Sunday, 25 November 2012

Thinking About Trees

Yesterday was the opening of National Tree Week across the UK and marks the beginning of many Winter tree planting projects. Wind and rain was keeping a lot of people in their houses if Facebook was anything to go by! But there were still quite a few hardy individuals heading out in commitment to their love of trees and their wish to see the world become a greener place. One such person was my dad, who despite being nearly 80 and fighting off a cough, was out there with his spade and young trees and other tree-planting volunteers to create a hedge for generations to come, along the side of his local community park field. A hedge including oak, field maple, wild service, hornbeam, whitebeam, rowan and more.

The Tree Council's slogan this year 'Change Your View - Plant Trees', pushes a few of my buttons as this was the month that my local Council in Portsmouth decided to cut a lot of trees in my local park down, certainly changing the view which we have been enjoying for many years, apart from the loss of habitat for local wildlife. What really upset me was the dishonesty from those responsible (presumably to deter significant local objection), who assured us that it was just going to be a light pruning and would not affect the screening of houses provided by the trees. This 'screening' was important to local residents as it provided a rare space in the middle of a city where we could be surrounded by green trees and bushes instead of buidlings.

Here's a photo I took in October a couple of weeks before the line of trees were cut:

And this is a couple of weeks after they were cut, taken today:

 Bit of a change of view! Park management in other cities seems to be following a similar pattern too, with more dense areas of foliage being cut back in preference of fewer, individual, spaced trees. One of the main reasons given seems to be that Council workers want increased visibility into all areas of the parks by driving around them, so that they can check more easily for drug taking, homeless sleeping, naughty kids etc. I think far greater problems arise from the increasingly drastic loss of natural environment, particularly in built up areas, where these green spaces are little sanctuaries for both human and wildlife communities and add considerably to mental wellbeing as well as providing a physical breath of fresh air.

After this, I was pleased to be invited to attend a tree planting event at Warsash Common in Gosport, where over 100 trees were being planted as a hedgerow, as well as a 'Royal Oak' being planted by the Mayor and 2 oaks being planted in memory of my brother by a couple of Ward Councillors. We had given everyone an oak sapling at my brother's funeral and these two had been cared for by a friend of his until this special planting at each side of the gate entering the Nature Reserve.

One of Paul's oaks being planted at Warsash Common
The threat to trees in this country came into clear focus last year when the Government proposed plans to sell off England's State owned woodlands. Everywhere, small groups of tired and dedicated people are facing battles to retain both individual trees and larger areas of hedgerow or woodland, as road plans, industry, housing development, privatisation, lack of care, threatens to remove them.

We were in Bristol recently, visiting Victoria Park and found many notices attached to trees calling for them to be saved as they were under park management plans to be cut down. When we looked at the plans which were displayed in the park, such ridiculous reasons were being given as - the plum trees have purple foliage which makes the park appear more gloomy in Winter! And the area of woodland at the top ruins the view of people who want to look over the City below! You only have to walk a little further along the hill past the trees and you can see that view if you want it...

At a time when we face such problems as deforestation, climate change and the loss of biodiversity and habitat, it's so urgent that we plant more trees and keep the ones we have, or at least replace the ones we lose with fresh locally grown native trees. The Independent Panel on Forestry calls for an increase of England's woodland cover of 50% by 2060. If that is going to be met, really serious value and priority needs to be given to trees.

Now we face a devastating threat to our woodlands - that of ash dieback caused by the Chalara fungus. An estimated 80 million ash trees could potentially be lost. Ash trees represent a third of our native woodlands, the other two main species being oak and beech. It's believed that the disease arrived from Europe and that increased global trade and tree imports are a big risk to the UK's native trees. Now, there has eventually been a ban on ash imports and 100,000 ash trees have already been destroyed in an attempt to stop the spread, but this has been a recognised danger for a long time and if trees were truly a priority, preventative steps could have been taken a lot sooner. The crucial time to identify diseased trees is before the leaves fall so although the leaves are mostly fallen now, people are still being urged to help out with photographing any ash trees they see which could be showing signs of the disease. The people at 38 degrees have designed a free app for i-phone or Android called Ash Tag or you can send your pics to:

An ash and an oak in a Horndean hedgerow, two favourite trees of our family.
The buy/grow local principle is just as vital with our trees as it is with our food. Clive Anderson, president of the Woodland Trust comments in an interview with The Guardian:

"evidently it made business sense to take native ash seeds or seedlings overseas to be raised in commercial nurseries and to be brought back into the country as saplings"

This doesn't make any sense at all and stronger support for local nurseries needs to ensure that it makes clear business sense to keep every stage of plant growth within the country of origin.

