Day 84 – The Old Red Town (20th June)
By Steph Bradley 22nd June 2010
I like it here; I have one of those hazy childhood memories of having always liked it here though in reality I can recall nothing tangible of the childhood holidays spent in the Lakes whilst dad went fishing; the best trout fishing in the country as he has always said and as the leaflets in the tourist information confirm.
I am in Penrith; attractive red stone market town in the Eden Valley and on the NE edge of the Lake District. It is Sunday and much of it is closed but I find a cafe with tables outside in the sun; it is hot and beautiful just like summer should be, and call my dad to tell him I am sitting opposite the fishing tackle shop.
“John Norris’?” he asks
…incredible, the memory of older people.
“Yes” I say, and he wishes he were here; its father’s day and I wish he could be here too.
I peruse yesterday’s Guardian and reflect on the last days of the machine age…
“I read the news today old boy”
– Oil spill discussions that spill into scapegoating; denial of what is really going on, from all sides; overheard later in the George Hotel …
“Obamna has made the oil spill political. I hope he doesn’t get in for a second term. Bad form, making it personal; we always got on so well with America too, Maggie liked Ronnie” – Well spoken elderly couple who then went on to reminisce about the work they did in the second world war.
Naomi Klein on p32 tells it how it really is…
“The deepwater horizon disaster [..] is a violent wound inflicted on the world itself”
“The response to the disaster is rife with the arrogance that created it in the first place”
– Football thug as national hero – is that really the best we can do?
“Nice to see your own fans booing you” – Rooney snarling as he left the pitch after a nil all result against the humble Algeirian team.
Compassion or Aggression? Ad in the paper for the Economist:
“Should prisoners be allowed to vote?” on the day a man on death row in the States is shot dead by a firing squad.
Here in peaceful Penrith on a dozy summer’s afternoon it is difficult to relate these events with reality.
I skim the selection of leaflets I have picked up at the tourist information centre;
I’m moved to tears by reading about the response to the flooding disaster that Cockermouth experienced last year; the sense of community and the rallying around to help people get back on their feet, and I remember the man I met in Yorkshire who told me that the High Street still stands empty of shops apart from Barclays and Boots; the insurance companies won’t pay out to enable the other businesses to start over. It brings it home to me how fragile a system we have; we have built in assurances made of money but it is false security against the work of nature, no pot of money is going to help, even if all the hoarded savings are released back into the system; only our sense of community pulls us through.
Invest in friends, not money. Value sense of place in the way our ancestors did; observe nature and work with her. These are surely the lessons we take from these times.
I read of the community shop in Allendale, the first shop it has had for 2 years, and breathe a sigh of recognition – the tide has turned. Cumbria was in a bad way when I lived here some 20 years ago unemployment, poverty, powerlessness. It is beginning to come back to a realisation of the strength of its communities and a recognition and celebration of its natural resources. I read that the North Pennines is an ANOB and see how the area, some years on, is redefining itself and in a very positive transition way; celebrating biodiversity, sense of place, heritage, raising consciousness about closed loop thinking in many practical ways from recycling to returning to valuing cycling and horse riding as valuable ways to explore the region.
Cumbria has its own organics county wide project producing good, easy to understand information about what this means and where to shop for it; there are also farm shops which are working mixed farms selling their produce, much publicity encouraging folk to buy local to support local, and are participating in the CPRE (Campaign for Rural England) national food networking project, which maps where food actually comes from, the supplier-producer-consumer chain in each of our regions.
I read an excellent article about Water in Cumbria’s green handbook summer edition. In this piece by Marianne Birkby http:web.mac.com/marionbirkby1/iWeb/Radiation%20Free%20Lakeland/Radiation%20Free%20Lakeland%20.html she explains to everyday people with no technical or scientific knowledge just one of the reasons why nuclear power is such a bad idea; it uses vast amounts of water which we will also find to be in short supply in the future. This water issue is something that Brazilians were being warned about 2o years ago as a very real thing to be aware of. How long before we take it seriously?
