Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Path to Odin's Lake - ebook offer



I am happy to report that my new book The Path to Odin's Lake is now available on Amazon as an ebook for Kindles, as well as in paperback format. For both of them I have created a second edition, having ironed out the remaining bugs in the formatting and text - so this is the version I am most proud of. Furthermore, my book will be featured in the Dark Mountain Project this summer, and several other publications have expressed an interest in reviewing it.

So, to celebrate this I'm dropping the price of the ebook until the end of May. For only $4.99 or  £3.99 you can get instant access and be reading it in moments.

Download a Kindle version from Amazon.com here

Download a Kindle version from Amazon.co.uk here

Download Kindle and other popular ebook formats here from Smashwords

(Author's note: if you would like to help me out and it doesn't cause you any extra pain, the royalties I get from Smashwords are x4 what Amazon gives)

It has taken me nine months to write The Path to Odin's Lake and, as such, I have found the hardest thing to write being a description of what to expect from the book. Usually I describe it as a 'Peak oil, spiritual travelogue' in the same vein as, say, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or The Rings of Saturn. Luckily for me some early readers have left reviews and five-star recommendations on Amazon, and I think the first one below sums up best for me how I would put it:

 Great book, strongly recommended 
By Mark Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved this book. There seem to be three stories woven into one: Heppenstall’s account of a late-summer backpacking trip through Scandanavia; his immersion back into nature and the surprises and synchronicities that arose along the way; and a wider meditation on the great challenges of our age and how we can respond to them as individuals. The main challenges the author sees are climate change, the increasing stresses and strains in the global economy, our addiction to gadgets and consumerism and our unrealistic expectations for never-ending economic growth on a finite planet. Serious stuff, and for those with ears to hear the book will grab the attention.

But instead of another doomer diatribe, or bunch of earnest policy proposals and to-do lists, the author gently points us back to a simple truth: we don’t really need to save the earth, since the earth will save itself (although it will take a bit of time for nature to clear up some of our messes). What we need to do is save ourselves from the consequences of our, often unconscious, behavior on this planet. And the best paths along which we can stumble towards some sort of salvation are those that take us back into a much closer relationship with nature.

For those who are aware of these great challenges, the book offers inspiration, humor and encouragement. For those who are new to them, the book offers an accessible and uplifting introduction to some heavy topics. Heppenstall also shares some of his own experiences as one who has clearly been walking this walk in his own life. And underneath it all is great travelogue.

Here's another one:

 Jason Heppenstall goes camping in the rain and contemplates the rebirth of his soul 
By nativewater Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The narrative portion of this book might be subtitled Jason Heppenstall goes camping in the rain. But the account of his camping trip is not all you get. The author took along two books of philosophy in his backpack, Marcus Aurelius's Meditation and Bill Plotkin's Soulcraft and quotes them widely throughout the book to give a philosophic foundation to his camping trip. Camping is not merely camping, but also a way to recover your soul which has been shriveled by too much civilization. The third part of the book consists of musings by the author on the fate of industrial civilization which he believes to be entering into decline and what our response to this decline should be. For people who have not read blogs of writers like Jim Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, and John Michael Greer, this might be as good an introduction to the notion that our civilization is in decline as any. Though not the main focus of the book, the question of how to live in the face of industrial civilization's decline is central to the author's thesis that what needs fixing is not the earth but our own souls to allow the natural world to heal. I think I got that right.
Being familiar with 22billionenergyslaves.blogspot.com the author's blog on matters related to industrial civilization's decline, the philosophical parts of the book were not as interesting to me as his account of his solo camping trip to National Park in Sweden which had Odin's lake at its center. Having done a considerable amount of solo camping in North America, some of it in the rain, I was of course curious how the author fared at the same sort of adventure in Sweden. The author's campsite offered a communal kitchen, coffee, showers and a sauna, probably necessities in a place with much rain. How very sensible of the Swedes. I imagine that if you didn't offer some shelter in a place that gets a lot of rain you wouldn't have a whole lot of people using the campgrounds. Tents after all do tend to leak if rained on long enough and it doesn't take more than a day of that to send you packing.
So buy the book. If you never heard of global warming before or peak oil or the concept that all civilizations have an ascending and a descending phase and that we might be in the descending phase of our own civilization and that that might not be such a bad thing, given that industrial civilization inadvertently seemed to be ruining the planet we live on in order to make our extravagant lifestyle possible while at the same time killing our souls this book might be an eye opener. If you already heard of all this stuff, and reading the author's version might sound like preaching to the choir, then perhaps you can just shout out Amen and stuff ten dollars into the donation box. Or maybe you might just want to find out what camping in Sweden is like.

And another:

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

This book is enjoyable. For me, the several layers present will make it worth reading more than once and the early signs are that it will become something of a way marker.

***

So, if you want to find out what it was they found so enjoyable and noteworthy then take up my offer and download your copy. If you don't like ebooks (and many don't!) then you can order a paperback version by clicking on the icon in the top right side of this screen.

Thank you for reading - here ends this commercial message ;-)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Vote for the POP

Lloyds of London after its refit following a POP victory

I normally avoid talking about politics, but seeing as there is an election here in two days and everyone else is talking about nothing else, well ...

All indications are that there won't be an overall winner after voting takes place on May 7th. The Conservatives seem to have managed to convince voters that the jerry-rigged GDP figures are real and that an economic recovery is underway (it is, if you're in the top echelons) and are hammering home the message that Labour would ruin everything if they got into power. The Labour Party are being forced to dance to the same tune, having sold themselves out under Blair and Brown, and are a sad caricature what they once stood for i.e. a fair deal for the working classes.

In the middle we have the probable king-makers the Liberal Democrats - who are also a sad parody of what they once stood for - making all three main parties more or less the same in their untrammelled pursuit of economic growth, jobs, opportunities yadda yadda yadda.

Then we have the other potential king-makers the Scottish National Party, who are not just popular in Scotland but also south of the border. Now that the penny has dropped that they were suckered by Westminster during the recent referendum to quit the UK, most Scots have dropped the Labour party quicker than a flaming caber.

Next up is UKIP - the United Kingdom Independence Party - lead by the charismatic rogue Nigel Farage - the mere mention of whose name can have most liberals frothing at the mouth and screaming 'fascist'. UKIP seem to be getting a lot of support from the disenfranchised who have been manipulated by the right wing media into thinking that waves of immigrants are bleeding the country dry. UKIPpers tend to be ruddy faced, beer-loving folks who 'aren't afraid to speak the truth'.

And finally, traditionally in last place (if mentioned at all), is the Green Party. In a blind survey of policies people picked the Green's policies as being best. If the election was decided purely on policy then the Green's would win it. Alas, we have an unfair system, which means they will only get a seat or two in parliament, even if they do get up to 10% of the vote. I've always voted Green - I even have an election poster up in my window (along with lots of other Green posters in the centre of Penzance where I live) - as all the other parties have psychopathic policies, in my humble opinion. For some reason I was picked to attend a lunch with the leader Natalie Bennett, a couple of months back. I can report that she is entirely unlike most other politicians, and actually seems to have her head screwed on.

Still, the Greens are probably only enjoying their modest current success because they have become by default the only left wing party there is. They have many good policies, but it's somewhat dismaying to see them pledge to build half a million new houses in a country that's already way over-built. Last week, I noticed, Natalie Bennett put a link on social media to an article pointing out that up to a fifth of all species on Earth faces imminent extinction. She immediately faced angry and hostile comments from Green supporters telling her to 'get a grip' and 'talk about real issues such as jobs'. So it goes, a paler shade of green.