National Tree Week was first launched in 1975 in an attempt to maintain the tree planting efforts made to replace the losses resulting from Dutch Elm disease, which had already taken 20 million of these significant trees from our landscape.

Robert Macfarlane writes with a glimmer of optimism, in his excellent book 'The Wild Places':
So the elms died, and the bark of the land was changed by their dying. Familiar horizons were transformed. People found it difficult to orient and steer themselves in landscape they had known for decades. Yet the elm is not extinct. Small trees live on in hedgerows, suckering out versions of themselves, spreading laterally, keeping their heads down: any tree that grows above twelve feet tends to become infected. Although the elm's associations with death are formiddable, so too is its capacity for survival.
When feeling depressed or defeated about the destruction of trees, it's worth holding onto that thought amid the various battles, that nature has an amazing capacity for survival, for regenerating and for rising again. Trees and woodlands mean so much more than a 'view' or even 'lungs' or a 'habitat', they're part of our consciousness, our mythology and our identities in ways which resurface for many people when faced with their loss.

I joined the protest back in 1993 at George Green, Wanstead Common, to try and stop the huge 250 yr old chestnut being cut down to make way for the expansion of the M11. That day really demonstrated to me what a tree can mean socially and emotionally to people. I remember the 83 yr old man who told me in tears about how much he LOVED this tree, about the happy childhood days he'd spent playing in its branches, about how he'd lived here all his life and it felt like part of him, of his life, his family. There were many people there that day who, held back by police brutality, watched as 250 yrs of life crashed bit by bit to the ground and it felt like a great collective heart was breaking there, amid the tears and cries.

Chestnut tree, Wanstead Common 1993
To close National Tree Week is Tree Dressing Day on 2nd December, with many events taking place all around the country to celebrate trees and what they mean to us, both personally and globally.

We'll be following our usual tradition of going to one of our favourite events of the year, with its enormous spiral dance, mummers plays, morris dancing, and general magic in honour of trees - Tree Dressing day at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton. Maybe see you there!

Tree Dressing at Singleton 2011

I guess the bottom line is: Trees are >>>IMPORTANT<<<

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Letting Go And Not Letting Go... Happy Birthday My Brother xxx

This week I've been doing a lot of clearing out. The amount of STUFF reached saturation point and it had to be done to allow some oxygen into the house. I shifted several boxloads but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Much of the stuff is relatively easy to let go of but the obstacles arise when faced with MEMORIES and all the feelings which arise when confronted with letting go of things which represent a connection to a time or more painfully, a person, who is no longer here.

One of the boxes I opened was full of patches I had cut out of my brother's T-shirts a few years ago after he died. It was a bit mad maybe to do that at the time but it was all mad anyway so we find whatever ways we can to get through times like that. I'd managed to take most of his other clothes along to Oxfam... smart suits and shirts, but his T-shirts were a lot more personal and evocative. Even a spiritual medium that my family saw a couple of years ago mentioned his T-shirts! They were the start of many a discussion or heated 'debate'! Some of them we agreed on, some of them we totally disagreed on, some he printed himself, a couple I bought him. They were always changing through the years reflecting a range of his politics and interests, usually controversial in some way, sometimes music or TV ones like 'The Moody Blues' or 'Lost'. The Moody Blues ones I've kept as whole T-shirts because my son wants to wear them one day. Another I kept to wear myself...

There are lots I remember which he must have got rid of over the years. One I cut up for use as my son's fancy dress zombie rags last Halloween (that was one I'd found particularly annoying at the time, a 'John Major's Roadworks, No Left Turn' one).

I miss seeing what he's going to turn up with next. More recently we'd found possibly a lot more common ground than we were ever really aware of.

