Twelve Weeks in first lockdown

Week One

Day 1 [26 March 2020]

Two days ago my daughter Felicity – Fizz – sent me this text: ‘Hi Mum, latest guidance says people with splenectomy should stay home and avoid face to face contact for 12 weeks, so Dave should do the shopping! Xxxxx’ I replied ‘Ok, but hard to get him to abide by my rule of just one shop every other day.’ to which she sent ‘I’ll talk to him. Xxxxxx’. That talk didn’t happen. Our exchange continued, with me telling her about my nightmares and being worried about her ‘my little girl’ but also about myself, given that she had told me that one’s spleen is needed to fight bacteria, not viruses, so I would survive getting the corona virus. She said I would be fine, she checked with a colleague who agreed. I asked if it would be ok to go for a drive to somewhere remote to walk and she said she thought this was fine. So we did, yesterday. We drove on the A38 to the other side of Dartmoor, then to the spot Dave remembered from January 2016 where I had disappeared across a stretch of grass, only a few weeks after my knee replacement operation. This spot has two rows of ancient beech trees at right angles, Dave thinks originally from hedges. Now they are so beautiful and we took photos, he with his camera, me with my phone, to capture the trees’ abundant winter branches and carpets of long shadows – also sheep and ponies. There were a few people there but nowhere near us. So we did the right thing by Fizz’s advice, but I felt guilty, especially when we watched the news with mentions of avoiding unnecessary journeys, and the roads had been very empty, and the concern would be if there had been some encounter, there was the risk of the virus being moved to a new area. We had hoped to do something like that each week of the twelve, but perhaps that would be irresponsible – one had to follow the rules even when one distrusts the rule givers – and in the present circumstances. The reason we didn’t pick up on this ‘no unnecessary journeys’ rule was that we could not bear to watch the ridiculous and bumbling prime minister address the nation three days ago, a broadcast watched by a record number of viewers, we read the next day. That next day was our granddaughter Thalia’s 21st birthday and we had a family Skype call, and I asked my daughter Eleanor – L – if she had watched that broadcast and she had, to my surprise.

Hence (avoiding the usual ‘So’) this is my plan: I will write every day for those 12 weeks, and relax my habitual scholarly discipline: not give references, not avoid personal stuff, but just let it flow and write whatever occurs to me. At the same time I will have in mind – of course! – the need for change, having in mind that this crisis could be an opportunity for not returning to business as usual. What is need is relocalisation world wide. There needs to be a rapid transition towards local self-reliance, particularly for food, not only because food is the most vital human need but because it is relatively easy to tackle and there are well established local food movements in many parts of the world. Another reason is that global heating can be tackled at the same time if we shift towards food forests and carbon farms, where food comes from permanent plantings, keeping the soil covered and its carbon safely sequestered, not released into the atmosphere. Also local food is a brilliant focus for bringing communities together, usefully, socially and culturally – the path to what Tagore called ‘Life in its completeness’.

Talking of Tagore, I intend to bring the great Bengali poet whose English writings I have studied for over ten years along with me over this twelve weeks, along with two other polymaths: William Morris and Jared Diamond. One reason for bringing them in is that I’ve agreed to contribute a chapter to a new collection of essays edited by my remote colleague and friend Professor Mohammad Quayum of the International Islamic University Malaysia, and Editor of the online journal Asiatic. His tentative title is ‘Santiniketan, Visva-Bharati, Sriniketain: Rabindranath Tagore’s Educational Philosophy and Practice’. I sent him my abstract and he approved that and said he looked forward ‘to reading the full article soon’ – which is quite a challenge, so I’m hoping to get my thoughts together in an informal way and use them in scholarly fashion later. Quayum is not really in a hurry for this I think as he told me he was going to Adelaide to stay with his daughter, as it is probably safer there than in Kuala Lumpur. My article is to be called ‘Tagore and Morris: Education for Utopia’, and this is my abstract:

The world is in urgent need of ways to change in order to avert runaway climate change and ecological catastrophe. In this essay I examine the radical alternatives to be found in the utopian visions of two poets and polymaths, one from the East, the other from the West: Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) and William Morris (1834 – 1896). They were visionaries as well as being politically engaged and also social reformers. They criticised industrialisation and the pursuit of profit, and advocated culturally rich, self-sufficient local communities. Both failed in their own practical attempts in this direction and wrote utopian stories about the ways of life they longed for, as if they could never come about in the real world. However, there is a perspective on the alternatives they wrote about which renders them potentially sound and achievable in today’s world. When we examine their interestingly similar ideas on education and skills training, a viable path is revealed which is highly relevant to the challenges and opportunities of today. That relevance is enhanced if we also consider how these ideas on learning for life could encourage and accelerate the emergence of the kinds of locally self-reliant communities which Tagore and Morris would recognise and welcome.

I am also going to bring in Jared Diamond (1937 —) because of the light he sheds on how human diseases arise and spread, and hence on the coronavirus which is confining me to home for these 12 weeks. Many people have been exchanging information and opinions about the virus on social media since we first became aware in January of the disease spreading fast in China. Along the way I got some stick from friends for seeming to blame the Chinese, and tried to explain saying – among other things – that one can consider responsibility, which is never simply attributing fault to a particular cause or mistake, and at the same time deplore using that as a justification for prejudice.

On 14 March I wrote this on facebook: ‘Following a discussion on a friend’s page about who or what is to blame for Covid 19, I said it’s (‘the Chinese’) eating wild meat – or any meat or dairy: think TB before testing and pasteurisation… Veganism is the only safe and healthy and humane way to go!’ Ed Sears, a fellow trustee of the charity I run called Plants For A Future, made an interesting comment: ‘Genetic evidence shows the coronavirus transferred to humans in the 3rd week of November 2019 from live animals – probably pangolins – at a live wild animal market in Wuhan. Due to the number of people living in close proximity with each other and lots of domestic and also wild animals in China, this can be expected to happen again with other diseases. It has already happened before. Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel describes how diseases which developed in Europe and the Middle East when animal agriculture and cities began, then spread to other populations with low resistance because they lived a less densely populated lifestyle.’ I have a copy of that book so I looked up and reread the chapter ‘Lethal Gift of Livestock’ and wrote something about it in this document, which I began on 11 January, and was called ‘Shades of Green’ before I renamed it today.

Day 2

The planet is exhausted. National and international economies should not seek to return to normal once the covid crisis is over, and it would help governments address the crisis if they anticipated that instead of – like Trump especially – announcing that everyone will be back to work soon, when US has more cases than rest of the world now and many hot spots besides New York.

How did the planet become exhausted? Diamond’s book explains that, not directly but by tackling a different question: how is it that some countries have material goods ‘ranging from steel axes, matches, and medicines to clothing, soft drinks, and umbrellas’ and other countries did not develop the capacity to make these things. In New Guinea  such material goods are referred to as ‘cargo’. In the 1970s Diamond was in New Guinea carrying out research into bird evolution and met ‘a remarkable local politician named Yali’, who became a friend. One day Yali asked him: ‘Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?’ I will resist the temptation to break off and study Diamond’s book to formulate an authoritative answer, and just say: ‘because in some parts of the world agriculture was developed capable of producing surpluses’. If land workers can produce more food and other materials than they need for themselves, and if they can be made to work extra hours, the surplus produce can go to feed rulers, soldiers and administrators. One would think that surpluses could be produced in all parts of the world people came to inhabit and thrive thousands of years ago, but Diamond argues that there were limits imposed by ‘constellations of environmental factors’. He is also adamant that the reason was not that people in countries which didn’t develop in that way were less intelligent.

The capacity of human groups to produce surpluses and be able to support non-agricultural occupations and classes goes back thousands of years and has given rise to diverse states and cultures. Food production technologies have contributed to shifting the balance between land workers and others so that in some parts of the world only a small proportion of the population has anything to do with food production, although the occupational mix is uneven and complex, and includes seasonal surges of demand for workers on planting and harvesting, often met by low paid and low status labouring groups.

With that broad picture in mind, it is interesting to consider how Tagore and Morris saw the situations in their times and places. Certainly they were both critical of the modern world, and both wrote about the desirability of alternative ways of life where communities were close to the land and regarded food growing as satisfying and important work. My article for Quayum will consider the utopias they wrote about. Morris wrote the utopian novel News From Nowhere (1890). Tagore wrote this poem, published in English translation in 1912, which I typed up on 7 December last year:

The Country of ‘Found Everything’
In the country of ‘Found-Everything’,
Palaces rise not high;
The gates are open wide,
No sentinels standing by.
In stables are no horses,
No beautiful elephants show,
No lamps of scented oil
Burn while soft winds blow!
The women—ah! the women—
They wear no jewels on hair,
The golden turrets in temples
Are nowhere visible there.
On sides of lovely walks,
The sward lies deep and green;
The limpid stream hard by
Displays its crystal sheen.
A hut, with a hedge round it;
There creepers twine and coil,
And all day long the bees
In flowers buzz and toil.
In the morning the passers-by
Go to their work and sing,
In evening they come unpaid,
In the country of ‘Found-Everything’.
In the courtyard of her hut
Sits the girl at hot noon-tide.
She hums a tune as she spins,
The shades fall at her side.
In fields the new paddy shoots
Wave in the breeze all day.
An unknown scent or sound
Brings on sudden dismay!
The deep heart of the sky
To the woodland’s bosom doth cling,
And whoever goes goes singing
In the country of ‘Found-Everything’.
The merchants’ boats pass by,
They sail on far away,
They touch not here for bargain,
They rest not here one day.
The soldiers march with victory,
Their banners stream in the sky,
Their monarch stops not here,
As his chariot rolls hard by.
Travellers from distant lands,
Whom here chance does bring,
They fail to see what’s there,
In the country of ‘Found-Everything’.
No rush or hurry in streets,
No din in marts, no noise.
Here build thy peaceful hut,
O, poet! take thy choice!
Lay down this weary load,
Wash thy dirt off here,
Set thy guitar in tune,
And see what treasure is near!
Spread out thy tired feet,
And rest when birds drop wing,
’Neath the sky lit up with stars,
In the country of ‘Found-Everything’.

[Translated from the Bengali of Rabindra Nath Tagore.]
The first poem of Tagore to appear in a British Periodical.
The Nation, 15 June 1912, p. 406.
Imagining Tagore, p. 3.

It is interesting that Tagore emphasises all the grandeur and riches this utopian country has no need of: palaces, horses, elephants, scented oil, jewels, merchants, monarch, chariots and soldiers. This is because everything is found inside the country in its paddy fields, with spinning, the building of peaceful huts, singing workers without need of payment, and the peace and quiet of green swards and woodland, birds, bees and stars. There are no surpluses here to supply idlers with luxuries – apart, perhaps from the poet with his guitar.

I don’t know when Tagore wrote the original poem in Bengali, but it may have been a few years before 1912, the year he arrived in London with his collection of prose poems which excited the literati here and was published as Gitanjali: Song Offerings and made Tagore a world celebrity and earned him the Nobel prize in Literature the following year. It would seem that Morris’s and Tagore’s utopias were written little more than twenty years apart. When I was researching Tagore for my PhD I wanted to compare him with Morris but my supervisor told me I could only do that if I had evidence that Tagore had read anything by Morris, or even corresponded with him, which was not impossible given that Tagore was 35 years old when Morris died. I asked my Tagore expert and Bengali speaking friend Uma Das Gupta if Tagore knew of Morris and she did not know, although she believed Tagore had read John Ruskin (1819-1900), who had a major role in inspiring Morris in his pioneering new approaches to design and the decorative arts. Dr Mark Frost, author of a book on Ruskin’s major utopian venture, the Guild of St George, wrote that:

Morris shared Ruskin’s belief in the superiority of medieval crafts. He imbibed Ruskin’s conviction that a nation can be judged by its aesthetic productions; that an immoral nation is incapable of creating great art; and that only non-mechanical, freely creative crafts could produce genuine beauty.

This message, articulated most effectively in the chapter entitled ‘The Nature of Gothic’ in the second volume of Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice (1851, 3 vols), a work described by Morris as ‘one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of the century’, sought not merely to inspire beautiful buildings, paintings, and crafts, but to transform what Ruskin saw as the inhuman conditions of labour endured by Victorian workers.[1]

Morris not only deplored the conditions in factories, he also hated mass production of what he saw as shoddy and inferior goods, sometimes incorporating poor imitations of his own designs. He was also fiercely critical of imperialism, understanding from his reading of Marx how capitalism needed to take over new lands to obtain cheap raw materials and establish new markets.

Day 3

I struggled yesterday to write 1000 words – missed it by about 20 – because of being unable to let go of accuracy and referencing, but I shouldn’t beat myself up over this because what I wrote on Day 2 was key; it was setting the scene of a huge ask: how can we reverse the trend of the past several thousand years and relocalise towards a version of the Tagore-Morris utopia I’m envisaging?

David made a remark which illustrates brilliantly – he often does this kind of thing – the scale of the inequality this new transition has to smooth over. I was reading one of the Guardian’s ‘Long Read’ pieces. It was about a particular researcher in Cambridge working on developing a Covid-19 vaccine – in his case a general coronavirus vaccine, using a particular approach involving finding a portion of the virus’s almost 30 thousand nucleotides which would be its weak point, or point of focus and recognition for antigens, the things that stimulate the body to produce antibodies. I don’t know if I’ve got that straight but it’ll do. In the article we were told about China sending the world the full sequence in mid-February, in digital form, and I said how brilliant that was. David said it’s a pity China couldn’t have stopped people eating pangolins – the other end, as it were, of the intellectual and social range in that huge country. This is the sort of smoothing we have to do to save the planet, because, as I said at the start of Day 2, the planet is exhausted. (I note that that was 261 words, and was easy, and I need 3 more chunks to meet my daily target.)

This smoothing will affect division of labour, of rewards, of status. It will mean redistributing surpluses equally and immediately. One thing it will not be is an advance on the progress made so far because it is that which has exhausted the planet. It would be tempting to latch onto online communication as the way to the best of all worlds: localisation, yes, but interconnected so that we can learn from each other. No! I have been resisting popping upstairs to fetch the book whose introduction I read in bed this morning in order to reference it properly. But when I resumed just now I had fetched it: Peter Frankopan, The New Silk Roads: The Present and the Future of the World.[2] The key point I got from the introduction was about the minerals required for online technology: ‘rare earths like yttrium, dysprosium and terbium’.[3] Frankopan is interested in the fact that 80% of these minerals come from China, but for my argument and project I wouldn’t care whether they came from China or Russia or from down the road in Cornwall because we need to engage solely in what we can do to meet our needs where we live. Similarly, I was not reassured – rather the reverse – by an analysis in New Scientist that ‘Binge watching isn’t as bad as we thought’.[4] Given that there is considerable concern about carbon emissions, I would rather people were worried about streaming and did less of it. That data flow has to stop as it provides opportunities for major distractions from the real work of establishing food forests and carbon farms – since we cannot go back to hunting and gathering, and we were destructive as a species when that was how we met our needs, as Diamond tells us. Another flow that must cease is container shipping. This is a point that will be received sympathetically by others who want to save the planet. Human flows, and flows of our goods and information, must cease, to enable the flows of the planetary metabolism to recover from their fevers and infections with our waste and pollution.

It is not all about what must stop. We also need to think about what to start, what to recover, perhaps from relatively benign behaviours from the past. Looking to Tagore and Morris we see leanings towards what we might label feudal social systems. When, as in Medieval England, there were kings and knights and chivalry, and ladies with Pre-Raphaelite auburn locks, there were also serfs and servants. That was not an equal society. There were privileged classes supplied through the surpluses produced by overworked labourers on the land. The land was ploughed and subject to erosion. Trees were felled for the houses, furniture, ships, carts and carriages needed for dwelling and moving and trade. And yet both Tagore and Morris believed that in those times rich men did their duties, had special functions concerned with infrastructure: roads and bridges, and also display and festivals. At the same time, Tagore and Morris wrote of their hopes and dreams for utopias without such hierarchies. It seems they looked back for the good bits, particularly to handcrafts and painted decoration, weaving and embroidery, the joys of making beautiful things which would last, for their own use and for their families and neighbours.

I have not written my quota, so room for something on what’s been happening. I’ve received a letter from my GP practice telling me that I’m officially ‘coronavirus extremely vulnerable’, and have to stay at home for 12 weeks. As I began this writing by saying, my daughter told me the official advice on splenectomy patients, raising my alarm, although she said I would be fine if I got the virus, and she also said I would be getting a letter. The big news yesterday was that our prime minister and secretary for health, also the chief medical officer, had come down with the virus, although wild mild symptoms, so they’ll all be bouncing back proudly immune. This weekend testing kits for the antibodies will be sent to hospitals and GP surgeries, and Fizz told me that would make a huge difference, as they would know who could come back to work. (There, over 1000 words, so I’m off to clean the bathroom floor, wash up, make hummus etc.)

Day 4

Only 4! I’d expected this would be Day 5. Strange how slowly days pass when I am writing to a discipline, when days pass so swiftly when the only measure is how many pairs of pants are in the main wash – often 13 when I thought the last wash was a week ago. Prompted by the short piece I found online which connects Ruskin and Morris through Carlyle, I have been reading Past and Present (1843) – superb writing! One short sentence struck me and stuck in my mind:

The soul of the world is just.[5]

If God is the soul of the world, I could be a deist like Carlyle, with – in my case – some interest in the scriptures for their cultural importance, but I am not ‘a person of faith’ as my daughter-in-law Jenny describes herself, with its obligation to carry out service to others.

If the soul of the world is just, there will be an eventual reckoning, and humankind is facing this now. There is a column in today’s Observer (29/3/20) headed ‘Now is not the time to be apportioning blame’ which I read with interest, expecting there to be something about what caused this pandemic: a market in China selling wild animals for human consumption and people around the world flying and going on cruises and spreading the virus around. The exponential spread of the virus is surely a reckoning, but on social media I was ticked off for seeming to blame ‘the Chinese’. I suppose I do, but only those immediately involved: the sellers bringing live animals to the market and those who want to eat exotic meats and create the demand. Having been reminded of Diamond’s chapter ‘Lethal Gift of Livestock’ on the evolution of germs, such blame as I am feeling is directed at people through the ages who have eaten food derived from animals.

David wrote a summary of Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells about the crisis we are faced with, the author’s focus being mainly climate change. David wrote notes on every page of the book and sent it to the Plants For A Future (PFAF) trustees for interest, and did not even receive any acknowledgement. The book was full of well supported facts and figures and one I was particularly impressed by was that half the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution was released in the last thirty years. My own blaming for that is directed at flying, container shipping and streaming, as much at the users of those modern facilities as at the businesses and investors who supply and finance them.

I’ve come back to this writing two hours after the previous paragraph. I was pleased that I’d written over 400 words so far today. My pattern used to be writing in the morning, reading and other research in the afternoon, as I thought I only wrote well in the mornings, and if I wrote in the afternoons I would be dissatisfied when I read it over and discard it, so better not to try. But I am trying to be more relaxed, reread and re-work less, aim for my 1000 words a day and only look over it much later. So here I am, two hours and more into the afternoon, and wondering where the time went. No mystery that. I was cooking. I spend quite a lot of time cooking as I like our food to be tasty – not a word I like as it sounds contrived and homely. Nothing wrong with homely, of course, and I’m no chef, no pretentions. I have quite a small set of dishes and methods, which work, and people say I’m a good cook. I seldom use recipes – only where ratios matter as in cakes or pastry. But however homely my cooking is – or maybe because it’s homely rather than heated up ready meals or slapdash and thrown together – it takes quite a long time, and then it’s eaten, usually with a few words of appreciation from David or family or friends, and then it’s gone, the time it took wasted, I think. So for several years now I’ve taken photos of each plate of food with my phone, and I have a huge collection. David said to me the other day, You should do something with these pictures. I have thought of looking into Instagram or other online application for sharing images, and explain my methods, which might interest vegans or other people trying to eat less meat and dairy but, without even basic culinary skills, resorting to supermarket vegan products. My latest idea is to write up my methods with pictures to illustrate in a document called ‘Priory Park Plates’, Priory Park Road being where we live. David has picked out 40 pictures which are clear, colourful, in focus and varied. I got as far as starting a new document called ‘200326PrioryParkPlates’ but there’s nothing in it but a title as yet.

I’ll begin here, and maybe transfer it later, as it is relevant to changing the world, giving it and ourselves a break from what reliance on animals foods brought about. On Sundays we often have a vegan roast. Today we had stuffed butternut squash, roast potatoes, roast parsnip, kale from the garden and leek and celery sauce. That meal was 100% vegan, apart perhaps from a tiny snail or two in the kale – one walked out of the water I washed the kale in. Also, I’ve had comments from non-vegans when I’ve mentioned veganism as a solution to the present crises saying that vegan diet harms animals, sometimes they explain that arable farming is ecologically destructive compared with grazing, and there was wheat in our meal: in the breadcrumbs for stuffing and flour to thicken the sauce. Our meal was less than innocent in other ways. Although we could have grown most of it ourselves in our garden, we didn’t. Last week we had a similar meal but with a home grown squash, but today’s was from Riverford, and we know they use animal manures. We used herbs from the garden and, as I said, the kale was home grown. We grow more in the main annual growing season: potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, garlic, courgettes, marrows, squash and pumpkin, also apples, pears, soft fruit especially blackcurrants. We could do more, and we must – if we survive the coronavirus.

Day 5

I went over some of the above making a few corrections. What to write about today?

I’ll start with me. I had a bit of an early hours crisis. I’ve had a dry and almost sore throat for quite a while, which I don’t think is due to Covid-19. However, I was advised to take my emergency supply of penicillin if I have a sore throat and feel unwell – ‘Don’t hesitate!’ said Emily, an ICU surgeon at the clinic we went to in January, so at 4 am I took the first of 28 tablets. This morning I found the same problem that had decided me to have an emergency supply instead of taking penicillin every day for the rest of my life: the antibiotic seems to affect my gut microbiome, stopping me from digesting my food properly. I am vegan which means a lot of cooked fresh vegetables. The gut microbiome is a hugely complicated subject and I tried to get a handle on it with a search online, and I gather that various conditions including ageing reduce the diversity of the gut microbiota. What seems to me to happen is that my guts suddenly get less able to break cellulose down and process the carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the food I’ve eaten so they can be absorbed. But having taken one tablet I have to complete the course which takes two weeks, so I hope I don’t lose the bit of weight I put on and become exhausted again as I was after being in hospital following the car crash last July.

Moving on to a topic for today, I’m starting late because I started thinking about a Quaker phrase I remember from when I was a Friend: ‘Wear thy sword as long as thou canst.’ I read up on that online too and it is based on a story about William Penn and George Fox which has become part of Quaker mythology.[6] I had thought it was about allowing oneself and others time to change to conform to ideal ways of living, and that’s the sense I was looking for. I wrote yesterday about being vegan but not sourcing everything locally, as I would if I was living according to the planet-saving utopia I’m writing about. Many others will have further to go, but unless the ideal is known about and aspired to there will be no progress. But maybe that’s not a helpful way of looking at the world-saving that’s needed. I’ve carried on reading Carlyle’s Past and Present and he seems to be saying that there is not, and cannot be, some Act or government measure or gifted leadership which will fix what’s wrong with society; society has to find solutions for itself. Presumably then, solutions emerge here and there when they are seen to work for those involved. There will be diversity of solutions which work when and where they work and nowhere else.

One of the swords which we will wear as long as we can is the internet. People can use online technology to display some of the solutions which work for them, and share elements of what may be solutions for others, but in the end we will find we cannot use the internet sword any more. The internet is a sword I have been wearing for 15 years, in the form of the website and database Plants For A Future at, and I’ve hoped that people would be using the information on useful plants to choose what to grow in their food forests. I wish I knew for sure about some of those sites, and the communities enabled to withdraw from destructive dependence on livestock and container shipping. I hope they are practising vegan-organic methods. I hope they are choosing plants with other uses such as fibres and dyes so they can revive or reinvent arts and crafts which Tagore and Morris would delight in.

The main shift in lifestyle that’s needed is towards veganism. People out there will surely wake up to the fact that veganism has to be the way to go when they think about the current pandemic having been caused by a virus that came from meat-eating habits and industries. There was an article in yesterday’s Observer about this, entitled ‘Is factory farming to blame for coronavirus?’[7] This has a mention of veganism:

There have been claims on social media, sometimes posted by vegans, that if we ate less meat there would have been no Covid-19. Interestingly, some of these have been blocked by mainstream news organisations as “partly false”. But the claims are also partly true. Though the links they draw are too simplistic, the evidence is now strong that the way meat is produced – and not just in China – contributed to Covid-19.

The misconception here is that eating less meat could have prevented Covid-19, and the ‘partly’ true’, ‘partly false’ nonsense, and the paragraph seems to have been tacked on as an afterthought almost at the end of the piece and not part of its conclusion about the solution. The article itself is interesting for what the title promises: an examination of the obvious cause, the ‘wet’ meat markets in China, and putting part of the blame on industrialised production of chickens forcing small meat producers to find niche markets in the habit of eating exotic animals. I’m struggling to put this well – my afternoon poor writing thing – so I’ll copy the key section again:

Starting in the 1990s, as part of its economic transformation, China ramped up its food production systems to industrial scale. One side effect of this [...] was that smallholding farmers were undercut and pushed out of the livestock industry. Searching for a new way to earn a living, some of them turned to farming ‘wild’ species that had previously been eaten for subsistence only. Wild food was formalised as a sector, and was increasingly branded as a luxury product. But the smallholders weren’t only pushed out economically. As industrial farming concerns took up more and more land, these small-scale farmers were pushed out geographically too – closer to uncultivable zones. Closer to the edge of the forest, that is, where bats and the viruses that infect them lurk.

The article also looks at diseases that have come from industrialised meat production – and as we know from Diamond’s book, that problem has been with us for thousands of years.

I am disappointed in myself for reaching my target of words only by lifting some from elsewhere. Never mind, hopefully I will do better tomorrow.

Day 6

This morning I listened to the Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ which aims to put us straight on numbers bandied around and misleading information that well-founded numbers might put straight. At the start they announced they would cover so-called panic buying, and they came to that topic as the last item – after talking about predictions of deaths by Neil Ferguson and others which had been changing, and reports that men are more at risk of dying than women, so why that might be. But I was disappointed when they got to ‘panic buying’ that there was no mention of a fact I’d picked up a while ago: that before the lock down half of people’s food came from outside the home: in their workplaces, in schools, in catering establishments such as cafes and pubs. It also occurred to me that half of the population’s going to the loo would have been outside the home too, hence their use of loo paper. If that is right, after lockdown, food prepared at home would have to double – and going to the loo at home would double – so it would be necessary – and not irresponsible ‘panic buying’ – for people to get twice as much from supermarkets for home consumption and use.

First thing this morning I decided I should stop beating myself up about my 1000 words a day target. When I came to read over my Day 5 effort, I was somewhat reassured, but I think I should change tack, and in particular re-introduce what I wrote in this document before I re-named it, and build on that, never mind word counts.

What follows is about 3000 words on ‘Shades of Green’.[8] As part of my Day 6 effort, I will go through that and expand on it – noting that at this point in time (12.42 on 31 March 2020) my word count is 9,181.

Before I get on to that I’m going to write about a conversation David and I had over lunch – quite a late lunch, 2pm, as it took me a while. It was a newish dish, roasted cauliflower, red lentils cooked to dal consistence. Finely sliced onion, ginger, garlic, cauliflower outer leaves, 2 sage leaves from the garden, a little turmeric, curry powder, cumin seeds and paprika, salt and pepper fried gently until merged and cooked thoroughly, then I stirred in the dal and roasted cauliflower. Meanwhile I boiled brown rice with salt and a rosemary stalk for half an hour. It was really good! Afterwards David asked to talk about his contribution to a new book PFAF is going to produce. He is to write about why food forests and carbon farming are the only solution because the technical fixes, the geo-engineering schemes, are unachievable and dangerous. To do that he has to be clear about what the good solution is. For me, the food forest solution (including ‘carbon farming’, as a gesture towards those who can only countenance a term which suggest broad scale and big) is perfect, to the extent that it should be beyond criticism. It is the opposite to what we’ve done wrong: farming, domesticated livestock, pets, surpluses, division of labour, social hierarchies, multiple high status distractions and the teaching thereof. A food forest includes its own climate and water and nutrient cycles. Designed to meet the needs of a human community, and include their efforts and skills, it enables ‘life in its completeness’. A food forest like that is the deepest of deep green. Such a model will be criticised through ignorance. I imagine a diagram with a food forest – even all the food forests taken together – as a deep green central sphere, oblivious to being surrounded by a thorny hedge of vicious, ugly, weak and apathetic whinges and disparaging mockery, like the spikes around the images of the coronavirus we are seeing everywhere. To my mind then, David doesn’t need to make comparisons: either technical fixes or food forests, pros and cons of each; he just need to debunk the fixes.

I was thinking about this in the bath, and another aspect to criticism of green thinking and action occurred to me. Last time I went to the U3A discussion group on ‘Great Lives’ – this was on 28 February, before coronavirus was anything more than a disease affecting China. The matter of flying came up, as it always does, since each of the other members seem to fly on visits to other countries two or three times a year. One of them talked about the ‘wow factor’, which for her meant encountering – or maybe just seeing from a distance – cultures which are difference from ours; she mentioned Vietnam and India having this factor, but New Zealand not, despite the amazing scenery. Usually I sit such conversations out and say nothing. This time I said that people will have to stop flying if we’re to save the planet. The woman next to me said, amiably and indulgently: ‘Chris, you’re an idealist!’ Not so. I am a realist. Now I’ll have a look at what I wrote earlier on shades of green.

Day 7

Nearly 1pm and I haven’t written a word towards my day’s effort. I walked around our little car park several time to get a bit of exercise now we are not allowed out. Also been exchanging facebook messages with my brother in San Diego who is working for a non-profit trying to get something done about safe disposal of nuclear waste. And I had coffee and read the newspaper – being careful not to touch it and then my mouth just in case traces of the virus linger on the paper which we now have delivered, supposedly safely according to claims in the paper on behalf of their newsagents. And I made some mushroom pâté to have on toast with the coffee. And had a go at ordering food delivery from Waitrose and failed. And did a crossword. Those are amongst the distractions that take up time. Now I have to go and make lasagne for lunch. Back soonish.

Going over ‘Shades of Green’

We all recognise the word ‘green’ when applied to environmental concerns, even if some of us distrust the use of vague words for a host of acute problems from climate change or global warming (or heating) to land and ecological degradation, in all their disruptive and destructive manifestations. The word becomes more meaningful when qualified, as in ‘green washing’ for claims to be addressing environmental concerns by big companies with vested interests in business as usual involving fossil fuels. The term ‘deep green’ can be used for the opposite position, where the natural world is given top priority, in terms of adopting a locally self-reliant lifestyles or engaging in radical activism to protect forests and wildlife. Even with this rather simplistic example of the meaning of green, it is clear that it is complicated. The ‘shades of green’ metaphor gives a sense of degree of concern about environmental threats which one might quantify by one of those ‘points from 0 to 10’ indicators, but the threats on which the opposite poles of concern are focussed are very different. In one case the motivation is to divert criticism which might be commercially damaging, with the focus being specifically carbon emissions, in the other the concern is wider, certainly including ecological threats with climate change, and responses to those threats are personal and community orientated rather than towards the economy and business interests.

I have been writing this essay on ‘Shades of Green’ in fits and starts, and changed my mind about how to continue from the introductory first paragraph above. At first I intended to announce my intention of unravelling some of the tangled strands of green ideas and activism and ‘before that’ to explore the colour green and its associations. As I thought about that idea, my interest in it waned in favour of looking at how green became virtually a synonym of environmentalism.[9] This was presumably not the case 25 years ago when my copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary was published, with its host of meanings for ‘green’ as an adjective with ‘concerned with or supporting protectionism of the environment as a political principle’ way down the list, effectively the last at number 9, followed by ‘10 archaic’. Similarly, of the 12 meanings of ‘green’ as a noun, ‘a member or supporter of an environmentalist group or party’ is number 8, followed by two slang meanings unfamiliar to me and 12 being ‘green foliage or growing plants’. Green as a verb ‘make or become green’ might include a conversion to environmental concern but that is not mentioned explicitly.[10]

I hesitate to describe myself as ‘green’ or indeed as ‘environmentalist’ because neither word conveys my feelings, attitudes or activism concerning the planet, which have been strong to the point of obsession most of my adult life, with an awareness picked up in my childhood. There have been times when I felt happy to identify as a ‘deep ecologist’, usually when seeking to make a point in scholarly style about human responsibility for threats to life on earth.[11] And then I have turned away from that label as rather pretentious, since the topic has been philosophised and intellectualised about, thereby becoming one of the many distractions which endanger the planet by diverting (in this case) knowledgeable people from what needs to be done.[12]

Comment on 1 April: The section ‘The Original Sin’ interrupts my discussion of terminology, which I returned to in the paragraph starting with ‘If I am not ‘green’’

The Original Sin

I have come back to writing on this topic on 19 March after many distractions, including the extraordinary event which has overtaken the world in the form of a global pandemic called Covid-19 which originated in Wuhan, China perhaps as early as November 2019, and not announced until January 2020. In China there were 80 thousand cases and three thousand deaths, but the disease is now on the wane with no new cases from within the country. In the UK there have been 1.5 thousand cases and 35 deaths and rising fast, threatening to overcome the health service. In Europe the worst affected country has been Italy with 25 thousand cases and two thousand deaths.

