Sunday, December 27, 2009

Copenhagen - bad news and good news

CopenBollox...Well, I never held up much hope for top-down, business-as-usual, perpetual-growth solutions to everything.

The good news is that there really is a tremendous amount of constructive stuff happening and you can read about in these pages. Solutions are already coming from the roots-up, from individuals and small groups working together on projects. Co-operation, respect for all life, transition from heavy use of energy and resources - it's all happening and the more it happens the easier it is for other people to start their own projects.

1. Debt
We don't seem to be served well by a currency based on a froth of debt. Instead it seems to lock us into the very problems which are endangering all life on Earth. What effect would it have if we used a currency based on living trees or areas of forest? Or could we just co-operate, tune into our collective consciousness and do without any currency?

2. Sustainable city life
It's easy to see that people can survive out in the countryside given time and conditions to get their food, fuel and shelter set up. But how do people in cities get access to enough land to support themselves while the resources they currently depend on vanish?

These are two of the areas I plan to explore further this year - and the spirit and creativity I've already found in people makes me really hopeful for the future!

End of an era...

Yes, a sad moment indeed - I never thought I'd see the day when I took my trusty F2 Bullit on its last the skip.......

Still, I haven't used it for many years and it really is time to declutter. I gave it this Virtual Viking send off in memory of many happy hours blasting around the UK waters together.

Here are a couple of moments of my windsurfing history: this one snapped by dear Morag during a very windy day on Loch Rannoch...

...and a crazy Bullit moment snapped by my great windsurfing chum, Terry, doing a terrifying 33mph on the speed course at West Kirby. It's a very special venue as the water is protected by a sea wall and stays calm however strong the wind is. There is none of the usual bouncing and clattering, the board just starts to vibrate as you go faster and faster. Barely under control in strong wind, 33mph feels like 333mph - great times!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

First building work at Lammas!

It's absolutely brilliant that the people of Lammas finally have their planning permission. Now they can get on with their ground-breaking project of 9 eco-smallholdings and community hall on farmland in Pembrokeshire.

Pembrokeshire County Council adopted a low-impact policy (Policy 52) in July 2006 and the Lammas group submitted their application in March 2008. They were refused and appealed to the Welsh Assembly finally getting their permission after much further hard work in August this year.

To me this is a fantastic step forward as it will allow a large part of what has been a monoculture, green desert farm to be nurtured back into low-impact, resilient, diverse systems which will be able to support people directly where they live with food, energy and materials. It was great to be there in the run up to Copenhagen too, I'm sure the Lammas project will show us many solutions to current problems that will apply in the cities as well as out in the countryside. It has been wonderful to take part in some of the first building work there - it's felt like being a real cutting edge, eco-pioneer. I hope it's the first of many projects like this and people are indeed thinking along those lines already: check out the Ecological Land Coop.

The picture above is taken from the top of Paul and Hoppi's plot looking down to their caravans and yurt. Paul and Hoppi have already done a lot of ground preparation on their site, planted up areas with trees and started work on the foundations for their barn.They kindly let me stay in one of the caravans for the third week I was there - I don't think I could have coped with many more nights of rain and wind in my tent. I don't ever remember being rained on quite so much as I have this November but at least we never had anything like the twelve inches plus at Cockermouth.

Nigel and I talked about the fossil fuel used by the machinery to put in the roads on the site - if you look at it as an investment of energy now to develop systems which will save energy in the future it doesn't seem quite so bad. They've put in about 1.5 km of roads into the plots with various levellings and earthworks as well.

Lammas: Nigel and Cassie's Roundhouse

I spent most of my three weeks at Lammas helping Nigel and Cassie Lishman building their roundhouse. They had the upright wooden framework or henge built (to left of picture above) and the start of the 18" low circular wall which will carry the straw bales forming the rest of the walls. Amazingly, they are living on site in a truck, a yurt and an army tent with their three children during their building work. It was tough going through the terrible November weather and they get huge respect from me! Nigel is managing to grin and wave in the photo in spite of the weather and all my terrible attempts at humour...

Everything takes much more effort than when you're living in a nice little suburban box. Water has to be carried in. Cooking, washing up and chopping wood are done partly by torch light and then there are the composting toilets.... you certainly don't hang around doing a crossword in these. Simon's is mostly open to the North and only partly covered by a tarpaulin to the South so it's quite an experience to use in wet and windy weather. The door blew off Nigel's and is just propped up as strength permits. You get used to them though, they are a great leveller and peel away yet another layer of suburban middle class attitude.

We just did as much as we could during the daylight, sheltering from the worst of the rain and gales. At nights we fired up the stoves and got warmed up again. I used to read stories to the younger two kids by wind-up torchlight which was good fun - the kids seem to be quite happy with their way of life, composting toilet and all. They squabble a bit like any kids but I don't remember them ever moaning about the cold, damp or mud - great kids!

Fellow volunteer Ailsa and I helped Cassie build up the stone wall. My only other experience of stone wall building was recently at Tombreck but I really got into it and we developed a way of making a strong wall with the rough stones laying around the site - "Use what you've got" - a good motto. The spikes set in the wall will help to keep the bales in place.