Finding this box of 'rags' I decided I needed to do something with them or let them go. Despite listening and reading to many inspiring minimalist teachings in the last week, I realised I'm going to need to take it more gradually. This was one I found interesting:

But I decided with the approach to my brother's birthday, I wanted to hold on to them a little longer. Feeling a sense of urgency to finish the project I decided not to go for the neat and profesional approach but instead the more raw and ragged one, because that was more in touch with how it FEELS to be sewing together a blanket made out of my brother's clothes (because he's not here to be wearing them). So no tidy hems or precise lines and measured placements. And it felt GOOD to do it and to finish it.
I'm not entirely sure what I'll do with it. After all it's highly doubtful that I'd get much sleep with Margaret Thatcher on the bed!!! (albeit a particularly poor artist's impression taking off Che Guevara). The other side has a bit more of a peaceful ambience...
I did get the strange sense that he was watching and finding the whole thing quite entertaining with a sort of 'you're mad' expression. Which is OK with me. And wrapping it round me did kind of make him feel a bit closer.
One of his T-shirts which I liked the most was the one he printed about his own business he operated at home... particularly the No.1
So Paul, today is your birthday, you'd be 48 yrs old. There hasn't been a single day since you've been gone that we haven't thought of you, but we're especially thinking of you today. You will always be missed and always be living here in our hearts. Whatever we agreed on and disagreed on in this mad world, it all got a different perspective when you were no longer here to give it your voice. I wish more than anything you were still here, even the bits that used to wind me up something rotten! I'm comfortable writing this here online because I can't quite believe that wherever you are, you haven't devised some kind of gadget to enable you internet access! I reckon it's as good a place as any to get a message to you. You're still around, I know you are... Happy Birthday Paul xxx

Friday, 12 October 2012

I Made An Umbrella Skirt!

I've been wanting to do this for ages and have got quite a collection of broken umbrellas waiting for transformation into something useful again. Any windy, rainy day and they're easy to find on a stroll around the city, sticking out of bins, blowing about the park or flapping on the beach.

Today I did it! Took a couple of those old umbrellas and did something with them! The result is not going to win any fashion shows and I was too impatient to iron it (it really does need ironing!) but I improvised a design, spent a couple of hours cutting and sewing and figuring it out and it kind of works.

The fabric is 100% upcycled umbrella, actually two umbrellas as I decided to alternate the polka dots with a plain black. Then I added a waistband of purple ribbon with some elastic inside. Part of the front black triangle is left open (kind of a wrap, with another one beneath) so that it's not tightly restrictive... for climbing over fences and running and dancing, because skirts can sometimes be stupid and stop you doing stuff like that.

Yes, it does need ironing!

An umbrella skirt also has the advantage of being waterproof so that you don't have to worry so much about Autumn picnics and wet patches on the grass or mossy logs or damp benches... Also, I guess a waterproof skirt might be useful if you're prone to laughing so much that you p.... Actually I haven't done that for a very long time!

All this was so satisfying that I may not ever buy clothes from a shop again!  ;-)  Hmm, there's an old tent waiting in my bedroom that I found abandoned on the beach a few months ago. Now, what could that be...

There are some beautiful umbrella upcycling ideas here by some very clever people:

Sunday, 30 September 2012

20th Anniversary of Twyford Down ~ No New Roads!

Yesterday I went along to the event commemorating the 20 year anniversary of the protests to stop the M3 being built through Twyford Down, near Winchester, as part of the Conservative Government's 'Roads to prosperity' programme back in the early 90s. It was shocking and sad to revisit the results of Government disregard for one of the most protected landscapes in Southern England, an area that was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, contained Sites of Special Scientific interest and Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

This had been a huge protest which although it did not manage to prevent the road being built and its non-violent activists being subjected to prison sentences and violence from both police and private security guards, it brought the devastating impact of the road building programme to a global audience, and was effective in significantly reducing the numbers of other proposed road schemes.

A full account of the 1990s road protest movement can be read here:
An article looking back at the Twyford Down protest by Becca Lush Blum, a Twyford Down campaigner is here:
Becca Lush Blum, being interviewed yesterday
It was also a day to reconnect with people who still actively care and are committed to defending landscapes and communities from the destruction of the new roads programme being planned by the current Government. We tied yellow sashes round us, each marked with the name of a different proposed road in the current plans.

We walked up the hill to where a huge banner was fixed alongside the motorway, reading '20 years since Twyford Down. Don't go backwards. No new roads'

This photo was taken by Adrian Arbib and shared on the Roads2Nowhere Facebook page:!/roads2nowhere
I find the numbers of proposed roads shocking, particularly at a time when money is being withdrawn from so many essential public services and when the environment is already being effected by the impact of cuts in many areas of important conservation work. It's up to us to get informed about these plans and the campaigns opposing them which need our support.

