And now the paperback is available from Amazon!

Just in case you’re interested… 🙂

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Finding-Our-Way-Home-thoughts/dp/151758213X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1444163383&sr=8-1&keywords=helen+ditchburn

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The Preface to “Finding Our Way Home”

A long time ago my mother taught me to read. She thought it was a good idea. So did I. I could lose myself in wonderful stories of other worlds. This world always seemed to be such a disappointment. I still read whenever I can find the time and peace to do so.

Many years ago I became interested in alternative lifestyles. I remember a time when we all thought the world was going to end in a nuclear winter, now everything is going to melt. I suspect every generation has it’s own apocalyptic vision. That said, it is evident that modern western culture cannot continue consuming the world’s resources, at the rate it is, indefinitely.

We have a choice. We can either continue as we are and wait for disaster to force our hand, or we can start trying to change things. One ripple at a time. It seems ridiculous not to. The way British society works at the moment doesn’t seem to be very healthy, or happy. Surely it makes sense to start to make a happier, healthier world if we can.

Not to try isn’t really an option, is it? Anyway, talk is cheap, and this is me, talking on paper (or not, if you’re looking at a screen to read this). I have endeavoured to reference ideas when I could remember where they came from. Some have been with me so long that I can’t remember if I made them up or I read them somewhere.

I have read pretty extensively over the years. In my 30’s and 40’s I studied, and then taught, sociology and psychology. I read a lot of “pop” psychology before that. I’ve also read a smattering of philosophy over and above what was necessary for my degree. I have an abiding interest in media and cultural studies.

But for a large proportion of my life I read science fiction, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, Katharine Kerr, Anne McCaffrey, Douglas Adams, Iain M Banks, Ursula Le Guin, C J Cherryh, William Gibson, Elizabeth Moon, and many, many more.

In addition to the science fiction I read other fiction writers J R R Tolkein, H G Wells, Daphne Du Maurier, George Orwell, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I even read Proust! So many different ideas, so many different possibilities. The dismal and the uplifting, the hopeless and the hopeful, the difficult and the easy, I read and absorbed as much as I could.

In the meantime I was trying to cope and make sense of life as I was experiencing it. I got involved with running a smallholding, and bringing up my daughter, my normality was very different from most people’s. I read about self-sufficiency, wrote poetry, fed the chickens, discovered permaculture, milked the goats, tried to overcome my aversion to eating meat, learned to spin…

So, it’s not really surprising if I come at things from a slightly different angle from most people. I always have done. I did even before that period of my life. I can remember my college economics lecturer explaining to me once that when he gave our class the choice of two essay titles, the rest of the students would choose one, and I would choose the other.

I guess I might just have been born ornery. Anyway, my mother is still telling me about the way things are, and I’m still saying “but they shouldn’t be”. In these pages I’m explaining why I think they are, and how I think they could be. I really wish they could be…

Just Another Pebble On The Beach

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit at a loss. I’ve written lots of words. I think it’s coming together quite well. I’ve asked one or two people to give it a read and tell me if it makes sense. What do I do next?

I’m not going to approach an agent or publisher, as far as I can tell they all want me to 1. evaluate the competition (what competition? I’m not taking part in a race); 2. write an evaluation of my own book, an overview, a blurb, a biography… it goes on; 3. tell them what it’s genre/category (and dewy decimal number, not really) should be; 4. create a web presence with a following of thousands (sure, I have nothing else to do and a budget of millions… not.).

I’m not sure what they’re offering me in return, but as far as I can tell the only thing they’ve got, that I might want access to, is a distribution network. Like I said, I’ll pass. I’ll go for what used to be called the “vanity press”, it’s now more flatteringly called “self publishing”.

I have to say I find the whole idea intimidating, but I didn’t write all those words just to leave them on my computer. I admit I wrote them for me. I wrote them because I wanted to get straight in my mind about what I dislike about the world the way it is, and how I feel we could make it better.

I’d love to change the world. I don’t expect to. I’d be chuffed to blazes if I helped one person feel better about themself. Even more thrilled if one person started to explore permaculture because of me.

We are all small pieces of a large jigsaw. We can maybe cause a small change in the jigsaw pieces that touch ours. In other words, we can only influence as far as the reach of our arm. I’d love to create a small ripple, to add to the ripples created by the people I admire. So that between all of us, in our own unique ways, we can cause a tidal wave to change the way society is.

So, one more book to read that challenges the status quo, one more contribution to a possible alternative culture. Just another pebble on the beach.