One morning the weather didn't look too bad so Simon and the volunteers helping him on his own house further up the hill all came down to help us to put up the timbers for the reciprocating roof. (Nice bit of cooperation and skill sharing on the go there.) These are really clever structures - each pole is resting on its neighbour, there is very little in the way of cutting or fitting to do and there is supposed to be very little outward horizontal force directed into the structure. Two hours had the first ten main beams up. They were big bits of wood to move around though and I was glad to see them all bolted together eventually.

That's me up on the roof fixing smaller branches from around the site on to the main roof poles which will take the bales, pond liner and turf forming the completed roof.

Volunteers everywhere!

The people I met at Lammas are just the most extraordinary bunch - the residents and also the VOLUNTEERS! This is Stefan who was fired up by an article about Lammas he read in the Independent. He made the excellent doors for Simon's house out of some of the roughest wood you could hope to find, all full of nails and using some very dodgy machinery - one of the most amazing bits of woodwork I have ever seen and a lot harder than making a guitar or something with beautiful wood and a well equipped workshop.

This is Jo clutching her porridge and getting ready for another session climbing all over the roof fixing up bits of wood.
Above is Ailsa washing up outside under an awning by head torch light. She helped loads with wall and was going on to Copenhagen to join the climate demonstrations there - let's hope our glorious leaders come up with something useful there.

This is Espion who has come over from Denmark and helped Simon right from the start of the building work on his roundhouse. Another great guy!
And these are three students, (left to right), Henryk, Martha and Steven who gave tremendous help for several days gathering more sticks from the woods than you could shake a stick at and working up on the roof. It was also wonderful for Nigel and Cssie's morale to have all these committed eco people helping them.

There were yet more volunteers whose photos I didn't get, one in particular (who preferred to remain anonymous) is one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met. She travels around hitching with all her stuff in a backpack from one wwoofing/volunteering site to another or joining demonstrations. She lives almost without money and is also one of the happiest I've ever met - a true eco-nomad.

That's my tent in the foreground above, and what a brilliant bit of equipment it is too surviving gales and torrential rain for two weeks. While I was at Lammas four other tents were flattened by the wind and Stefan's "Pleasure Dome" was relentlessly eaten up a panel at a time until he took to sleeping in his car.

It's quite awesome to lie beneath the flimsy membranes of a tent flapping away just above you with rain sloshing against it like dozens of hosepipes on full and to hear each fresh barrage of wind travelling across the hillside roaring through the trees as it goes. I had strange half-awake, half asleep semi-dreams of being in a boat on a stormy sea. I almost bailed out after the first couple of nights feeling it was all a bit too hard core for me but I'm really glad I stuck it out. One of the other volunteers had lived for a while in a bender on the West coast of Ireland during a long demonstration and even she found it hard core at Lammas, so I don't feel such a wimp now.

I did dream of hot baths and lager a though and it was absolute bliss to treat myself to that for a couple of nights.

Simon and Jasmine's Roundhouse

These are some pictures of Simon and Jasmine's roundhouse just up the hill from Nigel and Cassie's plot. They have managed to get much further on with their work and actually moved in just the day before I left Lammas. As you can see, it is very low-impact visually and looks part of the hill rather than something that has just been stuck there. It's at least the fourth roundhouse that Simon has built, check out Simon's own site for some amazing photos and more about his work and philosophy.

Even half built the house feels peaceful, sheltering and dry. It will have a secondary wall of windows to the South which should combine with the earth-thermal mass to give it good Earthship style passive solar heating as well as being a green house. There aren't many straight lines in the building, it's all curved beams and rounded surfaces. The walls are made up of straw bales sitting on a low stone wall. There are more straw bales in the roof underneath the turf top layer and protected by a rubber pond liner membrane. It's all very do-able at a self-build level particularly with neighbours and volunteers at hand who can give you a help at critical stages like putting up the roof beams. It also lets you let rip with your creativity if you want or you can just keep it very simple.

Simon is a master of making something out of nothing and working with a low budget. He got all his double glazed window units just for collection - frame making firms just throw away units that have been measured incorrectly. In fact, he reckons all the materials for this house will have cost less than £3,000. As he says on his site, anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring...)

From the North there won't be much to see of the house at all.

Lovely spirals and curves of the roof timbers.

Simon has built a mass of stone around the flue from the stove to help to retain the heat from the fire in th building.

Just some random Welshness...

Moonlight and misty trees at Lammas: the trees still for once but a nice streaky sky from the long exposure

A couple of shots from the Pembrokeshire coast nearby

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tombreck in mist and rain

I had a nice few weeks up at Tombreck helping again with the renovations of the South Byre and looking after the farm generally for a few days while Sue and Tober had a break. I really enjoyed the physical work of helping Ewan to put up the roof and its got me very interested in doing more eco-building.

That's fellow volunteer Andy from Australia doing a bit of stone work. His last job was working in a nickel mine...

Sue nicking one of Millie's carrots...

Duck house moving time; this is the house I made for them last winter, its earthquake proof construction means that it needs four people to lift it.

Lots of opportunities for moody shots of misty trees...

...and moody shots of misty trees and mountains.

