Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The End Of the Beginning

The most important thing to say right now is that there are still people up in the trees at Combe Haven. Yesterday there were no trees cut down despite the eviction beginning in the morning and continuing all day. Last night the news of the actions of East Sussex County Council was shocking and appalling:

As of 10.30am today the latest news is that the eviction of the camp has started again and work is taking place to get people out of the trees, and the Council is still denying people food and medicine:

Please keep checking the website above or Combe Haven Defenders Facebook and Twitter for updates and get over there to support them if you're able.

My family slid and slopped through the rivers of mud into the camp on Sunday. There was busy activity around the camp all day, not only hosting the visit from the senior delegates from six major environmental groups (RSPB, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, The Wildlife trusts, Campaign for Better Transport and the Campaign to Protect Rural England) but also building defences around the camp and fixing up tree nets, practicing climbing, keeping visitors fed with a seemingly inexhaustible hospitality, etc.

All this was busily going on around my son who buried his head in a new book for most of the day, but insisted he really liked being there at the camp to do so. Quite a few children visited the camp during the day, including one young boy who brought his own harness and did some impressive climbing up in the oaks.
As it got dark, some people left, including my family, and those who were staying ate round the fire and discussed what would happen the following day. I headed to my tent for an early night and stood transfixed for a while looking up at the clear sky and the full moon through the branches.
I didn't get a lot of sleep, partly the cold and partly dreams of falling in mud waking me up with a start and other times thinking I heard people calling only to realise it was owls hooting to each other. People were up early in the morning and preparing their positions. I was still a bit undecided, whether to try and get up a tree or assist with keeping bailiffs out from below. Then someone offered the irresistable opportunity to lock my arm into a block of concrete and Yay! I had a plan. Was I worried? My face does look unintentionally worried sometimes but No! Oh, ok, just a tiny bit...it was a new experience and I'm quite attached to my arm.

Reports of vans arriving confirmed the eviction was going to take place. The defences built up the day before with brambles and wire were helpful in keeping them out for a while, together with some smoke clouding visibility.

Meanwhile at the back of the camp, people were blocking them from coming over the stream, where a couple of metal bridges were brought in. A tractor brought a load of fencing which started going up around the camp.

Some defenders were roughly dragged from the bridge onto the other side of the stream and a man who managed to get back into the camp was arrested and carried off site.

I loved the radical poetry that was recited loudly for all to here from out of the treetops and the way someone was serenading the camp with CNT anarchist songs. I loved the care and kindness shown by people on the ground (before they got evicted) to ensure those who were locked-on were comfortable as possible and had what they needed. I loved the man who built me a wooden seat and the woman who brought me a jumper to pad it with (sorry I still have this jumper and need to get it back to its owner!). I loved the sense of humour of some of those up there who kept spirits high and even halted the work of the pneumatic drilling on our lock-on for a while. I loved my lock-on colleague who made me laugh quite a lot. I loved the tree I was locked beside and whenever police spoke to me I just focussed all my attention on this and then I couldn't hear or see them anymore...
Watching the micro-environment and it's inhabitants going about their daily lives directly in front of my eyes. An ant, a beetle, a tiny spider creeping into a crevice in the bark. The ivy on it's slow climb upwards. I really felt very close to the energy of this tree and felt an immense sadness that within hours or days, all this great body of life and the lives it supports was going to be lost forever, for nothing, for a road that isn't needed, for greedy land-owners like Cambridge University (they're not locals, by the way), for George Osborne's mindless road scheme and for a council which doesn't care about the destruction of the natural environment it is supposed to be responsible for any more than it cares about its residents welfare or for the local land-owners who have had their land forcibly purchased (though apparently still waiting to be fully reimbursed).  
After being carried out of the camp beyond the fencing boundary, we could see everyone who was still up in the trees and on the tripod and knew this was going to certainly go into a second day. Maybe the police and bailiffs would have got more done if they hadn't kept stopping for tea-breaks and to go off and play in their bouncy castle...