At least they are the only party that has mentioned environmental issues in this election.

Incidentally, the local Liberal Democrat MP rang my doorbell last week and harangued me for displaying said Green Party poster. "They're all hypocrites who take skiing holidays in Canada," was what he said. He went on to portray himself as a true guardian of all that is green and good. "Why," I asked him "did he vote in favour of fracking in the House of Commons?" He was a bit stumped by this but hastily explained that fracking is "kind of like geothermal" which somehow makes it 'green'.

So, the bottom line is that there probably won't be an overall winner as such. Coalition horse trading will probably go on for a while. The bottom bottom line is that we are entering into a period of political paralysis symptomatic of the peaking of energy supplies and the ongoing deflation of the (real) economy. Cheap oil gave everyone a few decades to be happy. Elaborate political structures could be created and everyone seemed to get their share of the cake. Sure, there was a bit of moaning about this or that government or party, but generally everyone got to chow down on the benefits of a techno consumer economy awash in credit and fiat money.

But that model is now broken. Anyone with any wealth in this country now knows that the only way they can hold onto it is by throwing those less well off under the bus. That's why, when I drive around some of the nearby villages here, all the tacky and ugly houses have Conservative placards stuck in the lawns next to their fake Chinese lions. These people see a massive and bloated welfare state (in Cornwall, the second poorest region in western Europe, four out of five families are on benefits) that needs to be cut back down to size. They see the cash-sucking National Health System as a threat that needs to be neutralised and they want the 'scroungers' to be taught a lesson and forced to work.

On the other team, Labour supporters want a continuation of welfare provision - even if, confusingly, their party also seems intent on austerity policies and clamping down on immigration.

So, we have gridlock. We'll be the new Greece before too long. Won't that be fun? To that end I've decided to form my own political party - the Peak Oil Party (tongue firmly in cheek).

The POP's slogan will be:

'Vote for us for a slightly less worse future than the others will give you'.

Its main policies include:

- All remaining North Sea oil reserves will be dedicated to building a national renewable energy sector
- Car journeys to be rationed to one day a week per driver
- All chemical pesticides and herbicides to be phased out over a ten year period
- All immigration controls will be lifted - people will be free to come or leave as they please (many will choose to leave)
- All able-bodied unemployed people to be recruited to a Land Army or face starvation
- All people working in the finance industry to be recruited to the Land Army. The City of London to be converted into a large-scale vertical agriculture experimentation zone
- All workers will be given two minutes to describe their job to selected panels of six-year-olds. If, after that, a majority on the panel do not understand the function of your job it will be liquidated and you will be placed in the Land Army. Bribery with sweets/toys will be punishable by permanent job allocation of Gong Farmer
- Defence budget to be cut by 90%, including a phase out of nuclear weapons
- All gold bullion held by the Bank of England to be sold to China or swapped for solar panels and bicycles
- The Royal Family and all their possessions to be sold to America or exchanged for cattle feed and LNG
- All corporate farms, grouse shooting moors, golf courses and stately homes to be nationalised with 50% given over to intensive organic agriculture and 50% allowed to revert back to wilderness
- All airports to be shut down after the last corporate jet has fled the country
- Everyone who successfully completes three years in the Land Army having amassed a variety of agricultural skills to be freely given an acre of arable land, a bicycle, a cow and a sum of money with which to build a dwelling of their own design
- After a stabilisation period of ten years all forms of national politics to be liquidated. Great Britain to be renamed The Britlands and broken up into small autonomous bio-regions not worth invading

Who knows, if I can raise a deposit in the next two days POP might be in with a chance. On the other hand ...





Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Looking for Some Answers



To buy the book that this post details, please click on one of the links on the right.

A few months back John Michael Greer, over at the Archdruid Report, wrote an essay about how we might begin to tackle the huge mental and emotional burden of dealing with collapse. It was noted that, for the most part, the majority of people simply don't want to think about or discuss the way in which we humans are accelerating towards an ecological brick wall and would instead prefer to either lose themselves in fantasy worlds of their own or others' making. Thus, many people like to lose themselves in video games, TV series and dreams of cornucopian splendour where we will all shortly be living the good life, just as British PM David Cameron announced yesterday (if we vote for him). Surrounding yourself with people who think just like you do and only exposing yourself to information sources that bolster your hoped-for belief that 'things are going okay' and 'the experts are in charge' adds some comforting texture to this fantasy.

Since I stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was about 13 I've not been particularly interested in fantasy worlds. For me, reality is where it's at. But reality sometimes hurts, and so when reality does actually bite, there are two ways of dealing with it. The first is to anaesthetise yourself so that it doesn't hurt as much - either by way of the above-mentioned mental escape avenues, or by literally anaesthetising your brain and nervous system with alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately for society as a whole, most people end up choosing the latter option, and we see spiralling problems of addiction, domestic violence, depression and many other ills as a result.

There is, however, another way of dealing with the unpleasant feeling that things are getting worse, and this involves engaging with the problem at root. It's the least popular approach, and you won't make many friends in doing so, but at least it is an honest attempt at grappling with the mighty mess we have got ourselves into. Let's remind ourselves of some dimensions of that mess:

- A peak in conventional oil production that's now about nine years in the rearview mirror and retreating fast
- Growing climate instability that threatens to wipe out our coastal cities, kill off all vertebrate life, or somewhere between these two poles depending on who you believe
- Rampant corporatism and consumerism threatening to undermine whole societies and render the concept of being human as outdated
- A steadily loudening drumbeat for war being banged out by senile elites who need the ensuing chaos to earn their money and keep their power, and a ventriloquist's dummy of a press which simply parrots whatever propaganda is put on its lips
- Half of all vertebrate wildlife wiped out by humans in the last four decades
- Ecological catastrophe wherever you look, including oceans filled with plastic, rainforest destruction, fisheries collapse, ocean acidification, genetic pollution, mass die offs, mega droughts etc.

So, simply trying to ignore these problems and hoping they go away isn't going to achieve much. But then there's also a danger of NOT ignoring these problems - of focusing on them too much. The advent of social media has meant that everyone gets to see a stream of information that interests them the most, creating positive feedback loops. Thus, for some people it's amusing videos of kittens and gold/blue dresses that fill their screens and heads (with the distinction between the two becoming ever more blurred) while for others it's an endless stream of news about catastrophes, corruption, abuse, violence and despair. I'm guessing that most people reading this would identify themselves somewhat with the latter category - myself included. This kind of focus can eventually lead to a kind of soul rot. "Everything's ruined!" you might say. "So why bother?" might be your next statement.

This is a paradox, because if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by gloomy feelings and thoughts then our ability to react in a meaningful way is impaired, thus reinforcing the problems that are depressing us. How are we to think and act? It's all very well for preppers and others contemplating collapse - be it sudden or slow - to fill their cupboards with canned food, live in a bunker in the woods and learn how to garrotte intruders with their shoelaces - but what effect does this have on the mind and soul? You might live to be 100, but if the last 50 years of your life are spent living in a state of perpetual fear and anguish then what's the point?

At the other end of the scale I've heard anecdotes and seen some evidence that those people who find themselves sliding out of the rear end of the industrial system and ending up permanently unemployed are generally not, as it might be hoped, planting up gardens and getting backyard chickens in an effort to better their lot. Instead they are buying increasingly large television screens to sit in front of as they slowly drink themselves into oblivion each day with the aid of a ready supply of Carlsberg's Special Brew and/or crystal meth made in their friends' garden shed.

To me at least, neither of the above options seems like a decent way to end ones days.

