning, we encountered a hive of activity. It was buzzing with men. All manner of building skill was being applied. Every mod con was being installed. And over the open fire a string of salted ling and cod from Loch Leurbost was being cured for consumption later. ...

‘How is it,’ I asked one of the workmen in the bungalow, ‘that Neilie’s not rich but he can afford to have all of you working on his house?’ 

‘Ah, well,’ came the response. ‘You see, Neilie’s helped all of us to build our new houses each time he’s been back on leave. Now it’s our turn to help him.’ 

"I think that may have been the last communally built home in our village. Now, to comply with government regulations for housing grants and planning requirements, contractors put up most houses by competitive tender."

Once the house was completed, Alastair writes, at the end you had not only a house but a bonded community, and a householder who was not bound to a lifetime's work to pay of the debt and the interest on the mortgage.

Walter's Way in south London is a cul-de-sac of self-build homes using Walter Segal's wooden frame method.

Would you build your own house, given a little help from your friends?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

What is beautiful about Capitalism

I'm going to start two lists and add to them gradually. Feel free to add your own bits in the comments.

If we're embarking upon a creative, collaborative conversation about what post-capitalism means, then it's an appreciative enquiry.

In an appreciative enquiry we keep the baby but throw out the bathwater.

So what in contemporary capitalism is baby, and what is bathwater? Baby here.

What is beautiful about Capitalism

1. The decentralised agility of the market.


Anti-capitalism is a critical, divisive conversation.

Post-capitalism is a creative, collaborative conversation.

Post-Capitalist life

I was at a Talkaoke last night, with some Norf London Yoof and some East Londoners of about my age and sort.

"Humans are a virus", someone said at the end of the night.

Humm. "I don't think humans are the virus," I said to him. "We've been around for over 100,000 years I think and we've only really started to unbalance things very badly, like a virus does, in the last 500 years or so, and only then really in the last 100 years, and then particularly in the last 30-40 years. These periods correspond to the arrival and advancement of capitalism. Perhaps capitalism is the virus."

I have started to use the term 'post-capitalism' this week.

It works for me.

I realise today that this is what I am learning how to live; a post capitalist life.

A life where man is beside, not above or below, woman; where head is beside heart, beside body; where reason is beside spirit; science is beside nature; wealth is beside wellbeing.

It means a reimagining of almost everything. 

Post-capitalist work; post capitalist music; post capitalist joy; post-capitalist food; post-capitalist love. Half of these explorations have been on a private blog. Maybe it will all make a book one day.

But in the mean time, the question becoming primary in my mind is, what exactly does a post-capitalist business finance model look like?

To be explored...

Are we wealthy?

Look at the UK budget deficit 1946 - present - The Guardian has put together very clear information about
it a little way down this page.

I never realised that we had been in the black so much before the 1980s. And we are now incredibly in the red, of course.

With all this talk in the news, of strikes. cuts to public services, raised taxes, times ahead worse than when Thatcher came to power... 

"The increase in the deficit," writes a Guardian blogger, "excludes the bank bailouts - this is just the structural deficit. Including the bailouts, the deficit has been in the region of £300 billion to £500 billion in both 2008 and 2009."

... with all this talk, it's time to talk post-capitalism.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Would you live underground?

Not sure myself, get a bit claustrophobic, not good with caves and things...

Apparently they're great for heat and noise though, keep you warm in winter, cool in summer, and nobody can hear you singing/yelling/other at the top of your voice...

They're becoming more popular in other countries apparently, but still just 100 of them in Britain. Exemplary examples at Hockerton in Nottinghamshire.

Good for rural build where people don't want the views changed, I guess.

These pics are all from ''

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"Growth is essential"

On the radio, David Miliband said that the priority now is to return to "the growth that is essential in a modern industrialised society."

He's right of course. Growth is essential to a modern industrialised society. Newness is funded by investors and lenders who need to get back more than they put in, so things need to grow in order to pay everybody. The system, and most of the organisations in it, are based upon interest, profit and growth.

But, isn't 'modern industrialised society' broken? Of course Miliband is thinking of what is essential to hold up modern industrialised society, it's his job to be among those in charge of it. It's a big job, and probably doesn't leave much time for thinking, 'what next?'

