single use article

 

I grew up with plastic even though I was raised somewhere very rural and unpolluted in the 80’s and 90’s. Plastic was a handy substance and I remember when my uncle put plastic roofing on his sheds to replace the rusty corrugated iron stuff. I remember when ’roundy bales‘ of silage appeared, each wrapped in a few lovely, clean layers of black plastic, easily incinerated afterwards. The black smoke towered into the sky on the still day of burning. I also remember watching crisp packets hilariously shrink on the open fire on hot coals. It was absorbing to watch. I passed many a mindful moment with this pursuit, as a kid.

These Days We Hate Plastic

I watched some of Hugh’s programme about plastic recently and was as disgusted as I’m sure most were, at the piles of plastic slowly fading away in a developing country and we, the world’s important, with our SM profiles, personal attention and adoration, are happily disconnected from the result of our unchecked consumption. This truly is a beautiful symbol of where we’re at. More recently I’ve been wondering about taking responsibility for my own plastic, since it appears nobody else is. The other day I put some plastic on a campfire and it felt really wrong, denuding the woodland scene with this ‘unnatural’ substance.  Does being disconnected from the end result of my consumption mean I’m being ripped off, in some way? If I dispose of my own plastic am I taking responsibility where others obviously aren’t? If we all had to burn our own plastic would we stop buying so much? Or would it just be fun to do?

Shit Food

I mean, who’s not familiar with the simple perfection of a mars bar wrapper, its vibrant durability expresses confidence and hints at a strong result. Ads for Mars in the 90’s contained athletes and highly motivated people choosing to chew a mars bar simply because it made them bigger and more capable of success.  Not only that but it’s got nostalgia attached, its inherent value goes beyond its contents into complex emotional connections.

Shit Attitudes

Plastic is the perfect metaphor/definition for the advertising industry, upon which so much of branding is based. A medium which builds in longevity and puts an inflated value on what would otherwise be worthless. Hence the mars bar and plastic coke bottle. Plastic is a symbol of convenience, longevity, modern consumption, that everything is taken care of. In our lives and the way we live now, there is no getting away from it. For many of us, cutting out single use plastics would mean starving to death. It is the lifeblood of our modern sleepy attitude, it flows through our veins. Even the (social) media is plastic, a shiny wrapper which hides connection.

Invisible plastic

There’s the plastic we use every day which somehow seems to escape the lambasting, for example: the humble crisp packet. Somehow it doesn’t seem like plastic. I mean, how would we eat crisps at all if it weren’t for plastic? We’d probably have to make our own or maybe nominate one crisp-maker per street, or maybe use a rota system. Community Crisps CIC. Put then in paper bags, maybe or reused take away tubs. We simply must have our crisps! Chocolate bars, once again. Cheese! We can’t have cheese without plastic. We really can’t! No please don’t give us cheese without plastic. Or organic vegetables. My organic supermarket bought vegetables have to be in a plastic bag. They have to be taken care of in that way.

How would we brush our teeth without plastic?! The toothpaste — the TOOTHBRUSH!! You can get wooden ones of course but who wants to put a dirty piece of wood near their mouth? Yuk, dirty, natural wood soaked in water and stuff, a breeding ground for germs, that’s what I heard. Then there’s most of our modern cars, plastic. We bought a really comfy sofa recently – PLASTIC. Computers, carpets, duvets, pillows, clothes! Windows, doors, phones. Everything is taken care of. I love glitter.

SFW

The symbol is not only of our disconnection from what happens with our waste but also our disconnection from responsibility, if that’s not too much of a moral tack for you. It’s taken care of, that’s what we were led to believe. In a world of convenience we’re lazy and ignorant because we think we’re being taken care of in some way, that things will be ok. Perhaps because governments know they can get votes by saying that their business is about looking after people, and of course to some extent it is. We think they can solve the problems we’ve helped create, bought into and not taken responsibility for.