And so that's why last summer I set off on a journey in an attempt to find out some kind of answer to this conundrum. I myself was feeling tired and low from contemplating too much and not really having any way of addressing the innate despair that can sometimes feel like Chinese water torture. I was lucky in that a relative paid for me to fly over to Scandinavia on an errand, giving me a couple of weeks on my own to conduct my experiment.

The rules were simple:

1. I would set off from a point of 'civilisation' (in this case Copenhagen) and head towards a point of 'uncivilisation' in the non-human world.

2. I would live the life of a hobo as much as possible, sleeping in ditches and forests and on pieces of 'waste land'

3. I would not expose myself to any media from the human world in the form of iPhones, music, television, newspapers etc. All I allowed myself were two books, written by wise people

4. I would open up all of my senses to whatever I could perceive, even if it was uncomfortable or frightening

At the forefront of my mind during this experiment was Einstein's meaningful quote:

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." 

That, to me, seems like the real challenge of our age, and I'm not even sure we have the ability to change our thinking. Are we really to be trusted with coming up with new ways of thinking? Past evidence would seem to suggest that we are all too easily corrupted, although in this case our lives depend on it. What if we were offered new ways of thinking by something other than humans? I wanted to find out.

Also in my mind was the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi's observation that nothing will ever change for the better unless we throw away our reputations and seek the truth (whatever that might be). To be fair, I've already thrown away what little respectable reputation I might once have possessed during my former careers working in the energy industry and being a newspaper editor. Nevertheless, I vowed to:

“Run from what's comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I'll be mad.”

And perhaps I was going mad. That's certainly what it felt like at times on my journey. For a start I got into trouble with the authorities in Denmark. I was thrown out of a shopping mall for looking like a non-conformist and I was accosted by a park ranger for camping illegally (who, bizarrely, insisted I needed to download a smartphone app to camp in the forest). When I made it over to Sweden I walked mile after mile in torrential rain as my journey coincided with some of the wettest weather in living memory, with areas f Sweden being hit by flooding, and ended up camping in a national park. 

The first of the two books I brought with me was Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. This Roman emperor had little time for pomp and circumstance and instead spent his days pondering what it meant to be alive. His musings, written down, are considered to be one of the core texts of the philosophical school of Stoicism (albeit a later one). I thought that he might have something to teach we who are alive today about how to deal with decline and death. I wasn't wrong. Because being a Stoic doesn't mean gritting your teeth and hanging on for dear life, it means dealing constructively with the certainty that we will all one day die - and living a full and meaningful life because of it.

The second of my 'guides' on this journey was the American author Bill Plotkin (still very much alive). I brought along a copy of his book Soulcraft, which had been recommended to me by a reader of this blog (hat tip to you - sorry, I forgot who it was). I more or less threw this book in my backpack as an afterthought, and yet it was Bill Plotkin's book that furnished most of the experiential aspects of my journey. With all his talk of initiations, vision quests and delving into the darkness I was able to experience a number of profound happenings.

Odd things began to happen to me. And when I say odd, I mean very odd. A series of startling coincidences had me thinking that fate was directing my journey. After a while it seemed as if everything was conspiring to pull me in the direction of a certain lake - known locally as Odin's Lake - in the forest, where it is said that magical things could happen. Let's not forget that the norse god Odin was seen as the god of wisdom, and he sacrificed one of his eyes to attain this.

I should, right here, say that I'm not a religious person. Not in the sense of going to church or believing in God or things like that. But the deeper I got into my journey the more it felt like I was being pulled into a vortex of strange and other-wordly forces that seemed to want to communicate with me. And communicate with me they did. I ended up doing some things which can't even be talked about in polite society (call the nurse!). Which is why I wrote it all down and made it into the book which you can see on the right side bar of this page. 

As for answers to our predicament, well, nothing came to me in a blinding flash of light. Sorry. But that's beside the point. The point is that the universe is a stunningly complex thing, and we are part of it. None of us created it - it created us and we are a part of it - and we shouldn't feel responsible for it. To waste our allotted time wringing our hands and thinking we can 'fix' things is, in one sense, a waste of time. We can certainly alter what is around us in our immediate sphere of influence, and we can be relaxed in knowing that we are doing what we can with what is available. We can 'upload' ourselves to this greater project, and rejoin nature as a prodigal species, if we so choose. We can keep loving ourselves and one-another, acting with compassion and being of service to all of our fellow organisms, or we can isolate ourselves and become bitter and drown in a lake of despair. The choice is ours at an individual level. 

No, that doesn't mean climate change isn't going to stop, that the biosphere will miraculously heal itself or that we'll be able to carry on living as consumers forever. It just means we have a choice of how we dance our dance as the phenomena that dictate our physical existences unfold.

Those, more or less, were the insights I had from my experience. There is no neat intellectual closure here and, of course, it's one thing to know this in an information sense, and quite another to know it in a deep way. That's why I would recommend undertaking a similar journey to anyone who wants some deeper meaning to the pulsating and flashing craziness around us which we call 'reality'. We are, after all, on the same path together, and the more of us who grapple with reality rather than isolating themselves ever more deeply in escapism and fantasy, the better our chances are of making it through this mess with some semblance of sanity intact.  










Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Busy as a B Movie



Well, it's been a while since I sat here tapping at the keys and wondering out loud what it's all leading to. My only excuse on this count is that I've been busy with other things. Now, personally, I can't stand it when people tell me that they are always busy. It seems to be the default answer there days to the enquiry "What have you been up to lately?" or even "How are you?". Busyness is a modern curse. If you are 'busy' then you have no time to think about all the choices you need to make to live a saner life. But even more sinister is the fact that for most people there is an implied element of virtue about being busy. It's as if they are saying "Yes, I've been busy like a bee, bringing honey to our collective hive for the advancement of all humankind - what have you been up to you sluggard?"

Or perhaps some people say that they are busy as a cover statement to conceal an inner malaise. If they were more truthful and said "My days have been taken up wasting the precious time given to me performing dull and meaningless tasks for a boss I detest at a company I don't respect just so that I can pay off the interest on the debt I have accrued by the purchase of inflated assets I was made to believe were necessary by a predatory advertising industry and compliant media - and by reflecting on this I am plunged into a state of existential despair."

Perhaps 'busy' is better.

So, anyway, I've been busy - but I don't mean to imply that this is a good thing or that I am more virtuous than the less busy (my long-term goal is to be so non-busy that I do nothing but read, write and garden) - merely that events have conspired to prevent me from leading a more leisurely life of late. By this, I mean that I have been working for money. You know politicians always like to boast about how many jobs they have created? Well, I've got at least five of them. For two days a week I clean holiday homes for the feckless and often spoiled monied classes. This involves changing bedding, washing floors, scrubbing the brown bits from the insides of toilets and making sure the welcome daffodils are artfully arranged. It's not too bad a job and pays above minimum wage, even if the guests sometimes leave notes saying things like "One of the glasses is chipped and I could have cut my lip on it - I shall NEVER book this place again." The properties are nice and have sea views, so I can at least pretend that it is me who is on holiday as I lounge on the sun deck looking out for dolphins and sharks, safe in the knowledge that no guests will arrive within the next few hours.

The second job, which is now over for the year, has involved working as a woodsman's assistant. My friend cuts the trees down and I sned the side branches, sort out the brash into different products (fencing stakes, charcoal wood, bean poles or even arrows). The work is really quite hard and pays very little but the company is good and I get to work in some really stunning locations. I've also learned a lot of useful skills, such as scything, and I'm a dab hand with a billhook now.

My third job is doing occasional writing and translating work that crops up. That includes writing my book, which is now finished BTW, edited and just waiting for me to do one last proof before publishing (next week).

