Thursday, 27 May 2010

Woodbrooke's gardens and grounds

I've done several post here recently on aspects of gardens and growing, and I thought: I really must do a post about the gardens and grounds here at Woodbrooke.

So I asked Steve Lock - Woodbrooke's gardener - if he would walk me around and tell me what's going on at the moment, and what he'd like people to know about.

If you know Woodbrooke well, and I haven't included your favourite part of the grounds, I apologise! If you don't know the grounds, you can see a plan that shows where everything is.

One of the things that Steve hopes to achieve is to help people who come to Woodbrooke, for whatever reason, to reconnect with nature and the outdoors.
One of the remarkable features of the grounds at this time of year is the variety of shades of green, and the way in which they aere changing, almost daily, as the new light coloured spring growth matures and darkens.
If you are a gardener yourself, and you make a habit of walking around your patch every day, you will know what tiny changes you notice from one day to the next. Steve watches this, daily, over 10 acres and has a deep knowledge of the nooks and crannies and the details. I walk around the grounds here from time to time, but I don't know them intimately, like I know my own garden, and I certainly have never known intimately such a large patch of land. This year, Steve told me, the woodpeckers and swifts are back, but the bats are late - the long cold winter has many effects lasting right into the spring, and beyond.
A feature of Woodbrooke's land is that some of it is gardened and some of it managed as conservation woodland, but all of it is organic and wildlife-friendly. The woodland beyond the lake has been designated a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). The lawns around the house contain specimen trees, some of which go back to the original planting of the garden.

As we walked around Steve drew my attention to bird-nesting sites that I wouldn't have noticed by myself. In this first picture, you will see the label with the botanical name of the tree, and above it and to the left a nesting hole.

In the second picture an old tree-stump, starting to rot, provides a safe nesting site.

The wildlife has its own effects on the garden, of course. Steve had been wondering why we don't have water plants in the lake - why the lack of vegetation? Tests on the water quality showed that we weren't suffering pollution from the brook ('Woodbrooke') that feeds the lake . . . so what could be the problem? Steve, working with a knowledgable volunteer, set up a fenced-off test site, and the vegetation thrived. It seems the the variety of water-fowl for whom our lake is either home, or a resource-rich stopping off point, were nibbling the vegetation so much that it couldn't get established. So now there are plans for more protected sites around the margins of the lake, to try to get more native vegetation established in the water.

This also shows the importance of volunteers in the garden. Here are two, working on a routine maintenance task in the herb garden, but volunteers also bring their own experience, knowledge and approach - so each new volunteer adds something unique to the garden, as well as their physical work. We have long-term volunteers during the peak growing season each year, as well as shorter term volunteers (a week or two) who come, perhaps each year at certain times. We also have local volunteers who offer us one day a week.

"Interpretation" is an important feature for visitors. This is a plan of the herb garden, mounted on a wooden pole and facing you as you enter the walled garden from the main lawned area. Steve is preparing new interpretation sites (to be ready for our 'yellow book' garden open day). Coppiced chestnut poles will be used as stands for boards placed at strategic points around the garden, drawing visitors' attention to what can be seen from that spot - and especially features that they might well not have noticed otherwise. Once in place, these boards will remain as guides for course or conference particpants, day-visitors, or anyone else passing through.

There are other, more quirky, kinds of "interpretation"! If you walk through the arboretum area, you will come to this wooden step, set into the ground. It is quite worn now, but you might just be able to see that it says 'look up'. This was made and installed by Steve's predecessor as gardener, Barney Smith. There are two of these, one at each end of the main arboretum path. They are both now very well-worn, because of weathering, but also because of the numbers of people who have stood on them, and have 'looked up'.

Looking up, you find you eyes following the convering lines of the trees, up to the patch of sky visible between them at the top. The detail of the view varies with the time of year, the weather, the light - it's always worth stopping to look; and the view at the other end of the path is startlingly bright (the camera couldn't handle the contrast) on a sunny day because of branches that were brought down in the last storms we had, leaving a much bigger patch of visible sky.

