Local Isn’t A Swear Word

Chapter One- Staying Put.

Stitched work inspired by drawings at our local youth shelter on napkins bought from the local church bric a brac stall (2023)

Much of the work I do at the moment is based on experiments in staying put, travelling less, feeling content with this lovely place and this comfortable time which I find myself in.  This is often in contrast to what we are jangled into feeling. It is so de rigueur to be content. Instead constant aspirations towards something better, journeys towards a long term goal, fear of missing out and notions that the good stuff is elsewhere are hard wired into me.  When these feelings are jangling I find it hard to see what is before my eyes right now, I find it hard to value this day and this place. I am always rushing hither or tither, catching a glimpse, not stopping and staring. I am running away from the tough stuff too for “when the going gets tough to the tough get going”. I can just leave the difficult things the troublesome relationships.

Before I know it I’m forced to move on by things beyond my control, the weather changes, a house or occupation move is demanded, a fellow passes on and I regret that I just didn’t get to grips with that bit of time or that place enough. I just didn’t stay in it enough.

I don’t think its any act of magic that we are made to feel and be this way. If we are discontent we will dream more, buy more, travel more, build more, work more  seek what and who we need from further afield. And this more won’t come from near by but from the big global traders who have the mystic of being elsewhere and are less likely to show a side which gives the ick.

Discontentment relies on distance, it might be something just outside this time or something geographically remote but its far away.

Its so ingrained in us that local isn’t as good as national and international is even better. Entrepreneurs say that they want to “go global” not that they want to “stay local.” In my own field of the arts I could improve my esteem two fold by doing exactly what I do not close to my home but in a foreign country. I could then proudly wear the badge of “International artist”, maybe I would even be given a special hat. I have on occasion been commissioned to work within a further flung community. I was once shipped in with 10 other artists to come up with solutions for derelict sights within a poor community.  We all worked very hard, we got to know people very quickly and we did apply a new eye to it all but after the two intense weeks we left to write reports which gathered dust on council shelves. I was fed well, introduced to big wigs and have to admit to feeling rather special.  Whilst I was there no doubt an artist from those parts was being welcomed to my home town.

There are benefits to settling our eyes on some distant horizon, taking on best practice from others but what if looking through a telescope is the only way?

I’ll write more on what I think some of the consequences might be and add in some thinking from others in my next entry here so please check back soon. I’ll also let people know a bit more about the image I’ve included with chapter one.

Chapter Two

“A Deal With The Local Squirrels” (2024) Created through discussions with the local primary school. A commitment to give the squirrels nuts so that they stay away from the gardening club bulbs.

Imagine this. Your village or part of town is cut off. Its not too hard to imagine. My village has a few viable roads in and out. Recently the rains were so hard and fast, the grids so blocked and the run off from land so fast that all roads were flooded to some degree. It caused a facebook flurry with people asking if they could get back home and how they might get out at the end of the day. On that occasion all was well, enough of the roads cleared to get people where they needed to be and we didn’t run out of anything. If things were extended what would we have close at hand to eat, what might we drink? What would we do to entertain  ourselves? Would we be able to keep warm enough? I recently asked some farming friends I know about gleaning.  This is a practice where you go as a gang and work to pick up vegetables left over by the farm machinery. A quick search reveals that about 15-20% of food is left unharvested. The answer to my question was that it would be tricky to glean cows and sheep, most of what we produce locally is meat based. In a different part of the country the opposite might be true and you would be hard pressed to get a local chop.  Where once we roamed the land. most of of ancestry is nomadic, to find the things we needed (estimates are that our hunter gatherer ancestors would only have had to work 17 hors a week to survive) now we are beyond settled. Beyond in that we might once have seen diverse farms with animals and crops farmed side by side now we aren’t even diverse within each country. One country may concentrate on grain, another on beef and so on, importing in the rest. Without those imports I may well find my diet and other things very much reduced. With just in time stocking within shops I don’t expect it would be long before I started to see gaps on the shelves.

How would we get the stuff we didn’t want out? Recently a park bin near us became stuffed to overflowing with plastic bags of dog waste, plastic containers and other bits and bobs. I’d never noticed that bin before but it turned out that the chap from the council who empties it was off sick. People had just continued to habitually bag up and put their waste in, on, around it. What else could they think of to do? Again there was a happy ending when the chap returned to work and got rid of the backlog.

Contrast this with a story Rob Hopkin’s, founder of The Transition Movement,  tells of a place he visited in 1990, Hunza Valley in Pakistan.

“All the waste, including human waste was carefully composted and returned to the land. The terraces which had been built into the mountainside over centuries were irrigated through a network of channels that brought mineral rich water from the glacier above with astonishing provision….plants grew in small blocks instead, rather than in huge monocultures….the paths were lined with dry stone walls and were designed for people and animals, not for cars. People always seemed to have time to stop and talk to each other and spend time with the children who ran bare foot through the fields. “

                                                                                                   (Taken from “The Transition Handbook” by Rob Hopkins.)

