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Thursday, 24 November 2011

The need to Transition Wandsworth

Let me start with a challenge.

As you sit and read this take a moment to cast an eye over where you’re sitting. If you can, try and identify as many objects in this space that weren’t manufactured, finished or transported using some sort of fossil fuel. Unless you’re lucky enough to own some antiques or discerning enough to have sourced handmade objects and had them brought here on foot or bicycle (which of course would still had to of been manufactured with inputs of energy), the chances are that, in common with most people of the Western world, you’re surrounded, clothed and fed by materials that would not be possible without easy available oil.

In fact it is impossible to overstate the impact, good and bad, this resource as had upon humanity and the planet. An energy source so rich – just one barrel of the stuff equating to 25,000 hours of human labour (12.5 years at 40 hours per week)1  - it was inevitable that we would make use of it to ‘progress’ to where we are now. However, nothing in nature is infinite and it now seems that we are close to a ‘peaking’ in the worldwide supply of easily available oil. No major discoveries have happened in the last two decades and existing reserves are by and large located in politically unstable and/ or hostile regimes. What that means is the cost of extraction will become increasingly costly, diminishing return on investment and pushing up prices on everything. You may have already noticed what reverberations in the price of oil can do to the worldwide economy following the price spike of 2008.

Peak oil, the theory that most of the cheap and easier to extract oil has already ‘peaked’ in terms of discovery and extraction, has slowly gained ground over the last few years; tellingly the October 2008 report of the UK government’s ‘Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security (ITPOES)’, plainly sets out its expectations for a supply ‘crunch’ around 2011 – 2013.  These realities, coupled with the ever present challenges of climate change, have resulted in a decisive shift in recent years towards clean technologies and sustainable, local commerce.

But you don’t even need to be familiar with this concept or buy into climate change, or even economic collapse (although the latter is probably very much visible at the time of writing), to see the evident need for some sort of change in the way we’re doing things. Only the most obstinate observer would deny that fairly shattering problems seem to arise with startling regularity; you might ascribe that to ever prevalent media or you might just have noticed that the writing is very much on our collective wall. Whatever your point of view, its plain that there’s no time to wait for someone else to take care of business; plenty of people are already starting to do something about the way we do things currently.

Given the current and continuing trajectory of industrial society, it might be a given that most resources are going to be in much shorter supply in the years to come; collective institutions such as governments and the all powerful markets—which are geared to the fantasy of perpetual growth—are unlikely to change direction until it’s too late to do anything useful. Looks like individual action focused on learning to get by with much less is therefore essential to any viable path to the future

The model that Transition Town Wandsworth, and its collective decision makers have elected to follow takes lead from the (now) worldwide transition movement, originally conceived as a student led ‘social experiment’ formulated by Rob Hopkins in Kinsale N Ireland. His thesis was to see if a population could formulate a workable strategy to adapt to resources shortage thereby ensuring a degree of ‘resilience’ in the face of the challenges resulting from climate change and/ or peak oil. . It might be noted at this point that every single natural process on this planet has such alternative strategies as part and parcel of its makeup.

The experiment was a success through its conception of a 12 point ‘energy descent action plan’ – a formula for rebuilding structures focused on local food production, education, transport etc that could be designed, and carried out by, individuals within a community framework. Accordingly, transition initiatives have sprung up throughout the land. Its proponents don’t easily fit into a single camp, which indeed is the beauty and efficacy of the concept. One of the reasons the movement may be gaining ground so quickly, maybe because it manages to neatly sidestep obsolete and useless right-left divisions associated with conventional politics. By appealing directly to the individuals’ specific interests and skills; requiring nothing more than a sharing and inclusion it manages to reach most people ‘where they are’ now.

Picking up on this trend in from back in 2008, residents and community groups in the Wandsworth area decided to try and combine their local knowledge and neighbourhood spirit to address and tackle these issues by volunteering their time for projects, workshops and skills swaps in the Wandsworth Town area. Transition Town Wandsworth, spurred on with support from the burgeoning movement, began to formulate ways for local people to take a direct hand in planning their local resilience for tomorrow by getting involved in sustainable projects today.

Right from the beginning it seemed appropriate to conceive a project in which everyone could get involved with, and be passionate about, regardless of experience or skill. The answer was one very in-keeping with the transition ethic of relocalising food production - a community garden. Beginning with an approach to the council in Nov 2008 followed by continual consultation, proposals and information sharing, the site for Wandsworth first ever community garden was finally arrived at: Bramford Rd community garden (the project earned its founder Dan O’Neill the Wandsworth Green Champion commendation in 2009 and was named winner of 2011 Green Champion Award). Starting on the land in May 2010, the site is anticipated to be awarded permanent status any time soon (indeed the groups original assertion right through the consultation period was that ‘we may have to lobby the council now but give it a few years and they’ll be asking people to take projects like this on’ – we shall see)!

