(Days 142- 144) August 17th-19th On the Banks of the Avon
By Steph Bradley 20th August 2010
(Day 142) Fruit, Veg, and Sunshine; in Abundance.
I have a lovely lazy slow start to the day waking without a time to be anywhere and being able to write my blog in a relaxed fashion. When I do venture downstairs Freezie is delighted to see me, tail awagging, kisses and jumping up for cuddles.
Liz has breakfast laid out for me and we talk about ayurvedic constitution types; I have studied this and so has her daughter. According to ayurveda I am a vata type, which refers to those of us who are naturally slim and burn off energy quickly. Best for us tends to be easily digested foods such as soups, dahls and rice, and nothing too cold which can shock the stomach making digestion even more difficult.
We look at the Guardian, shocked by the stark contrast of a Sao Paulo seen; the obscenely wealthy juxtaposed besides the tin roofed favelas. The middle classes are a tiny minority in Brazil, with ten percent of the country’s wealth held by 10% of the population, and everybody else living on or below the poverty line. I taught these two ends of the spectrum during the 14 years in which I lived in that beautiful country, the wealthy inside air conditioned classrooms with state of the art equipment, the poor beneath a mango tree in the municipal park, giving English lessons and companionship in exchange for pottery classes and the privilege of receiving the trust of these often homeless children who sniff glue as an appetite represent, and burn out their memory cells. They used to like us coming, they felt our friendship was authentic; they neither liked not trusted the Christian missionaries who would come to the park to preach.
Liz and I go to visit the nearby organic veg gardens where Climate Friendly J-J is struggling to manage his 16 acre plot single handed. I ask about his having open days and inviting people to work the land with him but he says he’s bit of a perfectionist and finds it difficult to find workers he trusts. He trusts Ruth though, and is delighted to have her help in the abundant polytunnels and fields full of large and healthy looking veg. We eat freshly picked tomatoes and they are delicious.
Ruth is a co-founder of the new community garden about to start growing produce next Spring. We are meeting here so she can take me over to see their site. Whilst I wait for her to finish planting up a tub with lettuce for a sustainability show in London J-J has been invited to attend in September I go over to meet Di Francis, his mother and owner of the organic vineyard and orchard on the same site as the veg garden. I learn all about the process of taking care of grapes organically; I see the pinot and another variety destined to become a rose. Di is pruning and taking off some of the leaves, mildew is one of the diseases that can affect the grapes and removing some of the leaves so that the fruit is exposed fully to sun and air is of great benefit.
I learn that voles can be a pest for grapes as they burrow beneath the layer of fabric laid over the ground to prevent weeds coming through and crowding the vines, and dig down to the roots and knaw through them to suck the sweet sap. They lost 5% of their crop last year but think now that the vines are a little older and stronger this might not affect them so much.
Harvesting of the grapes takes place in October. There are groups of pickers that travel around the area, Di describes them as quite militant and tries to invite others pickers too onto the site to dilute this slightly. She would have the pickers back because they are so knowledgeable about what they are doing. It takes about six separate days to pick all the fruit but there are plenty of vineyards in the area.
The apples are for the most part dessert apples and sold to the local market and shops. Di would like to see the orchard become a CSA but her business partner is yet to be convinced. It is hard to do all the work that is needed to care for the fruit trees though and Di hopes that she will eventually persuade her partner of the advantages.
Ruth and I head off to visit the new garden. She is proud to show me the recycled shed the council gave them, dismantled from a site where it was being vandalised and removed and re-erected here. There are trees on the site and Ruth hopes there will be a forest garden and permaculture area here. Further over, in an open area the farmer, the landowner and now partner has ploughed the area which they are going to plant with green manure. I see the new hedge they have planted with holly, hazel, hornbeam and willow and as we admire it the farmer comes over and he and Ruth talk excitedly about the tool shed that will go up next and getting the ploughed field ready to plant and the BBQ they are planning to celebrate the new shed going up.
The land was once part of a big estate and the manor house can be seen through the bushes. It used to be run as a community but they fell out and now the house is divided down the middle, half into private flats and half still a community. They have more land and are happy for the community garden to devlop and take on more land from them in the future.
Ruth and I walk back into the town in blazing sunshine and I hear about the work she does as an illustrator and the children’s book she has just had published (www.ruthwalton.co.uk ) all about where out food comes from. Her dream is to travel around the country with a large yurt masquerading as a giant chocolate cake in which she will run workshops teaching children where the ingredients for the cake come from, how to bake the cake, and then finally, eating the cake. It sounds like a great project to me.