Really important we register, remember and act on the original cause of this pandemic and don’t revert to business-as-usual once it’s all over – if it ever is: Chinese people are being newly infected by air travellers from Spain, Italy and Thailand, and there may never be a vaccine, so it’ll come around year on year. But if we were able to see and understand the pattern behind this awful crisis, we could have the opportunity for a planet-saving social and economic change, to include a big shift away from meat and dairy and from mass transportation of food in shipping containers. Then support and encourage local community vegan-organic growing, food forests and carbon farming. And of course not go back to flying…

This is what I put on facebook on 16 March, including a piece scanned from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel:

Human diseases have been coming from animals, wild, domesticated and pets, for thousands of years: ‘the animal origins of our infectious diseases’ (Jared Diamond. ‘Lethal Gift of Livestock’, in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (London: Norton, 1999), pp. 195-214 (p. 197). It’s time we changed to plant-based diets.

Shut down wildlife markets NOW!

[Q]uestions of the animal origins of human disease lie behind the broadest pattern of human history, and behind some of the most important issues in human health today. (Think of AIDS, an explosively spreading human disease that appears to have evolved from a virus resident in wild African monkeys.) This chapter will begin by considering what a “disease” is, and why some microbes have evolved so as to “make us sick,” whereas most other species of living things don’t make us sick. We’ll examine why many of our most familiar infectious diseases run in epidemics, such as our current AIDS epidemic and the Black Death (bubonic plague) epidemics of the Middle Ages. We’ll then consider how the ancestors of microbes now confined to us transferred themselves from their original animal hosts. Finally, we’ll see how insight into the animal origins of our infectious diseases helps explain the momentous, almost one-way exchange of germs between Europeans and Native Americans’

Jared Diamond. ‘Lethal Gift of Livestock’, in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (London: Norton, 1999), pp. 195-214 (p. 197).[13]

Really important we register, remember and act on the original cause of this pandemic and don’t revert to business-as-usual once it’s all over – if it ever is: Chinese people are being newly infected by air travellers from Spain, Italy and Thailand, and there may never be a vaccine, so it’ll come around year on year. But if we were able to see and understand the pattern behind this awful crisis, we could have the opportunity for a planet-saving social and economic change, to include a big shift away from meat and dairy and from mass transportation of food in shipping containers. Then support and encourage local community vegan-organic growing, food forests and carbon farming. And of course not go back to flying…

Comment 1 April: I had a bit of a struggle getting back to this point – I think because I’d copied the above in html mode and the sequence got wrong. I re-copied as unformatted and then put back the link and italics so OK now – moving on.

If I am not ‘green’ – or ‘environmentalist’ or ‘deep ecologist’ – what am I? and what is my political and activist identity? Thinking about this recently I came to the disturbing conclusion that I might not have one, unlike people who discover their political and activist identities in a similar way to the process of religious conversion. They wake up to political and activist identities, and find themselves belonging to political and activist communities, and experience joy, often in joyous colours like green and red. That wasn’t my path, which came from being introduced to death dread and planetary grief in my childhood, so my political and activist identity is black and grey and joyless. But not always. I have been called ‘passionate about the planet’. Indeed I let myself go the other day at a discussion group,[14] where the perfectly pleasant people there often lapse into talk of their latest foreign travels – by air, of course – and I set courtesy aside to tell them that people – meaning them really – will have to stop flying to save the planet. One of the frequent fliers present responded by telling me of research she’d read about on a scheme to refreeze the arctic by spraying salts into the atmosphere. I retorted that these sort of geoengineering schemes are ‘pie in the sky’, especially the one most talked of: carbon capture and storage, which is unproven and may even exacerbate emissions.[15] Since I can have such bursts of enthusiasm, in its old religious sense, I can be a born-again green, a ‘deep green’, so deep and dark that it can often feel as black and grey as the death dread and planetary grief I encountered as a child.

Death Dread and Planetary Grief

I have known, or known of, many people who have experienced the morbid fascination with and fear of mortality which I call ‘death dread’. In recent years, people have used the expression ‘planetary grief’ and variations such as eco- or ecological grief, and climate grief. I would not expect to encounter death dread and planetary grief combined since it is terribly disabling, too painful, personal, joyless and hopeless to be written about. This is due to the depressing and frightening subject matter and also to feelings of pointlessness and a sense of already not existing. But I ought to try because, as the ultimate deep dark green, it is relevant to an examination of shades of green.

From the age of eight, I have suffered from a debilitating awareness of death and oblivion, a condition I later named ‘death dread’ and found that naming helpful. The cause was my father using the opportunity of the death of my grandfather, his father, to put me straight on what death is. He told me that it means oblivion, utter nothingness, as if you had never been born. Putting it like that, he was not talking about my beloved Nana’s death but my own. Ever afterwards, I was aware of approaching that cliff where I’d fall into nothingness, which made my whole life pointless. Daddy meant well. He saw himself as saving me from religious rubbish such as he was brought up with. I’m not sure I believed the anecdote he used to relate whereby, as a little boy, he was taught to say his prayers on his knees before getting into bed, then one cold night he dared to get into bed first and say his prayers in the warm, fearing the wrath of God descending. When that didn’t happen he tried cutting short his prayers, bit by bit, until he was not saying them at all, being fearful each time, but there was no wrath, no punishment, so presumably there was no God, and he became an atheist. But what he didn’t realised was that he had had the comforting stories when he was little, which gave his life worth, and gave him strength to choose to discard these fictions later, but he had taken that from me, with all the authority of my devotion to him behind his instruction.

Planetary grief came later, by about five years, again from my father

Identifying the causes of the desecration of nature has been a lifelong mission. It began with hearing my father’s three concerns back in the 1950s: the destruction of tropical rainforests with their extraordinary diversity of species; destruction of phytoplankton, photosynthesising microorganisms which produce most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, by sewage discharge into the waters over the continental shelves; and jet planes flying through the Heaviside Layer damaging the ozone which protects life from high energy radiation.

The problem of focus

[in our time on Paul Dirac...]

The latest Resurgence & Ecologist arrived today (27/2/20), looking very beautiful, so lovingly designed and adorned with lovely pictures. This is a magazine about being green, so is it appropriate for it to be so positive? It even manages to be positive about what’s being called ‘planetary grief’; they just give it a ‘spiritual’ spin. I used to subscribe to Resurgence and Ecologist when they were separate publications: Ecologist to give me disturbing facts and figures I could use to tell people what was happening to the planet, and Resurgence to cheer me up – although I often found it annoyingly positive and over-designed even then. It was the Satish Kumar factor.

I am puzzled by the cheeriness in the green community – I’ve just been listening to an Extinction Rebellion radio show and the cheeriness bubbles over.

My childhood of death dread and planetary grief

It was about 25 years ago that I became interested in land degradation, how it manifests in various ways around the world and its history going back for millennia. The book which first alerted me to the scale of this category of problem in global space, time, complexity and seriousness was Topsoil and Civilization by Vernon Gill Carter and Tom Dale, first published in 1955.[16] Despite climate change caused by release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels being evidently upon us now, after decades of being a disputed future threat, I still believe that land degradation is more serious. It is what we do with the fossil fuels to damage the land that is a threat to life on earth, not the carbon dioxide. The most serious and longest term damage is deforestation, and that is true whether the means are axes and fire or chain saws and other powered machinery. Deforestation has always caused climate change, but locally and regionally, with the loss of the power of trees to recycle rain across land masses, without which there are floods and drought and desertification. When forests are replaced by agriculture, land degradation continues in other forms, particularly soil erosion, and also salinisation from build up of salts as irrigation water evaporates, and pollution and toxification from livestock waste and agrochemicals.

Topsoil and Civilization changed my mind about modern farming. I’d had very decided views formed from my childhood in a village, our house being fifty yards from open countryside and the lane we walked up between fields to get to primary school. I remember the headmaster telling us about one of the local farmers: Mr Copas or Mr Rickets, complaining of children running off the proper path through his wheat, which in those days was tall and tempting. I remember too going on a school visit to a farmyard with pigs and chickens and a dung heap. Years later, when I was going to the next town to grammar school, but still often walking through the fields and woods beyond, seeing that Mr Copas had bought up Mr Rickets’s farm, had dug out hedges to make bigger fields, and taken out his orchard of standard cherry trees opposite the woods.[17] I became a supporter of organic farming and the Soil Association – until I read Topsoil and Civilization, which led on to further research on land degradation worldwide.

One of my first actions following this revelation and change of direction was to talk about it to my local Friends of the Earth group, which led to us sending a motion to the next FoE supporters conference asking that ‘land degradation worldwide’ be taken on as one of FoE’s campaign areas. The motion was passed with an enthusiastic show of hands, although nothing happened because motions were only advisory.[18] Further involvement with FoE led to my name being added to their Speakers List and I had many invitations to speak in schools, colleges and adult interest groups. Although I was usually asked to speak on a particular topic, such as waste and pollution and recycling, sometimes the topic was left to me and I could bring in aspects of land degradation, such as destruction of tropical rainforests and soil erosion. I collected information, wrote notes and built up sets of slides on various topics. This was before laptops, Powerpoint and projection equipment connected to computers were widely available, so I had to load my boot with the appropriate slide set in its box, the slide projector, stand, screen and flipchart board, find my way to the venue, often somewhere new and in the dark, unload it all and set up – glad of help if it was available. If the topic and the audience were suitable I would show some very disturbing images of the effects of the problems I talked about, and then, rather than ask for questions from the audience, I would ask them to discuss solutions, with questions such as: ‘Does this [issue or problem] matter?’, ‘What needs to change?’ and ‘What can you or I do?’ The best part for me was to write people’s responses on the flipchart and encourage discussion, and afterwards I typed it all up as a report to send back to the group.

I carried on my research into land degradation and the talks for about ten years, later referring to that period as my second career after the first in information systems. In fact those two career threads went on in parallel, as I was able to get assignments as a self-employed consultant to make time for my unpaid work, and over time the mix shifted towards the latter. Another change took place in the late 1980s when I heard of permaculture, ‘permanent agriculture’, which excited me with its potential for bringing about a revolution in farming, away from heavily mechanised monocultures to food and other needs being provided from mixed perennial plantings including food forests, so there was a positive side to land use, a potential solution to land degradation.

That period of my life feels now to be a long time ago, and largely beyond useful detailed recollection because, although I kept records for a while and did quite a lot of writing, I was not a scholar – at that time I didn’t know how to be. I didn’t keep systematic notes, not even diaries for anything other than dates of meetings and such, partly because I’ve never considered that my personal experiences would interest anyone. I wish now I had kept on file the shocking facts and figures about forest destruction and soil erosion that I collected then, to compare with what is happening that gets into the news now. I could then say ‘We knew about that 30 or 40 years ago but nobody listened.’ In lieu of the authority which comes from facts and figures, detailed accounts and records, I have understanding and passion from having absorbed and filtered what I encountered over decades to support the priorities and remedies I believe in and work for. But these days everyone has opinions, often with little or no attempt to support them with evidence, so claiming to know or feel strongly is not enough, especially when advocating radical solutions. It is my hope that unravelling some of the tangled strands of green ideas and activism, and linking each strand to authoritative evidence, will make my recommendations more persuasive.

‘of course-ness’

Week Two

Day 8

I have read through my ‘Shades of Green’ text with few changes, so now I am starting from the end of this ‘Twelve Weeks’ document, which is now over ten thousand words. What to write about next? I am allowing myself to include personal stuff, and I was thinking about that early this morning. I often agonise about not having done enough during my lifetime, so that I don’t leave a legacy, such as books, letters and diaries that would interest my family at least. Sometimes I wish I had written such things for some kind of posthumous fame, then I wonder why I should worry about that given I was put right when I was eight years old by my father who told me death is as if you have never been born. Later I realised that, since one’s inner self is all that one can know, even of other people and their writings and doings, one’s own – my own – death is the end of everything on Earth and in the universe as well, if only in the sense that the solar system will change with the cycle our star will go through to make life on earth impossible, and eventually the universe will contain no useful energy and will fade away into what is – curiously, given that it will be extremely cold, near to absolute zero – called ‘heat death’. Woe is me!

I may as well continue on that theme and get it over with. I have many reasons to feel sorry for myself besides my morbid fears, but I didn’t begin to understand them until my late 30s. I have often referred to my father’s influence having made me a lifelong pacifist, environmentalist, socialist and atheist, so I was always a joiner: CND, Friends of the Earth and the Labour Party and various others from time to time. And then a friend told me that I didn’t know what socialism meant, and urged me to buy the Socialist Standard, for sale every Saturday on Guildford High Street. So I read that and immediately joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), a pacifist Marxist revolutionary party founded in 1904 – a very small party, jokingly dubbed the ‘Small Party of Good Boys’ by rival parties on the Marxist Left. I loved it! I studied SPGB literature, read loads of Marx, preached revolution from the party soapbox at Hyde Park Corner, studied to be a certified speaker – although I turned out to be no good at that, partly because I was taken ill at that time with a chronic form of arthritis, affecting my hands so I couldn’t write, later my feet and neck. At the SPGB I met a woman names Lynne Homan who became a big influence. I first knew her as a passionate revolutionary socialist – and hence obviously an atheist – and then suddenly she announced to our shared boyfriend Chris Dufton that she had found God. This happened through her interest in New Age counselling and therapies which were prevalent in London at the time. She discovered the Diad School of Enlightenment, based in Australia, founded by a charismatic Californian guru, originally a theoretical physicist named Charles Berner (1927-2007), who adopted the Sanskrit name Yogeshwar Muni. When he was in California Berner was intrigued by these therapies, and carried out a study of them to try to discover if there was a core element which made some of them work. He decided it was an aspect of listening with attention, something he came to call the ‘clearing communication cycle’. He shared this study with a friend named L. Ron Hubbard. They discovered Clearing together, and followers of Yogeshwar, like Skanda whom I met, used to say that he used this discovery for good, Hubbard for bad, in his cult of Scientology.

The Dyad School of Enlightenment had a spiritual side which never appealed to me with its mythology of us all being gods and goddesses on other planets – I think that was it – and I remember attending a group session when I asked ‘what is spiritual?’ because I have no understanding of the word and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me in my life. I was assured that I am spiritual and it felt lovely to be told that with such warmth – but the word was and still is meaningless to me. Despite my scepticism, I attended Enlightenment Intensives at Lynne’s invitation and felt I was changed by the process. I also attended one-to-one Clearing sessions with Lynne and they changed me too. Before having my mind opened up by these techniques I was driven, partly by my emotions and my hormones and sexual urges, but also by a whole lot of assumptions and mind sets: ‘fixed attitudes’ in the Clearing jargon. Clearing involved very structured exercises, and focussed on the mind rather than on emotions, although emotions came up and were released. But my sense is that through working hard for a long time I think I became less driven, and even when I was driven I knew it, there was a part of my mind which could look at itself. The process was not designed to go deeper into difficult terrain but that happened, and one of the deep fixed attitudes I discovered was the belief that ‘I don’t exist’, a nonsense but a powerful discovery which wasn’t dispelled, and remained something I know to be true. Perhaps a decade later, I discovered a theory which seemed to explain that fixed belief, in a book I borrowed from my friend Jean Hardy called The Primal Wound.

Day 9

I stopped writing yesterday after referring to Jean Hardy and The Primal Wound, intending to look up the book next day, which I have done. Confusingly, my first search brought up many mentions of a book of that name by Nancy Verrier about the effect of separation from the birth mother on adopted children, and I vaguely remember encountering that before. I persisted and found references to an earlier book called The Primal Wound by John Firman and Ann Gila. I resisted the temptation to order a second-hand copy and then found an article from Psychology Today with a discussion which was in accord with what I remember Jean saying.[19] This is the key passage from that paper:

When participants [in a study by Firman and Gila] are asked to describe that core feeling, the one before they take up their compulsive behavior, they use terms like these: worthless, lost, disconnected, abandoned, alone, wrong, invisible, humiliated, unloved, evil.

And these feelings boil down to “nonbeing,” the terror of not existing, obliteration. Addictions are powerful because they help us avoid these feelings. We drink, take opioids, work endlessly, overeat, overconsume, compulsively seek new sex partners or adventures because we are running from the void, the abyss of nothingness. [my italics]

I was not conscious of being addicted – although there have been periods when I drank a lot – but driven certainly, and not really present in the world. My experience fits into this theory with ‘not existing’ having come up in my Clearing sessions, despite that being logically nonsense – and logic was a major part of my mind set, something almost sacred. So what is the ‘primal wound’ which causes this driven behaviour to escape the sense of not existing? The paper has this:

[The primal wound] is the result of a violation in early life that results in broken relationship to parents, others and the world. More deeply it is the missing connection to Ultimate Reality or the Ground of Being. The primal wound is:

“a break in the intricate web of relationships in which we live, move, and have our being. A fundamental trust and connection to the universe is betrayed, and we become strangers to ourselves and others, struggling for survival in a seemingly alien world. In psychological terms, our connection to our deeper Self is wounded. In religious and philosophical terms, it is our connection to Ultimate Reality, the Ground of Being, or the Divine that is broken. No matter how we elect to describe it, the fact remains that this wounding cuts us off from the deeper roots of our existence.”

The first part of this makes sense in my experience because I knew that my mother hadn’t wanted me. I remember an occasion when she told me so explicitly. She suffered from what was then called ‘clinical depression’, but my daughter believes she had bipolar disorder. On this occasion she was in a low period and in bed. I don’t remember why I went up to her but suddenly (or this is what stands out in my memory) she said ‘I never wanted you, you know.’ And I did know, and it was almost a relief to have it said out loud. By the theory – as Jean explained it to me – what should happen to a newborn is for the mother to look directly into the baby’s eyes and mind or soul, say something like ‘Hello, there, here you are!’ to welcome him or her into the world. If that doesn’t happen, the baby isn’t in the world, doesn’t exist. My mother didn’t want me and didn’t look after me as she was busy driving an ambulance around London in the Blitz. My grandmother took over – and she did love me, but that wasn’t good enough, as with the love of adoptive mothers in Verrier’s use of the theory.

This sounds rather pathetic, the sort of thing about which David wound say ‘You should have got over that by now’ – although he never got over his childhood trauma, his mother dying of MS when he was only eight years old, but that is not the same as the primal wound. In a sense I did get over it, after the Clearing sessions and later hearing about the theory, although it was too late to be a remedy for being such a morbidly frightened young person that I never felt young; I always felt old, of no value, unloved and not liked, friendless: ‘nobody likes me!’ which someone told me I should turn on its head to ‘I don’t like anyone’. But once I knew, as I said earlier, I was less driven, or else driven and knowing it.

That second paragraph though, the one about ‘our connection to Ultimate Reality, the Ground of Being, or the Divine’ being broken, doesn’t make sense to me. It’s that spirituality thing again. I have had attempts to make it real for me, two main ones. Firstly I became a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, having come at that by two routes: firstly by joining a group of Quaker Universalists, then by being an Attender, going to my local Meeting for Worship’ – ‘Worship!’ me?, surely not. But I was moved by the thing that happens at a ‘gathered meeting’, moved to minister sometimes, driven by my thumping heart to stand up and speak. Strange! I enjoyed Quaker Universalists though. They were an intellectual lot, and Jean and I jointly edited our journal The Universalist. The great thing about being a Quaker Universalist is that it was fine not being a Christian, and Quakers are supposed not to have a Creed, and to be ‘A Priesthood of All Believers’; no one to instruct us on what we should believe.

I came to Quakers via the campaigning group The Peace Tax Campaign, which was later re-named Conscience. I got involved with that when I was transitioning from paid work to my voluntary campaigning work on land degradation, and became self-employed. That meant I had to produce a tax return for the first time in my working life. As I was writing a cheque to the Inland Revenue, I thought about the portion of the money which would be spent on weapons and the armed forces, and I had always been a pacifist. So I phoned up CND head office and asked what I could do, and they said I should contact the Peace Tax Campaign, which was – still is – campaigning for the right of conscientious objectors to donate the military portion of their taxes to a Peace Building Fund. The group had been set up by Quakers and was half-funded by them. I became a member of the board, then the treasurer, and met our auditor Barbara Halliburton, who told me about the Quaker Universalists. It was at one of their annual meetings at Woodbrooke that I met Jean Hardy.

Day 10

I was awake for over two hours last night, from before 4 o’clock to after 6, thinking back over my life, and realising how varied it had been, so I felt rather cheerful thinking there’s plenty to write about, potentially. The difficulty I have is that I lived with several interwoven strands, usually personal, employment and politics – and after what I wrote in Day 8, perhaps there was also a spiritual element, although I am very uncomfortable with the ‘s’ word. Maybe I could adopt Ruskin’s phrase ‘world soul’ as it could be similar to Tagore’s idea of the ‘universal man’, with which he needed to reconcile his ‘personal man’. I am bound to struggle to find words on this kind of thing which work for me.

The other difficulty is that I have very little in the way of records of what I did, in any strand, and I have always had a poor memory for names – and indeed faces, since I suffer from prosopagnosia or face blindness. Those problems are connected to my primal wound and its effects: not feeling loved or liked and the other side of that, not loving or liking others. I made a note earlier: ‘The problem of focus [in our time on Paul Dirac...]’ and as I read through I puzzled about what the note meant. Now I remember. Paul Dirac was a brilliant mathematical physicist who brought about some key advances in quantum mechanics, which he was able to do because of his intense focus on that work – and this was noted by the panel members on the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time presented by Melvin Bragg. I do not have such a focus, even for limited periods in fits and starts. That may be why I have achieved very little which is lasting or recognised. I have written and self-published two books: a novel called The Completion in 1995, and a version of my PhD thesis called Tagore Speaks to the Twenty-First Century in 2016. They were both good in a way, as most of their few readers told me, and I am proud of them, but few copies of either were read, let alone sold. I started other novels and wrote much else on Tagore but any completion was limited to a few articles for online journals.

I have the opportunity to write a great deal about my life in these twelve weeks. I have wondered too if I could produce a sequel to The Completion, or expand on it. It has often struck me how prescient it was about what might happen to the planet and the future of technology and human life. The latest crisis with Covid-19 could well be added to the first main chapter and its transition from ‘Necrotech’ to ‘Biotech’. As for Tagore, I am always seeking ways to present his hopes for the future of humankind as relevant to solving the climate and ecological and social crises of today.

I wrote earlier about my concurrent strands of personal, employment and politics, but it’s more complicated than that, because my politics always had at least three strands of its own: peace, planet and socialism. There was a complicating attitude too in my blaming tendency. Looking over it all, activism spanning decades, I feel that I seldom engaged in helping people, so it could be said that my activism and I personally lacked compassion, and where I did feel compassion it was for planet rather than people. It is interesting to think about my times as a Marxist socialist with that judgement in mind, because here I was with my comrades, since there was as much blame directed at the working class for not accepting that they were being exploited, as there was blame for the capitalist class for doing the exploiting. There were a few occasions when I tried to help people. I signed up to do voluntary work after I left university and hadn’t yet found a job, and did that again years later, shortly after my mother died, with the idea I might help people with mental health problems, and I volunteered for a while at a hostel for such people, and also tried helping women at risk of domestic violence. Another time I volunteered to visit cancer sufferers who were subjects of an effort at a diet cure. I also went on a Clearing course to learn to apply the method, and had one client, a woman with schizophrenia, a friend I knew through Friends of the Earth. I should not have tried that; it was against the rules for Clearers. She committed suicide, which was awful in very many ways, although I don’t think that could have been caused by my few sessions with her. Oh, yes, and I was a Samaritan for a couple of years, and I made a start with training to be a counsellor. Not such an uncaring person then? It is still the case that I lacked focus. Even now – and for the past ten years or more – I have had strands, in particular working for PFAF and being a Tagore scholar and writing other pieces about what is wrong with the world and how it needs to change. And I have started several books, come up with titles – I love that part! – and themes and sometime sections and chapters, I write enthusiastically for a while and then it tails off, and coming back to each of those ‘new books’ – often encountering when browsing through folders or looking for something else, I think ‘what was that all about?’ or ‘that was rather good, and well expressed’, but I’ve forgotten where it was supposed to go. Lack of focus for sure.

Having had paid employment for 25 years or so, and changed jobs rather often, I’ve had a CV and versions thereof, and when I had, or applied for, formal voluntary positions, I sometimes made versions of my CV which included the organisations and roles I had been involved with in the voluntary sector. I could make my CV the starting point for writing about my life. It would at least give me a framework and some dates. But that might not help, might even be counterproductive, in the way some famous author – was it Steinbeck or Sartre? – said of memories, which are best left alone or else you are left only with memories of memories. My CV history could become all I know of my history. But writing about it has some of that effect anyway – doesn’t have the reality of those musing in the early ours of this morning, where I felt the happy truth of having had a supremely interesting life, and done a lot.

Day 11

It’s curious that I am starting work on this at half past twelve, not in the morning, in the time I always thought I wrote best. Maybe that’s because I’m not aiming to write my best but just to write about a thousand words on whatever occurs to me.

I looked out a version of my CV this morning – after saying it wouldn’t help, it doesn’t really, as it’s a summary, with not much in the way of dates, perhaps due to fudges to disguise my chopping and changing occupations, and sound more professional. I didn’t have a session in bed this morning pondering what I might write about, because Dave woke me up at 8 o’clock out of a dream. I had been awake earlier but not for long. I’ve been taking a penicillin tablet at between 4 and 6 because I decided to resume the course I was told I must take for life due to my spleen having been removed after the car crash. I gave that up, but kept an emergency supply instead, because it seemed to interfere with my digestion, but on it again hasn’t been too bad after the first day.

One thing I had thought I would write about today is the year 1991. I went on a permaculture design course that year, then attended one of the first courses at Schumacher College started by Satish Kumar. I got talking to him at the previous year’s Schumacher Lecture and initially he hoped the courses would be two years long, and also said not to worry about money as there would be bursaries. In the event, they were five weeks and cost a lot of money, but I went because there was a course led by Rupert Sheldrake and I was very drawn to his ideas. I was thinking it must have been soon before 1991 that I met him briefly – bumped into him, actually – at a Mystic and Scientists conference, put on by the Wrekin Trust in Winchester. That was actually in 1988, as I know from my copy of Sheldrake’s then new book The Presence of the Past because it has his signature with ‘April 8th’. Sheldrake is the same age as I am, just a couple of months younger, so I looked him up online to see if he’s still going – and it seems he is – but his talk on ‘Learning from Animals’ at Mystics and Scientists later this month has been cancelled. I looked at his Wikipedia entry and was impressed again by how busy and productive he’s been – plenty of focus, despite covering a range of aspects of his ‘morphic resonance’ ideas, and his ‘hypothesis of formative causation’.

Presumably it was Jean Hardy who introduced me to Mystics and Scientists, but I don’t think she got me interested in Sheldrake – but I’m not sure. I looked up ‘Jean Hardy Sheldrake’ on my laptop and discovered that I had a draft of Jean’s book: A Politics for the Twenty first Century, with a brief mention of Sheldrake in her Chapter Seven, and in the Contents of a different book – probably not by Jean – called ‘Scientific and Medical Network’, in which chapter 10 is on ‘Rupert Sheldrake – the Credit Crunch for Materialism and the Possible Renewal of Science’. A bit of searching led me to a book edited by David Lorimer and O. Robinson entitled A New Renaissance: Transforming Science, Spirit and Society, published in 2010, and it has chapter 21 by Jean Hardy with the same title as the draft book, and a hunt online shows that it was later titled A Wiser Politics: Psyche, Polis, Cosmos published in 2011. I remember Jean’s frustration over that book, and with the publisher who messed it up somehow and wouldn’t take responsibility. I looked on one my bookshelves expecting to see a copy of the book – indeed I remember having a copy of the duff one and the corrected version – but I must have moved them, and her earlier, more famous and much appreciated book Psychology with a Soul, probably to the loft, to make room for other books of more interest to me now. While doing these searches, I found a lot of mentions of Jean Hardy, including her work at St James Church Piccadilly where she managed a group providing counselling and psychotherapy, perhaps psychosynthesis derived from Assagioli, which Jean taught and wrote about but didn’t practise as she said she wasn’t good at that.

I feel that I am haunted by Jean, who died in 2017. I thought of her as my best friend – what a childish sounding idea that is – despite our disagreements and struggles, especially over her devotion to the idea of the spiritual, and green spirituality in particular. She contributed a great deal – and I think was editor of – the journal Greenspirit. I contributed an article myself, as I recall, about waste. A search on my laptop brought up an article I write in 2004 entitled ‘Honouring the Chicken: Permaculture and Green Spirituality’, which begins:

As I write this, the number of people who have become fatally ill due to a virus they picked up from live chickens has reached sixteen, with more expected to follow. In 1918 twenty million people died in an influenza pandemic caused – according to scientists – by a mutated avian ’flu virus. To avoid that happening again, over a million chickens have already been slaughtered: strangled, decapitated, battered to death, smothered or buried alive[20]. Given the risks, the cull is presumably justifiable, but what about the chickens?

How ironic! I wonder now what culling has gone on in China to deal with Covid-19. In my view what needs to happen is a complete change of diet, away from animals towards entirely plants based. I looked that piece up on this PC I write on and there it is, in a folder called ‘tuesdaygroup’ and I couldn’t resist looking to see what else was there. I found the texts of a very intense email exchange between Jean and me after a painful encounter at that discussion group which Jean set up at Schumacher College and my decision to leave. I told her I was upset at the time because of a crisis with my daughter.

I’ve just seen that I’ve met my target of words for today so I’ll stop here. Hopefully I can move on tomorrow.

Day 12

It’s 11.24 am now and I’ve been agonising over what to write about. I’ve been feeling queasy, probably due to having resumed taking penicillin, and low in spirits after reading that painful email exchange with Jean. I have to remember that she was an interesting person and provided me with some opportunities to meet people around Totnes and Dartington, including volunteering at the Dartington Archive going through the Elmhirst Papers and seeing lots of material on Tagore. I was doing my dissertation for my MA with the Open University in 2006 and that has an acknowledgment to Angie St.John Palmer  and Yvonne Widger so I must have been working in the Archive that year and perhaps earlier. Jean and I removed rusty staples and put documents in acid free folders, and later scanned photographs to be put online – with bold watermarks added so they couldn’t be used without paying fees for proper copies. One small positive incident I remember with Jean is of her remarking that I am pretty – and I don’t remember the circumstances. It was a matter-of-fact comment rather than a compliment, and I don’t think prettiness was an attribute she admired or wanted for herself. I saw photos of her as a young woman and she looked attractive then, but the Jean I first knew was very big, verging on obese, with several chins, so it was shocking to see her when she had cancer and had shrunk all over, apart from the bulge where her tumour was. But it was nice to be told I was pretty by this important friend.

I have not felt pretty during my life, and often avoided having my photo taken because of it, and because death dread meant I was conscious of ageing, even in my thirties. I met my friend Sid Green when we were both in our thirties. He had got married at the age of only nineteen and had two daughters very early, so they were teenagers when I met him, which put him in the older generation, and I remember him telling me we were ‘long in the tooth’, a term which refers to gums receding and our parents generation had poor teeth from ignorance of dental hygiene – and many had false teeth, including both parents of my first husband, Charles.

It was because of not feeling pretty that I got involved with Charles, when I was seventeen, he eighteen. We met at a sixth form dance, for pupils from the girls and boys grammar schools. I had a pale yellow flocked nylon dress which I thought was lovely. Did I wear my glasses? Probably, as I was very short-sighted, but I used to take them off, which I probably did on the way home on the coach at least because the big moment was when our eyes met, and he was then my boyfriend. I knew then he was no catch. He was tall and stooped and gawky with red hair and brown eyebrows that met in the middle. He turned out to be middle aged already, always dressed formally, shunned and despised pop music. I was so insecure about my looks that I thought I’d never have a boyfriend and so I clung to Charles. We had a lot of quick sex though, up in the woods or while babysitting. My sexual urges were as strong as his although I never had an organism; I don’t think I knew what one was. It was a huge mistake to stick with him. We contrived to go to the same university: Birmingham, the first one where we both had an offer. If it hadn’t been for him I would have stayed at school for a third sixth form year in order to study for Oxford or Cambridge entrance, and I expect I would have got in. What a different life I would have had then!

Part of the reason I didn’t feel pretty when I was seventeen was that I was best friends with new girl Frankie Yucker, who was gorgeous and knew it. She was blond and shapely, full of confidence and an outgoing personality. I was the plain friend who tagged along to support her. Frankie and her family had moved into the Brewhouse, a Tudor cottage in Cookham Village. Her father was a professional cricketer and her mother was very glamorous; they were a very modern couple, happy to snog together while Frankie and me kissed and cuddled with our respective boyfriends in the same room – a kind of enlightened chaperonage. Frankie had a younger sister who suffered from asthma – funny the things I remember – she was allergic to cats hair horsehair and fleas. They had to move out of the house while the floors were ripped out and replaced and the house decontaminated, as it was discovered it had woodworm, dry rot and death-watch beetle. Why that wasn’t discovered before they bought the house I have no idea. A big bonus from this friendship which I look back on with delight is that they took me to a performance of West Side Story on the London stage in 1959.

