I chose Wolverhampton as a staging post on my route very early on in my planning of this journey I am undertaking; somehow I have always had something of a fascination for this city I have never known.
Wulfruna’s town, the holy lady of the Scandinavian name meaning “she of the secret lore of the wolves”, was originally in Staffordshire until the West Midlands conurbation it now forms part of came into existence. It sits in a special place in England; on the East –West watershed with 3 rivers rising from it; 2 tributaries of the Trent, and Smestow Brook, a tributary of the Stour, itself a tributary of the mighty Severn.
There is evidence of a strong tradition of honouring the feminine in this birth place of rivers; where springs abound, and legends of wells sacred to holy ladies and Shropshire tales of mermaids survive.
Wolverhamptom has been a market town since 1179, and was granted a formal charter in 1258. It was important in the woollen trade, becoming known as one of the staple towns (designated by government to have the right to trade) , and then in Victorian times became rich as an industrial town with the mining of coal, limestone, and iron ore. Achieving city status in the year 2000, its principal skills nowadays are in engineering and the service industry.
Although now part of a massive conurbation, for me it has retained an identity of its own and it has fierce protectors in the local transition women I meet who defend it against accusations of it having the lowest index of skilled people and social deprivation in the country, and who are determined to create and tell new stories about their beloved city.
Over and over I am heart warmed on this journey by the love the “off comers” – the epithet we who have chosen, rather than inherited, our home towns are so often labelled with – for our adopted towns. The passion with which we unearth their roots in order to know and honour them, how much we would give to protect their heritage, nurture their stories, and lovingly assist in the recreating of a new identity.
I enjoy a lovely gathering of like minded women at my host Naomi Water’s home, on St Jude West Road, where Saffie and Erma come to meet me and we all share our tales of transition activities. Naomi tells us about Dan, Dan the Transition Man, who unfortunately, after being the initiator who stood up after a local Friends of the Earth showing of “the Age of Stupid” and asked who wanted to start Transition in Wolverhampton, is in hospital with a leg injury, and how she and he have taken a little step back from active engagement due to having had babies and house moving happening in their lives.
Erma, who is eager to get involved again after having had a baby too, asks what has been going on and we decide to describe the current situation of TT Wolverhampton as in a lull; in a gestation process, and it sounds to me during the course of the evening that there is energy in the room to start something growing again.
Saffie tells us she has been meaning to get involved for ages, but this is actually her first transition meeting. Listening to her describe the things she is already involved in we can all hear that this is a woman who gets it; a thoroughly transition woman. She moved from Brighton 10 years ago and has since started a Wood Craft Folk group (http://www.woodcraft.org.uk/) in Wolverhampton, and is eager to bring a Peace Festival (http://www.peacefestival.org.uk/ )to the city too.
She also shares the exciting things happening at the nearby Merridale school of which she s governer (https://www.wolverhampton-engage.net/sites/anonymous/Documents%20for%20Public%20Page/Merridale%20Primary%20School%20Yurt.aspx ) including their new yurt for events (and where Naomi might teach yoga to more children http://www.mumyoga.co.uk ) and the discussions for putting in compost toilets, and about the different voluntary sector organic groups she is involved with in the area. She sees her role, and possibly one of the roles of transition that she could fulfil, is in networking amongst the diverse groups and people doing amazing things around the city, bringing them together and sharing news of their projects. The women are all aware as a group that more could be done to disseminate news of what is going on and I tell them about the Transition South Ribble group in Leyland and their Green Directory and promise to put them in touch.
We talk about the role of guardians many transitioners have taken on, and of how surprised many of us are at ending up in the towns and cities we have ended up in, and how it seems the thing to do is to create the havens we all aspire to of like minded communities doing wonderful things, in the places where we are, rather than constantly searching for the perfect place somewhere else.
By the time Saffie and Erma leave there is a firm bond of intention to grow and nourish the seeds we have planted; Erma, who feels strongly that she wants to be doing things that are connected with the earth, a feeling that has grown even more now she has 2 young children, to go into the local primary school where Naomi successfully campaigned to prevent the mobile phone mast on the site from being upgraded, and take over the role of bringing in the voice of common sense to the school community, and is eager to be put in touch with all the local growing organic groups Saffie has been telling us about, and Saffie and Naomi begin to bring Saffie’s desire for a local peace festival, and Naomi’s suggestion of a local transition summer fair together as an event to work towards.
It has been a lovely meeting of minds and I walk out of the lounge to my room nourished and inspired by the company of these lovely women.
It isn’t only this evening that will stay with me as a warm memory of my stay in Wolves, as it affectionately known, but also meeting 7 month old Seren, Naomi and partner Lee’s daughter, a bundle of joy and contentment, and hearing this inspiring couple who make a difference to ordinary people’s lives every day, Naomi through her yoga to mums, babies, and school children, and Lee to his teenage students at one of Wolverhampton’s high schools, talking with love about the people they work with, and their joy at having moved to St Judes’ West Road; a haven of community minded folk on an ordinary street of Victorian terraces. The street, who had a Big Lunch in a back garden together last weekend, are supportive, friendly, car share with one another, and have regular parties to which everyone is invited.