Gardening is only the cornerstone of Transition Town Wandsworth though. The group also hosts skills share workshops and music & culture events (such as last years ‘Low Carbon Carnival’ hosted at the Battersea Arts Centre), and is committed to creating projects and finding ways to engage everyone from the area; to strengthen the community and educate on the issues.

As people increasingly recognise the need for action to tackle these pressing issues directly affecting their everyday lives - dependency on cheap imports, increasing instability in fuel markets and unsustainable levels of consumption - Transition Town Wandsworth believe the community holds many solutions to the local manifestations of these problems, that some of the answers to the Boroughs most pressing concerns are likely to be found with the people.

Although working with pre-existent initiatives to create community gardens, growing projects, green transport solutions and skills share projects, whilst recognising the need for close cooperation with the local authority, Transition Town Wandsworth want as many volunteers from the community as possible to come forward, join in and make Wandsworth a model of cooperation and sharing. For example, many members of the Borough’s older generation may hold skills, such as clothes repair, beer brewing and kitchen gardening that are lost on today’s generation – now’s the time to pass them along!

Already comprising members of the Wandsworth Environment Forum and Food up Front, the initiative is committed to involving every member of our diverse community in its plan to provide local resilience against climatic or oil ‘shocks’ for Wandsworth in the coming years.

We should all become well acquainted with the people and possibilities of where we live. Pretty soon we may have to find allies in the former who can help us fully make use of the latter. If we strengthen our ties to our locality, we're all the more likely to ride out any big waves of change headed our way. Natural systems employ a lot of redundancy, in our love affair with ‘efficiency’, which is its opposite; we’ve left ourselves exposed from many angles. Some might say that its simplistic to believe that getting to know your neighbours and community could make a jot of difference now that so many of our bridges are already burned? Transition towns believe otherwise. And really, even if every doomsayer prophecy or scientific prediction turns out to be way off base, there are only great things to be gained by working together.


Friday, 11 November 2011

If you go down to the woods today...

You'll fine a fine specimen that will make your stomach cramp, your mind warp and your consciousness exit....

Although it is generally considered poisonous, deaths are extremely rare, and it is consumed as a food in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America after parboiling. Amanita muscaria is now primarily famed for its hallucinogenic properties, with its main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. It was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the peoples of Siberia and has a religious significance in these cultures. There has been much speculation on traditional use of this mushroom as an intoxicant in places other than Siberia; however, such traditions are far less well-documented. The American banker and amateur ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson proposed the fly agaric was in fact the Soma talked about in the ancient Rig Veda texts of India; since its introduction in 1968, this theory has gained both followers and detractors in anthropological literature