My fourth 'job' is being educated. Yes, in this bizarre Kafkaesque world that we now live in, I am paid money to sit down and learn remedial maths and English, simply because I live in western Europe's second most impoverished area. The course providers get money for teaching me too and the guvmint gets to claim that they are providing training and assistance to those people living in Britain who don't happen to be Russian oligarchs or Saudi princes. Everybody's happy.

Which brings me onto my fifth job, and the reason for this post. Yes, I have made it onto the silver screen and will be appearing in a forthcoming movie. I can't tell you what it is at this point otherwise they'll sling me in irons and make sure I Never Work Again. Alas, I don't have any leading roles, I am merely a prop made of meat - yes, I'm an extra. My 'role', if you can call it that, is that of a thug. I have to wave my fist aggressively at one of Britain's best-loved comedians and shout 'bastard' at him over and over. I think he quite enjoyed it. The pay is quite good considering that 95% of the time you merely have to sit in a truck with other meat props and drink coffee. Meals are also rather good too, though you'd better not get in line in front of any 'talent' (as actors are known) or production staff. Amusingly, we meat props are given styrofoam plates to eat from, while talents get porcelain. It's all very hierarchical, and you'd better not get on the wrong side of the first assistant director.

But being at the absolute bottom of the pecking order has its benefits; for a start it allows one to observe the entire shebang from a relatively uninvested position. The first thing I noted was the sheer size of the production. Ultimately, in my opinion, the film - which is a subversive comedy - will probably go largely unnoticed by the masses when it is released. It will likely be on DVD within a month of it being in the cinemas, and it'll probably get a few stars among reviewers because there are some recognisable actors in it. It's not a big production by any means (most of my fellow meat props were gore fodder in the Brad Pitt zombie apocalypse film World War Z, which was also filmed in Cornwall, and they said that was a BIG production) and there are maybe twenty talents and fifty production bods. Yet for this relatively small production, the amount of energy and resources it gobbles up is truly phenomenal.

I counted about twenty huge trucks, which go from location to location like a ... flock of huge trucks. They get there very early in the morning and set up a kind of miniature town in time for the talents and production bods to roll up and eat their bacon sandwiches. These trucks have various functions. We meat props have one in which to sit and drink coffee and stare at our mobile phones in silence when we're not talking about what other films and TV programmes we've been in. Everyone seems to have been a Doctor Who monster, a Poldark peasant or a bandaged patient in Casualty. Talents get about a third of a truck each for their dressing rooms, and there are several other trucks for shared dressing rooms. Clothes get their own trucks, with at least two giant trucks being simply 'wardrobe'. Another truck is filled with washing machines and dryers that are spinning constantly because if the director, say, asks you to wear a tee shirt for one minute before a make up artist suddenly decides it's the wrong shade of green then it's whipped away, washed, dried, ironed and wrapped in plastic again. There's something depressing about seeing a single lonely scarf spinning in a huge washing machine powered by a caravan-sized diesel generator.

Two further trucks are mobile canteens, and the rest contain the inordinate amount of cameras, computers, lights and props. There is a fleet of minivans to ferry people around from one location to the next (walking is strictly forbidden, even if it's just a couple of hundred yards). Surly security guards stand around looking self-important, and they probably have their own truck too. And then there are the lights. Every scene seems to be lit, even if it's outside under bright sunshine. The lights each consume over 5000 watts and there are a number of gigantic mobile generators hitched to the back of Land Rovers which follow the lights around, as well as the washing machines and the vast collection of high tech paraphernalia. I saw boxes filled with lithium batteries to power small cameras, drones and laptops, with people grabbing and unwrapping them as if they were sweets.

Which all leads me to wonder how these productions will be able to pay for themselves in the future. Where will the cash come from? Where will all the energy come from?

One evening last summer I wandered down to the local park in Penzance - the lovely Penlee Park - and took a seat on a grass lawn with around a hundred other people. We were there to watch a production of Macbeth, performed by a small troupe of travelling actors. The actors, five of them in total, had earlier turned up in a small battered van. A single chest contained their props (a cauldron, a few different outfits, some daggers and a skull) - that was their whole setup. The production was great; intimate enough so that almost no lighting or amplification was required, skilfully and energetically acted and gleefully received. I'm sure that most people in the audience will remember the evening for years to come. At the end the actors bowed to the applause, took off their cloaks and stowed their daggers and then went off to the pub for a pint. The next day they would do the same thing somewhere else.

Which got me thinking about the performing arts and what might be considered 'sustainable' in the long term. It's pretty obvious that the cash and energy guzzling way of making movies these days cannot be sustained indefinitely. Perhaps if we return to a low-tech way of making entertainment on a human scale it will represent a general improvement in our lot. In the meantime, however, I'm happy to just keep working as a meat prop for cash, even if I have to eat the luncheon smoked salmon off a styrofoam plate. Just tell me where to stand.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Delicate Sound of Thunder

What I wrote on Twitter yesterday

This is what I wrote on Twitter yesterday. I never write things on Twitter (well, hardly ever) but I was puzzled as to what was going on. I was sat upstairs at home when a deep and loud throbbing noise became apparent. It got louder and louder for a couple of minutes until the floor and walls began to vibrate. It was cloudy, so I couldn't see what was flying overhead, but a few minutes later, through a gap in the clouds, I could see a large plane moving at quite a high altitude in an easterly direction (not westerly, as I accidentally stated on Twitter).

A few minutes later a couple of RAF jets were buzzing at low altitude around the area, followed by a military helicopter.

So, this may have been a Russian bomber, it turns out. It was almost certainly flying over the mainland when I saw it.

Anyway, no doubt western politicians will use this as a ploy to try and make us all more fearful of Putin. I note that the defence secretary is saying that Russia 'might target' the Baltic states next, and that this was announced just before the news broke of the yesterday's bomber. The propaganda machine is being cranked up for all it is worth. All media outlets are firing on all cylinders with the same stories.

And with the real economy imploding the drums of war beat ever louder. I fear they might get it if they keep on with their games.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Path to Odin's Lake - First Chapter


I've been working at finishing off my book before the sap starts to rise in the trees and the year's coppicing needs doing. It is more or less finished now and I'm just doing some small bits of rewriting, editing and fact-checking, and then it will be ready for proofing, getting an ISBN and publishing. I don't have a publisher, so will probably just publish it as an ebook and then make some printed copies on demand. I'm not entirely sure how long that will take, probably a few weeks. 

In the meantime I'm sharing with you the first chapter. To me this feels like jumping the gun a bit, but there you go. The book is about a journey I took at the end of last summer where I walked from Copenhagen and into Sweden. I ended up in an ancient forest and had a startling experience. Several unusual things happened to me and the book is an exploration of how we can adapt — mentally and spiritually — to the chaos that is now beginning to erupt around us. How does one face the world? was the question I had in mind as I walked. I wanted to get away from modern society and civilisation for a while and explore what other options we might have. I figured there must be some. I self-imposed a strict informational purdah, disconnecting myself from all gadgets apart from a camera, and took along two books of wisdom—one ancient and one modern: the stoic Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, and Bill Plotkins' Soulcraft — two entirely unrelated books that somehow ended up together in my backpack and shaped the narrative as I went along.

In the book I try to break free of the mind prisons of the modern world and find myself being pulled inexorably towards a sacred lake where the Norse god Odin — who gave his eyes for insight — was once worshipped. Hence the book's title The Path to Odin's Lake.

The story almost wrote itself. Perhaps it did. I had been working on a book about peak oil for some time but then the unusual things that are recounted in this story happened and the book seemingly morphed into this. It's not the kind of writing that you will usually encounter on this blog, but it is a story straight from the heart, so I hope you enjoy the first chapter. 

