Naomi and Seren accompany me along the railway path through Smestow Nature Reserve, this railway complete with platforms was dug out by the Victorians but never actually used and nowadays with its living edges serves as a well used public way through Tennenhall and out of Wolverhampton to the next town; Wombourne.
I continue along the Staffordshire canal and pass three school boys tidy in their black trousers and jackets, and then watch as they remove their ties and fasten them round their heads rambo style, haranguing the younger boy till he follows suit. I can almost hear the strains of Alice Cooper’s classic “Schools Out” coming out of the older boy’s I pod … or is it just my imagination? I cast a thought for all those school teachers liberated for a few short weeks and feel some sympathy that they will holiday in the company of all the school children freed for the end of the summer too. Again I question the thinking behind releasing children for summer when summer is almost over and the longest day long gone, and I wonder when the tradition began, and why.
I meet two interested and interesting characters: one cycling the other way who is coming back home to Walsall from a 3 day camping trip to visit boats on the canal; he’s thinking of buying one to live on . He tells me about Kinver where there is a 100 year old wooden barge that’s lived in and the caves where people lived up until 1997. The other is going my way on his cycle and stops to tell me the local knowledge; stories of today – a warning to steer clear of Brierley Hill where the council have housed all the roughest families and where the kids cut loose people’s canal boats at night, and that I will enjoy Bewdley – it is beautiful he says, and then there was the near suicide found at Swindon – a girl whose boyfriend had gone off with her best friend so she overdosed on drugs and alcohol, and in Stourbridge there was the recent floods when the canal burst its banks.
He tells me that the Led Zep singer and the “I wish it could be Christmas every day “ singer both live at Kinver, which sounds like a fascinating place from both men’s tales and I start to wonder if my way after Stourbridge will take me that way. I learn that Kidderminster is the best market in the area, and walk on, delighted with having had my own personal cameo painted of the area I am about to enter.
It is an easy walk along the tow path into Stourbridge and I am met as I near the town by Silvia of Transition Shrewsbury, Pam Archer of Transition Stourbridge, and Alistair of Transition Redditch. Margy Henderson, co founder of Transition Stourbridge soon meets us and stops us at an old factory which she tells us is now a listed building for it once housed the Stourbridge Lion.
The Lion, I discover, was the very first train to be used in the States, and it was made in Stourbridge; right here in this factory.
We enter Stourbridge and the canal comes to an end; we are here in the centre and at the bonded warehouse. Nobody is able to explain what a bonded warehouse is; just that it is a famous landmark here in the town. We try hard to find out and eventually I discover that it is a warehouse where taxable goods may be stored without paying duty or tax until such time as they are cleaned, stored, or repackaged, but not used in manufacture; they then may be exported without being taxed, or taxed if they are then released for consumption.
After a quick turn around of food and a bath, Pam and I walk back into town to the local camp hill community centre (http://www.camphill.org.uk ) where we are to have a Transition Tales storytelling event. We are late, but then so are several of the camp hill group; we learn later that there has been a car accident on the lane by their community gardens and they had to wait for the police to arrive by helicopter to take the young woman to hospital.
We eventually all settle down in a quasi-circle of some 20 plus adults and 5 children to hear the tales of Wynn Alice and the tales of Transition Stourbridge. It is a delightful evening of lots of smiling faces and shared tales, lots of appreciative clapping, and many inspiring tales. I hear of guerrilla gardening in the centre, of planting seed bombs (balls of clay and earth full up with seeds that will wash into the soil when it rains and release their treasure), and the amazing bag swop events where one of Transition Stourbridge’s talented members, Rosanne, had made lots of cloth bags form scraps of material that were then swopped on a stall on the market for plastic bags. All the cloth bags went, carried away by happy shoppers full of their shopping. The plastic bags were taken to charity shops to be reused.
Mark, houseparent of the Camp Hill community garden, tells us the tale of two pigs; Scratch and Itch. The community were approached by two local men who really wanted to try their hand at keeping pigs to see if they could be kept there. They agreed and a patch of paddock where their ponies were kept was given over to the new pigs; weaners. We learn that piglets become weaners after they have been weaned and this is the time they can be taken from their mother. The tale of the three strong men meeting the sow and taking two of her brood paints a comical picture and Mark still bears the remains of the leg injury he sustained in the encounter.