Vive La Revolution Permaculture – Part 2

So how do we embrace permaculture when we have no knowledge of it? When you look at websites about it they talk about the need for design and the importance of planning, and this is intimidating. Especially for me. I was brought up to do things right… first time.

This has been an ongoing battle throughout my life, to forgive myself for not getting things right first time. To not beat myself up for not being perfect. And when you scratch the surface of permaculture theory you find that the teachers haven’t got things right first time, that they aren’t perfect and it’s OK.

The reason there is the stress on planning etc. is because if you are going to go the whole hog and recycle all waste (including human waste); build ponds or swales (to keep as much water on your property for as long as possible); even building raised beds, in fact any kind of major landscaping project needs to be planned, because it’s not a job that you’re going to want to do twice, and it’s going to be difficult or sometimes impossible to change later.

For most of us who are thinking of dipping our toes into permaculture, planning need not be quite so important. If you’re thinking of planting a tree then there should be some forethought, but a way around that would be to keep it in a pot until you are certain where you want it. The same for other smaller plants, you can keep them in pots and move those pots around the garden until you’re reasonably happy.

Don’t forget though, the soil in your pot isn’t necessarily going to be the same as the soil that you plant into. Also, bear in mind that pots may need watering, especially terracotta which dries out much faster than anything else.

You might find it useful to look at companion planting. There is good evidence that some plants do much better when planted together. But the advice is generally, try it out, see what works, repeat that which is good, avoid that which fails, but be aware of other factors that might influence outcomes.

Good luck with your food growing. 🙂

Against the 1%

So you think your government is corrupt. You think the 1% have bought all the politicians. If that’s the case what are you going to do? You could be one of what the unkind call the sheeple, one of the people who follow either because they are happy to or because they can’t think how not to. Or you could step away from the path others expect you to follow.

If you’re going to choose your own path, you then have to decide whether you’re going to completely go it alone or if you’re going to team up with other people who you think might see things the same way as you do.

Going it alone, completely alone, is a trendy and sexy decision. The maverick or outsider has long been a romantic figure. The one person who is brave enough to say what others dare not even think. They are the heroes of many, many movies. However, how many people in the real world who have taken that stance can you think of who actually have made a difference?

They certainly do exist, Florence Nightingale, Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Luxemburg, Martin Luther King, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. Some wonderful examples of what a truly human being can do. But how many in each generation have that greatness in them? And would you really set yourself up as being an equal to any of them?

Then there is the problem of aligning yourself with any group (it’s always been a big problem for me anyway). Groups often seem really good to start with, then the group dynamic becomes more and more apparent, you get to know who’s going to say what and which people will actually do what they say they will… I’m sure you’ve all been there.

It can really put you off the idea of aligning yourself with any group. However, the advantages of being in a group are phenomenal. Having other people around with ideas and their own motivation can be brilliantly supportive. But it really does have to be the right group for you. And that’s where the Transition Network wins hands down.

They are aware that not every group is going to work out and they offer courses on how to deal with some predictable situations. They are also not afraid of the idea that, so far, we don’t have the tools for dealing with some dynamics. They don’t try and shoe horn everyone into a “one size fits all” system. It’s up to you and the people you are working with to work out what your priorities are, what structures and “rules” you need in place…

It’s a very grown up approach, expecting everyone to make their own contribution and to take responsibility for themselves. And Transition isn’t just about talk, actually talk is just the glue, it’s about action… local, small scale, practical action that a small group can undertake to give them a better chance of surviving in this world that is falling further and further into insanity.

They are trying to increase what they call resilience, that is the ability to flexibly respond to the challenges that are likely to be confronting us in the not so distant future. They really are trying to create alternatives to current structures within society. Different approaches to current problems, diversity is strength. Diverse approaches, that none the less are allied to each other is huge strength. This is permaculture written into societal forms.

If you really want a Resource Based Economy (RBE) this is where you will find it, if not already in action, then well along the road of planning for implementation. If you really want caring, supportive communities, here they are. If you want that rosy future, this is how we’ll get it. This is an international movement that is quietly subverting mainstream society and politics. If the establishment realise how much of a threat they are we can expect reprisals as soon as they work out how to enact them.

And to protect this wonderful, precious shoot of new growth we need to galvanise ourselves into action. We need to make sure that the establishment doesn’t workout how to stop this movement away from material values to real moral values (I’m not talking about conventional religion here, though I’m sure space will be made for it if it’s important to you).

You see what I’m talking about is we need to vote, we need to vote against the mainstream parties. If you don’t vote you are effectively giving your vote to the establishment, because what is not against them, is for them. Think about it. Those who do support the establishment will be voting. If you don’t vote against them then not only have you not used your vote, but you may have invalidated the votes of others who are anti-establishment.