***

Chapter 1. Pathfinding

“It is not the path which is the difficulty. It is the difficulty which is the path.” –Søren Kierkegaard

And so, one Sunday morning in late summer, just as a fire seemed to be taking a hold of the world, I looked down and saw sea creatures. They swam, either individually or in shoals. Some pulsated while others slithered as they moved between the black-slimed outcrops of concrete. Strands of seaweed waved gently in the ocean current and clusters of shellfish — mussels, limpets and clams — crowded the fissures and coated the rigid headless human bodies that littered the seabed like broken plastic starfish. Through these watery ruins there wandered ghosts. Their shadowy figures drifted aimlessly over the sandy sea floor, faces fixed in masks of calm equanimity or perhaps boredom as they moved in pairs or alone, some pushing children in pushchairs while others gazed at small barnacle-encrusted rectangles held at belly-height.

Around me were the sounds of the sea—the cry of gulls on the wind and the slooping roll of the waves as they folded upon the shore. But mingled with these sounds of nature were other sounds; the tinkling of porcelain cups and saucers, and the faint echo of dreamy music which the seaweed seemed to be moving its frondy arms to as if at some concert from another world or another time. I raised the camera and focused it on the scene below, although I knew the lens and the memory chip would not capture it.

“What are you doing?” said a voice. It was male, with a hint of aggression. I shifted my gaze from the scene around me and brought the man into focus. A security guard. He stood at my side and looked at me accusingly.

 “I’m just taking some photographs,” I said, rather obviously. For, although it had crossed my mind that the simple act of capturing reflections of light on a microchip in this vast cathedral might be a tiny bit subversive, it had not stopped me from wandering around and doing so for the last half-hour.

“You’ll have to leave,” he said. “You’re not permitted.” I looked at him. Stocky. He was wearing a sand-coloured uniform with short sleeves that clung tightly to his inky biceps. His face was lined, but not with wisdom or age. A razor sharp line of beard cut down either side of his face and in one ear he wore a communications device which sprouted a spindly microphonic arm that reached towards his mouth like a spidery limb.

“Come with me,” he said.

I walked at his side, fiddling to put the lens cap back on my camera. “I’m sorry, I was just daydreaming,” I said, although this particular daydream had also been a night dream at other times. “I was about to leave.”

“Good,” said the guard. “One of the store managers called us about you.”

It was true. I had been wandering around this shopping mall—said to be the fattest in all of Scandinavia—taking pictures of the effigies. They were arranged behind the plate-glass windows, some with heads but many without, some with black glittery plastic skin, yet others with hard white faces lacking eyes, noses or mouths. In one store half a dozen headless children wore items from the autumn fashion collection as they hung from the ceiling on wires. Snap. There was astroturf in the window of the Body Shop on which a synthetic rabbit held up a sign saying Cruelty Free. Snap. Framed in another a plastic cow grazed on plastic grass beside a sign that ordered Get back to Nature! Snap. This place was like a hallucinatory dream.

“This way,” said my ejector.

As far as I could see the only living organisms in here were the shoppers themselves. Even potted tropical plants were absent. The bacteria and viruses hid behind their microscopic masks, invisible, but present all the same.

I stepped onto the sleek metal escalator which conveyed consumers from the food court on the top level down past the fashion level and onto the ground floor. Down here, in the first circle of the mall, it was mostly shops selling gadgets and computer games. Teenage boys and men clutched shiny polythene bags as they wandered out, their faces rapt and expressionless. Have you bought your Back to School iPad? asked a giant blue cartoon shark. In another window a muscular cardboard marine wearing a death skull mask pointed an automatic weapon at me and said Coming Soon.

“Why are you carrying that?” asked the guard.

“It’s a staff,” I replied. “To help me walk.”

He uttered a disapproving snort. In fact he didn’t seem comfortable with me holding a six-foot piece of wood—perhaps he had watched too many kung fu movies. I told him how I had cut it that morning, that it was a rowan ash sapling and that it would grow back in time.

As we approached the big revolving doors he seemed to ease up a little. In a few moments I would be gone from his realm, vanished from sight and transformed into an SEP (someone else’s problem). “Where are you walking to?”

“Sweden,” I replied. We had reached the large revolving doors—the type that you are not supposed to touch as they move around as it will make them stop, although many people do. “God tur,” he said in Danish, meaning ‘have a good journey’, and ejected me from the sterile cathedral of consumption into the dirty but real dimension of fresh air, trees and unstructured time where plastic cows don’t eat plastic grass and flesh and blood rabbits somehow live with the cruelty of the world.

I hitched my pack higher up on my back and set out on the path that led to the south of the island. The sun shone high in the August sky and glinted off the glass and steel of the newly-sprouted buildings as I trudged along, staff in hand. That morning, early, I had kissed my two daughters goodbye as they lay sleeping, and silently left the house. The suburban streets had been silent and empty as I walked to the metro station. It was only a twenty minute walk away but my rucksack had already seemed too heavy. Had I packed too much? In it was a small tent, some clothes, food to last a few days and two books. There were some cooking and eating utensils, maps and a small blow-up mattress. A sleeping bag dangled free from the back of my pack and I had another small bag strapped to my front with a camera, waterproof clothing, a Swiss army knife and a hand-forged Swedish Gränsfors axe. The axe was there for firewood, and maybe security.

That morning, by the time I had reached the station a sea mist had rolled in, muffling my footsteps and cloaking the flat landscape in an eerie fog. Around a dozen other people were waiting for the futuristic driverless train to turn up. All were plugged into and absorbed by their smartphones—all except one youth who was dressed anarchically as a punk in black leathers and with a spiky dog collar around his throat. He was shouting obscenities at the ether as he took swigs from a bottle of vodka. Everyone ignored him. I thought it unusual to spot a punk in Denmark and I didn’t recall seeing one before. Perhaps it was simply a new fashion. The train arrived and people looked up from their smartphones. We got on it. The punk sat down nearby slumped on a folding seat, growling incoherently. People continued to ignore him, creating an invisible bubble around his presence. We glided smoothly on high rails past the modern symphony hall as it rose up out of the mist and the punk swayed to the rhythm of the train, muttering curses at his boots. The bottle fell from his limp hand and started to roll around on the floor. Presently a pretty young woman went over to him, put an arm around him with sisterly tenderness and whispered something in his ear. This seemed to calm him and he sat there looking at the space between his feet for the rest of the journey. The young woman went back to her seat and I was left wondering what kind of magic she possessed.

We pulled into the underground station at Kongens Nytorv and I ascended the steps into the daylight. This elegant and open square held so many memories for me. They rushed up from within and I had to spend a few minutes simply standing and allowing the feelings that they evoked to run their course. There was Hviids Vinstue, where I had spent so many evenings drinking porter ale with my newspaper buddies, and there was the office we had worked in—the same office where some cartoons had been published which had poured some more petrol on the flames of an indignant world. And there was the old opera house where I had bluffed reviews of things I knew nothing about, the canal district of Nyhavn where I had eaten raw herrings and drunk snaps made from wild berries, the cafe where we would bitch about our office colleagues, the imposing Hotel D’Angleterre where I had shaken hands with the Dalai Lama and felt a charge of energy run up my arm. There were good memories and bad ones, bittersweet ones and sweet bitter ones. I gave myself a minute more and then set off down Strøget, the pedestrian street, as the tolling bells of the Church of the Holy Spirit cast their spell over the city and called its denizens to Sunday prayer.

