By Jo Barker
In recent years I have felt the weight and responsibility of the world and it’s increasing environmental issues falling all the more heavily on my shoulders. I know, what a Debbie Downer way to start, but I assure you it gets more upbeat.
It all began when an older farmer friend of mine introduced me to the concept of peak oil whilst I spent a short stint (short possibly owing to my ensuing peak oil breakdown) wwoofing on his smallholding in Devon. I immediately freaked out, concocted a rash plan to buy land, build a bloody great big fence, learn to use a crossbow and gather all my nearest and dearest to prepare for the worse. Luckily he also hastened to pass me The Transition Handbook of which I promptly buried my slumped frame into and found there a frank, practical but more importantly positive outlook to the situation.
My farmer friend hadn’t meant to scare the bejesus out of me, but he did. He had unwittingly instilled in me his own disillusionment and fear of the future and at that time I had no coping tools to deal with it. I felt not too dissimilar to the guy in Apocalypto as he comes across a harrowing, ghastly tribe steeped in fear and his father warns him not to take this fear back into the village, it will infect him and forever disturb his peace. I do not blame my farmer friend for his message as it was important and something I needed to hear. It was more his delivery. Since then I’ve ruminated and tousled with the idea of how to disseminate important yet potentially frightening information. I’ve also had thoughts regarding elders and what I perceive as their role in our society.
History lessons from a crooning cow and stealthy salad.
Recently I was educated and more importantly entertained by the energising and informative performance piece Three Acres and A Cow. The show plundered the historical depths of the UK right back to the Norman conquest and plucked out key standard academic points which have been taught in our schools for hundreds of years, giving a radical and alternative version. Points that struck me were the little spoken of hundred year holdoff of the Norman invasion by the Irish, a clearer definition of the term Luddite as people who were simply fighting for better pay and working conditions and a detailed walk through the systematic enclosure of our common lands. A curious collection of storytelling, folk sing-a-long, poetry and a few well timed, tongue-firmly-set-in-cheek jokes, I left enthused to delve deeper into the radical history of my people. I wanted to unearth stories that have fallen by the wayside to be gathered up, dusted off and gently passed from lip to ear by precious campfire chroniclers.
The Bristol Radical History Group have been doing just this for years. Books on the aforementioned topics can be picked up at the Bristol annual Anarchist Book Fair and the Folk Tales night held at the old scout hut every last Wednesday of the month, always delights with storytelling and folk music to educate and regale. My favourite time to go to this is in winter where you can gather round the townie equivalent of a campfire the trusty electric bar heater, free tea in hand to the sound of the wind whipping against the tin roof as a mellifluous backdrop.
Another ingenious and stealth history lesson came this week from my salad leaves. As part of my 100 mile diet I’ve signed up to the Edible Futures salad box and on the first week I was intrigued to find a small beautifully crafted leaflet explaining The Diggers resistance of St. Georges Heath. A short 11 lined history lesson into the 17th century group known as The Levellers and the more radical group The Diggers, who fought for the belief that the land belonged to all as a right.
Another profound moment happened at the annual Radical Herbal Gathering in Shropshire in June this year. On the Saturday evening a magical man by the name of Christopher Headley gathered 200 - 300 people, all of varying ages in a large red and white top tent. We cosied together on hay bales and blankets and with his wild white hair, wiry body and a long red nose protruding from under glittering, mischievous eyes he began his tales. Littered with metaphors and historical nods, he imparted ancient wisdom and skills that I will hold dear for years to come. However what I felt most keenly was 10 years old again. I sat cross legged listening to an elder who gently and calmly offered an older, wiser perspective to situations that most of us fear as unique only to our own generation. Granted climate change has hit us hard in recent years and the changes we are seeing are not only through our own individual observations, but through the increasingly constant interconnected nature of media I feel is more intense to previous generations. However an elder offering their 70 year long perspective, allowing us the indulgence of stoicism can really help raise the burden of those sagging shoulders once in a while.
What have all these experiences left me with? The urge to hunt out the elders, the storytellers, the sages, the wandering vagabonds. I want to find the alternative history of my land and culture, one that I feel has been deliberately omitted from our mainstream curriculum for not fitting into a chosen narrative; that of a capitalist, monarchist driven society. I want to hear what the local folk and peasant farmers had to say. I want to listen more keenly to my grandparent’s stories, to the keepers of the oratory traditions, to the skills and wisdom that can be tenderly and creatively handed down as invaluable tools, when dealing with the increasing troubles you encounter as you grow.
I guess the truth is... I just want to be told a good tale or two.