My parents and headmistress and maths teacher warned me against going to university with my boyfriend – and they were so right. He was a boring companion who was with me as much as he possibly could be and was jealous of any companionship I found elsewhere, such as my roommates in my hall of residence. There was compulsory sport in the first year – I can’t imagine this and other restrictions imposed on students now – and I opted for fencing as I’m hopeless with ball games. I loved it, but Charles got jealous over me doing that – it was girls’ fencing so he couldn’t go along too – so he insisted we do something together and the only option was ballroom dancing so we switched to that – very dull. We continued to have a lot of snatched, outdoor sex, and tried to arrange digs together but it was against regulations. [added on Day 12: I am puzzled looking back that I remember us going to Gretna Green hoping to get married but were told we’d need to be resident there. I presume I was not yet 18 at the time, so that was before 9 April 1960, but] I persuaded my parents to let us get married, and then we could live together. I got pregnant after that, despite being fitted with a contraceptive cap. I tried getting in a very hot bath and drinking loads of gin but it stuck, and our son was born on 1st April 1963, shortly before our final exams. We had worked on Christmas post, in my case in the sorting office because of my condition, and a woman I met offered to look after the baby for the last couple of months. That was bad enough, but the worst aspect of that dreadful marriage was that Charles regularly beat me, so badly I used to pretend that he had knocked me out and collapse all floppy on the floor and he’d stop. I expect I was cruel to him in a way, by mocking and teasing his dull ways, frumpish formal dress and lack of wit, and his struggles with the maths side of his engineering course, especially perspective geometry. I neglected my own studies to help him, and failed analysis in my first year exams, despite having some help from a postgraduate student with whom I arranged to meet at the National Gallery. Having little guidance from home and a tutor who was little help, I accepted being demoted to an ordinary degree with extra subjects: I did physics and psychology and logic. Years later I did a second first degree with the Open University and opted to do two maths courses to prove I could do it. I was proud of the fact that my tutor marked assignments usually came back with the mark ‘HU’ for 100%, the box for the tutor to enter the student’s percentage mark having only two spaces. If it had not been for Charles and the waste of my university years, I might have been a successful mathematician. Needless to say, we got divorced some years later – and that is another, even more painful, story.

Day 13

I decided not to carry on with any ‘Woe is me!’ stuff, although there was plenty of it.

This morning I listened to one of a series of programmes about black music in Europe, and it was fascinating, since it looked at the politics behind the music moving and changing. I know little about Africa besides reading that China was taking over to exploit its resources, and that was years ago. I remember chatting to a fellow research student at a gathering in the English Department at Exeter university who was from China, and I said something about what I’d read. She seemed astonished: ‘Oh, no, China is helping Africa!’ I must find out more about that, and make a note of my areas of ignorance as I write something here about what I think the process has been which has led to the planet being now exhausted to the point where doing what we can to relieve its burden is the only thing that really matters.

Firstly I know that it all started with agriculture and the capability to produce surpluses so that not everyone had to be engaged in growing and processing food. That led to divisions of labour and layers of social status. That in turn led to extravagant buildings for the powerful, who also employed artisans to provide them with luxurious clothing, furnishings, artwork and entertainment. The powerful were sustained by armed forces and by systems of cultural control such as religions and priesthoods and conditioning and propaganda of many kinds so that hierarchies were now challenged. The system of surpluses also provided opportunities for some people to acquire learning, for there to be a hierarchy of knowledge, for specialisms and disciplines to emerge, and for those elites to have their high status buildings, codes of dress and ceremonials. This was called civilisation. Its beneficiaries and their lands were called civilised.

I know from Jared Diamond that geography played a major part in determining where the agriculture which produced surpluses could arise – and also determined where it could not, so that there were areas of the world left relatively unexploited until discovered by explorers from civilised lands, and their armed forces tasked with claiming new territories for their rulers, their kings, their crowns, their flags. There is much that I don’t know about all that, but I don’t know how much I need to know in order to assert that this general picture about the origins of planetary exhaustion is right, and hence that we need to find ways to stop being proud of the enormous range of human achievements it made possible.

There are other parts of the big picture I know something about. In particular I recently reread E.P. Thompson’s book William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, and I was struck by Morris understanding from his reading of Marx – perhaps even earlier – that capitalist nations need to be imperialistic, to take over other countries, in order to exploit their raw materials and, having destroyed their home economies, to create markets for goods. I have not put that well, but I’ll resist the temptation to look up what Thompson said Morris said on that subject. I like the detail that Morris called Queen Victoria ‘Empress Brown’ when she was made Empress of India. I do – or should – know something about Tagore’s views of the British Empire, but perhaps more importantly, I know he took a dim view of Nationalism. And that is key, because, thinking again about the post-war period talked about in the programme about black music in Europe, the move from colonialism to national independence was thought to be a good thing. And the problem with that was not only that the inspiring new African leaders were deposed, killed, or became corrupt, but also that all the inequalities of the original surpluses-derived civilisations and the centuries of imperialism were carried into the nation states.

The next major change was globalisation and liberalisation, which sounds as if it could have been good but wasn’t. Potentially I know something about that from a book by Aseem Shrivastava, whom I met at Schumacher College: Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India. He shows how Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened up India to global free trade, and how the people of India suffered as a result. Again, I have not absorbed anything much at all in the way of detailed knowledge from reading that book at least twice. . I couldn’t resist having a peek at that book, noting the friendly message from Assem saying: ‘Hope this begins new conversations!’, and then looking at the index entry for Modi which points to just one page. I remember Aseem talking about Modi as the villain behind these changes, and writing about him in those terms in articles, but perhaps that shows he was little more than a figurehead, that the fault lies with capitalism, economics, big finance, systems and institutions, and whole complex of specialisms, expertise and vested interests. I did note again when skimming the book that the key date was 1991.

My other spot of knowledge on what has exhausted the planet is the book I referred to earlier: Peter Frankopan, The New Silk Roads: The Present and the Future of the World. I was surprised to see how few references there are in the index to climate change: no section about it, a few single pages with mentions, and looking up on the only two-page reference I found that was a few words which happened to span the bottom of one page and the top of the next and it was just about the melting of a glacier affecting water supplies and causing disputes. In contrast, there was a lot of material on deals being done between countries across Asia, and infrastructure being built, to facilitate trade in oil and gas. Again, I would need to read with more concentration and retention if I wanted to argue publicly for, in particular, relocalisation of the economies of the countries in that region, in order to save the planet.

Day 14

This morning I started reading Frankopan’s book again, marking key points with pencil sidelining. One estimate which intrigued me was ‘200 million Chinese will travel abroad in 2020’, bringing ‘opportunities in the gaming and cosmetics sectors’ and boosting travel and catering businesses.[21] Instead they brought the world this devastating virus. Having read Frankopan’s other observations about China’s expansion in financial terms and the transformations that has led to, I find myself worrying what China will do now, having got over the virus before every other country. I found Frankopan’s reporting that an entrepreneur based in Beijing has bought 3,000 acres of land in France to grow flour for Chinese boulangeries more sinister than reports of oil wealth in Turkmenistan which is a direct threat to efforts to avert climate change. I sense that Europe is becoming part of the Chinese empire, serving Chinese capitalism with raw materials and markets just as Morris wrote about on the British Empire. Globalisation allows that to happen without any conquest or force or even propaganda or corruption. I am also very disturbed about the technology being introduced to ‘help’ with contact tracing to tackle the coronavirus epidemic because I fear that it will not be withdrawn afterwards, and will become part of the surveillance capitalism which Shoshana Zuboff warns about in her book.[22]

Zuboff concentrates on Google and Facebook, and how they came to collect data on behalf of advertisers. This is another book I’d need to read again to get an authoritative understanding of the process. I do know that advertising is now everywhere, and most people – I gather – are unconcerned about its effect on them, accepting the notion of advertising targeted at their personal preferences and interests and what we have to tolerate for the privilege of free access to what passes for information, including exchanges on social media, and also all the things called ‘platforms’ and ‘apps’ plus ‘games’ and music and porn and cryptic currencies and all sorts of other things I don’t wish to know about. I am so averse to advertising that I contrive to avert my eyes and fold newspapers in cunning ways to avoid noticing logos in particular. I have also become very skilled at hovering over the mute button on the TV control to avoid listening to previews, announcements or parental-style warnings about the programme coming next or to convey some pretended remarks on how good or exciting that was and when the next episode will be. I insists on doing my own choosing and navigating, thank you very much. We always record programmes on Channel 4 (apart from the news) in order to fast forward over the adverts, and scarcely ever watch any other commercial channel because the ads are so pervasive.

I went into our top garden with Zuboff’s book and a pencil intending to pick up something useful on her warnings about our personal data being used to predict what we will do, might want, could be tempted to buy, may be lured into participating in, and so on. The trouble is I have a very poor basis for understanding it all because I try so hard to avoid all but the essentials like emails. I do have a Facebook account and I use it mostly to share concerns, often links to articles on subjects that concern me which appeared in the Guardian and then find online, or shared from a small clutch of like-minded, like-politicked ‘Friends’. It’s curious how the same word: ‘Friend’ is used for this technology as for fellow Quakers, members of the Society of Friends. I know that I would only understand the complexities of surveillance in Zuboff’s book if I allowed myself to participate and gain knowledge of how it all works. It is curious that I am technologically naive in today’s terms given that my working life was in information technology. My first job was as a trainee programmer for Cerebos, who had a LEO III computer for their systems for accounts, management information, payroll and all that. The first LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) computer was, I think, the first to be used for applications software, rather than for research and engineering design applications. I learned to program in the LEO III’s assembler language, which was very similar to the binary machine code instructions the computer executed, and we used to be able to follow the machine code in ‘dumps’: printouts of the computer’s core store at the time the program came to an end, perhaps in a loop indicated a bug in the code, and we would make machine code patches on paper tape for the operators to feed in before the program was run again, to avoid having to run assembler again. All deliciously technical and I loved it. Later I moved up the career ladder, to systems analyst, project leader, then into line management and management consultancy. My ambitions in those early days was to be a Computer Manager, unimaginable heights, but I got there, and wasn’t much good at it having had no management training or natural aptitude. That’s a bit unfair on myself, as I did well when I was managing a small friendly team with well-defined projects properly supported resourced.

That was a very long time ago. I started in 1963 after I graduated and continued until 1989, with an interruption when I had two small children (my daughters, not my child with Charles) followed by two years of school teaching, maths and computer studies which I enjoyed. I did some Supply teaching later on, which was not so good as the kids mucked about without their regular teacher: ‘behaviour management’ was not my strong point.

Now the funny thing is, when personal computers came on the scene I didn’t take to them. Maybe I had had enough. I was also rather critical of the amateurishness of it all. Even when PCs were used in a business environment, there was often no systems analysis done. This is all a bit of a puzzle I’ll think and write more about tomorrow. Or perhaps not, the fact is I’m no geek.

Week Three

Day 15

I listened to the Today programme this morning and one thing they discussed was the lack of world leadership from the United States, given Trump’s lack of interest in that, and American isolationism that he had brought about, and I’d add also his lack of statesmanship and ineptitude. The idea was mooted that China might fill that gap, become the nation leading the world. But China isn’t trusted because of being less than open at first about the seriousness of the disease outbreak. China needing to address its biosecurity was mentioned, as if that would be enough to prevent a recurrence! In any case, so far, all China has done is temporarily ban ‘wet markets’. From what I have read, particularly in Frankopan’s book, capitalism in China is already getting all the advantages of imperialism without the power and panoply. Dave told me there had been a special issue of New Internationalist on China with information of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI). We couldn’t find that but there was an article on the subject in the June 2018 edition.[23] This ‘dazzlingly ambitious international investment programme’ aims to ‘bring infrastructure to half the planet’. Then Dave found the issue on ‘China in Charge’, with a graphic summary of BRI.[24] Building of new big infrastructure and transportation systems worries me hugely for the planet. I wrote an article called ‘Tagore and the Gunny Bags’ initially for my blog, later published in Asiatic journal, which was about advances in transportation technology, plastic bags and shipping containers, both invented in the 1960s. In that I wrote: ‘I remember there being a special issue of The Ecologist on transportation based on the observation that every advance in transportation technology brought about a new and worse phase of environmental destruction.’ I found the article online and in it Simon Fairlie describes the Kondriatev cycle whereby the industrial economy seemed to expand and contract in waves lasting approximately 50 years, and links that to the suggestion by Andrew Tylecote that each of the boom periods is associated with the successful emergence of a new ‘technological style’, characterised by a new form of transportation.[25] China’s BRI is that kind of advance in spades.

Fairlie and others may have understood how new transportation technology enables new phases of exploitation of so-called natural resources, but I don’t think the connection is well understood. It was certainly not understood by people in the Labour Party during the 2019 election campaign talking and writing about a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. We heard the then Shadow Chancellor John MacDonnell talking about a future Labour government spending huge sums of money on infrastructure, borrowing to invest in the future, with new and improved railways heralded as a greener form of transport. This is partly because the Labour party is obliged by its connection with Trades Unions and the working class to regard new jobs as a thoroughly good thing, and construction means plenty of jobs. But it is also because it is not appreciated that building infrastructure subsidises the industries who come to use it to move materials and goods, so that they can do that faster and cheaper, not needing to do it in ways that takes account of future needs and cleans up waste and pollution. For there to be truly Green development, transport would have to be made so expensive that it would be more economical for materials to be sourced locally to the industries and workers using them, and ideally near the people who need and will use the end products, with communities encouraged to monitor any extraction activities to ensure conservative use and replacement by replanting where possible, and repairing, re-using and recycling everything that is produced. Mineral materials are finite resources and should always be used conservatively, extracted with as little disturbance of local ecology as possible, and always recovered from end products which are no longer repairable, so that the materials can be used again and again. Take away the infrastructure subsidies and price mechanisms would emerge to enforce relocalisation. There would also be incentives to use materials that come from plants, rather than extracting minerals from the ground.

I will study the article on BRI before writing more, apart from noting the first item on Khorgos Gateway, ‘a “dry port” rail terminal designed to process the surging flow of goods from China’s humming factories to eager customers in Asia and Europe.’ This reminds us that industries, and the states like China supporting those industries by subsidising infrastructure, are responding to demands, which means that ‘at the end of the day’ we all have a role to play. We can buy or not buy on principle, guided by information about exploitation of planet and people, rather than deciding on the basis of prices or whim put into our heads by advertising – which brings us back a little way to Zuboff’s warnings.

This whole thing: the virus pandemic, lockdown, fear, combined with huge anxiety about planetary exhaustion, means I am often on the brink of depression and mental breakdown. Yesterday, an incident brought on a particularly bad attack of grief, anger, and dreadful unstoppable weeping. David had arranged for a neighbour to do a bit of shopping for us, which meant going to the Co-op – as we thought. But yesterday it seems she went to Sainsbury’s, the supermarket we had campaigned against being built, and where I have never shopped on principle. So to see food brought for us from there was terrible. I was dreadfully upset, all evening, all night, all morning too. David agreed I could compost it all but after I had recovered a little, I decided that would be too wasteful, but David will ensure it happens again – he has thought how to do that without offending the neighbour. Today is the day which might have been my birthday but I couldn’t face celebrating that or having my family mark it, so they sent non-birthday cards, bless them! I did put on the pretty grey lacy top my daughter sent some time ago, with the new maroon dungarees I got online to go with it.

Day 16

It is Good Friday and the Today programme had God botherers talking about the Christian myth about the sacrifice of God’s son – one even talked about Jesus having died because his body was stretched by his own weight on the cross and he couldn’t breathe resembling the struggles of Covid-19 sufferers in intensive care. I was brought up, and remain, emphatically atheist but I have always been intrigued by Bible stories, as my father was; I remember he knew the Bible quite well, so I was thrilled when my friend Sid – the same one who has told me about the SPGB – recommended a book which debunks the whole Christian story: The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John M. Allegro.[26] Allegro was a philologist, ‘a lecturer in Near Eastern and Old Testament studies’, which seems surprising given that he was an atheist, and he was the only atheist in ‘the international editing team to decipher and publish a mass of new material from the Dead Sea caves’.[27]

Allegro’s revelations about the New Testament myth is highly relevant to the project at the heart of my Twelve Weeks writing, which is to reveal what went wrong from, and due to, the beginnings of agriculture being capable of producing surpluses. The story Allegro tells relates to that early time, when human survival depended on the success of the annual cycle of planting, growing and harvesting, which was subject to uncertainties, particularly about sufficient rain falling at the right time, and the desire to have some control over those uncertainties. Allegro tells how those early societies in the Middle East where farming began acted to increase their influence on these vital forces, which is just the kind of thing one can imagine they would do. Without any evidence, one would not be able to decide on the specifics. Allegro does not have any hard evidence from those early days, instead he provides authoritative clues to the rituals and practices from what has survived through mythology until the time in which the New Testament stories are set.

In this writing I have aimed to resist the temptation to look things up to make sure I get things write and to put references, but today I have spent too long rereading one of Allegro’s books and it already nearly half past four – and Dave and I agreed to go for a walk to ‘say hello to the geese’, which I, in particular, probably shouldn’t do, according to the stay at home rules. So I’ll have a go at writing what I remember of Allegro’s controversial theory, as I can always correct it later.

In The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, Allegro uses his philological expertise to support his not implausible idea that early farmers believed that the rain they badly needed to fertilise their crops came from a god in the sky, and that the substance that rained down was semen from a divine penis. Allegro suggests that they would have copulated in the fields to excite and stimulate the divine organ. He may have known of such practices by primitive farmers in more recent times. The next discovery about early rituals that he made would seem to be highly speculative, if it were not for the connections he makes with key words in myths which have survived to the present day. The connection he came to make with Christian belief was regarded as absurd. Allegro wrote that the ancient farmers – or particularly their priests – believed that the god in the sky had a son in the form of a sacred mushroom – identified as fly agaric or amanita muscaria from a spotted plant featuring in ancient images – which magically appears in early morning, changes form from a penis shape to a penis supporting a vulva, then dies, although it rises again the next morning. The priests, Allegro says, pick the mushroom and make an hallucinogenic potion which they imbibe and anoint themselves with, so that they can make contact with the god in the sky and persuade him to ejaculate on the fields. Allegro uses particular words in several ancient mythologies to show that the mushroom ritual has been transformed into stories about divine beings. The link Allegro makes with Christian mythology was very specific, thus providing targets for critics to attack. According to Allegro, the mushroom ritual and its teachings gave rise to a powerful sect with many followers, so that the Romans saw it as a threat and were determined to destroy it. So the leaders of the sect disguised the teachings as a story of a human-like sky god who sends his human son to earth to be sacrificed to save the people, but who rose from the dead. The Romans did suppress the sect and demolished their temple and all that survived was the invented story, and that became the foundation of a new religion we know as Christianity, with a ritual of eating the flesh and blood of the martyred son of god.

That is what I remember from having read The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, the first time about forty years ago, and reread a couple of times since but without taking notes to consolidate my recollections. Half the book consists of Allegro’s philological evidence, by which he traces how key words from ancient texts have survived in altered but recognisable form, and that material was included to convince other experts and beyond my understanding. I have read other books by Allegro, being particularly interested the work he carried out interpreting the Dead Sea Scrolls, his section being the first to be published. I also read a biography of Allegro by his daughter, which was very sympathetic, although she said her father had gone too far because he was so attached to his speculative and controversial theory.[28] I also tried to contact Allegro himself through his department of Old Testament studies at Manchester University, and I spoke to a colleague who told me Allegro had died, in the Isle of Mann where he moved to after the scandal, clinging to his beliefs to the end.

Day 17

As usual, I really need to reread these Allegro books with better attention, marking and taking notes, if I am to do his experience, expertise and theories justice. But first, why do these outlandish claims, which were offensive to many people, matter? What does it contribute to this rambling study into how our species has ended up exhausting the planet?

Firstly, it is interesting to think of priests having a practical role in the food producing enterprise, and for their standing in a community deriving from that. Secondly, it is of course fascinating to think that the needs of agriculture led to the rise of a class of experts to communicate with a male god in the sky. Of course, there is no such divine penis ejaculating the rain, and appealing to him through the sacrifice of his son, an hallucinogenic mushroom, will have no effect on the rain or the harvest. Or will it? There was an opportunity cost, in that without credence being given to that nonsense, there might have been more attention paid to the effect on rainfall patterns of extending growing areas by felling more forest. But such observations would probably not have been made, given that clearing forests was a recent practice, and knowledge of the powers of plants was very old and well established because it had been vital in the earlier ages of hunting and gathering, only very recently abandoned and only by some groups of people and certain places, the earlier ways continuing elsewhere. Having been the guardian of an online database of 8000 useful plants, with much of the detail relating to health giving or medicinal properties, I am well aware of the human heritage of knowledge about plants. I have just had a look at the PFAF database ( and found that ‘hallucinogenic’ is a search term or ‘glossary item’. Plants with this property can be ‘tagged’ and later found by ticking ‘hallucinogenic’, one of the options under ‘Medicinal Uses’, on the search page. I tried this out and my search results table included 27 plants, including some with a sinister reputation such as poppy, belladonna, henbane and mandrake, and also some surprises such as sweet flag and fennel, and some I had no knowledge of such as fumewort and thorn apple. But I was surprised to see such a short list, and this may be because the database doesn’t cover fungi.

I went back to my rereading of Allegro’s The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth, and was interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls that he had worked on when they were newly discovered. They derived from the Essenes, a religious community with a leader they referred to as the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’. The texts on these scrolls resembled the New Testament but with differences. Allegro wrote about apocryphal works attributed to the patriarch Enoch which interested the Essenes, with visions of the Garden of Eden returning, of holy springs appearing, of a mountain splitting to allow the passage of water, and expectations of a restoration of harmony in nature. It is as if the people of the Dead Sea region looked to holy texts and prophecies to bring water and life back to the desert, and had lost any memory or record of how the land had become desertified, what changes their ancestors might have made, in particular of course clearing forests for agriculture, knowledge which might have helped them bring life back themselves with suitable plants and cultivation practices. There is a modern parallel – or continuation of an ancient tendency – whereby verbal wisdom, whether oral or written, is given more respectful attention and credence than practical knowledge and experience, and those who are experts in texts have a higher status and rewards than those who do useful things on the land. I have added R. Gordon Wasson’s Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality to my rereading list, because it is about the same sacred mushroom as Allegro’s, but associated with Soma, the god and sacred plant referred to in the Rig-Veda, ancient hymns of India.[29] I realise that by dipping into several texts and theories, I am making it difficult to write coherently about these ancient practices and how they relate to the origins and continuation of land degradation.

I had a break to read the Saturday Guardian newspaper, its front page full of pictures of some of those who have died, reminders that there are real people behind the statistics. There is a mood of concern in the country, coupled with gratitude towards ‘those on the frontline’ (unfortunate war metaphor) primarily health and care workers but also recognising many others who are at risk, such as bus drivers, delivery people, posties and supermarket workers. There is also criticism, particularly about there not being sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for all those who need it, and criticism of ministers in charge for suggesting users are not following the rules for PPE so that some is wasted, and not admitting their own failures for not getting supplies organised early enough. Other kinds of challenges are voiced, as I heard on the radio programme Any Questions, where someone asked about how this country would relate to China after this is all over. As is often the case, the answers given were vague, as they were to the next question which intrigued me more: Does this pandemic prove that there is no God? The panel – including an Archbishop – answered ‘No’ in various ways, and I’d have to agree. Neither the current pandemic killing so many innocent and valuable people ‘before their time’, nor the failure of the rains to fall on fields in ancient times, proves the non-existence of God, but it interesting that it is the same male god in the sky now as it was back then.

Why would early farming people have believed this stuff? Why have people continued to believe it? One possible cause came to mind that I vaguely remember reading about, which is that belief in God is in our genes. I looked up ‘God gene’ online and found the following from Wikipedia: ‘The God gene hypothesis proposes that human spirituality in influenced by heredity and that a specific gene, called vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2), predisposes humans towards spiritual or mystic experiences. The idea has been proposed by geneticist Dean Hamer in the 2004 book called The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes.’ Hamer puts forward five major arguments, the last of which is that spirituality has survival value because it makes us optimistic, an effect I can vouch for in terms of the detrimental effect of death dread. I also thought that epigenetics, the external processes of switching genes on and off according to need and circumstances, might also be involved.

Day 18

I have just put several books I’ve had out to reread back on the shelves and got another one down: Jared Diamond’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, first published in 1991.[30] I glanced at Naomi Klein’s No Logo as I did so, wondering if I should bring that in, may be to add to what I’ve written about my obsession with avoiding looking at adverts, especially logos which are designed – and often deliberately placed – to burrow themselves into the viewer’s mind. I object to my mind being polluted in this way.

I have written very little today so far – less than 100 words – and it is nearly a quarter to five. Maybe I am drying up. I don’t think it’s that. Partly the problem – if there is a problem – is having a newspaper delivered every day and feeling the need to know what is happening with the coronavirus emergency. Dave and I also had a long phone call with Fizz, much of that about the virus, my recent mental breakdown, her frustrations in her GP practice over being asked to carry out a poorly thought out exercise to do with the people of their list of potentially ‘highly vulnerable’ patients, also the absurd wasted trip Dom her husband, who is a radiologist at Bath hospital, had over getting fitted with a special protective visor for when he is needed to fit ventilators, so I think we were talking to her for over an hour. Then I made some rather good courgette fritters.

I had started the first paragraph for today before Fizz rang, and I added the bit about No Logo after that – and also had a look at my emails. I had decided yesterday evening to clean the door to our top garden, after Dave threatened to do it himself and it’s a task I like to think is mine – and I’m quite possessive of some tasks – so I’ve done that, and it was hard work. Dave brought the bigger steps up from the garage and worried and warned about me being careful not to fall off. There were sticky spiders’ nests in all the corners and spots of white droppings of some kind, and a lot of ordinary dirt. There are lots of surfaces too, and I did feel insecure on the top of the steps, and wobbled once. My first bowl of soapy water was satisfyingly filthy, and I tipped it into the fig tree bed – Dave had decided ages ago that Ecover washing liquid wouldn’t hurt plants, and the fig tree is a big chap. I then had a break to read the Observer. Then I got clean water and rinsed what I’d washed earlier. Then read a bit more. Then cleaned the windows with a clean jiffy cloth and window cleaner stuff. And it looks brilliant! Then we made lunch. It is Sunday so we usually have a vegan roast. Dave prepared roast potatoes – he is very good at that – he adds rosemary and olive oil at a final stage. There was some leftover bread so I said I’d make nut roast. He offered to chop some of the aubergine and celery I had spurned because it came form Sainsbury’s – have I written about that? But I said I only needed onion, carrot and red pepper. To be honest, I would have used a celery stick and a bit of aubergine. I made onion, leek and mushroom sauce, and chopped and washed some leaves of Swiss chard and cooked them in a little olive oil and the water that was clinging to the pieces, and a shake of soy sauce. Afterwards I had a rest and pondered what to write about. I decided to make notes about my version of population control.

Many people who are concerned about the planet – including Diamond, it would seem – believe that part of the solution has to be population control – fewer humans, because we’re the problem. I do and yet don’t agree with that. I think the main population we need to control is domesticated livestock and pets. I have written about that on my blog so I won’t repeat it here, except for the extraordinary statistic that 96% of the biomass of all mammals on the planet is made up of us and domesticated livestock (to which I’d add pets), and only 4% is wild mammals. I looked up the report that fact was taken from, which was about the biomass of all life, and mammals make up a tiny proportion compared with plants and – surprisingly – bacteria. The issue of human diseases coming from wild and domesticated mammals and birds, such as chickens and ducks should surely make people think about stopping eating meat, and I have long argued that dairy products are no better, and questioned the term ‘vegetarian’ as misleading, with lacto-vegetarian having no moral argument that stands up to scrutiny. So I would say population control to save the planet should refer to ‘people who eat meat and dairy products’. I have other criticisms of what humans do so I would like to see control of other populations.

The planet needs there to be fewer people who believe in God, and that this god created humans and gave us dominion over the earth and all its resources, and that nothing bad can happen because we go to heaven when we die, as long as we have been moral and charitable during out lives. A book I’ll cite on that is A Political Theology of Climate Change (William B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2013) by Michael S. Northcott.

The planet needs there to be fewer people who believe that humans are clever and inventive and creative, and should have priority over other life forms, and have a right and proper need to exploit the planet’s resources. There should be fewer people who think of the planet as containing ‘natural resources’; the term should be banned. There have to be fewer – ideally no – people who think money gives them the right to consume, and to waste, and that money is real and important and must be involved in personal and collective decisions that are made. The worst mechanisms for meeting money demands should end, in particular all shipping containers, whether shipped by sea or by rail.

The planet needs there to be fewer people who make a living by performing in public or for a public made up of people who pay to see and/or hear them. Art needs to become craft so that we all have skills at making lovely things for ourselves and each other to enjoy.

The population of people who fly in aeroplanes, go on cruises or drive cars of any kind including electric ones needs to be reduced progressively down to zero once relocalisation of providing our needs has taken place.

Amazingly, I have met my 1000 word target for today.

Day 19

I read through Day 17 and made a few changes. This morning in bed I read Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee book, the first chapter ‘A Tale of Three Chimps’ where I was intrigued that all three should be included in the family Homonidae, and that this might change how we feel about scientists carrying out experiments on fellow Homos. My view is that we shouldn’t be exploiting any animals in any way, in particular that we should not depend on them for food; everyone needs to become vegan and produce their plants foods locally and vegan-organically.

I was initially relieved to read a piece in the Observer by columnist Nick Cohen arguing that the coronavirus pandemic should change minds so that everyone becomes vegan, however his fear is that ‘[r]ather than change minds, the corona crisis is cementing them.’

The boast that “when the facts change, I change my mind” is a proud one. “When the facts change, I reinforce my prejudices” is truer. If you want proof, look at the coronavirus that has changed everything and consider the undisputed fact that it spread because of humanity’s abuse of animals.

Imagine a world where facts changed minds. The United Nations, governments and everyone with influence would now be saying we should abandon meat or at a minimum cut down on consumption.

[And on antibiotic resistance and overuse:]

Ban the use of antibiotics in farming, then. Treat meat, cow milk and cheese as we treat tobacco and alcohol and hit them with punitive taxes. Make the illegal trade in wild animals as great a crime as the illegal trade in weapons.

However rational such stirring declarations may be, I feel I am no longer connected to myself or the world around me when I issue them. I am not a vegan. If changing facts changed minds, I should become one – as should you, in all likelihood.[31]

I was initially really heartened to read Cohen’s piece, but now I’m not so sure. He is saying that even if there are compelling reasons to change our behaviour we won’t actually be compelled, we will carry on as before. In any case becoming vegan doesn’t really solve anything. It’s true that if humans had all been vegan, there wouldn’t have been a ‘wet market’ in China selling wild meat from which the virus sprung onto someone there, who infected someone else, indeed many other people, eventually brining about a global pandemic. Short of everyone being vegan – and indeed no one having contact with wild animals – something like this could happen. There are surely pathogens that we can pick up from plants. All the ‘if only…’ suppositions are pointless and useless. And yet, it feels right that fewer bad things would happen in a future – perhaps a utopian future – where there were no cattle, pig or chicken industries, no feed lots, no slaughterhouses, no butchers, no little woolly lambs destined to be killed for anyone’s Sunday roast or chops.

One thing I do know is that vegan food is delicious and a pleasure to cook and serve and be enjoyed by everyone. I added that as a comment when I put a link to Cohen’s article on my facebook page. I put one of my hundreds of photos taken with my phone camera with that comment. I looked through the photos from the last time I copied them onto the pictures library on my laptop, not picking the first one, looking for one that illustrated my point. Why wouldn’t any of them have served that purpose? Because I am aware that not all even my vegan food is above reproach for its effect on the planet. The plate I chose featured stuffed butternut squash with roast potatoes and greens and mushroom sauce. I would have to look at the date of that meal and give it some thought to decided where the raw materials came from, and if they were or could have been home grown, and what harm cultivating them might have done.

Many people grow a wide variety of unusual vegetables in their gardens. One of the most successful of those is Stephen Barstow who shows images of his very early spring harvests on his facebook page. But I have noted that when he tells us about eating them, it is often with cheese. That is understandable because his piles of tiny greens may be tasty but wouldn’t satisfy anyone’s appetite on their own. He could have them with potatoes, and that would be vegan, substantial and tasty. My own dish has potatoes, which I might have grown in my garden, and we do grow some, although not these. They would have come with our organic veg box from Riverford, which sounds benign, but Riverford is not vegan-organic, manure would have been used to improve its soils. The squash in my picture may well have been a home-grown one – we had a bumper harvest last year and they keep wonderfully. Or it would have come from Riverford, with the caveat about that.