A quarter of an hour later I was standing in the city hall square before the imposing Rådhus. Literally the ‘advice house’ the Rådhus towered above us mortals below, resplendent in its Italianate grandeur. I paused to orient my mind to the task I was about to undertake. The early fog had lifted, leaving behind a blue sky and crisp clean air as small groups of camera-toting Asian tourists walked past and a woman struggled to set up her mobile hotdog stall. Traffic on the adjacent Hans Christian Andersens Boulevard was light, and the joyfully ebullient facade of Tivoli Gardens reflected the morning sun back at me. It had been some eighteen years since I had first set foot in this square, and ten of those had been spent living not far from it. On my first visit I remembered being hustled into the Rådhus by my excited future father-in-law who said “Look, you must come and see, you are inside!” He was, it turned out, referring to the statue of Jason of Argonaut fame, created by the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen in Denmark’s long-gone golden age. I had laughed at the time, realising how unusual my name sounded in this unusual land.

But today I didn’t feel at all heroic, all I felt was that I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing and why I was about to do it. All journeys must have a starting point and an end point, I had reasoned, and this starting point I had picked was to act as a mental anchor, a physical marker that I could definitively say I had set out from. I shouldered my pack, tightened the straps across my chest and clicked the plastic waist buckle into place. And then I set off.

I walked down the six lane boulevard. Cyclists wobbled lazily past me, some of them looking like they were on their way home from the night before. I had considered walking straight across the Langebro bridge which separates the main part of the city from the island of Amager, but now I chose to veer off to the south, keeping the narrow channel of seawater on my left. Had I not done so I would have been following the route I had taken to work on my bicycle over the years, but instead I chose to take the indirect route that would take me through the city’s red light district and eventually out into an area of wild scrubland on the far side of Islands Brygge (Iceland Quay). As the cyclists streamed past me I felt a pang. In all the time I had lived here I calculated that I had biked the city’s famed cycle lanes to an equivalent distance of pedalling all the way to Australia. In this city a bike was all you needed to get you from door to door for free, whether that door is your front door, an office door or a pub door. Perhaps I should be on two wheels now, I considered. It would certainly be easier than walking.

I carried on down the steps beside the channel and continued to the central train station, emerging out of the other side of its capacious hall into the seedier side of town. Drunks hung around on the steps and I walked up Istegade with its show windows crammed full of dildos and bondage gear. A few dispirited looking Nigerian prostitutes hung around and eyed me languidly. They didn’t approach me, or hiss ‘Good time mistah?’ as they had done sometimes when I was on my way to work wearing smart office clothes and carrying a laptop bag. A past life. I went by the ‘men’s home’ where there was always a posse of ragged-looking men outside drinking Carlsberg Special Brew and standing in a haze of street piss.

Further up Istegade, I took a left and swung past the meat-packing district where the office of the newspaper I had used to work had been relocated after the Mohammed cartoon furore. It had only been later that we discovered the former office had been targeted by truck bombers. I was lucky to be alive. We had relocated to an old slaughterhouse and it was this part of town that planners were desperate to turn into a post-industrial paradise for hipsters and moneyed young service sector workers. I didn’t have any desire to stop and hang around in Vesterbro—its junkies and its trafficked girls made me feel sad. And anyway I didn’t want to bump into anyone I knew as that would involve having to explain myself. Carrying on I walked to the waterfront shopping development at Fisketorv and crossed over the channel of a narrow bridge built for pedestrians and cyclists. On the other side I sat down and rested by the water.

It’s difficult to walk through the centre of Copenhagen and attempt to describe it without sounding like a travel guide. Everything, it seems, is for show and the bits that are not for show are rarely mentioned. Indeed, I had written pieces for in-flight airline magazines with remits such as ‘List ten reasons why Copenhagen is wonderful’. Everyone understood that this was an industry, an industry of creative illusions. But to me Copenhagen was more than its dull ‘wonderfulness’. It was a real place, and not just a city stuffed with PR flacks whose job it was to boost tourism and inward investment. It was here in this city that my two daughters were born, that I worked some of the worst jobs in my life, and also the best. I loved its cycling culture, its clean air and water, its beaches and its restaurants. But it always felt like a place to be passing through, a waiting zone where you dream of living life somewhere that is somehow more authentic.

Once, working as a taxi driver here, a maudlin German woman, stood up by her lover on what was supposed to have been a dirty weekend, asked me to take her to the ‘soul of the city’. I hadn’t a clue where to take her. Maybe there was some kind of soul to be found in the immigrant district of Nørrebro, where random shootings sometimes happened and riots would occasionally kick off, but probably not the kind of soul she had been searching for. If cities had faces, Copenhagen’s would wear a fixed grin. The real Copenhagen I had come to grow fond of was one of immigrants festering in tower blocks in bleak suburbs, gangland killings, dark secrets, and corporate malfeasance just as much as it was happy families at Tivoli Gardens, cutting edge design studios and the Little Mermaid. I had seen it all and yet I had grown tired of it. I had yearned to live in a place that didn’t need a continuous marketing campaign to validate its existence, and so we had said ‘farvel’ to Copenhagen, and to ‘the best city in the world’, and the ‘happiest people on earth’. We had bought a large trailer to put all our stuff in and drove and drove until we could not drive any further without falling into the Atlantic Ocean, and then we had stopped.

I gazed out over the blue water at the tapering brick towers and at the view of this low-rise city founded on a what was a piece of mosquito-infested swampland by a bishop. I hauled my pack up again onto my back and trudged onwards through new apartment developments towards the outer crust of the city. Soon I found myself in the hinterland of Amager Fælled, a large scrubby area of woods and fields criss-crossed with cycle lanes and footpaths. Sunday morning joggers overtook me as I traversed the tarmac surface threading itself between dense ranks of thorny bushes and small trees. Families were out walking with their dogs and their young children. It was like a commercial for life insurance.

I looked out of place in this environment. I confess that I didn’t cut a dapper figure, clad as I was in dirty cutoff jeans and old walking shoes, and with an unkempt beard, sunglasses and a filthy old baseball cap I had purchased from a market in Spain for one euro. To top it off I had a large open gash on my knee from falling off a granite wall in Cornwall a few days before, and this was surrounded by purple bruises and pinkish skin. When I thought about it I could probably have passed for one of the central station heroin addicts. An outcast in this tame wilderness. It was no wonder some of the parents were giving me suspicious glances.

After walking for another twenty minutes I dodged into a clearing between some bushes and put down my pack. What I needed, I thought, was a staff. A staff would not just help me to walk, it would indicate to others that I was a walker, rather than a hobo. I scanned the area and found a rowan ash sapling with a nice straight trunk. From my pack I took out the axe and cut the tree down a few inches from the ground. I apologised to the stump for this violation, but I knew it would grow back the next spring. I then proceeded to sned the side branches with the axe, which was more of a hatchet really, and before long I had a strong walking staff of about six feet.

I emerged from the clearing and carried on walking in an eastern direction. I knew that I would only be walking for an hour or so before I hit the outskirts of the new development of Ørestad. Indeed, I could already see the Field’s shopping mall in the distance, as well as the Daliesque double towers of the Bella Sky, which boasted that it was Scandinavia’s largest hotel. Before long the trees and bushes gave way to cement trucks and concrete bollards, and I was walking the immaculate and sparse streets of Ørestad and ascending the steps to Field’s shopping mall.