I expect that, should this place have survived, it’s inhabitant would be as touched by say, oil price hikes, as they would be by a storm on Mars.  Where I live I feel very buffeted by world and national events, wars, trade deals, national laws, trends, blocked up pipe lines etc etc. Rather than feeling empowered as a global citizen, connected to the rest of humanity its easy to grow my reasonable insecurities and get insular in my thinking.  I could very easily find myself becoming a prepper, we laugh at the amount of tinned beans I’ve bought recently. Its why I keep coming back to the word “localisation”. Its a way of increasing our local resilience whilst still retaining empathy and connection with the rest of the planet and my fellow occupants.

One element is this;

“Localisation embodies the Proximity Principle, arguing that where money flows from and to are important, and that what can be produced locally should be consumed locally where possible.”

another is that;

“Localisation argues for a different relationship between consumers and producers.”

It also deals with the overflowing bin issue;

“Localisation seeks to increase tightness of feedbacks, so that consequences of resource use are felt closer to home.”

                                                                           (https://www.transitionculture.org/2010/07/30/localism-or-localisation-defining-our-terms/)

I was once at a talk about local with a lady whose name I annoyingly have forgotten, maybe somebody will remind me in the comments. Some of the talk was about how us thinking local could rob other countries of their ability to trade. Her reply was that if they were also locally sustainable, they wouldn’t feel that shock either. If we weren’t always persuaded to sell cash crops to get the money to buy the life preserving things we would each have more of what we need near by. If everybody looked locally first could we all feel a lot safer? Its a thing I think about a lot and it has changed some of the things I do. Not nearly as many things as I’d like but as the serenity prayer says

“..grant me the courage to change the things I can.

The serenity to accept the things I can’t

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Maybe I’ll go into what I have changed in the next chapter. Do check back soon.

Before I log off I did promise to tell you a bit about the image in chapter one. Its from a project we started locally. We added two chalk boards to an area where young people are encouraged to hang out. They read “Thought for the day” and each day they were photographed and then cleaned. The responses were sometimes troubling to us adults but they did give us some way of  starting conversations and lots to think about. I like to consider difficult things through the gentle art of stitching sometimes. The text I came up with and stitched into this one reads ” It’s just another organ isn’t it?”. Another piece also inspired by some of the young people’s drawings says “He smiles. Her face is full of pain”. We hope to get in place some systems to help support our local young people and maybe chat about some of their difficult things. Its proving very tempting to run away from this but we are trying to stay put and be in the right place at the right time.

Chapter Three

“Nests” (2023) a collection of oil paintings inspired by the places people create as their comfy places.

Courage to change the things I can.

Shopping

I used to be the typical mums gone to Iceland. I was  busy with a full time job and a young son. I would pile frozen things on the till where it would be bagged and delivered later on that day. I can’t quite recall what it was which made me commit to a life as free of supermarkets and their like as possible. But I did and that was about 15 years ago now. Part of it might have been an art installation I saw at Tate Liverpool. An exact replica of a Tesco store but as it was art you couldn’t rush around and buy you just had to look. I saw the decals everywhere provoking one to look here, buy this, buy another one etc. and I wasn’t sure that I liked being so strongly prompted. What has kept me going is a growing urge to support local a raft of info about supermarkets and their impact on everything from local communities to farmers and now a uncomfortable and overwrought feeling when I go into a supermarket.  Now I get deliveries from a local veg box company who already delivered to people near by, other bits from a wholesale store which deliver up to 9 miles away and buy odd bits from the spar ran by a local family.  I go to our village market once a week, its not that well supported so we have lost lots of the traders which gave it a go and found it too quiet. But those who stick it out supply me with honey from 2 miles away, quiche which is the best I’ve tasted in a long time, pies, sausage rolls and cake. There is also a fish truck which comes to the village once a week. A call out on facebook for local veg put us in contact with a man who brings us extra spuds. A local farmer sells us half a lamb around slaughter time which my other half enjoys a lot and I sample a bit of.  My neighbour has a stall which sells eggs and veg when in season. I still go to Iceland once every few months to get a ruck of Linda McCartney mozzarella burgers.  I buy things from an out of date online store which is exciting as you never quite know what you will get.

I guess if I had to only eat things grown or made here my shopping list would go like this;

Lamb

Veg from neighbour’s stall with some preserved for winter

Eggs when in season

Honey

Despite all my efforts to reduce my food miles I don’t think I would survive longer than the average person if the village suddenly got cut off. There just aren’t enough people producing things from field to plate near by. I have considered growing my own but I’m really rubbish at it. Last years crop  would have mainly been potatoes which grew accidentally in the compost heap and lots of green tomato chutney. I’m pondering on what systems might be put in place locally which would make the growing and selling of local produce more likely. The school gardening group recently grew beans which they sold at the local shop. That was a wonderful start.