Everyone up and at 'em

There have always been doers and there have always been talkers. The former seldom let setbacks stifle their plans; lack of money, know-how or endorsement puts no brake on an idea once cooked up. They change things.  Talkers may eventually get around to putting an idea into action, but more often than not are content for others to show them the way, particularly if the trail that needs blazing is too steep.  This might be just the way the world is, but it means we miss out on the talents and skills of a whole lot of people just when we could really use them the most. There has to be a way to get more people up and at ‘em?
Everyone knows where we are right now:  we cross one tipping point after another seemingly every week, myriad ecological crises are converging and money continues to disappear into a deep abyss of debt. Whether or not you buy into concepts such as climate change or global warming only the wilfully blind would deny that we’re up to necks in problems resulting from human actions. To be fair, there’s not much the man in the street can do about the latest Middle East revolution but if we could make up our minds to switch to a more sustainable way of life, simple acts and altered choices may be all that it takes to make big differences; as long as this action is collective.   Many actually do want to do something; they just don’t have the faintest idea where to start pushing back against all the bad news. A little direction would be invaluable.
Enter some serious go-getters offering ingenious, online originality. They’ve an infectious commitment to putting something back and their one goal is to make it easy for you to do the same.
The DoNation
Shoulders to the wheel
Back in 2009, after the rigours of University, Hermione Taylor felt like getting away. A keen cyclist and sustainable seeker, she decided on a cycling break; but Hermione being Hermione it was never going to be just any old getaway. Wanting to push her limits, she and her friend Sara hit upon the idea of pedalling from London to Marrakesh, a knee cracking 3,500 miles.
Whilst she was at it, wouldn’t this be an ideal opportunity to raise sponsorship to support the environment?
Realising quickly that none of her friends had any money, she decided that the most useful thing to ask from them was a pledge to action, a promise to try something sustainable for instance. ‘Unlike most other charitable causes, the environment needs our action more than our money’.
Thus, with the help of 216 friends, who promised to do something green if she managed the ride, the concept for The DoNation was born. Hermione completed the journey, her friends changed their behaviour and over 16 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of 84 flights from London to Morocco, was saved. Good work.
‘We got tired of listening to all the talk of what would solve this environmental problem or that, so we thought the best thing we could do was build a model to follow for people who actually wanted to do something. You take on a challenge and your sponsors ‘pay’ you in green pledges – the currency is carbon not pounds and pence’.
The results speak for themselves. Since The DoNation went live, 61767 KG of carbon have been pledged - and therefore kept from the atmosphere – and it has cost no one anything besides the effort to go green.
‘Individuals are at the root of the environmental solution, not research institutions or international aid organisations, and we simply need to act’.
Project Dirt
Growing the grass roots
Mark was a green virgin working as a chartered surveyor. Nick, his friend and an economist by trade, was involved with ‘Balham Composters’, 5 or so folk looking, as you might expect, to compost locally. They both knew they could do more so took the ‘composters’ and used them as the first project on their website designed ‘to make environmental change happen’. That was in 2008. Today, has over four and half thousand members comprising 605 projects throughout the greater London area.
‘Our motivation for creating the site was pretty clear right from the start’ says Mark, we wanted to connect people who were already out there making change happen, help those who, like us, wanted to do something green but didn’t know where to start and to provide real life case studies that others could use to build their own initiatives’.
Anyone can join the site and find out what’s going on in their neighbourhood. Alternatively, if they have a bright idea they can use it to get others onboard. Members get their own page, can post events and are free to join any project listed. ‘Transition Towns’, City farms, Beekeepers, Orchard groups and just about any other incarnation of a community group you can think of sit happily side by side. 
‘We’re immensely proud of what we’ve been able to achieve so far, but we know that the heroes are our members. They’re out there every day making a difference to their street, their community and of course, ultimately to the planet. We’ve lost count of the community gardens, the skills shares, the river cleanups but we’re thrilled to be making a difference’.
With a plan to re-launch the site so it’s even easier for people to join in, Mark and Nick now look to take their green band of ‘dirters’ nationwide to further ‘grow green ideas’.

Beetroot Books
The word on the street (and garden)
‘There’s no shortage of places to get books online at knockdown prices and honestly, we don’t expect to appeal to everyone, we’re just passionate about the positive stuff in life so the aim is to focus on providing a thought-out collection of books - hand-picked - and giving back wherever possible’.
Having instigated a community garden in south London, becoming involved with various environmental groups and maintaining more than a passing interest in the leftfield ideas of Consciousness writers like Daniel Pinchbeck and Terrence McKenna, Dan O’Neill found himself frustrated at having to source the books he wanted from ‘corporate owned commodity sites’. Unsatisfied at the practices and generic, nature of stores that wouldn’t care if they sold you philosophy or fabric conditioner, he figured the needs of progressive communities and those interested in new ideas, would be better served if there was an alternative place to get all the right titles. If there were others who shared similar interests: environmentally savvy, free-thinkers with open minds and the need to get out in the elements from time to time, surely it was also crazy for them to use sites so thoroughly at odds with their professed ethos?
Just by buying from Beetroot Books, named for something else earthy and interesting, customers can take the opportunity to contribute to children’s literacy and disabled gardening charities and even buy trees to pay back the planet some way for the resources used to produce the books. But it’s not only eco-warriors, mothers and seekers who’ll be into it.
‘When I go visit some of the well known independent bookstores in the US, your Left Bank books in Seattle or your City Lights in San Francisco, I’m always stuck by their collection of titles. It’s like someone there instinctively knows what you’re going to like before you’ve even heard of the author or the title, browsing is a pleasure and you seem to always end up with a treat, no matter what you originally went in for – that’s what I wanted to achieve with Beetroot Books’.
The site also promotes and sells works by unpublished authors and writers looking to work with a more authentic purveyor, something offered by the few when money is the bottom line for many.
‘There are lots of people out there looking for a change. We’re concentrating on people who enjoy making differences to their lives, the lives of their families or to the wider community. That’s why we’ve picked out books for all ages that can point the way. Books can connect all the dots, but they should connect us to each other and the planet too’.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A visit to Occupy London

Went down to the Occupy site in the grounds of St Pauls last night. What an inspiring scene it was. Every four years we’re drably informed about the politically disengaged youth of the UK. What rubbish. More like what’s being offered is not what anyone wants or needs, save the vested interests that system is designed to serve.
Finally it seems that this sentiment is reaching its endgame – helped on its way by a massive concentration of wealth to the top and cuts to the futures of just about everyone else. The ‘deal’ that we’ve been participating in – we do all the work, they get all the rewards – is finally being seen for the controlling con that it is. The illusion can never be reinstated.
Another thing I found encouraging: I attempted to talk to several of the ‘occupiers’ on camera (albeit a very old camcorder) but they steadfastly refused, believing me to be some kind of reporter – they do not trust the mainstream media at all – and they’re right not to; media push stories not facts and they’re nearly always skewed to some agenda or editorial policy.
This movement must be held very gently like the rare flower it is. We must not plant it yet but protect its roots from intrusive influence. We must let it grow into what its nature decides. Something special will come yet.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


