It was a long dusty tiring day that at one point seemed too far to manage. I left Oakham before 9.30 and arrived in Scraptoft, the once extreme north eastern village that is now a suburb of Leicester and home of part of its university at 6.30pm. Scraptoft even sports a brand new scholars’ park; a new residential development presumably aimed at lecturers.
Most of the day I have walked on roads; footpaths and bridleways marked on OS maps of this part of Leicestershire are not to be trusted; they are either not there at all or they are gated with no signposts and no obvious way on; full of grazing animals or crops, paths not marked in any way.
I know I have reached Leicestershire because the paradisical roads of Rutland, where motorists never speed, always slow down for a walker or cyclist, and very rarely use the roads anyway, give way gradually to speed freaks who cannot believe there is a pedestrian in the way. They are kings of the road; the pace of life has just upped tempo; these are city dwellers with places to go, and people to see, no time to waste.
Today was a long stretch anyway; I knew that. I expected 20 miles; three miles detour because the bridleway was not marked was the last thing I needed. Not for the first time I wonder about roles of transport officers in local government; have they walked and cycled all over their area? It seems they are hardly qualified for the position if they haven’t.
Once in Leicester I speak to old transition friend Robin de Carteret. He is on his way to pick up an exceedingly large cheese plant and drives out to meet me. I have walked on a little further, as far as Thurnby. I feel perfectly justified in jumping into a car; I have arrived in the city and it has been a long day.
Robin catches me up on his news. I last saw him at the transition conference last year in Battersea. I was lost in the tube late in the evening trying to find my way back to Tooting where I was staying. Robin just happened to be passing and gave me directions. Here he is again to rescue me! He not only has been commandeered to come out and meet me; I am to stay at Corani, a housing co-op that has been in existence some 30 years, and where transitioners Matt and Andrew Reeves live, but he offers to take me 5 Rhythms dancing first.
He is on his way to his last session; it is a peer group who have been dancing together for more than 4 years. Robin is about to leave Leicester with girlfriend Sarah, met at last year’s conference; a Transition romance! They are about to embark on a transition adventure; travelling around Britain for a year visiting places where they can wwwoof and learn transition skills; particularly related to energy and building. They have already helped to build a cob house in one community in Oxfordshire and Robin is about to go on a course to learn how to build a wind turbine. They plan to build their own house at the end of it.
I am thrilled to hear this transition tale; building one’s own house fits my idea of a transition future. I am also thrilled to have the opportunity to go 5 Rhythms dancing – I haven’t danced since leaving Totnes 2 months ago. If you have never danced 5 Rhythms I highly recommend it (http://www.gabrielleroth.com/) it is the opportunity to dance off the stresses of the day in a totally non judgemental environment, encouraged by the rhythm of the music to respond to a range of feelings and let them pass through. If you are fortunate enough to live in South Devon Fanny Behren’s class is the best there is with live music played by her partner Colin and his band (contact http://www.beingmoved.com/Frontpage.htm) for details.
I am delighted by the chance to dance; and though I think my feet may be too tired I dance for an hour and a half without stopping and leave the Friends Meeting Hall (the local Quaker meeting house) more energised than I entered it. The music selection had been chosen to celebrate Beltane and this, the last class in May, will be the last chance to dance to it. It is a gorgeous celebration and I think of the voluptuous Spring I have been enjoying along the way.
The final track sends us all into raptures of love for the earth and the words “walk with a stranger’s footsteps” speak so clearly to me. I am indeed discovering what I never knew I never knew! Full of love for our earth and our time on it we end the dance with a closing circle and say our goodbyes.
Robin tells me that Leicester is the most culturally diverse city in England with more than 50 % non white inhabitants. As well as a predominantly Muslim community, Highfield, where I will be staying, there is a predominantly Hindu area too, which sounds from his description of the fantastically rich in colour, variety, and quantity sweet shops and cloth shops very much like the magical Tooting. He takes me to the Corani housing co-op. These two terraced houses backed onto one another with a shared yard started 30 years ago as a workers’ co-op and now consists of 6 members including two transitioners! It is in the heart of the stereotypical rows of terraced houses immortalised by the Beatles and Coronation Street in the NW. It was teetotal land and no pubs are in sight, no doubt suiting its now current Muslim community down to the ground.
It takes me back; I haven’t been near a street like this since my childhood growing up in ex -cotton – mill-town Lancashire. It still carries the air of hopelessness the Beatles fled from, the oppressive under your neighbours’ eye and no open spaces in sight feel. As we gather in the shared lounge to tell transition tales a Muslim woman screams her anger across the street at some unseen miscreant in just the same way working class English women have been screaming at their husbands and children on streets like these since industrial times began. What were the planners thinking of to trap families into factories all day long and rows of endless houses all night long?