The back gardens of many these houses are separated by gates and low fences and a shared back alley for rubbish collection, meaning they can communicate easily with one another and share produce from their gardens. Lee speculates that starting a transition group on this very street might go down very well (Transition St Jude, he is talking about by my final evening)indeed and they wonder about replacing the Big Lunch poster from the lounge window with a transition one inviting folk to an open meeting. This may bring them more satisfaction than the first set of meetings Dan and Naomi organised where they ended up feeling less than motivated when they realised that they were being expected to organise and run the meetings rather than it being an organic collaborative affair.
I spend an interesting day off; I give a phone interview to Radio Phonic FM in Exeter and catch up with Hannah and Neil who first spoke to me on day 2 of my walk, I chat to Rob Scott of Transition Malvern about my forthcoming visit and the newspaper article in the Malvern Times, and I receive an invitation from Tales to Sustain, a group of dedicated storytellers committed to the power of story in assisting in the birthing of a sustainable society, to write a piece for a new book on storytelling.
I am intrigued and struck by the question I am asked on Phonic FM about the value of being in the present. This is so pertinent considering my recent time spent walking through difficult landscapes where I notice the disconnect from nature and how uncomfortable that makes me feel in my body; what I have noticed is that in these times I am always looking forward to the end of the day’s walk, and some degree of comfort; a nice double bed to sleep in and a good meal, or I long for the next like minded person I ‘m scheduled to meet, whereas when I am walking through landscape that hasn’t been ravaged by the industrial revolution I stay very much in the moment, and the present is all that matters and I don’t think about where I am going to sleep that night at all, content to leave that decision till the time I arrive.
My conclusions so far on staying in the present are that you cannot envision the future if you have haven’t first acknowledged the present; if the present is too uncomfortable to be in then the tendency is to protect one’s self from it by providing a buffer; some manner of comfort to soothe the pain. Once the present can be acknowledged we can take the first steps towards the future we want. My piece said I am not a little taken aback by my Phonic FM interviewer likening me to Confucius!
We then get down to more practicals and talk about flip flop use. I am delighted to hear a shared understanding that flip flops work for me because I have worn them continuously for the past 18 years, and that it is the footwear we are accustomed to that makes the most sense when attempting something of this scale. We are quick to remind high heel wearing listeners that to suddenly switch to flip flops to attempt a long walk would not be wise.
Here, in Wolverhampton, I do something I haven’t done since leaving Totnes; I read a book. It feels like such a treat to allow myself a non transition afternoon and curl up on my bed and indulge one of my other great passions; the study of Indic Philosophy, and in this case a book on Vedic Astrology; a science that makes Western Astrology, pretty mathematical and complex in itself when you study it seriously, look like child’s play, but absolutely enthralling. What we begin in the West to touch upon when we discuss bio dynamic gardening (gardening according to the phases of the moon), is a lifelong study for Eastern astrologers, of the astronomy of the planets and constellations, and the resulting effects on the planet earth.
In the evenings Lee, Naomi, and I put the world to rights; discussing everything from good parenting t the roots of racism, the making of policies to empowering the population. We talk about the importance of allowing everybody to express their point of view, no matter how misguided they might be, for it is not until we are truly heard that we are able to take even a tiny step in any new direction, and we talk about the importance of challenging viewpoints, and asking questions, encouraging everyone to look one layer deeper than they have been.
Naomi, baby Seren, and I walk to Wolverhampton, a short 20 minute stroll, and I have my picture taken with the famous Wolverhampton Moth. The Moth turns out to be a statue of Prince Albert, erected on Queen Victoria’s first state visit after his death, and which resulted in the town square to be named Queen’s Square. Still none the wiser? Why Man On The Horse of course!
Wolverhampton has a nice city centre, there’s a feel of spaciousness about the city, wide streets, large houses with space around them, relaxed laid back people, a mixture of cultures, well acclimatised and comfortable here and with one another. I like it, it feels quite down to earth, and cared for.
In the art gallery cafe where we have our lunch there is Asian food on the menu, samosas, pakoras, & and aloo tikka alongside the usual soup, jacket potato and sandwich fare. It feels like such a treat to have this choice. Naomi and I discuss natural childbirth and its importance to a child’s welfare, and the terror that consultant doctors manage to reap in new mothers to be that is totally unhelpful, and how giving birth would have been a very natural process that everybody would have seen in the home when we still lived in extended families.
When Naomi tells me the city’s motto; “out of darkness cometh light” I feel how fitting it is for our times; that from recognising the dark laid bare by the industrial revolution, we can recreate a new future, healing the wounds of the earth, and telling a new story to our children; one of nurture, guardianship, and respect for all that we find around us. There is a rightness for me that it should be here, in a city so maligned for its social problems, that I should find not only peace and relaxation, but also the beginnings of a response to my struggle to be able to look in the eye the consequences of our actions over the past 350 years.