 Who knows, but everyone who participated in the resistance won the trees another day.
There's a lot of people, myself included, who have referred to the people living and taking action at Combe Haven as 'heroes', who have said 'well done' and 'brilliant' and 'keep up the good work'. I've said it and had it said to me and I understand this response. It's supportive and is appreciated as such. However, I'm also aware that when we talk like this and use words like 'heroes', we're placing a distance between ourselves and them. As if we're saying that they're doing something we couldn't do. As if we can't all be as strong and remarkable, as brave and committed as these people. I realise we can't all physically get there, we can't all juggle our differing responsibilities to offer the same levels of involvement as everyone else, but most of us can join in practically in some way. Most of us can possibly claim the power to be as heroic as those we congratulate and do something real to make a difference, as well as watching and sharing the updates rolling in on our screens and keeping on sending our important words of support. Our countryside is facing a huge devastating onslaught in the months and years ahead by the £30 billion roadbuilding schemes that are coming. The environmental resistance to this needs to grow to meet it.
I know while I've been focussed on Combe Haven, there's as ever, a whole load of other shit in the world taking place that also requires attention and action. It's up to us to make choices about where we put our energy and do what we feel we can within the web, as it's all connected. Remembering to look after ourselves at the same time! So I'll still be going to work later, taking my son to his guitar class, calling on parents, walking the dog, and because I can't be there today, keep checking and sharing those online news updates. But something I've noticed from participation in direct action camps and actions, not just there at Combe Haven, is that they're places that can not only possibly make change and have a real impact on the world, but they can be really good places to restore my faith in humanity and inspire my spirit with good company and creative visions of what a better world feels like, already here and now, whatever the future holds.  
If you haven't signed it, please sign this petition:

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Combe Haven Calling...

I have to admit it, I hesitated with the decision and had to sleep on it.The urgent call for people to come to the last camp at Combe Haven which they expect to be evicted this coming Monday 28th got an immediate emotional response but not a practical one. This weekend is busy for me. It would be really inconvenient to go this time. It wouldn't only be easy to stay away and hope lots of other people go, but it would probably be sensible. I'm looking forward to a child's birthday party with friends on Sunday. I have an annual visit from an LEA officer on Monday morning to discuss my son's home education. I have paid work Monday evening.


What's happening in the Combe Valley is not sensible, neither is it easy for the people trying to stop it. It's certainly inconvenient to the animals and trees and other inhabitants of the open countryside who stand in it's way.

How will I be able to sit calmly explaining to the woman from the LEA how I'm providing my son with an education, show her his biology book where we've studied photosynthesis and the structure of plants at the very same time that I know in a beautiful part of our countryside, bailiffs and chainsaws are working their hardest to destroy those things, to destroy a vital aspect of this country which I try to teach my son to value, respect and appreciate? Maybe a responsible parent would not be sitting at a table in a meeting which could be postponed and instead be up in the branches of one of those trees or at the very least be on the ground trying to prevent such a crime, to protect those majestic plant structures which perform the life-giving process of photosynthesis, for the generations to come (wildlife generations as well as human)? It's not in the text book I know, but then the most important things rarely are.

Will I enjoy a party, chat, eat cake (amazing as I know it will be!) while a group of dedicated, cold, probably very tired people are urgently calling for help to save their camp, save the last remaining mature oak trees in the area, a call that by next week will most likely be far too late.

How can I go off to work, smile at the customers, earn my money, while not being there to try and stop this country being made another big step poorer. To some people, this may sound overdramatised, like an out of proportion concern, that we're talking about a handful of trees and that given the immense number of problems the world is facing, energy could be better spent elsewhere. I totally agree that the enormity of the issues in crisis which as a global community we are facing can feel overwhelming and that if we look at, for example, rainforest destruction, then these few trees at Combe Haven can seem almost insignificant. But, it is exactly because of both the devastating global and national environmental context we are in, which makes this struggle so vitally important. It's because of the current economic crisis that it's so insane to be resurrecting a roads programme which will divert billions away from the essential services which the infrastructure of our society truly needs. To choose to act locally we can each begin to confront the bigger picture which otherwise can seem unmanageable. To act to save these particular individual trees, to stop this particular road from going ahead, we can help to prevent an avalanche of future environmental destruction across Britain's countryside. I suppose it comes down to what we care about, what we choose to identify with.

If the eviction does not happen after all on Monday will I have cancelled my previous commitments for nothing? No, I don't think so. I obviously want to make the effort for the occasion that would be most effective but each day not evicted is a good thing and while I'm there I can make every second count in giving support to this amazing community. Even if I can't go and live there. Even if I can only give a couple of days.

And next week it may be too late.

So I'm writing this post in haste, knowing that through the writing of it I have come to a decision. Combe Haven has called to me, the oaks, the badgers, that particular little robin, the people. How can I say no?

