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Bushcraft and Autumn at Salhouse Broad – 2019

Following on from completing the Advanced Bushcraft Certificate in June, I started a year long course in October. It’s part of a plan to diversify my skill and knowledge base, with a view to future changes of lifestyle and vocation; essentially I’m going to need a new job soon, and would love to work more in the outdoors, with like-minded people. Hopefully I can combine this with a few other things I’m dabbling in when my current job winds up next year. The course, a Certificate of Applied Bushcraft, is run by the Woodcraft School down in West Sussex.

It’s a big time commitment, the course running once a month from October 2019 to June 2020. It runs over a series of long weekends, with research and practice required in between each session. I’m part of a group of 10 or so students, all with varying degrees of existing knowledge and skills, but all bound by a passion for and interest in the outdoors, nature, woodcraft and bushcraft. Am I woefully ill-prepared and lacking in the pre-requisites? Only one way to find out!

I’ll attempt to keep this blog updated as I go, and hopefully won’t poison myself, contract hypothermia, or slice off a limb in the meantime. Bit worried about the January session during which we have to overnight without a sleeping bag, relying purely on the skills we’ve learnt; let’s hope the rain eases off.

Amongst last month’s teachings we learned more about fire-starting, and left with instructions to gather natural tinder and coal-extenders. This weekend has been mostly dry so I decided to venture forth to gather suppliers to add to my ‘fire-box’. Salhouse Broad is only down the road, and somewhere I walk regularly, thus was a good place to start. I last visited after the Rebellion in October; it was still pretty green then.

Autumn has definitely advanced in my absence, the Broad having quietened down and most trees now brown, yellow or gold, or even bare of leaf.

Whilst the spring and summer months are full of life and activity, I think I prefer the autumn and winter, which bring a stillness to the area. Gone are masses of folk on holiday, as well as the constant drone from boats, and people hiring canoes or picnicking.

I wandered my usual route, taking in the changes since my last visit. I gathered tinder in the form of seed heads and dead bracken, all of which should take a spark from flint and steel (or ferro-rod in my case), and will work for the fire-by-friction test next week; bow drill is going to be a challenge if our current streak of wet weather persists. I stopped to check on the little cluster of surviving Elm trees, hidden from view of the beetle which carries the fungi causing Dutch elm disease.

Birch bark is also excellent as tinder, and taking the outer peeling bits of bark doesn’t do the tree any harm. It’s full of Betulin oil and lights very easily.

After a busy week, including an XR critical mass bike ride yesterday, it was good to pause for a bit and reflect on things. All a bit worrying with the big floods up north seemingly set to get worse, fires raging in Australia and in many other parts of the world, and water shortages in South Africa. It’s only a matter of time before we see a massive increase in the number of climate refugees, driven from their homes by lack of water, famine, or fighting over remaining resources. Part of the reason I’m doing this bushcraft course is to improve the skills I might need should things go from bad to worse, which really can’t be ruled out. Let’s not mention the general election.

With tinder gathered it was time to head back home. I might have played with the colours in one of the photos below!

I’ve now got a collection of various tinder types, which’ll hopefully work over the next few months. I need to find more in the way of coal extenders – some bracket fungi and suchlike. I’ll save that for next time.

Will keep you posted on Bushcraft course progress, assuming next weekend goes well!

Rebellion Reflections – October 2019

I’ve been delaying writing this ever since getting back from London. I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to write, or what’s going to come out after spending two weeks on the streets of our capital. Along with thousands of other activists I was trying to bring more attention to the climate crisis, and to catalyse the changes we need to make to avert catastrophe. Climate Breakdown is a very real and present threat, and I still don’t think the majority realise this, or have properly processed the fact that we can’t go on as we are. Business as usual just ploughs on like a runaway train, air travel keeps going up, we’re chopping down forests at even faster rates all around the globe, or they’re on fire,  the oceans are dying from over-fishing, and CO2 emissions continue to go up year on year. We have so little time left to alter our trajectory I often feel we’ve left it too late, and the task is impossible. It comes back to the same thing though; we’ve got to try, haven’t we?

Red Brigade at Vauxhall Gardens

Red Brigade at Vauxhall Gardens

I joined Extinction Rebellion (XR) a year ago when it first started up as a chapter in Norwich, and remain convinced that its motives and methods, along with other similarly aligned organisations, offer the best chance for bringing about change. I go through periods of doubt, questioning myself and XR’s tactics, after all I’ve only been an activist for a year. What do I know compared to people who have been doing this for decades? Without doubt we need to learn from our mistakes, reflect on our successes, and come up with new ideas, methods, and ways of reaching beyond our current member base and boundaries. In the space of a year we’ve achieved so much in terms of raising the profile of the climate and ecological emergency. In a year, in tandem with other movements such as the Youth Climate Strikes, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as the phenomenal efforts of Greta Thunberg, we’ve seen more happen than in the last 30 or 40 years of waiting for politicians to do something. Following traditional tactics such as writing to your MP just hasn’t worked; politicians continue to fail us.

There can be no doubt that non-violent civil disobedience has been successful up until now, but is that and mass arrests the be and end all of Extinction Rebellion, or do we have more in our repertoire? I think we do and we will learn, evolve and adapt in the same way wider society, government and business need to in order to survive.

So what to write in this blog? It might be a long one, just to warn you. I’ve already restarted it 3 times and that’s after only 2 paragraphs. I’ll try and give you a bit of a record of my journey through the October Rebellion, combined with my thoughts on what we’ve learned, and what we might do next. Writing this is as much about me processing my own thoughts as it is about relating things to readers. My opinions and conclusions are my own, and I welcome any constructive comments and criticism that will further develop my thinking. XR tries to be an inclusive movement welcoming everyone and all parts of everyone, but if you’re in the mood for trolling please look elsewhere.

As you may have gathered from the above photos I decided to cycle down to London. It’s been a while since I did a long ride, and I needed some head space between finishing work and joining the Rebellion. My touring bike needed quite a lot of work, and given I seem to have no spare time I employed the services of the Norwich Cycle Medic (http://www.cyclemedicnorwich.co.uk) to build new wheels and give everything an overhaul; very satisfied with the work done.

XR members receive lots of criticism from people for using cars, buses or even trains to get to London to join the protests. Frankly this criticism is tiring and nonsense most of the time, made by people who really don’t understand the relative scale of the problem. We have to work with what we’ve got, and at the moment that’s an infrastructure and transport system that is largely carbon based. Should we all just do nothing and wait at home for the axe to fall? One has to use the tools that are available, and until we can bring about the changes needed that involves fossil fuelled transport. The emissions generated from the relatively small number of people travelling to London, or from the traffic delays caused by the protests, are negligible when compared to everything else, and I feel are completely justified. Many of us, including me, don’t fly anymore, and try and minimise car use wherever possible, therefore a bus trip to London to protest really is minimal in the grander scheme of things. Focus should instead be on frequent flyers, especially on people who have to fly excessively for business, when meetings can be held effectively by virtual means these days.

On that note one of the best realisations, for me, from the October Rebellion, is that ‘we are all hypocrites‘. I loved this when I heard it. We are all part of the system, and all contribute to the problem. We need to accept this and move on. It can’t be any other way given what we have available to us. As someone who is acutely aware of the challenges we face I try to minimise my carbon footprint, alongside my ecological impact from other factors, but I still very much contribute to the problem. Until we have systemic change this will continue to be the case. And we need to be aware that our footprint in the UK is huge compared with that in many other countries; our rate of CO2 emissions massively outweigh that of poorer countries.

Global CO2 emissions by wealth

Global CO2 emissions by wealth

So when we attract the inevitable criticism telling us to go and protest in China, or the US, as ‘their emissions are so much higher and our’s are a drop in the ocean in comparison’, one needs to remember the above chart; we’re in that top 10%. Sure, China’s emissions might be high, but they manufacture a lot of the goods we feel the need to constantly buy, and then there’s the transport impact of those goods, our holidays, throw-away lifestyles etc. Our emissions are still huge compared with poorer countries, due to our lifestyles and the system we have to work within; throwaway culture, fast fashion, diet, habits and hobbies, excessive consumption in buying things we want but don’t need, marketing driving all this. Again, it comes down to needing systemic change, and for everyone to realise this. There’s also the fact that historically the UK, ever since the agricultural and industrial revolutions (which we led), has had centuries of high emissions to build our infrastructure, business, and lifestyles. Other countries are still trying to catch up, so given our historic footprint shouldn’t we do even more to curb our emissions, and limit our expenditure of the remaining carbon budget? I could go on, but let’s get back to London.