I  can’t really explain it to you. It’s like I wake in the middle of the night and there’s this thing on the horizon in the looming orange of the city to the north. It gets cut in on by the trains that slide along the bank like the carriage cutting back to the beginning of a sentence leaving my words unformed around the stone in my stomach.
Yes, there’s times when time slips its pace leaving me breathless, and it’s certainly true that the things aren’t what we expected, what we were bought up to believe in any case. But I always had the idea that things as they are were just a temporary act in a much wider, and far more interesting production.
We can begin to agree on something else now perhaps but first a beautiful shape can only coalesce around the willingness of the many, as polyps invisibly create reefs in the wider sea.  

Monday, 17 October 2011

At the start of the climb

Look at us. Look at everything we have done. If you’re in a town or city and looking out of the window of a car or train, or if you’re out on the street, you’re already seeing ideas in action. The structures you’re witnessing began in the mind of a single individual, the way the roads are planned, the materials used, the planting of the trees (if there are any); every single little detail thought out.

It’s the same with the structures that bind our lives. Money, insurance, state provisions, the food system, service industries, media. The list is endless and unknowable to one person as each one is dependent on certain specialisations, skills and knowledge bases, perhaps with its own set of codes and languages pertinent only to initiates. Each one the result of a series of experiences and decisions, practice and expertise honed over our history and employed to certain means.

There can be no doubt that these all of these systems and institutions have been designed to serve. But just who are they serving now?

If you’re fortunate to have access to the internet or media of any kind, you’d find it very easy to access a huge reservoir of information painstakingly detailing the degradation of the planet and its people for the purpose of serving these very same systems. Somewhere along the way a line has been crossed and the intent skewed. If you can’t readily plug in, you only need look around to see where we’re at and where we’re going. I don’t even need to spell it out. You’ll have your own experience, you’ll have seen how much things have gotten a little fuzzy around the edges, you’ll no doubt be feeling the effects in your own life. Unless your part of an increasingly fortunate few.

For therein lies the answer to my question.

It seems it’s all boiling to the top somehow. As everything becomes monetised, as every service (once shared or given for free my friends or family) becomes based on cost and every part of our shared natural resources are chopped up, drilled into, hacked back and sold off by the few, its blatantly obvious that this is not happening for the benefit of anyone save the vested few. It is the shareholders who get the cheque dividend, it’s every other organism that gets to ‘pay’ the clean-up bill. Somehow, as I am sure you’ve already heard, the profits are privatised whilst the losses are socialised. We bail out banks, we back up ailing car corporations, we foot the bill for oil clean ups, we sacrifice our tax money to finance short sighted and ultimately futile aggressions in other people’s lands at the same time as our children are fed to commercial predators for their exploitation, our elderly are undervalued and ignored, our remaining national services are privatised and our environment is trashed.

The bill for all of this is monstrous and can never be repaid – and I’m not just talking about money.

But now we’re not going to even try.

Our problems are now too numerous for demands to be made of the corporations (including governments) I’m talking about. We’re beyond listening to their banal demands for endless consumption and violence. We simply want out of this ugliness and the advent of another world. Besides what’s always diluted the efficacy of similar calls for change is the infighting as to the best way to get it. There is no catch all answer. There is no one truth. There is no logical, empirical panacea. Try as we might we won’t be able to fit nature into a tidy box. We just have to return to authenticity, we have to learn to listen to our hearts. Simple?

We all want the same thing anyway. It’s a place where every gift is valued and every expression recognised, where we get out what we put in; we already feel it with every act of kindness given or received. It’s about the chance to share all of the gifts available in this world with every form of life here. After all, the mountaintop has the same views regardless of what path you take to get there.

The path is steep but we’re finally beginning to climb.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Just 75p to offset your book purchase with the planting of a tree

Beetroot Books is the first bookseller in the UK to allow customers to replace every book they buy with the planting of a new tree.
In association with Eco-Libris, we’re offering you the choice to ‘balance the books’ buy contributing back to the planet for producing the book you buy.
For just 75p extra on your purchase a tree will be planted.
If you enjoy reading and are committed to a sustainable lifestyle this is the best book buying choice you can make – especially if you want your money to grow something real for the future.
As ever your support is really appreciated.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Fly Agaric.... the trees across the road. Love this mushroom (but not really to eat - although some do)!