Throughout the garden, Steve tries to reuse everything possible. Weedings and prunings, as well as kitchen vegetable waste, are all composted. Grass clippings from the regular lawn-mowing, and hay from the wildflower meadow areas, are dried and used for mulch. Coarse and woody branches are used to create habitats, and logs are left for beetles and other insects to colonise. Winter tree surgery, part of regular maintenance, produces wood that is then chipped and used either to add dry matter to the compost, if there is not enough other dry/coarse material, or to maintain the footopaths through the woodland, or the working paths between the beds in the walled garden. Plants are moved and divided to add interest to new areas. Seeds are saved and sown the following spring. Tree stumps are made into seats.

An attempt to make a wildlife pond didn't quite work that way. A hole was dug in a boggy area, but it leaked, so it has been left to regenerate and now it's gradually maturing into a varied bog garden, with water-mint and other native bog plants.

Although the whole area works together, some of the garden is managed primarily with an eye to wildlife, some for food and some for beauty and for the pleasure of visitors (and staff).

The beauty may be an all-year round feature, or the happy moment as the cycle of the year brings certain shapes and colours together.

An example of the former is the cloud hedge - a substantial (deep as well as tall) hedge, cut to resemble billowing clouds - a tricky thing to do, to keep an eye on all dimensions as you're cutting. It's a form of topiary that comes from the Japanese tradition of garden art.

An example of the transient moment is the intense purple-blue of the bluebells that come into flower under the copper beech, just at the point of the year when it has turned from its winter dark green foliage to its new-season copper-red.
(It's worth enlarging your screen view to be able to see the bluebells under the tree on the right side of the picture.)
Close-up of bluebells under hanging branch.

The Chinese Garden provides varied year-round interest. At this time of year it is an area of lush abundance.

The gazebo, in among the flowers of the herbaceous borders, provides a solitary quiet space for reading or contemplation.
Whereas the chairs and tables on the grass outside the dining room and verandah create a convivial space for enjoying the sunshine while eating or drinking. The group here has just ended its coffee break and is about to return indoors for the next session of a course.
The labyrinth is mown into the grass each summer, and then left over the autumn and winter to allow the grass to recover. To create such clear paths requires shaving the grass very close to the ground - and the roots need time to recover each season. But it is a popular feature of the summer garden, and much used for walking meditation.

And one last item for this week. Steve calls this his 'Isaac Pennington Clematis' (it's climbing up the pea sticks and is a bit difficult to see in the photo, but you can see the cluster of leaves at the bottom). Why? It's because of a quote from Pennington's writing:

“Our life is love and peace and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another and not laying accusations one against another, but praying for another and helping one another up with a tender hand.”

But what's that got to do with a clematis? Well, Steve was, for some time, puzzled as to why the clematis wasn't flopping all over the place. It's not tied in, it's not well supported by the sticks, it's constantly growing long, floppy tendrils. Then he realised: this plant is just outisde the external door that leads to the Quiet Room - this is the place in Woodbrooke where Meeting for Worship is held every day, and where other groups regularly meet. So people are passing this plant many times a day . . . and as they go past (some of them, anyway) they see a stem of the clematis lolling over the path, and they just tuck it in as they go past . . . so, "helping one another up with a tender hand.”

I think this is enough for one week's post! Next time, I'll do a separate post about the fruit and vegetables, and the walled garden.

Woodbrooke is open to the public for 'Yellow Book Open Gardens' on Sunday 20 June in the afternoon.
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Sunday, 23 May 2010

Lizz Roe's year of Eco Challenge

Lizz Roe is a colleague of mine at Woodbrooke – she and I were the team that created the Good Lives project. You can find her profile on the Tutors' page of our website. She is also on the steering group of the Faith and Climate Change project of Birmingham Friends of the Earth.

Lizz has been an environmental activist for many years, so when the 10:10 campaign was launched she started to think about how she could reduce her carbon emissions by 10%, given that she already does all the obvious things, lives a pretty low carbon lifestyle anyway, doesn’t own a car, and so on.