Hugh does great work in spelling out the issues and confronting the people who he feels are responsible, including us as consumers. It’s brilliant work and so needed. Attenborough as well, has helped bring this big lifestyle problem of ours into consciousness. Before that we were asleep. Oh hang on. Were we asleep? No, this has been going on for ages, surely? Reusable bags, etc, people have been doing that for decades, right? You know, the hippies, the ones complaining about ‘the man’. Those people, the longhairs, those people who’ve been shouting about pollution and the state of the planet for decades. They’re so lame though! It’s the critical mass thing, the modern fragmented community, which can’t decide or be responsible for anything apart from complaining all the time is becoming hippified, slowly churning through indecision into a clunky sort of unity. Individualised, empowered westerners having to work together. Yuk! We who have worked for decades to be independent of each other now need to drop our habits and work together to save the world by stopping something which we thought was amazing only a few years ago. Eff you, I’m not doing it! People whose homes, cars, gardens, jobs and choices are their own and nobody else’s to make. The experience of economic freedom means we don’t have to commit to help others. everything is taken care of. The whole point is to be my own person, to do my own thing, to play the game by my rules. I give to charity, I pay my bills and taxes, don’t make me feel shame! Everything is taken care of.

I have heard people say that they hate plastic which may be a little bit misplaced, like all the hate campaigns out there. Positive hate! Yeah! I work in a shop sometimes and the other day a person came in for some salad and we only had salad which was in a plastic bag. Up until recently one would be applauded for the use of plastic to keep food fresh. He asked <have you got anything that’s not in plastic?> I said sorry, no. <No greens for my lunch, then>, he arraigned with passive aggressive fury as he gently stormed out, unable to make eye contact with one so evil as me.

amen

Show Me

While making lunch i spotted this cheeky twig which snuck its way under my shoelace during my morning hike. Loving the poetry of this moment, outdoor meets indoor, instant recall of making my way through crackly, fallen branches on the river bank. It gives me the powerful feeling that nature is always here for me, ready to show me at any moment. Then it takes me deeper into my experience by the river this morning..

Sitting on a fallen tree trunk, right in the middle of the river…hearing the river rush and play either side of me…in surround sound..closing my eyes for a while I allow the sound to completely drown me, it fills me…until I can’t keep my eyes closed any more, it literally feels like the water is up to my throat. Opening my eyes again I am enveloped in the scene, the rushing water…the bank looks like it is slowly moving upstream, against the current. I revel in this ‘trippy’ moment, when my world and the outer world collide to make something new and unexpected happen – and thoughts not being centre stage. That feeling of otherness which can only be experienced by me, in this moment, without explanation, just openness. When that stops it helps me see that all is not what it seems and anything is possible. I have doubt thoughts of optical illusion and scientific studies which may say that this is a phenomenon caused by blah blah blah blah…but that’s not what I’m looking for here.

I’m after a new sense of the world, of my world…a portal to creativity and new experiences, a way for me to open my eyes with a different lens in the natural environment..a world of meaning and unquestioned interconnections. That tucked away twig took me back to the river and through its wisdom I found a new way to experience a moment and the trees which fall, tumble and are rolled down its length..to really feel the contrast between outer and inner and take the time to integrate an experience.

 

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The Clearing

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This May I am going to be hosting a retreat in the beautiful mountains of Tuscany. This experience will give you the chance to step out of your normal ‘stuff’ and into something different. We’re not trying to sell a package holiday here – this is a chance to really step out of ‘normal’ life and stop – then open your senses in a new way.

A couple of years ago I decided to do a walk that would change my life forever. I was holding myself back, ignoring the grief of my sister’s life and death. She had died 5 years before, having had serious physical and mental disabilities all her life. I actually didn’t know how to grieve for a life which to me felt so tragic and sad. I made the scariest choice I ever made: to drop everything (apart from my lovely family, of course) and walk home. That 600km walk showed me what I’m capable of, who I was and could be and how showing love to myself, healing my grief and looking at what I considered to be my ‘messed up mind’ ended up helping not only me, but also those around me, to heal.

Often, we don’t know what power lies inside us. Since my walk I’ve tirelessly continued working on my ‘stuff’, chipped away at my self-judgement fears and I feel stronger, more connected and have deeper relationships with those around me because of it, plus my nature connection training has given me a powerful and simple toolkit which is always there for me – opening my senses and taking me out of worry or fear – those elements of worry or fear are just facts of life nobody wants to admit to.

We go through life (as I was) ‘coping’ with our lot. Work, family life, occasional hobbies, all washed down with a few glasses of red. But where are YOU in all this? Are you looking for something more?

Now, I’m ready to share this more, because I know, as I learned through Walk for Aoife, DOING inspires others. This retreat comes from what I learned through my 600km walk. It comes from the training I’ve done and the powerful integration and self-knowledge I’ve gained through it. So I’m just a little bit excited about it, you could say

How about it, then? Join us in Tuscany, this spring and let us help you make space for yourself.
Please get in touch and we’ll send you a brochure
endlessriverflow@gmail.com
endless-river.org
07568577062

Always a River

There is beauty in everything but it is important to acknowledge that hard times happen. They do! Most people deal with these alone. And in many ways it is a lonely journey, because growth can only happen for you and these feelings only happen to your personal journey. But, actually they also happen to every single other human too. There is cultural shame attached to being open about your state – unless you’re ‘fine’ of course. It’s not always easy, but it is possible to find the beauty in these moments, to break through to a new realisation or feel its pull, asking you to let go and break through….

Like when I think there may be no way to resolve things or there is some irreparable damage done. Hours turn into days of uncertainty – desperation, even – times when I am even unsure of the ground I walk upon and of what can keep me there.

Have you ever felt like that? Like you’ve reached the limit of where you can go and it actually seems like the world is fucking with you just for fun. You’re lost, you’ve been trudging through mud.

Yesterday I went down to the river. I’ve been going to the river a lot lately. We’ve been having a lot of rain and snow melt and the river gets high and loud and riotous and we can hear it from our house which is about 2 kilometres away. It feels powerful. It’s a draw. I go to just stand there. And these past days, struggling with some unresolvable puzzle, fatigued through thinking and trying – I watch.

I listen.

And it tells me. The flow tells me that it’s all going to be ok. It says sometimes things are overwhelming. I see the flow is not all smooth; there are rocks an driftwood underneath which create tension, alter the course – get in the way. I see that it just keeps going despite impedences and, actually they add character: ripples, bubbles, plumes, adding colour and sound. That sound which pulled me there to help me heal.

Then on the bank I see oak saplings. These whips have gathered leaves from the flood. They cling to thin trunks, dead oak leaves washed downstream. They tell me that sometimes the flood is too much and we cling. They tell me I have a choice; to go with the flow or to hold on. To let go that which I have already made peace with.

It helps. I trust what I read. Nature shows me it’s ok and it’s ok to not be ok.

The river has a course. It changes. It can rage, destroy and kill. It can gently hold, play, trickle and sometimes disappear altogether. It is never the same.

And the river is not just water. It is rock, tree, hill, rain, cloud and me – all coalescing to make it.

The story is always there, ready for you – in Nature.

Do We Live in a Monoculture?

I grew up in a different time. Time literally was different. People had time for each other. Things happened slowly.

Growing up in a rural community, it wasn’t always easy to get the right part for the job. Parts for tractors and farm machinery were sometimes improvised; people weren’t so bothered about replacing original lights with original lights. Often, lights weren’t even replaced: I mean, who would be driving a tractor at night, anyway?

When I was young, my uncle and the neighbours clubbed together and bought silage-harvesting equipment, to cut and store the grass for winter animal feed. It was harking back to the ‘old days’ when neighbours shared the workload, saving the hay together and doing ‘big’ jobs, which many hands made a bit lighter.

