Part One More Malvern Tales
I wake up in Lower House Farm Colwall after a good night’s sleep and realise that though Robin had given me a wonderful set of directions for all around Malvern I didn’t actually know where his house was on the map, and having been driven here after dark at the end of the event cannot use my own instincts either, and head out towards Malvern in the wrong direction! I find this an interesting metaphor for where we are in transition; no matter what dreams and visions we create for the future if we are not wholly situated and understanding of our exact current situation, and how we got here, then we will make mistakes and possibly head out in the wrong direction, even if only temporarily.
I am soon put right in my mistake by asking someone in their garden some half a mile along my way, having felt very uncertain of my choice, and am able to head off back in the right direction, but it throws the day out and I miss the train into Malvern and the chance to visit the Youth Club.
Increasingly in Transition Tales work I have the sense that acknowledging the present is the first step to any healthy progress; if we are unable to name and face present challenges then we take them with us into the future, so that we may make many really positive steps towards energy efficiency and renewable technologies but if we have not first addressed the issue that not everyone will have the money to spend on these we are not setting out in the right initial direction and we shall have to backtrack.
When I finally find the part of the village I recognise I see the school from the film and the community paper bin the children on the film were so proud to be able to say belonged to everyone. The village is obviously wealthy and has many local shops though it is small, and I am struck by how wealth engenders empowerment, or is it the other way around. Hand in hand they certainly walk and I think back to the whole towns I have walked through where shops and pubs are boarded up, and those that remain are owned by big corporates, and feel saddened that we have such an uneven balance of power in across our land and wonder how we address it together to all our benefit.
I am met in Malvern by Ginnie the youth worker who takes me to her home; Prospect Cottage, which still has a hand water pump in its kitchen (though I don’t think it works anymore)and is visibly still a remaining testament to how things used to be.
Ginnie and I walk across Malvern for a good long way of forty minutes or so to the Morgan, the pub where Transition drinks happen. There I meet Mike of Green and Away, the amazing tented conference centre group who have set up on Will and Jane’s old mother orchard (the beautiful place where the trees that supplied the orchard with new trees have been growing for years) these past 4 years. I am interested to meet him for they contacted Transition Network last year to offer their wonderful facilities for the annual conference but unfortunately 350 go to a transition conference and Green and Away can take only 140.
Mike talks about how wonderful it is now that the Morgan has become a local pub people can gather and talk in. For many years the area here where he lives had no local and the pub was in a state of disrepair; new owners have saved it and brought it back to life.
I am honoured to meet the famed Brian energy brain Harper and one or two of his the Gasgateers, including the Nate the storyteller and filmmaker, who gives me a copy of the DVD I saw to take back home to Totnes with me, and Lynn the visionary Fairwater who presents me with a copy of the Malvern Millennium book of keys to take on to the next town. I am privileged to be shown the leather bound copy that was commissioned specially for the museum and see all the people who contributed in the project as well as the historical record of all the businesses that Malvern had in the year 2000. It feels very fitting that the gift I take on from Malvern encompasses both pre and present transition aspects as well as the hope for the future embodied in the exciting projects the group tell me about.
There is much to tell of the Gasgateers but I have been sworn to secrecy …so you must watch this space as the brave energy brain led group explore and check their data for a very special plan to light up Malvern in a very low impact and efficient way, which can then maybe spread across the land.
I chat with Rob and hear his appreciation of having had a whole day out to walk and talk and time to think through the local currency project he is keen to work on in Malvern. Altogether 12 transition folk gather to share and exchange ideas , including a new person who leaves most enthused to have found like minded folk and promises to be along next time to talk to the folk he didn’t get chance to talk to this time around.
Non stop inspiration exudes from this dynamic bunch of folk who really get the idea that transition is all about having fun together!
Part Two It’s the Little Things That Matter
I set off from Prospect Cottage in the morning after a delicious breakfast of homemade macaroons and croissants Ginnie has fetched from the local patisserie to St Anns to visit the well cafe I heard tell about in Stourbridge. True to form during my visit to the Malverns; I get lost! I find St Ann’s road easily but it has various ways leading up from it to the hills that rise up from it and none of them mention a cafe. I ask a group of Italian students coming down one of the ways but not a one of them, including their teacher, can speak any English! I ask another couple but they are tourists, I call Ginnie but there is no signal for my phone. I am about to give up and go back down when man and his son pass by and they know the way.
I walk up the incredibly steep lane; the steepest I have ever walked up. It is hard going and the sun hot. Fortunately it takes only maybe 10 minutes to climb. The cafe is pretty, and the well unexpected; it still spouts the healing waters Malvern became famous for in the Victorian era. I drink from the font and fill up my water bottle, waiting my turn after the Italian boy before me. The Italians have come this way too; faster than me – there must be another way up here though I have no clue as to where! The Italians are noisy and pushy and have no awareness of anyone else in the cafe, not even responding to being pushed out of the way; they move as one body, not dissimilar to a herd of cows. I had forgotten how they function; as one noisy innocent collective consciousness, shocked when they offend.
I manage to get to the counter and ask to talk to John, the owner, to hear his tale, but he has gone ti Waitrose to buy bread. I am surprised; I had been told he sourced everything locally, maybe he cannot get bread? It is almost lunchtime and there is no bread for soup or sandwiches. I ask if the pasties are homemade but am told they are bought in, it is the cakes that are the homemade speciality. I buy two slices of vegan chocolate cake, one for me and one for Ginnie who I will meet at the youth club soon. There is no takeaway wrapping but the young man who serves me goes off into the back and fashions a box out of recycled bits of box for me. I sign John’s petition to remain the tenant of St Ann’s cafe and join the illustrious; poet Benjamin Zephaniah has also joined the campaign to save the cafe, highly recommending the chocolate cake.
It seems the conservators who want to take the cafe back from John have no clear purpose or aim for doing so and that John has paid £80,000 over the past 20 years in rent, which he says should have been enough to carry out the renovations needed on the building. I hope the two parties can find common ground and continue to work together to provide a service in this special place said to be sacred to Jesus’ grandmother, mother of Mary, St Ann, and written down in history books since the 1200’s.
The Malvern waters cure in Victorian times, I learn, consisted of not only drinking the good clear spring water, running straight from their source and thereby untouched by the contaminants of their heavily industrialised times, but also of cold baths, and hot baths, and 1 good nourishing meal a day. I am not so sure about the benefits of wrapping a severely debilitated person in towels soaked in cold water, but I can certainly see the value for many in reducing their diet to one good meal a day and drinking plenty of spring water, and a dose of gradually learning, step by step, to walk up the Malverns would no doubt be a good thing for some too!
I guess the hot and cold treatment must have shocked some people’s systems into working again, but again, I fear that the famous cure was working off a premise not dissimilar to today’s miracle diets; one remedy for all. My own experience, backed up by the great teachings of the Ayurvedic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda) and the Western constitutional systems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_medicine), is that each person’s body type, or constitution, is different from another, and not only that, but that it responds differently to different environmental factors, diets, and qualities of life at different times of life, and in different seasons of the year, so that by dint of simple observation many of us would be able to cure ourselves if we simply stopped leaving the responsibility for our healing in the hands of others, and started to listen to what our body was telling us it needed, seeking out those versed in the healing properties of plants when we had a question, or if we had allowed a condition to worsen, through ignoring warning signs of excess, and needed a drastic turn around.
I discover that Lea and Perrins, before they hit upon the recipe for sauce that made them famous, were partners with Barrow too, and together they were famous for distributing Malvern water until Barrow bought them out!
Once down the hill I visit Malvern Youth Club, and Ginnie takes me on a tour. The site, which is owned by the district council, is full of old fruit trees, neglected in hedgerows and found when they removed the brambles. I hear is hard to keep thing going well as the district council cannot apply for the funding it needs to pay people to come and offer their skills to work with the young people and I think it a shame that we still put money as our reward for good work, when if we were to do good work because it satisfied us we would find that money stopped being an obstacle and started flowing again.