So, she started thinking about a new and different challenge – a range of actions relating to aspects of energy, climate change, sustainability, and so on, that would also be examples to help other people think about simple things they could all try.

She started asking other people: "what would you find really hard to do?" So, the year of Eco Challenge has emerged – the whole of this year, 2010, with a different challenge each month, suggested to Lizz by other people. Plus a monthly blog on the Faith and Climate Change website where people can read about what Lizz has been doing, and her reflections on it, and can also post comments with new suggestions for challenges.

Lizz’s first post was an introduction to herself and to the whole idea of the undertaking. She writes:
It’s January, I’ve settled into the year and have been thinking about this whole 2010 climate change stuff. I already have a pretty low footprint – no multi planet needed for meI think – at least not a few years ago – I better check! But I know there’s more I could do. Like so many people I need something to motivate myself.
Monthly Challenges: A few years ago I was part of a group where each month we set ourselves a challenge and would try and change our habits over the next 30 days or so. We’d then meet again, review progress have a good laugh and set ourselves a new challenge (whilst sometimes keeping the old challenge going too!) some of the group made big changes to their lives over that year and some just some little ones. It did really help knowing that others were up for it too!
Friends of the Earth Challenge: I had an interesting conversation with someone from ‘FoE’ which prompted me to remember the oomph I’d felt when doing this, and other similar challenges, so that’s what I propose to do this year – each month I’ll take on a suggested challenge and then let you know how I get on . . .
Read the whole introductory post.

The first two months of Lizz’s activity and reflection are on the website so far.

At the end of January, Lizz wrote:
This month in the end I’ve decided to go for sorting out the flat/life style – the flat is simply a kitchen, living room, bedroom, tiny bathroom, and hallway. Lifestyle stuff is more to do with money money money, exercise and getting out and about. I started by making a list of all the things I felt I could do. Most of the list was practical physical stuff . . .
 Read the whole January post.

And at the end of February, Lizz posted this:
The challenge for this month is to BUY NOTHING! I knew by the last week of January that this was the plan so I had to steel myself not to cheat and stockpile in advance! As well as not buying stuff – books, DVDs, clothes etc. I’ve decided not to buy any food until I’ve used what I’ve got – I’ll let myself forage (in February!) or go skip-picking (sometimes known as dumpster diving or freeganism) or gleaning (picking up after markets) but I won’t buy anything new if I can possibly help it. I should admit right now that I get lunch at work every day so I know I won’t end up with scurvy, or starve – and a friend has asked about food parcels and barter . . .
Read the whole February post.

You can keep up with developments in Lizz's year on her blog and I'll be featuring it again here from time to time during the year.
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Monday, 17 May 2010

Community supported agriculture (CSA)

Back in November last year, when I wrote about the Zero Growth Economics weekend, I included a short section on CSA because one of our optional workshop sessions was on that theme (see post dated 5 November 2009, 'A Zero Growth Economics?'). Caz and Tom Ingall gave a session about their project, Canalside Comunity Food, and I included just a brief paragraph. Last weekend, I visited Canalside, along with a group of organic growers who are members of Heart of England Organic Group, and we were given a guided tour, a brief history, and information about how the whole scheme works. These last two probably make up the information that participants in Tom and Caz's workshop got at the Woodbrooke weekend.

CSA is an umbrella term for schemes that link customers/consumers to growers in a partnership that shares both the risks and the benefits. It isn't just another name for a veg-box scheme. If you subscibe to a box scheme, you're guaranteed a certain amount of food for your money. Mostly this will be local and seasonal, but might be supplemented by bought-in produce at lean times of year, or if there have been particular reasons why the local crop has failed or is inadequate. Many such box schemes are set up to provide secure markets for the growers - but that's only if the growers produce. If poor weather, or pests and diseases, cause a crop failure, then the grower is not protected and the consumers get their produce supplied from elsewhere.