It took me two days to pedal to London, covering about 155 miles. It could have been about 10 miles shorter but I forgot about the MOD firing ranges in Thetford Forest and had to backtrack a bit, plus take a few unintended off-road routes. I only fell off my bike once, into a Hawthorn hedge – bit prickly. I overnighted in Cambourne with my brother and his family, before the final leg to Marble Arch, getting drenched as showers hit on Sunday morning. It was pleasant using canal paths for the final stretches, thus avoiding most of the traffic and air pollution. My heart leapt upon arriving at Marble Arch, where I’d camped for the April Rebellion, and upon seeing all the Rebels gathered for the opening ceremony; good to meet up with Ben too, an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time – really appreciated the catch-up. I rendezvous’d with the rest of the Norwich and Norfolk team, who came down in two coaches (excellent turnout), before spending the night in my bivvy bag in Hyde Park.

I should probably explain what we had planned, and the roles I’d volunteered for the October Rebellion. Groups came from all over the country, and we split up by region to occupy several different sites around Westminster. The aim was to bring the City to a halt by blocking the key routes in and out, and to a degree we were successful, at least initially. We wanted to target government, business and institutions, those that need to lead on systemic change. I took on the role of affinity group coordinator (we had several affinity groups formed of Norwich and Norfolk Rebels), and was one of the Reactive point people for our location, which mainly involved comms between the site and rebel support functions. I dabbled in a bit of media and messaging, including a lot of live-streaming and social media updates, and was one of the facilitators for site meetings; I do like some of the XR techniques for managing large meetings, and would like to use them in my day job!

Following the first night in Hyde Park we assembled and made our way to St. James’ Park (only got slightly lost) to take our objective; the ‘Love Rebellion’ site, named with the aim of providing space for regeneration, music and outreach. There were a few hundred of us, all East of England and Midlands groups. We stepped off the road. We rebelled for life. We took our site.

What happened next? It would take several blogs to relate events from the two weeks. I’ll try to be succinct (hah). As well as holding our respective sites around the City of Westminster there were lots of actions planned, with aim of putting pressure on the Government, financial sector, big business, defence industry, oil and gas industry, judicial system etc to highlight the Climate Crisis and bring about change. We always knew it was going to be tough, with the police having been briefed to take a harder stance against us after the April Rebellion. I think they must have been specifically briefed to not be as friendly, not to smile, intimidate us where possible, and keep interaction to a minimum aside from when trying to move us on our make arrests. They are however, only human, and being constantly around us were constantly in receipt of messages on the Climate Crisis. So many of them support us, but also have to do their job. We know a few have quit and since joined us, and several retired officers, some senior ranking, are now amongst our number. Policing us is an almost impossible task given cuts and the numbers involved. Officers were drafted in from all over the country; we had conversations with individuals from Wales, Manchester, East Anglia and beyond, and when they had the chance many expressed support. A few were in tears during some of our actions, after observing the numbers willing to be arrested, hearing the messages, and witnessing the Red Brigade.

Being in St. James’ Park we weren’t far from several other sites, including Trafalgar Square which became a focal point after several other locations fell. The ‘Burning Earth’ site was a wonder to behold, from the Hearse that blocked the road, to all the artwork, tents, assemblies and rebels.

I should mention the kitchens that fed us for much of the two weeks. They were amazing, and alongside the efforts of Hare Krishna kept our energy levels and morale up. The police were constantly trying to confiscate our infrastructure, however the kitchens kept going, springing up at new sites when we were forced to move, and churning out thousands of vegetarian and vegan meals over the two weeks; some tireless efforts by certain individuals, with much gratitude. Thanks should also be given to all the food donations made both my locals, but also from afar. It’s amazing when a Deliveroo rider turns up at a roadblock with 3 vegan pizzas, ordered by someone from the other side of the country with instructions to deliver them to hungry rebels; not specific individuals, just deliver to whoever is on the roadblock. Also, thanks to Ian who turned up post work and brought me a delicious Vegan burger – much appreciated. I also mentioned Hare Krishna; they fed us loads in April, and did the same in October, pedalling vast amounts of food around London – and it tasted great! Saying that I still managed to lose half a stone on the ‘Extinction Rebellion Diet Plan’, amazing what two weeks of rebelling will do for your waistline.

One learning about kit. We need to be cleverer about delivering kit to locations. It was too easy for the police to identify our vans, stop them, and confiscate items and infrastructure. We could drop kit at other points and walk it in, or split the loads more. The police confiscating stuff did backfire on them at one point when they took possession of much of the disabled infrastructure; ramps, toilets etc. Not their best PR moment, and putting at risk many of our disabled members.

In case it’s not clear many of the rebels present, especially those who travelled, opted to camp in London. This meant tent villages sprang up at our various sites, including on roads, alongside the bigger infrastructure. This got tricky when we had to move stuff quickly or the police started to confiscate items, with people losing or misplacing belongings, and some cold and uncomfortable nights for some; although we did bring in spare tents and sleeping bags. We still have a massive pile of lost property!

St. James’ Park was a brilliant site, and hub for so much activity, especially as we were joined by the Global Justice crew bringing with them more diversity and education on the challenges faced by populations around the world in the face of climate breakdown. I learned a lot about Global South versus the Global North, and again how privileged we are in the country. Privilege is something we all need to acknowledge to one degree or another. I’m grateful that I have the right to protest in this country, and to not be beaten up and imprisoned for it. I also acknowledge that I’m a middle-classed white male, with money in the bank and access to free healthcare, as well as a host of other benefits not available to others which I often take for granted. I’m not a victim of the institutional racism that impacts many people and other protest movements. I’m far less likely to be stopped and searched than a black or brown person. At the moment I’m unlikely to ever go hungry, lack water, suffer disease, or face the threat of violence motivated by competition for resources becoming more scarce due to climate breakdown; war will become increasingly driven by the climate crisis.

That’s not to say the latter points won’t happen in this country during my lifetime. I think think there’s a high risk they will as the impacts of the climate crisis escalate and are felt closer to home. At the moment if a harvest fails in one part of the world, which happens all the time, we can afford to buy food from somewhere else, but what happens when harvests fail across multiple locations at the same time, and we can’t buy our way out of the problem? The ‘Just in Time’ supply and demand chain will come unstuck at some point, and we will be impacted. I think this will happen a lot sooner that we think, and with terrifying consequences. What wouldn’t you do to provide food for your family when the supermarket shelves are empty and your children are hungry? We’re ill-prepared for such an eventuality, and it will hit us hard, with social contracts and community bonds breaking down. It’s one of the reasons I increasingly take a prepping approach to life.

But back to the privilege point; yes, I’m privileged, but should that mean I shouldn’t protest, absolutely not, I just need to learn and have my eyes opened to it. In fact wouldn’t it be selfish and neglectful not to use my privileged status and influence to protest? I need to think about this more and speak with people wiser than I.

At this point I’ll include a short film of the ‘Roo Rebellion’ turning up at one of the roadblocks next to St. James’ Park. Needless to say the sight and sound of a group of antipodeans dressed in kangaroo costumes, bouncing round the street, did a lot to lift and relax the mood. The police present couldn’t keep straight faces, despite their orders.

Despite all our efforts Love Rebellion site fell at the end of week 1, and we were forced to relocate. The police had orders to evict us ahead of the Queen’s Speech in Parliament, and apparently couldn’t let us remain due to the bomb threat risk. They needed to search the site, not because they thought XR had bombs, more that others might do and be using XR as cover.

There was so much colour and vibrancy at our site, from the artwork to the music and samba bands, the rebels themselves and the structures we built. We had a shift system set up to cover the roadblocks and actions, with the Swallowtails Affinity Group I was in covering the first night; that was a long night, rewarded by the appearance of an urban fox in the early hours of the morning. The camaraderie was outstanding, despite the rain and constant attention from police helicopters; the search lights irritated one lady to such an extent she took her clothes off and lay in the road. The police were trying to intimidate and stress us out.

We also had an excellent organisational and decision making system set up, with a council formed of point people from each team, as well as ‘random rebels’. The council was fed information, questions and requests from the Peoples’ Assemblies which took place on a daily basis. I wish we’d had more time to get it all up and running properly and really bed in but alas, we had to move. One learning is to do more prior to a large scale Rebellions to ensure rebels are aware of the structure, site groups, decision making processes etc. There were perhaps too many comms prior to October and key messages were lost.

We evacuated St. James’ Park over the course of an afternoon, trying to get our tents and kit out without it being confiscated, and over to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the London Borough of Lambeth. There were stirring scenes as Rebels linked arms to protect the kitchen, singing songs in defiance or instructions to move on or face arrest. We quickly hired vans, packed up, and prepared to move; my bike ended up with a lot on it! It was quite an exciting walk/ride over to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, with the police refusing to allow Rebels to cross the bridge. I merged in with a larger group of cyclists commuting from work, and made it across. Lambeth Council had said we could stay in their park as long as we didn’t cause any local disruption, and were respectful to residents etc. We were and are very grateful to them and residents for accommodating us, and also to the local cafes which we took advantage of several times; it rained, a lot. The gardens also had a piece of work planned to plant insect friendly bulbs towards the end of our stay, so we made sure we cleared the areas they needed to get to. It was nice to see a message thanking us for leaving the site clean and litter free – they said they wished all their visitors were like us.