I see the beds where the giant seeded leeks of the tale live, together with strawberries, and herbs, and hear how the children planted them and helped to pick the strawberries when they were ripe. The gardens are looking slightly sad and neglected though, and the children, on their lunch break between activities, are not sitting by their garden; it feels like a dose of enthusiasm from someone is needed to breathe life again into the project to encourage the children to take ownership of their treasure.
Mike comes to pick me up and we share the two slices of chocolate cake amongst several; the kitchen workers have been eyeing it up eagerly ever since it arrived, and we go to off to Green and Away where they have saved lunch for us.
I arrive in the nick of time; I have arrived in Malvern fortuitously for the annual Gathering of Resurgence readers, and I am on the afternoon schedule to give a session for them in 2 minutes time! I tell my tale to a cosy yurt of people and am delighted that Tim Mac McCartney of Embercombe comes to listen to my tale, and offers one of his own; that of the lager and football loving staff of a large well known company come on a leadership and team building weekend to the enchanting environmental centre on the edge of the Ashdown forest in Devon. They lay down the task, that of building straw build and cob dwelling s for future participants, on the ground before them till one picks it up and he is designated project manager.
They take him off alone blind fold into their most magical woodland and whisper to him the dream of the land, to have people come from far and wide to experience the magic healing of the land, and the young lager loving man is in tears, and they remove the blindfold and show him the land and when he has composed himself return him to his people and leave him to explain in his words what the task is to be. They build beautiful structures, and not so much time has passed since this episode when the company contact Mac to say that they have been contacted and highly commended on their sustainability policy and please can Mac and his people come and set up a course for all their employees quick!
There are other wonderful tales too; Chip intrigues us with “cradle to cradle” thinking which he enigmatically leaves us to look up ourselves (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_to_Cradle_Design) and a man from a village that thinks it’s a town in northern Devon tells the tale of a climate group who set off a series of wonderful projects to engage locals in food growing and community building that have been a great success. Yet another tells us the famous tale of duck soup which you may well have heard, that reminds us all that getting by by being a friend of a friend of a friend who did a good deed works to a point, but that there is a moment when it is time to be a creator oneself, and not rely on the good deeds of others.
After the tales Rob Scott takes me around the the Fold, www.thefold.org.uk, showing me the Care Garden, a large vegetable garden run by volunteers, and gives opportunities to those with alcohol and drug related problems, and those that have special needs, as well as any one else in the community that wants to get involved. Rob brings his daughter Jordan down to work in the gardens and they all love her for she treats every one as normal, and of course, receives the utmost respect for doing so, by all.
After the Care Garden Rob and I go to his house to see Jordan, my old friend and key note speaker from the Transition Conference last year in Battersea. There too this amazing just- turned- 11- year old girl had wowed everyone with her wisdom and delight in life. I am taken on a tour of their garden, learn of Rob’s epithany and realisation that permaculture was the way forward and the transformation of his garden from landscaped to an incredibly closed loop system of working that involves chickens and worms and the rubbish the household generates, the family dogs, and lots and lots of strawberries, herb plants and vegetables!
The chickens have a large space in the centre of the garden and fertilize the ground. The worms live in wormeries, bought and homemade, large and small, and create incredible compost with the help of the household waste, including all the old cardboard waste. The hair brushed from the dogs when they moult is placed over beds as soft protective mulch to the soil. The plants are thriving and Jordan’s strawberry patch exuberant. She plans lavender next; when she had trouble sleeping as a young girl her mum, Pauline, placed lavender bags under her pillow and now it is a herb Jordan loves. I see too the Egyptian walking onion, a perennial onion that can be planted from bulb or root, and am given some to take away with me , for the garden I will have one day, and to give others who ask.
I am taken next , by Jordan and her dad, to the wormery where their first wormeries came; the nearby Bubble House (www.bubblehouseworms.com ) and I meet the inspirational Ken and Woody and hear all about their sustainable business. Their strap line is “global worming for a sustainable world” and yet they breed British worms, and explain that the big well known wormery companies are importing their worms….from Asia!! Be warned, take heed, and remember the cautionary tale of Japanese Knot Weed, and if you have never heard of it just remember this; the Victorians in their ignorance were the source of the many invasive plants that are taking over the land, making it difficult for our native species to thrive. Remember also the grey squirrel, and the mink, and the small remaining numbers of red squirrel and otter. Let us not be remembered for the people who brought the Asian worm to our land, without thinking of the consequences!