Half an hour later I was back on those same steps and the security guard was stood by the revolving door with his arms folded across his chest. I walked away and headed out across an area of wasteland where they were planning to build the new national football stadium. Out front was a large sign detailing the development, but despite there being several vans and trucks visible there didn’t seem to be anyone around. I wandered onto the construction site and sat down to make myself a cup of tea on what I figured would likely be the centre of the pitch. I made a fire from twigs and set my little sauce pan atop the metal stove ring I had brought with me. As the flames crackled and the water started to heat I lay back and looked around. It being late summer the wild plants and flowers had grown exuberantly and were tall enough to shield me from anyone looking. What’s more, they blotted out the various shopping centres, hotels and conference halls that had sprung up over recent years in the area. I picked a handful of sea buckthorn berries from a bush and popped them into my mouth. The tangy and sweet juice was beyond delicious and I picked more. As I ate them I looked around at the other plants. It was like being in a jungle on some alien planet. The sheer brightness and refulgence was dazzling, with multitudes of blues, purples, yellows and red vying for the attention of the bees which flew from flower to flower, their legs hung heavy with sticky yellow pollen. I drank my tea and marvelled at all this richness, considering that the only consolation of its impending destruction would be a future me watching some future international football match on television and knowing that I had drunk tea and communed with the bees somewhere within the circumference of the centre circle. With this thought in my head I packed up my things and began to walk south again. Before long I was at the gates of the Amager Fælled nature reserve, an area of fields, birch woods and reedy drainage ditches that had been reclaimed from the sea after the last world war. It would be a long plod going south over the next few hours as the sun beat down on me.

The path was straight and narrow. Cyclists zoomed past on carbon-fibre bikes. These weren’t the meandering, lazy city cyclists with their rusty bikes with wonky wheels. No, they were lycra-clad storm troopers with fixed faces, alien helmets and shaved muscular legs. I kept to the side of the path to avoid them. Sometimes the cyclists were interspersed with roller-bladders, skateboarders and several people on wheeled wind-surfing boards that flew past at a tremendous speed. I was the slowest moving human being on the circuit, it seemed.

When I emerged at the southern end of the reserve I stood beside a small lake and considered my options. It was late afternoon and although the landscape was lit up with strong yellow light from the western sun, the eastern sky was dark and broody. Perhaps there would be a storm. Ahead of me the path rose up to meet the curving seawall that had been built by unemployed men who had nothing better to do at the end of the war. In this way the lower western part of the island had been reclaimed from the sea and now, over 70 years later, it was mostly salty marshes and birch forests. Local legend has it that the woods were full of land mines, and ‘Keep Out - Danger of Unexploded Bombs’ notices certainly put from my mind any idea of camping there.

The cyclists, wind surfers and roller bladers were still whizzing by every other minute or so and I felt that if I stood around much longer I might end up entangled with one of them in a messy heap on the ground. Should I head south and camp on the beach or should I veer off and put my tent up in an old oak forest? Turning around I could just make out the distant towers of Copenhagen to the north. I was far enough away from the city now to feel that I was escaping its gravitational pull, yet at the same time I had an uneasy feeling about my situation. It’s precisely these half-wild buffer areas around major cities where some of the darkest happenings occur, and this part of the island was no exception. For years, in the late 1980s when my wife was a teenager, a serial killer had roamed here. This, and many other evil deeds, linger on in the minds of Copenhageners and indeed, the lake by which I was now stood would be familiar to fans of the Danish noir TV series The Killing as the location where a car was dredged up. What’s more, Kongelunden, where I was considering pitching my tent, was the setting for the opening scene in which a young girl is brutally murdered.

All things considered I opted to head to the beach. It was only about a quarter of an hour’s walk away and I knew it to be a more or less deserted strand of crispy black seaweed. Somewhat flyblown, at least it would be peaceful. Or so I thought. I could see the kite surfers from some distance as I trudged towards the beach, aching to put down my heavy pack. When I reached the shore there must have been a hundred of them. I sat down by my pack and watched them. They stood on boards that sliced across the surface of the flat sea, propelled by the force of the wind in the sails to which they were attached. It seemed amazing to me that so many of them could be in action together without getting their strings entangled. Yet they moved with sublime grace, using nothing more than the energy freely provided by the elements to execute their spins, grabs and loops. Like human pendulums they moved hypnotically, swinging back and forth across the choppy grey waters beneath the darkening sky. One might have thought that such acrobatics would be enacted with playful yelps of joy, but in fact silence reined over the scene. Only the slight plop of the boards hitting the water could be heard and I was reminded of one of those ‘silent raves’ I had seen, where people dance wearing wireless headphones that deliver the same music synchronically to all. The faces of the surfers—men and women—were fixed in the same expressions as the cyclists: deadpan and serious.  Maybe the business of extreme sports was a serious one—something to be ‘into’ to fill in the gaps between bouts of work, or as part of one’s keep fit regime. As such it seemed like an enactment of something sad, like a piece if performance art that was supposed to represent collective tragedy and alienation.

I got out my notebook and wrote down a few words. I had decided that this trip would be as low-tech as possible. Like many people, I had become far more used to typing words on a keyboard than writing them on a page, and my hand felt slightly clumsy as I wrote the words with a ballpoint pen.

Walked out across a Amager Fælled with the sun slanting down out of the west and dark thunderous clouds moving in from the east. Colours of the wildflowers and hedgerows illuminated nicely. So much to forage along the way! I have already eaten handfuls of sea buckthorn berries, a few hazel nuts and some damsons. I have my ‘tree eyes’ in now. Before they were just ‘trees’ — a kind of green background fuzz — but now they are hawthorn, birch, alder, elder, hazel, dog rose, sea blackthorn, willow and mountain ash. Knowing their names makes the world more interesting, somehow.

Feeling a bit anxious, like I'm doing something subversive. I stick out like a sore thumb with my sleeping bag and my staff. Perhaps I should have trimmed the beard a bit before I left and covered the gash on my leg. Nobody yet has smiled or said ‘hello’ to me—but then I remember this is the way here. Will I last out? My pack is very heavy—I must have brought too much food. I'm looking forward to tonight and for the rain. I wonder if I will be left in peace here. Yesterday, I went for a beer at Cafe Bizarro with Wes and Anna with their baby. Wes said ‘Watch out for the wild animals.’ But it’s not the four-legged animals I’m worried about, it’s the two-legged ones.

Headlines as I left: “And so it begins: Ukraine destroys Russia Convoy”. That and Robin Williams hanging himself.



***


Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Kayak of Sanity



Well, now that the last firework has fizzled out, the hangovers have dissipated and the new year's resolutions have already begun to crumble for most people, we find ourselves looking down the long cold barrel of 2015. Let it be said, 2014 wasn't the best of years, unless you were a hedge fund manager, a member of ISIS or a Satanist, but on the whole it wasn't markedly different from 2013 or 2012. We still find ourselves desperately trying to stay afloat in the kayak of sanity on the white water rapids of media misinformation, bare-faced propaganda and other forms of cultural hysteria.

I mention kayaks because I've got them on the mind at present having recently picked up a bargain sea kayak from someone who bought it, tried it and didn't like it. It has holders for fishing rods in the back so I can head out into the bay and line-catch mackerel and, if I'm lucky, sea bass. This is just one manifestation of why, for me, 2014 was actually quite a good year. Because despite spending most of the year in a state of penury and having to endure calls from well-meaning but misguided relatives to 'get off my backside and find a job' I find that I actually achieved rather a lot — far more than I would have done had I been sitting next to a potted plant in an office and fiddling with a spreadsheet. A quick rundown of the highlights would include:

- Planting some 300 trees in my woodland and making some good inroads in turning a compacted and barren field into the early stages of a forest garden. I completed digging the pond by hand (it only took a year) and it is now lined and filled and ready to start receiving organisms.