Where am I up to? So much happened and I’m missing lots out, especially around the sense of camaraderie and the emotions that run through you as you see friends getting arrested, or when support turns up in the form of a samba band at an action that was looking flakey. We were in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for several days, during which time I also spent a couple of nights with a friend from school and his family (thanks John and Emma). It was great to take a break, grab a shower, and spend a bit of time playing with their kids; it is after all their future which is in jeopardy. The Vauxhall base gave us somewhere to launch actions from, combined with the other remaining sites still holding out around London; mostly Trafalgar Square at this point.

As with April the Norwich and Norfolk groups were active throughout the two weeks. We took part in several actions, including a protest outside a Government Oil and Gas summit – they were discussing how to encourage investment into an industry that is killing out planet. Perhaps the Andaz Hotel should reconsider hosting such events?

On the people being arrested front. It’s quite hard seeing your friends being taken away by police, especially when you’re not willing to be arrested yourself, as was the case for me; too many complications with my job at present. You’re left with feelings of guilt for not being with them and not putting your freedom on the line, and also concern for their wellbeing. I do worry that some people put themselves forward to be arrested without fully understanding the consequences; this could really impact their future career prospects, affect their mental health, affect relationships, and have repercussions they aren’t aware of. There is also a risk of glamourising being arrested, or making it seem like it’s expected of you, will boost your credibility or is cool.  Whatever anyone says I don’t believe it’s a pleasant experience, comfortable, risk free, or something to aspire to. Most people do really think before putting themselves forward to be arrested though, it’s not a decision taken lightly.

The Climate Crisis will however impact us all, and being arrested now for causing minor disruption has got to be worth it if it has a chance of stopping the major disruption and societal collapse, which seems almost inevitable at this stage.

We’re in the midst of the 6th Mass Extinction event. Extreme weather events are happening all the time. Conflict due to climate breakdown is happening now. Drought and famine are on the increase. Fires are burning out of control all around the world. People are dying now due to this crisis. We’re not changing course quickly enough, or at all in many cases, from the business as usual model that is destroying our world. Some relatively minor disruption and being arrested has got to be worth it in the face of all that. Surely people impacted by our actions can reflect on why we’re doing it, and conclude that being late one day, or not getting home when you expected, is nothing compared to what is coming.

Be the voice of the World when she is screaming

Be the voice of the World when she is screaming

On that note I experienced some interesting and varied reactions from people during the protests. There was an incredible amount of support from many, even from those stuck in traffic jams, but also some less agreeable and aggressive reactions from some. I can understand and empathise with those who we’ve irritated or delayed from something important. I’d hate to be responsible for delaying someone getting to a hospital appointment. Some just want to get to work, or get home, and we’re seen as targeting normal people just trying to get on with their lives; I will talk about the Canning Town tube disruption in a bit, just not yet or relation to this point. It still however comes back to it being, the majority of the time, relatively minor disruption for a very good reason (see above). I experienced first hand some very abusive comments, coffee cups being thrown, and the threat of violence; this was mostly during rush hour in the financial district. It’s interesting and perhaps not unexpected that the majority of this behaviour originated from middle aged and older white blokes, with no inclination to try and understand why we’re there, or the Climate Crisis. They’re often red faced, stressed looking, heart attack victim waiting to happen. You can also almost feel the waves of self-entitlement, elitism, and testosterone fuelled anger rolling off them. I’ve been trying to think why they’re so angry and I’m wondering if it’s because they feel threatened by us. Are we threatening their status and masculinity? Are we challenging them at some subconscious primal level? I don’t think it would matter if we were protesting about the climate or beer prices, I think think they’d still be aggressive and unwilling to interact reasonably. I reckon it’s often alpha males feeling threatened and reacting according to their evolutionary DNA. Perhaps it’s a competition thing, like two strutting peacocks facing off. Thankfully these sorts of responses are in the minority; most middle aged blokes were fine!

I wasn’t willing to be arrested, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t busy. I often ended up with various people’s mobile phones in my pockets that they didn’t want the police to confiscate! I spent a lot of time live-streaming actions to our Facebook account, or helping with comms to Norwich and Norfolk folks and between Affinity Groups; we ended up super-grouping our Affinity Groups in week 2 for the sake of efficiency. Another learning is around Affinity Group membership and structure – we probably need less groups for future large Rebellions, to ensure sustainability, resilience and support.

On the live-streaming front I used up far too much of my data allowance filming the Grief Funeral march processing from Marble Arch down Oxford Street, which I think took place on the Saturday; the film is on the Norwich FB page somewhere. Around 30,000 people marched through London in an array of costumes and props, however it was barely reported by the press; we suspect the BBC may have had instructions not to report on us, and I’m considering submitting a Freedom of Information request to learn if there’s any truth behind that. The Grief March was impactful and emotional, with a lot of support from the pavements. The Red Brigade brought a whole tube station to silence as they made their way through the city, remaining in character the whole time; they also provoked tears from many, such is power or iconography and silence.

I wasn’t involved in the action at London City Airport, however several Norwich and Norfolk XR members were, and were arrested as a result; they blocked an access point to the airport, on bikes. I did watch on the live stream as the partially-sighted former Paralympian James Brown climbed on top of a plane, despite being scared of heights. Another activist boarded a plane and refused to get off. Air travel is a major contributor to fossil fuel emissions, more than any other transport sector, yet the number of plane flights continues to grow. Another example of the seemingly unstoppable runaway business as usual train which needs to be slowed down and stopped somehow, or at least adapted and evolved to something less damaging. I think this was a good example of an action targeting the right place and people; high impact on the environment from plane travel, and the relatively small % of the population who can afford to fly for business and pleasure to an excessive degree.

The airport action also saw disturbing scenes of the police using ‘pain and compliance’ to restrain activists. There is film footage of this, and it’s not very pleasant with the activist in question gasping in pain whilst not, to my eyes, putting up any resistance. It reminds me that whilst we’d like the police to be on side, whilst they are ‘just doing their job’, and whilst we’re often very friendly and want interact positively with them it’s not always the right thing to do.

Many protest groups and individuals from black, brown, indigenous, ethnic or minority communities, have not been treated well by the police. Their experience of being stopped and searched or arrested, often unjustly, has not been good at all. Statistically they are much more likely to be stopped and searched, or arrested. Institutional racism is still thought to be prevalent in the police force, despite efforts to eradicate it. XR members chanting ‘we love you’ whilst rebels are being arrested can be counterproductive, even when it’s not actually directed at the police, but towards the activists being taken away; it can be perceived as being directed at the police and in the past has been. In addition gestures of love or kindness towards the police can alienate groups we want to be onboard with. Flowers sent to Brixton police station by an activist, with good intentions, to thank them for their kindness and care can have a very negative reaction in communities which have seen friends and family hurt or even die in police custody, in that station. I’m still learning about this, and might use the wrong words, however it’s clear we (XR) need to learn and change our approach in some areas to ensure we become more diverse and inclusive. We need to acknowledge the challenges faced by the non-white and the non-middle classed, people we’d love have in our organisation. We need them.

Into week 2. It was an early start on Monday for the ‘Banking on Breakdown’ day of action, targeting banks and financial institutions contributing to the climate crisis and ecocide; most of them one way or another. It’s that system change thing again, with capitalism and neoliberalism driving all the wrong behaviours. We rolled out of our tents in the early hours, after much planning over the weekend, and headed for the rendezvous at St. Pauls.

Initially we teamed up with a few other East of England affinity groups to put in road blocks in the financial sector of the City of London. It was a very wet start to the day, and our first roadblock was cleared after about an hour culminating in several arrests; some downtime in the cells for several friends. We regrouped at Bank Junction, outside the Bank of England, where the bulk of rebels were gathered for the day blocking the roads. I had a few good conversations with journalists and workers, who all got it at one level or another. After a quick discussion we decided to get together the Norwich and Norfolk Rebels we could find, along with several from Cambridge, and head to Canary Wharf to bring some direct action to a bank heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry. I cycled there on one of London’s cycle super-highways; they’re ace, and I didn’t get lost for once.

Rebels arrived in dribs and drabs via the Tube, or like me by bike, and a game of cat and mouse ensued with undercover police or private security teams (not sure which) as we moved around Canary Wharf trying to work out where we were going. It’s quite a disorientating place, and feels completely disconnected from nature. I think the security teams are quite used to protestors turning up, with actions regularly taking place outside Barclays.