Get British worms, and enjoy watching them grow and thrive in your very own made to measure wormery. Ken shows us around the wormery he started up when he and his family moved up from London to be near aged parents. His business in London, that paid good money, was not viable here; too many others were offering that service already. He looked around till he saw what the town needed and didn’t have, and then one day happened to pay a visit to a place in the far north east of our land and discovered wormeries.
There are on Ken’s large piece of land wormeries of every size, from small office window sized ones, topped with spider plants, which his wife Woody explains are one of the top ten plants we have that trap Co2 , to giant garden sized ones, and even new coffin sized ones so that when you have died and finished with your body and it begins to decompose and return to the earth it came from it can become a wormery and help the cycle of life continue.
Ken’s stories of what grows on his land without him planting a thing; tomatoes and pumpkins, I am reminded of the same thing happening on my compost in Brazil, my big hole in the ground where we threw all the kitchen waste; cooked or raw, paper, bones and all, and how it too grew the most beautiful tomatoes, pumpkin and water melons.
Ken will teach anyone how to make a wormery, and their own bokashi too; simple to make from bran, efficient micro organisms and molasses. It is truly well worth a visit to Bubble House, so called for the reused bubble wrap that line the polytunnels where some of the wormery work takes place.
We are about to leave when a new conversation ensues. I am talking of Jordan’s great skill in speaking to people and Ken asks if she will become a speaker for the Bubble House, a task she is eager to take on and says
“It’s the little things that matter”
Ken comes out of his house with a large bunch of grapes for each of us; grapes he has grown himself from seed, delicious. He tells us not to swallow the seeds or spit them out but to save them, for they will grow great grapes. More things for the garden I do not yet have, and more hope that it will manifest soon for now there are things to be planted. And Jordan is presented with a small wormery of her own, to be used on her talks.
Ken tells me I too shall have my own wormery, when I get home, and I am warmed, thinking of the garden of memories of special friends met along the way that I will have when I return to my home of Totnes.
Woody talks about the land they have and how it is too big for them and how they would love to share it and Ron promises to put them in touch with the Transition garden share group, but it also makes him think of the Pig Club he is beginning to manifest more and more as the days go by, and, and Woody and Ken say but, why, our sons would like to keep pigs, they think worms are OK, but that pigs would be more fun! We leave this totally inspiring couple with Rob and Jordan promising to go back, to talk worm talks and Pig clubs.
Back at the Fold Jane introduces me to a new vegan delight; marmite and tahini toast – yum! Highly recommended! And we talk about the Fold and how it was once a hop and fruit farm and how the car park was once a cherry orchard that Will remembers being harvested when he was a boy. I learn that Worchestershire and Herefordshire were important fruit growing areas till the 60s when suddenly the bottom dropped out of the market.
Jane remembers the joy of fruit picking as girl in Kent, the other area of our land great for growing hops and fruit, and I wonder what it was about these two regions that made them so much better for fruit than other places.
We go off to the old mother orchard for the nursery, where Green and Away have been setting up their tented conference facilities every summer for the past 4 years. It is a magical site, and the tents of Green and Away (http://www.greenandaway.org/page.cfm )just gorgeous, cosy, comfy, ideally spaced, a nicer place to come you couldn’t imagine.
Over dinner I talk with the lovely Satish Kumar, founder and editor of the illustrious magazine we are gathered to celebrate (http://www.resurgence.org/ ) and we share experiences of our walks around England; and learn we set off at similar time of the year and have both borrowed and posted back maps and Satish walked for 4 months, and I today have walked 4 months too. It is a lovely synchronicity that we meet toady which will take me on my way my next 2 months. Satish asks me if I will write a piece for Resurgence and I am delighted to accept.
I meet old friend and musician Herewood Gabriel, performing the next evening when I will have walked on and so I ask him to play and accompany my tales at the Stroud story telling event I am to do in a couple of weeks, for he lives close by, and to my delight, he agrees.
I am thrilled; what a wonderful day!