Urgent Appeal from Combe Haven Defenders


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Why I Went To Combe Haven (And Why I'll Be Back)

We can follow the news and keep track of protests from the various multiple means of social media but nothing quite teaches us like being in the physical reality of a place or being in the actual presence of the people involved.The people in the protest against the Bexhill-to-Hastings link road have been in my thoughts every day, particularly since the icy weather set in and the camps started getting evicted. They've been camped up in trees and on the ground along the site of the planned road in the Combe Valley since December 14th. Their situation is the first thing I check in the morning. Check them out here: Twitter Facebook Website

So I really needed to get over there and show my support in a way that went beyond sending thoughts and just feeling an equal combination of worry (caused by the corporate criminals and their accomplices) and gratitude (for those heroes defending the valley). I went with the purpose of taking a load of food, helping to prevent an eviction if it occurred, providing some general support for the camp and learning what I could from the people and the land that I encountered.

Approaching the current camp at Decoy Pond Wood, I passed the site of the Three Oak Camp which was evicted last week and where the 400 yr old oak lay fallen. I can't help wondering how the person whose hands were on that chainsaw gets to sleep at night, but I guess it's the same old story the world over of the aggressor being so disconnected from the life they are destroying. And of course it's all about the money and the increasingly brutal capitalist mindset which sees 'countryside' as just another resource to abuse and profit from in the cause of economic and industrial 'growth', rather than as a vital bio-diverse network of interacting relationships.

Combe Valley...the blue shape in the distant tree is at the Decoy Pond Wood camp

Arriving early morning at the camp, everything was pretty quiet, people starting to wake up in the tree houses and benders and someone starting to get the fire lit. Despite the two other camps having been evicted this week, there was a rumour that there wouldn't be an eviction here today due to police being called elsewhere and so not being available to assist the bailiffs. Shortly after 8am we had a visit from four police liaison officers, apparently calling by to check that everyone was still alive (the good cops I guess... the bad cops will no doubt appear when people are dragged out of trees and arrested).

After they'd gone, a couple of us kept watch out near the road in case any suspicious crowds of people in fluorescent jackets and hard hats appeared. They didn't and the camp was to see another day, not evicted.

Another group of supporters arrived and we all set about collecting wood to build up a huge log pile for the camp, as with the current freezing conditions, keeping the fire fed is going to be so important. The fire feels like the heart, not only providing warmth and power for heating pans and kettles, but a central place to gather, take a break, drink tea together and draw a bit of comfort under incredibly harsh conditions.

While collecting wood we noticed painted red line markings on earth and plants which indicate the route the road will take. The bright red lines conspicuously out of place here, tracing the path of the destruction to come. Red lines writing the language of 'progress' across the countryside, which neither trees nor badgers, voles nor newts, blackbirds nor I can understand. Maybe they will dissolve under the snowfall, get erased by the wind. Perhaps they will get rubbed out by the mud scattering beneath our boots as we pass, collecting wood. That's strange, I don't see them anymore!

Back at the camp, a new bender was being built for storing food and a tarpaulin shelter was erected above the fire circle. Strings of coloured bunting were hung along the front edge, welcoming and celebratory. Celebrating the survival so far of this demonstration of resistance and suggesting the party to come when the Government's resurrection of nearly 200 road schemes are once more abandoned. It was the Twyford Down and Newbury Road protests in the early 90's which put an end to Thatcher's 'Roads For Prosperity' programme, which is where many of today's proposed road schemes originate. This is why I feel the Bexhill-to-Hastings link road, as the first project of the Government's roads revival, needs to be met with the strongest resistance, to set the stage for the costs and obstruction they will face if they choose to bulldoze ahead, regardless of public opposition and the vital importance of preserving this country's quickly diminishing natural environments.


Taking a walk across the field and into a small wood, I was faced with another sign of the consequences of this road. This time on the badger population, as if a proposed cull in the country was not enough to threaten this jokingly 'protected' animal. Yes, I've read Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, I know all about 'compulsory purchase' of homes for the purposes of highways. People are forcibly losing their houses for the road as well as businesses which stand in the way. And of course the uncountable multitude of wild birds and animals which will be displaced or killed is of no consequence, even when there are apparently laws designed to keep them safe. Ah, but they can get a licence to allow them to make something criminal not criminal... easy! Sorry, still criminal in my book. I saw whole banks of closed setts for evictions of badgers just in a very small area.


Back at the camp I had a cup of tea and then set off with a couple of others across the fields to the Base Camp which had been evicted the previous day. We were on a mission to retrieve anything useful, in particular, several chairs which could be used at the existing camp. We stopped to marvel at the beauty of the snow topped pond and someone mentioned that this pond may need to be 'moved' to make way for the road.

