I cross by ferry at Studland to arrive in Poole; from rural idyll to urban sprawl in 5 minutes; the sublime to the ridiculous.
The assault on my senses is acute. I awake next morning dull and fuzzy, disorientated and 2 hours later than any previous morning. The sound of constant traffic on the road outside my window, a feeling of hemmed-in-ness, and apprehension about how much more urbanity I will need to walk before regaining the natural world again.
I feel real shock at what we have “achieved” in our world. I feel alien, as if I have arrived in an unwanted future. Every fibre of my being yearns for the idyll of yesterday. The Isle of Purbeck begins to feel unreal, as if I wasn’t meant to have that experience when everyone else lives this way. Part of me wants to walk back, part of me onwards to find more rural life, as quickly as possible.
What have we done!
How could we have reached a stage where it is possible to walk for 2 hours and see more buildings than trees? How can we think we can remain in balance, within ourselves, let alone with the environment around us, if the proportion of human made to nature made is so out of kilter?
I struggle to return to memories of Purbeck, Collette had walked with me as far as the long spit of beach you walk along to get to the ferry from Studland. She told me wonderful tales, we walked through beautiful places, and I have dulled down so much to be able to be in this built up landscape that I find recall difficult.
I remember the middle school we cut down a lane beside on the outskirts of Swanage, a lovely soft building, so unlike those dreadful hulks we call high schools, factories to churn out consumers, and my heart grieves, for this is the school Collette and many others are fighting desperately to save. The district council want to close it, send the children at the tender age of 11 all the way to Wareham, some 8 miles distant, where they will have to go by bus, or will be ferried in by car.
In Dorset they are fortunate to still retain the middle school system. I had never really thought about it before, but having taken Transition Tales into our very large high school in Totnes, I become really aware as Collette describes it, of the value of the middle school where children from 9 -13 study. I suppose it is as close to the Steiner Waldorf model of recognising that childhood goes through stages, where certain types of learning are innate and easily assimilated at certain ages, as our present society manages. The recognition that at around the age of 9 a child begins to have more awareness of more than his or her immediate environment, and that again at around 13 (though as every parent will be able to tell you, no child matures at chronological age but at their own unique development rate, dependent on family hereditance*) the child opens out even more, and begins to form more relationship with those around, and is less focussed on the immediate family than before. The concept of a middle school takes all of this into account, so that a child is not thrown to the mercy of a large faceless institution before he or she is developmentally ready to deal with it.
So why do Dorset district council want to close this school, why when they employ an officer to work to offset carbon emissions would they pass a decision to put a whole lot more children on buses or in cars, when currently they walk?
Hadn’t you guessed? It will be cheaper to close this school and send everyone to the school in Wareham.
When money rules us rather than serves us it is time we did something. And change will never come from above. It is not possible. The system is set up to be efficient in a growth economy. Change will have to come from us. When we have had enough, when we realise that we have become slaves to money, that we work to maintain a system that no longer serves us, then we can simply say No, we need a new system, one that is not based on growth. When cancer grows in our bodies we do not encourage it, we recognise its pernicious effect, we do all we can to stop its growth. Why then do we not see that our current economic model acts in the same way; that it is out of control.
I realise as I walk along the ancient Priest’s Way with Collette that the reason there is so much campaigning on the Isle of Purbeck is because they are not attempting to transition to a healthier future, they are trying to maintain a healthy present! They are perhaps in a unique position in our country, though I have seen so little of it yet I could be wrong, in that they are similar to many of the places we now recognise and value in “developing” countries, in that they still retain incredibly strong community links and relationships, still have their traditional crafts and skills intact, still produce most of the food they eat, are still content to live where they do, young and old alike.
I am almost moved to tears by hearing Collette talk about the old lady in her village, she’s called Pat, who bought her a spinning wheel, then asked her, no obligation, if she would be prepared to learn her craft, learn how to spin! Collette, born and bred in Swanage, and never moved away from the area, was afraid at first, what if she failed in the task, but she did it and now loves it and has bought the spinning wheel. She talks with great respect of the older lady who has a house full of books who, when her husband died, decided to give away the TV to prevent her from vegetating, to live sustainably, and is an inspiration to all who meet her. We call her up but she is out, just as well I think now. I might not have left!
The other story I must share is that of the failed campaign to save the local community cafe and craft centre. This was a viable business, serving both community and craftspeople, and visitors to the village. Local young people often worked there as their first job, local artists displayed their work there, they could not have afforded to do it separately but together it was possible. The cafe was bought by new people who did not know about catering, did not make the homemade cakes the previous owners always had, but bought in soup readymade. The cafe failed. The villagers tried hard to save it but it could not be done; the business no longer made enough money to cover its bills. The happy ending to this story is that although individuals had mismanaged it, the locals who had come together to try and save it had made new connections with one another, and out of it came the offer of the use of the neighbouring hamlet’s church hall as a space to exhibit the work of the local artisans, and the catering was supplied by the church folk as a way to raise fund to maintain their needs. Resilience in action! We underestimate human relationships as a resource at our peril.
I remember my first contact with villagers in Worth Matravers; they are a small gaggle of children. I have stopped to look at the village map by the community duck pond. The children come over carrying two small furry things that wriggle and twitch.
“Would you like to stroke our guinea pigs?”
“They’re called Nibbles and Squeak”
They are gorgeous; soft, warm, furry bundles of nervous inquisitiveness. I am touched by the warmth of my welcome. I ask where the pub is and the children direct me. I am struck by their openness, confidence, and trust. They haven’t had the life frightened from them with scaremongering tales of wicked strangers.
Thrilled by stories and experiences of resilient Purbeck I turn excitedly to my next adventure; off to Poole, which I can see in the distance, a ferry ride away. It somehow reminds me of the fishing village in Brazil I left to come back to my native land. The distant other land just across the water.
 I have coined this term to describe the features of our family and ancestors that we carry forward for them, be they a strong leaning towards a particular ability, a physical quality or disability, or an emotional or psychological tendency. What we would often call “in the genes”.
 One of the really distinctive features of west Dorset is their stone way markers. They are everywhere, as a walker you feel respected. They are all cut from local stone.