I explore the red town up and down little alleys and into squares, and visit the allotments, love their situation looking out towards the wooded valley sides, and the wonderfully profuse and tended plots, but feel for the birds; some people are keeping ducks, geese, and chickens in their lots, with no ponds, and dry, dry earth, and the birds are covered in dust on this hot day, rolling in it to keep cool, and I wonder at the cruelty, the unawareness of it all, keeping these birds from their natural environment.
Later I sit in the church yard, and sunbathe on the grass, my natural environment (warm grass in the sun , not the churchyard!) and later have a leisurely dinner in the George. I have discovered that walking has turned me back into a meat eater, albeit rarely, and the Sunday roasts takes back its old meaning and I really appreciate it.
Dr Naomi Van der Velden, plant ecologist, meets me and we walk to her house. She tells me about her work at the university of Cumbria and the new forest garden project she and some students have started, extra to their curriculum, not credited for the students and not paid for her, but nonetheless them all doing what they wanted to do; get their hands in the earth and experience what they learn. Naomi lectures on forestry and conservation, and sometimes, as guest lecturer in Slovenia on economics, slips in a little controversial, for them as Ecomonics students, stuff on the value of biodiversity over the current growth system.
She tells me of her joy in her new allotment, it’s organic and full of fruit bushes and she was given it because the woman who was leaving it saw that she was tending her new own half plot organically. What Naomi would really like is a little home of her own and a proper garden. Now that is a wish I think many of us would resonate with.
We share our experiences of having spent time abroad from our late twenties, of all we leant, and of what we learnt to appreciate. Water; we both recall using less, far less; me a precious bucket of water to wash my hair on board a sailing boat bound for Brazil, and washing up in sea water; for Naomi the river water, silt sunk to the bottom, that ran in the tanks of the people in Cusco in Peru, and with which she washed her hair.
We talk too about her old love Leeds and I lament not meeting any transitioners whilst there and we talk about how it is that the people make a place. For Naomi the reason she loves Leeds is her friends, and the allotments, because she would meet so many friends there.
“Actually it is a place of dirt and broken glass” she says, adding that though she did frequently walk home at night it wasn’t altogether safe whereas here in Penrith she feels very safe.
And I begin to really get a sense of what makes up Transition; it is often the people who have travelled; who have taught, and have learnt about new cultures, and then have come to a place, or their chosen town, and are now making transition happen. It is sometimes about the settlers, those who never left their home town and never stopped doing it right, because they valued their town. Those many who were seduced by consumerism and the age of the machine most likely didn’t have a sense of place, so they have no roots to feel they must protect.
And the wanderers? Why, we were simply searching for that sense of place, and when we find it? We care for and love it, tend it like a garden and feel nourished by it. I am struck by one of the recommended things that came from the powerful economics talk that was given at the Transition Conference (read here if you are feeling strong and supported http://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/conference-2010/2010-06/dont-panic-says-stoneleigh ) to find a home you love, land. This is surely deep down what has been missing for us all and is fundamental, not only for reasons of security in uncertain times but perhaps more importantly, because it is from this stewardship of land we love, for which we feel sense of place, that we start to take proper care of our surroundings, of our environment, and when we all do that then the balance that we have disrupted for so long will begin to come back to centre.
So, find your home, for Transition’s sake, do not stay where your heart is not. For without your heart in it you will not work to save the earth, your land, our home.
Find that feeling of rightness, which for me happens when a place was built in pattern language ways; so the traditional wide streets of a market town, and the pleasing nature of houses built from local building materials, where the old blends with the new harmoniously and there is a community of like minded people.
If both the sense of place and the sense of community are absent well you might as well be dead and I think for many people this is the case, and our prowling desperate youth need to know that, there is nothing wrong with them, but there might just be something wrong with the place they are living in, for them, and if they do not love it then they must go and seek what they most deeply long for.
And if either sense of place or sense of community is present then there is hope, and if both are present, well then, heaven is right here, on earth, if we only had eyes to see.