DAY 75 Giving Up
This has to be the worst day of my journey. I have looked at the maps, plotted a route, left Rodley, waved off by Pete, walked to Horsfirth, and felt a very strong resistance in me to walk today. I feel that I want to avoid farms, they haven’t provided me with any pleasant experiences to date, and I am left with a positive fear of entering any field containing cattle; it is often impossible to know when you will be faced with this until it is too late, and I also want to avoid walking along any more industrially ravaged landscapes that make my heart feel so heavy, and weigh me down so.
I sit at Horsfirth train station for 2 hours debating with myself. When is it Ok to put your well being first? Will a decision to take a train straight to York compromise the integrity of my project? I am aware of a really strong longing for this most difficult of stages to be over. I have been unhappy, and I question the value of continuing to do something that makes one unhappy. I recall an occasion where a woman I know told me that when she has makes a commitment to do something she does it no matter how unhappy certain aspects make her feel, and no matter what things of pleasure she has to forego. This is enough for me. I know what the right decision for me is.
I catch the train to York. I have seen the consequences of the actions of those who are fuelled on sense of commitment even when their heart sings for another tune, another strand perhaps, of the same tapestry. I do not know yet why this is the right thing I am doing but once decided I get behind myself and allow a sense of relief to envelop me.
I arrive in York, follow the river Ouse till a sign tells me the footpath is closed and come up onto St Mary’s Lane, a quiet cul-de-sac full of B&B’s. It is York Races tomorrow and England’s first match in the World Cup that evening and many places are full for the weekend already. Fortunately it is still early afternoon and I find a room.
How fitting that it should be St Mary, representation of the ferminine, that offers succour for my tried spirit. I know as soon as I am in my room that I have chosen well. I am tired. Tired to the core of my bones, so tired I cry and cry; cry out the frustrations, the difficulties, the lack of companions on this journey, no one to laugh away the fear of facing yet another field of cattle with, no one to share keeping up the spirits when the landscape is harsh.
A major on this journey has been the connecting of people; I know how isolating it can feel doing transition work if the group is small, and the contact with others who are not involved high, and I know how inspiring it is when transitioners hear of others, and what projects they are developing, and learn of people doing similar work in a nearby region, how that can give the impetus to carry on anew, renewed, energised. I have known this yet I have not taken sufficient care to be aware of my own feelings of isolation, and need for renewal, and to be reenergised. Sleep is what I need initially. I am running on empty. Walking for two more days could have compromised the whole project. I sleep.
DAY 76 Northern Cameo
As I have walked through the north there have been certain memorable utterances that encapsulate my experiences:
Woman (my age) to friend with adolescent daughter in a pub:
“Children should eat what they’re given, when I was young we did”
Daughter doesn’t eat red meat or dairy
“Get it in yer muff; stick it in yer gob”
Aggressively, to toddler who did not want sticky, sweet lollipop.
“Gerroff the phone”
To dad speaking to distressed boy on phone; look of tight hatred on her face
“He’s crying his eyes out…”
“Yer lost luv?”
As I look at the large tourist map outside York train station
“yer lost luv?”
As I look at my map to situate myself in York centre (argh!!!)
“Yer’ll get an hour of yer wages docked if you set up wrong again”
Young head waitress to young waiters, who look perplexed and ask how they will know how to set up properly.
I go to the theatre royal cafe to use the free wifi they advertise, the hotel wifi doesn’t work, and they don’t know why; it turns out later that the technician has set it up wrongly. In the cafe they tell me it’s a hidden network and I have to search for it; the technician didn’t give them anymore instructions; I am reminded of getting my first internet connection back in a small NE village in Brazil years ago and finding a world of technicians who didn’t understand their work, & charged a fortune, and in the process totally disempowered their clients. It seems that the NE of England’s lot is to have this experience now – some 10 years later.
I feel as if I have stepped back into a past I thought I had left behind many years ago. It is like being lost in a nightmare of elements of my past from childhood memories of life in a northern town, and 20 year old memories of time spent in a country described here still as “developing”. I find it difficult to function; it feels difficult to know even how best to get out of here; the temptation is to catch a train south as quickly as possible.