The pigs, one plain chestnut brown, the other with black patches; the farmer would only part with one of the more sought after patched pigs, arrive safely to Ashfield and are put into their new home where they remain quite happily till tonight’s helicopter adventure; they, not surprisingly, do not take kindly to a large noisy machine trying to land in the next door wheat field.
Mark says he and the extended Camp Hill family have grown really fond of the pigs and will be sorry to see them leave quite soon when they will go to slaughter.
We hear a poem from Roy, and a tale about his visit to the river Severn and hearing a group of Estonian singers sing, improvising as they went adding English things to make their traditional songs relevant to their audience, and a lovely tale about a transition holiday from a lady who said she had never told a tale before but I don’t believe her – she was magnificent – relating her cycling and canoeing holiday to Ross on Wye and back and reminding us all that if we took this type of holiday we’d be doing us all a lot of favours.
Probably the tale that stuck most in our minds was tale of the springs. We are told of a man who went from his burger and chips diet to healthy eating and from there explored good drinking water and then discovered how bad most water is for us, full of chemicals, or bottled in plastic and charged for, so he started http://www.findaspring.com which inspired lots of us to rush home and check the springs near us. There aren’t that many on the map for England …yet, so please add any you know about and spread the word about our access to fresh drinking water.
I talk to Silvia to pick up tales of Transition Shrewsbury; we are both sad that I have already unknowingly passed this town by, when they are such an active group so I am delighted at the chance to include a little of their work in this tale. Silvia tells me I must come back and talk to them when my book is written and tells me the tale of the Renewable Technologies Trail they organized. They went by bike, and they visited four different sites of interest; where local people had found ways of putting renewables on their properties, and what is most exciting about this project is that Shrewsbury is a town full of listed buildings; notoriously difficult to get planning for, as we well know in Totnes.
The trail took participants to the private house where the PV panels has been installed in the garden as they were not allowed to have them on their roof, the local church where a whole row of panels had been installed along the hidden edges of the building where they could not be seen, to the example of underfloor heating, and to a place where solar panels were heating the hot water. This way of encouraging people to think about renewable is really effective as people can ask all the questions they want without worrying that a company will try and sell them something that might not be right for them.
Transition Shrewsbury have been active for about 3 years and were vibrant from the start; more than 70 folk turned up to their first public meeting. Silvia is in Stourbridge mentoring one of their carbon measuring projects, and she talks to me about their well being group, which turn out to be a determined and active heart and soul group. I wish I could find out more and Silvia agrees to pass on more contacts to me. I also discover that Bridgnorth have a transition group; Sustainable Bridgnorth, who I look forward to being in touch with and connecting up with my friends Rani and Robin, who will no doubt be delighted to meet some kindred spirits.
At the end of the storytelling one little boy who has been listening attentively comes over to me to comment that the supermarkets wouldn’t have been able to throw the giant tomatoes away in tale of the Transition Chichester St George’s Day local food feast as they could not possibly have fitted into the bin!
He comes back a little later with an offering from Transition Stourbridge; a pot of homemade ginger and garden grown marrow jam. Delighted I present him, on behalf of Transition South Ribble, to keep and safeguard for Transition Stourbridge, the beautiful recycled woollen purse with the laburnum pendant. I learn his name is Blaise Caspian Taylor, and his mum, Rhiannon, shares with me a snippet of local knowledge –when I walk on to transition Malvern I must visit the well cafe – it has been threatened with closure but it is a place serving locally sourced food very much in the ethic of transition; I promise to go there to see for myself. I am also told of Teddy’s sweet shop in Bewdley that has been run by Rhiannon’s family since the time of her great, great grandfather.
On the walk back home Pam tells me her transition tales; the LETS scheme which is her project, the regular film showings, and the rubbish pick ups the transitioners organise. All in all I go to bed feeling my story bag is nicely filled with new transition tales and happy to be meeting such a nice group of people.