Barclays invests billions in the fossil fuel industry, and is up there in the top world rankings for financing activity killing us and the planet; tar sands projects in the US and Canada are not a good thing. We blocked the main doorway for several hours, read the Declaration of Rebellion, and performed outreach activity with workers and passers-by explaining why we were there. It was very cold and windy at Canary Wharf, but numbers grew until we had a sizeable crowd involved. We asked if we could speak to members of the Barclay’s Exec Team to explain our activity, ask them to divest from fossil fuel based funds, and get some answers, but no-one was forthcoming. The one manager who did appear was only interested in how many of us were being arrested, and what for, and smirked the whole way through any conversations; really dispiriting. They’re more interested in driving excessive profits for a small number of very rich people, at the expense of everyone else and the planet.

It should be noted that many of the normal workers we spoke to were pleasant and interested in our message. Most of them very much get it, but are trapped by needing to earn money to support families, pay mortgages, conform to what society expects of us, and by a toxic system that doesn’t offer any other options. They don’t necessarily have another path open to them which is accessible or offers sufficient financial recompense to support their current lifestyle choices. The whole system needs to change, and we need to realise that means we can’t go on the way we are. It will mean big changes to the way we live and operate, and some of these changes won’t be comfortable at all, at least to begin with. I believe however that we can transition to a better method of living, with tighter knit better connected communities, working with nature and not against it, increased equality, more produced locally, and eventually a healthier and happier society; but different, very different. A topic for another blog, but if we don’t start making these changes soon, globally, we’re screwed.

The Barclays’ action culminated with the police arresting eight of our number, using solvent to remove superglue, or cutting tools to breakthrough lock-on tubes. I was on camera duty for most of the day, live-streaming footage, or doing a bit of outreach activity, or supporting the Rebels blocking the doorways. There was a bit of a wait for police vans due to everything else going on round the City, however eventually our comrades were carted off to Sutton Police Station; it was a fairly emotional end to the action, with more than a few tears and shouts of support to those under arrest for aggravated tress-pass and obstruction. The police were gentle, polite and respectful throughout, but we could tell they were getting tired and stressed by long shifts, relentless XR actions, and lack of resources their side. There were several occasions during the course of the October Rebellion where Rebels were de-arrested by the police, as they ran out of police vans or cell space, however this was not one of those times. The Barclays’ high ups obviously wanted to make a point, and made sure the police kept the arrestees in cells for the full 24 hours; money and influence talks. It felt good to have targeted what can be regarded, at least in part, as climate criminals. We targeted the right people, with 8 arrested for crimes incomparable to the destruction, climate breakdown and ecocide caused by investment into an industry we are all forced to use to one extent or another.

Our diminished group retreated from Canary Wharf to regroup at Bank Junction, which was still being held as part of the Banking on Breakdown day of action. We were all pretty tired so retreated for a round of vegetarian burgers.

Reduced in number but still going strong

Reduced in number but still going strong – Norwich Rebels regen time

We joined the end of the Bank Junction protest in a big march down to St. Pauls; lots of drumming, dancing and singing, with some lovely support from drivers and passers-by. It was, however, very wet!

The next day we had to leave Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a sad departure. I’m not entirely sure why the police decided to move us on, especially as Lambeth Town Council had given us permission to be there. I suspect they just didn’t want us to have a big base to operate and launch actions from.

We now know that the Section 14 order placed over London was unlawful, but at the time the police were using it to disperse us, confiscating tents and arresting those refusing to move. The Red Brigade turned up to support us on the final day.

We left the gardens in a good state, making sure we cleared up all litter. Clearing the site took several hours, during which we talked to the police, shifted kit into vans, and had a chance for a bit of a sing-song with the Norwich XR choir.

So that was it, all the main October Rebellion sites cleared despite our best efforts, however we’d lasted longer than I thought we might. Maybe we need to re-think out tactic of taking and using large sites during these big rebellions. They can be counter-productive, with people getting attached to them and not focussing on actions that can have more impact. Maybe we should do more to ‘move like water’, popping up in one place for an action before dispersing only to arise again in another. However having everyone together does build a sense of community and solidarity, allows for mass Peoples’ Assemblies and planning, and helps with our regenerative culture.

Another point on the sites front was that much of our organisation and decision making structure was tied to a physical location, in terms of people and roles. When sites fell, or merged with others, these structures seemed to partially breakdown. Maybe we need a more virtual network and structure next time, or processes to better integrate multiple sites into one. Things still worked, but they could work better, and we perhaps need better communication channels with the Rebel Support Office.

On the comms front we were using both the Signal and Telegram Apps, as well as WhatsApp and Facebook. This became quite confusing and overwhelming at times. It also starts to break down when peoples’ mobile phones run out of charge and there isn’t the infrastructure in place to recharge them, if for example the police have confiscated items. We might need to rationalise our comms channels, and work on the ‘less is more’ principle. We also need to continue using public facing channels such as Facebook to recruit more people to actions as a Rebellion progresses, and individuals decide to join us; they won’t have access to our more private channels. Lots to think about before next time.

After leaving Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens the remaining Norwich and Norfolk rebels dispersed across London, with me and several others moving to a sanctuary site; a church hall in Islington, for a few nights. They and several other organisations, mostly churches, opened their doors to welcome us, providing much needed floorspace, and even a kitchen to use in this instance. A few of our comrades, those arrested at the Barclay’s action, had to leave London for home or break their bail conditions; very sad to see them go. We met up the next day to regroup and head to Trafalgar Square to join rebels in defying the Section 14 ban on us gathering.

Hundreds gathered in defiance of the unjust Section 14 order, to listen to various speakers including George Monbiot, a representative from Friends of the Earth, religious and spiritual leaders, and environmentalists from all over the UK and beyond.

There were several arrests, including that of George Monbiot, as rebels occupied parts of the road around Trafalgar Square and Whitehall; this went on for hours.

In the evening we headed to the Shard, to bring attention to the role the media plays in the Climate Crisis.

The mass media often seem to either not report on the Climate Crisis, under-report it, or falsely report on it. It’s time they told the truth and gave these issues the prominence they need to wake up wider society to the challenges we face. On top of that they need to stop giving any media-space to climate change deniers, surely we’re past that now.

Another long day, but successful in demonstrating we will not be silenced, and again targeting organisations that need to up their game.

I think it was the following day we awoke to news of the Canning Town tube action, a protest most of us had voted against, and which I feel was badly timed, targeted the wrong people, and the wrong infrastructure; public transport that is at least part ‘green’. I wrote about it at the time, saying how it broke some of the media blackout we’d been experiencing, but sadly for the wrong reasons. Many of us have reflected long and hard on it in the weeks since. We know the theory behind XR and civil disobedience; that 3.5% of the population thing. We know we can’t be friends with everyone and that inevitably we will make mistakes, this action, in my opinion, being one of them. But we know we have to do do something to try and wake people up, and bring about change. Or should we just sit around, watch the world burn, and wait for our inevitable demise?

This was another learning for me from the October Rebellion, from some of the messaging and training out of the Global Justice movement, and from some of the reading I have done since. XR needs to perform actions, but I think we need to think harder about targets and timing, who it will impact, and the social science behind our tactics which may not have been interpreted correctly, or been used on a bit of a pick and choose basis. It felt right targeting industries that directly contribute to the problem. It did not feel right to be targeting normal working class people trying to go about their lives, a lot of whom are struggling to make ends meet. This was very counter-productive, and damaged our reputation and some of the good work done to date. We need these people in our movement and on side, as we run out of time and start to witness the terrifying impacts of climate breakdown. These impacts are likely to affect poorer people first, and sooner that we think.

Some of the social science being used talks about needing 3.5% of the population on side and activated in order to bring about change. However the evidence for this seems to be from societies where the 3.5% were oppressed or repressed, often violently. With the majority of XR members being white and middle classed, we are not being oppressed or repressed, and certainly not violently. In fact actions such as the Canning Town tube debacle, although well intentioned, are in danger of turning us into the oppressors in the eyes of those affected; normal working class people who aren’t feeling the impacts of climate breakdown. So instead of rebelling against a system that is killing us, we could end up being rebelled against by the very people most at risk from the challenges ahead. We need to target the powerful, not the powerless.

I sincerely hope more people continue to rise up and join Extinction Rebellion, but we need to work on diversity and inclusion. We need to engage at a grassroots level with, and learn from, the communities we are trying to recruit from. We also need to learn from other past and current movements with similar aims. They must look on with dismay at some of XR’s tactics and apparent disregard for the impacts on minority communities, but we’re only a year old and very willing to learn. I hope that over the next few months we’ll think more about this, evolve and adapt as an organisation, and come out stronger.