I tried to visit the observatory this morning; the sign proudly proclaims; open 11.30 – 2.30 every day but Xmas Day. It is closed. There is to be a military salute to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday. In a parody of politeness the official tells me it is closed and that no, they won’t be putting up a sign to say so. His closely controlled demeanour is almost unbearable to witness; one could imagine this man would kill if that is what he was told to do.
The military parade involves lots of very young cadets, of both gender, on display, a military band, and lots of even younger cadets waving collection pots around; collection pots; when the military are the most highly funded group in the country… taking more funds than health and education departments at every budget. I want to cry for the injustice and the utter meaninglessness of it.
The proud military are being carefully guarded and kept safe from the docile groups of tourists standing by to watch the spectacle, by the police…
Forgive me; I thought the government kept the military to defend us?! Have I got that wrong? Are they actually an anachronism of our past being kept by the state to salve their pride?
As the military strut their stuff in the park, police officers on every corner, guarding the top officials as they are driven through the park in unmarked cars and vans, the city centre is full of roving packs of young men, in their prime, already half cut, shouting abuse at one another hours before this evening’s England match is due to kick off; it is just 12 noon.
Something is inherently wrong here. We are guarding men and women in uniforms, men and women who are paid by the state to defend us, whilst they shake collection pots at us, and our streets are live with the fall out of a system that encourages people to get so inebriated that they become a public nuisance.
In Brazil it is common knowledge that football is the manna of the people, used as a tool regularly. If you don’t want the people to look too closely at the actions of the politicians you make a big deal out of a football match; it keeps morale up; things aren’t so bad look; our team can still beat their rivals. As I look around our country, bedecked in England flags and bunting so over the top you could be mistaken for thinking that something of historical importance is taking place, something our ancestors will look back on in years to come and feel proud of the endeavours of their antecedents.
I struggle to understand why this is an event of national celebration. If it were an agreement to put a whole lot of public spending into ensuring the quality of education received by all our people is identical; the birth of truly representational government; recognition for those who work tirelessly to bring about social justice; celebrating each small success in reducing our carbon footprint; or, taking a leaf from our ancestors’ book, celebrating midsummer; simply celebrating that it is summer and that we are happy to be alive, why then I would feel moved to join in.
I pass the afternoon happily enough wandering the ancient streets of York; so beautifully preserved that even the clone shops in and betwixt the local shops cannot detract from its splendour. The spirit of York is alive and well and even the rumblings of discontent between the British and the Americans as the uncomfortable feelings associated with the continuing oil spill surge up and our Old Testament legacy of scapegoating rears its ugly head yet again cannot quite take away the pleasure of being in a city that is still alive in a very fundamental way. Surely those who have deemed themselves fit to lead a nation would not revert to such childish behaviour as war when we have not yet recovered the spirit of many of our cities from their wounds of the last two world wars?
Later I come to York Minster and go inside after a long look at Emperor Constantine, posing outside in stone, looking very weasel like and not altogether trustworthy; the man responsible for the Council Of Nicaea in 325 which adulterated the teachings of Jesus and presenting them to the west as Christianity; in a very dilute and incomplete form; a supreme act of politics, designed to bring as many people on board as possible, and which left women clearly in a position of subjugation.
Once inside I am moved by a felt sense of spirit and decide to go into Evensong; I feel like celebrating my connection and want to sing…
Oh dear, but of course I had forgotten; it is many years since I have graced an Anglican service with my presence. I enter in the spirit of celebrating spirit with others, and spend the next hour being reminded of why I became an atheist as a child; not returning to the teachings of Jesus until relatively recently, through the teachings of first Buddhism, then Hinduism, that most tolerant of religions, through my deeper searching for the roots of the practice of yoga. I sit, stand, and kneel through a service designed to glorify men’s sense of spirituality, practically unchanged since the 1500s and totally unsuited to those who have found the spirit within themselves and in their connection with the world around them. I recall the heavy feeling I always felt and never understood as a child in churches; that of the patriarchal led religion Constantine ratified in 325. I have entered to join voice with others, for the joy of recognising spirit; I have to stand and listen to the choir sing; exquisitely perfect with every nuance, yet perfectly soulless; learnt hymns, practised over and over; no sense of the presence of spirit in every moment at all. I follow all the required movements, waiting impatiently for the one song I will be allowed to join in with, marvelling at how this could possibly have satisfied so many for so long, and delight in remembering the vicar of Farsley!