And the winner is...

Congratulations to Viv Pawson who won the competition with the closest estimate of 260 grams.

Thanks to all who entered!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Win a copy of Composting inside and out by Stephanie Davies

Just guess the weight (in grams or ounces the choice is yours) of this Beetroot picked from my garden this morning:

email with your answer - closest gets it. Competion ends Sunday 18th at 6pm so you could get the book my midweek.

Good Luck!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Three Wild books

What is it about wilderness and the seeker? Exhausted from all the possibility of our way of life, the empty consumption and lie of career, many turn their gaze to the foothills and the horizon wondering if the answer is to be found in a simpler way of life. Others simply yearn for authenticity and the uncomplicated yet stern hand of nature’s hand. The three books below capture the stories of those that have found it impossible to ignore an irresistible call.

The wild Muir
John Muir

If you’re going to write anything about the spirit of adventure, the great outdoors, communion with nature and tenacity of spirit you have to start with John Muir. Rambling the wild woods of the west, mountain climbing in winter ranges with pockets stuffed only with hard tack and tea, Muir was a man seldom seen, or indeed made, in our current age or perhaps any age.  The product of a strict Presbyterian parents and a ludicrously harsh upbringing, Muir was normalised against a background of incessant toil and service.

Although this hardship was not unique in nineteenth century terms (and still is now for many), Muir’s writing, and indeed entire spirit appears to transcend the typically masculine and common evocations peculiar to such earlier times that proclaimed ‘man as master over nature’ (I love Jack London but his work is full of misguided proclaim) preferring instead to celebrate his adoration of the morning birdsong, the blissful moonlight in the hills and each gift, no matter how small that each day in the wilderness bought him. Romantic? Sure, but perhaps it is his abundant humility and enthusiasm that keeps his prose so fresh and accessible to the modern reader.

I discovered ‘The Wild Muir’ in a store within the confines of Muir’s own ‘earthly paradise’: Yosemite national park. Whilst you don’t necessarily need to have seen first-hand what he so vividly portrays in its pages, to have had its vast granite ranges, majestic rivers and endless forest etched into your retinas certainly does provide an epic accompaniment to these absorbing tales. Nevertheless the words fully stand by themselves and even a casual read puts your right there on some lonely precipice or fast rushing river at his brusque shoulder. His writing manages to not only communicate the tiniest of details of his environment but fully immerses the reader in the emotional impact of it too; the lasting effect is of real experience rather than second hand report.

Therefore, I’ve chosen to attempt to relate the flavour of this book rather than give you an overview of the numerous events, occurrences and sometime disasters that keep you turning pages. In it you’ll discover as much of Muir character as you will the resplendent Californian landscape.

Call of the Wild
Guy Grieve

Mr Guy Grieve sat at his desk year after year in the marketing department of the Scottish Herald and lamented for his lost liberty; at the peak of his physique and mental abilities his power was ebbing away under the pressure and grind of tedious office life, daily commutes and ever ballooning debt. Unlike the rest of us he decided to do something about it.

Taking the hard decision to leave his family to survive in the wilderness, Grieve took his cue (and of course the title of the book) from a former obsession with Jack London and chose Alaska, one of the least populous places on the planet,  as the backdrop to his challenge; the land, no stranger to those seeking similar liberation from the strangle of modern society. After opening a dialogue with a native Alaskan family – who’s patriarch Don, would prove to be absolutely vital to the success of the entire scheme - and cannily convincing his boss, the Editor, to allow him to write a weekly column about his adventures, everything was set. Or so it seemed then. For it was only upon entering the sub Arctic domain that his wild fantasies and deepest illusions about existing their day-to-day were ground up, knocked down, washed away and buried knee deep by the prevailing environment. Harsh lessons needed to be quickly learnt.

The book then follows his steep learning curve from ‘tenderfoot’ to capable and self sufficient (more or less) back woodsman. Perhaps indicative of the wilderness’ power to speak instruction only to those who have ears to listen, Grieve quickly adopts a position of utmost humility reminiscent of Muir. Recognising that his own life is just one of many in the grand scheme and that it could, and would, be forfeit if he became nonchalant he quickly moulds himself to the pattern of the land; an animal like any other who must do what he can with what is available.  

Managing to build a cabin, hunt food, chop trees and feed himself from meagre provision, Grieve sees through a long winter virtually alone but supported by Don and his family, their knowledge proving more effective than anything a manual could divulge.

Equal parts confessional, travelogue and manual, Call of the Wild is an entertaining and insightful look at how there really are no easy escapes. In the world outside of our ‘civilised’ bubble natural laws are non-negotiable. Acceptance of our real place in this world is the only true liberation.

Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
Another wanderer and seeker searching for his place out there was Chris McCandless. A young man from Virginia, he decided early that the usual route from college grad to wage slave wasn’t his path and so set out across the vast lands of the US to discover what life could hold for him.

Krakauer charts his course from disaffected youth to farm hand in the Dakota’s, ‘leather’ (as in on foot) tramp in the arid South west all the way across the continent to his final adventure in the Alaskan interior, peppering the tale with autobiographical details of his own exploits and those of others who chose to turn their backs on established ‘norm’ (Everett True being an interesting example).

What differs McCandless from others with the same ideas is that he seems to have been extremely ill prepared to survive by himself in such a place. He took little provision, no compass, inadequate clothing and did little research into the area within which he found himself existing. His naivety and lack of experience seem to have led him to an unfortunate turn of events.

He fended for himself for three months living in an old bus that had been left by a former mining company as a shelter but by July decided to leave. However, as he attempted to cross the Teklanika River that he’d crossed earlier in the year (before the thaw had increased its flow), he found it impassable. Again, his lack of knowledge worked against him as there was a hand operated tram to cross the river just a quarter mile along.

The book is a sympathetic look at McCandless’ life that manages to describe his motivations and background whilst juxtaposing it with startling images of the land that he came up against. Others give MacCandless short shrift for the seeming stupidity of his demise but the book, whilst covering a potentially bleak subject matter, manages to be as inspiring as it is eye opening. A cautionary tale but one which thankfully manages to avoid condemnation of its subject.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Review of Andy Hamilton's Booze for Free

These days the price of everything is going up but that doesn’t mean the availability of the best things in life has to go down – what was it someone said about ‘necessity breeding invention’? And so it was that I came to open Andy Hamilton’s excellent new book ‘Booze for Free’.

Long have we bleeted on about the merits of nettle beer (garnered from Andy’s own site, and indeed enjoyed its hedgerow fizz, so it was with excitement that we came to this book looking for further inspiration for some more exotic, and yes preferably cheap, home brews.

Nevertheless, low cost does not have to mean low quality and this book painstakingly sets about providing you every bit of knowledge you’ll need to produce something tasty and different.

In part one he sets out what equipment you’ll need with thorough descriptions of the various implements, pots and boilers required before you can make the most of the ingredients he also suggests with great detail.

Part two of the book is where you get to the good stuff. Literally! Birch Sap wine? Boozy dandelion and burdock? Holy water (made with marmite)? All these and more are set out season by season, brew by glorious brew.

If you’re already a home brewer, welcome to seventh heaven. If you’re not but you occasionally enjoy a sip along with the rest of us, god knows why you wouldn’t give at least one of these recipes a go! They’re fun to try, excellently explained and just waiting to tingle your taste buds – and they’d even make a great gift if you’re as strapped as you like to make out.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Monday - our last day at Kew

Our final day dawned bright. Hooray! We’d had just about enough of the ‘dark clouds on the horizon’ thing to last us.
Getting to the site at Kew a little earlier than usual, we decided to actually see some of the amazing grounds (really idyllic so close to Central London  - as long as you forget about the thundering jets on the flight path above), not least the new and exciting tree top walk; a circular construction high in the tree tops and affording up close acquaintance with these beautiful canopies.  

So after taking our time (it was so early we had the place to ourselves) we thought it was high time to get back to our stall and open for the day’s proceedings; after a successful Saturday we were keen to duplicate the result.
The most impressive thing about this year’s Start were the diversity of stall holders. Sure, you had your M&S and your B&Q making their claim on sustainability - which was refreshing, no matter how ‘market led’ their motivation – but the most interesting stalls were the small business and enterprises:
·   Helping abolish the plastic bag, and led by a very friendly chap called Dan, were the excellent Onya Bags. We just had to spend a little of our profits on each getting a rather neat Wrap-n-Mat to keep our future out-and-about lunches in. Ingenious.

·   These guys have to be a big part of the future: take a look at what The Donation is doing to save on resources and cut down on all that junk we keep on accumulating

·    From the first day, we were also happy to sell some excellent and interesting little children’s books on behalf of Secret Seed Society – again they’ve designed and produced amazing things in their cute publications – we’ll be selling them on the site from now on.  
So this was the pleasant company we were enjoying as the first customers rolled in. As was the case the previous day, we sold loads during the hour from 11.30 – 12.30, whereupon it fell off for lunch – and to watch some entertainment  on the main stage: ‘Bee, the musical’.
The afternoon warmed up nicely as Caroline took on ever more willing participants in our ‘make-a-bee workshop, and visiting friend Coelina, help a reading circle for passing children  - it all helped to create a very nice little vibe to our corner of the tent – and get people talking Beetroot of course!
At the end of the day we had broken well and truly into the black, spread the word and networked with some great people. Well worth the effort and time.