This had been done for generations where I grew up, but in a different way. The hay was saved by hand, after the corncrake had fledged, and a natural cycle of community and nature working in harmony, continued. It was never perfect, but it worked. It involved hard labour and collaboration, both of which seem unpopular now.

I loved being part of that. For me, as a boy, the excitement and joy of being part of a team of workers who were doing an important job, was almost overwhelming, even if at the time I was just in the tractor with whoever was ‘drawing’ the silage. I was just there in the thick of it, relishing the whole experience. Sparse conversation: an odd word exchanged about some nuance of the experience.; a change in the weather, a heavier load, two birds fighting on the wing. The waft of oil, grease, diesel and fumes together – the essence of this recipe – slow-cooking on the lively, early summer, west Kerry landscape.

And after the work at dusk, the men would have drinks before setting off home, after dark. Sometimes Guinness and sometimes a ‘tin’ or a ‘mineral’, as soft drinks were called . I was allowed to take part in this too, handing out the bottles and tins, then having my own. The men talked about nothing I understood, but the air of excitement and ‘difference’ was inspiring.

Farming and outdoor work stayed with me, though and throughout my sustainable food ‘career’, in a city, 400 miles away,  I spent much time either working outdoors or involved with food growing and farmers. I loved being able to buy farm fresh goods from producers I got to know personally and getting to know them a little gave me a sense of connection with the land I felt I didn’t have, in Manchester. When I got a job as a grower at 36 I was revisiting my childhood in a new and easy way. In those early days of going ‘back to the land’ I used the phrase ‘Farming Equals Freedom’, quite a lot.

Within the local food movement in Manchester I found something else very important: Community. That experience which I had lost touch with over the years but finally felt again, gave me a new hope. I felt that collaborative spirit, the buzz of people doing something together for a bigger, more tangible goal, and suddenly things clicked into place for me.

It was good for me, so what?

It’s not possible to convince everybody that being part of something which connects you to a bigger ideal or practical goal is the thing, but I can see how things have changed since I was young.

Take industrial agriculture, for example. The western need for efficiency in production has had a devastating effect on the landscape and culture of many countries. This top-down control of food production has led to monocultural farming practices, using vast swathes of land, blanket use of chemical sprays and often, eventual abandonment of the land due to erosion and degradation.

How does soil degradation happen?

In Brazil, land reform in the 1960’s led to millions of peasant tenant farmers (in Brazil, at least up until recently 45% of agricultural land was owned by 1% of the population) being displaced to cities as the ‘underused’, pesky tropical rainforests were cut down and replaced with useful soya bean plantations, for example. As the years passed, millions of tons of chemical-laden topsoil washed away into rivers, leaving waterways clogged and polluted and the land abandoned and degraded, through a combination of land being under cultivation all the time and rain. Bare soil and tropical rainstorms equals masses of polluted topsoil eroded.

This degradation is not only of the land but with the degrading practice of the enforced relocation of people, splitting up communities and diverse cultural heritage. This rarely gets a mention. This results in landless peasant movements such as MST Brazil, whose aim is to repopulate and ‘re-culture’ vast areas of land which were taken ownership of by powerful people, in colonial days when everything was ‘free’ for the taking.

“The history of the twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a struggle to curtail excessive corporate power.” Eric Schlosser, Author of Fast Food Nation.

In relation to food, farming and culture, this quote marks the death of community and cultural cultivation as we knew it. Mainstream food cultivation and production has taken a back seat, now carried out mainly by those who have large, efficient farms and who use chemical sprays to ‘control’ weeds and insects. This, of course, frees up the population to be better, more efficient workers, for the benefit of the ‘free world’. The aspirational example America sets is enough to make one cringe in disbelief. Is this really the way the world is going? World leader or world-bleeder? Of course, every modern, industrialised country does things the same way. The question is, can we work together, or is it just going to be about sifting through the rubble, later?