There are loads of areas upon which we need to reflect. Topics still causing me some confusion and painful thinking include our practice of not blaming and shaming, as well as being apolitical or ‘beyond politics’. On the first point I think it’s definitely wrong to blame normal individuals who have no current choice as to their way of life, however what about government and business leaders supporting the toxic system which is at the root of the problem? And likewise on the political front, especially with a general election coming up, should we come out in favour of a party more likely to bring about the changes needed? I know politicians have been failing us for a long time on the climate and ecological front, and will no doubt continue to do so, but shouldn’t we more openly support those at least trying to make a difference? Maybe XR should continue not supporting one party over another, whilst individual members can of course do so. I do think we need to encourage members from all sections of society, and supporting one party might inhibit this. It could sow division and even intimidate potential members into not joining us. But if one section of society, and let us for arguments sake call that Tory party members leaning more the right, is blatantly putting our futures at risk, then shouldn’t we come out against them? I want an inclusive and diverse movement, but don’t know how we achieve this in some areas, and am not entirely sure we want or need to be inclusive of some people.

Phew, that was a long section without any photos. If you’re still going, thank you and well done!

Thursday was my last full day in London. I was beginning to feel pretty tired and was missing the quiet of the countryside, and fresh air. I was still enthusiastic about the Rebellion but events such as the Canning Town action had knocked all of us off centre, and we’d lost quite a few of number by this point; to arrests or from just needing to go home for work or to support families. Whilst rewarding it can be draining trying to keep things going, comms flowing, and people supported. I am very grateful to certain individuals who helped keep me grounded and supported.

On Thursday morning I joined the non-XR protest versus the mega-ming corporation BHP. This all forms part of what I’ve been learning over the last few months. BHP run huge mining operations that extract valuable minerals from countries such as Chile, Brazil and Columbia. These minerals are used to make things that we all buy. The companies behind these operations, such as BHP, make huge profits at the expense of the people who live in these areas. Locals are subject to unfair wages and unsafe working conditions, and the the mines are destroying huge swathes of natural habitat and ecosystems upon which indigenous people still rely, and from which we all ultimately benefit in terms of biodiversity and oxygen production. The protest was to demand justice for people impacted by BHP, and the lives and land devastated by its activity.

It’s all tied up with the concept of neo-colonialism, the more about which I read the more I begin to realise how complex and huge the challenge is. The Global North is profiting from, and aiming to maintain its current excessive and high consumption based lifestyle, at the expense of the Global South. People in the Global South are being exploited, killed, threatened and evicted from their homes, or imprisoned, to support the sick profits of huge multi-national companies and ultimately our comparatively cosy but selfish lifestyles. We need global justice in the face of such activity, unless we really are complete arseholes that are happy for this to go on just so we can live as we do now.

And this for me is the crux of the matter. We can’t go one as we are now, and we can’t transform to a ‘green economy’ that replaces everything we have now with apparently sustainable alternatives. It’s just not that simple. For example to replace our current energy production units with solar or wind power needs precious minerals, many of which are mined in the Global South. The same with electric cars, and the next generation of mobile phones. In the UK are we willing to destroy the Global South via neo-colonialist practices, or are we willing to change? The massive carbon budget expenditure needed just to build all this new energy producing infrastructure, or electric cars, could in itself push us over a climate breakdown tipping point from which there is no return. From what I’ve researched there simply aren’t enough available resource to transform the whole world, and replace everything we have now with ‘green’ alternatives, and this couldn’t be done without massive CO2 emissions, or further devastation of the Global South. Therefore, logically, we need to move to a different sort of society, economy, way of life, or we will destroy ourselves.

Or maybe we just all start praying the gods or aliens will save us, ‘cos that’s always worked in the past.

After the BHP protest I nipped round the corner to support veteran activists outside the Supreme Court. Today XR wanted to highlight the impact of the ‘defence’ industry, arms trade, and war on climate change, and elders had gathered outside the court, gluing themselves together in protest.

Pretty amazing to watch the older generation standing together in uncomfortable conditions, putting their freedom on the line, and then being led away to police vans. Much respect.

We spent the afternoon in the City of Westminster walking from one protest area to another, sometimes arriving just as one finished due to rapid response by police. We all got pretty wet as the heavens opened, but thankfully dried off when the sun came out. Later that afternoon several of use decided to join a critical mass bike ride, with hundreds of other riders. I had the use of my touring bike, whereas others hired Santander bikes.

The critical mass bike ride was unlike anything I’d ever been on before. It was huge. There were banners and costumes, so many riders, and multiple sound-systems. I was completely envious of the most impressive sound system; a rickshaw with DJ decks and huge speakers. We definitely need something similar for Norwich critical mass rides.

We pedalled off from Hyde Park on a ride that must have taken about an hour and a half. The sound system boomed, we rang our bells and rode past Marble Arch, down Oxford Street, down Regent Street, around roundabouts, past Buckingham Palace and down to Parliament Square. It was exhilarating, with much support from the pavements.

I’ll say one thing, two weeks of rebelling in London, including riding your bike a lot, does an awful lot of good as far as improving one’s knowledge of where everything is and how it all joins together.

Here’s a bit of film from the Oxford Street section.

We ended the critical mass ride at Trafalgar Square, where Rebels had gathered for a mass meditation session. This ended with some uplifting singing and bouncing. Pretty groovy day all in all.

So that was me mostly done. I’d survived two weeks of being an ‘uncooperative crusty’ (thanks Boris, we’ll own that one) in London, and spent my last night back at the sanctuary space in Islington. The next day I took my leave of the remaining Norwich rebels and caught the train back home; I was too tired to cycle all the way back!

That was not the end however of the London Rebellion, with two more days of actions and activity scheduled, including the ‘Red Hand’ march; following pictures courtesy of friends or the Internet.

What was the Red Hand march?

‘We will raise our red hands, taking responsibility for our actions – we all have blood on our hands. We march in admission and recognition of the part we play in the injustice of this emergency, and the ongoing suffering of thousands of people around the world due to climate and ecological breakdown.’

There were hundreds on the march again, which stopped at several government departments to demand plans are quickly made to tackle to climate emergency.

By this time I was back home in Salhouse, recovering but also missing my companions of the previous two weeks. One builds such strong friendships during these actions, which will no doubt endure for years to come. I know XR has much to learn, and challenges we need to overcome. I’ve discussed some of them in this blog, and will continue to mull things over, analyse our actions and future strategy, talk about it all with other Rebels, and we’ll work out where we go from here.

Travelling Lobster made it home

Travelling Lobster made it home, somehow with a squirrel that ended up in my panniers, courtesy of my niece and nephew

I know there are course corrections we need to make, such as diversifying our actions and tactics; it can’t all be about mass arrests, and we need to find a way of engaging with other segments of society. We also need to look at the bigger picture; climate breakdown cannot be viewed in isolation, it needs to include social justice and equality.

Back home, peace!

Back home, peace!

This has been an epic blog to write over the course of about 10 days. I could have broken it up, however as mentioned at the start writing it has been part of the reflective process for me, and one thing kinda flowed into another. I may well pull out individual bits and expand upon them in future. There is still a lot I need to think about and learn!

Thanks for reading, and stay turned for more Norwich and Norfolk actions. Why not come and get involved yourself?

WE ARE ALL CREW

Extinction Rebellion

I’ll start this post with some autumnal pictures. It’s my favourite time of year, incorporating beautiful colours in the countryside, crisp and bright days, and the Norwich beer festival; always a must visit.

Walking or cycling through the countryside, breathing in the fresh air, is a true delight. And  there’s always the joy of jumping into piles of leaves, or taking in a magnificent sunset. I don’t have any recent sunset pictures, as sometimes it’s good just to take it all in without having to photograph it. I do have the privilege to cycle past Whitlingham Broad on my way to work each morning though, which always offers a calm moment before the day starts in earnest.

Each year I wonder if we’ll see the same next year. What will have burnt, been blown down, or perished from either drought, habitat destruction or any one of a number of other human caused blights? The wildfires in California, or the increased frequency of ‘once in a hundred years’ storms, are just a few examples.

There’s no doubt we’re in the midst of an environmental crisis now. The symptoms of Climate Breakdown are everywhere to see and this is just the beginning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or Climate Breakdown as it should now be called, says we have just 12 years to avert catastrophe. I hope this is true and we’ve not already passed the tipping point.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

I’m not going to include lots of links to evidence, to scientific commentary or opinion, as it’s easy to find on the web, however if you have any doubts this is true, or are in denial, I recommend doing a bit of research (I can supply some pointers upon request).

A lot of us have had enough of this now. Of the failure of governments, corporations, and indeed most of the people on the planet, to do anything to avert the impending catastrophe. We are failing future generations of children, and indeed all life on the planet. We can’t however dwell on the past too much, or start blaming previous generations, that won’t help.

For what has probably been several years this has been weighing heavily on my mind, and I’ve experienced a full range of emotions on the subject which I now realise, with the help of friends and wiser people than I, are down to grief. You’d have thought I’d have recognised the symptoms given previous life events. Sadness, a bit of denial, despair and depression, anger, and now hopefully acceptance. You can’t move on and do anything constructive about an issue you’re grieving about unless you can accept it’s happened or happening, and the truth. If you’re going through this yourself I can thoroughly recommend looking up Joanna Macy, the deep ecologist, and the work that reconnects. It helps.