We can’t wait for our next stall!

Monday, 29 August 2011


We had maybe a 10% improvement in the bank holiday weather at Kew on Sunday, but wow, we had a 500% in sales. We sold more in the first our than we had the whole previous day.

Caroline from London Buzzing continued to draw in our buzzy minded little friends and keep them enthralled making little bees out of cones and teaching them in turn about the joys of keeping ‘em. Pretty soon people were following the bees back to our stall and buying our books.

We’ve met some amazing people and been overawed by how much innovation there is in this sphere  - more about that later. Gotta go to work again!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Start Festival at Kew Gardens - Saturday

It was s low start of the blocks for our first day at the Start Festival at London’s Kew Garden’s. Better than the last few days, yet hardly exemplary, the weather did at least look like it was going to behave itself for our set up.

We arrived at 9am and got to work.

By 10.30 there were a fair few people mulling and wandering around the site; the corner we were in was amongst some brilliant stalls: toys remade from recycled plastic, eco-bags, knit-a-thon, Project Dirt and much more.

We were treated to some pretty heavy rain throughout the day, (well it is August Bank Holiday), but we still made some sales, met some great people and got some good contacts.

Caroline from London Buzzing, in tandem with our stall, held Bee workshops for kids (making little bees from tree cones and dyed sheep’s wool), which went down  storm! It really did create a ‘buzz’ around Beetroot Books!

More good stuff tomorrow we hope!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Community garden? Every street should have one...

Those amazing folk who crew the Bramford Rd community garden in Wandsworth - these results speak for themselves. Every week they're there and they're a real asset to the area - brilliant.

First of the foraging for 2011

What a fine day it was for foraging Saturday. There was mist below my bedroom window, over Sandown Park when we got up. Upon leaving the house the air seemed sweetened by the heavy rain of yesterday; water scrubbing out all of the pollution from the huge city just north of us. The sun had even decided to return casting its ever long beams over a beautiful late summer day and somehow making up for far too many overcast days. Although there was still the threat of clouds.

So it would be a shame to not get into the woods and check out everything that nature has once again generously left in arms reach for anyone with a mind, or appetite, to claim (helps if you have both).

We decided to go around Midhurst in the South Downs  - wonderful expanse of trees around there.

Its been pretty warm of late (climate not weather) with plenty of moisture for our friend the mushroom (although these aren't edible - but you could have a pretty good time with the last one):

At the end of the afternoon, we'd found plums, cob nuts, some very nice puffball mushrooms (Olive oil loves 'em), some nice crab apples - and of course a ton of blackberries.

Love it!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Recovered from an excavated building foundation (c. 2011) 2093

Dear friend,
I guess you’ll be thinking; what the hell were they thinking?
You probably have all kinds of questions about how we could ever be so immersed in mythologies that were so plainly bad for everyone and everything – particularly as we were awash with information all around us as to the origin and purpose of these stories. You’ll no doubt think us naive for putting everything noble, natural and wild under the dark, callous world as mere units of exchange. You’ll think it strange that many amongst us were obsessing about what paste to apply to their face or even how to self mutilate to adhere to the demands of fashion whilst many in the world went hungry, cold and hopeless. You’ll no doubt have a problem with how our perpetual war has forever scarred and damaged so much of your inheritance, aghast as you’ll be at our stunning arrogance to think that everything here was turned on some potters wheel for our benefit alone. You may have cause to laugh at our bizarre addiction to junk and objects; you’ll not be able to fathom to the emptiness in our heads and hearts we’re trying to fill. You with your full and natural connections restored won’t be able to relate to a mindset of spooky individuality such as ours. We lived and died alone believing everything was owed to us and everything was our own fault.
I had to write this note to prove that someone could step outside of that mode.
I had to scratch it somewhere that even though we were incapable of revering the flow, backing up from the cliff, resisting the raging tide, we did at least acknowledge the problem and tried to do something….
As there was less left to lose, others tried to change the course. The universe is a song that will scream until harmony ensues.
We hope we had some part in enabling you to connect with us now.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London riots - an eruption from the divide