Sian Berry at Twyford Down yesterday, who writes the roads blog for the Campaign for Better Transport, a good place to stay informed of what's happening:

One such campaign is the Bexhill-to-Hastings link road, where a sister event took place yesterday:
A map of the proposed road plans can be found here:

Further Media reports:
I'll add further media reports here as I come across them.
There is a big feature in today's Sunday Times but no web link.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Not the first day back at school ~ looking for aliens instead

Time probably felt quite different to me and my brother growing up, than it does for my son. Our year was divided into terms and 'holidays'. Our week was divided into school days and week-ends.  Our day was divided into units of class time inbetween bell rings and breaktimes. First days and last days of school took on almost ceremonial significance, just as it still does judging by all the photo's on Facebook of children standing with school uniform holding their bags ready to begin the new school year.

Me, circa 1980

My brother, 1976, aged nearly 12, about the same age my son is now
I can't truly remember how it felt but I think the new school year in September was an exciting time - reaching a higher rung on the ladder, not only measuring our academic development, but providing a fresh opportunity to take on new challenges, make new friends, possibly reinvent ourselves a little. I can see some value in the structure that I grew up with. However, it contrasts strongly with the time structure we co-create with our son, and this can be one of the more liberating aspects of home-educating.

My son, 2003, aged 2, not going to pre-school!
We never had to adapt to the school routine because our son has never been in school or pre-school.We still have the structure of adult work to fit around and our diary gets filled up with events and activities, camps and 'out-of-school' classes and all kinds of random things which pop up that we decide to do. But there's perhaps more of a free flowing of 'time' and no daily necessity for early morning starts or late night endings. Because his time spent doing something (eg, animating) isn't necessarily interrupted by artificial divisions, he can carry on with a project until he's finished with it or wants to do something else (though we do place inconsistent limits on screen time, depending on what it's being used for!).

One possible consequence of this is that our son doesn't have a strong awareness of clock time or calendar time and combined with my time management wobbles can mean that we're often rushing about trying to cram too much in or squeeze one last minute into the seconds we have before getting out and being late! Most of the world runs to quite a strict timetable and it will obviously be necessary at some point for him to learn the value of balancing and organising his time and aligning it sometimes with those convenient yet controlling numbers which are constantly ticking by. A tardis would be more than useful, though perhaps a bit distracting.

Today (Wed. 5th Sept) was his first day of not starting Secondary School! It was also my Mum and Dad's 53rd wedding anniversary!

We decided that this called for a joint celebration and as it was a gorgeous sunny day, the most appropriate thing to do seemed to be to go out in the country to find a crop circle and see if we could get beamed up by aliens... It's true, the intoxicating effects of no school combined with over half a century of love, put us in a dizzying, crazy mood! We don't know if it was this, or whether there was in fact a paranormal phenomena occurring. It produced mugshots which were very different to those old ones of me and my brother with our uniforms and bags.

We definitely felt there was some kind of strange energy in that field
We were drawn higher and thought that maybe up there, they would reach for us through time and space, to take us home...
My mum was wondering why despite all her attempts, they still haven't come to take her away...
To be honest, I'm very relieved she's still here!
The corn had been cut but we could still see the imprint of the pattern and the flattened areas where the design had been made. Before the crop had been harvested, the formation we were standing in looked like this:
Photo from
Copyright of Jason Patterson
When I looked up information on this crop formation later, I found out how appropriate a place it had been for us to be today. When we're reflecting on the effects and meaning of time and relationships in our lives, it was interesting to read how this labyrinth crop design has been described as an ancient Tibetan Buddhist symbol, that of an 'endless knot' which signifies the eternal flow of time, an unbroken interconnectedness and unity, with neither beginning nor end.

It has also been described as a Mayon Qunicunx which is an ancient alchemy symbol representing the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

And this is how I see education and life! And this is maybe what my parents were thinking when they 'tied the knot' 53 years ago.

We came home. Neither our earnestness nor our silliness led to a journey into the stars with alien friends (though we know they're out there somewhere). The hands on my watch are still moving round. I keep an open mind for who makes the labyrinths and circles in the fields but we continue to walk our labyrinths and our interconnections through our lives, and we are each always so much more than the sum of our parts.

