Friends Across the Border (Day 160) September 4th
By Steph Bradley 7th September 2010
We walk down to the centre of Tavistock where there is to be a community engagement fair consisting of lots of small stalls where community groups are represented inspiring Tavistock folk.
We meet Kit, and Mark the Community Police Officer, both members of Transition Town Tavistock. As Geri and I talk to Mark a fluttering of pink balloons are blown from their stall and Mark chases across the road to rescue them, returning them with a flourish to their rather embarrassed owner.
I think it is just delightful however, a scene that has redeemed the profession of policing somehow, and all the more so when I talk to Mark some more and hear his views, on why we have such crime, for we are criminalising people by the day by the way our society is designed, making it so difficult for everyone to be able to participate fully.
Mark says his dream is to make Tavistock more like Totnes, and I like the way he says this rather than moving to Totnes as many have and do. Tavistock is already a rather lovely town, and Mark has lived for 25 years, and my sense is that when he talks of emulating Totnes it is perhaps in terms of creating the magic that occurs when many people feel free enough to express their creativity, and this feels like a good thing for any place to strive towards.
As we talk I share the tale of Taunton and their partnership with the council and the Transition Together book they published and had printed and as I speak I know that this is the place to leave the copy of it I had brought away as a gift for another town and present it to Kit to take to the next group meeting and Mark talks of the other woman who came though bearing gifts once, Caroline Keen, who was once lady mayor too. She had brought back with her from a stay in Africa a revival of a once ancient custom in our land of taking a stone from place to place to represent that place as a gift to a neighbouring town. With that said Mark hares off to the river and meets me a few minutes later at the post office counter as I pay for sending yet another map home, with a stone, a stone from the bed of the River Tavi, to take on with me, to the next town.
I take it in my hands and feel its texture, soon it becomes warm to the touch and I enjoy holding it. After a time I put it carefully into my pouch and take notice of what is happening on the stall at which I stand. I have admired the beautiful Transition Town Tavistock banner, it is hand stitched and embroidered, shows the famous Tavistock viaduct and a rosebud stretching out towards the east of it, to the future, where there is a bright sun shining, representing all the possibilities for new growth, a different kind of growth, healthy and vibrant, that are inherent in a transition town.
Georgiana is talking to the lovely but self effacing lady who helped stitch it, and who doesn’t like meetings, but loves to do things. She makes little of her contribution, but we know that it is the little things we each do that are changing our world, step by step, drop by drop, subtle shift by subtle shift.
Geri talks about the energy group that Transition Town Tavistock have formed, and at the stall free energy saving light bulbs are being given out and there are leaflets with information about where there are energy monitors to be lent out.
In the Transition newsletter I read of the food group, and the newly formed entertainment group which will kick off on the 10th October to coincide with the 1010 celebrations.
There are regular discussions about local food growing, news of the new West Devon waste scheme where council recycling will start to happen, and the information that Green Drinks happen every month, and it amusing and also slightly alarming that a man who passes by the stall and reads this information tries to work out what Green Drinks (…) might be and guesses that it might have to do with what might be in the drinks! Again I am struck by our inability to really understand one another across the in-language of each interest group and how it so often leads to difficulties and wonder not for the first time how we begin to address this, and how the role of interpreter is such a valuable and needed one, not just in international relationships but in our everyday communicating with one another even within our local communities.
Claire Allen from Devon County Council walks on by and asks about Transition, she doesn’t know what the word means and is surprised when I translate for her; change. I have been accustomed to explaining to school children the meaning of the word, but here I am shocked into realising that it is an unfamiliar word for many and that it is perhaps not surprising that we do not so easily reach into the mainstream, and am even more surprised that when Geri has explained to Claire what transition is all about the ideas are familiar and Claire talks of PEG, a local parish council initiative in the neighbouring parish of Buckland Monachrorum. It is a parish environmental group, fashioned on what is happening in Totnes, she says! It is heartening for all of us to realise the same work is being done, under the guise of different names.
Another woman passes by, from the neighbouring village of Calstock, across the Tamar Valley in Cornwall, and tells us about their allotments and their school uniform recycling project. Geri tells me that Calstock is a miniature, and Cornish, version of Totnes, and I resolve to visit them one day.
Max and I talk about my idea for a community walk for in 2012, and share it with Mark as well, there is lots of enthusiasm and it feels good to have found people to plan with who live quite close by.
We get excited for a while about the possibility of my telling my tale here at the community market but then after we have collected a pan and spoon with which to call the crowds we decide that a crowded market by a main road is perhaps not the best of places for a storytelling and I get invited back to tell my tales here after my return to Totnes.
I set out across the pannier market in search of lunch, enjoying the many stalls of local produce, the Tamar Growers, and the Cornish chocolate producers, the antiques and the many other stalls selling a whole range of useful and more frivolous objects.
Then Georgiana and I set out to walk to Callington to stay with Jane and Ian, friends of Max and Geri and proud owners of a small smallholding. Geri accompanies us out to the river, along the way she tells us about the copper trade and the building of the canal, and walks with us till we meet it, and waves us off.
We have a lovely walk till the path runs out and we follow a footpath to the main road where we are luckily met by a very jolly looking kindly man who tells us how to navigate the next bit and warns of the exceedingly dangerous bit of bad bend and main road we shall have to cross to continue and we are so relieved he told us for the path comes out abruptly at the fastest road ever on a blind bend and I again question who are the people who we trust to make the decisions on such things as road building…
We get safely to the next bit where we need to walk ¼ mile on main roads and meet Paul and Fiona who are lovely tourists from Sandbach and who walk with us, Paul carrying Fiona’s pink rucksack and joking that he’ll go last to protect us all in his beautiful pink rucksack and we laugh and are pleased of the solidarity shared as we walk along the road and are bipped at by impatient road drivers who don’t want pedestrians on the road.
I tell Paul briefly about transition and he asks for the name of the book I will write so they can look out for it and I tell its “Our Story” and Georgiana tells them about the blog, and then we wave goodbye and finally get on to back lanes until we get to the river Tamar where we must return to the main road to cross the river and are in Cornwall – the last new county of the journey for me. The Tamar marks the boundary.
We follow it into Gunnislake and find a pub, an old Cornish inn and listen to the locals talking in their dialect about this and that, and him and her…
We sit outside enjoying the sun, Georgiana with her tea and me with my orange juice and water and talk away.
We continue our talking as we walk the back lanes all the way now to Callington, talking as 2 women will, of our life’s work, of community and family, of the meaning of life, and of men. And when we have put the world to rights to our satisfaction and asked a few unanswerable questions we are satisfied and start to notice the unusual mill conversions we are passing, and the trees, and the blackberries in the hedgerow and Georgiana tells the tale of the Norwegian herbalist who followed his life work in spite of the odds and Steiner through jealousy trying to convince him to give it up and become a medical doctor instead.
And so it is that we walk into Callington, taken aback by a beautiful mural of Arthur’s return and I tell the tale of Arthur and the sleeping knights that I have been told several times as I have walked and question the relevance for our days wondering what it is I am supposed to be getting from these references that keep coming.
Jane comes out to meet us and we go her home, and she and husband Ian talk of many things, of their desire to have a cooperative on their land and grow veg to take to the local farmers’ market that happens every Wednesday morning in the town, started up by the WI, and of their cycle ride from John ‘O Groats to … Callington, and their desire to offer hospitality to interesting people and the sign they are thinking of putting up at the end of the field.
We talk too of families, and slow travel, and of chair making, and the course Ian is doing on chair making from hedgerows, and how it is that the joints are made firm by inserting dried wood into green wood so that the green wood clutches tight hold of the drier wood as it too begins to dry out. They talk too of their wedding celebration last year, and how they had planned it all themselves and had loads of fun, and how they had had a local organic food producer come to cater for them and how it had poured down and they had all had to stay in the marquee and talk to each other and how much fun that had been.
We hear that Callington is not yet a transition town but it is a fair trade town and that they have succeeded in getting everyone on board with that and got support from the local schools and th e church. We learn that Callington is very much a local town, the inhabitants are very friendly and down to earth and all the shops are local, not a clone in sight….
…Except for the brand new, opened last weekend, Tesco’s. This something the locals are happy about, brings something in that they have never had, and Jane shrugs, and says they must wait and see what happens, and we agree it will be a terrible shame if the local shops go and are saddened by the short sighted thinking that allows giants such as these to move into a resilient town and I recall the village where I had my home in Brazil, and the coming of the huge hotels some six years ago, and how the locals though they would be the making of the wealth of the village, jobs for all, so they could afford to buy land on which to live. The last time I went back, some three years ago, when I took the decision to fly no more, I talked to those locals I had known, asked how it was, and they looked sad, and they said
“Well, we all have jobs now…
but the land prices have gone up, and now we cannot afford to live here anymore”
And the beautiful fishing village of Tibau do Sul, where once children played on the streets, watched over by lace making mothers, and fishing net making fathers, is become in three short years, a playground for wealthy Norwegian and Swedes, a day visit from the nearby resort for the package tour Brits, and a second home paradise for the wealthy from the cities to the south.
Ian tells me about Tesco’s and the local farmer. When prices came down for the same produce and the farmer questioned it, Tesco’s said if he didn’t accept the new prices he would be blacklisted, and when the supermarket wanted to come to town they seduced the council with promises of a new bypass, and threatened them with expensive legal action if they contested the building, saying they would appeal, and win, and the council would not be able to afford the fees their legal defence would cost. And as we speak the realisation comes in very strongly for me; people are playing straight into the hands of these giants by choosing to believe their stories, instead of creating their own. I think of David and Goliath, the biblical giant, and know that herein lies the answer, we do not need to believe the story told by the corporates, our modern day giants, we can simply choose to create our own stories, and live by those instead, and they will come tumbling down, and as Jimmy Cliff once sang for us
“the bigger they are the harder they fall.”