I muse at the colours the choir are adorned in; the young boys taking the parts that are full of the high notes suitable for female voices, the men in their array of ranges; all of them in red and white and I think of the other group of red and white clad men I have seen today; football supporters roaming around the town, and the songs they are singing; too drunk to have inhibitions, and quite tuneful; certainly in the moment; singing for the sheer pleasure of it.
On my return to the hotel an American couple ask directions. The young man they ask warns them to be careful not to let their American- ness be heard on the streets tonight.
Later, after the match all is quiet. No joyful victors’ songs; no defeated anger; silence. The match was a draw.
Day 77 Transition Is more of a Midwife than a Wet Nurse
Am finally feeling myself again; having done a lot of sleeping and spending quiet time alone and venturing out only to eat. I am revived enough to call Peter Gay of Transition York to get the low down on transition happenings. We agree that it would have been better to have called earlier in the week to have been able to meet more people today but in my state of tiredness all I could think of was finding a place to hide away in, and I realise that contrary to my original plans to spend 4 days resting every two or three weeks, I have managed it just once, in Cambridge.
Peter and I meet in the centre of York and go for a walk along the city walls, still pretty much intact and very impressive; even more so to me when Peter tells me that the reason the walls are still so intact is that when the city council wanted to demolish them; in fact had already started taking the barbicans (Barbicans, Peter explains, were double city gates. Visitors would be allowed though the first gate and if they didn’t pass muster hot oil could be tipped on them from the walls and they would never gain the inner gate to the city) down. The people took to the walls, walking round and round them till the plans were abandoned. The power of the people proves to be right, and effective, over, and over, and over again.
We follow the walls around and I talk of the results of the devastation two world wars have caused in many of our cities I have seen. Peter explains that York had no industry and as such was not targeted; the only thing bombed was the railway and that was situated outside the city. The fact that York never had any industry explains for me the sense of wellbeing I feel here; a feeling that has been absent in me since my walk started to take me through our post industrial cities. The edge of despair; an alien disconnect to the landscape that may not be conscious to those living in those places is the first thing I have perceived as I have walked into these places. York lives still; totally connected to its roots and as such able to assimilate the new, the clone shops, in a more healthy and integrated way.
York’ s roots go back to Roman times and can still be seen far beneath the Minster, 12 feet down, in the underground chambers where work was done to install foundations under the great building and the remains of the original Roman settlement discovered. One of their columns was brought to the present day surface and erected outside the Minster; a monument to the lack of knowledge of the excavators; they have erected it upside down!
Peter takes me along the walls to Grey’s cafe; a splendid old building where we sit on luxurious sofas and I drink peppermint tea and eat home baked lavender biscuits. Here I hear about the beginnings of Transition York; when Edward Harland and Barry Graham met at a Transition Conference a couple of years ago. Barry stood up and asked:
“Is there anyone else here from York?”
And Edward responded. They returned to York and joined up with Peter, and Edward’s wife JZ, and so began Transition York. The group soon realised that as they had more than double the population of Totnes, 20,000 inhabitants, that what they needed were several village or neighbourhood groups. These were formed but it left the steering group quite weak as people got involved in their local communities and started various projects that took up most of their energy. They still have not resolved this, and I am reminded of several other city initiatives faced with a similar challenge.
The first open space the group ran was on Local Food. This spawned several highly successful projects including Edible York who have become more of a sister group to the Transition group. They are doing wonderful work; they have started community garden work, and have recently taken on the task of a walled garden for city food growing, as well as discovering the existence of an old city orchard that they are taking on as well. From my perspective this is absolutely crucial transition work, and feels like an extremely active transition food group.
There has been some resistance to the concept of Open Space in York, particularly from some academics, stemming it seems, from a belief that it doesn’t work. The steering group continue to put on these events but struggle in the environment of mistrust of the idea.
They plan their next open space to be on Power. There are some projects already happening; one of their number, Anne, has already put solar and PV panels on her home and runs open house days where she show people around and talks about the benefits. Peter tells me about the Stockholm Institute, a research unit in York who, as well as just completing a programme that enables users to measure the carbon footprint of their village, town, city and with the potential to map the whole country if enough data is inputted, have also just completed a pilot phase of a project called Green Streets, a project sounding remarkably similar to Transition Together and Transition Streets. In Green Streets though, the incentive to reduce the group’s carbon footprint is a cash prize of £1000, awarded thanks to a government grant…not quite in the spirit of transition but a scheme nonetheless with worthy aims of community building and carbon reduction and Peter thinks Transition York might be able to get involved at this stage as the institute stop to measure the success, and perhaps take the idea on and develop it further.