We walk down the old cart track, Conigre Lane, which is named for the hill that was once a deliberately cultivated as a rabbit (coney) warren to feed the poor. From here we follow another tiny steep lane ever heading towards the town centre in the river bottom and Ruth points out the lane I will be able to follow to find St Mary’s church later. This church is on the Michael Mary ley line and used to be on the route for pilgrims going to Glastonbury. To get to it you walk along a pedestrian only track past people’s cottages and between them and their front gardens. There is a great sense of community there Ruth tells me.
She leaves me at the end of her street and as we exchange contact details Ruth sees the woman who always leaves a basket of produce at the lane end, a tiny narrow walkway that leads directly down into town, where everyone will see it. Ruth takes a baking apple and is delighted she finally knows who the secret benefactor is so she can thank her next time she sees her.
I head off down the lane and come to rest at the bottom in the Cooperative Cafe where I can sit and bask in the hot Mediterranean feeling sun and eat vegan cake and drink elderflower cordial whilst I write. Life; it don’t get much better than this!
On the walk back to Liz’s house I visit first St Laurence’s, the Saxon church I have remembered for years as being the most peaceful atmospheric church I have ever set foot in, and am delighted to feel the same about it now on my second visit, and then St Mary’s, which I learn from information inside has been rebuilt, probably in the 19th century, though no doubt on the site of an ancient chapel or hermitage. I don’t get the same feeling here as the 8th century church down by the canal, St Laurence’s, and wonder if the rebuilding has something to do with that?
I do enjoy the walk to Mary Tory though, along the narrow pedestrian only access past old houses with spectacular views over the countryside beyond Bradford and the two white chalk horses on the far hillsides, and their front gardens across the way, most with a resident cat, something comforting about a home with a cat somehow, and no threat to passers by at all. Comfortable familiar sounds of supper being prepared ensue out of many of the open doorways as I walk past this early evening. I stop to enjoy two doves grooming one another at the top of a TV aerial on top of one of the chimneys of a cottage on the next level down, and then to my astonishment watch a cat, replete with blue collar, gingerly make her way down an almost perpendicular rooftop to peer over the edge; curiosity killed the cat? Not in this case, for once she had examined the guttering at the edge to her satisfaction she walked, more confidently now, back up to the apex of the roof and tried to paw at the doves, some good three feet above her, safely out of harm’s way and they knew it, continuing to groom, whilst she stretched up in vain towards the chimney but far from the bottom of the TV aerial.
Day 143 Tales from Bradford
I spend nearly the entire day catching up on e mails and blogging, interspersed with a visit from Rowena Quartrill who fills me in with some tales of Climate Friendly Bradford’s activities. I hear about the pledge machine, which a local toy maker made for them. This is a kind of a balance with a globe beneath it. On one side of the balance is a small plastic greenhouse, on the other a basket into which can be placed pledges to make changes that will help the environment, turning out your lights for example. For every pledge made a marble is placed in the basket, thus tipping the balance from the greenhouse touching the globe, or the pledges moving it further away.
The other creative thing the group have orchestrated is the polar melt down. Every September Bradford hosts a very well attended Arts Festival. Last year they commissioned a local artist to make a rather splendid large polar bear made from ice and exhibited it at the festival. Over the three days of the festival the beautiful polar bear of course began to melt, and people came up to them and asked them
“Can’t you do anything to stop it melting?”
It was a very poignant message carrier and enabled the group to ask indeed
“Can’t you do anything to stop it melting?”
The Climate Friendly not only do awareness raising activities, they have fund raised for quite large grants, thanks to the hard work of Jane Laurie and are now the holders of a grant from British Gas to implement their Green Streets project, looking at how to reduce the energy consumption of the houses in participating streets, and offering grants.
Another active member of the group is Lib Dem Duncan Hames, who was recently elected MP for the constituency. The group feel fortunate to have him on board, they had asked all of the candidates in the constituency what their views on environment were and found that he was the one with the most understanding and will to do something. The constituency borders recently moved in this corner of Wiltshire meaning Bradford moved out of one voting area and into another, a change which affected the outcome of its governance.
In the evening Liz and I walk to Gill’s house for dinner. On the way Liz tells me more about the group’s projects. One of the up and coming events is the Westwood Show which is quite a conventional local horticulture show. The group will have a stand there and one of the things Liz is preparing is a little box of energy saving gadgets for the children to play with, like a tiny solar panel which they will be able to see working and put their hand in front of to see it stop. I hear too of the Bath university students whose research is often used. One of the group’s members is an academic there and regularly suggests dissertation possibilities for students who are interested. One did an energy audit on the local pub, the Castle, then recommending ways in which they could make savings on their bill, and another did research into the use of wood burners to power all the heating for the new Kington housing development on the river.