But I wonder what he talks about when he goes round to Matthew Taylor's for dinner. I'd like to be a fly on their wall.

I'd be surprised if they're not talking about what next; it is, perhaps, the most fascinating question of our time.

Which is perhaps why he contextualises his assertion of that growth is essential within a 'modern industrialised society' - thereby drawing a circle around it like something we can start to talk about with separation, something we can start to think beyond.

A nice lady called into the show he was on and said, 'where is the energy for this growth going to come from? We're running out of oil and renewables can't match its capacity.'

Andrew Simms also raises doubts. "Adair Turner, chair of the Financial Services Authority and the Committee on Climate Change, refers to the pursuit of growth for its own sake as a "false god". Other work by Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University concludes that: "Economic growth in the OECD cannot be reconciled with a 2C, 3C or even 4C characterisation of dangerous climate change."

He's saying, in other words, that economic growth is not compatible with reaching our targets on climate change, or even something worse than our targets.

Growth seems to mean always making and selling and buying more stuff. We know we've already passed the law of diminishing returns with our relationship with stuff. We know we're drenched in it and worse off for it.

You could dematerialise the economy to some degree. Trade in non material stuff like massages and therapy. But massagers and therapists still use a lot of stuff to do their non material service. I don't think dematerialised growth is going to help us.

But what is the alternative? I've got a cleaning lady from Brazil. She left Brazil after her husband left her and her son died, because there simply was no work to be found. She left her ten year old daughter, now fourteen, with her sister, and came to England where she now cleans fifteen houses a week at £8 an hour and is sending money home and saving up to return to Brazil and her daughter. Tears well up in her lovely eyes as she tells me this.


That's what can happen when you have a money-based way of life (as opposed to a land-based way where you can still meet your basic needs without money), and there is not growth, and so not enough jobs.

So if we don't want growth but we don't want depression and destitution, if we don't want Capitalism but we're not interested in Communism, what do we want?

It's time for a big, exciting, challenging, explosive conversation about post-capitalist economic theory and practice.

It's time for a scale of innovation and creativity that rattles our roots and shakes our timbers, and results in something better than we have ever known.

The next thing I'm going to do is read Prosperity without Growth by Tim Jackson and see what he has to say. (There's a nice little video on the Amazon page btw...)

Monday, 29 March 2010


This place looks interesting.

"People don’t come here to escape, but to awaken their potential, to sing, work and play; to remember skills, to practise arts, to breathe fresh air and to be themselves."

I like that "sing" is the first thing that people go there to do :)

Fyi, they're inviting people to go over and help on the land between now and the end of April.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Seasonal Rhythms

Going through old notebooks and found this from Christmas.

The time in between Christmas and New Year is for rest and retreat.

It may be actual retreat; yoga, vipasana. It might be an at-home retreat; shutting the doors and quietly pottering away with the remaining December tasks in an unhurried way, and taking long rests. It could be going away somewhere peaceful just the 1/2/3/4/5 of you. Whatever. Rest and retreat. Like the earth does then.

Then New Year needs a Ritual. On new year yoga retreats we get given a list of questions to ponder on the 29th. On the 31st we do a partypiece party, where everyone does a party piece, which is diverse and surprising and delightful. Then we write down the things we are choosing to leave behind in the departing year on little pieces of paper, and at midnight we burn the paper in the fire. Then we talk together about what we're letting into the coming year. I've done it twice with Alaric and each time it has felt special and seems to have had a really nice impact on my life.

The two months of the year where most of us (ideally) put the least energy into trade are August and December. In August we put most of our energies into the land, and in December we put most of our energies into our relationships, from our relationship with our world and community, through our friends, family and partners, to our relationships with our selves.

Both periods precede New Starts and both are full of holiday, festival and celebration.

The Pilsdon Community

The Pilsdon Community, on the border of Somerset and Devon, is a place for people who've been through a hard time, wayfarers, and volunteers who want to support them, perhaps in need of a bit of land-based-tonic themselves. I visited in January and, relaxing in the library by the fire, found that Tobias Jones in his book Utopian Dreams did a far better job of describing it than I could hope to.