The squash was stuffed, the basis being breadcrumbs, plus a few chopped vegetables, usually onion, carrot and red, yellow or green pepper, and chopped nuts, plus herbs from the garden – that’s the best bit. The bread is a problem, despite the fact that it would have been crusts or stale leftover bread, because wheat is an annual crop grown in vast monoculture deserts, which depletes the soil and releases carbon, not only from the soil which would sequester carbon if it were covered by perennials, but also carbon from agricultural machinery, its manufacture and its fuel. All bad news for the planet.

The greens look as if they came from our garden. We have a number of perennial kale plants in the garden, given or sold to us by Mandy Barber from her Incredible Vegetables site near Ashburton. The kale plants have had edible leaves all through the winter, and although we’ve seen little snails on them, most of the leaves are fine.

If I had chosen other pictures of my vegan home cooking, some of the same concerns and some other concerns would arise. A favourite quick meal is rice and vegetables with marinated and fried tofu, a soya product. I use a lot of soy sauce – again soya. The mea culpa regarding soya is rather like the one about breadcrumbs, in that the amount of soya consumes by vegans is tiny compared to the amount that goes into animal feed. Rice of course is not something we could grow in our garden – or on Riverford’s fields, come to that. I have mentioned the Plants For A Future database and search facilities at, and what I should really do is find what other crop we could grow as a substitute for rice – and for wheat, come to that. I tried a search and it isn’t that easy to find substitutes since there are not very many specific edible uses to search on – far more medicinal uses.

Day 20

I’m feeling a bit stunned – and wondering whether or not to continue with this ‘Twelve Weeks’ writing because it seems I shouldn’t have been on the list as needing to be ‘shielded’ for 12 weeks because I’ve had a splenectomy as it’s only people whose splenectomy was part of treatment for ‘haematological malignancy’ who are extremely vulnerable to the Covid19 virus. This means I can go out: to the beach, to the shops, obviously being careful about social distancing, washing hands and all that, just like everyone else during the ‘lockdown’ period.

I think I will continue with the writing though, but maybe relax the 1000 words challenge, especially if it’s a nice day and we go out – remembering that lockdown rules say only once a day for exercise and not far from home, and Dave is saying only he will go to shops as I’m more vulnerable – although I don’t think that’s actually the case.

Yesterday I emailed Trevor to ask about the limited search facilities for ‘edible uses’ and he replied this morning agreeing, but giving three links to a bit more information about ‘Alternative Food Crops’ including leaves, roots, fruits and seeds. This may provide me with a bit of an excuse for not practising what I preach but that is really not good enough.

Those of us with pretentions to being intellectual and moral should be consistent and should practise what we preach – but that isn’t easy, especially when what one preaches is full of contradictions and compromises. I wrote – or, as is usual for me – I began to write a piece on ‘Writing as a Prison’ arguing this:

Writing/literacy, and all that goes with it, is at the root of the Modern Age, and hence a major cause of all our problems. The difficulty of making this case led me to the metaphor of writing as a prison, because prisons have door and keys and one can conceive of some writing being part of the prison but also part of the way out.

I am wanting to have my cake and eat it: write piously about how bad writing is. I see a similar thing – but unacknowledged – in Jared Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee, how it rose and how it is falling. We rise through being clever and fall the same way. Diamond is clever and is part of that; so am I in my smaller way – but at least I confess it. There is so much about modern humanity which is clever and utterly awfully flawed and dangerous, although, it has to be said that much more – the bulk of it if we were to weigh our biomass – of modern humanity is stupid and utterly flawed and dangerous, and neither the clever ones nor the stupid ones are going to devise a way out, although there are some giving it a better go than the rest. What nonsense I do write! No, it isn’t nonsense. There are people growing food vegan-organically and locally for themselves and neighbours to eat. Maybe there are many of them, although it’s hard to tell because they can be too busy to communicate what they are doing at all widely, but there are a few managing to write books about it, and if there is a good reason to write books, that is surely it. That writing is the key to the writing prison, writing so that eventually writing can come to an end.

When I was reading about Diamond’s chimp-which-is-us I was struck by how recently we became clever, no more than 20 thousand years ago, only twice as long ago as the terrible agriculture and surpluses disastrous move. Clever means tool making and actually becoming skilled hunters – whereas prior to that the males of our species used to boast about their hunting prowess while doing very little of it and so eating mainly plant foods gathered by the women. Diamond lived with stone age people surviving to the present in New Guinea and those men did the same.

The biggest danger that writing brings about is distraction, the whole complex of ways to avoid putting all our efforts into bringing into everyone’s consciousness that the planet is exhausted and we have to change radically towards a way of life that is other than the one that emerged from agriculture and surpluses: a few thousands of years of people doing other than what is needed so that everyone has enough plant foods to sustain them. Before agriculture, and after agriculture but when it wasn’t practised everywhere, there was gathering of plant foods. That needs to be the way we are nourished in future. Wild ecosystems are not capable of providing enough plant foods for everyone so we have to design and plan food forests to suit every location and human community living there, and carry out planting and nurturing until we can shift our dependency onto our new sources of nourishment, then the main activity will be harvesting. We will needs funds of knowledge about plants, their needs and yields, their life cycles over time and seasons. Our big brains, which most probably grew big to contain plant knowledge and land maps, as researchers and others interested in indigenous peoples have found, with children absorbing plant knowledge as soon as they can walk, maybe even earlier as they are carried into the forests by mothers doing gathering, and some simple encouragement of favoured plants which can be seen as farming, primitive in the best sense of that word.

There are so many distractions and distrators, the latter disproportionately rewarded in terms of money, honours and self-satisfaction. There was a brief visit to the Today programme this morning of Will Self, who was addressed as Lord – but I looked that up online and I must have made a mistake. Self is a Republican, a Labour voter and not even a ‘Sir’, although he is a professor, but I suppose that is just a job title, not an honour. Never mind, there are many clever and self-important writers who produce distractions for each other and everyone else – including me I have to confess. There is a host of genres and specialisms and expert roles. In some cases the narrower the specialism the greater the honour and gravitas, but with waves of public opinions for and against boffins and experts, and a specialist’s reputation, especially if he or she is an academic, may be marred or enhanced by fame coming from writings or speakings for the general reader, viewer and listener.  They all get a lot of attentions, that’s for sure, whereas most gardeners don’t, unless they perform on TV.

That was a funny day, peculiar 1000 words, as I’m on a high due to being let off being on the ‘shielded patients list’.

Day 21

Finished reading Diamond’s Part One on evolution of human anatomy, which ends by announcing the next part about how different human life cycle is from other animals, even our close relatives, with his last sentence referring to humans as the only species capable of destroying all life. That’s the point, isn’t it? We’re different and terrible.

I’ve just corrected the heading, where I’d put 19 instead of 20. This morning we went on our longest walk since this lockdown thing started. We went to look at what has been done to raise the sea wall to try to stop waves crashing over onto the railway line. It looks hideous and we felt so sorry for people living in that road who used to have a sea view, and now only those with top floor flats will be able to see over. And Dave and others say it won’t stop one of the really big storms anyway. The pieces are shaped with a curved overhang on the sea side which is supposed to divert waves back on themselves, which they will with waves reaching to that height, but big storms will go over the top and may even demolish the concrete chunks and they’d be impossible to repair in situ. Seeing what storms do to regular walls shows that.

We were very careful to keep the two metres distance from anyone we passed and not many people were about, few as well in the Co-op where Dave got a small white loaf, celery and aubergine – to replace what I refused to eat that Sue next door got us from the Sainsbury’s supermarket we campaigned against being built, and I have never set foot in – apart from when I had to go there to collect a netball ring I mail-ordered from Argos which is part of Sainsbury’s and that has collection points.

Back to vegan cooking and how to get the ingredients. I use a lot of oil. Yesterday for instance I had half a nut roast from Sunday left over. I asked Dave to parboil some potatoes, and I made a thick batter with seasoned flour and oat milk. Then I fried the potatoes and pieces of nut roast coated in batter, and steamed some cauliflower pieces plus some cauliflower leaves. It was delicious! but that kind of thing uses a lot of oil, in this case sunflower oil, but I also use a lot of olive oil. I couldn’t grow an olive tree here, and even if I could, it would be years before it fruited. We grow sunflowers. In fact sunflowers seed themselves and they’re in the compost and just appear, and we get huge flowers which go to seed, but I know it’s difficult getting oil out of the seeds. ‘Oil’ is one of the ‘edible uses’ you can tick in the search so I tried that. There are evidently hundreds of plants on the database which yield oil. So I limited the search to edible rating 4 or 5, still about 200, so tried just 5 and my results table had 47 plants, the last one being Zea mays or sweet corn, corn and Helianthis annuus, sunflower was there.

Another piece of news: I received a local Labour party group email asking if anyone had a sewing machine and could make scrubs for a local GP practice, with a contact phone number, so I sent a text to say that I could do that, and asking about fabric, pattern and thread. There was a reply thanking me and asking for my email address to send that information. No reply yet, but my daughter L encouraged me to do it saying ‘You are super at sewing mum, go for it!!’ She was feeling very low as men fixing her roof had put a foot through the ceiling and just drilled a piece of ‘msg’ – did she mean ‘MDF’? over on the inside and she can’t cope with the confrontation and the mess and her husband is no help and getting on her nerves. Poor love! I suppose she did well to get someone to come and repair the roof, but getting on with one’s spouse is hard in the lockdown. In the end she went back to bed with book and tea.

Thinking about our species being capable of destroying all life, due to becoming inventive, creative, complexly social and belligerent, makes me think again about my thing about writing as a prison locking everyone in, including the writers, so we become an admiration society oblivious to the effects of the survival machinery allowing us to distract and be distracted by stories and wit and emotion, imaginary scenarios with drama, beauty and horror, performers on stages and screens making us laugh and cry and empathise and admire. And especially in crises like the present one, experts in science and medicine and public health and statistics are wheeled in to impress and persuade and tell us what to do and what to think, or rather, politicians tell us that, with the experts supposedly having advised them what to tell us, and there’s also a whole bunch of critics with their own expertise to tell us what the first lot has got wrong, and we read what they say in our Guardian and Observer.

There’s a bit of a flap going on about a conspiracy theory that the pandemic is actually being caused by 5G masts, and those who believe that are setting fire to the masts, and those who know that it’s nonsense are very disapproving of the arsonists and of anyone who mentions this in any sort of curious way. You are supposed to scoff. Dave went to school with someone who has written books about the risks of low-level radiation. His name is Chris Busby and I wonder what he thinks of the Covid-91 and 5G theory. I looked him up and listened him talking on the Richie Allen Show from Latvia – and it was fascinating!

Week Four

Day 22

Reading Diamond on why humans different from other apes sexually. Then listened to repeat of In Our Time from 2017 on Feathered Dinosaurs. Fascinating!

I don’t know where the day has gone – it’s ten to three now. Partly what happened is that I had a bright idea for L’s birthday – she’ll be fifty on 19th April, so then all my children will be in their fifties, which is weird – my idea being that Dave and I would each choose a postcard to send to her, as she likes postcards, sending lovely ones to Dave, and she’d like the idea of celebrating her birthday next year when she’d be three seventeens, seventeen having being a special time for her. That meant no birthday card as such. Dave soon found the perfect card and wrote the perfect message on it, but I found I didn’t have the collection of arty postcards I thought I had – spent quite a while going through what was in the cards drawer of my desk. So I decided to find a photo to send, and I found one with she and I together on bench in Bath in 2009. I printed that out in colour so that it would fold like a proper card, but then I couldn’t think what to write. I managed a bit of banal sentiment which I decided would have to do, so then I got dressed so we could go to the postoffice postbox together as our daily exercise – allowed now that I’m not on the shielded patient list, although that may be stretching the rules a little given that we’re in our late seventies. Anyway, it was a nice day, very few people out, and we got a special collection as the postie had just emptied the box and Dave caught him coming out of the postoffice and asked if he could take our two: L’s envelope with both greetings in its plus a DVD being returned. So then off home via the ducks and geese as usual, river very low so they were walking on the gravel. Dave disappeared to plant some seeds and I cleared the lobby as the front door is being replaced tomorrow. That’s very sad as it was a reclaimed door we had stained glass panels made for, but it has swelled in the winter and wouldn’t open, so we’re having a plain door instead. I took a photo of the door from the inside, feeling that we hadn’t enjoyed seeing the lights coming through the panels anything like enough as we mostly have the inner doors closed, which is needed in the winter but not so much in summer. Then lunch, just the other half of yesterday’s bubble and squeak. I should have made something wonderful with the new vegetables arrived this morning from Riverford. They are struggling to keep up the service and like being appreciated so last week I made a crepe paper flower. Yesterday I did a doily flower by folding up a spare copy of the box contents, with thank you in rainbow colours.

So here I am, what to write now, a bit of pressure as I read yesterday’s to Dave and he liked it a lot. I’ve just looked up and taken from the shelf my copy of Chris Busby’s book Wings of Death: Nuclear Pollution and Human Health (1995). He was a big cheese in the Green Party: devising political strategy and ‘national speaker on nuclear issues’. This book probably isn’t relevant to my current interest from his recent radio interview I listened to yesterday about the Corona virus. He mentioned at the start of that that he is persona non grata now and ‘Mr Fake News’ because of his pointing out side effects of vaccination, also for suggesting that radiation from mobile phones can cause cancer, and the fear about wifi in schools, and I can remember Dave and I stayed with our modem and cables as long as we could.

Busby says he is criticised by members of the science establishment for doing what he calls ‘looking out of the window’ instead of sticking to science orthodoxy. I looked him up online yesterday because I suspected he would be associated with the conspiracy theory about the virus being caused by 5G. The interviewer only got round to that at the very end, and I gather Busby is mainly curious about why there seem to be tow widely differing effects of the virus disease, a mild one and a deadly one, and he suggests there are actually two viruses, the bad one a mutation of the original mild one, so if the mild kind arrives first the any country, people will get some resistance and then not be made ill by the bad one when it comes. But in Italy, for instance, the first cases were the bad version, hence the rapid and deadly spread. So far, so OK. He then said he suspected the virus was made in a lab in the US, and intended to destroy China’s economy – classic ‘conspiracy theory’. Then when the interviewer asked about the 5G theory, Busby said it wouldn’t be the masts but the wifi in hospitals, which does seem to be plausible, if indeed there are health risks from the electromagnetic radiation that is wifi, and this angle could be behind facebook banning posts about it. I remember before we had wifi, Dom installing it in their home and calling it the ‘house radio’, radio waves being long and the other end of the spectrum from the kind of high energy radiation from the sun which gives the danger of skin cancer – and my father worried about in the context of jet planes flying though the Heaviside Layer resulting in radiation causing mutations. Busby, of course, as I recall, argues that all artificial radiation is a potential risk to health.

I paused here to admire the front door and its stained glass panels which is being replaced by a plain one tomorrow – very sad! Then I had a look online to see what I could find on Chris Busby and wifi. What I found was a petition again a 5G mast in Frome which mentions Busby, then a long piece about Basic Safety Standard limits for exposure to non-ionising radiation, with a video of Busby talking about it. More on this tomorrow.

Day 23

The lovely old door got a reprieve today because it’s been raining, maybe only until tomorrow but perhaps Monday.

Already nearly one o’clock and only just started – struggling to think what to write about. I’ve been fretting a bit about the bland message I put on L’s card and wondering if I should do another one telling her how much I love and admire her; I suppose I didn’t do that due to not wanting to embarrass her on a card designed to stand up on the windowsill.

There are various options for today, starting with more on health effect of wifi. It’s not just health effects, it’s social effects – which could hugely increase the risk to health. I often dislike the sentiments of the woman who does the opening page in the Observer magazine. I suppose it’s meant to be mildly amusing and appealing to readers, especially women, with young families. Two things annoyed me in the latest one was, firstly, that she claimed that they happened to be on holiday at an out-of-the-way place when Corona hit so they are locked down there. Clearly they should have got straight in the car and driven home. Secondly, she was complaining of lack of wifi there, so they couldn’t stream stuff or be connected to wider family and friends. She mentioned a cartoon based on Maslow’s list of human needs which had ‘wifi’ added to the end – some would put it higher up I think. It’s strange that concern about the possible health risks have been completely forgotten about, by the general public anyway. Having encountered yesterday a petition against 5G in Frome I looked that up again – actually I misremembered and looked up Yeovil instead – and found the greatest wifi concern was about ‘outages’ and poor reception. Further searches suggested the health concerns were being voiced in 2003 and dropped off in later years – however the Frome petition had a link dated 2018. There were many links to authoritative-sounding denials that there are any health risks, including denials that 5G can affect Covid-19 – one even mentioned Better Call Saul and his brother Chuck McGill’s supposed radio frequency radiation (RFR) electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

I spent quite a while making lunch: various ‘lumpy’ veg such as sweet potato, swede, potatoes from our garden, also onion, carrots, leek, celery, aubergine, Swiss chard, wild garlic to make the base of a crumble, the topping from breadcrumbs, flour, margarine, chopped nuts, herbs, olive oil. The ‘lumpy’ veg took a long time to soften, but gor there in the end. Also had marinaded and fried tofu pieces. It was super-delicious! I took a phone photo as usual although it didn’t look very appetising – needed some greens for a bit of colour.

A good source of topics I could write about are to be found in the Guardian ‘long read’ sections – now pull-outs which is useful, so I could keep them. yesterday’s was about Indonesia being taken over by Wahhabism, a puritanical and intolerant form of Islam from Saudi Arabia. It made me think about another rereading I could do, my books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in particular Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. She is married to Niall Ferguson who is known for his defence of the British Empire, I think in Civilization: The West and the Rest which I thought I had a copy of, but I don’t.

Today’s ‘long read’ is about low-paid women in the US working in poultry factories. It describes an incident in 2011 when a factory worker made a mistake and mixed chlorine with an acid-based antimicrobial agent creating chlorine gas, a banned chemical weapon, a small amount of which affects the lungs, causing respiratory distress and death. The release caused panic and workers rushed outside. That was dreadful for them, the effects being long lasting, but it was also a reminder of concern that ‘chlorine-washed chicken’ from the US may be sold in the UK due to our standards being lowered due to Brexit, and trade deals with the US forcing us to accept such products – and there being a market here as it would be cheap. The article goes on to say that the workers have campaigned for safety measures, better pay and conditions. Now that the US is in the throws of the Covid pandemic, workers at this factory have been told they are essential: providing services vital to the production of food. The company Tyson claimed to have introduced distancing measures and testing workers’ temperatures, and saying they won’t be fired if they miss work due to virus symptoms. The article finished on a hopeful note, saying there’s now an urgency amongst poultry workers to organise and to mobilise, that they’re building a movement that could bring about change, and urging people to stand up for these workers’ human right. I hope that happens, but I still worry about the chlorinated chicken, even though I would never eat it.

Dave is watching a film. His lockdown diversion in the afternoons is to go through the alphabet in his index of the DVDs we own, and he’s got to ‘F’. I’m not joining him as I need the time for this writing, and also his taste in films is different from mine. He loves screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s, which I just don’t find amusing. He has favourites like ‘Bringing Up Baby’ with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

Dave had a phone call on his mobile from someone from Devon County Council contacting people of the shielded list to ask if they need anything, in particular a food parcel. I took the call and told her I didn’t need to be on the list because my GP daughter had looked into it. She mentioned that the call is recorded so I hope they don’t come back on this and get me het up again. I did ask about whether a food parcel would have been suitable for me as I am vegan and she told me that this was the purpose of her call: find out any special dietary requirements, and she made a note of my being vegan anyway. I said it is great they are doing this and thanked her.

I’ve had an email from Wendy Stayte, fellow PFAF trustee, to say she’s going to write something on her 13 years leading public planting ventures in Totnes, which would be great of we go ahead with the new book – I should get down to writing something for that. She also hinted at her intention to hand over her role as trustee to a younger woman, which she mentioned before – in fact she’s often said she should resign as she doesn’t have the requisite technical knowledge. Her role used to be the contact person with Ken and Addy Fern, who started PFAF thirty years ago, and she was good at that, but there doesn’t seem to have been a need for it for quite a while.

Day 24

I sent a PS by email to Wendy to say sorry for being confused over what she said about handing over her role – Dave read her email and I reread it and it seems she was referring to her role managing the planting schemes.

I forgot to record yesterday that Martha Carney chose ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ for her poem to read on the Today programme. I’ve looked it up on my bookshelves in my copy of Yeats’s Major Works, and did a search on this PC and here it is!

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
W. B. Yeats


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.



I looked up ‘innisfree’ on this PC and found two documents called 100324bookspaces and 100324bookspaces2 which are short essays from 2010 when I was at Exeter doing my PhD and ‘auditing’, as they called it, seminars for the ‘Critical Theory MA’. I can’t remember why I wrote these – I had no assignments set as I recall, but they are quite impressive, especially what I wrote on Bachelard. I then looked up ‘bachelard’ on this PC and was intrigued to find a document 100321SophieWeek10 which is this email:

Dear Sophie,

Alex Murray module, Thursday, 10: Space vs. Place

We agreed to email about dividing up the readings. You ‘bagged’ the Foucault, which is fine. I’m drawn to the Bachelard, partly because he is wrestling with something for which there is an interesting scientific hypothesis set out in book by expert in artificial intelligence, David Gelernter, The Muse in the Machine, 1994 (he’s now a ghastly big cheese in Republican Party). Maybe we’re not meant to argue against these texts but I need a handle. My copy of that has pp. xii-xiii missing which is a bit annoying because it seems to be a key spot in the argument – do you have that sheet? (Maybe Alex could email it to me? – hence Cc. Also my copy of ‘Street Haunting’ has pp. 80-1 missing…)  How shall we divide up the rest – you choose?

Best, Chris

So it seems we did have assignments; I wonder if anyone looked at mine and commented on it. I don’t think so as neither was a complete essay – but I was impressed. Such a long time ago…

Going back to the ‘long read’ about Indonesia and rereading Hirsi Ali, I was annoyed there is no index in her book, so I looked through the notes and found one mention of Jakarta. This referred to an incident in Aceh where a couple were punished for adultery but not by stoning, confirming the author’s comment that Southeast Asian countries are ‘supposedly more moderate’.[32]

I’ve just ordered Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space from abebooks – first book order for ages, always agonise a little over the Amazon connection but good to support sales of secondhand books, although remains to be seen if this one, Broadleaf Books in Abergavenny, is still operating in present coronavirus times.

On the request I mentioned earlier for volunteers to make scrubs, I did get a reply and it was only about where you could get a pattern, but not one I could use, and nothing helpful about fabric and other materials, so I replied today to say I was sad not to be able to help, and got a reply to that saying I might be able to help in future, also a link to a video on making face masks – which may become compulsory.

The new door is fitted and looks fine. Chris the carpenter removed the stained-glass panels from the old door with only a couple of little cracks in one of them. They will fit on the top of one of the wardrobes in our bedroom but they’re laid on a throw in the sitting room for now. We may paint the inside of the new door in different colours as a substitute for the stained glass, and we can have the door open in warm weather more than we used to. Dave brought one of the panels upstairs but it was awkward. he asked me to hold it and somehow managed to whack me with his elbow so now I have a painful bruise. We will leave the other panel until tomorrow. They should just about fit side by side but I’m not sure so best done with care and attention.

Earlier Dave and I talked with Chris at over two metres distance and he said that he and his family are enjoying lockdown. He doesn’t have much work but he has a bit of savings and it wouldn’t be worth his while as a self-employed person to apply for whatever money might be available via universal credit or other government scheme. His wife is enjoying time with their children, and they are loving that too, running around outside – I suppose they have a big garden.

After the reading that turned up due to Innisfree and all that, I am thinking again about my criticism of pretentious writing by academics and writing to entertain and distract. There are works which are valuable for changing minds, Heretic being one. There will be a spectrum I expect or something more complex. Perhaps I’ll find Bachelard is making useful points in The Poetics of Space, and I linked his ideas with those of Gelernter and Peter J. Wilson in a page of mine from 2010 called ‘Space vs. Place’. Obviously I think that Diamond’s books are useful for understanding how we exhausted the planet.

Day 25

The bruise which was on my eyebrow from Dave knocking me yesterday has spread to my eye socket which is now bright red – a read shiner! – and will probably go blue and green as so-called black eyes do. Dave feels really guilty. I brought the other panel upstairs, he was ready on the steps and so now both panels are safe, although the first one has a couple of little cracks.

Sent two texts to L on her 50th birthday and then worrying that she may be depressed because only got a very brief reply, but then one saying she’s ‘not overly happy today’ which is hardly surprising. She had been planning for ages to climb to Machu Picchu for her birthday and couldn’t go because of the virus. Fizz phoned on her way back from seeing L – bit naughty! – and said she seemed cheerful, but seems she was putting on a brave face. I remember Fizz’s splendid party for her 50th, and the sparkly shorts she wore – she says she was in denial.

Dave had told Fizz about my shiner. She asked me what we will do with the stained glass panels. I explained we hope they can be a feature of our new place in Bristol or wherever, if we ever bring that off. She mentioned friends who had stained glass made, so I’m sure we can fine someone to fit ours and replace the cracked pieces. I asked Fizz how the family are doing and the children seem quite contented. I asked if Dom had his special mask fitted and she said he has and has carried out a procedure on a Covid patient and he came back exhausted, mainly due to how hot and heavy his PPE was, with a lead apron and tight mask and air conditioning turned off because that could spread viruses around.

I had a reassuring email from Wendy who is still PFAF trustee. Also had an email about Dave Parks putting a link on my facebook timeline to a piece newly added to the Marxist internet archive about Tagore’s grand-nephew Saumyendranath (1901-74) who was leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party of India and first translator of The Communist Manifesto into Bengali. I was pleased and flattered that Dave remembered my interest in Tagore. I looked Saumendranath up in Kripalani’s biography (his name is spelt Soumyendranath there) where he is described as ‘talented’ and it seems he and others accompanied his great-uncle on his trip to Russia in 1930.[33]

I read more of Heretic and came to some words on critical thinking, a new skill which Hirsi Ali was taught as a student in the Netherlands.[34] I found myself envying her in a way, for having something to reject and feel good about doing so. I was brought up not to give automatic respect for people in authority – to make up my mind first – which made me inclined to be critical of everything and everyone, as my father was, in his case except for a certain kind of scientist or brilliant thinker – like Jacob Bronowski, mathematician and historian, with his humanistic approach to science, author of The Ascent of Man, who was on the Brains Trust panel, and whom my father cited as one of the people he considered sound enough to preside on the world governing forum he decided must be set up to take charge of saving the planet.

Reading what Hirsi Ali wrote made me wonder if critical thinking is an important skill to acquire whatever it is applied to. Hence applying it to literary texts, movies etc. has value, even if I am inclined to dismiss many of those admittedly clever teachers and practitioners in academia as self-important and purveyors of distractions from the urgent need for everyone to be focusing on our exhausted planet. I think my criticism has often been too sweeping and unsubtle. Perhaps that is connected with my not being good at summarising what I’ve read, and not the sort of fast and avid reader who is good at reviews and other commentary.

On critical thinking enabling Hirsi Ali to see the faults in Islam, and my seeing that as enviable, perhaps my equivalent was when I went through a stage of rejecting orthodox science – the kind that Busby says doesn’t look out of the window – in favour of the ideas put forward by Sheldrake and David Bohm. We do need scientists. Everyone is hope they will come up with a cure or treatment and eventually a vaccine for Covid-19. There is much research effort going on, and lots of experts are being shown on TV, usually remotely rather than in the studio, and one interested me particularly as he said the opportunity of the virus being active has to be taken advantage of to discover if there is a genetic reason for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) seeming to be more susceptible to the virus, more likely to get it badly and die from it. They need DNA samples of people who have Covid to investigate. It would be too late if and when it is over. There is a picture in the paper of all the doctors who have died and they are all BAME, and they all look so lovely, intelligent, warm and kind.

Dave cleaned the lobby yesterday after Chris the carpenter left, and did more cleaning today. I made a start cleaning the top windows which were filthy – Dave had to hold the steps as the porch is on a bit of a slope. I rather like the effect of the new door for the way it shows up the small side panels.

We had a colourful lunch. It’s sometimes occurred to me that my plates of food often look beige and uninteresting, and you can’t of course see that they taste delicious. Today, as our usual Sunday habit, we had roast potatoes. No nut roast this time, but we had braised carrots and steamed cabbage and flat beans so it looked jolly. I made an almond tart, topped by Dave’s macaroon mixture, which works better this way than in macaroon, which go flat for some reason, as they did last week. The aquafaba should work as well as egg while and sometimes it does. I suggested adding a little flour to the mixture. But as a topping for pie, in a pastry case and raspberry jam it’s very successful.

L thanked me for my card earlier but didn’t mention Dave’s lovely postcard with its message. I hope it didn’t get thrown away with the envelope. If we have a Skype call we can ask her. We had one on my un-birthday and Skype didn’t work, because I’d switched my laptop off and had to start it up again and Skype wasn’t there and I had to re-install it. This time I’ve brought it up on my laptop already.

Day 26

We had the Skype call. L had let down her Pre-Raphaelite hair for her birthday. Thalia and Dylan made her a chocolate marble cake. Fizz had driven over – against lockdown rule – to bring cakes and birthday greetings, which cheered L up when she was feeling low remembering she’s planned to be climbing to Machu Picchu on this birthday.

I must try to do something about my difficulty with summarising and employing what I’ve read. I’ve newly picked up some useful points from Heretic, surely I can say how they are relevant to present world society. A key idea is how Muhammad in the 620s was a strong tribal leader, tribalism being a form of human society which gets fixated on feuds which can go on for generations. Hirsi Ali mentions TE Lawrence uniting Bedouin tribes against Turkey as an example.

I stopped at this point to go back to the beginning and read what I’d written, more out of curiosity than anything, particularly to see how much purpose was evident and how much stream of thought, and then I became interested in the difference in style between the first days of free writing and the section I incorporated from the earlier ‘Shades of Green’ text, which I’d worked on and polished and struggled with, and decided I like the freer style better. I also wanted to see if there was duplication, and there was a little, such as two mentions of my outburst at the last Great Lives meeting. I only got about half way through.

Returning to what I wrote earlier today, and thinking about my read through, there is an interesting topic relevant to the need for radical change, which is the historic changes in social groupings and power structures. I referred earlier to Tagore and Morris looking back with nostalgia to old ways one might call feudal and mediaeval, with what I see as a desire to recover and retain ‘the good bits’, such as rulers and rich men having useful roles and responsibilities in Tagore’s case, and traditional hand crafts in Morris’s. This contrasts with Engels writing about historical materialism and stages in a dialectical progress towards capitalism and on to socialism. I don’t know if that last sentence is right, and it’s very vague anyway, and an example of my inability to retain and express what I thought I understood once and found interesting. Writing that put me in a panic and I rushed to find some book I could at least line up for rereading, which has become my default tactic when I’m unsure or thing of a new connection. I took Engels’s Socialism: Utopian and Scientific from one of my Marxism bookshelves and flipped through its fragile pages, then tried a search on this PC for historical materialism and didn’t find anything useful, then looked online and my search led to Engels’s Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, so I looked in my printed index and found I had it and the shelf number, so I search and didn’t find it – eventually realising that this was because I had it down already! I also got the SPGB booklet Historical Materialism subtitled ‘A Socialist Analysis of the Materialist Conception of History’, which has an old postitnote marking an appendix with extracts from Marx and Engels on the Materialist Conception of History, which does seem to refer to what I’d remembered. Marxist socialists argue that there has been a stage by stage progress over human history manifested in the economic structure of society: from primitive communism, though feudalism to capitalism. The agency of progress is how the mode of production develops until a stage when the material forces of production come into conflict with the existing relations of production, thus bringing about a social revolution and ‘the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed’. The idea of progress contrasts with how Tagore and Morris felt about a period of history prior to the British Empire interfering with the Indian economy and rural life, and prior to capitalism and the industrial revolution, a stage of degradation and deterioration in society and how people work and meet their needs.

I feel I need to take a breath at this point, and think about what I’ve pulled together today. Hirsi Ali argued that Muhammad in the 620s was a strong tribal leader at a time when tribalism wasted a lot of its energies in pointless feuds. She says that Sunni and Shia split nowadays is a continuation of tribalism with no theological basis. She also says that countries where there is no split between state affairs and religion are held back from fully entering modernity. Although there is no formal hierarchy in Islam, unlike in the Catholic Church before the Protestant Reformation, Islamic theology is fixed, immune to historical change, and to question it is regarded as apostasy, punishably by death, or at least banishment. Hirsi Ali writes in approving terms of nationalism, which she sees as progressive compared to the Muslim world. Although she divides Islam into two groups: the peaceable Mecca Muslims and the violent extremist Medina Muslims, she advocates reform of the entire religion, putting forward ‘five theses’: 1. Ensure that Muhammad and the Qur’an are open to interpretation and criticism; 2. Give priority to this life, not the afterlife; 3. Shackle sharia and end its supremacy over secular law; 4. End the practice of “commanding right, forbidding wrong”; 5. Abandon the call to jihad.[35]

What Hirsi Ali proposes is intended to bring Islam into the twenty-first century, so in a sense it is part of, or a means to catch up with, the current stage of historical progress, which is capitalism and its superstructure of the state and the rest of establishment. We know that all that needs to be brought to an end because it is exhausting the planet, although capitalism, by its nature, cannot be stopped. There has to be surplus value produced, an amount of profit from production, part of which is used for capital expansion. The way Morris saw that was that imperialism had to continue, in order to ensure raw materials are available and new markets – which today makes us think especially of China, including its enormous BRI transportation and exploitation infrastructure.