And whether we go to school or not, we never stop learning *•.¸¸

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Wales Environmental Home Education Camp... We weren't square ~ we went there!

This August/September was our 5th anniversary of going to 'Welsh Camp', a week of home ed fun in a beautiful crazy place between Carmarthen and Newcastle Emlyn. Even though the weather was GRIM for the first half of the week, and our tent flooded and we had a mudslide across our floor and there was a time we thought the wind and rain would never stop (it is on a Welsh hilltop after all), there's just something very special about it which makes it all worthwhile and an essential part of our year.


This year I found myself offering a poem at the last night cabaret, under my lesser known identity of Bardic Betty ;-) I'm sharing it here to give a personal glimpse of our Welsh Camp experience illustrated by some of the photo's which I've taken over the last 5 years of being there. And no the lines don't all scan perfectly but Bardic Betty doesn't really care because she had great fun all the same! I realise there's an element of 'you had to be there' but, well maybe that's the point... you have to be there ~ see you at the next one!

 A Sort of Love Poem to WEHEC
(Wales Environmental Home Education Camp)

Well it's that time of year - it's WEHEC again
The tents all went up and down came the rain.
Gotta love the Welsh weather, surrender to its charm
Or we're going to spend the week in a state of alarm.

Yes the tent flooded and dripped through the roof all day.
Water is sacred but we prayed "Sun ~ take it away!"
We lay awake listening to the wild music of the night
Creaking, straining tent poles; nylon walls flapping like a hundred birds in flight.
Then after waking, it's off to the straw bale for a pee
Or to donate your liquid nitrogen to a hedgerow tree.
And it's not just men and boys you may stumble on looking shy,
'Cos sometimes girls and women like to wee beneath an open sky.


Then if you make it across the field in time, to the compost loo,
I'd advise holding rosemary oil to your nose as you sit and have your poo.
'Cos someone must have been peeing in there (I swear it wasn't me)
And made a wicked cocktail, a most horrid alchemy.

Compost loo ~ 2010

Now our boy has lost his wellies and has mud-encrusted toes
And you really don't want to look at what's coming out of his nose.
But he's away with the Pyro-Pixies, happily swirling his fire staff,
Hanging out in the cafe, playing cards and having a laugh.




Doing incredible string tricks with that rainbow circle of string,


Squelching across the bog to where the swing-boats Ding-Dong, Ding-Dong, Ding...


Meanwhile the dog is trembling, shivering as she sighs,
Curled up on her rug and staring, accusation in her eyes.
I remind her of her ancestry, of the wolf in her DNA,
To harden up and howl with me, at the blue moon in our Milky Way.


Then when I'm sitting relaxing, admiring the windfarm sight...


A procession of people most strange appear, announcing a cordial invite.

And supposing I want to remain at my tent, with my ginger beer just there...
Well apparently that's not permitted, if I don't want to be very square.

So 'Play For The Day' is a must you see, it's inspirational, chaotic and funny.
I especially cheered the lesbian Princess and even applauded the evil bunny.

2012 ~ Older kids 'Play For The Day'
And we learnt to never have our backs to the audience, no, not EVER!
And I learnt that sometimes a cup of tea with friends in the cafe can take your mind off the weather :-)

Sock monkeys in the craft tent, wooden rafts to build,
Tree house in the woods and solar shower for the stronger-willed.

Solar shower 2011 (There were also a couple of very hot gas-powered showers this year for the weedy ones)
Stories around the fire, bats around your head,
Music in the party barn, arguments about going to bed.




Someone brought a paper back with news of music beamed from Mars,
But despite all the awesomeness up there amid the stars,
And the piece remembering Armstrong and the first moon landing,
All my wonder's being focussed on the fact our tent's still standing!

2010 Labyrinth
Heard talk there was a hot tub, secret jewel in WEHEC's crown, hidden somewhere here
But I went to bed and missed it - RATS! Perhaps they'll let me come next year.
And so too soon, it's time to go, to pack up, say goodbye,
To WEHEC's magical mayhem and head home to the warm and dry.
Oh! There's a tear in my eye!

And there's so much more that could be mentioned... the wooded river valley just across the field...

the exceptional parental support...

and all those unexpected special moments...

And I haven't even mentioned the Bumblebee song...

Thank you to Helen, Amanda, Nick, Kirsty and all the other fab people who make it happen  

For more info. check out their website at