In a CSA scheme you buy a share - so if the yield falls, so does your share of it. The risk is shared with the grower.

Canalside came about folllowing discussions with Action 21 (the local Agenda 21 group). A CSA scheme was thought to be a good idea, and then Tom Ingall said that part of Leasowe Farm could be used. Tom is the son of the farmer who owns the land, and wanted to be involved in farming but in a different way. Canalside rents its space from the farm, and employs some of Tom's time - so the whole venture could also be viewed as a means of diversifying for the farmer.

Canalside Community Food is set up as a Social Enterprise (SE): a not-for-profit company. The two main issues for any hoped-for CSA are finding the land (of course!) and finding someone willing and competent to do the accounts, deal with the legal ramifications of being an SE, and making sure the scheme both stays solvent and makes no profit.

Some CSA schemes ask members to purchase their share by lump sum once a year, in the early spring. This has a benefit to the grower in that the money for all the upfront investment comes in at the start of the season, providing ready cash for seed purchase, repair and maintenance of tools and machinery, and so on. The disadvantage of this is that it excludes from membership people who don't have access to several hundred pounds at one go. In the Canalside project, members pay by monthly standing order, and are required to give 3 months notice if they want to withdraw, to give the scheme time to recruit a replacement. The project is set up to create 130 shares, of which 115 are currently taken. When there is surplus food, beyond what members take, it is supplied to a few local food outlets, thus generating some income for the scheme.

At Canalside there is provision for a limited number of 'work shares', where members work a certain number of hours in the year instead of paying. This is great for people who are time-rich but cash-poor, as they get access to good, healthy food. It helps the scheme as a whole by keeping labour costs down. Additionally, every member is required to do 3 half days work per year, and this is usually done on certain work days, where a large number of volunteers, all present at once, can make some tasks much easier, and can turn other tedious chores into a fun co-operative exercise. The scheme also has a bonfire and outdoor cooking area, with a yurt for shelter, and makes sure that frequent social events, with food, keep the member group feeling like a community.

Most of the members are very local, which is the best way to keep associated food miles down. The location makes it difficult for most people to walk, bus or cycle to collect their weekly share, so there are some car miles associated with the scheme, but vastly less than the food miles attached to supermarket food. I have been interested in the scheme since it started, but I live too far away (10 miles and 2 buses) for it to make sense for me to particpate. And the scheme is, of course, organic. Three growers are employed. One works 5 days in the main growing season and 4 days in the winter. The others work fewer hours. There is also a part-time administrator/book-keeper.

Canalside started life with a pig club - a group of people clubbing together to buy a number of weaners, pay someone to rear them, and then share the meat. In the meantime, the pigs very effectively 'rotovated' the field and grubbed up perennial weeds and roots, preparing the land for growing vegetables. At the end of this first project, the members (and others interested, who might become members) made it clear that they wanted vegetables, and not meat. So the current veg-growing scheme was set up.

Some of the growing is done in a row of 5 polytunnels, with the usual annual crop-rotation between them:

Tender crops (eg: peppers, aubergine, tomatoes) are grown in the tunnels, but also hardy crops so that the cropping season can be extended. A drip hose system is used for irrigation, which the most efficient way of using water, although it isn't always the best method for every crop.

Lettuces (centre of picture), spring onions (to the right) and leek seedlings (left). Drip hose is visible to the right of the spring onions. Strings hanging down are for when the crop rotation brings tomatoes, beans or peas - all of which need supports - to this tunnel.

Tomato plants, with length of fleece lying alongside - used to cover them at night while ground frosts are still a threat.
On the right, brassicas that are being harvested as spring greens - taking outer leaves and leaving the plant to grow on. Small plants of new season's vegetables on the left - I can't recall what they were and the picture is too small to see! Irrigation hoses clearly visible.

Early carrots, covered in fleece to protect from carrot fly. Just visible at the far end are tables with module trays of seedlings to transplant when space becomes available - part of successional sowing/harvesting.