At the demolished Base Camp, I couldn't help noticing a post-apocalyptic feeling as we searched through the wreckage left by the eviction. Up here, on top of the ridge of the old railway line, there were far-reaching views in all directions over the countryside and as I looked, my mind juxtaposed images of what I could see with images of what is to come. How much of this would survive? This wild place of birdsong to be replaced with the urban sprawl between towns and the roar of cars. Then I looked down at the fallen tree still holding the tree-house. The sawn stumps all around which strike me not only with the tragedy of themselves destroyed, but with what they represent of a culture which is allowing greed and ignorance to control the sources and means of life. The irony of a world literally driving itself into a climate nightmare, hellbent on more roads and less trees, along with all the other absurdities which are pushing us all closer to the edge of a potentially very real apocalyptic world.


Heading back, footprints, mine and a bird and nearby paw prints, making visible what time usually hides from us - the sharing of space with unknown others. The reminder that we do not walk alone, we cannot claim the absolute ownership of the space we occupy. For the brief time that we are here, we may start remembering that despite all our human fences and laws and red lines marking our various boundaries, there is such a thing as free communal space, as space that can and should exist beyond our ability to colonise it. The space where the badger runs in the darkness and the foxes play, where the yellow-necked mice scamper and the crow hops, where we each may meet only as passing footprints left behind in the snow.


Conversation at the camp later touched on possible ways forward for the protest, the next steps that can be taken. There were good ideas shared of mass trespasses, mass picnics, more camps, actions drawing attention to the companies who are profiting from the road. I liked the suggestion of an occupation of Trinity College in Cambridge. Trinity has been a particularly aggressive force for the urban development of the large area of peaceful countryside that it owns. Maybe we could take up the issue with them in their own backyard?


Around the camp as we sat and chatted, we kept seeing a little robin coming and going, hopping from twig to twig. I imagined him as a small protest camp guardian, overseeing the work of those who are trying so desperately hard to safeguard his home.

It's expected that police and bailiffs will come to evict this last remaining camp on Monday. People were beginning to strengthen the security of the camp, building the barricades to give a bit more time for the defence of this beautiful oak.

There is a call out for as many people to come as possible this weekend to help prepare defences including a free bus service. Obviously Monday early morning is especially important, to support and oppose the eviction itself. Even if you don't climb trees and lock on in an arrestable action, it helps to be present and support those who are, and to be a witness or act as a legal observer.



Standing in this open field, snow falling softly,

settling on me, on earth, these trees, woods,

here only for now. Only for now, this land

belonging to us,

badgers deep under the hard ground.

For now it all pauses, snow falls

as if in slow motion,

everything is held just as it is, safe.

Standing here at the scene of the crime,

while it has not yet happened,

trees still standing,

as if there still could be wisdom in the world,

As if there still could be hope.


Whatever happens over the coming week, the protest will not be over when this camp is evicted. The road is going to be in the making for the next two years and so it's going to be a long term project. The conservative estimate of £30 billion which is the new roads budget, would be better invested at least in part on the railways which are heading towards a crisis. My journey home from camp took six hours, instead of three. There were broken down trains, cancellations, no drivers to be found, signal failures, announcement and display malfunctions... Every train journey I've taken over the last few months has involved a delay or problem of some kind, with or without one or two inches of snow to contend with. We don't need new roads but if they don't know what to do with the money, there's a hell of a lot of other things that could do with fixing.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Classroom Is Awesome Today!

So another fun-filled day of education! That is what we're doing isn't it? This walking along a beach in the sun with swans, gulls and crows for bickering, giggling classmates. This stopping to stroke friendly dogs and chat with passing strangers. This watching the ducks swimming in and out of the reeds, seeing how the lake shimmers with gentle ripples and reflects the trees like glass. This wading into the waves and picking up pebbles and taking deep breaths of the seaweedy air. This exclaiming at how the sea looks such a tropical blue and so clear today and we should come back with our wetsuits and towels to go swimming!
I get increasingly asked these days, 'what are you going to do about GCSE's?' Is there a GCSE in beachcombing yet? Will have to check that out!
The Local Education Authority will be coming round for their annual visit in a couple of weeks time to check our son is receiving an 'appropriate' education and discuss our learning objectives. We see their assessment as unnecessary and irrelevant to our approach to education but my son quite enjoyed the visit last year so we're not concerned about it.  My son can reassure them that he is quite clear about his learning objectives - more animation and more comic-making and more animation and maybe a bit more animation, a splash of game-making, a bit of coding and some more animation. My son can confirm that he's receiving an entirely appropriate education although he might say that he feels that he could be doing a bit more animation than there has currently been time for, especially if his mum didn't keep dragging him out to look at ducks...
Yes, we pin him down for some maths and english and a few other things that will be useful (and will probably head towards getting a few of those pesky GCSE things everyone keeps talking about sometime). Yes, he does plenty of other activities and meets other people, including other CHILDREN!! And despite my occasional assertions to the contrary, I don't really keep him in a cupboard. No, it's not always fun-packed and awesome and sometimes we screw up a bit or a lot or feel like tearing our hair out (or someone else's) but we're all committed to seeing it through and following the principle of what education is about for us (though it's about so much more than one sentence can ever express) - enabling someone with the knowledge and skills to be who they want to be, to do what makes them happy and follow where that leads them. It's true that my son hopes it will lead him into making lots of money and acquiring international fame, as somehow, despite having anarchist parents, he's got a hint of the global capitalist about him occasionally. Time will tell... 
In the meantime, we continue to learn, the planned 'lessons' and the unexpected ones that just spring up from being alive and curious and interacting with the world, in all kinds of places, and actually that is pretty awesome.
In case anyone's wondering what that highly intellectual academic tome is that my son is reading, er, can we change the subject now please....

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Dipping Into The New Year!

How do we begin a new day? A new year?

Going back to sleep...
Smiling at a blue sky and sun, through a gap in the curtains...
Switching the computer on...
Checking Facebook...
Letting the dog out...
Making carrot juice...
Making a plan...
Stealing a sock...
Shouting at the dog to drop the sock!

Each of our family started our day in a different unspectacular, sleepy way, but somehow we all managed to agree sooner or later, that we'd go to the beach. I packed a flask of hot chocolate, along with wetsuits and towels just in case my slightly wavering intention to swim crystallised into a determined action.

It didn't... it got blown away by the chilly breeze and shifted into a rather disappointing commitment to keep my clothes on and tie my scarf tighter around my neck! However, quite strangely, my son's previous decision to just go for a walk and not go in the sea changed into 'I'm definitely going swimming!'. Inspired by his enthusiasm I rolled up my jeans and went in all the way... almost up to my knees!! It was PAINFUL! The sharp stones hurt almost as much as the freezing water and my cries made the dog run round being crazy and barking.


Sharpness of stone,
iciness of water,
dog barking at our cries.

Here where you died,
we are being so alive
and suddenly I know,
this is the best way
to honour you.

There was quite a swell with some biggish waves causing a passing dog walker to say 'that's a bit dodgy isn't it?' which surprised me a bit because I was assuming that she was coming over to say 'Wow, I'm so impressed!'. But soon I had a numb son who couldn't feel his hands and feet to concentrate on getting dry and clothed and supplied with chocolate.

We almost stumbled on a strange creature, dead and washed up, which none of us could identify. It's legs were folded in, looking a bit like those of a spider crab, but it's body was very different. Any ideas?

I realised that my NOT plunging wholly into the sea today produced a bit of a 'failed' feeling. This was useful as it became a bit of a metaphor for how I can have a tendency to set myself up and then feel an obligation to follow through even when the project has become disconnected from the joy of the original idea. So this was an opportunity to solidify a new intention for the new year - to stop giving myself a hard time for 'failing' to live up to my demandingly high expectations of myself! Sometimes it really is OK to do something different, to respond to the moment, to not be at all 'amazing'. And it's definitely alright to listen to the river of the heart, allow it to change its course, to not force it through a fixed channel 'because that's what I said I'd do'. Which doesn't mean becoming a politician, dishonestly and unreliably promising one thing and doing another all the time. It just means being MORE honest with deciding where I want to put my energy and listening better to the intuitive impulses which get talked down a bit too much. Oh and forgiving myself a lot more for the fuck-ups and blind-spots instead of tormenting myself forever with their whips, because without hind-sight I know they wouldn't look half so bad. So yeah... kindness, to myself, to one and all.

Warmed by hot soup we went inland to one of my favourite places to visit on a clear sunny day - Old Winchester Hill, the ancient Hillfort with its Bronze Age burial mounds, old yew woods and incredible views all round.

As we walked back the sun was setting and turning the sky to the West a golden orange. It's just something so simple which fills me with incredible gratitude... costs nothing but the effort to turn my head, open my eyes, a daily gift of beauty offered the world over, every one unique. A new intention for the year forms - to be present for as many sunrises and sunsets as possible. Beginnings and endings. A fresh opportunity each day to use the power of this opening and welcoming in, of this closing and letting go.

With the last light from the day's sun, we walked down the path to the woodland burial ground where my brother is buried and I placed the stone I had picked up at the beach this morning, onto his grave. Feeling a paradox, that maybe we can learn how to let go and also hold on, transforming the ended into a beginning without losing the essence. Experiencing the one within the all.


Our first day of 2013 has given us lots of memories for our jar, which we will read when we need to remember the good things or on next New Year's Eve, when we need to remind ourselves where the year went to so quickly. Happy New Year!