Transition, for most of us, is based on a nightmare we are honour bound to suppress. It’s the “fist in the face” that a young friend of mine says leads her generation to their panic-driven hedonism. On this lonely edge, so much older and unwise, my only answer is to dream.
My dream is a field and it’s not just my dream, it’s a dream I share with a friend of mine, Joy Ahmed. It’s a flat, featureless field about 5 acres in size, at the bottom of a small valley, bounded by steep pasture land and two school playing fields. Partly hedged, partly fenced, no water. Nothing much to look at. The saga of getting to own it was a long one and fuelled by smaller dreams we might have given up and gone elsewhere, or stayed tucked up in safer pursuits of a Transition type.
But in this anniversary year of one of the greatest dreamers of the twentieth century, it seems right to pursue a little bit of what looks impossible. Marin Luther King Jr had a dream which has shaped all our lives – for those of us who can remember the context of open racial hatred and ingrained prejudice out of which he spoke, in which we lived, the change to our present context is stunning. We have to aspire to the same amazing alteration in attitudes to our planet, to the same kind of dreaming. T S Eliot called it:
A condition of complete simplicity
And reminded us, in immediate parenthesis:
(Costing not less than everything)
Joy dreams in action. Every week she will get herself and her Veggie Volunteers, an informal list of friends, Transition and sort of Transition; off on a little trek to an organic farm to help the business in whatever of the season needs doing. She dreams more organic veg in Lancaster so this weekend we have the Allotment Surplus stall in the market. I hassle people off my allotment for beans and tomatoes and make jam while she organises gazebo collectors and publicity, as well as transforming mountains of veg into chutney. On Sunday she will be up at the field with her “gang” digging.
I dream in pictures, little films that someone, sometime will make. So the sun is shining and there’s a group of young men walking down the lane from the estate to the field, dressed in work jeans, joshing each other, smoking a last cigarette. They shout hello as they come through the gate and go to haul out boots from the storage container on the hard standing. Independent – they know what they are doing, heading off down a grass path with barrow and forks. There are a good few bikes under the makeshift cover and a minibus on the gravel. I know Joy is in one of the big polytunnels with the minibus people collecting a crop, in another one our partner LESS is running a course on propagating perennial vegetables, while way over the other side a group of school children with clipboards are grouping and dispersing around their patch, collecting things, discussing them, occasionally calling over a teacher to help. I can hear their easy chatter and laughter and know they won’t want to go to next lesson.
So there’s the dream: local food security, good food, education, access and employment, community … and we are the dreamers. What we have is a field – not quite bare, now sown with a green manure crop to keep down the weeds. We have a name – Claver Hill. We couldn’t agree on what to call us so my witty Glaswegian partner nick named the two of us on our patch “The Ladies Muck of Claver Hill.” It stuck. Apart from that we have: a charity commission application (unfinished), a planning application (unfinished), a web site (not up yet), a Facebook page – Claver Hill (please like us!), a bank account and a domain name. At the moment my job seems to be filling in bits of paper, understanding difficult documents, chasing insurance, writing risk assessments with the occasional practical foray into buying locks and chains for the gates or knocking on all the doors in the nearest road to talk to residents. And that can be a long drawn out matter when you are their local councillor too! It’s not very dreamy – it’s not even very interesting much of the time and it involves asking a lot of favours. We are out of our comfort zone on the edge and there are not so many friendly Transition people in this new world.
In the Transition Companion, it says:
What is needed now is a ‘Transition Enabling Act’ – a piece of radical legislation designed to urgently accelerate the localisation, decarbonisation and resilience-building process
I cannot but agree wholeheartedly but from my limited perspective of getting into the local democracy in Lancaster, the chances of radical legislation seem ever further removed from everyday reality. If we are to create the huge Transition dream, the equivalent of Martin Luther’s, then I believe we have to be our own”Transition Enabling” act. It’s all those acts that "doing of (edgy)stuff" taken together will change the world and create a dream for the future, rather than a nightmare.
So, wish us luck and here’s to everyone out on the edge. Sometime, maybe not in ours
… all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
T S Eliot quoting Dame Julian of Norwich