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Are we heading towards a monocultural world?

It’s so hard to know what lies ahead. It’s so easy to become distracted by bad news culture and what to buy next. Things that keep us in our place, quietly confused and feeling bad about the state of things.

What do we stand to lose through monocultural, industrial and corporate takeover of culture? Are the ‘old ways’ dead and gone?  Has rural culture gone the way of the corncrake, whose call is no longer heard in the fields where I grew up?

My uncle and a neighbour once made an entire tractor cab from scrap metal and bits of old PVC windows. I remember Uncle Tom telling me how quiet and rattle-free the finished cab was due to all the rubber seals and plastic joints they used. At the time I found it a bit amusing. I thought my uncle a bit naive, spending all that time bodging a tractor cab when he could have bought one. I had been living in England for a while – moved away from and in some ways rejected the ‘old ways’, probably thinking I knew better, and judging my uncle for his ‘simple’ ways. I kind of missed the point though, didn’t I?

I can’t deny what’s happening in the world and so I have to ask the questions: What can I do about it? How can I take action? Is it possible to make a difference? How do I reconcile being part of the problem, because, as far as I can see it, we all are?

Working together to create something new, especially something food-based – even survival-based – feels like a strong way to make alternatives to the corporate monoculture which deskills us, making us its dependents.  We are disconnected from our food and therefore from each other. At one time not so long ago, we all depended on having the skills to produce our own food. Culture grew up around that and not much had changed for hundreds, or even thousands of years. Of course, there always has been some oppression, but it wasn’t so all pervasive as it now is. TV advertising, smartphone advertising, social pressure to have the latest tech, keeps us locked in. What’s actually happening to us as we’re all looking over there, blaming religion for the world’s problems?

We are now perfectly oppressed.

Monoculture is the ice age, a frozen landscape, covering all the potential underneath. Soon, we will have forgotten that trickle of water beneath the frozen river and the lakes, trees and dormant seeds which lie concealed by that numbing surface, awaiting release. It is always there, just under the surface. Monoculture masquerades as freedom and it does contain the seeds of freedom – we just need to see through its barren, uniform, transparent surface.

I helped my friend who is building a sauna, the other day. It was fun and we somewhat made it up as we went, neither of us experts in woodwork, nor having exactly the right tools. That was part of the experience – we listened to each other, planned and made it work. I want to find more of that kind of experience, because we have created a world where happiness is measured by what one owns, where achievement is about school grades, then pay grades and where we are in competition with each other and with ourselves to do ‘better’. We have developed a complex and unnecessary monoculture, far from the simplicity of what it takes to have a satisfying life.

We need to recreate community and diversity, we need to make time to recreate culture.

 

 

Lazy Winter Creative

How can I do nothing?

I would love to do nothing all the time. Look at the trees. Look at the rocks. These things appear pretty lazy – or are they just in a constant creative state?

I’ve never considered myself a lazy person until recently. I worked hard for years and years at jobs I loved and I achieved what I consider to be great things. I played drums in bands, toured and worked hard at that. “So what’s your problem?” I heard myself say just then. None of it was really MINE, is the thing.

So at the moment I’m not really working at a job – lucky enough to pretty much be a kept man right now (that’s a whole other blog piece) – and so I have the opportunity to look a bit harder at what I want. To get creative, and I’m realising that creativity is the key for me to find what I want. I could classify myself as a ‘blocked creative’. Anyone else feel that way?

So, maybe it’s not so much about doing nothing but feeling like it’s nothing – like everything is exciting, instead of scary and triggering my ‘stuff’. That’s my goal at the moment. How do I do this? Some of it involves being in a state of analysis, I feel how I am in certain situations and how I am around people who appear to be doing what they want. I tease out my old ideals of resentment and bitterness and see how they’re the opposite of creativity. I think less – or at least I allow thoughts to stick – less. These kind of changes take time and commitment, and if you’re like me it may take many false starts and cynical breakdowns before you get to a point of seeing change.