I can easily condemn the actions of the mobs that lit the streets last night leaving only chaos in their wake. Mindlessness is abhorrent. The priority is stopping this from happening and, despite the calls for penalties and punishments ranging from medieval to malign, it comes down to economics,  and our obsession with valuing everything through recourse to its narrow priorities. Namely our subservience to a system designed only for profit at the expense of people. We seek to prop it up, we break our backs to support it and yet it blatantly fails to meet the needs of the country. It serves only a few.
I've seen what's going on in the poor areas of the city. noted the divide. I worked four years as part of a youth project tackling disaffection and gang related crime in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. I have seen first hand the effects of territorial postcode wars, overwhelming poverty and the disconnect from the ideals aspired to by wider society. In that particular area, every day thousands of highly paid workers are shepherded into the towers of Canary Wharf to make massive amount of money, only to promptly take it out of the borough within which they operate. Residents exist sometimes nine to a single room flat. Hardly any locals are employed by the occupying corporates except maybe to clean and service.  
Everyone knows about the ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Who could be surprised at the resentment felt by the latter when they live side by side in many areas with the former? In Tower Hamlets they’re across the street from each other in many places. This is a situation that is repeated across the capital. Decades of raging against social values, state-encouraged slander against ‘society’ combined with erosion of our manufacturing, outsourcing of jobs and selling of public assets  not to mention ever increasing criminalisation of dissent, worship of material goods and shallow celebrity without the mediating hand of any sort of spiritual or moral tradition  – have made this country incredibly unstable.  Our bizarre obsession with ‘terrorism’ has even blinded us to the real threats to our national security from within. People at the top pillage and pilfer far more than those at the bottom, they merely own the terminology. What’s more it is getting worse and shows no signs of changing course, for there are bigger problems to come.
Since 2008 I have been involved in the Transition Town movement so have become painfully aware of the large issues of energy constraints (peak oil) and climate change. When I first encountered the idea that oil was close to peaking, that all the easily extracted fuel had already been used and that the West would suffer an imminent decline in living standards, it was fringe to say the least. Now it is mainstream, indeed we’ve been treated to a deluge of reports detailing the facts and only need check out a local garage forecourt to witness the volatility of fuel prices. If you’re looking you’ll notice our increasing grabs to soak up the last of the good drops through our adventures in the Middle East.
Oil is the root of the western world. It is literally the fuel that drives our economic engine, without it you have nothing but a return to the pre-industrial society.
These are all huge, endlessly debatable issues. But what have they got to do with what’s going on in London?
What we have seen over the last three days is the leading edge of the trouble to come. I had assumed that these troubles would happen when resources were scarcer, employment even more sparse and people’s backs were firmly to the wall. Now I see that the disaffection runs so deep, the indifference to inequality so severe and the breakdown so prevalent that the conditions already exist for chaos to engulf our society. Today. What’s going to happen when things are tougher? Will there be roving bands of disenfranchised gangs marauding for what they could get? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it – at least it did until the last few days.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A quick way out...

When your daily grind threatens to turn you to dust. When you catch the same train down the same tracks with the same tired faces to the same crowded stations. When you reach the same office populated by the same lapdogs doing, and even saying the same things as they did yesterday, it’s time for some kind of escape hatch right.

You can push your seat back to the wall, fling your hands in the air and walk out for good; some chance, how’re you going to pay the bills that always want to drag you under?

You could call in sick and spend the day doing something far less tedious – even scrubbing the oven.

You could turn to drink and drugs – but in boring company that’s no fun either.

Best thing, find your favourite author, turn the cover of your starchy new or beaten, dog-eared book and step out of this world and into another.

Working with dullards, time to go On The Road, too many girly girls in the office, reach for Jack London, feeling tired of the city, look to the romantic poets.

You’ll find medicine to counter the most indigestible of tedium in a whole universe of pages.

You might have noticed that the rise of the novel and fiction coincided with the industrial revolution – it  was the first time an alternative escape portal to drudge and conformity was needed by the many.

If you can read you can walk out of this world through many doors.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Great what you can do in your own back yard!

As I've started a biz called Beetroot Books, I thought it only fair I actually grew some beetroots - and potatoes, aubergines, rocket and tomatoes too - all in honour of the great god VEG!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Dig a little deeper

There’s nowhere on the net like Beetroot Books.

Apart from a very big and nameless commodity site, that’s not bothered if it sells you soap powder or Socrates, you’d have a hard time finding a store that has a wide range of books centred on what you do and what you want do to and see in the future for yourself and for the planet.

That’s why the store was opened.

If you’re into living green, living active, making the most of things, challenging your mind, educating your children or exploring more of this big old reality we’re in, you’ll find a book about it on Beetroot Books.

There’s a process in the world today; the mastitis of money continues unabated and has consumed all human affairs in the western world  - everything is being chopped, slashed, hacked, factory processed, genetically modified, sold and boiled down to the bottom line. Most business is pulled into the sludge flow by adherence to the same addiction to this growth that wreaks the havoc we see unfold all around us. We’re overdue on a positive change.

New ways of doing things are obviously where the answers lies, but you have to plant these seeds in fertile ground.

To be original you have to make new connections. You have to make use of the best information you can find and see it for what it is – sometimes despite conventional wisdom.

You have to dig a little deeper.