Day 27

I had an insight yesterday evening into the purpose of sacred texts. There was a very silly programme on Radio 4 at 8pm on how to deal with fake news online. The text the presenters picked was an obvious one: the advice about coronavirus which ‘went viral’ and was ‘fact checked’ and found wanting, after which corrected versions also circulated. I received it on 14 March from someone I trusted: Wenderlynn Bagnall of Wishtree Permaculture and Agroforestry Centre in North Devon, and was glad of it because – like so many other people – I was worried and feeling insecure, and the advice gave me a feeling, a way, of being in control. Wenderlynn almost immediately said she was sorry because someone had checked the text and it was wrong. I told her not to feel bad because it was empowering for people, she replied saying she felt terrible about it, and I tried to reassure her saying I felt empowered by it. This was a private exchange via facebook messenger. I hadn’t passed the text on by sharing, but I did print it out to show Dave and I emailed it to my daughters and asked Fizz what she thought; she said some of it was right, like on washing your hands. Since then I have kept the piece of paper and felt comforted by it, and when it was picked apart in such a patronising way on the radio I was annoyed and upset. They mentioned one of the people ‘guilty’ of passing it on by facebook sharing, correcting it but not deleting it, and refusing to tell the presenters who he got it from, and they scoffed at him. I think I understood him. What the presenters failed to see is that the advice met a need, and I think it is the same kind of need that sacred texts fulfil: they are a portion of truth to cling to. If we need truth to cling to and that is on offer, we cling. This is about faith, and there are far more absurd sacred texts that people have believed because they need to believe than this piece of advice. They all have power to succour and reassure and provide identity and a sense of control.

This realisation made me think about how I haven’t had any sacred texts to cling to, although I have tried, and some texts have been dear to me from time to time but never quite made it. Some texts get their power because they come from, or refer to, a personal saviour, a divinity, a prophet, or intermediary and guardian, and that person can become an internal friend so that one feels less alone. That pattern of text and person works well of course in the context of organised religion, but as a pattern it can operate outside of that, either through some community of disciples with shared thinking and attitudes or goals, or just by solitary recognition, a sense of ‘that’s it’, ‘that makes sense’, ‘that is what I need’.

My candidates for personal saviour and sacred texts could include my father’s convictions, although they were also what I needed to escape from, why I needed something or someone else to believe in. I’ve believed in Marxism in several guises. Tagore became a guru for me despite my only texts being his English writings. There was at one time a touch of need and devotion with Sheldrake’s heretical science, maybe even with Allegro and his Sacred Mushroom debunking of received religion. There is no consistent logic in the people and texts I have been devoted to and I’ve sometimes got comfort from calling myself a seeker.

It just occurred to me that religion usually involved practice, and that maybe my devotion to being vegan has something religious about it – something to write about another time.

Dave phoned his boyhood friend John Knowles this morning but he was out for a walk. He called back when I had just made fried courgette slices, so Dave called him a little later, and went upstairs to his room talk to him for quite a while. I went up later and talked to John, who said Jules’s situation was the worst possible. She had a stroke which left her paralysed on her left side, I think a couple of years ago, and because of the virus John cannot visit. He got her a phone she can manage with one hand but they can’t see each other. Her family didn’t visit, but they can say they were going to come but now they can’t do that – good excuse.

We went for a lovely walk afterwards, down Old Town Street, heading for into the park. The pet food shop had plants for sale outside but nothing of interest to us – I looked to see if they had parsley as our seed Dave planted didn’t come up. We might have bought some more seeds there and Dave said maybe, but we moved on. The shop had an arrangement that’s become usual during lockdown of putting a table across the shop door and serving from behind it. When we reached the park, to avoid a family with mother and two small girls wheeling doll’s prams, we went to look at the clear water in the stream, then crossed the little bridge and headed across the grass to avoid people and provide a different perspective. I was thrilled by an old oak tree with delicate new leaves. Dave didn’t have his phone to take a picture but said I should just remember. It was not difficult to keep our distance as so few people about. Some smiled, few acknowledged when we’d walked out of our way for them to carry on.

I started chopping when we got home and made a lovely stew with onions, carrots, sweet potato and potato, celery, cauliflower, including its inner leaves, the rest of the huge cabbage that came with the Powderam veg box, butter beans and chickpeas and lots of herbs from the garden. It was lovely!

Day 28

Writing about sacred texts yesterday made me think this morning that I might write more about the challenging of sacred texts, and I got Allegro’s infamous (is that the right word?) book from my bookshelf. Years ago I covered it in gold wrapping paper to protect it as it is quite a special copy, from the third impression in the year of first publication, 1970. As I said already, it was an important book for me because it was recommended by a close friend who was exceedingly gleeful about Allegro debunking Christianity, by proving that there was no such person as Jesus Christ, since the Son of God was really a mushroom.

Allegro’s book is entitled The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, and the title page continues with ‘A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East’. Before the title page is a colour photo of Amanita muscaria, with two mushrooms shown, one a small cap still in the ground, the other a full blown, wide cap on a long stalk, lying on the grass. These two images are crucial to the story Allegro tells about the ancient fertility cult. The small cap was seen as having the form of a penis, a replica of the mighty penis god which sprays fertility from the sky, and a ‘son’ of that god which magically emerges in the morning. The second image is of the phallus bearing the burden of a woman’s groin.

Casting my eyes over the story of the fertility cult which Allegro relates in his Introduction, I was stuck by how graphic and explicit and confident it is, despite his also telling us that the secrets of the cult would not have been committed to writing, but passed ‘from the priest to the initiate by word of mouth’. How then could Allegro be so sure of secret beliefs and rituals from ancient times? Allegro’s explanation for his confident knowledge depends on two things: firstly that ‘word of mouth’ meant ‘accurate transmission [via] the trained memories of men dedicated to the learning and recitation of their “scriptures”’, secondly on a drastic disruption of the cultic centres in AD30 requiring the secrets to be committed to writing.[36] At this point I assumed that it is from that writing that Allegro derived details about the ancient cultic beliefs and practices, from his ‘some years’ work of a largely philological nature’.[37] I read on and realised that the ancient writing Allegro studied originated, not in AD30 Palestine, but thousands of years earlier in ancient Sumer.

My intention this morning had been to delve into the Mushroom book to find examples of sacred texts from the Bible that Allegro interpreted in a new way. I looked in the back of the book for an index, and found several Word Indexes for Sumerian, Accadian [sic] and Hebrew/Aramaic, and before that a General Index in English. I thought Allegro would have referred to texts from the New Testament Gospels, perhaps especially John, and there was one reference to John and James, but there was nothing interesting on the page given. (If I’d looked more closely at the indexes I’d have seen that between the General Index and the Word Indexes, there is a Biblical Index, with many references to John.[38]) As I dipped into the book I found references to books of the Old Testament, with chapter and verse, but I didn’t look those up in my Bible as I read that Allegro was particularly interested in names rather than texts, and I’d have to read the book with much more attention.

Coming back to this writing after lunch, I searched from the top at Day 1 for ‘Allegro’ and was initially surprised at the number of occurrences, but looking at them again I saw they were on two subjects and his two books: the Mushroom one and the one about the Essenes. On Day 15 I wrote about the mushroom myth as I remembered without consulting the book. On Day 16 I wrote about the Essenes from reading what appeared to be a short, slim paperback – but rereading that properly would have taken me more time than I wanted to give it, in the context of trying to write freely.

Part of my reason today for going back to Mushroom was a thought about atheists’ need to show up religions and their followers as wrong and even dangerous. Yesterday I picked up the other book I have by Hirsi Ali: Nomad, which has two bits of subtitle on the title page: ‘From Islam to America’ and ‘A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations’.[39] On the front page is a remark by Richard Dawkins: ‘The woman is a major hero of our times’, and on the back she is praised by two other atheists: Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. I looked up Sam Harris online and was told that he was one of the ‘Four Horsemen of Atheism’ along with Dawkins, Hitchens and Daniel Dennett. Three of the horsemen praised Hirsi Ali because she rejected Islam, and did so with intelligence and wit, but on the final two pages she addresses her ‘unborn daughter’ saying she will introduce her to different religions, and never seek to impose her own beliefs or unbelief on her.[40] It seems then that Hirsi Ali was not what I would call a religious atheist, one like my father who certainly did impose his unbelief on me.

Looking again at Mushroom and reading a few pages carefully, I don’t think Allegro was debunking Christianity in the way my friend delighted in. He does not make nonsense or absurdity out of the fertility cults he discovers, which pleases me because I can see that for early agriculturists such beliefs would make sense. When I read on after the part about the ‘drastic disruption’, which Allegro says was the fertility cult being smashed by the Romans in AD30, which required the practices to be written down in disguised form: a story about the ‘son of God’ being a man which was later adopted as literal truth, I realised that there is a much more interesting backstory, and it is to that Allegro applies his philological expertise. His daughter says in her biography that in the Sacred Mushroom book Allegro went too far: ‘pushing philology beyond the limits of reason’.[41] It seems to me that it is only the part about Christians adopting the disguised story that goes too far, and even there, as his daughter says, Allegro opened up possibilities for further research. I would like to see more research of another kind than philology, which takes seriously the early cultic practices and sees their significance for our understanding of the origins of complex societies dependent on agricultural surpluses. Plenty of debunking is needed, some of it even directed at atheist writers like Dawkins, who don’t help their crusade by being smug and self-important.

A new book arrived today from Broadleaf Books in Abergavenny. It is The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard: looks fascinating but I won’t have anything more to write about it for a while.

Week Five

Day 29

Four weeks into the twelve, a third of the journey, although the initial incentive and title have lost their significance. Never mind, I mean to carry on.

The first thing that struck me when I had a first read of Poetics of Space was a mention of Henri Bergson and élan vital – but then when I looked for that this morning it took me a while to find it again, my mind and memory being very unreliable. Early this morning at first light I was pondering what I’d written so far and might write today, I couldn’t bring to mind the name Bergson and had to look at the spine of his big fat book Creative Evolution to find it. Bergson makes me think of recognising a similarity between his ideas and Sheldrake’s years ago, and I have a memory of mentioning this to Sheldrake in person and his saying ‘Oh, yes, pure it’s Bergson!’ I don’t know when this happened, if it really did, and it feels like a real memory, and I did meet Sheldrake a few times, not just at Schumacher – and I don’t think it was at Schumacher. I looked up ‘bergson sheldrake’ on this PC and my search turned up a document from 2009 entitled ‘Why Read Rabindranath Tagore Now?’ and searching that for ‘bergson’ I found this in a section of Notes dated 18/10/09:

Ideas not unknown in W[est], Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution, leading to The New Science of Life of Rupert Sheldrake, with their universal evolution, progress without the teleology (esp. Fall and Redemption’ of Christianity) no denial of W’ern cosmology and the facts and processes of evolution, but drawing attention to the derivation of mechanistic, dualistic Western thought and questioning it.

So far I have been fiddling about looking for what I wrote earlier. I came across a piece 18 pages long and was surprised and impressed, but it was long only because it was mainly a presentation text with slide pictures, the one I gave to the Tagore Centre in 2017. Then I had a bath because that can be a good place to ponder on what to write about. What I decided was to shift from writing about debunking to surveying the options I’ve turned up for dealing with or avoiding death dread, in my own case, and any kind of fear of mortality that humans might suffer from and try to deny or avoid.

One obvious ploy is just not thinking about it. We are the only animals, as far as we know, which know we are going to die. I think there are animals which have ways of dealing with imminent death and the death of loved ones. Some prey animals seem as if they switch off and stop struggling when caught by a predator. There are animals which care for their young for extended periods, or live in community groups, which seem to linger by dead bodies as if grieving for the death of the young or old of their kind. But I know next to nothing of all that with animals, although it seems as humans have similar behaviours, which are acceptance of the fact of or occurrences of death while still not relating that to themselves. I was reminded in a novel I read recently of an artwork by Damien Hirst which he called ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. This is a superb and thought provoking title, especially for an art work consisting of a dead tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. Clearly one wouldn’t think of a tiger shark as ‘Someone Living’ with a ‘Mind’ as we understand that, let alone as capable of contemplating death as a possibility, so it’s us who find death impossible to know.

Moving on, what other ploys are there? I’ve mentioned several of them over these strange days, including welcoming death because the afterlife is more important and far better than this life, most obviously by Moslems as Hirsi Ali writes, but Christians do that too, or some of them have done so at periods of history and in some groups and situations. I had to look online to find out if Jews believe in an afterlife, and I gather they do believe in heaven and in an underworld, but the main focus of their eschatology (theology concerned with death and final destiny) is on ‘the end of days’, a kind of collective afterlife. There is also belief in reincarnation, with the next life occurring in this world, based on karma and how well a person has performed during the present life. There are religious beliefs that make this like illusionary in some way, so that in a sense the afterlife is already being lived. I imagine that the attitudes and beliefs concerning death amongst people who are religious, or come from a religious background, will vary enormously. I have always envied people who rejected the religion they were raised in because they had that to come back to when illness and death threatened.

I have mentioned the debunkers and scoffers who build their own self-esteem by looking down on gullible or cowardly or brainwashed people, and anyone who is afraid of the inevitable. The proper attitude in their view is to be interested in the world, probably make a contribution towards understanding how some aspect of the world came about and works, for satisfaction rather than for fame and to be remembered and leave a lasting legacy.

There are those who look for an understanding of life and the world which is in some way transcendent. Bergson and Sheldrake are part of that approach, although Sheldrake is also religious, an Anglican and regular attender at his church, hedging his bets perhaps. When I was studying Tagore I encountered philosophers of East and West who looked for some other understanding than deterministic materialism, who found reasons to at least question the certainties of scientific orthodoxy, and some studied writings and writers from long ago with such intellectual escape in mind.

I have met my daily word target but I struggled, finding time for nothing else besides reading the paper – cursorily – and making lunch. I would like to do some gardening. I have printed out the piece I found of my own writing ‘Why Read Rabindranath Tagore Now?’ and it looks as if it will be useful for reminding me of what I used to know about alternative beliefs – I didn’t mention mysticism earlier.

Day 30

I had a sore tummy yesterday evening and worried that I seem not to have got back to the new normal after finishing the emergency dose of penicillin, when it seems I got better more quickly after giving up the daily-for-life dose before. Curiously, I felt better after fruit and almond tart, and this morning I’m not too bad. I am deliberately sitting up straighter as the distension may have been caused by a long time on this PC alternating with my laptop and struggling with the writing, my concentration absorbed in that. Yesterday I tried to order another pair of dungarees from Lucy and Zac a black pair – but they have closed until it’s all back to normal. I looked at another kind but it was more waisted so I looked at their size chart and my measurements are very odd: 34 inch waist, 37 inch hips, because I don’t really have a waist. I have a phone appointment with Mr Bethune on Monday so I’ll have to draw up a new list of questions, primarily I think to ask how vulnerable I am, what the risk is of leaving the hernia for a long time, and my concern about needing to do exercises to get my shape back when the physio at the ICU clinic said it would be unwise. Our friend Keith from the Dawlish Local History Group phoned just now to see how we are and he suggested phoning to see if I can be sent the CT scan images before the phone call, as the appointment I missed was going to be focussed on discussing the scan so I can understand what’s going on in my insides. I don’t think I’ll do that, but I’ll ask Bethune if we could do it that way at a later phone appointment – maybe even a zoom call including Fizz. But like many people, I don’t like to be a bother, but as Keith says everyone is being urged to seek help, and his wife Jenny who’s on chemo and is diabetic went to an appointment at Torbay hospital and they seem to have arranged things to minimise the risk.

This morning I read the paper of mine from 2009 I dug up yesterday ‘Why Read Rabindranath Tagore Now?’ and started on Poetics of Space – after that had to look up ‘phenomenology’ in Dictionary of Philosophy. There are all sorts of ideas, including those I was familiar with ten years ago, that I could get stuck into, but then it occurred to me that I ought to keep my focus on my main mission of identifying what needs to change, be questioned and be given up in the real current emergency which is the exhausted state of the planet.

I made beetroot fritters which were delicious. Riverford sends beetroot quite often, they must have a store of them, and it can be a struggled to know what to do with them, but fritters really work. The batter is self-raising flour with salt, pepper and turmeric and just enough oat milk for a very thick batter, then a clove of garlic crushed into it. Then cut up the beetroot into small cubes and stir into the batter. Heat sunflower oil and add mixture a largish desert-spoonful at a time, flattened a little, and fry until cooked on one side then turn carefully with two wooden spatulas. Take out and drain on kitchen paper.

I’d planned to do a little gardening today, specifically to clear an area in a bed in the top garden which had some wildflowers last year, then to plant the ‘seeds for bees’ sent by 38 degrees. When we were enjoying the fritters, Dave said he is going to do some work on the bed in the top garden, which upset me because he does this kind of thing rather often, seeming to take over from me, and nowadays if I get upset my tummy muscles tighten and it hurts and makes me a bit queasy. I know Dave means well – perhaps he was looking forward to us doing something together , although he didn’t mention that – but he comes across as having to tell me how to live my life. I know I am emotionally fragile, and should make an effort to control my reactions, so I dare say there is fault on both sides.

I made a start on the bed in the top garden, also cut a load of kale away from hablitzia plants which are doing well but shaded, and got plenty of kale leaves good for lunch with the rest of the crumble from yesterday. Dave’s had trouble with the system for collecting rainwater from the plants house roof so the huge barrel which should be full isn’t, and watering is needed in top garden as it hasn’t rained for ages, and when it last rained it wasn’t for long or very heavily. Dave’s had to top up the pond using the hose several times, which the tadpoles love as it makes them some water just over nice warm rocks.

On my mission and Bachelard’s Poetics of Space I think in my earlier writing I brought up in searches yesterday is relevant, bringing in – as I thought – Bergson, Sheldrake, Gelernter and P.J. Wilson, but I can’t find the piece that had that in it, so I’ll have to find some new words.

To recap: there has to be a return to meeting our needs locally, concentrating on the most essential need which is food. It will be necessary to explain how the planet became exhausted because agriculture was invented capable of producing surpluses, so a wide range of other occupations than those necessary to produce food came about. If there are no surpluses due to the planet being exhausted, there can be no other occupations than food producing; we all have to become expert food foresters. We cannot go back to hunting and gathering because there are too many people and too little forest, so we need to design and establish food forests, and the only knowledge needed is how to do that and how to teach others to get involved in nurturing new plants, recognising the plants and their uses and how they develop. There will be reluctance to accept that new scenario, because our values have become distorted such that useless, destructive and even dangerous occupations have acquired higher status than those involving work on the land. Having said which, there is a role for poets and those interested in poetry and in the evolution of human thought and behaviour.

Day 31

Only just started this at 12.40 – although I did a correction earlier: I’d left out Day 29 and put 30, but now it is 30. Boring! I have been wondering though if I should print this all out. It is 50 pages and over 35 thousand words and I wouldn’t like to lose it. I am copying onto a datastick each day but that’s not without risk.

We went out first thing, to buy whatever is available at the Co-op and get some exercise and just ‘get out’. I felt a bit of a mess as my hair is playing up, being frizzy instead of curling nicely. I wore one of my long dresses, the deep blue one, and a long grey cardigan. I got the cardigan out of the wardrobe two days ago and a tiny moth flew out – very worrying. Anyway, it was good to go out, not many people around as before and all observing the distancing – although Dave was closer to people than he needed to be on the way back. We saw John Wilkinson and his wife and they asked how were are, and we had a chat, about the concrete monstrosity being built by King’s Walk to hopefully keep stormy seas off the railway line, and also about the lockdown thing and my deciding I need not be on the shielded list – which interested them, I gathered, so they must know some vulnerable people.

This morning I read a piece of mine from ten years ago called ‘Research Proposal 4’ and I’m tempted to look out any correspondence referring to it. That was the year I took out of my PhD work at Exeter after complaining about poor supervision, and perhaps I sent this to Regenia Gagnier who said she would be my supervisor if I sent her a chapter that met expectations. In the end she accepted the chapter I wrote for the Dhaka commemorative volume which I sent for interest. Before that I sent a close commentary on one of Tagore’s essays and she rejected that saying: ‘That’s not what we do’. What academics do is not something I admire, even when it is learned and highly regarded by colleagues. I also read a little bit further in Poetic of Space and it is that kind of writing, which surprised me in a way because, according to the Foreword by his translator, Bachelard had a humble background, a varied career and seems to have been an unassuming professor, loved by his students, of whom the translator was one. Here’s an example:

Needless to say, the reverberation, in spite of its derivative name, has a simple phenomenological nature in the domain of poetic imagination. For it involves bringing about a veritable awakening of poetic creation, even in the soul of the reader, through the reverberations of a single poetic image. By its novelty, a poetic image sets in motion the entire linguistic mechanism. The poetic image places us at the origin of the speaking being.[42]

I was reminded of reading Stanley Fish on what takes place when a reader reads and is affected by poetry, so I got his book Is There a Text in This Class? from my bookshelf.[43] I looked in the index to see if Bachelard was there, he wasn’t, and I dipped into a couple of other books. Then going back to reread the section this paragraph is taken from, I found I did have some understanding of what Bachelard is saying. It’s not particularly obscure but I could never write anything like that. The way I understand it relates more to David Gelernter than to Fish.

I made beetroot fritters again for elevenses, this time with chopped onion and no garlic – as garlic seems to be the one thing we can’t buy, but also flour, although we have some; white self-raising flour seems especially scarce so Dave got some bicarbonate of soda from the Co-op, after my mentioning that brown flour might need that to use it for pastry. I already had some bicarbonate of soda but Dave thinks it is about thirty years old – but I said it doesn’t deteriorate. I made stuffed mushrooms for lunch, with new potatoes and spinach.

After luch I read Poetics again for a little bit – still in the Introduction, and I need to get into the main text where he’s writing about spaces, huts and so on, and then get back to my ideas about poetry and spaces. But here I’ll touch on that to make a start.

Diamond in the Third Chimpanzee book says we were fully human from about fifty thousand years ago but the leap forward into well made tools, clothing and artwork didn’t happen until twenty thousand years ago, ten thousand years before the plunge into agriculture – the start of human fall. Diamond says it is surely language that enabled us to make the leap – and to wipe out Neanderthals too. I think – and maybe I’ve read this – that the first language was song, or some kind, rhythmic speech, like poetry. I believe its usefulness and survival value would have been for communicating useful knowledge, of plants and their uses and locations. This oral repository of valuable memories, with chanting or rhythm making it easier, or even making it possible, to remember a great deal of life-sustaining information, and its importance and the form, may well have had the reverberations Bachelard writes about, and the associated emotional charge.

I wrote a booklet in 1991 when I was in the Quaker Universalists called Cultivating Confusion in which I suggest that humans developed our big brains for the purposes of mapping. I searched for on this PC and found a Word text of the pamphlet, and here is a paragraph from it, found with a search on ‘brain’:

Is a big brain something to be proud of, or is it a handicap which will destroy us? Does it give us consciousness of all that is around us and our relationship with our environment? Not at all. It shuts us into a fundamentally unconscious psyche which filters out most of our sensory input, throws up our few conscious thoughts, and drives our largely habitual behaviour. Surely an organism which is in direct touch with its sources of energy and nutrients, and able to receive and respond to stimuli, is more conscious, more aware of its environment, and able to interact cooperatively, than a human ego shut in its programmed prison.[44]

Day 32

This is an exciting day because I am starting a new document exactly a month on from the one I printed out yesterday. [That ends on Day 30 by a mistake going back to Day 8 of which there are two. This was partly, I suppose because I had decided in Day 7 to incorporate the text from when the document was about ‘Shades of Green’. Anyway, never mind rectifying that past muddle, I’m moving on.]

I was reading Bachelard’s Poetics of Space this morning and finished his philosophical introduction and got to his first main chapter on the house. As usual I was wrestling mentally with what I picked up and fixated on from other sets of ideas, in this case Gelernter’s on the cognitive spectrum and metaphor at the poetic end, and Wilson on what human domestication, living inside, did to how we think and relate to each other. I struggle always with spanning the huge gap between the early going wrong which started the human development which has exhausted the planet, and the human achievements and skills we admire and reward in the present time, which have to be devalued as dangerous distractions and replaced by valuing plant knowledge and food forestry skills.

Back to Bachelard, I decided to go along with his theme of the house and record here what I remember about houses I’ve lived in, not all the details as that would be too much, but at least let a bit of a list. The house I was born in was – and I think it’s still there – in Enfield, then in Middlesex. It was a semi with a path on the right hand side as you approach it. There is a little garden at the front with a medulla of box hedging and paving which I walked around as a little girl, and I can remember the sensation of twisting my forefingers into the top of my dress and then into my mouth. I wrote in the first part of Twelve Weeks (TW) of my mother not wanting me but being loved by my grandparents whose house this was, and I remember its interior. Coming in by the front door, their bedroom was on the left. They had a downstairs bedroom which perhaps was the front room because my parents had the first floor, and the stairs to that are on the right. Going straight on, you come to the dining room on the left – actually the living room, as there are two easy chairs by the fireplace on what would be the dividing wall from the adjoining semi. There are French windows, actually doors to the garden which I don’t remember being opened. The way to the garden was through the kitchen at the end of the hall passage, with a big pine table and the sink on the right. I don’t remember the cooker. The kitchen door leads to a yard with a mangle. There is a high slatted fence with a door or full height gate in it to the front garden, and I remember Auntie Nellie and the Shacklock children bursting in through that gate, and how important and exciting those visits were. There was a little gate from the yard into the back garden and a path to the orchard, with grandad’s rose bushes on the left – or were they both sides? – with pansies beneath. On the left there was once a lawn but that had been dug up to grow vegetables, including a row of bean canes tied together at the top.

I said I wouldn’t write the details… The next house I lived was Durlston in Cookham Rise. I remember the details of house and garden there too. It was detached and ‘double-fronted’, with the front door in the middle and windows either side, which had hugely pleased my mother, although my father spoiled its symmetry by building a conservatory on the right where there had been a veranda, which even incorporated the front door. One of his hobbies was growing orchids in the conservatory and so it was heated with a paraffin stove and was steamy. Later the hobby changed to African violets, of which he had a huge variety, and he propagated them by making a little cut in the main vein of a leaf and pinning it to the soil. I have a huge reservoir of memories of that house – including sitting in the dining room to be told about death, as I mentioned in TW part 1.

Many later places I’ve lived in came to me when I was thinking about houses. The next place was a shared room at Winterbourne House, the Hall of Residence I lived in during my first year as a student at Birmingham. The first term I was in a room with six of us, and I remember being envious of the other girls because they had nice quilted dressing gowns, capacious toilet bags and lovely quilts from home for their beds. I had a long silk dressing gown with a peculiar neck and fastening, a hand-me-down from my parents’ friend Jane Longman, an ex-dancer who used to be principal boy in the local panto – lots of memories about her, one of them involving my mother particularly painful. In the second term I was moved into a room for three girls, one being a special friend – whose name I’ve forgotten but it’ll come back to me. In the third term I had digs, and moved around a lot, having wrangles with the Lodgings Warden. One I liked was in Aston with Mr and Mrs Griffiths, who were the parents of my cousin Wendy’s boyfriend, at my mother’s suggestion – she did do a few good things. I wasn’t allowed to stay there as it had to be inspected for suitability by the Lodgings Warden and was found wanting because there was no desk in my room to study at. It didn’t have a bathroom either – baths were in a tin tub. There was an outside loo. I loved it there but had to move. Another I remember – an approved one – was with Mrs Simons, who was very Jewish and proud of it and her cooking was terrible, apart from delicious fruit pies. There were several girl students there. Bathing was restricted to one’s allotted day. I used to have my baths at the students union where there was a facility with baths in cubicles. After all my digs I got married and lived in two rooms with Mrs – again name forgotten and will come back – where my son was born. The first place we lived in after university was a flat in Ladbroke Grove – lots of memories of that. Next we went to live near Manchester in our own house on a new estate. I remember the layout of that too, and mostly bad memories.

I have already met my word target and Dave is keen we do some gardening.

Day 33

Two details I couldn’t think of yesterday: my roommate at Winterbourne was Janet Mary Morgan; the landlady was Mrs Francis, who had a horrible little dog she adored which C made disgusting insinuations about and thought himself very amusing – ugh! I would like to avoid writing about the other terrible story, and hope I don’t feel any strong urge to do that. I think I just want to say ‘Me too!’ with all its resonances.

Resuming at 13.30 having been in floods of tears. I’d been looking forward to talking to Mr Bethune about what can be done about my horrible bulge which a CT scan showed is due to a hernia. I had a load of questions ready for discussing this at OP clinic, where I’d hoped to have the images explained and then understand what’s causing the bulge. Bethune did answer that. He said it was caused by the car crash ripping a muscle making a gap and tissue has come through. He said it is a very unusual hernia, in a very unusual place. He said it isn’t vulnerable, very unlikely to cause problems, to worsen and become an emergency, although it could get bigger. It can just sit there for the rest of my life. It cannot be improved by exercise but I should stay active. He discussed it with a colleague, Prof Neil Smart who is a hernia expert, and he said it is unusual, he might see one a year like it. An operation to repair it would not be straightforward as it’s quite large and would require a piece of mesh. Bethune was nudging me towards asking for a referral to Prof Smart so when I asked ‘should I see him?’ that was obviously what Bethune wanted, and saud he would write to him. I said I supposed it would take a while, and Bethune agreed. When I asked how long, he guessed what I thought too: post Covid plus three months. I asked Bethune how he was doing with the Covid emergency and he said they’d been quite lucky, unlike London, and he has done procedures where he needed full protection. He said it had been very disruptive but useful things learned, like phone consultations being useful and may be used more in future.

I went upstairs and told Dave quite calmly, and then broke down as I hate my lopsided shape, hate what the car crash has done to me, I feel my body which I had liked has been ruined. I thought maybe I should find someone with Covid, get that and that would be the end of me. I wish the horrible woman who did this had to pay for it somehow, that we would get some kind of compensation. I wished we had encouraged the police to prosecute her for dangerous driving. Dave was chatting to Jan and came downstairs to pass the phone to me but I was too upset to talk to her.

Dave made lunch. It was his one dish: a vegan spaghetti Bolognaise, but he does it well and although it varies this one was particularly good. I cheered up a little with the thought that these general surgeons don’t know everything and I think my body hasn’t finished healing, so it’s possible the bulge will get better without intervention. I think maybe I should try wearing trousers because that might push it in and help.

I had a facebook message earlier from L asking if I’d look for one of her and Fizz’s most favourite children’s book The Pink Elephant with Golden Spots because she wanted to show it to Thalia. Later she said it’s expensive being collectable, also that she was feeling very tearful today and the thought of the book made her cry. Dave and I did look in the loft and didn’t find it, so I have bought a copy via Amazon, despite usually trying to boycott the monster, although this was from Marketplace which Dave uses for DVDs and regards as on OK compromise, as I do with abebooks which is also part of the behemoth. The copy was described as ‘collectable, acceptable’ and won’t arrive unto May 19 to 29 but if it makes my lovely daughter happy that’s fine.

There’s lots of stuff in today’s Guardian about the Covid crisis making ageism worse in the UK. There was an article by John Harris about it. There were letters from people in their 70s dreading having to be shut at home for a year when younger people will be allowed out of lockdown to get the economy going. I feel it in complex ways. Before the car crash I didn’t feel aged, now I do. An obvious attitude towards the Covid crisis could easily be that because ‘the over-70s’ are more vulnerable and more are dying, young people are being restricted for their sakes. It isn’t said like that, at least not openly, partly because ‘saving the NHS from being overwhelmed’ is an urgent priority. I survived the crash because I believed I had work to do – writing concerned with saving the world – but I have doubts about what I write making a difference. I haven’t got down to writing something publishable, for PFAF or on my own account. All I have is this haphazard collection, which is at least keeping me sane. I enjoyed writing so freely and easily yesterday about houses I remembered, and having a sense of retrieving the life I’ve lived, holding it o me as something precious and cherished. My brief encounter this morning with stuff in our loft reminded me of the physical manifestation of the life I’ve lived, dusty relics of reading and activism, parenthood and other debris like clothes, shoes, luggage. I’m longing to move, with Bristol being the area we think of, thinking there would be things to join and get involved with there, but will we be wanted and welcomed given how old we are? And the thought of really getting down to sorting the stuff is daunting – will it ever happen, or will our last years drag on where we are. This is a lovely house. I still enjoy some aspects of it: the view, of course, the colours we painted it, the garden, despite the slope and Dave’s concern about it becoming too much, with both of us have less energy and strength, some aches and pains, and worrying about tripping and falling.

Day 34

I listened to the first of a new series of ‘The Life Scientific’ this morning. It was on Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe (1999) on string theory; I think I’ll get a copy. I looked Greene up in my copy of The Road to Reality by Roger Penrose, and his book is in the bibliography but he is not in the index, only another Green (no ‘e’) who was mentioned on the programme, Michael, and when I looked up the page, Brian is there too, with a somewhat disparaging remark: ‘As for a popular account, which is very accessible, eloquent, and enthusiastic, and not at all critical—but which does not go deeply into the mathematical ideas—see Greene (1999)’ – talk about damning with faint praise![45] Maybe I won’t get that book – although I struggle with the maths like most readers of popular accounts of science, and some years ago I began to try to remedy that by going carefully through Penrose’s book, trying to keep up with the maths until it got beyond me or too much effort. I remember this book was much admired by Exeter socialist comrade Dave Parks. It took me a moment to remember his name and I do worry about that. After watching the film Official Secrets I struggled to remember Keira Knightly and the name of the subject of the drama Katharine Gun and then got them both, so I’m curious about what’s going on in my brain, why I can’t find a name, and then how it pops up later, sometimes quite soon, other times taking much longer after a struggle, as with Janet Mary Morgan. Whenever I mention that to other people, even quite young ones, they say they have that problem too.

Back to Greene and string theory, my interest in it reminded me of my mission, and main theme of this writing and much earlier writing too. Human genius and its products have to be given up, the insights and discoveries which are admired and rewarded and may have benefits, and the brilliant but ultimately trivial and unnecessary like fiction and criticism thereof. Our species has exhausted the planet so we have to give up almost everything we have ‘achieved’ and start again in a new way. The exception implied by ‘almost’ is skills in growing food locally for community consumption. We all have to be involved in producing our food locally using the best ways and means we currently have, and transitioning to perennial plantings and food forests.

I’ve had a break to make beetroot fritters again then have a bath, then got dressed and put on trousers for first time since the lockdown, almost since the car crash, although I did buy a new pair and wore them at the Winter Solstice day here to show Thalia – but I couldn’t keep them on as they were soon uncomfortable. Today’s trousers are an old favourite pair, quite loose around the waist so I used to wear a belt with them. I’m trying this because maybe this would help keep the hernia in.

I was going to put something on facebook about my annoyance over the ‘over 70’ label, but I was struggling to write it on my laptop because it has stopped disabling the touchpad and it’s almost impossible to avoid brushing over that and the cursor hops into the wrong place, so I’ve put it on a datastick – and that wasn’t easy, so I’ve restarted my laptop – and this is what I wrote so far:

I am annoyed, upset and angry by turns at being dumped in this bucket called ‘over 70s’ – also in and out of the other dump called ‘extremely vulnerable’ according to the whims of the NHS shielding hub, where my splenectomy due to the car crash last year is or isn’t in the list. It looks as if all of us are a nuisance.

It is deemed to be our fault that all the normal, valuable, young people are in lockdown, and our fault that heroic NHS and care workers are dying, so we will have to be imprisoned until there’s a treatment or a vaccine which could be a year or more. Twelve weeks was bad enough. There was plenty that was our fault before Covid. We had the effrontery to have jobs that gave us actual careers, to save deposits towards buying our own houses, even paying off mortgages and actually owning houses outright now – how unfair is that on all the millennials and other struggling young! Some of us are also at fault for banging on for decades about the damage being done to the planet – and of course no one listened. Now maybe we can declare ourselves ‘Over 70s Rebels’, valued elders, part of Extinction Rebellion, pointing out the carbon cost of streaming to those who assume connectivity is a human right and basic need like food, clothing and shelter. We might even know how to grow food and cook, skills we learned from our parents, after the war some of us even just about remember.

I put that on facebook and then went out to post a letter to someone who sent a cheque for PFAF with a puzzling request, also the cheque and paying in slip to the Co-op. It’s been raining and I got pretty wet, but there were even fewer people about than usual; only problem was a boy by the post box who was reluctant to move away by the 2 metres social distance so I could get to the box to put my envelopes in. I got back and next time I looked at my facebook page I saw I’d got a tirade from my niece Megan – she always responds furiously when I say anything about streaming. I won’t take the bait – seems a waste of a post though, as no one else will respond to it after that.

I slept badly last night and was awake for a long time around 4 o’clock, all sorts of depressing things on my mind, one of them an item on Channel 4 news about rangers at DRC national park protecting mountain gorillas being killed by Hutu militiamen. I put a link to this on facebook. My brother David put a sad face like.

Permaculture magazine arrived today with a short piece by Martin Crawford on how forest gardens have a role in the climate crisis by locking down a lot of carbon in woody plants and soils. This was followed by an extract from his forthcoming book: Shrubs for Gardens: Agroforestry and Permaculture. It is very good stuff, but I was concerned if it is an actual extract because it’s in a terrible font, rather like in Tomas Remiarz’s book, also published by Permanent Publications, which is so hard to read, with its faint san-serif font, a font that looks shouty and bossy like a government form if it is dark, so softening helps that but the reader struggles – well, this reader does, maybe it’s an age or generation thing, although most of mag is in a small Times font and very legible. I wondered if I should send an email to Martin, but the book is out in May so it would be too late and just worry him if he took any notice at all, so I won’t.

Day 35

I listened to ‘More or Less’ on the radio. One of the items was on whether or not the pandemic will have had an effect on carbon emissions and climate change. The short answer is that it won’t. China’s emissions are probably back to usual now that economic activity is resuming. In some countries flying is reduced by as much as eighty percent, but it was pointed out that very few people actually fly; it will have a big effect on their personal carbon footprint but a small effect on the total. We were told that electricity in the home will be little changed and transportation to supply our needs of food etc. is down but not by much and it will bounce back. The key point though is that it’s the accumulated total in the atmosphere that matters. They used the analogy of filling a bath and turning off the tap for a few seconds then back on; the difference is trivial. They also said that after the end of lockdown and the economy restarting, the likelihood is that carbon reduction will get a lower priority, so the situation afterwards could actually be worse. Of course I noted that there was no mention of electricity use elsewhere caused by home demand – for streaming in particular – but it was good that they did mention transportation, but not explicitly container shipping.

I thought of going back to writing about China, and having another dip into the Silk Roads book. I could also write about Jane Goodall who spoke on Channel 4 News. She is a tiny elderly woman now, in contrast to how she looked on the old films of her they showed with gorillas and chimps. She spoke powerfully about how our close contact with shrinking wildlife areas has caused the coronavirus disease, just as it has caused other disease outbreaks such as HIV. She also mentioned diseases from livestock. She predicted that these diseases will continue to come across if we don’t change how we live and take action to protect wildlife habitat and precious species that are threatened with extinction. I’ve made a donation to the Jane Goodall Institute, hoping they make a difference with the good things indicated on their website. A video has been make, now on youtube so I’d have to do a bit of streaming so I probably won’t.

I’m returning to this at half past five after big lunch of lasagne – thought about including instructions, not recipe as such as I seldom use measurements. Dave is always impressed with my savoury topping, in place of grated parmesan cheese for the vegetarian version, and only recently I found that parmesan is not even vegetarian as it contains calf rennet. My topping involves crushing a clove of garlic with sea salt grains, adding cashew nuts and pine nuts and crushing again. I make breadcrumbs, add herbs from the garden, then the crushed mixture. This is scattered on top of the béchamel sauce: olive oil, flour, oat milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and then drizzled with oil. Now I almost have described how to make the dish. The underneath layers are lasagne alternated with vegan bolognaise sauce, which is Dave’s speciality. he makes double the amount for a meal for two, the first we have with spaghetti, a day or two later I make lasagne with it.

Dave spotted something in the Guardian referring to an article by IPBES: International Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and found that article and another paper it cites: The global assessment report on BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS. The article says what we believe needs saying, so I’ll quote it:

There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – us. As with the climate and biodiversity crises, recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.

Diseases like COVID-19 are caused by microorganisms that infect our bodies – with more than 70% of all emerging diseases affecting people having originated in wildlife and domesticated animals. Pandemics, however, are caused by activities that bring increasing numbers of people into direct contact and often conflict with the animals that carry these pathogens.

Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people. This often occurs in areas where communities live that are most vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Our actions have significantly impacted more than three quarters of the Earth’s land surface, destroyed more than 85% of wetlands and dedicated more than a third of all land and almost 75% of available freshwater to crops and livestock production.

Add to this the unregulated trade in wild animals and the explosive growth of global air travel and it becomes clear how a virus that once circulated harmlessly among a species of bats in Southeast Asia has now infected more almost 2 million people, brought untold human suffering and halted economies and societies around the world. This is the human hand in pandemic emergence.

Yet this may be only the beginning. Although animal-to-human diseases already cause an estimated 700,000 deaths each year, the potential for future pandemics is vast. As many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and water birds. Any one of these could be the next ‘Disease X’ – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19.

With my thousands words a day target in mind, it may seem like cheating to quote from somewhere else, but in this case it is justifiable. I put the same quote on facebook. I also signed a petition to Boris Johnson telling him to sack Dominic Cummings – absolutely right, promising that leaving the EU would bring £350 million to the NHS was his idea, amongst other lies and slogans. The invitation to sign this petition was one of three from David Bailey, local activist, who sends so many emails to his list of contacts it’s almost a nuisance – although deleting some of them unread doesn’t take long. I do admire him really for his dedication and persistence.

Back on the warning I’ve quoted, which echoed what Jane Goodall said on the news yesterday, the most telling point being the last one: that Covid-19 won’t be the last – unless – which is vanishingly unlikely – major changes are made in global economics and politics and people’s support thereof i.e. the ‘policies, practices, technologies and behaviors [which] can best lead to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity’. Was it our strangely blank-faced, incompetent, empty-promising Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock who talked of Covid-19 as a ‘once in a century event’? – maybe it was one of the other incompetents, Dominic Raab perhaps. Anyway, he was wrong. This pandemic is at best a wake-up call. But I fear that that lot will fail to wake up and business-as-usual will grind through what little remains of ‘Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ which they get to exploit free or are even subsidised to do so. It’s dreadful!

Week Six

Day 36

It is pouring with rain this morning and forecast to carry on all day so I can’t do the main washing until tomorrow. I sneaked in a towels wash yesterday as it was dry and windy in between rain early in the morning and heavy rain in the evening. We had got rather used to lovely sunny days with blue skies tempting everyone to sneak out of lockdown, and the public being praised for resisting that. Last time I spoke to Fizz she said, apologetically: ‘you won’t want to hear this, Mum’, that splenectomy is back on the shielded patients list. I’ll be more worried about going out once lockdown is eased. Given how badly our government has done – the UK being the worst in Europe – it looks likely there will be a second wave and maybe more. There was an item on Today about Oxford university and AstraZeneka pharmaceutical company having a vaccine in production on a non-profit basis quite soon if tests already underway prove it is effective.

I sopped to make rissoles for elevenses – boiled potatoes mashed with chickpeas, fried onion and leek mixed in plus chopped sage and parsley, turmeric, mixed into mash, formed into balls, rolled in breadcrumbs, fried – delicious! Then read paper – long piece about government cock-up over Covid – also letters headed ‘We over-70s will fight for our lockdown liberty’ from over-70s protesting about being dumped in that category – so I posted my own complaint again on facebook – hopefully it won’t be spoiled by harangue from Megan. Tidied, washed fridge containers, put older veg out for Dave to chop to make butterbean soup or stew, when he’d done that I started the stew. I went out to get some herbs and found some mint which is great with butterbeans.

I was thinking about Megan’s accusations again this morning and I was tempted to reply to her – I won’t as I know from previous experience that that really sets her off. I wanted to say that I’m no hypocrite. I have four topics I feel strongly about, and preach to some extent, and practice too. Firstly we should stop eating animal foods and relying on animals – I am vegan, although I worry about not being fully vegan-organic as we have an organic veg box from Riverford who use animal-derived fertiliser. Secondly we should not stream – I don’t stream apart from a very occasional youtube on an important subject or speaker, never for entertainment. Thirdly we should not fly – I haven’t flown for over twenty years. Fourthly we should not rely on food and other goods brought here by container shipping – I do my best to buy locally, grow food, and strictly monitor and minimise what we use that’s unobtainable locally, in UK or in Europe. Not perfect, but surely not hypocritical.

I listened to ‘In Our Time’ this morning which, as usual lately, has been a repeat because Melvin Bragg presumably cannot do a new one during lockdown. This programme was from 2017 and on Gauss and I seem to be encountering mathematicians lately so I was interested. I looked him up for his dates and because his first name wasn’t mentioned and found he was Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855). I also looked him up in the Roger Penrose book and he’s there as the first to have discovered non-Euclidean geometry, but not to have published it, and maybe that honour – Penrose argues – should go to Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728-1777).[46] Gauss is mentioned again for the idea of the complex plane and geometrical interpretations of addition and multiplication of complex numbers.[47] The guests on ‘In Our Time’ said that Gauss challenged the parallel postulate of Euclidean geometry after carrying out surveying in Canada – a waste of that genius’s time, they also said. He saw that, on a spherical surface like the Earth is, the angles of a triangle would add up to more than 180 degrees, since if two of the sides of a triangle are on lines of longitude extending to the equator, just two angles would be 180 degrees. I think that’s right, but I’m hopeless and visualising anything three-dimensional. I remember doing non-Euclidean geometry when I was studying maths with the OU, and I liked the diagram of a saucer with lines clustering near the rim – I tried looking that up and maybe that was a Poincaré Disk, after another famous mathematician Henri Poincaré (1854-1912). What struck me about the radio programme was how protective and frustrated the guests talking about Gauss were, full of ‘if only’s referring to his unwillingness to publish until he was absolutely sure he’d got it right, his being employed for activities which drew him from being a genius at maths, and the mass of material in his diaries which, if published, would have advanced mathematical progress by a century or more. Those diaries were rediscovered in 1897 and published in 1903. They were full of brief, sometimes cryptic statements in Latin, the first entry recording his construction of a heptadecagon using ruler and compass. On the programme they mentioned that Gauss proved which polygons can be so constructed, the first ones, triangle, square etc. have been known for centuries, then a gap until seventeen sides, extremely few after that.

The question for me in the context of my mission is how knowledge so revered can be discarded in the interests of beginning again with how we relate to the planet. I might argue it should be one of the first areas of genius and expertise to go, given its association with construction, and hence with the domestication of the human species and social hierarchies following agriculture and surpluses – one thinks of temples, palaces and tombs. Gauss’s genius included arithmetic: a anecdote was related about him, aged three, sitting with his father as he handed out his staff’s wages and the child piped up at one point that a calculation was wrong; a reminder of the connection between numbers and money, trade, economics and all the exploitation and damage associated with that. Yes, maths has to go.

I’ve just come in after sitting on our porch to get a bit of sun. Dave brought me the last portion of the rhubarb crumble he made and a cup of peppermint tea, and he had a piece of almond tart. I’d been reading Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee book, the last section: Part Five: Reversing Our Progress Overnight, about our fall. The chapter I had got to was called ‘The Golden Age that Never Was’ in which Diamond demolishes the idea that we were conservationists before modern times, and relates how Maoris and Polynesian islanders wiped out countless species of flightless birds and mammals long before European colonisers arrived.

Day 37

I’m going to write something about my state of mind which is very fragile. It has been since the car crash and being in ICU, and accounts from people who have survived Covid-19 after time in ICU show that some of the effects are commonly experienced, in particular hallucinations and feeling under threat from nursing staff. I expect they have also been damaged emotionally, and one survivor mentioned PTSD. I have also been affected by fear of the virus and being shielded, loss of control, and continuing problems with my guts and horrible bulge. This means I can be tipped into utter misery, often by Dave saying something that brings up my fears. My worst fear is the one i wrote about earlier, that I don’t exist, the ‘primal wound’ from not being recognised as a person newly in the world.

Anyway, about my collapse today, how did that happen? I had a good morning. I put on a belt with my trousers which is another back-to-normal step forward. We went out shopping – well, for Dave to go to the Co-op to get a few things while I walked around for more exercise. I took the trundle so he was able to get some heavier things than he would want to carry in his two shopping bags. He got a bottle of white vinegar to go with the baking soda he got the other day, the two being recommended for clearing drains. The drain in the shower is blocked at an out of reach bend, which cannot be reached by probing and has probably got a clump of hair in it so water drains out only slowly. Dave tried boiling water yesterday which went down quickly, but when he had his shower last night it was no better. We got home with me pulling the trundle, quite heavy especially up the hill so I was quite tired, and that doesn’t help. I had some cashew nuts, then warmed up the butterbean soup from yesterday. Then Dave said he was going to plant out his tomato plants but that meant tying string around them, a job he hates to do. That triggered my collapse because I have usually tied the string around tomato plants, and it was as if Dave had no recollection of that, as if my doing that hadn’t happened – meaning that ‘I don’t exist’. I just sobbed and sobbed, especially when Dave, as usual, didn’t comfort me because he couldn’t see that he’d said anything wrong – I was making a fuss over nothing – why hadn’t I just said ‘I’ll do that, don’t you remember me doing it?’ He made it worse when we were eating the soup – lovely, but didn’t enjoy it – he related how the strings around the tomatoes had to be done, again as if my doing it before hadn’t happened and I had to be instructed. Dave insisted he wasn’t instructing me, he was just recollecting what the process is. That’ll do.

Things improved later. I wandered out into the garden and pulled up a load of bindweed, including a lot of white hairy roots, which is very satisfying, but I was careful because a few years ago I damaged my right shoulder very badly doing too much bindweed pulling and it’s still a bit weak and can be painful after exertion. When it first happened I saw the doctor and later a physiotherapist and was told I had injured – torn or strained – my rotator cuff. It was so bad for a while that I was unable to lift my right arm high enough to peg the washing out. The physiotherapist told me it would never fully recover, but over the years it has become almost normal. Now, with bindweed, I have got into the habit of doing the pulling with my left hand.

After that I took a packet of spinach seeds, a tomato plant, garden string and scissors, and the plant house key into the top garden. I raked over the patch I cleared the other day and planted a row of spinach seeds. I fetched two more tomato plants. Dave arrived and planted the tomato plants, splitting each one in half. Then I tied string around and through them all. Dave brought some long canes from the garage up and made a support for runner beans – again I did the honours with the string. Then I made rice and mushrooms with fried tofu for lunch. While I was cooking there was a gardening programme on the radio providing tips for people newly interested in plants during lockdown. Interestingly, the panel responded to questions sent in by listeners about tomato seeds, and talked about planting one or two seeds per compartment in one of those trays with cell inserts (had to look up what they’re called). Bob Flowerdew said you only need one tomato plant because the best way is to grow them tall and supported, so you take off side shoots and those make cuttings and root very easily.

This has been the first dry day for a couple of weeks so I did a main wash and there were fifteen pairs of pants and also knickers, which much be almost a record – I am usually surprised when there are thirteen and I thought only a week had gone by – I think I’ve already written about that. When it is really dry outside I don’t hang all the socks up because that takes ages. Instead I hang them over the edge of the laundry basket and they dry fine there.

I think part of what brought my emotional collapse earlier was the coverage of people who had recovered from Covid-19 after being in ICU. It is a horrendous disease and the treatment is damaging even when it is successful, and only a third or a half of the patients who are treated in ICU recover. There was an account in today’s paper of a Labour MP who recovered, and his account of what happened was disturbing too. I read early on that it can take fifteen years for someone’s lungs to fully recover after the full treatment with a respirator. There was a shocking item in the paper about a consignment of respirators costing over a thousand pounds each being substandard and actually dangerous. They came from China and Michael Gove thanked China for them in a daily briefing. One more instance of how badly this pandemic has been handled in this country.

Day 38

I was still feeling fragile this morning. I seemed to have slept pretty well, hadn’t been awake in the early hours when it was dark, but when I did wake it was with a replay of the car crash, and with thinking about my upset yesterday which seemed to be connected. Once Dave had woken up – having difficulty breathing due to working close to the soil yesterday, the soil having all sorts of things in it that irritate his nose, I put the radio on an hour earlier than usual, just to get the upsetting thoughts out of my head, although the Covid news was no less disturbing, but it was made up of sounds and something other than my inner tangles going round and round and reinforcing themselves in the process. Dave brought me breakfast and I carried on listening to the radio until the second lot of sports news. After that I resorted to reading my current novel: The Tennant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. The purpose of novels is to distract so it should have suppressed my persistent thoughts, although I was also aware that distractions are bad when they take our minds off the need to change how we live and what we value for the sake of the planet. I had also been worrying about the lack of progress on the new PFAF book.

Dave and I had a further talk about my upsets, including the worries about the PFAF book, and we went round some of the circles we’d been round before, as if he, like the trustees, hadn’t read and taken in the paper I wrote with suggestions about the two potential formats: a different mix of text and illustrations from our earlier books, perhaps a different size and overall design too, or else another book in the earlier series, entitled Edible Forests, with an introduction and then plants pages, maybe 100 favourite food forests plants. Dave favours the former but I feel we don’t have the knowledge and experience to do that – unless we have contributions from the other trustees, and only Wendy has responded with a tentative offer. Dave is down for a contribution on how the big tech, eco-engineering solutions to climate change such as CCS are not viable so the food forests route is the only way. He says now that he can’t write that without the positive piece to set it against. I feel I’ve written so much on that subject that I don’t want to do it again until the format of the book is decided. Dave said ‘In that case I’ll have to do it myself!’ My view is that what we need to do is go through the sources we have to pick out key ideas – and we have several books from the best practitioners on the planet. I’m also waiting to hear back from Trev who said he was thinking about the book and would send me his thoughts and ideas. It is May 2nd and Trev sends his invoice and his Trustee report at the start of each month so that should come soon – I looked for those emails but not sent yet.

My intention was to make a start on sources for food forests but only got round to reading a piece in Permaculture Magazine by Dave Jacke, then filled in a gift subscription for L – now wondering if she’s had it before, maybe through me. I made shepherd’s pie – I won’t describe how to do it, although it was good, a solid nourishing staple. Dave planted two runner bean plants which had got very big on the windowsill, to be supported by the new wigwam structure. He put another cane at an angle so I had to go up there and check that out as I don’t like my symmetrical arrangement spoiled, but his one cane didn’t do that. He also planted some bean seeds in the bed.

After lunch and a rest I planted a row of peas behind where I’d planted the spinach. Then I cleared a bit of the bed where last year we planted two chuckleberry plants – hybrid soft fruit bushes, quite expensive from Organic Catalogue, which died despite our careful nurturing, which was annoying. I pulled out what little was left of them, no roots at all. There is one bush remaining from the same order which has some signs of life. Last year Dave planted sunflowers in that spot so maybe we’ll do that again. Yesterday Dave mentioned admiring the foxgloves we planted last year. They’d been very slow to get going but they are fine now and soon will flower. Dave brought up tea and the last of the almond tart to the bench in the top garden, but he couldn’t sit there for long as it’s very hard. I tidied up and came in. Dave sent a new picture quiz to Fizz and L and their families for ‘lockdown May bank holiday’ and he showed it to me – I could do some of them. This is an open book quiz, meaning they can look online, so I did quite well given that I didn’t look anything up.

My next task is to cut Dave’s hair. Before the car crash last year I cut his hair for quite some time and I like it long and wavy. But after the car crash Dave’s cousin Terry died and he was determined to go to the funeral despite still being in pain from his injuries. He felt he should look smart, so he went to the hairdresser’s and got a professional cut and carried on going until lockdown, so now the job is down to me again.

I had an email a couple of days ago asking for people to make face masks for a care home. I replied to say I’d like to do that as long as materials are supplied. I got a reply today with a link to instructions and saying I should ask for material. I haven’t done that yet, maybe tomorrow. I didn’t join in with making scrubs as they seemed to have lots of people doing that, it seemed as many as they could manage.

Day 39

Just after I closed this PC I looked at the emails on my laptop and there was a message from Wendy with the piece she had written on community growing. I made a version without her pictures (to save toner) and printed it out to read, as I can’t take text in very well off a screen. It’s good, she always writes well. It describes her personal journey on this theme from Ladakh in 2001 via the Sharpham retreat and meditation centre (I assume, although Wendy doesn’t name it), Transition Town Totnes in 2008, with mentions of PFAF from Ken Fern’s site to trusteeship through to 2020, her concerns about loss of species and the pandemic. Dave liked it too and we discussed how PFAF might use it. I replied by email with those positive thoughts, and I could refer to it again encouragingly when I forward the trustee report when it comes. Then I went back to bed for a bit with Volume 1 of Dave Jacke’s book on forest gardening, started reading his section at the end on 100 favourite plants by forest layers. Reading it reminded me that his experience is largely on North America, and I’m wondering what to say about location in our new book.

I skimmed though the Observer and read a few sections including one on the longer term health effects of Covid-19. There was one paragraph I related to from my own experience, a quote from psychologist Professor Dame Til Wykes: ‘Being in ICU can be a horrible experience. Studies from those who were treated in ICUs for Sars and Mers reveal that many had post-traumatic stress disorders months, sometimes years, after the event, especially if they had to be sedated and put on ventilators. That can induce panic on its own. Later you get flashbacks, extreme anxiety – particularly about your family and your partner.’ After my abdominal surgery to repair holes in my guts from the car crash, I was sedated and on a ventilator for two days, and I had hallucinations once I was woken up and still have flashbacks, nightmares, and what I assume is PTSD with bouts of anxiety and weeping episodes. Some Covid-19 patients are in ICU for two or three weeks, some even longer, and I don’t know if the effects scale up or if it’s a kind of switch in your system. Those patients also have long-term lung damage and impacts on other parts of their bodies.

I looked again at the email about making masks for a care home, but the process is based on using a special kind of sewing machine which I’ve never even heard of. It seems it even does the cutting out! There are instructions for sewing it with an ordinary sewing machine. There was a link to a website with several videos for how to make them using the special machine. There was also a link to download a pdf with the pattern. I’ll think about it again tomorrow before replying to say I can’t do it. Now I’m thinking about the new PFAF book I don’t feel so bad because that is a job after all, an important responsibility. I’m quite excited about the challenge of thinking about where a book on Edible Forests by PFAF fits in all the other efforts going on. I think what we offer is a wide choice of plants with a lot of details on each, so there’s the question of the value of that choice, given that there are over 8000 plant entries with the option of restricting the choice to the food forest 1500. I need to read through the pages on edible uses, comparing that with some of what Jacke writes, such as contrasts he makes between Europe and eastern US which Jacke is writing about.

I heated up yesterday’s shepherd’s pie and cooked the other half of the spinach from Riverford – from Italy – looking forward to our own spinach coming up. Then I went back to bed to continue reading volume 1 of Jacke’s book, the first chapter of the ‘Vision’ section on forests and trees. His knowledge and understanding are awesome and he writes really well. Many of the concerns I have had from when I read Topsoil and Civilization and carried out my own research decades ago are supported with real authority by Jacke.

Because I was enjoying Jacke’s book so much, it occurred to me that perhaps I should send an email to Martin Crawford about the style and font of his new book. It took me ages to write it, then I showed it to Dave who said I had assumed the book would have the same style as the extract in the magazine, so I changed that. I’ve sent it off. I hope he won’t mind. It’s just possible he had been thinking the same thing and had been wrestling with the designers and Maddy and Tim – I do know that some authors have found the process difficult. Anyway, I meant well.

It has been a very gloomy day, overcast and gloomy. I haven’t even got dressed, my excuse being that it is easier to read a heavy book in bed than anywhere else. I have been writing notes in my usual way, on strips of paper: a A4 sheet folded in four and cut up. I must have thousands of these by now. Glancing at my desk I see I have a plastic bad of loads of slips from a wide variety of books: Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, Ananda Lal’s Three Plays, William Morris, Palace of Art, Wolfgang Streek, Buying Time. Lago’s Imperfect Encounter, Aravamudan’s Guru English, PJ Wilson, Domestication and more – that is extraordinary, but worrying: will I ever get back to them all? was it a waste of time? I’m looking forward to making better use of such notes from all the books I have on forest gardening, quite a collection now. It’s good to have a project. I’m looking forward to what Trev has to say on the new book – and to tell him we have something from Wendy at least.

Day 40

Trev’s invoice and trustee report came this morning so I was busy doing the online banking payment, forwarding the report with a comment including encouragement for other trustees to write something for the new book, and I also replied to Trev’s email with his invoice which also had photos attached: frogs living in his car, the table he’d made out of scrap wood, an arch in part of his garden and a photo of his girlfriend Jane with her family – including him. It’s lovely he has a partner who seems to be a permanent fixture, effectively a wife. He was of course in effect married to Fizz and I’ve been sad about that ever since, especially when he didn’t find anyone else, or no one he stayed with long term, so that he hasn’t had any children of his own.

I had a reply from Martin Crawford saying the style of his new book is nothing to do with him and suggesting I contact Permanent Publications and the designers. I don’t think I’ll do that. If he has left it to them, and he is content with that, it’s not up to me to get involved. The poor font etc. won’t make any difference to sales I shouldn’t think, it would only perhaps have an effect on how well readers take in what is written. At least Martin didn’t seem annoyed by my message.

I washed our bedding this morning in spite of the weather not being very good for drying. Then I had a bath – one of my pleasures in life, I love the bath in the new bathroom that I was so against last year when doing it was dreadfully disruptive. It is not brilliant now as Dave’s had all the problems with the drain in the shower.

Wendy replied to my comments on her piece saying she will add some more pictures to it and then send it to the other trustees. She liked my idea of writing something about my personal journey involving PFAF, so I will do that and see if it comes out as a piece that would be acceptable in the book.

After being engaged with PFAF business, as I lay in the bath I was thinking about sending an email to Ken and Addy to see how they are doing during lockdown. I expect they still have a good local support network, and their two boys were still at home when we visited last – but that was a couple of years ago. I remember discussions early on in our involvement with PFAF, including visits to their research site, The Field, and a visit to Ken and Addy at their house, and being surprised to be told that Ken didn’t eat anything that came from The Field and all his food comes from a Tesco delivery. That was when there was a plan for the whole Fern family to emigrate to Brazil because Ken believed he needed to eat tropical food. That move didn’t happen, although they did have an exploratory trip out there. Addy put the failure down to not getting the money she expected from a legacy from an aunt who died leaving a house in Brazil because there was family disagreements. I gathered from what Addy told me that she had once had quite a lot of money and this had enabled them to buy the field, which may well be why she is so possessive of that land, when Ken has a fixed idea that land shouldn’t be owned, so he was unwilling to sell it to fund their move. At one time the PFAF charity had a 99 year lease on the land but we relinquished it, as we couldn’t meet the conditions which included employing a manager, and Rich Morris who was deeply involved in the early years, before I and the current trustees got involved, told me that Addy could never get on with any manger, except for one of them, as I recall, whom Addy fell in love with. It may be tricky to write my personal story with PFAF without mentioning the difficulties. It is still rather awkward that there are two PFAFs, the Ferns’ and the charity. When we went for that last visit, Dave and I plus Wendy couldn’t find The Field but George knew where is was so we met and followed him. He was using google maps and on there The Field is marked as Plants For A Future. With writing this ‘how are you?’ email in mind I looked at the Ferns’ website, to see if there was any news related to lockdown; there isn’t, but there is an invitation to a ‘Wild Camping Weekend’ on 28-31 August 2020. The entry in ‘events’ was posted by Ajna Fern on 9 February which was early days in terms of the coronavirus emergency.

I began reading the next chapter in Jacke’s book, where he wrote about monarch and viceroy butterflies. Monarch caterpillars are poisonous so birds avoid them, recognising them by their distinctive markings. Viceroy caterpillars are not poisonous but they have evolved to look like the monarchs so birds avoid them too. Jacke uses this to illustrate the idea of mimicry, and says that edible forest gardens mimic natural forests. He also says that our mimic forests cannot thrive unless there are real forests around. This seems all very well in a large region like eastern US but is problematic if the idea of food forests is that they can be of any scale and be in any situation. Having said that, I must read on and take in the challenges, trying to understand what the best ways and ideals are in order to decide on compromises which might develop in the right direction.

I went out to read on the patio earlier with my Jacke book, and felt the bedding to see if it was getting dry. It was not too bad, but I turned the duvet cover from side to side to get the damper section into the air. The trouble was there was a smoky smell, either bonfire or barbeque, Dave decided the latter – either of those is antisocial and I hope the smell isn’t detectable on the bedding. It was too chilly to stay out there. We had roast potatoes with roast cauliflower and leek and celery sauce. Dave was annoyed with himself for not turning the potatoes early enough and so they had stuck on the enamel dish. They tasted fine though. After lunch I had to sort out an order for Dawlish Local History Group books. For some reason I didn’t get the email but Dave forwarded it. It is from someone who lives just round the corner so Dave rang her up to find out if he could take the book round.

Day 41

I sent a short email to Ken and Addy asking how they are with lockdown, mentioning how hard it would be for Addy if she can’t go to the land and the wild camping event, hoping that travel restrictions will be eased by August.

I’ve read a little more of Jacke’s book, about the Agriculture to Nature continuum, how organic farming tries to shift in the nature direction to hold on to the high yields advantage, and forest gardening starts at the nature end and aims to increase yields – but yields need to include more than one or even several edible yields per acre to yields such as weed and pest control. With the piece for the PFAF book in mind, what Jacke wrote reminded me of when I woke up to the concern over organic farming, realising it is no panacea, given how much land degradation farming has caused long before modern agriculture with its fossil fuel powered machinery and agrochemicals. There were a few years when I just tried to tell people about these problems, and worried about them, and worried about how hard it was to get anyone else worried too. Then I discovered permaculture: ‘permanent agriculture’ – what a great idea! I went on courses, got involved, then came disappointment, because it seemed to me that the way to go was to sell the idea to Britain’s twenty to thirty million or so home gardeners and have them experiment with the permaculture design techniques on Britain’s ten million or so acres of garden. I’ve just looked that up online and I don’t think I knew the scale of home gardening back in the late 1980s. Within that population and acreage there will now be, and was then, a wide variety of approaches and know how, but it was surely right that the early adopters of permaculture in the UK could have focussed on converting home gardeners to the idea. Instead of which, the focus was on training designers and teachers as had been the main approach in Australia where permaculture began, and where there were people with large plots who employed landscape designers. Few of the early adopters had home gardens. A few had smallholdings in the Celtic fringes. These were lovely people, often dropouts and rebels. The other factor was a move to declare ‘permaculture’s not just gardening’, that the design ideas could be applied to many aspects of life including ‘zone 00’ which is the personal. In his article in the latest Permaculture magazine, Jacke writes of his own criticisms, minor compared to mine, although perhaps he was being tactful. Given his book’s subtitle including Temperate Climate Permaculture, he can’t have been turned off by any weaknesses he found. But of course he wasn’t in the UK. The article is announced as: ‘Dave Jacke explains why forest gardening and permaculture go hand-in-hand, and explores the expanding interface between people and permaculture’. I need to read that article again.

It’s been a wet and gloomy day today. I looked out of our bedroom window this morning at the rainy garden, enjoying in particular the shiny red foliage of our copper beech tree. I also noticed that there was quite a spread of kale leaves looking very healthy and I determined to have a closer look and harvest some of them as we hadn’t had much greens the last few days. Dave asked if he should put some beans in soak. Our regulars are butterbeans and chickpeas but I wanted a change. He found some yellow split peas and put those in soak. I don’t regularly cook those so I searched online and found what looked like a good recipe for yellow split pea dal with spinach and printed it out. I made it much like the recipe, but added strips of garden kale instead of spinach, also some roasted cauliflower including its leaves. It took quite a while to cook, and kept sticking on the bottom of the saucepan. I cooked some basmati rice to have with it – with the usual stick of rosemary. The dal was delicious, I thought, many complex flavours including whole cloves and a piece of cinnamon stick – although Dave complained of too much chilli. I had put a whole dried chilli from our ‘lifetime’s supply’ from one year ages ago when we had an enormous crop in our greenhouse. We didn’t keep the greenhouse for long as it wasn’t very useful being either too cold or too hot. We gave it away through Freecycle to a teacher setting up a school garden and had our friend Denis build an open frame with a Perspex roof instead. This collects a lot of rainwater in a big butt and shelters a grapevine which produces a big crop that we make juice from as we don’t drink alcohol. But back to the chillis, we dried them and put them in bags and there they sit behind a toy chimp called Giselle and we go through them slowly, giving a few to Sam, L’s husband, who loves them as they are, indeed, very hot – so, admittedly, perhaps a whole one made my new dal too hot. I enjoyed it though.

Going back to thinking about my personal journey to PFAF, the lovely kale in our garden was originally from Mandy Barber’s plot called ‘Incredible Vegetables’. Wendy mentions that plot without naming Mandy in her piece for the new book, although Mandy wouldn’t require anonymity because she wrote a Foreword for the last PFAF book, Edible Shrubs, in which she mentions the book before that Edible Perennials, and she has said that she grows almost all the 70 plants featured in that book on her plot. Dave and I had a huge mulberry tree taken out to free part of the front garden and have it terraced so we could grow edible perennials – and there they are, or a few big kales at least. We had other perennial plants but they didn’t do so well, and a couple of them did fine but the crop is roots and we didn’t want to disturb the plants to get at vegetables we were unfamiliar with and didn’t know how to cook. That story illustrates the difference between my engagement with permaculture and edible perennials and forest gardens and the extraordinarily impressive knowledge and experience Jacke has. I could get an inferiority complex, indeed I often do, but yet I have kept PFAF going for fifteen years and very many people – millions even – make use of our database, which Jacke praises in his book, albeit without knowing it’s not associated with Ken Fern any longer, apart from our acknowledging that it is Ken’s legacy.

Day 42

Yesterday I printed out this document as it was at the end of Day 41. To me that feels more secure than making a daily copy onto a datastick and occasionally copying that onto my laptop.

I listened to ‘More or Less’ on the radio, where they examine facts and figures in the news and point out errors and doubts. The first item was Matt Hancock’s claim to have met the target of 100,000 Covid-19 tests by the end of April, and indeed to have exceeded it by 22,000. He contrived to do that by twisting what was being measured from tests carried out to including in the total home tests sent to those requesting them in the post, and so not yet carried out. With that fudge corrected, he missed the target by 20,000, and subsequent daily counts announced didn’t even meet the 100,000 target. It looks as if the test results returned may be added to the count, so they are counted twice. A guest on the programme talked about someone who pointed out that setting a target has unintended consequences; people work to the target, not to the factor being measured, and then the result ceases to be a good measure. I looked this up online and it’s called Goodhart’s law.

I have been piling clothes I’ve been wearing on a chair in our bedroom more or less since coming out of hospital after the car crash. An alarm was raised about microfibres (my UK English spellchecker wants microfibers so I checked online and microfibres is right) given off when clothes are washed in a machine ending up in the world’s oceans, so I’ve been washing my clothes less frequently – apart from knickers. I don’t like to put clothes like light tops that I have worn back in the wardrobe so I pile them on the chair instead. As the seasons have changed I’ve changed what I wear from long summer dresses when I came out of hospital, to cord dungarees bought online which seemed a big breakthrough and remedy for not being able to wear trousers with waistbands. When the weather got warmer again this spring the dungarees felt too heavy. I managed to get a lightweight pair online, but failed to get a second pair in a different colour as the supplier closed and went into lockdown. Then I found a pair of trousers in my wardrobe I could wear, even with a belt. I found another pair today what are comfortable with the waistband above my bulge. So I decided to clear the heap on the bedroom chair and wash it all. I was nervous that nextdoor would light their barbeque as they did the day before yesterday when I washed the bedding – but they didn’t, thank goodness, and everything dried beautifully and all got in.

The big event of the day is that Dave went to Teignmouth with a big list in the hope that our usual greengrocer’s would be open – and it was! – now we now have lots of lovely fruit and veg including loads of garlic, the shortage of which has been a problem, although not that serious as we’ve had plenty of onions. When I spoke with Fizz on the phone, she said she had ‘a spare’ garlic clove and could post it to us; I hope she didn’t do that. The post seems to be very slow and uncertain anyway. Dave ordered some Babybio for the house plants quite a while ago and they were ‘despatched’ but haven’t arrived. The same goes for the copy of The Pink Elephant with Golden Spots I ordered to be sent to L.

We went for a walk and delivered some History Group books for an order I’d missed coming by email. Then we walked through the park. We got back and I pulled some – indeed several big armfuls of – bindweed, intending just to get some mint to have with new potatoes but we haven’t got any – I lose track of what potatoes we have in stock. I also made a salad of grilled aubergine and red pepper which has lots of garlic to celebrate having some, adding some marjoram to that. I wanted to tone down the split pea dal so I roasted some cauliflower with its leaves and some chopped leek. Then I fried some garlic and then made a roux in the frying pan I’d cooked fried bread, sliced tomato and mushrooms for a late breakfast – we’d also had asparagus and I put the hard stalks in the steamer as I cooked the tops, so I had some flavoured water to add to the roux. I added what was leftover of the pea dal plus some marjoram and mint and stirred. The cauliflower took ages to cook and soften but once it did, I added the pea dal mixture to the roasting pan and put that back in the oven while I cooked some rice. So it had been a bit of a hassle but it all worked, although Dave was worried about the raw marjoram in the salad so I had to look it up online to reassure him. Marjoram is a very good herb, with anti-inflammatory properties which should be good for Dave’s knees and other joints giving him problems recently. He doesn’t like taking painkillers, which I understand, but I think it’s best to take them if otherwise he’s be walking awkwardly.

I said I would reread Dave Jacke’s article in Permaculture magazine this morning, and I did that after listening to More or Less. The key idea I picked up yesterday about forest mimicry featured strongly. He also emphasised needing to dispel the idea that humans are separate from nature. That would include what I used to worry about and criticise, which is subdividing everything, so in particular even wildlife areas have a designated function from a human point of view. It would also, I think, include the issue that bothered Helena Norberg Hodge, having specialised and separate academic departments which don’t talk to each other. She was an academic herself so that would be bound to bother her. It was certainly something I noticed when doing my PhD at Exeter in the English Department when supervisors had very narrow ideas about how and what I could use from Tagore’s life and works. I wanted to carry out a study of new readers’ reactions to selected texts using qualitative analysis and use the results as part of my dissertation – and that was ‘not what we do’. I wanted to look particularly at Tagore’s potential relevance to the challenges of today – that’s ‘not what we do’ either. I wrote a close study and interpretation of one of Tagore’s published lecture texts, and was very surprised that that’s ‘not what we do’ either. My supervisor had this phrase ‘making a brick in the wall of knowledge’ to describe what a PhD student has to do. This suggests that the work has to involve finding new material in the archive which changes or advances what was known and understood earlier – and of course express that in academic language like that in Poetics of Space. To me as an activist, that seems banal and pointless. I’ve drifted away from Jacke’s ideas on reconnecting people and nature, but for me it is part of the same problem.

Week Seven

Day 43

This morning, after waking up a bit too early for the day to begin, I had an idea, and it stayed with me until after breakfast when I had a bath and treated my hair with conditioner. Then I told Dave about the idea and he quizzed me on it and seemed to approve. At that point I gave it a name, maybe a temporary label, of the PFAF Students Network. I had been thinking more about the concern I wrote about yesterday, and seemed to follow on from what I’d read from Jacke, which is about monocultural thinking, partly dividing land into patches for single uses, and also dividing thought and research into narrow specialisms. My idea then was that I could perhaps use my being an Exeter university alumna to try to interest a group of Exeter students in the current PFAF mission of encouraging people to design and plant food forests at different scales. I would particularly want to have students from more than one department or discipline, not just the obvious one of environmental science. My having been a Tagore scholar would come into that. I would want the students to take an interest in Tagore’s criticisms of what he called ‘the nation of the West’ and exploitative production for profit, and his alternative which was reconstructing village economies and cultures. Clearly, the students would need to understand PFAF, its origins and the recent developments for aligning our database with collections of plants favoured by food forests and carbon farming experts (the plants matrices), and the search facilities available. They would also need to appreciate what we have not been able to make progress on because our role has been simply to continue to provide and improve the plants database and its search facilities. We have tried to move beyond that by going on visits to Devon sites with perennial plantings. We have a suppliers list but have not been able to make connections between users, their sites and suppliers that we could write about and use to grow a visible and public interconnected network, of food foresters in particular. We – by which I mean the five trustees of the PFAF charity – have connections with the Permaculture movement and the Transition network, but again, although we have tried, we have not been able to solidify that with activities and projects on the land and in communities. Another factor is that PFAF has a global spread, with users in every country of the world, and it has roots in Southwest UK. Ideally we would like to see new roots of PFAF, with sites and support networks, established in other parts of the world.

I have work to do before putting such an idea to the trustees. I need to get in touch with the Exeter Alumni organisation from which I get occasional emails and find out if there is anything there besides the outings and fundraising efforts which are all that I have noticed in the emails. I also need to look at what departments and specialisms there are and decide on an interesting mix that would meet my idea of making this multi-disciplinary. I need to write several short pieces introducing the idea, looking at them critically to see how they might be received. I want to spark interest in such a way that it leads to something, not raise over-high hopes or have it splutter out after a brief flare of excitement.

Two good things that should come out of a group of students taking an interest in PFAF are firstly, that they are likely to be skilled with social media, and secondly, they might be interested in fundraising, either via social media or by applying for grant funding – and at least in drafting the text for our annual appeal for contributions from our users. We would certainly offer expenses to begin with and then they could have a proportion of any funds they succeed in raising.

We now have lots of vegs from Dave’s expedition to the greengrocers in Teignmouth so I don’t need to eke them out with staples or breadcrumb-based crumble or stuffing. This morning I had a grapefruit with my breakfast – the first in ages because we didn’t buy them unless they came from Spain, and now with Covid and everything, including Dave having to have things fetched by staff, rather than going into the shops and examining labels, we’ve had to set aside those sort of strictures. So then, for elevenses I made courgette fritters, with some of the aubergine and red pepper salad I made yesterday on the side. Everything now can have garlic. I made a stir-fry for lunch with fried tofu. The frig is very full now because the weather is warm so leek and cauliflower which in cool weather can be outside in the kitchen had to be bagged and space found in the frig. So when I made the stir-fry I couldn’t find the tomato puree. Dave said I should have asked him for it; he would have taken things out of the frig to find it, which I could have done but it seemed too much effort, also stir-fry can’t be left – which isn’t quite true as I have a lid for the wok to put that on to soften hard things like carrot strips.

The latest Permaculture Works arrived today. A couple of issues ago, the first in a re-designed format came and we didn’t like the effect. But this one is good. Its theme is Work and it has a cover illustration from a poster produced 125 years ago about what was deemed wrong about work back then, none of which has been remedied, indeed it has all got worse. Reading it made me think about the reputation of permaculture now. It is better known, with a contributor who is heading up Permaculture Ambassadors in Australia describing a visit to the UK when she met with ‘her friend Zac Goldsmith’ who took her for a visit to Westminster, where someone said to her that he loved permaculture and had a permaculture allotment; it was of course Jeremy Corbyn. She was introduced to Michael Gove and he referred to the new Agriculture Bill, in which the intention was to shift subsidies away from industrial agricultural systems and use them for regenerative approaches such as agroecology and permaculture. Fame and influence at last? Perhaps not. Permaculture is not really mainstream. It is a word people drop in as if knowingly, and it has a comfortable alternative ring to it, but I don’t think most people have heard of it, know what it means, or are bringing it into their lives. And perhaps that’s OK.

Day 44

I had bad dreams again about hospital and death, one bit I remember was asking for forget-me-nots to be scattered in my coffin. I got up to have a pee around dawn, then went to sleep again but woke up quite depressed. I put the radio on and there was a lot about today being the 75th anniversary of ‘VE Day’ and what it pity it is that there won’t be street parties and parades. No! – if there is anything good about the Covid-19 shutdown, it is that that kind of nonsense is prevented. People have been told to have 1940s themed parties at home and put flags out. I’ve been thinking about writing a letter to the people next door to tell them how I hate their flag – which they don’t see much of the time but spoils our view. I would walk the letter round there for my daily exercise, quite a long walk since our road is a cul-de-sac with a fence in our car park preventing reaching their road so I’d have to walk the long way round. Not wanting to hear any more on the radio about VE Day, I picked up the novel I’ve been reading, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I read it for too long and this didn’t help my depression as nothing was happening and I wished it would – Dave read it before I did and I remember him complaining about this. I was also aware that I had other much more useful books on the go and should have read those instead because they would help with this Twelve Weeks writing, because of all things this is what keeps my spirits up – but sometimes I can’t seem to do what I know would help, and this seems part of it.

I checked my emails and there was a message from a counsellor at the GP surgery called Sophie Cowie offering a block of six counselling sessions starting next Thursday. Of course I accepted. Sophie has sent a counselling agreement and a screening form, the latter is to say how depressed or anxious you are and is hard to fill in.

I did a search online for Exeter university alumni and there appear to be all sorts of ways in with my PFAF students network idea, including via LinkedIn which I’ve not been into for a while. I read the piece I wrote yesterday to Dave and he thinks it’s good, and agreed I need to write a few short pieces to go to different people. I saw that Caroline Lucas is also an Exeter alumna so I could write to her, which Dave said would be good, but I should join the Green Party. I think I might resign from the Labour Party anyway as I don’t feel on their wavelength any more. I had an email from Momentum yesterday suggesting getting involved in deciding their way forward – evidently they are a bit lost since Keir Starmer’s election and something of a purge of people on the Momentum and Corbyn wavelength. Dave said I need not resign from Labour but you are not meant to belong to more than one party.

I prepared an avocado for elevenses, one that Dave got from Tibbs Fruit & Veg in Teignmouth. We’ve often had avocados from there which were good, but a couple of time they were hard and never ripened; that was before the lockdown. Dave was worried the latest ones were like that, and so this one proved. I think they’ve been in cold storage too long. I cut it up fine on the chopping board – the fact that I could do that with an avocado shows how hard it was. Then I put it in a bowl with salt, pepper, paprika and olive oil and tried to mash it. Dave made toast with an end bit of white loaf and declared he enjoyed the avocado. Later he asked what I’d like for lunch. I was still feeling low and couldn’t decide, then suggested a mixture of roast vegetables so he got chopping and I had a bath which helped lift the depression a bit.

Because I rather liked the latest issue of Permaculture magazine, a week ago I filled in the order form for a gift subscription to L but left it until I had a chance to ask her if she would like it. Today L confirmed she would like it so I put it in its envelope and got a stamp and Dave and I walked down to the post box by the post office wit it. As we walked down Orchard Drive, there was a house with union flag bunting all over and I said ‘How awful!’ I don’t suppose they heard.

The roast vegs were lovely. I thought at first I should have made a sauce but that wasn’t needed. We had steamed spinach with it, half the bag of that from Riverford. I worried during the meal that I hadn’t signed the cheque for the Permaculture mag gift sub, also that even if I had, processing the order would take ages – maybe I should have ordered it online but it pleased me that they still offered a by cheque and by post option. Come to think of it though, it may be that the office is closed due to lockdown so I should probably have done this online.

One thing that upset me today was a particular obituary in the Guardian. It was of Michael Wakelam, a biochemist who had carried out research on lipids in health and disease, who had died aged only 64 of complications of suspected Covid-19 – such a terrible waste! He was not only an important scientist, he seems to have been a lovely man, a lefty, he graduated from Birmingham university, so a connection there, despite that not being a good time for me. Later he returned there as a professor and even had an allotment on campus. All sorts of things add to my own low state because I find myself lumping together the effects of the car crash with all the Covid stuff, especially with the ICU connection – Fizz said this was understandable.

I think I’ll print this out again – from page 15 – so I’ve got what I wrote on the PFAF student network idea.

Day 45

Again I read Wildfell Hall for too long in bed after breakfast. It is compulsive reading because things happen terribly slowly so you have to read a lot to get to any actual event. The tenant herself puts up with her situation, with her drunken, dissolute and unfaithful husband, for so long because she cannot leave and take her little boy with her because her husband wouldn’t allow it and he is within his rights at that time. Eventually she leaves because he brings a mistress into the house, supposedly as a governess for the boy. He has confiscated what money and jewellery she has, and that prevents her from going abroad, hence she has to go to Wildfell Hall, a derelict family house, part of which her brother makes habitable. Then at last we come to the end of the part of her journal she has given the book’s narrator to read. They are in love, but he is told to go and never see her again until they meet again in heaven. A few weeks later he is told she had gone back to her husband who is seriously ill, but not dying, from a fall from his horse. Although I am impatient with the slow pace of the narrative, I am intrigued by the absolute reality and influence on her of her religious belief and how that is recounted. The afterlife is completely real to her, and God is a presence she often refers to, but not in a personal way, and she doesn’t refer to Jesus, only to the deity with capitalised personal pronouns, but no extravagant attributes like grace or mercy – at least I don’t think so, perhaps I’ll skim through the book again with that in mind. The way her belief just ‘is’ indicates how unquestioned it is, as if questioning it would puzzle her. I have had very little to do with religious people. I think of Jenny identifying herself as ‘a person of faith’, hence her natural obligation to serve, to be of service. It is not an intellectual state, although she does study it, goes to Bible classes, I think. It is all very puzzling to me because it is all so obviously nonsense.

We followed a science fiction serial drama called Devs on the TV recently. It was about advanced ‘big data’ technology being used to look at the past and the future, assuming the truth of determinism, but with one of the techies open to the multiple universes alternative. It ended with the central characters living in a simulated reality inside the system, which was a bit of a let down. At one point in the drama, a character called Stewart recites the Philip Larkin poem Aubade. The main character Forest is not a literary person and doesn’t know what Stewart was quoting and another character Katie tells him it was Shakespeare or someone. I looked this up online and people seem to be curious about why Aubade and Larkin are used in the drama. The poem is chilling. When I coined the term ‘death dread’ I saw Larkin as someone who suffered from this, as in these lines:

The sure extinction that we travel to

And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,

Not to be anywhere,

And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

And Larkin is very clear that religion doesn’t help:

This is a special way of being afraid

No trick dispels. Religion used to try,

That vast moth-eaten musical brocade

Created to pretend we never die,

And specious stuff that says No rational being

Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing

That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,

No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,

Nothing to love or link with,

The anaesthetic from which none come round.

Awful! That knowledge is terrible, and for me it invalidated my whole life from when I was told it aged only eight. I wonder that it did not prevent Larkin writing poetry, but I too have found that articulating my fear does help. But the truth of this, if not the worst of the fear and dread for myself, has come back lately, from what we have been reading about those who die under sedation on ventilators: ‘The anaesthetic from which none come round’. Some, of course, do come round, as I did after two days of that, but they do not come round cured and well, only saved.

It might not matter that people are using religion to pretend they never die, but as I’ve already written here, religion is dangerous when it gives priority to a pretend afterlife over the only world there is. A more subtle but perhaps actually more serious defect of religion is drawn to our attention by Michael Northcott in A Political Theology of Climate Change, in which he points out a source of the kind of separation between our species and nature which Jacke warns against.[48] Northcott points out that a consequence of religion teaching that the Earth was created for human use and domination, is that it leads to the assumption that we cannot fundamentally change the Earth; it is there as the permanent stage on which our personal and social actions play out. This means that the very idea of anthropogenic climate change is unthinkable.

There is a connection in my mind between all the functions and distortions religion gives rise to and a fixed attitude I find particularly irritating, which is that religion provides moral superiority to the believer. I remember when my mother died and her friend Ena Barber saying that ‘Joan was a Christian at heart’, meaning that she was kind, generous and charitable, a good woman – as if she could not have those characteristics unless she was a Christian of some kind.

I’ll finish by writing something about what we did today. Dave helped me complete the form for the counsellor, which I couldn’t do because the items about my depression and anxiety seem to have little to do with what I struggle with. We have lots of courgettes so we had one for elevenses, sliced, floured and friend instead of fritters this time. Dave asked for some fried potatoes with that so I made chips. This meant I had to use two big frying pans and have the extractor fan on – but they were good. We had rice and vegetables and fried tofu for lunch, and I re-used both frying pans. The supply of basmati rice was empty so I used brown rice, timing it for twenty minutes instead of the usual ten, but that turned out to be not enough so I had to turn everything else off to let the rice catch up.

Dave’s aim for today was to plant out sunflower plants which require an area of good tilth and supports. He cleared a patch in the lowest bed in the front garden which is very full of bindweed, both strong twining tops and long white hairy roots. He didn’t get as far as the planting. I more or less finished washing seed trays and flower pots, including trays used this year and the big pots which can only be washed one or two at a time. All have been processed, although the last couple are still in the washing water. Looking over what Dave was doing, I saw bindweed wound around a soft fruit bush so I tried to remove it and got cut by a thorn, quite nasty and my skin is so fragile, but I put a plaster on the cut and carried on.

Day 46

I finished reading Wildfell at last, relieved that the hero and heroine get their happy ending. I was intrigued at the merest hint in the catch up on characters we’d met on the way that the daughter of the cuckolded lord was uncertainly his own. If I have picked that up correctly, it becomes the only explicit mention of the sex act. By the same token, we are not told what the dissolute activities the bad husband gets up to in the city. Much over-indulgence in alcohol is the only sin we are told about.

I am still thinking about how to put out feelers to interest Exeter students in PFAF and I remembered reading an article in yesterday’s Guardian with a mention of research at Exeter showing that gardens are beneficial to people’s health, so I found and reread it – it is by Gaby Hinsliff. Then I looked online and found a news item on the Exeter website about the study entitled ‘Spending time in the garden linked to better health and wellbeing’. The research was a major study of data from 8,000 people collected by Natural England between 2009 and 2016. Dr Sian de Bell, lead author and Dr Becca Lovell, project lead are from the University of Exeter Medical School, so perhaps my first shorter and focussed piece from what I wrote earlier about the idea of a PFAF students network could be to them. I’ll draft it here as part of my daily writing.

Dear Dr Sian de Bell and Dr Becca Lovell,

I have a project in mind which might appeal to students interested public health and wellbeing. I was interested to see a mention of your study of the benefits of gardens and gardening in an article in the Guardian by Gaby Hinsliff, and I was intrigued that this research was carried out by Exeter University as I am an Exeter alumna from the time I worked on my PhD there a few years ago.

For fifteen years I have been the lead trustee of a charity called Plants For A Future (PFAF) which provides online information and search facilities, with details of over 8000 plants with food and other uses, for users across the world ( Three years ago the PFAF management team decided to align our database with a subset of 1500 particularly useful plants identified in major projects and publications concerned with carbon farming and food forests. This required a great deal of detailed work which has just been completed. Our motivation was the realisation that regenerative approaches to food production are going to be essential in the years ahead, particularly mixed perennial plantings at every scale from home and local community gardens to more extensive local farms and agroforestry schemes. What is needed now is promotion of these approaches, including research into the extent to which they are already being put into practice, in the UK and around the world, with a focus on how the information PFAF provides could make a difference.

The small team at PFAF cannot do very much on our own. My own capacity is currently very limited as I am on the NHS list of people needing shielding from contact with the coronavirus, and I have no idea how long that will continue. In any case, it is time in the life of this charity for younger people to come in with energy and their own ideas. I have thought of this as a PFAF students network, which I hoped could be interdisciplinary, starting with a small core…

Do you know… Do you think… etc. etc.

Well, that is the sort of thing I might right, but I’ll need to find other ways to get this going – such as the LinkedIn option.

OK, what else? I tried wearing a different pair of trousers today. These ones are black linen and a bit itchy and very tight since I’ve had a big lunch – the usual-ish-for-Sunday stuffed squash, roast potatoes, kale from the garden and mushroom sauce – so I shall have to change into the long yellow and black patterned dress I’ve worn on the last few days. I decided on the black trousers with the intention of doing a bit of gardening, specifically to tackle that bind weed around the soft fruit bush which stuck a thorn in me yesterday. I did do that, and picked the kale in the process because it was in the way, and it turned out to have just the right amount of good leaves to go with our lunch. Dave still didn’t get as far as planting his sunflowers, but he pulled up masses more bindweed – it really is horrendous stuff.

Dave ordered for me a novel I fancied from a review in the Guardian and it arrived just in time now that I’ve finished Wildfell – and now we’ve both read the book, we can watch the BBC serial. The new book is Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth – unusual name! – and it’s about a heist to liberate all the layer hens in a huge industrial farm. The review was a bit mixed but I love the scenario so it was a ‘must have’ for an ethical vegan such as myself, and it will be a relief after the slow pace but admirable style of the classic.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that Dave is purely vegan now, since paring the shopping and ordering down to essentials, primarily for me because I’m the one being shielded, so Dave stopped getting cow’s milk and butter, the difficult part for him being no milk in his tea, oat milk not tasting right for that. But he used to have such a tiny amount of milk in his tea I wondered if he would taste it at all, but it’s all amount the tooth-coating tang, and I know what he means by that, and like him I would only have lapsang souchong or maybe Earl Gray without milk, or of course herb teas. We have loads of mint in the garden so we’re having fresh mint tea which is lovely. Dave is still having honey so maybe he’s not quite pure vegan. Maybe I’m not either, as I mentioned earlier, not vegan-organic at least as Riverford is not that, and I still have some leather shoes and belts – but maybe that’s OK as I haven’t bought anything made of leather since becoming vegan.

Day 47

I’m really struggling to get going today. We went out for Dave to get a few things from the Co-op and for me to get some exercise. It’s pretty cold with a sharp wind today so I put the hood of my hoody up. We saw two geese with a brood of three goslings but were puzzled as they were not the same kind – one had the lumpy nose of a Chinese goose, the other just an ordinary shape. The goslings were different colours – could they be from a cross? Dave got a big farmhouse loaf, our favourite kind not being available, but it’s better for fried bread so I did our usual fry up. We read – or rather skimmed – today’s paper, with lots about Johnson’s unlockdown which is confusing and likely to lead to a new spike. I read a piece about the virus mutating to become better at infecting us. will it ever end? Will people like me, supposed to be shielded, ever be safe?

I had a look again at Exeter Alumni and delved around the group at University of Exeter Medical School who seem to be interested in the health benefits of gardens. I may send an email to Dr Rebecca Lovell, shorter than what I wrote yesterday, just a feeler to see if she wants to know more. I drafted that and read it to Dave but he thinks I should say more, and he preferred my longer version so I emailed it to him.

The counsellor Sophie replied to my email with the assessment form agreeing that it’s hard to do and gave me the links and password for the Zoom session on Thursday. I wonder sometimes what’s the point as I’m not a useful person to society, but thinking that is part of why I need help with my mental state. If I could get something started with involving young people with PFAF, I might have a useful role, although of course that gets me worried about the complications and sensitivities due to the Ferns and perhaps others such as Martin Crawford and permaculture people, given that I haven’t been any good at networking and all that.

It might be an idea to get back to William Morris as I have books not yet studied such as On Art & Socialism and Mackail’s biography, bringing in Ruskin and Carlyle – get back to being a scholar to the extent I can at home. Before this awful Covid thing, I had the idea of going to the British Library and having a look at the archive of Macmillan and Tagore/Andrews correspondence. This was material that academics at the Open University mentioned when I wanted to follow my MA at the OU with a PhD under their auspices. They said I could not do that without knowing Bengali, except perhaps using the Macmillan material, that being in English. I had a look at the British Library catalogue trying several versions of Macmillan and Tagore and got no results. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, that material has not been digitised, and it is only ‘Digitised Manuscripts’ that are catalogued – which is surprising. When I did a little work at the Devon Archive after the Elmhirst Papers which used to be kept at Dartington were moved there, there was quite a detailed catalogue, indexed by the subject matter in the various files and boxes. Perhaps the BL has too much stuff to do that. Needless to say, the BL website offers information on the Coronavirus.

Dave made a few changes to my longer letter to the two Exeter academics so I have emailed that to them. It would be great if they are interested.

I read two of the essays in Morris’s On Art & Socialism. As before when I have read his views and concerns, I agree with him on socialism but have reservations on art. In an article in Fortnightly Review, November 1888, Morris writes about the interest in ‘what is called in our modern slang Art Workmanship’, and a fashion for handmade goods even when they are not decorated, such as hand woven cloth or hand knitted garments. It is the ‘cultivated classes’ who regret the disappearance of handicrafts from production, and Morris explains that the problem is that the people for whom goods are made have no connection with how they are made but rely on the market knowing that such wares are wanted. Anyone who wants something other than what the market supplies has to work very hard to find someone who can make it and it will cost a lot of money and not be done well because you would have to find a ‘small capitalist’ to ‘turn one of his hands into a handicraftsman for the occasion’. Morris goes on to cite Marx and Capital to explain the ‘three great epochs of production since the Middle Ages’. In the first, production was individualistic in method, even when workmen were combined into associations for practical purposes. The workmen worked for themselves, not for a capitalistic employer. In the second of Morris’s epochs, such employers began to appear and workmen were collected into workshops, tool-machines were improved and division of labour began to appear. In the third epoch the automatic machine supersedes hand labour and the workman becomes a tender of machines. For Morris the only hope for a return of handicrafts will be for the period of machinery to evolve into a new epoch, which could be one of machinery that is even more independent of labour or perhaps it will evolve into a new and improved period of production by handicrafts. This is the future which Morris envisages in his utopian novel News from Nowhere, but in that story where is no evolution as such, but a protracted and destructive, painful and violent revolution before the socially equal period emerges when everyone enjoys producing what everyone needs and there is no money or property. As we know, machinery did continue to be more sophisticated and need less and less tending, and there would certainly need to be a major upheaval for that to be abandoned in favour of handicrafts. The upheaval is unlikely to come from social uprising. The agency will be the planet having been exhausted through what we have done to bring about machine-production and all the necessary infrastructure, extraction of raw materials, build up of pollution and discarding of waste. Where I have reservations regarding Morris’s view of Art is his declaration that machine made goods are necessarily ugly and hand made beautiful.

Day 48

I listened to A Life Scientific which was about the conservationist Debbie Pain – I had forgotten her name already and looked it up. I was particularly intrigued with how she investigated the huge decline in vultures in India which live off cow carcasses. It turns out they were dying from a particular anti-inflammatory drug given to dying cows to ease their pain by humanitarians who looked after them. The cost to the Indian economy of the loss of the vultures’ service was colossal and so a ban was swiftly enacted. Pain also talked about efforts to conserve spoonbill sandpipers with a combination of collecting eggs for a captive breeding programme from a very remote site in far east Russia and persuading bird catchers on their flight path to switch to other livelihoods.