And what is change?

Nothing. It’s nothing. It’s the space into which I wish to put something more valuable than judgement, sadness, loneliness, bitterness or worry. This hard fought for space feels so valuable that I will not clog it up with shit again. It’s like restoration or something. I notice the condition of a battered old staircase: the cracked wood, exposed nails, and general ricketiness (probably not an accepted word, but hey), and I do a complete overhaul. That doesn’t involve taking off the old wood and putting it back together again. It’s getting hold of the best manual on staircase building, finding some locally sourced oak wood, seasoning it, hand planing and sanding it and then building the staircase with as much care and consideration as I can. That way, every time I go up those stairs, I will feel like I am going somewhere amazing and every step is an inspiration. How’s that for an extended metaphor?! Well, it is Christmas.

I am learning to make space in my life for new things – to break through the clamour, the clutter, the complete possibility of not doing – but instead I create – something way better than I otherwise would have. And it does come from nothing.

Creating nothing takes effort for me, but when it happens things start to flow. Letting my life float by would be too easy and I would die full of regret. I could continue being lazy but I’m choosing its opposite and creating my own life. I might even become a tree or a rock or something, eventually.

 

 

Amusings

What are we here for? What am I for?

My wife sometimes laughs when I ask this question, which usually starts with something like “Isn’t it weird, though?” She rolls her eyes. “Who are we, though? What are we doing? What’s it all about?”

At that point she attempts to leave the conversation. And I wouldn’t blame her, as it usually happens when we’re driving or putting the shopping away or something. I just get stuck sometimes, staring at a packet of pasta, noticing the shiny plastic packaging and its refined text, made up of letters and other symbols, the straightness and uniformity of the product, the dietary advice written on the back and the complexity of events which led to me asking this, most tedious of questions. I do it just for a laugh sometimes, because I kind of enjoy my weirdo-ness. I like to attempt to contemplate all the evolutionary steps it took for that packet of pasta to be in my hand, or how a loom was designed, or when we first decided to tunnel through a mountain rather than going over it.

So what is the point of me?

I don’t actually think there is. I’m not sure anyway. When I say ‘sure’ I think I know what I’m talking about. I mean, I can attach myself to all sorts of stuff, but am I nothing without it?

Does this even matter?

I jumped into the sea the other day, on my own. The Atlantic, that is. It was cold, and windy and I got brainfreeze from putting my head under. I know that my body craved the experience of jumping in the sea, even though my mind was totally against it. Picture me, hurriedly taking off my clothes on a cold beach, the goosebumps immediately jumping to attention, an inner voice screaming at me “What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doooooiiiiiing?” And there I am, just ignoring it. Fear and excitement happen, both pushing me and holding me back.  Another voice is answering “I don’t know what I’m doing, this is ridiculous.” And then I run, in the full awareness that I am about to do something out of the ordinary, against my most own best advice. Still feeling a bit self-conscious, I splash in the shallows, wading in towards the deep. With the shock as I experience the pure feeling of cold water immersion, I am released into the moment and the voices fade away.

Of course, I felt great after that jump in the sea. It was a reminder that I am alive and connected in a deeper way to the world around me. I appreciated the privilege of getting into warm clothes and living the relatively luxurious life I live and at the same time I can do what I want and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I need to have this kind of experience.

“You’re crazy for jumping in the Atlantic in November.” How ridiculous is that statement? But I said it, and I am the voice of reason, the fear, the courage and the stupidity. All me.

So, next time I stop and stare at something, thinking what’s it all about, and not find an answer, I will feel grateful that I ask the question. Because I honestly don’t know which reality I live in, if not my own. I’m old enough to deal with that, now. I am my own worst judge, but that judge needs locking up sometimes, for his own good so the creative can come out to play.