Gill and Liz are interested to hear of all the different working groups transition towns have, they were not sure if that was the case as it is for climate friendly groups (which were set up by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust around the same time as Transition got started, though many have now changed their names and only one other group with a climate friendly name exists). When I list all the active groups on Totnes and their various projects; Food, Transport, Energy, Heart & Soul, Health & Well Being, Sustainable Makers, Arts, Building & Housing, & Education. They are surprised to hear how much is going on and are particularly interested in the heath and well being and food groups and their respective projects of a well being garden where our local doctors can prescribe green prescriptions, and the food groups mapping of all the local food producers and shops and cafes, as well as the ever successfully growing garden share.
On the way home Liz talks about local food, I have explained to her and Gill about Forest Gardening, and talked about Rebecca Hosking’s wonderful BBC production “A Farm for the Future” and Liz has raised a couple of times the sense she has that there is a lot of discussion but not much practical stuff happening in Bradford, and wonders about their demographic. She and Gill say that there are a lot of “townies” in Bradford, though they are so close to the countryside and also many yuppies and folk who are commuting to London, as well as the climate friendly supporters. The country folk, they say, live in Malksham, nearby. Liz would like to see more practical things beginning to happen and wonders about speakers on local food next to see if it might inspire some movement in that direction. I suggest Patrick Whitefield of the Soil Association and permaculture writer, and Martin Crawford to talk about Forest Gardening.
By the time we have walked home there is a plan of sorts hatched, that the idea of local food will have been introduced at the local food dinner for the 10thOctober 10:10 day, and then perhaps in the Spring a new series of speakers, on local food, could be invited to speak, at the planting time, for there are many keen gardeners in Bradford and this might encourage some interest in looking at new ways.
I find it interesting that Bradord are very good at fundraising and patiently following the beaurocratic loops required by so many official bodies, and hear their lament about the lack of what they call practical skills, and wonder if a bit of a skills share might not be in order with nearby groups who are very good at just getting stuck in and making things happen. This could well be of benefit to both groups. Climate Friendly Bradford had been put off calling themselves a transition town by some of the language used, but are very sympathetic to the work and do very much the same things and seem quite interested in hearing some of the practical things that transition towns do. Yet again it seems that language can be quite an obstacle to us if we are not very mindful about the way we use it.
Day 144 Market Day
Liz and I walk down into the town to enjoy market day. I am on the lookout for a new bum bag, for the plastic zip in my otherwise hard wearing and water resistant hemp bag has let me down. The bag would last for years, but not the plastic zip. I hate to throw things away and we ask the cobbler if he can mend it but he says it’s a tricky job and would cost £15 and take him several weeks to fit it in his list of jobs. No one has another bag of the type I want, being too slim for the outsize belts made nowadays. You don’t see that many giants around but no one seems to have told the manufacturers of this.
Liz suggests velcro and we off to the local carpet and sewing shop tucked in and almost invisible behind the library to acquire some for 60p. Now that is more like it; the shop keepers in the full array of local shops have been really helpful in my quest to find a new bag, but this is even better, a repair I can do myself, and the bag lives on.
On our travels around the town I have been introduced to Carol Stone, in the local book shop, Ex Libris, and we talk a little about my walk, and her vegetable growing in her allotment, and the struggle for time between working to dedicate much attention to it. I spot Mark Boyle’s book “The Moneyless Man” I have been telling liz about it, and she buys a copy as well as one by Ruth Walton on clothes and where they come from which she later gets signed when she bumps into her in the town. When I return to Ex Libris later, realising I still haven’t got a map to take me on to my next destination, Wells, and Glastonbury, Carol donates one to the cause. Many thanks, Carol! I shall donate it on in turn to someone else who might need it somewhere along the way.
Everybody is out and about in Bradford today and at the market Liz introduces me to Steph Noble, from nearby village of Freshford, waiting for the weekly bus to take her home. I hear about Greening Freshford and their campaign to get everyone to make one small step towards making a difference and one of the things Steph has decided to do is to support the local bus to come to market day. It is the only bus in the week, and she doesn’t want to see it stop through lack of custom. We hear also about the community shop in Freshford, run by volunteers, with one paid manager and a part time post office. Steph also volunteers in the Cottage Cooperative cafe in Bradford and when I go there later for lunch and to write I am surprised to see Steph there and not on the bus home. She is quite cross, she has had to ring her partner to come and collect her; the bus does not go to Freshford on the way home, only on the way out! Now there’s a piece of beautiful joined up thinking! She knows the people whose scheme it is and will be on the phone when she gets home. It is incredible how poorly things are thought through often in our times, hopefully this project will listen to feedback from its customers and make things things right!
Liz is delighted to hear about Greening Freshford, she does not think the Climate Friendly group know about this initiative, I wonder if nearby Malksham, who Gill and Liz think of as being country folk and have more relationship to the land than the townies in Bradford, also have any projects going, because if so this might make a very good opportunity to skill share.
