2019 in Review

Burnham Quay in December 2019

Six months ago, between Good Friday and the end of May, I walked a Camino de Santiago, from the French border at Hendaye/Irun to the end of the world at Cabo Fisterra, 1,101.25km (684 miles in old money) and raised about £2k for Alzheimer’s Disease research. That must be my achievement of the year, though it seems an age ago now. I was exhausted at the end with weak ankles and a tendonitis injury but probably the fittest and leanest I had been in years.

Cabo Fisterra

The tendonitis injury proved worse than I thought and it’s only now at the end of the year that it feels like it’s taken a turn for the better. In the first few weeks after getting back I was determined to carry on as normal and probably set my recovery back. Not least when Claire and I went to Avebury in August and walked 20 odd miles along the Ridgeway to Uffington. Traversing a magical landscape on accursed legs.

Silbury Hill from West Kennet Long Barrow

Our glorious 20-year-old cat Chewbacca died this year. We had a few more weeks with her when I got back from Spain, but she’s left a big space in our lives these last months.

Chewie sleeping

In July, Claire and I collaborated artistically on a public art project for Maldon District Council that offered an opportunity for a bioregional intervention. We decorated the letter ‘O’ for the Crouch Valley Festival of Food and Drink, a celebration of food and drink from local producers.

Also in July, Claire led a scything weekend which I did my best to support – but she’s the expert!

Sharpening the blades in Magdalen Laver

In September, Claire was demonstrating the scythe again on Apple Day at Southminster Orchard. Poor weather depressed attendance but it was great to have something happening so locally.

I did Inktober for the first time, following the ‘official’ prompts, which engaged some long underused artistic muscles.

My #Inktober on Instagram

My under-resourced good intentions to follow up with NaNoWriMo came to ought though and my writing has been generally neglected this year. There’s been some action on the Dengie Bioregion blog, but I’m not sure how sustainable (for me) having siloed outlets for expression is. I need to aggregate it all somewhere – and maybe that’s here – this is an experiment for 2020 and we’ll see. I think I must have given up on Medium and I need to make sure I’ve migrated anything useful off that platform. On Facebook I’ve been curating a page: Managed Retreat and a group Confederation of Soviets of the Atlantic Archipelago (CSAA) both of which I have used, at least in part, as an aggregator of ideas that might form the basis of a future publication – Managed Retreat Issue 2? Similarly, microblogging on Twitter has provided a procrastination-busting outlet for expressing ideas that otherwise might not have made it into words at all, but it must be a means not an ends if it’s going to have a continuing meaningful role in my creative ecosystem. Right now I’m trying to herd a mass of feral ideas on permaculture and work that I let rut around in the mud in a workshop at this years UK Permaculture Convergence into the tight pen of the word limit of an article for Permaculture Works (the UK Permaculture Association members’ magazine). Other longer-term writing projects which have hung around incomplete for too many years, like the Robert Hart biography, are now crushing open-loops and massive psychic drains that I should really definitively agree I am not working on right-now, if not disown completely, for my own sanity/creative potential.

Slide 1 from my Convergence Workshop

I’ve tried a couple of podcast episodes for Spiralseed Radio with a more minimal tech set-up than I used for the shows I did on C21st Permaculture but the results have been bad sound-wise. I’m still deliberating on how/whether I’ll do more in this format next year.

This was the year that I decided to join a political party, my previous anarchist disavowals of such an action set aside on the basis that the environmental crisis requires all levers to be pulled. I joined the Green Party, for who I’ve frequently voted, just in time for the Labour Party to express their greatest commitment ever towards confronting the environmental crisis with their Green New Deal proposals. In my Constituency a vote for either party is always more a statement of belief rather than an action towards placing a candidate in Parliament. In 2017 it was the 6th safest seat in the UK and this year the sitting Tory increased his majority. So the result was unsurprising, while still depressing. If Labour can maintain their radical agenda under their next leader I’d be prepared to lend them my vote in future, but it’s essential that these commitments are demonstrated in their actions where the Party already holds power” in Councils and Mayoralties. Too often, as with the Silvertown Tunnel, the Norwich bypass, airport expansion or the proposed new coal mine in Cumbria, elected Labour officials are huddling on the wrong side of history. So, for now at least, I’m sticking with the Greens, working within my local branch and trying to get clear commitments and actions where I live. Under a different electoral system we’d clearly have more collaborative action nationally, I hope we can still have it locally under this shitty FPTP one.

Oxford Circus the day before my Camino

I’v taught on two Permaculture Design Course’s this year, co-teaching on the regular Spiralseed one at Furtherfield in Finsbury Park and guesting on the current course at OrganicLea‘s Hawkwood site in Chingford. There’s another one starting in the Spring at Furtherfield, so hopefully we’ll be inspiring a bunch more activism in London and beyond.

Fermented Foods practical in the Woodland Classroom at Hawkwood
Designing for Health: Exposome Model

The supplementary income from teaching has been extra welcome this year. My full-time day-job is covered by public-sector pay restraint and the decadal failure of my salary to keep up with inflation is really biting now. Especially as my main fixed cost is commuting into London which has been increasing in cost at about 3 times the rate of my COLA. I just went through the annual depressothon of applying for an annual season ticket loan from work, to be taken back out of my paycheck every month. In 2020 my annual season ticket has tipped over £5800, making £6K in 2021 a realistic prediction. My gross pay is a bit over £27k and this is coming out the net pay, so it really fucking hurts. I only go in 3 days a week for 47 weeks now, but the annual ticket still works out cheaper than buying Day Returns on the days I do go in, which absolutely sucks. Various Govts have talked about part-time season tickets/flexible ticketing for flexible workers for years now but we’re still stuck in this OOD model. Maybe the Williams Review will suggest a different approach, but I’ll be dead before it happens at this rate.

Other income to our household has been increasingly precarious these last two years and a Labour Government would have a real difference to us. Who knows where we’ll be after another 5-10 years of this neo-liberal pleonexic bullshit that the electorate have chosen. While the peak-oil meme is now long discarded, I increasingly whisper to myself the old doomer standby: ‘this is what collapse looks like’.

My favourite book this year has been Patti Smith’s Year of the Monkey, favourite TV was Jeremy Deller’s Everybody In The Place – An Incomplete History of Britain 1984 -1992, favourite film was either Booksmart or The Last Black Man in San Francisco. But maybe that’s all expressed preference, revealed preference might tell a different story. Spotify spills the beans on my listening habits here, but can’t capture the long tail that also weaves though YouTube, Bandcamp and music blogs. I don’t even recognise the names of some of those tracks, that’s modern listening I guess.

Back at my parent’s home for Christmas I cranked up my stereo and played music through real speakers. In my own home, pretty much all media has been consumed through a 15″ laptop screen, and its built-in speakers, for several years now. It was kind of depressing how good everything sounded like played off a CD through an amp, making me reflect on how diminished my listening experience is now compared to when I was a teenager (or when I could afford somewhere large enough for my stereo and my physical music collection). I also reviewed shelves of books that have been marooned at my parents between my own house moves and I reacquainted myself with my Richard Brautigan paperbacks. Each one of them was the product of hours haunting every secondhand bookshop I could find in the hunting/gathering years that preceded internet booksellers. These days fiction books scare me and poetry throws daggers, I think part of my imaginative faculties may be fucked.

I think that the only gig I went to this year was Earth at Earth. It was great, and we stayed over in London so we didn’t have to carry the tension of making trains and expensive taxis.

2020 is two days away and I’m wary of both predictions and resolutions. There’s a change of leadership at work and a possible restructure. My Mum’s health is declining. My cholesterol’s too high and so is my blood pressure, I’ve quantified myself but not qualified it. Money looks tight. I’m yearning to travel but maybe that’s a displaced desire for some need I’m not meeting here and now. The sun is moving again, the days are getting lighter, I’m looking ahead to Spring and walking into the fields and the woods.

Scenes from the road

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