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.