I have lunch in the Cottage Cooperative, after having explored the other businesses in little rabbit warren of tiny walkways and old weavers’ cottages. There is a beautiful Buddhist meeting room, well used the owner says, at the back of the lovely eastern crafts shop, and the fair-trade Bishopston clothing company as well as a lovely whole foods supermarket with a full range of organic, fair trade, vegetarian and vegan products, as well as ethical cleaning products. I feel quite at home, this is very much the range of shops I am accustomed to in Totnes.
As I eat I read about solar powered websites www.lightbeingcreations.co.uk from among the many leaflets on display in the cooperative. After lunch I head off back over the river and through the market to the library where there is to be transition tales. I meet Kathryn Prescott who had arranged the session and tell my tale to two elderly ladies. Aileen …., looks like she might be late fifties, tells me a tale of living in the east end of London during the Second World War, and then tells me she is almost 80!
I hear a sad tale about her grandfather who managed to keep chickens in his garden there, in London, but then when news of the war came and gas masks were issued he was so worried they would be gassed whilst he was gone and couldn’t protect them that he had them all slaughtered before he was called up. Aileen still remembers the day.
I ask how Aileen knows Liz, who has told her to come along today, and she explains that she too was one of the woodcraft folk (…) in the days when they were still frowned on and thought marginal. I tell my tale and wait to see what my two ladies might tell me and Aileen says he does very little though she grows her own garlic and onions and that she chose these as the slugs don’t eat them. Jean Stephenson, quite a character, a tall upright elderly lady who still walks into Bradford 1 mile each way along the canal says she puts coffee grounds down but when Aileen asks if this is OK for the soil Jean is quick to retort
“I don’t care about the soil” as if it were something quite irrelevant!
How cut off from nature some of us have become, and how sad this is, I wonder what kind of life has led some to have such a limited and closed down view of the integrity of life, and what it would take to wake these folk up?
I take a walk to see the famous tapestry but the church is locked and bolted so I visit the tythe barn instead.
After dinner Jane Laurie comes to visit bringing with her a bottle of her own wine Quions that I discover is made by a Bath winery so very local indeed, and I hear more about the green streets project that climate friendly have received funding for, thanks to Jane’s hard work and perserverance.
They will use the £140 000 grant to help 100 households to make changes to their homes to make them more energy efficient. It’s not proving to be as straight forward as they had hoped though because British Gas have limited knowledge and only a small bank of expertise in this area and there are things needed such as expertise about wood burning stoves that are having to be researched separately by the group.
I talk about Totnes’ big grant and the solar panel project and how the council have now put in money to put solar panel on the civic hall roof. It is heartening that so many energy saving projects are happening all over the country. Climate Friendly’s green streets project has targeted many different types of building including schools and community halls as well as homes where people would be less likely to be able to afford to make the changes themselves.
We move onto a discussion about wood for fuel and Liz begins to talk about how the tree group might start to map out who owns all the woodland around Bradford and find out if it is managed or not.
Jane is doing a Masters at CAT (the Centre for Alternative Technology) and plans to do her thesis on the ways in which people communicate about energy, using the green streets project recipients as a starting point and interviewing them and the people they have spoken to. In this way she hopes to map what sort of communication is effective in persuading people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
The conversation turns to squirrels and how to control them especially in the summer when the young males are looking for new territory and the need to keep the numbers down so that they don’t destroy the trees by stripping the bark from them. We talk about the voles that ate through so many of Di’s vines and that encouraging barn owls to live in the barn at Quions is the plan to keep down their numbers there.
I hear about Bath Asparagus that was brought over by the Romans and only grows within a 10 mile radius at most and is protected though it grows in hedgerows and both Liz and Jane have a few that have self seeded in their gardens. We wonder if the growing of it could become a sustainable business.
We talk about J-J and how generous he is donating juice and produce for the Climate Friendly meetings and how hard he works to make his small business work.
We talk about the Big Society and how important it is that we go along to the public consultations and make our voice heard whilst the whole idea is still so loose and has room for development. Jane has head that the government hope that community groups will work with such big businesses as Marks and Spencer and Tesco which concern us. Also large areas of land being sold off openly is something to be cautious about too, and there is a real need for people to get together to raise the money between them to buy land so that it does not all end up being owned by people who already have wealth but being distributed more evenly. This is up to us to take advantage of and club together to buy land.
I retire to write my blog and Liz ventures out into the dark and rain to see Jane onto the beginning of the footpath that is a shortcut back to her home. I have heard a lot from Climate Friendly Bradford and only hope I can do the group justice in the telling. I’ll finish by quoting Duncan Hames, MP, and active member of the group in the forward to “Changing Seasons”
“The effects of climate change are probably the greatest challenge now facing the human race”
He goes onto say that he spoke of the Climate Friendly Bradford group in his maiden speech in the House.