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.