Tables of module trays.

Other module trays stand on trailers outside and are covered with fleece at night.

Hardy crops, and those requiring a lot of space, or to stay in the ground a long time, are grown outside in the fields. Here is a field of rows of earthed-up potatoes.
Fleece is also used to protect young crops outdoors.

A new venture is a field of nut trees - this is a serious long-term investment by the group, as it will be some years before a significant crop can be harvested.

Close-up of one of the young nut-trees.

A second long-term venture is the planting of an orchard. Advice was taken from Permaculture expert, Patrick Whitefield. He surveyed the farm and advised on the best location for the orchard (in terms of shelter, wind direction, etc). He also applied a simplified form of permaculture 'forest garden' principles, and so the orchard consists of alternate rows of top fruit (trees such as apple, pear, cherry, and so on) and soft fruit bushes (currants, gooseberries, etc). As the trees grow up, they will provide the shelter that the soft fruit will benefit from. The rows are oriented north-south to gain maximum benefit from the sunlight.
The administrative centre of the project is in this yurt.

Noticeboard outside the yurt for group members.

Inside the yurt, where members collect their weekly veg share. The scheme does not have its own livestock, but members can order eggs from a nearby organic farm.

Benches inside the yurt where the week's harvest is laid out. Notices tell people what weight of each item constitutes this week's share (members can subscribe to a 'small' or 'large' share). Each person weighs out and takes their own share.

The location of the Canalside project is very much a 'farm' - it was only when I saw it that I realised I had expected it to look more like a market garden (because of it being all fruit and veg). The advantage of the location, and the association with the farm, is that there is no shortage of land. The CSA adviser who helped to set up the project told us that the greatest problem most groups have in getting started is finding the land - Canalside had a head start!
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Monday, 10 May 2010

Elections and things . . .

Well, you’ll have noticed we’ve been having an election here in the UK! As I write, we’re still having it – we have a result but we don’t yet have a government.

Environmental issues didn’t figure greatly in the campaign. A commitment to a ‘low carbon economy’ was mentioned but not elaborated upon, and was not much discussed. Points of major focus were the economy and likely cuts to public services; Gordon Brown’s standing as Prime Minister; and  immigration / jobs / housing.

That didn’t stop Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, getting elected in Brighton. Ironically, the lack of focus on ‘green issues’ might have helped her – one of the accusations the Greens have had to fight against is that they’re a single-issue party; indeed, sometimes accused of not being a party at all but a pressure group. Lucas has been a Member of the European Parliament for 11 years – a position she will now resign in order to take up her Westminster seat.

This breakthrough – achieved within Britain’s much-debated ‘first past the post’ electoral system – has produced great rejoicing among green activists as well as within the Green Party itself. However, Julian Baggini, writing in the ‘Comment’ section of The Guardian’s website questions whether this is justified. He writes:
“The stark facts are these. Nationally, the Green Party's share of the vote actually went down 0.1% to 1%. In terms of vote share, the BNP (1.9%) and UKIP (3.1%) both did better than the Greens. Nearly twice as many voted BNP as did Green, while three times more people backed UKIP. The BNP almost tripled its support compared to 2005, while UKIP received around half as many votes again as last time.”
While the statistics are accurate, they don’t – in my view – tell the whole story. At the same time as the BNP increased its vote share nationally, it was routed in the Barking and Dagenham constituency, and in the local council; so, in a place where the poll really mattered, their vote didn’t hold up.

Conversely, in many places where the Green party fielded a candidate who had no chance of winning, many Greens chose to vote tactically. This has been a very unusual election – everything is still to fight for, for everyone, at the next one . . . which might be sooner rather than later!

On Saturday, The Guardian published advice – a reading list, no less – for incoming ministers (once anyone knows who they are!). Science writer Fred Pearce, contributed a section on climate change. It’s an excellent reading list for anyone (not just new ministers) who wants to get their head around the issues, and the debates around the issues, and doesn’t quite know where to start amid the plethora of publishing in this field. Here are his recommendations:

So how do you wise up on climate and the environment fast? How do you sound wise, brave and knowledgeable from day one? First, get scared. In environmental politics you have to know the language of doomsday. So read Mark Lynas's Six Degrees. He takes you to climatic Armageddon one degree at a time.