Driving

I don’t drive and I think I never will now. People feel sad for me with this, often they tell me not to give up, tell me of somebody they know who past their test after years of trying. But most of the time I love the freedom that not driving gives me. I am free to stare out of the window on a bus or train, say no to things because they aren’t on a bus route, carry my shopping home in a pram and consider if I could carry my stock to market using an antique milk maids yoke (I’ve decided against that one for now. I’m not sure I could get through the social club door). When I used to take kids on trips to art galleries I often insisted that we get there via public transport. One time the school said that it was too unsafe so we took a mini bus. The young people moaned all the way there and once there didn’t show the glee of adventure which others who had ran for buses felt. They had been taken somewhere not been part of an effort to get there.

Sometimes I will see something tiny but interesting on a walk which I’d never have seen or bothered to stop for in a car. Sometimes I’ve had my best discussions with a fellow traveller or with somebody I met along the way. I used to work an hours train commute away and I found that the best part of the day was the ride in with my growing group of train buddies.  Work was so much less of a party after that ride in.

I used to feel cross at all the job applications which said “must drive” almost as a first note so stopped applying for jobs or I just accidentally on purpose didn’t tick that box. It is probably one of the biggest reasons I’m still an artist. Carving my own way of doing things was almost the only path open to me. So I’ve taken it and stuck to it.

I’m by no means fit but I think I’d be even more static if I didn’t get a walk to the shop every so often.

Serenity to accept the thing I can’t change.

I’m not as good at this acceptance bit but I’m trying. I’d like to live like in “The Good Life”. Dig up the garden and get chickens, put solar panels on the roof and grub about in the soil, talking to plants and looking for bits to eat. I’d like to gather water from a local stream and compost all our waste. I’d like to be less distracted and read all those books on the shelf and only access the internet at the local library.  I’d like to sit of a night and knit, tell stories, share food be amused and amusing with other people. I’d like to never be in too much of a rush to take up an hour in random spontaneous chat with somebody I met along a walk. Equally I’d like to be happy by myself in some artistic occupation. I’d like to walk about singing and dancing if the urge took me. Sometimes I get a flavour of this life. The main things which stop this simpler life and which I need some serenity to accept are;

Lots of other people are too busy or too busy pretending to be busy to stop and interact, its easy to become a pest if you keep somebody talking too long.

I rent a house and have done most of my life and this gives you a lot less control about what you can do. Solar panels, animals and even keeping the heating low are no no’s.  I once got in trouble for leaving a pile of compost in a garden when I left. I thought it would be more useful to them than me.

Whilst I’ve become alright at growing plants I’ve not been great at growing plants for food.

I don’t think I could wring a chickens neck, smash a fish or bring down a cow.

As I say I’m not great at accepting things maybe I can just accept that they are this way today and that the future might bring all sorts of new chances.  I’d love some help with the last bit wisdom to know the difference. Some of the things I’d like to change are only possible with the will of others, changes in systems. I’ve been re-reading “The Transition Handbook” and there is a bit of theory by Walker and Salt in there. It talks about feedback loops. Basically you do something and you see the consequences. With decisions made further away, business based who knows where and people we interact with reduced to an avatar it feels so much harder to get feedback. I try to content myself with all that butterfly flapping its wings stuff but you can’t beat the smile on a face when you crack a joke an ahh when somebody gets your work or the plant which pops up from a bulb you planted.  I thought that needing this feedback was just ego but I’m thinking that it helps one know what one can change, what has a bit of budge and what is going nowhere. Smaller feedback loops also, as Walker and Salt say, help us become aware quicker of the negative changes our actions are taking.

Anyway that’s enough now. I’m all thunked out and its time for tea. In case you are wondering, out of date shop lentils, coconut milk and rice veg box veg and curry powder from the whole food bunch. I’m expecting great things.

Chapter  Four

I’m off to the local writing group after lunch so I thought I’d try my hand at a Petrarchan Sonnet. I like them because they allow you to consider both sides of an argument.

Oh, I like to roam to see wonderful new things must be the best?

To eat the most exotic foods waxed lyrical in my guardian travel guide.

To sit on some secluded beach to find a spot to forget to hide.

To tick tick tick all those famous must see sights.

To fold and tuck my capsule wardrobe, pack tight to save on flights.

Fly over, pass through, sail past, head in phone scanning photos of things just done.

Uploading to socials, tagging friends, sister daughter and Mum.

Disembark, check out, check in, away for the rest.

 

And yet one day last month I saw old things were new.

Car broken, no place to go I looked up from my malaise.

Went out, walked out just down to our shop.

Two neighbours stood chatting, looked up said “how do”

Further on sun shot right in made the street look ablaze.

And just there, on a bench I decided to stop.

Chapter 5

I’ve been working of a series of drawings called “A Gathering Of Gatherers”. I don’t want to say much more about them. I just want to show them to you and if they bring up any thought feel free to comment or get in touch.

 

 

 

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