I am not advocating supporting the LibDems, nor Labour, and you don’t want me to start on how I feel about the CONservatives (or their smaller, nastier shadow, UKIP). I am talking about the real alternative parties that the mainstream media (owned by the Conservatives) ignores. I’ve mentioned them before, no doubt I’ll mention them again… the Green Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Mebyon Kernow, Monster Raving Loony, The People’s Assembly, actually any of the small parties who can’t afford to cover the whole country, or even an independent candidate if they seem trustworthy.

I’m not suggesting this will be easy, I am very aware of the level of corruption and misinformation that is going round. But if we don’t vote we are handing parliament back to the establishment on a platter. I, for one, won’t do that.

And while you’re waiting for the election why not check out The Transition Network http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ and see what you think about them.

Taking Control of Our Lives – Part 3

I want to start this piece wit a quote from Future Scenarios by David Holmgren “There is a desperate need to recast energy descent as a positive process that can free people from the strictures and dysfunctions of growth economics and consumer culture.” As I understand it he’s referring to the running out of fossil fuels and the fact that, without some very fancy footwork, we are staring at the end of the world as we know it.

As the decision making on energy resources and energy use are predominantly in the hands of corporations and short-sighted governments, I feel we cannot expect changes to be fast enough, or radical enough, to be of any real assistance to ordinary people.

From a position of “enlightened self-interest” I am very concerned that something should be done to help ordinary people. We cannot rely on those who are currently in positions of power to provide that help. Indeed, the current British government has demonstrated a spectacular lack of care and concern for the vast majority of the British population.

Therefore we needs must look elsewhere. The most common sense and practical movement is currently the Transition Network (https://www.transitionnetwork.org/). Their mission is to provide people with skills and support to help them cope with whatever happens next.

Personally I feel the most empowering thing anyone can do at this point in time, when the cost of living is still rising as wages (either in real terms or as a result of part time hours) are at best treading water, if not actually sinking, is grow food.

For people on benefits (which are being cut) this might be the only way they can afford healthy food. The cheapest foods are nutritionally impoverished and, paradoxically, fattening.

Many people believe that growing food is time consuming, hard labour. But there is an increasing body of knowledge which shows how to get good yields for relatively little work; how to grow healthy crops with very little space. It takes planning and preparation, very little maintenance, then – the best bit – harvesting!

To be involved in food production is the ideal way of reducing the impact of the current changes (and possible future ones) in British, and other, societies.

Resources list… Links

Permaculture and Me

I’ve found all the posts on facebook so depressing today that I’m going to side step them and talk about something that cheers me up: Permaculture!

I’ve never done a permaculture course, so I’m no kind of expert. I’ve done a bit of reading, a lot of which I’ve forgotten. I’m too tired to do research (don’t ask). So this is a stream of consciousness rap on the subject.

I can’t remember when I first heard of permaculture, it would have been in the early 1980’s most likely. It resonated with me mightily. I have long believed that we live on one small planet where everything is interrelated. Everything effects everything. Nothing is without knock on effects. And that belief is at the heart of permaculture.

As I understand it permaculture, as a term, was coined by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the late 1970’s in Australia. They had noticed that nature was really good at creating an abundance without human intervention. This was a pretty radical thought. Maybe modern food growing wasn’t the best way.

In Japan, Masanobu Fukuoka was considered strange by his farming neighbours. He grew most of his crops on a perennial basis. Instead of constantly digging and fertilizing and weed killing, he farmed gently, disturbing the soil as little as possible, growing plants in the places where they thrived. These places he chose by observation, by being very much connected with his land.

So the idea that maybe nature knows best how nature works rooted in my mind. And the idea that we should bugger about with the land as little as possible, do as little harm as possible, seemed good to me. I like permaculture, it makes sense to me.

Also like the “every problem is an opportunity” approach to things. I wish I could feel like it more often. I like reed beds, or anaerobic digesters, as ways of dealing with human excreta.

I love the idea that you can grow at least some of your own food wherever you live. On a window sill, in pots, in a garden, on a smallholding, in a forest garden, on a farm, it can all be permaculture, it’s about the approach, not the scale. Companion planting, soil health, organic growing, using natural solutions to the problems nature throws at you. It feels very right to my thinking.

The problem is, I’ve never done it. I’ve never been very patient and it takes time and patience to set up permaculture growing. But now, I finally feel that I might be able to try. I love trees, I love the idea of a forest garden. We’ve got some plants in pots… Who knows where it may lead.

Books:

Permaculture One, David Holmgren & Bill Mollison

One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka