Introduction to Permaculture – what a weekend!

Just spent the last two days at Stepney City farm being introduced to the inspiring philosophy of Permaculture; it was so illuminating that I’m having trouble thinking of any other better reason to give up my weekend.

I’m not exactly Monty Don but I’ve had a fair acquaintance with food growing, what with working with the Transition Town Wandsworth at the Bramford Road Community Garden and getting the most out of my allotment near to where  I live south west of London, yet I was still a bit fuzzy as to what Permaculture was all about.

So when I signed up for a two day intro to the subject I was hopeful that I’d get the clarity I wanted and, perhaps more importantly, get some pointers on how to implement the ideas in to the stuff I’m already doing.

If you’re not familiar with the whole idea here’s a succinct little line on it from the mouth of eminent permaculture practitioner Dan Hemenway: ‘Permaculture is Applied Science and Ecology; Ethical design of human systems for a sustainable future. It offers practical solutions to the global environmental and cultural crises we now face’.

Sounds good doesn’t it – but how do you make it work?

Obviously it’s too large an area to cover in two days but our instructor, Kevin – a true green wizard with a wealth of experience (and a few spells too I wouldn’t wonder) – did an amazing job of laying out the principles, detailing the ethics and explaining the what, how, where and why of the whole business. It was fantastic. He sparked so much conversation during the sessions that we all benefited not only from the course material but from each other.

That was icing on the cake for me. The people I met on the course were all fabulous – all friendly, interesting and overflowing with a desire to do things a bit differently. They were also amazing cooks: on both days we all shared the food we bought and the food was every bit as good as the conversation.

I’m not going to give a rundown of what we learned here – go to Kevin if you want that, or check out the Permaculture Association to find a course near you – but I can tell you I left there feeling renewed and re-energised. I’ve resolved to follow the permaculture path to find out where it might lead. Hopefully you’ll join me?


Why I joined the Green Party

If you take headlines as your gospel then you’d be content to believe that the majority of people in this country are represented by those that occasionally darken the doorways of that nice old building in Westminster. Of course, any reasonable analysis would quickly show that the reality has drifted quite far from that notion – in the fact the drift has become a torrent in the last few years – most now feel, at best, indifference to the main three parties and are fed up of the business-as-usual platitudes emanating daily from our sorry collection of corporate finger puppets. It’s not that people aren’t aware or don’t care about the skyscraper sized stack of issues that face the country, just that they’ve lost faith that anyone ‘in power’ can do anything to stop it from toppling.

An unfortunate consequence of the neglect of the centre ground, as our politicians with their blatant self-interest have shown, is that something ugly usually arises to fill the void left by their lack of attention to the way the world actually works. Naturally, there’s seldom a shortage of those looking to play to the pit and exploit the anxieties and frustrations of all those who feel they no longer have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Finger pointing, the preferred strategy of those with no fresh ideas, is where it starts yet, other than the compulsory hand wringing and accusations, nothing gets achieved besides further alienation – from each other, from reality and from any possible set of solutions.  I hardly need point out where the blame game usually ends – suffice to say it’s never what you could call ‘constructive’.

It won’t have taken you long to spot where I stand in all this; I consider myself woefully underrepresented. No representative speaks for what I care about or what I wish to contribute. MP’s seldom stand up and defend what really counts. Policy seems to be decided on the basis of who get the bigger cut and dedicated to taking it and giving it to initiatives I don’t even agree with (war, arms trade subsidies, subsidies to private firms, privatization). Even elections give scant choice; you’re not allowed to question the assumptions of the underlying socio-economic order, you’re merely encouraged to decide upon unimportant scraps dropped from the masters table – manifestos that change nothing and ensure protection for the feast that continues to gorge on every corner of the land and its people.

Doesn’t seem like there’s much use in voting for any of that to be sure.

Yet I’m not at all politically disengaged, I might not have anyone to speak for me from any of the main three parties but I still have a voice, an awareness and of course, a vote. However tempting it might to fall for apathy those old boys don’t deserve the comfort of thinking I’ll stay in my box. I’ve worked with Transition towns, protested wars, begun community gardens and walked many walks of life – there’s so much good stuff happening and so much potential for positive change in this country it makes me want to shout. That’s what I have joined the Green Party.

Daily we read of yet more affronts to common sense (fracking) and responsibility; ever more cries for ineffectual conflicts that benefit the few whilst draining society of its remaining resources and goodwill and watch as everything our forebears built is sold for a quick profit. There’s talk of a need for all of this but we know there is no need save feeding it all to the insatiable spectre of growth. Endless growth is not possible when based on the use of finite resources. Nothing else in the world enjoys endless growth – even cancer dies with the sufferer – so how come we’re exempted this fundamental, natural law? Anyway, profit will mean nothing if there’s nothing left to hand along. And with all of the money in the world we can’t even spend our way out of our current predicament – you can’t solve problems by causing more problems and pretending they’re solutions. I joined the Green Party because they’re talking about these issues and have resolved to work towards solutions.

I’m not seeking to vilify anyone for the way things are now, we’ve all bought into it to some extent, but I am looking for some recognition that things have to change. If we keep falling for the same binary of left versus right we’re going to continue to miss out on some pretty significant chances to get original and effective ideas in to the mix. If we continue to feed a system that is systemically flawed, ossified as it is in the way it cultivates its members and maintains its bureaucracy, then we can’t be surprised if we choke off all the best opportunities to actually make a difference to how we live within the limits of the natural world. If we allow the partisan media to shape our responses and opinions when we know full well what action has to be taken, we can’t expect anything other than a continued decline accompanied by the usual excuses and denunciations. We’ve heard it all before but we don’t need to hear it anymore. That’s why I joined the Green Party.