On a side note I’m really starting to think that a lot of the mental health problems we’re seeing at the moment might be related to all of this. At some level, even subconsciously and especially amongst children, are we all recognising the problem and threat? Is this why levels are depression and anxiety are soaring?

Last night I decided to go to a talk organised by Extinction Rebellion. It was a game-changer as far as I’m concerned. The talk was hosted by Rupert Read, a Green Party politician, academic and reader of philosophy at the University of East Anglia where I studied. He gave the same talk at Churchill College in Cambridge recently, and I’d really recommend everyone listen to it, challenge it if necessary, and try to understand it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzCxFPzdO0Y

If you do nothing else, or don’t ready any further, please watch at least some of this!

Yes, this stuff is really scary, terrifying. I was beginning to think that very few other people saw it the same way I’ve been seeing it. It makes one feel very alone, and question whether you’re one of the ‘crazies’. I don’t feel that way anymore. They expected maybe 50 odd people to turn up last night. There were around 120 of us crammed into the room, a brilliant turn out given it was only organised the week before. There were people from all walks of life too, lest you think it was just fringe hippies and malcontents. Finally a group of like-minded I can relate to, who are as worried as I am, and who are willing to try to do something about it.

We really do have just years to try do something about this. It’s something that will not just potentially cut your children’s lives short, it could do so for your own life, or at least future wellbeing. As Rupert says in his talk there are three possibilities at the moment.

  1. Complete breakdown of civilisation, which will start within our lifetimes – there won’t be much of anything left, we didn’t do enough, quickly enough
  2. An alternative civilisation – a partial collapse of what we have today, but things are left intact to some extent, we just about did enough
  3. A successor civilisation – we transform our current civilisation now, and quickly, bringing about the chance for massive improvements and a better way of life for all on the planet

I reckon number three is the sensible choice to strive for, if it’s not too late, but it’s also the hardest route to take, and possibly the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a species. To make it work it’ll need everyone to get on board, completely change their lifestyles, and priorities. It’s harder than previous challenges we’ve faced on subjects such as equality, voting rights, and discrimination. We are after all talking about people who are currently rich, comfortable, and enjoying a life of comparative luxury (most people in the UK relative to other parts of the world) needing to set much of what they currently value aside. However, if we can start to transform civilisation we’ll be in with a chance, and we could end up being in a much better place than we are now on many counts.

People may ask isn’t the Paris Climate Change Agreement supposed to avert all these problems? Doesn’t the IPCC report offer hope? The answer to that, in brief, is no. The Paris agreement is effectively burnt, especially if the US pulls out. It doesn’t go far enough and won’t prevent the temperature rises that are going to cause so many problems. These reports and agreements don’t take into account things like feedback loops from ice-melt and the permafrost thawing. If methane emissions soar (releasing the dragon), which is entirely possible, we’ll see the release of massive amounts of a greenhouse gas far worse than CO2.

It would appear therefore we have years to try to fix this, and we need to get as many people involved to completely change the way we live, consume, travel, grow our food, enjoy our leisure activities etc. I’m not sure this is possible but surely it’s got to be worth a go? It really is time for people to wake up to this, for people to start talking about it and for action to start happening on a major scale. And we have to approach this in the right way, not with accusations and trying to force people to see your point of view, but by providing information and the facts, and asking them questions, so they can reach their own conclusions, go through the grieving process, and come out the other side to add a positive contribution. This is much bigger than Brexit, or the NHS crisis, yet it’s not anywhere near the top our governments agenda. They are letting us down.

That’s where Extinction Rebellion comes in (@ExtinctionR

https://rebellion.earth

Governments and corporations aren’t doing anything quickly enough, or anything at all in many cases. They need to start listening and the only way to make that happen appears to be via non-violent direct action, which is what Extinction Rebellion is trying to organise. We need to stop the destructive spiral that is going on at the moment and make change happen.

I’d invite anyone reading this (there’s got to be at least 2 or 3 people who got this far), to check out Extinction Rebellion yourself. Spread the word. Get involved and consider non-violent direct action to make the government listen. There are ‘Holding actions’ we can undertake to slow things down. There’s going to be some good stuff happening in London this weekend. This has the potential to be huge, and even if it doesn’t work I don’t want to be in situation in 10 or 20 years time wishing I’d tried to do something. It’s got to be worth a shot whilst we still have a chance hasn’t it?

In the meantime though, I might do a bit of prepping, just in case…

Brake the Cycle

A couple of weeks ago I came across Brake the Cycle, a touring company that organise adventures combining bicycles, caring about the planet, eco-communities and permaculture, with helping individuals find a new healthier and happier path in life. What better way to do that than on a bike? In short it’s all the sort of thing I’m passionate about, in trying to practise a more balanced, sustainable, and connected to nature lifestyle.

Here’s a video from their website that’s really making me look forward to touring again a bit later this year; I’m hoping to pedal down the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

You can check out there website here – www.brakethecycle.xyz

If you’re thinking about giving cycle touring a go, but a bit nervous and would like to do it with a group of like-minded individuals, then I’d recommend checking them out. They organise tours in the UK, such as Lands End to John O’Groats and an Odyssey in Wales, to pedalling round Spain or Greece. And they’ll carry your luggage for you! A great way to see new places, make new friends, and experience the joys of cycle touring in a sustainable way.

I recently wrote a guest blog post for them, which you can read here – www.brakethecycle.xyz/single-post/bikearoundBritain

Incidentally I have no commercial connection to this website, I just really like what they’re trying to do and may well get a few friends to join me on one of their tours.

I’ve also copied in the blog post below, as I really enjoyed writing this one, and want to keep it for posterity.

Bike around Britain by James Harvey
Riding a bike. I don’t think I could do without it now. I get grouchy if I haven’t cycled for a couple of days. If I have to use my car to commute the day is definitely worse for it. On my 10 mile ride to work I see people stuck in their vehicles, looking grumpy, frustrated, bored, and disconnected from the world outside their sterile, sealed metal boxes.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if more people used their bike to get to work? There are so many benefits to be gained from a regular pedal: mental and physical health, fitness, saving money, and less pollution. It’s actually quicker in towns, and you can eat more cake without worrying too much about the calories. You’re closer to the natural world too — not separate from it like so many people seem to be these days. As we move into Spring and everything starts waking up there’s more to see, smell, listen to and experience whilst pedalling.

Snowdrop covered bank

Take the path less travelled

Cycling several times a week also means that when it comes to your next cycle tour your legs are better prepared for it, although it’s one of those hobbies where you really can get fit on the job. I started cycle touring properly in 2013, when a major life event made me re-evaluate what’s important. I took some time out and decided, fairly randomly, that I’d cycle around the coast of Britain. Why wait until you retire to start adventuring? You never know what’s going to happen. If you have the chance to do something different, to pursue something out-of-the ordinary you’ve always wanted to do, then go for it, ‘brake the cycle’ and take that first step out of your front door. Every step after that is easier. One of my favourite quotes, from Henry Rollins reflects all this:

‘No such thing as spare time
No such thing as free time
No such thing as down time
All you got is life time. Go!’

I didn’t especially know what I was doing when I set off round the coast. I bought a bike I’d been reliably informed was decent for touring, as well as camping equipment I could fit on it, and a whole  host of other bits and pieces I thought I might need. Once I’d packed my panniers I mounted my trusty steed, and gently tumbled onto the grass outside my house. It appeared I might have to cut down on what were going to be my worldly possessions for the next three months. That was the start of realising you really don’t need much to be happy. In fact, from what I’ve observed, the more people have the less happy they often are. You meet a lot of people when touring, whether it be in Britain, or in more remote places (for us) such as Albania, Scandinavia or Turkey. The friendliest and most content people I’ve met are often those that seem to have the least, from a material possession point of view; I’d argue they probably have the much more from a spiritual and non-material angle.

Starting from Norwich and heading to Lowestoft, on the East coast of Britain, before turning North, getting fitter as I went. I almost immediately had a crash on a Norfolk coastal path, when I discovered loaded touring bikes don’t cope well with sand. This wouldn’t be the last ‘stunt’ of the tour.

It didn’t really take very long to get to Scotland, however it took a me a disproportionate amount of time to get round the coast of that glorious country. There are so many ins-and-outs, up-and-downs, sideways then back up bits. Thankfully on a coastal tour it’s quite hard to get lost, all you have to do is keep the sea on one side, and in Scotland there aren’t a lot of roads to choose from when you get beyond Edinburgh. Another Scottish bonus is you can wild camp as long as you’re sensible and respectful, so finding a place to rest wasn’t hard.

