For the first time in my life I spend a couple of days in London without feeling desperate to get out. Of course I am well aware this has probably a lot to do with the fact that I know I am moving on; that I am mistress of my own destiny, totally in command of where I go, when, and how. It is liberating. I wonder if I will struggle to go places with anyone else after having experienced such freedom of being.
It is a delight to enjoy my own company, be aware of what my needs are, aware of my response to others that cross my path, able to make choices based on that felt sense of self so long withheld from me when visiting this city.
On Sunday I have quite a busy social programme; I am to meet Transition Westcombe for lunch, an old friend in the afternoon, and catch up with Hannah in the evening. It is a rest day; I take the tube, and immediately notice how expensive it is to travel, also how convenient, I can be in Covent Garden within half an hour. Still, I would not care to have so many things to do, people to meet, every day, there wouldn’t be any space for reflection, for contemplation, for simply being.
I meet Edward and Irena Hill and we have lunch and talk about travelling on foot, and stories, and working with schools, and I hear about Transition Westcombe. Westcombe is a small neighbourhood of Greenwich. I hear how Greenwich meet together sometimes, but also have strong neighbourhood groups. The ideas of the smaller settlements are taken to the meetings of the wider group and often those are the projects that are jointly taken on.
They have had inspiring speakers; such as Donnachadh McCarthy http://www.3acorns.co.uk/ who has turned his London terrace into a completely eco house, and opens it to show the public a few times a year, giving advice about what is really eco, and what is simply greenwash and what is actually good for the environment and worth investing in.
They have joined forces with many local environmental groups, and some official bodies, and support their projects. One they are particularly excited about at the moment is one that plans to find a way to work positively with supermarkets. I talk about Transition Southampton’s Eat Local Wednesday project, and Edward asks how many miles I consider local. We agree that what qualifies as local will be region specific to an extent and that in London it is probably a bit farther than for other places, and that supermarkets in some guise might be necessary.
The project involves working with supermarkets on 4 points:
1) Eating healthily (the thinking behind this is that people are more likely to support an idea that they can see personal benefits for than talking about for example, endangered species, that might feel very far removed from their immediate reality) . This part of the work will involve people going in and teaching people new recipes using healthy food demonstrating that it is just as cost effective to eat healthily as it is to buy ready meals and cheap processed brands
2) Plastic Bags – the project will encourage the supermarkets to come up with alternatives
3) Sourcing locally – working with the supermarkets to network effectively with local growers
4) Meatless Mondays – encouraging people to create alternative menus
Edward and Irena talk about the challenges of local food growing in a city. The food group has been very strong from the beginning in Transition Westcombe. There is a small community orchard already, and plans for a movable orchard (using large builder’s bags to plant trees in) are afoot, so that they do not need to rely on being given fixed pieces of land from the council. They also have a strong garden share project on the go – called Patch Match.
The other strong groups are the Energy group, and the Inner Transition group (they, as several others have also commented, did not like the name “heart and soul”, so kept the concept and found their own name for it). The Inner Transition group have been working at street level, very much like Totnes’ Transition Together project http://www.transitiontogether.org.uk/ as they think , as Transition Tooting also feel, that there is no point in making an energy descent plan (EDP) unless enough community building has been done first, and the whole community is on board and part of the decision making process. This process takes time, and street by street is what Transition Westcombe are doing. This year they have taken the 10:10 campaign http://www.1010global.org/uk as the focus for their streets to work towards. They are planning a Big Lunch http://www.thebiglunch.com this summer.
One big project that hopes to bring lots of strands together is the plan to green the train station approach. This is a street that has no through traffic so ideal for turning into a green play area for the children. I suggest that they might also think about planting edible plants and trees in this area. The local school children are to be invited to plan this area.
We talk a lot about children and whether or not they are being given opportunity to express their feelings about the future, their fears and concerns. We plan for me to return in November to talk about the story walk, and to play the Quest to 2030; the interactive community game transition tales developed to play in schools and have since discovered that it is a really good intergenerational game. Irena is keen to do work in this area, and we talk about possibilities of playing the game with the local schools and the wider community too.
I leave Edward and Irena wishing I had walked to Greenwich too; it sounds like they are doing such good work, and they paint a lovely picture of their neighbourhood.
I walk into a different world; one from my past. My friend Rosa, 8 months pregnant, is as beautiful and as supple as ever, and is busy rehearsing a group of Brazilian dancers for a world cup performance. I met Rosa when I was teaching in Brazil. She has since married an Englishman, and loves London, for it gives her the opportunity to do what she does best; dance, and when she’s not dancing herself, choreographing for others. She is a key performer in the Notting Hill Carnival each year.
She does a lot of work at Guanabara, a Brazilian club off Drury Lane. I enter and am transported back several years; everyone there seems to be Brazilian, and Portuguese the language spoken. It is nice to speak it again, to find like riding a bike that once learnt it is a part of you. The Brazilian dancing world is hectic though, the pace of life in London scarcely fast enough; it is not my rhythm. It is lovely to see Rosa, it is equally lovely to be able to walk away, content in the knowledge that I know my rhythm, am comfortable in its andante tempo.
I return to Belsize Park to have dinner with Hannah and her father and partner. We talk of solar panels and photo voltaics, of the oil spill that hasn’t been stopped yet, of the rapid spread of transition, and of Hannah’s involvement from the start, taking part as she did in the first Skilling up for Powerdown course that Rob Hopkins ran in Totnes back in 2006; the course from whence Rob, Tamzin, Amanda Cuthbert, http://www.greenbooks.co.uk , and Hannah dreamt up Transition Tales…
Next day I set upon my inbox, and the challenge of persuading my phone to release its cargo of photos. I eventually procure a memory card and convertor so that it can be inserted into my netbook and finally achieve success. On my trip to Tottenham Court Road to find these mysterious objects I observe the urban life going on all around me.
On leaving the tube the first thing that happens is that a very large bundle is thrown onto the street. The bundle moves and complains loudly; it is a very well padded (obviously accustomed to receiving such treatment) drunk complete with plastic bottle full of some unidentifiable fizzy liquid. No one close by seems fazed by this occurrence at all. People further along the street look round to see what has happened as the bundle proceeds to make his complaints more audible. Little awareness of our joint humanity and interconnectedness visible there!
I pass by a newseller who admires my outfit; I am wearing my layers of skirts, there have been several comments about my beautiful skirt; I amuse myself imagining my expedient form of dress ( ie remove a skirt as the weather gets warmer as summer grows) becoming fashion as the Londoners notice something out of the ordinary. A Latino, young, male, barely 20, gorgeous, whispers “gatinha” as I pass him by. I preen, being called “pussy cat” (it’s the Portuguese equivalent of babe, chick, sexy) at 45 is quite a compliment! I sashay down the street enjoying being me!
“Lovely colours” calls out the newseller as I pass him by again on my way back. It’s great fun being who you want to be rather than conforming to some other’s idea of what is the right way to dress, the right way to work, the right way to be.
I highly recommend it!
My day finishes with a quick look at the headlines. Still no result – will we get a truly representative government? Somehow, it feels we live in times when anything is possible.