Here are some excerpts

“It feels as if there is an unobtrusive magnet at its centre, moving those who feel its pull.” p164

“You are living among people who would be terrifying to middle England – many men are covered in tattoos and a few have harder-than-thou scars. But often I have to nip off to finish mucking out the cow shed or whatever, and Fra is in the pottery shed or kitchen, so I leave tiny Benny with one of these guys. And they all gather round and laugh at her smile and mini-teeth, and she starts showing off, and by the time I come back an hour later she's asleep in one of their arms.”

The Rev Percy Smith and his Wife Gaynor bought Pilsdon Mannor in 1958, for £5k.

“By 1960, Percy was writing Letters From a Community, a sort of summary to the outside world of what was going on. He described the planting of japonica, forsythia, aubrietia; he described the animals and the harvests and the potato-peeling. 'If Pilsdon teaches anything,' he wrote in December 1960, 'it teaches through failure and disappointment how far we fall short in our love.' It was, he said, 'a school for sinners and not a museum of saints.'” p166

“There was, as far as I could see, a style of leadership which was completely removed from vanity or power. It didn't shrink from taking responsibility in what were, without being melodramatic, potentially life-and-death situations. 'The leader of Pilsdon,' I was told by one former warden, 'will always have to have the authority to ask people to leave against their will. Within an hour if they are drunk, on drugs or violent. The sense of security and safety for many guests at Pilsdon relies on this authority.' It's a kind of leadership underpinned by service to the whole.” p 167

“...the place felt intimate and calm. Unusually, there was a complete lack of conceit, a tangible humility to the place.” p160

Percy inspired by reading about Little Gidding.

“They believe in the root of community – koinonia – which means having things in common.”

“There was an affinity between us,” writes Gaynor Smith, wife of the founder, describing their relations with the wayfarers who passed through: “we too had chosen an unconventional path and, like them, were living a life that had shed many of the sophistications of society and was simpler and more primitive than most of modern life. Almost unconsciously we understood each other and were relaxed and at home in that understanding.” quoted on p 169.

“Those who have been emotionally skinned, who are in exposed agony, have a gift. They break down the prison of prestige. Jean Vanier, who founded the L'Arche communities for people with learning difficulties, once wrote: 'The poor man has a mysterious power: in his weakness he is able to open hardened hearts and reveal the sources of living water within them. It is the tiny hand of the fearless child which can slip through the bars of the prison of egoism. He is the one who can open the lock and set free. And god hides himself in the child.” - quoted p169-70.

Visitor info booklet in bedroom. First line:

“Welcome to the Pilsdon Community! Coming here is part of a journey of discovery about relating to yourself, to others and to the environment.”

It's interesting, I've always seen that as the question at the core of my work, and at the core of political science: How are we to live, as ourselves, with each other, in the world? Each culture, each layer of history, finds its own answers to this perennial question. I think a new layer of culture is necessarily emerging within our current / old culture now; and once again, we are exploring what our answers to these questions might be.

Three More Goats Cheeses

  1. Simple soft cheese
Add a few drops of rennet to milk, and salt, and leave overnight. It’ll separate into curds and whey.

Next day, put a colander into a pan and a muslin inside the colander. Gently put the curds and whey in. Knott and hang up the muslin over the whey bowl and take the colander away. Leave for a day. It’s ready next day.

  1. Labna
Take yoghurt (make yoghurt by putting a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt into some milk and leaving it out at room temperature (Indian room temperature) so airing cupboard.), add some salt and a drizzle of cream, mix, and put in cheese cloth/colander/bowl.

Next day, give whey to pigs / chickens, and put cheese/yoghurt in bowl. Add chopped fresh herbs, garlic etc to taste. Mix and leave for a bit. Serve.

  1. Paneer
Bring milk to the point where it just starts to move towards boiling – but don’t let it actually boil – just wait until it starts to sway and move a little.

Slosh in lemon juice till it separates.

Put in cloth/colander/bowl. Add salt and mix gently. Hang. Ready next day. Chop in spinach curry etc. It’s a curries or bbq cheese rather than a solo piece.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


I've been moved tonight, watching the Amazon DVD where Bruce Parry travels the full length of the Amazon.

I was watching the part where he's with the Kayapo people of Brazil, taking part in their songs and dances, and hearing their powerful calls to be allowed to live, as a people, to live in the forest and to be allowed to survive.

Like almost all peoples living in forests, it seems, they're under threat from loggers clearing forest in order to get timber, meat, or minerals from off or under the land, resources to trade on global markets, ultimately with consumers in places like the UK.

In all the healthy tribes Bruce visits on his trip, I'm struck by how much they sing and dance together. It's almost in the same family as some of the things we do at the fun fed. Almost.

It was last Christmas in India that I realised that there was something tribal about my many hungers. The kind of lifestyle I long for, with its relationships to nature, community, self-sufficiency, singing, dancing and (healthy) social ritual - these hungers are all elements of a tribal lifestyle.

And how strange that I should hunger for this, born and brought up as I am within this culture

This culture whose materialist norms and demand for resources is leading quite directly to the destruction of exactly that kind of lifestyle where it currently exists.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Let's get together :)

Come to the event I'm putting on with the lovely people of Limina, 12-13 June, in a farm in Kent.


                 When    12th & 13th June 2010 

                Where   The Quadrangle Farm, middle of nowhere, Kent  

                What      I would like (circle + cross out as appropriate): 

                               good work | children | a spouse | the countryside | 
                               the city | a life that contributes to climate change | a 
                               nice laptop | grow my own | milk my own | butcher 
                               my own | skype | wood fires | people around | com- 
                               post toilets | flush toilets | to be busy all the time | 
                               big debts | ommm | sweatlodge in winter + roll naked 
                               in snow | to be a hippy | no fucking hippies | live just 
                               like my parents | live like they did 500 years ago | the 
                               best of the past + the best of the future | live next to a 
                               motorway / on an island / in a hammock | wake up to 
                               birdsong and the smell of baking bread 

                               Other: ………………… 

                  How    Arrive 4-5pm. settle in, eat,  talk. Hear what people 
                              are doing, tell what you’re doing, or what you want to 
                              do. Play by the fire. Sleep. Wake gently, good breakfast.
                              Go for a walk in beautiful Kent countryside, have a 
                              pub lunch. Catch the train home, the end, for now. 

        How much    £10 deposit at We Got Tickets (advance booking essential)
                              + £15 cash upon arrival, so £25 in total for the whole event.
                              Any further donations to support Limina’s work gratefully appreciated.

                              Real beds for the first 16 to book, then camping.
                              Full location and necessary info provided upon receipt of deposit.

                              Queries to

Sunday, 14 February 2010

In search of a word

I'm looking for a word.

I just wrote to Alain de Botton to ask him. Then I thought, why ask just one person?

Do you have any ideas?

The question is this:

if we move away from a materialistic life, what is the name for the kind of life we enter into? I don't like 'de-materialised' (so what is it then?), 'simple' (it's not simple), or 'spiritual' (problematic term).   So I am missing a word. Do you have any ideas? 

There's a fleshier version of this question in the last post.

I do very occasionally get the odd comment and it is great to get comments, like nice letters in the post. If you have any thoughts you might perhaps leave one...

Simplicity is Bollocks

I'm in Brazil for work. I'm planning to visit a seaside village called Arembepe where there's a hippy village that Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin "got rolling" in the 1960s, according to Lonely Planet. It says:

"For a taste of a simpler life, the aldeia is a curious place to explore."

I went into the shower mulling on that line, and concluded that the term 'voluntary simplicity' is a pile of bollocks.

Dematerialising your sources of pleasure, meaning, identity and satisfaction is not simple. It's really really complex.

pic 1 by marilene
pic 2 by teresa

It's much simpler to use booze to kick back, clothes/music/cars/house/friends/income for a sense of identity, and tv/the pub/the odd show for a bit of fun.

OK so in reality few people are that shallow but here's the thing.

Paths to joy that don't use booze are less simple not more simple.

Paths to meaning and identity that don't use money and possessions are less simple not more simple.

Finding genuine satisfaction in life is a Fine Art.

Probably all of them take practice, and years.

To call a dematerialised lifestyle a 'simple' lifestyle is to look at it through materialist eyes.


I once collaborated on a project with a fine sustainability professional called Andrew Outhwaite.

One day he turned up in my office unannounced, came to my desk, and said, Briony, what are we doing? What are we actually doing?

We went to a meeting room with some big paper and pens, and spent a couple of hours talking and scribbling.

We ended up with a single line. A diagonal line going upwards. At the bottom end we wrote 'materialism'. At the top end we wrote 'spiritualism'.

'Spiritualism' is an icky term and I'm not sure we're talking about becoming a God-loving evangelist or a kirtan chanting hippy.

It's probably the wrong word.

But what is the word for how when we put down all our stuff, what we are left with is not nothing.

We are left with more than we ever had before. We enter a richer territory, a more subtle and nuanced world.

We still need things in this world. We still need homes, food, clothes, and ways to get around and communicate.

But then instead of all the rest of the crap, we actually need a bunch of services and practices that nurture our capabilities in the fine art of life.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

English land maths

We've organsied our land into urban and rural areas, distinct. Separate. Broadly speaking, disconnected.

This trend for growing your own; how big is it? How long will it last? If it's big, and if it lasts, what does it mean for how we organise our land?

The numbers for England

England is made up of 13.028 million hectares, that's about 2171.33 square meters per person, or 46x46m.

It breaks down like this.

Type of land use
% of our space
Total area (hectares)
Area per person (sq metres)
That's about
crops and bare fallow
grazing and grasses
forest and woodland

So for a community of 100 people, it might be reasonable to use about this much land:

10 acres for housing
36 acres for all your crops, animals, meadowlands and so on
4.5 acres for your woodlands
3 acres of 'other'
and some space for natural water.

That would be representing the macro land use pattern at the micro level.

This data all comes from Defra . The url seems to change quite a lot so if this is dead just google "defra land use" and you should find their spreadsheets in no time.

Andy Collier calculated that a person needs 0.1 acres to be self sufficient for food, or 0.5 acres if you're going to grow the food for your animals. 0.1 acres is 400m2, or 20x20m, and 0.5 acres is 2023m2, or 45x45m. The above land distribution gives you 0.36 acres per person.

Incidentally, 36 acres of farmland is about 14.6 hectares so should be eligible for some farm subsidy...

This Green and Pleasant Land

My friend Jack if critical of the idea of the Funny Farm.

Don't build on the countryside, he says. Let's live high density in cities. Death to suburbia. Keep our green and pleasant land green and pleasant.

The Government's South East plan sets a target of building 32,700 new homes each year in the SouthEast of England. The document says it's time to build on the green.

We've had a policy against doing that as least since the Second World War. At that time, we had to import food by boat at great danger. This is crazy, we said. Let's grow our food here. Let's protect our agricultural land.

Plus, culturally, we are deeply attached to rural England. Planners have had a strong remit to prevent rural development.

The South East plan changes that.


"Planning policy must therefore balance the need to protect the countryside and retain the charm and heritage of the region’s enviable patchwork of smaller settlements whilst making sure that thriving and socially inclusive communities are maintained and developed, to serve the needs of both their locality and the wider region.

"Whilst the policies of this Plan seek to focus new development into and around existing larger settlements, there remains a need to recognise that local authorities should consider the need to plan for some new development outside these areas to support rural communities and services."

My Dad's a planner. He says there's a big furore in the planning press about the Government's building targets. It's not realistic, say local authorities. We don't want it, say local communities. We won't do it, they say together. Court cases are ensuing. Who knows.

Agricultural subsidies

My friend Jack gave me this film about his project,

According to the film, European agricultural subsidies currently amount to over 100 Euros a year from every man, woman and child in the EU, and most of the subsidy goes to the old, big landowners.

I searched on the website for Suffolk where I come from, and where I am right now, typing away by the fire. A lot of subsidy money comes here. Including a farm a friend of mine lives on. I wonder if we could get subsidies for the funny farm....

Monday, 18 January 2010

How to make Halloumi (and ricotta on the side)

Recently, people have become excited when they discover I know how to make Halloumi, so I thought I'd post the recipe, for which many thanks to the wonderful Pam at Canon Frome.

You need:

Some goats milk, ideally unpasturised and organic and taken from the animal with your own hand (ideally)
A thermometer
Some cheesecloth or muslin or similar thin clean material, about the size of a dishcloth
A colander
Two pans big enough for the volumes you're working with
Rennet - either veggie or non veggie (I think it comes from the stomach lining of an animal)
Some kind of hook about 2 or 3 feet above some kind of surface where you can leave things undisturbed for 24 hours.


Heat the milk to 35 degrees c. Ideally use a few litres, maybe 2 - 4 litres, of milk.

Mix a slosh of rennet with a bit of water in a mug, and add that to the milk when it reaches 35 degrees. Turn off the heat.

When you add the rennet, the milk separates into curds (thick yoghurty stuff) and whey (like milk with all the whiteness taken out of it).

Put your cloth in the colander and put the colander over a big bowl.

Pour the contents of your pan into it. The curds will stay in the cloth / colander, and the whey goes into the bowl.  Pick up the edges of the cloth and bring them in, twist them around so they form reasonably snugly around the curd, and tie a knot in them. Then move the whole shabang - curds-in-cloth, whey-in-bowl, colander in between - actually you can remove the colander now - to your hook, and hang the curds-in-cloth on your hook.

Remove a jug of the whey from the bowl, add a teaspoon or two of salt, and put it in the fridge.

Do something else for 24 hours.

The Next Day

Unwrap the curd and cut it into big chunks, each the size of a small block of halloumi.
Put the whey in a pan and heat it to 90 degrees. Then put the curd pieces in carefully and let it boil for 30 minutes. Don't let it go over 95 at all costs.

As it cooks, skim off the curd that comes to the surface and put it in cloth/colander/bowl. This is ricotta - 'twice cooked'.

After 30 mins, take the curd pieces out of the whey and put them on a rack to cool; cover them somehow for protection. Give the whey to your pigs or chickens.

When cool, put the the halloumi pieces in a dish and pour over the salty whey you put in the jug on the first day.

As you do all this, listen to something interesting on the radio / bbc iPlayer / a ted talk / sing / have a calm time

Don't bother doing it if you're in a hurry, spoils all the fun.

Eat and share.


Knowledge work and growing get married

I'm thinking of writing a Manifesto.

A Blended manifesto.

I'll have titles like, Knowledge Work and Farming Get Married

Knowledge / Creative work - yes, why leave out the artists? - and growing need each other. They need to be together, to live together, or at least next door.

Work can be great. But working five days a week for most of your adult life, for most people, sucks. Literally. It sucks the life out. Look at most people when they stop. Old and sucked dry. No thanks.

Aspects of self-sufficiency - gardening, animals, building stuff, sewing stuff - can be great, but try doing the whole show full time and your life becomes one long grind.

Knowledge and creative work need to have manual/growing/agricultural work dropped in the middle of them and wiggled around like marble cake mixture. When you need to think, step back and let ideas or the bigger picture bubble into view, or have rich conversations with colleagues that don't need flipcharts and spreadsheets - this is the time to be getting your hands dirty. An hour or two a day, peppered into your working day. Thinking time.

"A lot of our problems are created in there," said a man in Canon Frome community pointing to the meeting room. "And a lot of the solutions come up in informal conversation out here," he said while we stood together under the big fresh sky, turning a pile of pruned branches into kindling.

Next door, growing needs knowledge or creative work, otherwise it just gets boring. Farmers kill themselves a lot because it's a crap job if you do it all the time. And the system they're in now is horrible,  feels horrible from the inside. You don't just need interesting things to think about and interesting people to talk to while you tinker with the broccoli; you might also need to sing.

I sing a Phoebe Smith song called The Tan Yard Side that my friend Sam taught me.

Phoebe Smith came from Suffolk, like me. She was a farm worker with a voice like a fog horn and she used to sing for everyone as they worked, across the fields.

In Burkina Faso, says Malidoma Some, they play music while they farm. Work is draining, he says, so you need to do things to stay full. Where we use tea and biscuits, the Dagara people use music, he says, because "Music and rhythm are the things that feed someone who is producing something." (p68).

So, that's it really. We need to tear down our buildings and utterly redesign our spatial organisation, nationally, so that offices and growing spaces can get married and live next door to each other.

Here's a nice example, 1.20 in.