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

I always get asked what my favourite bits of a tour are, and it’s often hard to pick one. I know that the journey is definitely more important that the destination — the latter often being a bit of an anti-climax after all the adventures along the way. On my 2013 Bike around Britain tour I can definitely say Scotland was my favourite bit, aside from the midges which will eat you alive if you’re not careful. The coastline is amazing, especially the West Coast, and then there’s Orkney where I immediately felt at home,  and Skye and Mull which are quite different from the mainland. The wildness of Cape Wrath where I camped next to the lighthouse and ate fresh wild Atlantic salmon was amazing, and I’ll never forget cycling over the Bealach na Ba pass from Applecross, up the steepest ascent in the UK, then descending carefully down the other side with my brakes smoking. That’s feeling alive.

Bealach na Ba

Bealach na Ba

Eventually it was time to leave Scotland and cross back into England, via Gretna Green. That in itself was a culture shock after weeks in relative wilderness; coach loads of Japanese and Chinese tourists greeted me as I pedalled through, and I suddenly had to contend with roundabouts and traffic lights again, a rarity in the highlands. Then it was on to Wales which turned out to be, whilst beautiful, very wet and windy. In fact it mostly rained for all of Wales, but you get used to that kind if thing whilst cycle touring, as well as dirt and mud; my theory is your skin is waterproof, so all good. A few local cyclists I met on the road bought me the odd meal, or a pint, which kept motivation levels up.

When you’re on a long cycle tour you’re much more in touch with the natural environment you’re in, especially if you’re camping most of the time. You become attuned to the daylight hours as well as the weather, and are definitely very much a part of nature, rather than disconnected from it. On your bike you spot things you’d never see in a car, and meet people you’d never normally speak to. They’re interested because you’re on a loaded touring bike and they want to know where you’ve been and where you’re going ; this can often lead to free meals! You rest when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, and take a diversion to see something interesting if the notion takes you. I’d challenge anyone not to feel less-stressed after a week or two of that.

 

Cycle touring - enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature's embrace

Cycle touring – enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature’s embrace

The funny thing was as soon as I rode to the other side of the Severn Bridge it stopped raining. I could look back into Wales and it was still cloudy on the other side of the Severn, however I was now in sunshine. Wales is damp, lovely country, but damp.

The South West was another highlight, although the hills were steeper than in any other part of the tour; I didn’t have to get off and push until I got to Devon. I rode to Land’s End on a wonderful sunny day, completing a rather long and unconventional John O’Groats to Lands End (‘Jogle’) trip. I laid back in the heather and dozed for a bit, listening to the waves crashing against the rocks far below. The sound of the sea, my constant companion for the three months of my  tour, is always relaxing and trance-inducing.

Lands End - listening to the sea

Lands End – listening to the sea

Along the South Coast it got a lot busier, but remained entertaining, with the odd ferry to catch over inlets and estuaries. There was more regular supply of ice-cream, and friends joined me along the way to experience a bit of life on the road.  After the peace of Scotland the South East was the opposite. A more frantic pace of life as well as an increase in traffic and prices, and more opportunities to get lost. As with everywhere folks still often wanted to say hello and find out what I was doing, or to offer hospitality.

Helford - ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Helford – ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Heading North across the Thames I joined the Tour de Latitude, taking a diversion to cycle to the music festival. It proved to be an excellent decision, a chance to catch up with a few friends and ease tired muscles, before heading back to the coast to finish the circuit back in Lowestoft, and home to Norwich.

I learnt so much about myself and the UK on that tour. Since then I’ve continued to go on adventures on my bike, including a six month pedal around Europe in 2015, taking in Nordkapp, Tarifa and Istanbul. But there really isn’t any need to leave  Britain to get away from it all, reconnect with nature, and try something new. We have so much on our own doorstep to enjoy, learn about and be part of.

You have a lot of time to mull things over whilst you’re pedalling. In the last two hundred years we’ve grown more and more apart from the natural world, somehow forgetting about it, or believing we’re above other species on this planet. There’s a constant pressure for growth, whether that be population, industrial, agricultural or economic, which is at odds with the finite resources we have access to, as well as our own wellbeing. I can’t help wondering if a lot of the mental health issues we experience today are caused by the realisation, by all of us at some level, that things aren’t right at the moment. Getting on your bike, whether that be for you daily commute to work or to take up touring, is a great way to start reconnecting with the world, to start working out what’s important, and to bring more contentment and satisfaction into your life.

People always seem to ask me what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go next? I ask, where are you going next?

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

James Harvey is a keen cyclist and advocate of two wheels for wellbeing. Find out more about his 2013 tour (with routes) here: www.bikearoundbritain.com. You can find James sharing his thoughts on the wonderfully titled www.selfpropelled.life and follow home on Twitter here @jam_har

 

Pedaling into 2018

Recently I’ve been pondering the terms ‘growth’, and ‘progress’, when they’re used to describe our aspirations as a race, in the developed ‘Western’ world anyway. It’s weird how we seem to think of progress and growth as building more, and consuming more of our finite resources. Is that really progress? It doesn’t seem to make that many people more content with their lot, or healthier, mentally or physically. If anything it just seems to create more problems.

We always have to pursue economic growth, but surely infinite economic growth is impossible when you have finite resources, and an economy that is based on using them. I think a different model is needed if we’re to really progress and grow as a species.

I’ll write a more structured blog on this in the near future. I might include some thoughts on the new Norwich Northern Distributor road, which as far as I can tell is just there to open up the countryside to more development, more ‘growth’. It’ll mean the closure of at least two of the roads I cycle down to get to and from work, which will no doubt mean more traffic channelled on to fewer roads, with more drivers getting annoyed with ‘bloody cyclists’. I’ve tried to find out some more information about new cycle paths the council might have planned to help cyclists get into Norwich safely, but haven’t found anything concrete yet. I fear I may have to pedal a slightly longer and more congested route, but will reserve judgement pending further investigations.

Rather than saying any more on the subject now, I thought I’d share a few photos from my January cycling, either from the commute, or the occasional excursion in search of pie and cake. A lot of people seem reluctant to get out during the winter months, however with the right kit it’s absolutely fine, and often more peaceful on the quieter roads. One just has to stay alert for any icy patches; might have done a couple of inadvertent stunts recently.

It’s great seeing the countryside change throughout the year. The tree branches are bare at the moment, but will soon start to bud, shutting away secrets that are currently in plain site.

And it’s time for snowdrops to appear in abundance. Lots of them on my route to work. I’m looking forward to seeing the bluebells once Spring arrives.

I pedalled home from work illuminated by the light from the blue super-moon the other day, an impressive site. My new camera phone took surprisingly good pics of it; I can use one of these for a cover on one of my short stories.

I’ve set a target of 5,000 miles (8,000km) cycling this year, which should be possible seeing as I regularly pedal 100 miles a week just on the commute. I’ll probably go for another tour in the summer or autumn for a couple of weeks, perhaps heading up to Derbyshire and over to Wales; route to be confirmed, maybe Europe instead. In the meantime I’ve been getting out at the weekend a bit, most recently up to Holt to grab a pasty and cake from Byfords. Bywords is a must visit for any hungry cyclist in the area.

My route from Salhouse across to Holt was on very quiet country roads, taking in the now closed RAF Coltishall, somewhere I don’t think I’ve been since I was a few months old (felt quite weird). It has rained an awful lot recently, meaning many of the roads have large puddles, or lakes as was the case below. I took the plunge and managed to forge through to the other side, about 30 metres away, without sinking into a pothole.

Just how far does the 'puddle' go on for?

Just how far does the ‘puddle’ go on for?

I think I might have to create an album of the churches I pass whilst out on my bike. I’m not particularly religious, but do like churches; their architecture and the often peaceful atmosphere surrounding them is attractive. These two are close to where I live, although there are dozens more, a legacy of Norfolk’s rich farming past and all the landowners competing via the medium of church building.

To close, here are a few cartoons I came across recently and thought were spot on, courtesy of @cartoonralph (you can follow them on Twitter). I think they accurately portray how disconnected we’ve become from nature, when we should be part of it, not set ourselves aside or above (there’s a blog to be done on deep ecology at some point too). The centre of the universe one is too true when it comes to our sense of entitlement as a race.

Enjoy the winter months and keep on pedalling!

Salhouse Broad…November 2017

Autumn was definitely turning into Winter down by Salhouse Broad today, as I went for a wander round one of my favourite local spots.

It’s only a short distance from my house, and whilst lovely in the summer, in some ways it’s better in winter when you have the place to yourself.

Stormy weather has been blowing through all day, leading to some interesting light conditions for photos. I must remember to take my proper camera out next time, however the one on my phone is pretty good.

I managed not to get too wet, but did have to take shelter under the trees a few times as the rain blew through.

Sunshine and cloud made for a few good photos.

Places like this are inspirational for some of the short stories and poems I’m attempting to write at present.

