Bath to Avebury
A contrasting weekend. Yesterday went to the Big Transition Bath Event at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institute (BRLSI) – a day of talks, workshops, networking and inspiration organised by Transition Bath. Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees, opened the event with a sobering but galvanising talk about the effects of climate change – and how we can respond to its challenges (as the Maldives is doing, becoming the world’s first carbon neutral country). There followed a triple programme of interesting and empowering talks. Oh, and some nice cake.
The weather was suitably ominous – like the start of some disaster movie. This particular ‘pathetic fallacy’ was simply a pain in the arse for most of storm-battered Britain. Unfortunately, it will probably take some extreme weather event (London flooding – a la New Orleans – to shock the majority of people, including the government, into action). Most people are still in the denial stage – prefer to see Climate Change as a myth (an morally outrageous & unscientific stance perpetuated largely by the Oil Industry), in itself a consoling fiction for those who wish to stick their heads in the sand and continue their carbon-emitting lifestyles. Yet it is very difficult for even the greenest person to lead a carbon-neutral lifestyle – from the day we are born we become a burden to the planet. In this ‘new paradigm’ the sin of carbon can be absolved by the purchase of carbon credits – the modern equivalent of medieval ‘indulgences’. Carbon-traders are the modern Pardoners, giving people the odour of sanctity with their invisible benedictions. Climate Change gurus are the new priests, the greener you are, the ‘holier’ you are – as people try to outdo each other in what could be called ‘hair-shirtman ship’, eg ‘I turned green twenty years ago’; ‘I went green twenty five years ago…’) and there’s even a happy clappy song to go with it: at the end of the day a guy called Chris got everyone to join in his ‘Climate Change’ anthem, which had the lyrics: ‘Energy … Descent … Plan – Transition Culture!’ I don’t think they’re going to win over many people with that – they need to work on their song-writing! Green art doesn’t have to be bad art – and the last talk I went to (and the most interesting for me) was a session on Imagineering led by eco-poet, Helen Moore – where we discussed such matters, and the ‘spectre of the preacher’ as I put it: people don’t respond to a hectoring tone (I certainly don’t – and I’m sympathetic). You have to enchant people by sheer quality – entertain, impress, then you have their attention. Ask tough questions, but don’t spoonfeed answers. Light a candle, don’t fill a pail (although a few buckets today – when the heavens opened – wouldn’t have gone amiss).
Afterwards went to Bristol for something completely different – ostensibly – a critically-acclaimed Tobacco Factory production of Uncle Vanya at the marvellous Old Vic, but as it turned out, it had a strong ecological subplot, as advocated by the Doctor, with his forests, his love of trees, his vegetarianism. And in its stark depiction of how we have to keep on living – even through depression and despair, Chekov perhaps hints out how we might also ‘keep going’. It was surprisingly funny – and shows how much humour is an essential for life on Earth also (the probes being sent out across the Solar System should be scanning planets for it as well as water).
Today, the skies miraculously cleared, so I made the most of the window in the weather to take my shiny new time machine (a Triumph Legend) out on a long run to Avebury. I’d been working hard – after two weeks of marking OU papers I needed to blow away the cobwebs (all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – and I didn’t want to do a Shining: ‘Here’s Johnnny!’) I first went to Silbury Hill (Europe’s largest man-made mound, dating from 2400 BCE), then walked up to West Kennet long barrow (3650BCE), enjoying the glorious light, the wind, the space. Hardly a soul around.
Good to get away from computers, etc, in this vast sacred landscape temple… ancient technology that has stood the test of time. The incredible West Kennet is still standing after nearly six millennia – how many things these days would last so long?
Then I rode the short distance to the massive main circle and had my packed lunch in a copse of beech trees, enjoying being back in this magnificent sacred space where I have been coming for twenty years (‘I’ve been coming for twenty five years!’)
The standing stones are made up of what are known locally as ‘grey wethers’ (because they resemble sheep in poor light – many of which were manically munching away amidst the megaliths, bulging-eyed grass addicts). I walked all the way around the henge, stopping occasionally to scribble in my field journal – notes for my new book. Out in the sun on my shiny new steed – working on my new book … life is good.