Back down South for a few days to see ZZ TOP with my great friend Stone from as long as I can remember - they just get better and better, Boogie on Mr Billy!

The roof ready for its sarking boards. We had a lot of rain though! Some days we just gave up and packed up, others we kept on working keeping sheltered as much as we could.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Birth of the Nomadic Permanent Volunteer

I've never had much faith in conventional politics' ability to get us out of the current mess. Just as the money system hasn't really been fixed by papering over the cracks with more non-existent money, the climate problem isn't really going to be tackled with any business-as-usual measures, and as methane release starts to kick in we may already be past a tipping point into runaway warming. Not to mention any other problems...

I feel the only effective initiatives will come from individuals and small groups of people so I have decided to start living the eco way full time myself rather than trying to keep both ways of living going. I plan to put my main focus and energy into helping out on eco projects like the ones I've been visiting.

Moving On
Much as Debi and I love each other, we have both been finding it harder and harder to live together. Debi feels she has to stay here while I feel totally at odds with our present car-supermarket-school way of life. I feel there is no time to lose and I don't see any way we can do a gentle transition from the high energy way of life to low impact living. It's been a very sad few weeks but at the same time I'm excited at the prospect of living and working again with some of the fantastic people I've met, and I'll keep on spreading the word and letting people know about the good stuff that's happening

Ian's Own Eco Project
My idea is to help out on eco projects permanently. I want to live a low impact life, help others working that way and also to escape from the money system as much as possible, bartering for anything with my own therapy, woodworking skills etc. as needed.

Brighton to Perth Walk
I've wanted to walk from Brighton to Perth for years - I don't quite know why really, maybe I just like walking. Now it seems like it's possible and would be a great way of spreading the word and meeting people. So I'm planning to set off in May using as little money as possible, looking for board and lodging from the couchsurfing community and freecommunity (details below) in return for therapy and woodwork etc. Get in touch if you want to walk part of the way with me or have a couch free on the route or would like some treatment or whatever.

I am delighted to have got this group up and running - we are exploring higher levels of consciousness and perception, further dimensions and higher frequencies and aim to bring our discoveries into practical everyday life, learning to LIVE LIGHTLY. This group is for healers and therapists but I also want to link up with eco-workers, artists, gardeners, creative writers, astrologers - and anyone else who wants to escape from conventional thought frameworks and GO EXPLORING!
I believe extraordinary abilities already exist for us in energy form with which we will be able to help all life to flourish. (See Spontaneous Evolution below.) Please join in with the group from a distance if you can - next meeting is 14th October, 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm. I'll be joining in wherever I am in the future.

The World's Slowest Yurt - Getting There!

Hurrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy! At long last The World's Slowest Yurt has walls and windows!

I have to say it looks absolutely amazing with a light on inside at night-time, like a great big Chinese Lantern.

There's still a lot to do, insulation and bits and pieces to fix the canvas better to the frame, but it is basically there. YOOOOOO! I have wondered several times why I didn't try to make something a bit easier though - maybe a life-size model of the Taj Mahal out of empty beer tins and string or something...

Saturday, October 03, 2009


A Cracking Book For You!!

Following on from my post Doom Gloom and Hope further down on this blog, I have been getting really excited reading "Spontaneous Evolution" by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman. You know when you read a book and you just go Yes Yes Yes! because it's saying what you've been thinking, feeling and trying to say for ages? Well, this is one of those books for me. Just a few ideas from Spontaneous Evolution:
- Evolution is not always a slow long drawn out process but can happen in jumps
- Cells respond to changes in their environment by generating many new possibilities
- We can learn a lot from cells: 50 trillion cells manage to co-operate within each of our bodies but 7 billion human beings haven't managed to do it on the Earth yet - why not?
- Humanity may be on the threshold of an evolutionary jump in response to challenges from our environment
- If humanity has a chance of surviving what is looking like the beginning of a phase of mass extinction brought about by us we had better evolve into something more co-operative, gentler and lighter on the Earth
- It's at least partly about the evolution of our consciousness and becoming aware of our collective consciousness
It's fantastic to see this stuff discussed by people with a scientific background as well as hippy-dreamer-therapists like me, the first of many reconciliations of opposites I hope.

Summer at Tombreck

One of the tasks at Tombreck this summer has been digging out the old steading floor to take the foundations for two homes.

The old cobble floor doesn't look too bad at first site but Perthshire bedrock is lurking not far below. The lads from Sweden gave it a good go, I gave it a good go, Debi gave it a good go and that's Tober and Jean giving it a good go by taking out a massive boulder almost as big as the Matterhorn.

Why not use a digger? Well apart from all the diesel, it just wouldn't do such a good job. We were able to separate out the stone that would be useful for building from the general hardcore and the rubbish. And it was such a feeling of bloomin achievment too!!

Clouds Mountains & Trees

A few shots from Scotland this summer: Ben Lawers through a group of ash trees, the last flashes of sunlight on the far side of Loch Tay, and some Miscellaneous Clouds Mountains & Trees. The last two shots are from Carie Woods, on the farm next door to Tombreck: magic, mystery and time slowed right down till you can hear it creaking.