Pam takes me on walk to get to know the old town of Stourbridge; pointing out street names as we go, the Lion, and the Albert streets, and we remember the old verse about Albert poking the lion with his new stick with a horse’s head handle and all, and the lion eating him clean up, horse’s head handle and all.
On our little tour we meet Leah, Pam’s 91 year old friend, out doing her shopping and when told of my journey says
“More power to your elbow, or maybe your feet”
declaring that she herself is not a wonderful person, but of course she is we tell her; she is an active member of the book club which Pam goes to, and was one of the great heroines of our times; the Greenham Common Women.
We are in Stourbridge centre which has plenty of old buildings, and some local shops, and yes, there is a shopping c entre in the middle tacked onto the old town hall but it is as blended in as possible for such a modern monstrosity.
When we enter and leave the town centre we to cross the ring road dragon; a mile and half circuit cutting off the town from its arteries, streets abruptly cut off in mid flow, stranding houses and people on the other side. We talk about short sighted planning; catering for congestion, rather than reducing with it. How simple a solution it would be to restrict access to a town centre to the amount of cars the town can cope with; encouraging people to car share, and to create drop off points, and to improve public transport. Personally I am inclined to think that children share might be an equally simple and sensible idea to the population problem rather than building more houses; it would certainly improve our sense of community and reduce the sense of entitlement people have towards breeding and child rearing.
We invent dress-share when we both fall in love with the same dress and decide against it in our case when we realise we don’t take the same dress size and that we’d have to depend on postage but still there seems to be something in the idea worth sharing – after all how many of us re wear party dresses over and over?
We talk about the increase of charity shops and the closure of many other businesses including pubs, and banks (!) – I wonder if the closure of so many pubs is national, or about this part of the country – I have been noticing it for a while and now am in n what would have been Worcestershire. I find it hard to acknowledge West Midlands as a place – to do so would seem to encourage all that is unhealthy about modern government; huge conurbations making for faceless decision making. For me walking through it feels like I meet Staffordshire, and Worcestershire and that’s how I shall continue to think of them.
We see the old post office building on the High Street; and the new post office, also on the High Street, and lament the lack of connection and foresight involved in today’s decision making.
We walk back through Mary Steven’s park, once the garden of a local benefactor whose wife died young. The park is well used by all on this Saturday afternoon; a sight that is lovely to see and rather shocking to think that once upon a time one couple should have had the right to such a large garden, and where did the children of Stourbridge play then I wonder?
Pam shows me a book “the Power in our Hands” by Tony Gibson which she says was transition thinking before transition existed and I open it at random and read chapter 8 “Must the talkers always Win?” and love it – it is such an accurate reflection of what goes wrong when groups of people get together to talk, including the intentional community where I live, and I love the ideas including “Planning for Real” (…) which rather freaks me out because as I have been walking and thinking about the land and money issue that Edward Acland talked about in Kendal, and one which is close to my heart I had begun to formulate a similar kind of activity in my mind so I am shocked to read it here being used in a slightly different context and I resolve to get in touch with the creators, ask about their packs and talk to them.
Would anyone like to take part in a planning for real day on Economics and Land? And would people like to suggest someone to represent each of all the different kinds of people who would have an interest in this issue who could be invited to take part in a trial run?
Pam lends me a book “A History of Strourbridge“ Nigel Perry , so I can compare how things have changed in the town ; I recognise the old wine shop and the bank when it was still a bank, and the market hall in 1830 when it was a still market hall and not a building standing there not apparently used by the public at all anymore. I learn from the book that there still people living in a mud house in 1943 in Stourbridge; it is astounding how disconnected we have become from recent reality.
In Pam’s kitchen I enjoy two sheets of paper pinned to the cupboard; a how to deal with junk mail idea – post it back to the senders – they will have to pay postage on it, which may deter them from sending you anymore, and a fascinating “Fun History Lesson” complete with explanations of common sayings which date back to the 1500s.
You can read it here (…) but my favourites is not throwing the baby out with the bath water, from the rather idiotic notion held then that the man of the house, dirtiest from being down the mine, should have first turn in the bath tub! Nor exactly the best start in life for the new generation! I am also amused to finally find the derivation of “it’s raining cats and dogs” after years of discouraging foreign language students from using their most favourite expression due to its becoming less used by us; apparently in the days of thatched roofs the households’ domestic animals, not being allowed in the house would find shelter in the roof space but when it rained it would wash them all out and down!
Thresh hold and dirt poor come from the wooden plank placed at the door to hold down the thresh, or straw floor covering in richer homes, whereas a dirt floor had to suffice for the poor. Not having a pot to piss in referred to the habit of collecting the household’s human urine to take to the tanners to be used in the process of curing the skins, all in all a reminder that we are not aiming at returning to the past, but that we can very well learn from it and not throw the baby out with the bath water!
We DO need to remember our roots and understand them if we are to transition into the kind of future that is healthy for us, our children, and our planet.
It is only when we understand why things were done and can come together in the delicious open space of transition, and the “planning for real” activities that generate genuine solutions that are from the people, for the people, and by the people, and by people I mean ALL people, rich, aspiring, black, white and yellow, old, young and teetering in the middle, that we will be able to transition forwards into a future that meets all our hopes.