You can read some of the ones I’ve finished, and a few that are in progress, on my Wattpad site. Here’s a link to my ‘Poems from the road’ which I’m slowly adding to: https://my.w.tt/UiNb/qZ6aT4L90H

I’ll shortly be adding the first few chapters of a new short story, all based in Norwich, but a slightly different sort of city to the one we know. I’d welcome any feedback.

 

Hit the road…James

I haven’t been on a decent cycle tour for a while, so decided my September break should be used for a pedal round some parts of the UK I haven’t visited before. I did the coast in 2013, and marvellous it was, but decided to head inland this time.

I set off from Salhouse, my new place of residence (moved earlier this year), through Norwich then down to Bury St. Edmunds. Day 1 took me to Cambridge via a slightly different route to the one I’d normally take. The bit down to Bury was alright, but not keen on the road from there to Newmarket. What was nice was to be on my bike again, letting the miles drift by, taking in Autumn sights, sounds and smells, and feeling work stress vanish surprisingly quickly.

After staying the night at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Cambourne, saying hello to their new chickens, and playing with my niece and nephew, I set my sights on Oxford. I decided to try cycling along the Icknield Way, an ancient trail that runs from somewhere near Thetford all the way to Oxfordshire. It is cyclable, but not really suitable for a touring bike; would be fine for bike packing. After about 20km of hard riding, where my panniers kept dragging on the grass, I swapped it for the road, crossed over the M1 and into the Chilterns, a range of hills my brain had conveniently decided to forget about.

Now I’m fairly fit from cycling to and from work, and longer rides at the weekend, but Norfolk doesn’t have a large number of hills and a fully loaded touring bike weighs quite a lot. I didn’t have to push up any climbs, but there was quite a lot of huffing and puffing, and a bit of swearing. The Chilterns cycle way is a beautiful ride though, and nice to pass through somewhere I haven’t visited before. I stopped at a campsite near High Wycombe for the night, conveniently situated next to a pub, splendid. Incidentally, quite a few of the campsites on this tour, completely by ‘chance’, were situated in close proximity to pubs…a clear sign the gods were smiling on my efforts (apart from Loki who conspires with the sheep).

After a restful night I pedalled off to Oxford, stopping to eat blackberries on the way. It started to rain so I didn’t pause for long in the city, but did find a good pie shop to acquire lunch from. From there it was another pleasant cycle through the countryside, chatting to a few cyclists along the way, and perhaps stopping for a cheeky cider to cool down. My next campsite was near Malborough; forest campsite, cheap, cheerful and quiet, just the job, although there was a psychotic hill to get up just prior to the campsite, on tired legs, that took some doing.

I awoke to a grey and damp day, but with the prospect of Avebury and Stonehenge on the horizon, places I’ve wanted to visit for a while. From Marlborough it’s a reasonably short ride to Avebury, where I stopped to look round the museum, and to pause for thought amongst the stones. There’s a lovely looking pub in the centre of the village, probably close to the centre of the stone circles, but it was a bit early for lunch and besides, wasn’t open yet. I really liked Avebury. There weren’t a lot of people about, the museum was good, and the place had a nice feel to it.

After a good wander about I set my sights on Stonehenge. There I was pedalling along, up and over hills, splashing through puddles, damp but enjoying myself, when I started to pass fields of sheep. Now I’m not saying it was definitely them, but feels a little bit coincidental that as I got near the top of a particularly long climb, where the rain really started in earnest, and the wind picked up, I fell victim to a puncture. I pulled over onto a farmer’s track to fix it, with rain infiltrating my waterproof. A flock of the devils regarded me with suspicion, and not a small amount of malice, from a nearby field.

It took me quite a while to fix that puncture, and there was quite a bit of cursing whilst the sheep continued to watch me, chewing, and occasionally bleating. Travelling Lobster was absolutely no help, you probably won’t be surprised to hear. I have a new back wheel as the old one wore out, and tyres seem particularly tricky to get over the rim; more practice required probably, but hopefully not in the vicinity of sheep.

I plunged down the other side of the pass towards the Salisbury plains and Stonehenge, getting slightly lost due to not looking where I was going and just enjoying freedom from the flock. Thankfully a helpful local pointed me in the right direction, and after a diversion round some closed roads I made it to Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was good to visit, but expensive, and very busy. A warden told me I was there on a quiet day, but there were still bus loads of tourists arriving, being shuttled to the stones, taking a selfie and then getting back on their coach. To be honest the place felt a little dead, which was disappointing, perhaps due to the volume of people and general feeling of disrespect folks had for the ancient monument. I still enjoyed seeing the henge, and taking a turn around the museum to learn a bit more about what they’d found here, and the speculations on how it was built; personally I think it’s obvious that druids flew the stones here, as per Terry Pratchett. I noticed a small number of tents and caravans on some land next to Stonehenge, and wonder if they are there all year, perhaps travellers and pagans wanting to be close to an ancient nexus of power, who knows?

I rode the short distance from Stonehenge to the campsite near Berwick St. James, ideally located for anyone wanting to visit the area, and cheap if you’re on a bike. Whilst there I bumped into a fellow cycle tourer, Carl, on his way down to Cornwall to visit family. It was his first cycle tour in about 10 years, and he was loving it. Unfortunately he had the headwind the next day, which I managed, for once, to avoid.

From Stonehenge I pedalled to the New Forest, passing through Salisbury on the way. I spent the day cycling around the forest, stopping for a double Cornish pasty break Lyndhurst. I spoke to a couple of locals who confirmed the village is always that busy; an endless stream of traffic flowing into and out of it, as ‘they’ refused to let a bypass be built in the seventies. I love the New Forest, despite the fact it’s a bit crowded, even in September. The gently rolling landscape, trees, heathland and wildlife are to be savoured.

After watching a convoy of horse and traps pass me on the road, making there way from some kind of event, I stopped for the night in Ashurst, possibly my favourite campsite of the tour; the staff were really friendly, the campsite beautiful with animals mixed in amongst the tents, and there was a pub next door! I had an interesting conversation with a 70 year old Australian lady about tents. She was travelling round the UK and was admiring my Hilleberg Akto, thinking it would be good for her next adventure; you’re never too old!!

After a restful night, post thunderstorm, I had a early start to try and make it down the coast to my parents house near Hastings. I wasn’t sure I’d make it, and had a back up plan to stop in Brighton, but was hopeful a strong tailwind would help me on my way.

I took the ferry from Hythe to Southampton, then rode round the back of Portsmouth and along the coast following a different route to that which I took in 2013, when I used a few more ferries and island hopped. The weather got steadily worse as I pedalled, with the wind building and rain getting harder. I did however pass several cycle tourers going in the other direction, who were having a much harder time of it; at least I was getting mostly blown in the right direction.

That was a tough ride, in-spite of the tailwind. Even for me it got a bit sketchy at times, especially when I got blown into the verge and had to perform a rapid and not particularly elegant dismount. One can forget just how powerful the wind can be! After around 107 miles, the longest leg of the tour, I made it to my parents house and shelter from the storm, which was really quite brutal by that point; very wet, very windy, kinda exciting.

I had the next day off, drying stuff, catching up with Dad, and meeting my friend Ian for lunch. Mum had travelled up to Cambridge to help look after my niece and nephew, but I hoped to rendezvous with her on my way back to Norwich.

Feeling rested and well fed I set off back North, through East Sussex and into Kent. East Sussex really is quite hilly, but lovely countryside and lots of familiar sights from my childhood. I made my way to Gravesend to get the ferry over the Thames; a passenger ferry you can take your bike on, much easier than going through London. Landing in Essex I rode to Kelvedon Hatch, the site site of a ‘secret’ nuclear bunker, with a campsite nearby which was most welcome after the busy roads and increasingly bad weather. It was another stormy night, with my tent getting somewhat battered, but the Hilleberg Akto is practically indestructible, despite the holes in the groundsheet caused by the voles (varmints) in Sweden, and once again did me proud.

From Kelvedon Hatch I rode back up to Cambridge and Cambourne, overnighting with family again and meeting up with Mum, before the final leg back to Norwich the next day. The weather was again a bit inclement, whatever that means, but the sun did come out as I pedalled through Thetford Forest. The dry spell was short lived, forcing me to take shelter under the bandstand, which isn’t a bandstand but I can’t remember what it’s called, in Wymondham; luckily there’s a baker nearby which helped pass the time.

I arrived back in Salhouse after pedalling around 600 miles, losing a few pounds, and generally feeling a lot more relaxed. Link to the map of my route:

https://www.strava.com/athletes/11810278/heatmaps/7ef5dc22#8/51.90967/-0.18951

To close here are a few pictures from the last couple of week’s in Norfolk, where Autumn has really taken hold. Autumn is my favourite season, and Norfolk looks beautiful.

Norwich beer fest soon!