I talk of Fiona Ward’s Transition Together project in Totnes (http://totnes.transitionnetwork.org/transitiontogether/rollout) and how the very first street to follow and complete the workbook came up with the amazing idea to petition for solar panels for all Totnes homes; an idea which finally resulted in Transition Town Totnes applying for government funding and being awarded half a million pounds to be spent on PV panels for 10% of all homes in the town, and matched funding from the local council to put panels on the Civic Hall too. Peter is inspired by this story and asks that when they put on their Power Open Space early next year that they be put in touch with that first transition street and invite one of them up to York to talk about their experience.
Transition York has no Inner Transition group. Peter has a background in Conflict Resolution and feels that process work is invaluable to transition but has found that others in the group are not interested in taking part in that kind of work. Without it, Peter says, true collaboration is difficult to achieve and there certainly seem to be some tensions in the group with a theme I am beginning to get familiar with; that of a split between what Peter calls the do-ers and the strategists. Being a do-er myself, and very interested in process work I am curious about that choice of labels, and would be inclined to suggest that the split seems to occur when those that want to work towards new paradigm ways of doing things meet those who want to do things and who are not perhaps yet sufficiently aware of the paradigm shift that is occurring. An example in York of collaborative work not occurring is over the newsletter. They had a volunteer editor doing the job, but some of the group were not satisfied with the graphics so in the meeting rather than offer support from someone who is good at graphics another member took over the task herself and the editor chose not to continue. It is in these situations that Peter wishes they were able to find a way of working that everybody could sign up to.
Peter talks of other resources he sees York as having; allies in the gradual resilience building of the city. They have had a green councillor for sometime; Christian Vassey, one of whose greater successes was in getting a new council building for the new local recycling site, built from straw bales. Peter also sees the large student body as a valuable resource. If there is something to be campaigned about locally, he says, the students can be guaranteed to be out and about protesting.
The largest audience Transition York attracted was for the public event when George Marshall author of “Carbon Detox” was invited to speak. Apparently in his literature he bills himself as having a stand up comic style. The hall was packed. The author gave a lecture. Nobody walked out; so misinformed or not the audience stayed to hear what he had to say.
Two good events Transition York have put on that Peter remembers particularly are the Get Cycling event, and the recent Skills Share where they made a top bar bee hive.
Get Cycling happened on a central piece of tarmac-ed land. Transition York took all sorts of different, unusual bikes to the venue and simply had them available for people to have a play on; to ride around and have fun. Three teenage girls came along. The first;
“Let’s have a go”
“I will if you will”
The third….expressed sulky horror; sat on the wall, high heels clicking, clutching her handbag, well made up lips pursed. Peter watched her for a few minutes, plucked up courage, and went over and offered her a ride on the tandem they had; a special sort of tandem, where the back cyclist steers and the slightly lower sitting front cyclist pedals. Peter offers to steer and the girl capitulates. After a little while of accustoming herself to being in the rather more vulnerable feeling front seat she begins to get the feel of it, realises it’s fun, and that everyone can admire her in this strange machine she is in charge of the speed of, and has lots of fun.
York Environmental Centre, which has been going for years, offers Transition York its space for one Saturday each month. They use the opportunity to run skill sharing sessions. Recently it was the bee hive making day http://transitiontowns.org/York/Skills#BeeDay Peter really enjoyed this as it was a chance for all the different transitioners to come along and do what they are good at so for example, he was offering carpentry skills, and Anne was offering games involving recognising different kinds of honey.
I leave Transition York gifts from some of the transition initiatives I have visited; the local food group guide from Cambridge, a gem purse from Nottingham’s time bank scheme, and an information sheet from Transition Matlock on how to run a CSA. Peter is delighted with this last; CSAs is the theme of their next skills share day next weekend.
I take local honey away with me from York; to take this and the Top Bar hive making workshop idea onwards with me – my next transition town will be in Cumbria; Penrith; the most northern point of my journey.