Another handy primer is Bill McGuire's Seven Years to Save the Planet. It answers the question "Why seven years?" – which sounds attention-grabbingly immediate . . . and it provides bite-size answers to other key questions . . . such as "Just how bad can things get?", "Is it OK to fly?" and the all-important "Am I to blame?"

But what you really need is solutions. Nicholas Stern's A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, is subtitled "how to manage climate change and create a new era of progress and prosperity". This is not all sunny uplands. Stern explains why the world economy will crash (again) if we don't beat climate change.

Remember Stern was once Gordon Brown's man. Anthony Giddens's The Politics of Climate Change does without a long subtitle but has an endorsement from Bill Clinton. Giddens's strictures about climate policy's being based on gesture politics may be a bit close to the ministerial bone, but you could mull over why the arch exponent of gesture politics likes it so much.

But what people really want is a pain-free panacea. We want huge amounts of cheap energy that doesn't trash the planet. And the Chris Goodall's Ten Technologies to Save the Planet offers exactly what it says on the cover. Goodall is a green who came to love the technical fix.
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Monday, 3 May 2010

Treat everything as ‘practice’

There are three ways in which the noun ‘practice’ is used [NB: in UK English, 'practice' is the noun and ‘practise’ is the verb; in US English, the usage is different]:

1. Custom, habit – as in ‘it is my practice to go for a run every day’
2. Repetition, rehearsal – as in ‘I do my piano practice every day’
3. The specific Buddhist usage where meditation and mindfulness practice are referred to just as ‘practice’, in an interesting usage which also combines (1) and (2) above.

If you seek to practise mindfulness or awareness, then everything, every action, every moment, every situation can be regarded as an occasion of practice. I want to expand this idea into another field.

For some time, I have been developing a practice (usage 1, and aspiring to be 3) of treating disruptions to normal life as ‘practice’ (usage 2, and aspiring to be 3) for a future affected by climate change and peak oil (by the way: the US military has joined the ranks of those of us concerned about peak oil). Assuming that our governments aren’t going to take sufficient action, sufficiently quickly, we are all going to face failures of our infrastructure and interruptions to our normal supplies of energy, food, goods and services. So, when temporary glitches cause this to happen now, treat it as practice: (2) a rehearsal (get used to the idea, get used to handling it and being resourceful); and (3) a personal mental discipline leading to equanimity in the face of irritations or worse.

There are many opportunities for this kind of practice. When my nearest local Post Office was closed (in the recent spate of closures) it caused considerable inconvenience. I had done my bit in the campaign to keep it open, but that failed as we knew it would (the ‘consultation’ was a sham), and I had written various letters in protest – this isn’t in any way an argument for passivity or political/community disengagement. But when it happened, I thought: ok, lots of things are going to close or disappear, or reduce the service offered – treat this as practice.

More recently, I fell and fractured my wrist, which means I’ve had several weeks being unable to drive (yes, I know I shouldn’t be driving at all, and I minimise it and use public transport wherever possible – but the state of public transport where I live means that not all things are possible). I’ve discovered bus routes I didn’t know existed and, consequently, I’ve discovered that some things I thought I had to do by car can, in fact, be done by bus, though they take three or four times as long and are much less convenient – treat this as practice. This is practice for many things: I may at some point in the future become permanently unable to drive for some reason; I hope to be able to give up my car completely when I retire from being employed; the price, or shortage, of fuel will at some point make driving absurd anyway (even more absurd, if that's possible, than it is now in the face of climate change).