There are people and politics; we need both; says Pam, advocating the need for both bottom up and top down to meet in the middle.
Later we go out again and follow the Roman Road bridle path or Sandy Lane as it is known locally, for obvious reasons, and come to Norton Covert which is an old sand and gravel pit that has reverted to mature woodland and holds a fascinating key to the geological history of the place from its origins as desert to ice age to woodland, reminding me that change is inevitable and that good and challenges come from all change.
We go on along Sugar Loaf Lane until we are met by Nicola of Ashfield House; and I get to visit my first Camp Hill community, which more than lives up to my expectations.
Mark has already shared with me their lovely “talking papers” idea for community decision making which I love and will take back to my community with me, being one of those people whose voice is often lost in meetings because I am not the sort of person who feels comfortable with dominating a discussion. In talking papers everyone writes their ideas on post its which are then displayed for view by all. It is on this way that every idea is given equal value, and no one person’s idea given more air time through their choice. Rather, the idea that gets most people’s attention is talked about, and whose idea it was irrelevant, and any sense of ownership or attachment to an idea is not present.
I meet Pedro, volunteer from Sao Paulo, and we spend a wonderful half hour sharing Brazilian experiences in Portuguese – que saudades (how much I have missed this) and a piece of my life and a personality I haven’t seen for a while re emerges and is met with some nostalgia by the rest of me.
Mark and Nicola, Pedro, a lovely Israeli/Japanese family with two small children, Hungarian Monica and her partner, of the delicious apple and raisin cake, recipe of Monica’ s mum , Pam and I, and Keith newly moved to the area and eager to get involved with transition, the pet collie and her chewed football, and Annie, deaf as a post but quite eloquent, then gather over delicious vegetarian stew cooked in a cauldron over the fire and made from all the produce of their garden; broad beans, sprouts, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and beetroot.
We sit for hours and companionably chew the fat (although not literally- I have discovered from Pam’s fun history lesson that this saying comes from the host offering visitors a piece of bacon fat to chew on if they were fortunate enough to have a man in the house who could bring home bacon to their predominantly vegetarian households.
We learn all about pig farming from Mark who takes us to meet the famous Scratch and Itch of last night’s story. We are all delighted by the two teenage pigs, large to us but small still for pigs. A lovely chestnut brown, Scratch with dark patches, and watch them dig up the earth for dock roots with their snouts; far better than any mechanical digger or human with a spade ever could, and chew the roots as thoroughly as we are all told we should chew our food, deriving every last morsel of nutrition, and sometimes knocking the other out of their way with their snouts if they try to muscle in on the others root.
I scratch Scratchs ‘s nose whilst Itch itches herself against the rough wood of their straw filled hut and he feels rough to the touch but very alive and vital. It is hard to comprehend that these pigs have been brought to be slaughtered for meat .Mark is really sad that they will be going and says they live naturally for around 10 years.
We are horrified to learn that although a piglet is naturally weaned for about 12 weeks in the commercial world of farming nowadays they are weaned at 7 days so as to get the sow pregnant again so she can have 2 and a half litters a year. I ask why this necessity and Mark explains that supermarkets don’t give a good price for the meat so they have to produce large quantities to get the money they need to maintain their business and that the big 3 supermarkets, not Waitrose, will renege on their contracts with farmers if prices change, and give them less. I shouldn’t be surprised that this is all about money really but it does horrify me that these beautiful vibrant creatures will be slaughtered to become meat when they are still weaners (young pigs that have been weaned) when they are so useful to the land – they have systematically removed all the grass and plants from the parch they are on and dug it up to eat the roots to leave just bare soil ,well ploughed. I ask what next and Mark explains that they will move their patch over to a new strip soon and then plant this strip with rye over Winter.
It is such an obvious natural cycle that has been destroyed by supermarket ethics, if people kept pigs and rotated land use they would not need to dig or plough or worry about deep rooted weeds…
When people were predominantly vegetarian and the pig would have been killed when old it must have been such a celebration to have a hog roast –a special treat for a special occasion and how much healthier people must have been.
So next time you tuck into a bacon sandwich with ingredients bought from a supermarket spare a thought for the disrupted family life of the pigs, and cast a thought to the destroyed family system of our society…
Over supper we hear about the psychic octopus in Germany who forecast the world cup winners, the sugar cane that is now planted over the whole of the state of Sao Paulo (as big as England in size) and how that has affected the climate, how dogs memory works and how it is essential to have a recognisable pack leader and how they are able to find their way back home from places they have only visited once, and I share my experience of travelling to Brazil without money.
Mark sings one of my favourite songs; the old Irish Celtic blessing, to the tune his niece composed;
“May the road rise up to meet you
May the sun shine always at your back
May the rain fall softly on your face
Until we meet again
May god hold you
In the hollow of her hand”
And I am touched for we sang this when I left Totnes in March; Mark and Nicola have been fascinated to hear about Bowden for they love to sing and we agree they must come to visit and join us in our singing there.
We joke about the weather in Brazil and the rain in England, and I come to the conclusion that I must be half lizard half camel for I love nothing more than to bask in hot sunshine and rarely need to drink.