- Digging out the basement of our house (also by hand). About 100 trailer-loads of soil was removed and transported to the woodland where I used it to build a level base for the poly tunnel that will be going up in the spring, gods willing.

- A plethora of small-scale experiments with growing, catching and preserving food was carried out. Cabbage was fermented, wine was brewed, cider was put in oak barrels, mushrooms were grown in coffee grounds, squirrels were shot and cooked in red wine, chestnuts were foraged and medicinal herbs were learned about and planted. Furthermore, we now get a weekly box of vegetables delivered from the local community organic farm, allowing us to move one step further away from the big box supermarkets.

- Chickens were hatched out of eggs in our incubator and are now roaming around in the basement. A coop has been purchased and will be put up in the back yard as soon as the chicks are big enough to live outdoors. Having adopted a more-or-less paleo diet for health reasons, we get through a lot of eggs so having a few chooks roaming around in the back yard is just what we need.

- I wangled a free trip to Denmark and Sweden courtesy of the MIL and spent two weeks roaming around in the wild by myself in Thoreauesque contemplation.

- As a direct result of said trip I have almost finished writing a book which uses that journey as a narrative framework to explore ideas surrounding the psychology of the long descent, with a special emphasis on experiential nature knowledge and the ideas of the Stoics. I ate hallucinogenics, got thrown out of a shopping mall, met a caterpillar and swam in a sacred lake. I've shown it to a couple of people and they have said positive things about it such as "It's completely uncategorisable". Expect to see it soon in ebook format and then in other formats soon after if I can raise enough funds.

- Also in writing, I saw my article on genocide in Laos published by Dmitry Orlov in his book Communities that Abide, and had a work of speculative fiction selected by John Michael Greer for the forthcoming book After Oil 3: The Years of Rebirth (in fact After Oil 2: The Years of Crisis has just hit the shelves).

- I attended the first meeting of the nascent Cornish Coppice Federation (the CCF — yes, I know. The organiser conceded "Every time a new acronym is coined in the field of forestry, somewhere, a wood elf dies.") The aim of this group is to create a network of small scale coppice workers across Cornwall to help revive this old and sustainable craft. As a result I have learned to make charcoal and have an order for 100 bags of it in 2015. It's a start.

- I discovered an ancient bronze age settlement partly straddling my land. Archaeologists came and looked at it and congratulated me on my discovery.

- I got to meet some inspirational people. Most of them were just regular folks doing their thing but being amazing about it. Ones you might have heard of are John Michael Greer, whom I cornered for a couple  of beers in Glastonbury one evening after a Druid celebration. And just a couple of weeks ago I was invited to a lunch with Natalie Bennet, the leader of the UK Green Party, who turns out to be very down-to-earth and not like a politician at all. Of nuclear power station she said "Let's just forget about whether people are for or against them, the truth is we simply can't afford them." Refreshing honesty.

So, purely from a creative and resilience perspective, 2014 was not a bad year for me. I continued to build my library of useful books, purchased a few more quality tools for maintaining my land and developing my crafts, and also gained greater depth of insight into what we might call the spiritual matters which I see as increasingly important to facing up to the present and future as the narrative of eternal scientific progress picks up speed in its unravelling.

And what applies to me applies to other too. One notices — and I'm generalising here — looking at the threads below articles in the collapse sphere, that reflections on 2014 tend to be maudlin and gloomy with the exception of people who have actually broken out of the mind prison, hot-tailed it out of Dodge and are building things up for themselves in the teeth of the prevailing system. For it has come to pass that even the simple act of growing a chilli pepper plant on your kitchen window is an act of defiance and a step in the right direction towards the kind of freedom that has been expunged from the over-developed, over-regulated and over-manipulated countries of the world.

I have to sadly contrast such acts of defiance with what is continuing to unfold here in Britain, where food banks are becoming commonplace, children are going to school with empty stomachs (or stomachs full of Red Bull because parents seem to be under the impression that it is nutritional) and a general feeling of bitterness has seeped into the public discourse. The mainstream media doesn't get it — all they can do is harp on about how great the growth is, not realising that it's a growth in debt as the real economy shrivels up like a banana skin left on a sunny windowsill. No doubt about it, there's plenty to be angry about. Fracking, underground coal gasification, the politico-banker vampire squid class, TTIP, a warmongering EU, road building, people getting their heads sawn off ... the list goes on.

And there's a rising anger too. Perhaps it's all the debt or all the crass media screaming about immigrants. Or maybe it's the creepy feeling that the good times are over which crawls around in the fetid basement of the collective psyche like a greasy rat gnawing on the electrical cables that light up the house. Maybe it's all the war propaganda, the empty promises of the scientific progressive narrative and the unspoken fear that everything could be taken away in an instant. I see and hear the anger everywhere. It's in the people bawling obscenities at each other in the alley that runs beside my house, it's in the white-knuckle drivers who overtake me on blind corners because I'm sticking to the speed limit and it's in the fingertips of the bedroom trolls who prowl the internet seeking to pour invective and hatred on anyone who stands out.

All in all it's not a pretty situation when one looks at the broader view. 2015 looks set to see the thermostat cranked up a few more degrees in the Dante's inferno of modern rage. I'm not a great one for predictions but knowledgeable people I know have said that various planets are aligned and the tealeaves don't look good. The plunge in the price of oil signals something momentous stirring. Whether or not the rickety financial structure on which the US fracking boom has been built can continue to support both the weight of a loss-making industry and the dreams and delusions of a nation remains to be seen. But if and when it comes crashing down it'll be one for the history books. The situation isn't that much different here in the UK where it has been revealed that 70% of North Sea oil projects are unprofitable and in danger of collapse. I made a prediction three years back that we would see some form of energy rationing in the UK before the end of 2016 and I am still happy to stick to that. Meanwhile the delusion-making spin machine churns faster and faster, spitting out dreams of colonies on Mars, bubble cities at the bottom of the ocean, fusion reactors in our iPhones. Otherwise intelligent people still send me links to articles that say we can have sleek cars that run off nothing but air, and that a global conspiracy is stopping us from harvesting the infinite energy the exists, er, somewhere just behind our left ear.

So, in 2015, gods willing, I'm hoping to build on 2014. My new year resolutions include taking up smoking and experimenting with drugs. Yes, I've bought a nicely-carved briar root wood pipe which, when packed with rich cherry tobacco, provides moments of relaxed contemplation as I'm working in the woods. As for the drugs, I am experimenting with growing a range of medicinal mushrooms in felled logs. Having read the work of fungal pioneer Paul Stamets I've become a believer in the idea that there is a lot of knowledge and wisdom that's been lost in this world and that we have our work cut out to try and rediscover it — and that mushrooms can help us on that quest. Thus I'll be quite scientific about it, making notes and observations.

This slacker shall continue to work every day in 2015. For me, my life has become entwined with and inseparable from my work. In a good way. I hope to get bees this year, and I'm sure there will be a lot of learning to do. What with writing, producing charcoal, cultivating mushrooms, nurturing Fox Wood and growing food, I have to remember to leave time for the other good things in life, such as walking on the beach, cooking, swimming, reading, listening to music, and now, kayaking. I do all of these enjoyable things with my kids too. I don't see why they shouldn't grow up learning that the more enjoyable things in life are usually free.

So, to anyone reading this, I hope 2015 will be a good year for you, that you will grow wiser and more resilient, that you will continue to move in the right direction away from the unfolding train wreck of our modern world, that good health keeps your cheeks rosy, that you don't take yourself too seriously and that you continue to keep your balance as you navigate your kayak down the creek of chaos and avoid ending up it without a paddle.