And of course the really big one has been the Icelandic volcano. We can’t fly! Treat it as practice! When the volcano erupted I had recently returned from Bruges (where I fractured my wrist) via Eurostar, so was very glad to get home before the trains got filled up with desperate ex-air-passengers. As the no-fly period was extended, spokespeople for the airlines were saying that the real longer-term worry was that people might conclude that going abroad by air was too risky, and that overall flying might decrease. ‘Yes!’, I thought, ‘Result!’. And, more generally: treat this as practice. Let’s all start assuming that we can’t just assume that we can fly anywhere whenever we want to.

I know this is relatively easy for me – I haven’t been in an aeroplane since 1985 (long haul) and 1987-ish (short haul) – I don’t have a life that depends on flying, I don’t have family living abroad and very few of my friends live outside western Europe. But even if you do have a life that depends on flying, do have family living abroad, and do have friends all over the world, you can’t assume that you will always be able to jump on a cheap flight to see them. This is going to change, either gradually or, more likely, suddenly. It could be fuel prices that do it; or fuel shortages; or another, bigger and more dangerous volcano. Treat this one as practice – and of you weren’t personally caught up in it, treat it as a thought-experiment for practice.

As it turns out, there weren’t food shortages (except, I gather, prepared pineapple chunks from Ghana unavailable in Waitrose!), but if the problem had gone on for longer, there would have been. This is a wake-up call about food security, both in terms of growing-our-own at home, and also in relation to British agriculture. However, even with this short interruption to air-freight, there were farmers in Kenya losing money they can’t afford by having to throw away roses and green beans, among other crops. So our dependence on air-freight causes insecurity not only for the final consumers of produce, but also for everyone along the supply chain. In a short opinion piece in The Guardian, Rosie Boycott (‘From ashes to radishes’) used the incident to urge us to grow-our-own.

Peter Preston (‘Smiling in the face of ash’) urged a more prosaic version of ‘treat it all as practice’: "smile, whistle and hope for the best . . . muddling through with a grin . . . shrugging at a world we can’t control". And a theologian friend sent me this: “The air-travelling public is encountering all the dissonance that comes, as Moltmann pointed out, when our conviction that our life can be planned comes up against the evidence that it can't.” 

George Monbiot devoted one of his weekly columns to the effects of the ash cloud  and wrote,
"Complex, connected societies are more resilient than simple ones – up to a point. . . But beyond a certain level, connectivity becomes a hazard. The longer and more complex the lines of communication and the more dependent we become on production and business elsewhere, the greater the potential for disruption. . . . We have several such vulnerabilities. The most catastrophic would be an unexpected coronal mass ejection  – a solar storm – which causes a surge of direct current down our electricity grids, taking out the transformers. It could happen in seconds; the damage and collapse would take years to reverse, if we ever recovered. We would soon become aware of our dependence on electricity: an asset which, like oxygen, we notice only when it fails. . . an event like this would knacker most of the systems which keep us alive. It would take out water treatment plants and pumping stations. It would paralyse oil pumping and delivery, which would quickly bring down food supplies. It would clobber hospitals, financial systems and just about every kind of business – even the manufacturers of candles and paraffin lamps. Emergency generators would function only until the oil ran out. Burnt-out transformers cannot be repaired; they must be replaced. Over the past year I've sent freedom of information requests to electricity transmitters and distributors, asking them what contingency plans they have made, and whether they have stockpiled transformers to replace any destroyed by a solar storm. I haven't got to the end of it yet, but the early results suggest that they haven't.”
This (and the rest of his article) points us to the ‘rehearsal’ aspect of ‘practice’ – we need to be prepared, we need to be practised; and the practice we need is spiritual, psychological, emotional, and very, very practical. 

And, specifically for Britain at the moment, whatever kind of government we end up with at the end of this week is going to have to take drastic action to deal with the country's financial deficit - see Madeleine Bunting's gloomy-realistic assessment, 3 days before the polls. The party leaders have only told us a fraction of the truth about this, and public services will be severely affected - treat it as practice, while staying politically engaged.
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The next Good Lives weekend (‘ . . . because we can’t eat money’) will address some of the issues about access to resources raised in this article.