Meany two wheels

The process of cycling in a large city can have many effect upon the battered psyche of a hapless commuter such as myself. Sure, the continual threat of collision with some deranged van driver, or a catastrophic cut-in from some ditsy fool piloting an inappropriately large hulk of 4×4, does tend to kick your kindly attitudes far into the land of go-fuck-yourself. Any and all personal cultivation you may flatter yourself to have attained gets left behind quicker than a Liberal democrat election policy. Perhaps, this is only indicative of the continual affront to ones sensibilities by the seemingly limitless indifference the driving public has to your personal welfare? Or, you’d like to think, a natural reaction to immersion in the hostile and pitiless arena of madness and stupidity that is our streets?

Well, having endured such and such for the past five years, and having babbled, screamed and ranted my way through encyclopaedic volumes of insults towards my fellow road users, I have come to the overdue conclusion that it is most probably I who needs an attitude adjustment. Yes I admit it; me + bicycle + London streets = loony waiting for a place to land.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not absolving the ceaseless parade of nutters (drivers, motorcyclists and yes, other cyclists), of their ubiquitous lack of talent, rather I am suggesting an attempt at modifying my expectations in the interests of safeguarding my own wellbeing and/ or life.

Like most people I tend to judge others by myself, expecting them to display – more or less – the same behaviour in the common situations that require adherence to an appropriate social convention; you know, like driving. Therefore, as I don’t routinely race up to junctions as fast as I possibly can before screeching to a hair-raising last minute stop, run red lights on pedestrian crossings, pull out without looking or simply stop in the middle of road, I’ve always been disappointed to find others indulging in these acts. In reality though, these cunnings stunts are so pervasive that I’m forced to consider the fact that I’ve made all the wrong assumptions. Other people aren’t like me.

In order to counter all the wrong headedness and naivety I’ve been labouring under come rain or shine these last few years, I’ve assessed my fellow road users to fall in to three distinct camps:

The not-quite-here (70% of road users)

They’ve passed their tests, they can switch gears, more or less, but they’re not really too bothered about what’s going on outside the confines of their chic steel box when there’s good music and Yakult to be had inside. They’ll drive along happily unaware of any such thing as a negative outcome. After all, Cause and Effect are just things you find in books about physics or something. You can spot the cyclist version of these easily too: women usually appear in blowy dresses when the sun shines riding bikes Miss Marple would consider old fashioned, the men prefer bikes with tiny wheels that they can also use to piss off hapless train users already starved of space.

Anyone who delivers pizza on a moped.

The actively murderous (10%)

Some van drivers, most black cabbies, city executives.

They hate cyclists in every way, especially ideologically. What you’re doing on that two wheeled machine is an offense to everything they believe in. Too consumed to understand that every bike on the road is one less minute stuck in stationary traffic, they just want to eradicate your kind. Now.


Everyone else (20%)

Yes, in contradiction of what I’ve been muttering about even I must concede that some people quietly, and for the most part, competently just get on with it. These people are the reason the system keeps going. They can be generous, courteous and refreshingly nice. Unlike me. But I’m trying.

This may seem distasteful, and of course cynical, but I believe it to be a useful mechanism for keeping your marbles from rolling whilst using London’s roads. Of course, I don’t really think that everyone’s some kind of arsehole to be labelled in this way. Indeed it would be deemed anti-social if I was to try and use it at, oh I don’t know, a party. Besides, you need a far wider set of categories to label all the arseholes in the world.

As for advertising

As for advertising, since the occupation we here have been forced to accept ever more insipid regularities devised and contrived by those getting weighty loots the trans-Atlantic corporate pens. An industry born on simply making up stuff to palm off other stuff that people made up on people that don’t know how to make any stuff themselves –advertising surely prides itself on excluding truth and consequences as much as it exudes falsity. It’s gotten so that these days everybody’s bodies, opinion, views and thoughts must be carefully sanctioned by the puppet masters of some dreary household brand or vacuous product for which no one has any real need at all. Thus your favourite bleach will provide you with everything you need to know about how your family should look and act; your bright white tiles should of course match their perfect smiles.

Presumably the architects of these advertising assaults lead exemplary lives amongst the most beautiful? Hardly. The skewed notion of everything as commodity, worthy of consideration only if it can be monetised indicates a vision blurred to true value.  Obviously there’s no end of people who can’t wait to buy in to the belief that some such product can alleviate the vacuity of their existence. A vacuity voluntarily adopted of course. Take a look and you’re sure to notice that we were actually born with everything we need – that’s before someone put a fence around it and tried to sell it back to you.  Each and every one of us has the capacity for imagination and creativity, to a lesser or greater extent, but too many people have lost their appetite for invention after consuming too many toxic taglines.

This would all be quite silly if it wasn’t so damaging, Denial of reality, about yourself, your situation, your future or your environment always ends somewhere along the roughhewn line between disappointment and disaster. No matter how shiny, clever and overwhelming the sloganeering it still can’t ever change the way the world works. Clue, it doesn’t exist solely for human benefit. Apotropaic charms won’t solve any problems. In fact they run counter to what needs to happen. Incantations beseeching you to consume something that can somehow fix this or that leave you unaware of the real predicaments. Don’t believe me? Look around. I don’t need to spell it out and do your thinking for you. That’s the job of advertising