Inside Corani though the atmosphere is very different; a young and vibrant Transition Leicester steering group and their brand new recruit Italian Isabella, over here for work for a year and finally with time to get involved with a transition group, are eager for some storytelling. I tell the story of my walk and they are most taken with my early muddy adventures! I ask for their tales and hear from Nesta of the yin yang raised bed on their allotment, and their recent Be Spoked cycle event.
This amazing event involved everyone with a bicycle, the more unusual and innovative the better, cycling through Leicester en masse. Andrew Reeves, transition catalyst extraordinaire, proudly shows off the beautiful posters they have had made of the event for future awareness raising activities; the penny farthing design two person bike for child and adult, all manner of weird and wonderful bicycle trailers, including Reevesie’s very own; capable of even carrying veg boxes, small bikes and large, young riders and old.
It looks like it was spectacular day and the group remember it fondly. Pictures can be seen on their blog http://transitionleicester.wordpress.com/. I tell them about Transition Tooting’s Trashcatchers carnival when they hope to close off the high road, and about Transition Southampton’s slow food bike ride, which they instantly and enthusiastically take up as a future Transition Leicester event.
Danny comes in fresh from the food group meeting, with the exciting news that they are going to start perma-blitzing Leicester, starting with one of their member’s small back yard. Everyone wants a detailed description of what this is, struggling slightly with the concept of perma (permanent, and used here to refer to permaculture) used with blitz which they associate with quick and speedy results. After all as someone points out, one of the first precepts of permaculture is to observe the land for 12 months first. Reevesie remembers my good old Australian ex colleague and friend Asha Bee as the one who knew all about this having taken part many in Australia. Nobody is exactly sure how it is done but are excited at seeing what happens. If you are reading this Asha; please clarlfy!
Robin reappears with the large cheese plant that he is donating to Corani; everyone agrees it looks as if it had always lived in their bright and cheery sunshine yellow painted sitting room. Robin says his fondest memory of his involvement with Transition Leicester was the moment when they had over 150 people in the Friends’ Meeting Hall for their first ever public meeting and had them all singing Bella Mama, that beautiful song already becoming traditional in Transition.
I am delighted to hear that the Quest, the interactive community game that transition tales have been developing over the past 2 years, has been played most successfully in various schools in Leicester with years 8 & 9 (ages 12-14). Robin and I have been loosely supporting one another in our transition schools work and it is lovely to know that I have made a contribution to the work here. Robin has sent me his session plans and they have been passed on to the transition tales team back in Totnes for the next series at KEVICC, our local high school, for the next round of sessions, our third year of working with them.
Robin also remembers Apple Day, held at the Friends’ Meeting Hall last autumn. Andrew describes the press they used, everyone was very excited by this day but slightly concerned that the transportation of the press, and the apples they had scrumped from a place where they would have otherwise gone to waste, ended up having a higher carbon footprint than Innocent juices. They are not altogether sure how this is possible, and I wonder if they might invent a bike trailer to transport the press next time…
Isabella asks if Transition have had any projects to do anything about the waste in the streets; she is surprised at the amount of litter she sees on the streets and Matt, my lovely liaison person who has made my visit to Leicester happen, says he would love to see a waste project happen. His work is in this department and he is very aware of how little many people know and understand about what happens to their waste and how to recycle and how you have to be very gentle in your approach. They joke about how he must remember not to preach to the folk they decide they can get on board with a street litter picking project. I remember that James of Transition Oakham was concerned about this too and think I should put them in touch to cook up some fun ideas together.
Andrew, whose daytime job is working for RCC www.ruralcc.org.uk (a charity that funds rural communities and well worth looking out for in your area) talks about the Highfield Street open meeting which is about to happen later in the week; to bring the locals of their neighbourhood on board; and that a Street Litter Pick may well be a good thing to start with. I enjoy listening to a new idea being turned into a real live project in an instant in true collaborative transition fashion.
Isabella doesn’t only contribute a new idea; before leaving she has agreed to be a volunteer on the transition stall for an up and coming event and to participate in the monthly Transition Cafe cooking and serving team.
Andrew loans me a mapbook of Leicestershire, and the group disperses; it’s late and they all have work to go to the next morning. I remind myself of how hard transitioners work; with most of them holding down fulltime jobs, as well as all the meetings, events, projects they take active roles in and am proud to be a part of this wonderful movement of folk who understand that fulfilment is about what you put in, and who share the vision of creating a society of people who respect and care about their home, the earth. And the final line of the Beltane song I enjoyed dancing to so much?
… don’t stop till you’ve painted with all the colours in the world.