There is no reply yet from the two Exeter academics. I reread the email and was pleased with Dave’s very effective tweaks to my text – we do work well together in this way.

I’ll come back to this later as we need to do some cleaning.

I ‘de-fluffed’ Dave’s room, the landing and stairs and sitting room. De-fluffing uses a Californian mop, and big blue woolly thing on a long handle. They start off impregnated with something but I don’t think that lasts, but it still picks up dust and fluff which doesn’t easily shake off outside; you have to rub it and shake again. I also swept the kitchen floor. We made the decision to discard some old and faded throws, once deep red, which we used when we had cats to cover the sitting room furniture when we went away and the cats allowed free range by Sue next door, their devoted feeder and carer. They will be stowed in the garage pending a trip to the recycling centre when that’s open.

My big news is that I have an appointment on 22 May to see Mr Smart, the colorectal surgeon Mr Bethune has passed me on to. This was unexpected as Mr Bethune told me it would be end-of-covid plus three months before I would see Mr Smart, and I’m nervous about going anywhere with more people about now lockdown is being eased. Terrified, is more like it – maybe I will ask for the appointment to be postponed. I sent a text to Fizz about it but I expect she will say it’s safe to go to the hospital.

Fizz did say by text it was good news and that there won’t be many people about but then she phoned later and she said Mr Smart may not know that I’m shielding so I should have a word with his secretary and ask for a phone appointment or to have it postponed. She also said – I didn’t mention I was asked to participate in a testing trial where people are selected at random and it’s completely voluntary – that I need not feel bad about not doing that. I asked about her work and she is working six days a weeks but much of it at home, which Laurie likes. She hasn’t visited a covid patient at home as most of her covid cases are in care homes and she doesn’t need to visit, and a high proportion in each home have got it but are affected very differently. She is quite enjoying the fact that the upheaval could lead to benefits in future for the GP practice in terms of openness to new ways of working.

Before that I was trying to find something to read and then write about, as I did with the Morris essay, and was quite pleased with what I’d written, but I couldn’t get stuck into any of them. Then I carried on reading the New Silk Roads book and talked to Dave about connecting that to what Morris wrote about the role of markets. In the epoch we are going through, markets do not respond to demand but create demand through this incessant, almost unavoidable, advertising, personalised to get you to buy more of the kind of thing they know you are interested in. Silk Roads writes about the effect of urbanisation and the shift from multi-generational families to households of one or two maybe with a child where spending per head is much higher. Places like Pakistan, affected by the rise of China, have huge increases in retail sales. There are also bizarre mixtures of free market and heavy state control.

In a short paragraph, Frankopan mentions the effect of climate change on the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in cities in the Gulf, in South Asia and North East China where experts have questioned whether temperate rises may put human survival at risk.[49] I was curious about this because I looked in the index earlier for references to climate change and found very little, and actually this paragraph is not mentioned. Maybe there will be other mentions dropped in, unconnected to the main thrust of the book.

One of the books I tried dipping into was Poetics of Space and Bachelard was writing about day dreaming, and again referring to Bergson, this time about duration, and I have a vague memory of understanding that it is only when an action or event has a duration that it has any effect on a person or the world. Bachelard seems to be saying that space has priority over time, even in Bergson’s sense, and especially the spaces and forms of the place where one was born, and it occurred to me that few people have a place where they were born, as births are mainly in hospital. With covid, there are no home births, presumably because midwives would be exposed and perhaps they are too busy. This may not matter, given that stays in hospital after giving birth are normally very short, but thinking back to the primal wound and the importance of being welcomed into the world straightaway, the newborn may take in its surroundings as well as its mother’s face at that crucial moment.


Day 49

I reread what I wrote yesterday and I don’t think what I put about Bergson and duration is right. I did a search on this PC and found a piece by Baudrillard from 2011 with a couple of mentions of Bergson. I also found there is one mention of Bergson in my own book Tagore Speaks – but not in the index – quoting a derogatory remark about his ideas by David Rothenberg in his book I like a lot, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution.[50] This was included in my end notes but without the page number and I remember deciding to dispense with those – one of several mistakes I made when I self-published my book – but no problem finding the mention in Rothenberg’s index.

Dave made a very good job of cleaning the kitchen floor yesterday, getting down on his knees to tackle little patches of stuck on spillage, so I decided to so some work on the worktops which I keep clean but as they are made of beech wood they should be oiled with baby oil occasionally. But as soon as I started I found preliminary tasks, such as cleaning the metal racks and the spice pots in them, all sticky with aerosol from cooking. I wondered if I should use washing soda on them. Then it was time for elevenses and Dave suggested having one of the two avocados he’s been insisting are ripe. I knew they weren’t but I cut one open anyway; it was still quite hard and waxy. I shopped it up and added seasoning and olive oil and chopped it as best I could. It was edible but not great. It was from Dave’s trip to the greengrocers in Teignmouth and we’ve had avocados which never ripen from there before.

I exchanged texts with L earlier. She asked if I’d seen the BBC 6 o’clock news yesterday where they talked about the after-effects of being in ICU. I hadn’t but I do know about that and it’s why I have nightmares and am so terrified of getting covid.

There is altogether too much in the newspaper about covid and it’s such a relief to find anything else. Yesterday there was a piece about new research showing that the time when modern humans and Neanderthals were both in Europe was much longer than had been thought: 8000 years rather than 3000. It is only a short piece and a key date was 46,000 years ago but it is unclear when those 8000 years began and ended. Thinking about the piece earlier this morning – when I was also wondering what to read and write about today and coming days – made me think I might go back to Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee, which may provide clues about what happened to the Neanderthals and what that in turn might tell us about strengths and weaknesses of modern humans.

I seem to be unable to resist connecting the idea of Neanderthals with my first husband, his prominent brow ridges and single bushy eyebrow and terrible temper. Diamond mentions that Neanderthals have become a metaphor for brutish subhumans.[51] On the next page, Diamond clarifies the significance of that date I was puzzled about from the newspaper piece: 46,000 years ago. He says Neanderthals died out 40,000 years ago, hence the shorter overlap mentioned in the article, but if modern humans go back 46,000 years both groups would have been together for a long time.

Neanderthals could have been the gentler ones, the hominids we mostly descended from being the more aggressive hominid. Or perhaps the Neanderthals were dangerous and our kind attacked and wiped them out defensively. Or their demise could have been from a disease like our covid, which seems to affect groups of people very differently. Studies are being carried out to compare the DNA of people who had mild symptoms with that of those who went into the second stage which seems to involved an overactive immune response, flooding the lungs and causing organ failure. The idea of genetic tendencies is a difficult one, especially if it seems to be associated with undesirable behaviour, thus suggesting someone cannot help the behaviour, a deterministic ‘get out of gaol free card’. Does it make the victim guiltless too? I cannot be the only woman who has suffered domestic violence who thinks it must have been my fault in some way: I provoked him, belittled him, and he couldn’t help himself – another kind of determinism. We feel we have choices but only up to a point, which is why the recent TV sci-fi series Devs was so fascinating – a bishop on Today’s ‘thought for the day’ used it to say Christians act on the belief they have choices. Are those choices ‘God-given’? – an earthly trial to earn points to be totted up on judgement day. It was Helen in Wildfell Hall believing in that actual judgement that intrigued me. We started watching the TV serial version and I don’t think that kind of thing is going to come out, it is too inward a belief, but we’ll see.

I signed up for news of Sheldrake some time ago and an email came today, and he’s having a lovely time in lockdown, discovering ways to spread his ideas by giving his talks from his study – with the usual parade of books behind him I expect. He mentioned the publication of his son Merlin’s new book and I ordered a copy, then discovered UK readers have to wait until September. Rupert is asking for volunteers for a study of telephone telepathy and I remember experienced what felt like that with my mother – she sensed I needed her and phoned. This made me think of telling Rupert about my other strange experience with Mummy, when I feel her with me sometimes through touching my face the way she used to do. Rupert’s is the only wacky science I’ve taken seriously – the ideas of morphic resonance, the presence of the past, patterns perpetuating through time. I brought that into my novel The Completion.

Week Eight

Day 50

It’s funny that 50 seems a significant number to have reached when, in fact 49 is more so as it’s seven weeks out of the twelve. In my down times I’ve often thought that doing this is a waste of time, and I should have either concentrated on important writing: the piece for Quayum or the new PFAF book, or do something creative like drawing or learning to play the piano. Yesterday it occurred to me that it could be a useful starting point for a book to be called ‘Twelve Weeks to Save the Planet’. Titles always get me excited, but it was also reading a piece in the Guardian by George Monbiot entitled, in the printed version ‘This crisis has shown us: now is the time for a Great Reset’. This is how it began:

Imagine mentioning William Shakespeare to a university graduate and discovering they had never heard of him. You would be incredulous. But it’s common and acceptable not to know what an arthropod is, or a vertebrate, or to be unable to explain the difference between an insect and spider. No one is embarrassed when a “well-educated” person cannot provide even a rough explanation of the greenhouse effect, the carbon cycle or the water cycle, or of how soils form.[52]

Monbiot goes on to make a good case for ‘ecological education’, describing what he is doing to home educate his two children, aged eight and nine, and saying that children are interested and enjoy learning about the living world, and that taking them outside to do some fieldwork on soils etc. would be helpful for physical distancing.

Where I disagreed with Monbiot was on what he said about Shakespeare: that we can do without Shakespeare – yes, I agree with that – but I don’t agree that we can keep Shakespeare and ‘the other wonders of art and culture’ as long as we give priority to what he calls the Great Reset and ‘change the way we see ourselves and our place on Earth’. And that’s where this material from my twelve weeks of writing will be relevant and useful because all the aspects of my own far more radical reset are going to be in there somewhere, together with what makes this difficult, for me personally and in different ways for others.

I have written about the two major handicaps which have made it difficult for me to be successful at anything really, in my education, my career in paid work, or my activism. They are being unloved by my mother and my disastrous first relationship. Having a devoted interest in my father was a mixed blessing: a very early awareness of threats to the planet but a lifetime of death dread. I cannot think there was any benefit to having an abusive first husband as it didn’t even make me a feminist or an activist on issues concerned with domestic violence. Overall I can see the glimmerings of a positive side to my lack of success, which is that not settling on a specialism I could be devoted to and make a career out of, I came to have an overview and wide perspective on what is wrong with the world. That in turn inclines me to blame our entire species, not excluding myself and indeed blaming myself especially, because I have known about what has gone wrong all my life but have not been able to do anything that has made a difference. I can see all too well that a young person would lump me in with the parents and grandparents whose fault it is that their future is uncertain and their world ruined.

Certainly all that comes up here and there in these twelve weeks of ramblings. What also comes up is my particular targets in terms of human behaviour and neglect: the flying, the streaming, the container shipping, the domesticated livestock – including pets. On the latter, there was an item on the Today programme about the well known gardening presenter Monty Don grieving for his dog, and the thousands of viewers who were also sad about the death his pet. Curiously enough, perhaps, this connects with my disagreement with Monbiot over Shakespeare. Devotion to anything other than saving the planet has to go. A lot of the ordinary, taken for granted things have to go too, and it is instructive to look at this country re-opening after Covid lockdown to see what has to go and why.

For our prime minister, the first priorities for re-opening are manufacturing and construction. I’ll refer back to Tagore and Morris on that one, for their concern over ‘the greed of profit’ and shoddy goods made by machinery tended by workers deprived of the joy of making things skillfully by hand. I can see though that manufacturing and construction can reasonably be seen as important as they are about meeting real needs for goods, shelter and infrastructure. Much of the rest of the economy being opened less urgently is about making profit out of providing unnecessary services, the last perhaps to get started again being things like coffee shops and pubs. What concerns me, and others like Monbiot, is that the economy post-Covid will be more or less how it was before, albeit with concerns over small businesses that were unable to ride out the storm, instead of being rethought with the planetary crisis in mind, and also the social inequality revealed by what social groups could avoid being in situations where the virus would spread and those who could not, or had vulnerabilities brought about by where and how they lived before the virus brought about its selective ‘harvest’.

Today I had my first session with the counsellor Sophie. We tried to meet using Zoom but there were technical problems my end, so we talked on the phone. She is lovely. I feel very hopeful that I will be helped by having her. The thing she left me with was that I had suffered and it was fine for me to care about myself, never mind comparing my situation with others who were worse off. I matter.

Day 51

I’ve been thinking this morning about presenting my radical system for saving the planet as a new mathematics, but one which avoids numbers and measurement, which are condemned as sinful in my novel The Completion about evolution towards an ecologically regenerated future. One of the themes in my novel was a mathematics of pattern, and a conception of a science of life derived from Sheldrake’s hypothesis of formative causation.

As we walked down to the Co-op for Dave to shop and for me to get exercise, I played with initials for this new maths and came up with DESA: De-Evolve and Start Again. I looked online to see what else has those initials and found UN DESA: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and I’m happy with that, as I can strip off the whole notion of nations, united or otherwise.

We had a different veg box from Riverford this week because our regular small organic box included sweet potatoes, shipped all the way from the US, so I asked to switch for this week only to a UK only box. An apology came with that because the carrots had been found not to be up to scratch and so not included, instead of which there was a little more of the other items. Two of those were asparagus and artichokes. We love asparagus, and I think the spears are delicious just steamed and eaten plain, without butter or anything else. Dave has only just given up butter and misses it on asparagus. Maybe that is why he grinds a bit of black pepper and eats it with a knife and fork, whereas I like to use my fingers. That was elevenses, and maybe a bit meagre, so I also cooked the artichokes. I prepared them as per the tips that came with the box and boiled them in the steamer, leaving them boiling after taking the asparagus off. I felt I had to eat them but they were as disappointing as Dave expected them to be. They were too small to have much heart. I nibbled tiny soft bits on the bottom of the bigger leaves, and all of the inner ones, and also the heart and couldn’t find a trace of the ‘furry inedible choke’ so presumably I ate that too – and worried what ‘inedible’ meant so looked it up online and it is harmless, but unpleasantly fibrous – again the ones we were sent were too small for that to have developed.

Cooking continued to take up my time. I cubed the half tofu block that was in the frig and added a marinade of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t think what else to make for lunch with no carrots and lots of onions. Dave checked the frig later and we did have carrots. I looked online for what to do with a glut of onions and caramelising them came up so I tried that and it took a long time. I also cut a red pepper in half and removed the seeds and put the halves under the grill to scorch the skin so I could peel it off. We also had too much bread as we hadn’t used much of a big farmhouse from the previous Co-op shop, so I made breadcrumbs, kept half for later and added sage and rosemary to the rest, plus mixed nuts. Once the onions had caramelised I added the herby breadcrumbs, with the marinade from the tofu cubes, seasoning and a spoonful of Marmite, moistened with some leftover aquafaba, and used this mixture to stuff the red peppers and put in the oven. Dave found two big tomatoes we’d had for a while so I skinned those and made a sauce with garlic and marjoram from the garden. I made chips from a big potato and fried those and the seasoned tofu cubes. I’d intended to prepare some salad leaves but was worn out by then. It was very tasty – but was it worth all the fiddling and dithering?

Meanwhile, of course, I hadn’t done any writing, so it was four o’clock before I got back to it. The first thing I’d thought of to bring into my DESA idea was a phrase I heard which intrigued me in the sports news in the Today programme. They were discussing getting football matches started again after they were stopped in the lockdown, and someone – a football manager, I suppose – used the phrase ‘our industry’, as if football matches are urgent and useful in a similar way to ‘manufacturing and construction’. Football matches do not make any useful product to meet people’s real needs for food, clothing and shelter – although they are part of a big business with all the kerfuffle of finances, funds and fees. Their usefulness is like the circus part of the ‘bread and circuses’ the Romans laid on to keep the populace from revolting. My father used to say sport provides indoctrination in support of capitalism, which needs people to embrace competition, to admire winners and despise losers, again to stop the populace revolting.

DESA stands for De-Evolve and Start Again. Competition is a prime candidate for de-evolution because it probably came very early in the course of humankind dividing itself into classes and power hierarchies using the surpluses from agriculture. I don’t know what evidence there is of competitive sports – or circuses – being introduced into early cities and states. My current handy source for such information, Diamond’s Third Chimpanzee, has nothing in the index for sport and one entry for competition to a passage on conflict which is unhelpful for this discussion. Diamond’s other books in my collection don’t cover this either. A quick look online just brings up the Greeks and the Romans, so Olympic games and circuses, but I feel sure that sport and competition will go further back than two to three thousand years. Looking again I found something on wrestling depicted on cave paintings from 15,000 years ago. I had a quick look in the indexes of my two books on our species by Yuval Noah Harari – nothing on sport or competition. Maybe I am looking in the wrong places.

Day 52

I listened closely to an item on the Today programme about a live football match in Germany which will be ‘behind closed doors’, the phrase for no crowds being present, but which will be broadcast, and the discussion was about whether this will satisfy people feeling deprived of football matches to go to. What struck me is that the speaker talked of football as part of the ‘hospitality industry’ and I can see hospitality as an industry supplying customers with needful things, physiological ones like food and drink plus some sense of social belonging, so we have some smattering of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is used to study how humans intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation. Maslow used the terms ‘physiological’, ‘safety’, ‘belonging and love’, ‘social needs’ or ‘esteem’, and ‘self-actualization’ to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move. This means that in order for motivation to arise at the next stage, each stage must be satisfied within the individual themselves.[53]

Given that I envisage DESA as a pattern mathematics, a hierarchy set out as a pyramid is a possible presentation, but with the needs of our exhausted planet made the basic priority which has to be met first before human needs are considered, even the physiological ones which would enable us to survive. Such a new hierarchy will only be in operation, representing how we live, once the ‘SA’ part of DESA has come about. We are a long way from there, if ever we get there at all, which is very uncertain but the only hope. However, an SA hierarchy of priorities can be thought about at the stage we are at, prior to the beginning of the ‘DE’ part of DESA.

De-evolve means reversing and removing human social and technological progress from the times and places when agriculture was established at sufficient scale to supply large settlements. Another starting point might be when ‘the domestication of the human species’ brought about psychological changes in our behaviour towards each other, and I’ll need to have another look at Peter J. Wilson’s book on that profound change in the sort of animal we were.

DA can be thought of as a hierarchy, with the importance gradient being degree of harm an evolved behaviour is continuing to do to the planet. All the harmful behaviours need to be given up, ideally the worst first, with another approach being the easiest to do without first. The strongest case can be made for stopping altogether the set I often cite as the most damaging behaviours, and the industries enabling them: flying, streaming, container shipping, and domesticated livestock. It is easy to stop or reduce one’s use of any of these, but few people would be inclined to do so for a whole host of reasons, including not agreeing that they can be done without, or that they harm the planet, or that any of us is personally responsible for taking action of this kind. A huge amount of re-education would be needed for direct action towards what can be called ‘voluntary simplicity’ to become the norm. It is not possible for me, a recluse by nature and circumstances, to teach or write or campaign to get people to change their lifestyles in that direction. What I can do is identify the obstacles to such changes, which will be elements or strands in the set I’m calling DE.

First thing this morning I read one of the articles in the latest New Left Review, the last of a number of pieces about how different countries have responded to the coronavirus. This article is looking at the differences in how the pandemic was handled by comparing the political, social and philosophical backgrounds of countries in the East and those in the West. The author’s premise is that the East: China, South Korea, Singapore, handled it better because of an enduring cultural influence formed in the Confucius era. People complied with restrictions imposed by the state because they expect to be told how to behave and trust experts to give good advice to governments. In contrast, the West is suffering from the failure of the Enlightenment project, which took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, when an emphasis on experience and reason gave rise to secular, liberal, democratic societies with a clear and substantial role for the state. Since liberalisation, globalisation, financialisation and the free market, all that remains is nationalism and individualism, pared down states, poor public services and – significantly – weak and showy leaders and a disdain for expertise. That is part of what I remember from the article and is probably muddled – I will read it again. I also remember something different was said about Japan, which dealt with the pandemic differently from other countries of the East. Japan has a very good free national health service with experience of treating people with influenza – or was it pneumonia? – so the prime minister Shinzo Abe decided the country should not go into lockdown, not carry out testing, or monitor and announce publicly numbers of cases and deaths, but concentrate on treating sufferers really well. It is not known for sure how many cases there have been, and announcements suggest the impact of the disease is low. It has been suggested that part of the reason is because Japanese people don’t hug each other, they bow, so there is less risk of transmission.

I must read that article again, and the others too. I did read the article on China, a fascinating account of her experience by someone living in Wuhan.

I’ve got into the habit of writing about our food and my cooking. Yesterday I felt bad about not having any greens with our lunch which is our main meal, so I promised we would have salad today. We had a bag of salad leaves from Riverford – and I could have put some on the side of our plates yesterday – but we needed something more substantial for a salad-based meal today. I knew we had some red cabbage from when Dave went to the greengrocers in Teignmouth – quite a while ago, but it was still OK, so I made that a basis for coleslaw, with carrots, a little onion and leek, sunflower seeds, nuts, yellow pepper, a small easy peel orange, some wild rocket, mint and curled parsley from the garden, salt and pepper and Dave’s salad dressing. We also had new potatoes cooked with mint and some of the salad leaves. It was lovely.

Day 53

I did reread the article on the different responses to Covid in the East from the West and I didn’t get that badly wrong the first time. I went on to read the ones on Indonesia and India and began on Brazil. I am impressed by and grateful to NLR for covering the world in some depth as it is tiresome how little there is in the papers, obsessed, as presumably they believe their readers to be, with what is happening in the UK.

Earlier this morning I was thinking about how to move DESA on, and the answer is to identify patterns. For example, not flying, shunning that technology, has a correlate in taking an interest in creatures which fly naturally, birds and insects – which makes me think how delighted Dave is at the contrail-free skies, and how he adores birds.

I have to go and do some gardening. Dave has some very tall leggy sunflower plants which will need supporting, and may not survive. Also I want to plant new rows of spinach and peas as the earlier ones are not showing much – partly because weed seedlings are appearing and I can’t tell the difference, and cats and maybe other creatures have disturbed the soil where the peas should be, before Dave put some sticks across – which won’t stop the other creatures, sadly.

I had a look at the top garden and quite a few of my peas have sprouted. We’ve never been very successful with peas as the wildlife seems to swipe them – pigeons would certainly, small rodents also perhaps. But we did get a small harvest last year so let’s see. There are some seedlings in a broken row which could be the spinach. I didn’t plant my new rows as there was work to do in the bottom garden. Dave put sticks in for the sunflowers and I tied them at very crossing point. I also rescued Dave’s favourite plant, Japanese anemone, which comes up each year swamped by weeds. He planted two squash plants, but not the leggy sunflowers yet. The soil is very dry.

We came in to make lunch. It’s Sunday so roast potatoes. I also asked him to chop up some other rooty veg to be roasted alongside, which will go with the butterbeans I cooked yesterday after a long soak and they are lovely and soft, just right for butterbean and mint soup I was planning. We had steamed cauliflower, including some of the outer leaves, and pak choi and leek sauce. After a postprandial rest, I liquidised all the soup ingredients, including the steaming water, and quite a lot of mint from the garden, and a little water to get the right consistency. It’s all cold so it can go in the frig for later.

Writing about food and cooking – again! – makes me think of a pattern to counteract the domesticated livestock in my list of the most damaging behaviours, and the industries enabling them: flying, streaming, container shipping, and domesticated livestock. No animal foods of course means all plant foods, veganism, a state of living that makes me very happy. I must write about how much I am enjoying Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth. So brilliantly clever of her to make a witty and engaging book about egg production, one of the most horrendous industries on the planet, and the heroes are vegans, hundreds of them – I love it!

I haven’t yet suggested a pattern for the two other damaging behaviours in my list of baddies: streaming and container shipping. Patterns can be shared and certainly giving up domesticated livestock for plant foods would reduce container shipping, given that producing animals foods is very inefficient so we would eliminate shipping of animals feeds straightaway. But we need a more radical pattern than that, and the obvious one is to go completely local, source everything we need locally, which would eliminate container shipping and some flying too. Local does not only apply to physiological needs, and it wouldn’t be SA if it were only that. Our communities, relationships, culture, entertainment, handicrafts need to be local too. And that’s where the streaming goes, apart from the springs and streams which emerge when the land is covered with food forests and local and regional water cycles are reborn.

I am furious to discover that one of our health food supplements, evening primrose oil, is not vegan; it has bovine gelatine, and suspicious glycerine too. This is a new supply with big capsules, which made me check, but the smaller ones we had before may well have been as bad – I didn’t think to look.

Having these daily pills has become a ritual, a service Dave provides, doling out our daily doses into egg cups. There have been times when this has lapsed but Dave has been conscientious about it since I came out of hospital last year. Some of the supplements I have needed, in particular B12 as I am vegan and iron since whenever my ‘bloods’ are taken at the GP practice, I am found to be borderline anaemic. We also have multivits and calcium and I have L-Glutamine as Dave was advised by someone at Popadums that they are good for healing. And the evening primrose? That’s a long story. In my mid-thirties I suddenly developed a form of arthritis, it was called ‘sero-negative rheumatoid’ because evidence of actual rheumatoid was not present in my blood. It was dreadful in spite of that. My hands and feet swelled up and my neck was painful. My parents were very concerned, and on one visit to their house my mother announced she had discovered something which would cure it, evening primrose oil, so I have been taking it ever since, not every day religiously but when I think of it, and when Dave is taking responsibility to dole the pills out. It is lovely to think that my mother cared about me enough to make enquiries, and I remember her animated face when she announced it. I don’t think it made any noticeable difference but that is hard to tell as the pain and inflammation did have cycles, with temporary remissions, that phrase being used by my consultant when I announced I had found a diet cure that worked, the Dong Diet, devised by a Chinese doctor who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis himself, and had never seen this condition in his home village, where people ate rice, fish and vegetables, and he worked out a particular list of beneficial foods and those to be avoided, and I stuck to that closely for several years.

Day 54

I had a particularly sleepless night last night, got up several times, and come dawn I read Barn 8 – with less enjoyment as the rescue of the chickens went badly wrong – still a few pages to go. I may look again at the review as I’m curious about how it was mixed, although I can understand that from my reading. I loved the exposure of the egg production industry and the host of vegan animal rights people who responded to the call, but the narrative is very fragmented and mixed in style which perhaps brings out the brilliance of parts of it – I read some of that to Dave in bed yesterday. As for why I didn’t sleep, I think the cause was getting a phone call from my son. There is the horrible other story about his father, my first husband, which I don’t want to tell in this writing, and I think – picking up on Sophie’s explanation of PTSD – I am still suffering from what happened over fifty years ago, but that ever present hurt is reported by other sufferers from domestic violence, and talking to my son yesterday evening caused a spike, when on other occasions it hasn’t done that, or maybe it has but it is different now because of having PTSD explained as a manifestation of traumatic experience that hasn’t been filed away in the memory where it belongs so it keeps recurring. Oddly though, I wasn’t dwelling on that when I was awake last night, it’s just that I couldn’t sleep, and talking to Dave about why that might have been, I thought it was that phone call, and I told me what it brought up, which wasn’t the horrible story itself but the life and lives which could have been so different. Writing this down now reminds me of a part of the narrative of Barn 8 that I liked, which was the double story of the central character Janey, the ‘new Janey’ thinking about the life being lived by the ‘old Janey’ which would have been so much better, more successful in conventional terms: education, career. Yes, ‘Me too!’

What I was trying to persuade myself to think about during those sleepless hours was different patterns, more complex than substituting my four major sins with local vegan food forest community alternatives. I have to extend the sins beyond those four, certainly to a fifth pet sin of mine which is sport and competition – and the SA correlate to that is of course cooperation. There is a big jump I have to make from the extremely damaging behaviours to the more subtle ones which evolved over the millennia out of social divisions made possible by surpluses. With that in mind I began to read a review in NLR by Terry Eagleton of a book about linguistic turns during the first part of last century. I stopped reading to put the radio on to listen to Andrew Marr’s Start the Week which was on provincialism, attitudes towards the provinces. His guests were a professor of 19th century literature and Richard Ford, American short story writer. The professor talked about George Eliot’s short stories about provincial life, Ford dismissing Marr’s queries about the difference between short stories and novels: the former are short; the latter are long. I searched on abebooks for Richard Ford and short stories and a collection he edited came up so I ordered that. I search for George Eliot and short stories and got Silas Marner with two short stories so I ordered that, but there will be quite a wait until they arrive. The copy of The Pink Elephant with Golden Spots I ordered for L was dispatched on 28 April but has still not arrived.

I’ve made stuffed kale leaves for lunch using breadcrumbs made yesterday from a loaf Dave said was ten days old, but they seem fine, with onion, carrot and peppers, garlic and herbs. I made a tomato sauce to go on top and make it more moist. I’ll report back here on whether my major dining customer liked it.

The stuffed kale was lovely, but so strong tasting that it would have been better with something bland to go with it. I didn’t do potatoes as the supply needs replenishing, but rice or pasta cooked plain would have been fine, perhaps couscous of which I have a supply but not yet tried. I saw a recipe including it where a fine mesh steamer was mentioned and I don’t have such a thing.

I went back to bed after lunch as I was exhausted through not sleeping last night and then doing a lot of heavy weed clearing after picking the kale leaves. I managed to get to the big flowerpot we planted Apios Americana a couple of years ago, and the plant came up after having died down last year, but I saw no sign of it this time. However, I didn’t clear the flowerpot of weeds as I wasn’t sure what the Apios looks like when it comes up. I went to sleep after I read some more from NLR. I finished reading the review by Eagleton and read the article on Covid in Iran, which shocked me for its accusations of misreporting in the Guardian of biased items originating in the US, such as a piece about mass graves being dug in Iron which are visible from space. That was not true, the graves were extensions to regular graveyards. Then I finished reading the piece about Covid in Brazil.

I didn’t get round to writing more on my DESA patterns, and I’d thought the Eagleton review of a book about linguistic turns could be part of that. I remember very vaguely something I picked up as part of my Literature studies with the OU which is that Literature as an academic discipline was only allowed in the US when Structuralism and New Criticism came along and favoured studies of the forms of language divorced from any politics or analysis of society, or criticism of government and the economy, thereby rendered harmless. Literature as a disciple was an exclusive domain for academics with their own esoteric language, and mutual regard disguised as criticism. Their work: scholarly books and peer reviewed journal articles, was rewarded with generous salaries and prestige, despite it being virtually useless to society. This sort of occupation is a good example of what Dave and I have dubbed ‘Gearing’s Law’ after he declared that rewards for work are inversely proportional to their usefulness to society. This law works even at the limits, where totally useless work, in big finance and big tech, has rewards that are off the scale in billions, and work that is vital, such as home making and caring, is very often not paid at all. In terms of DESA patterning, useless prestigious work would certainly not be needed when we start again, but it is not helpful to think of it as destined to be replaced by some benign local equivalent, rather it is dangerous and needs to be exposed as such.

Day 55

I am utterly stuck for something to write about, for the first time since I started this. Why? I think it’s partly being worried about PFAF, and not getting any support except from Wendy. I’ve had nothing back from George, Ed and Paul despite nudging them when I forwarded Trev’s last trustees report. I expect they are busy. Paul may well be working. George has his big wild garden to further explore and work in. Ed sent a photo of his allotment a while back, with beds ready to grow lots of food. I didn’t get a reply from the two academics I emailed about getting students involved, and I’m still thinking that what is needed is some new people. We scheduled a meeting via Zoom for this coming Saturday and I’ve emailed a reminder and asked Paul to set it up, but I’m worried about not being able to get Zoom working with Sophie my counsellor – I did email Paul separately to ask him to invite me to a meeting ahead of my next meeting with her on Thursday but he hasn’t replied. He had always taken ages to reply or get round to things. In the past I have nudged him by text.

I did a search for help with Zoom and there’s loads of it but really too much. My query was over different kinds of Zoom, and there are, one free, others paid for, and with the free one I found there is a time limit of forty minutes but I’m sure we talked for longer than that when we had the PFAF meeting before. I thought I would try using the laptop Dave had repaired, then bought another one, and said I could use his old one. It has Windows 10 whereas my laptop is Windows 7 which is no longer supported. My laptop is annoying to use as it no longer disables the touchpad so when I type the cursor flits about and letters go in the wrong place. It may be time to transfer everything to the new laptop, which shouldn’t be difficult because I don’t do anything at all clever on my old one, so it should just be a matter of copying all the documents, pictures and powerpoints onto the big thing I’ve used for main security copies called ‘My Passport Ultra’, and from there onto the new laptop. I’d install Firefox and go to hotmail for my emails and that should be it. There are a few other applications that I use, Canon software for my scanner, Gimp for images, the free Acrobat reader, the free Avira antivirus. The Canon stuff is the only thing that may be problematic – was there a CD? is the scanner still supported?

It’s lunch time and we have more of the stuffed kale from yesterday and I’ve dug out the pack of couscous I bought a while ago and not tried yet but it looks easy.

The couscous was good. I measured the same volume as I do with rice, rinsed it then added about three times that volume of boiling water and cooked on a low heat for seven minutes and added some salt as it tasted very bland. Meanwhile I heated up the kale parcels with a little water and drizzle of olive oil. Having served up the parcels, I added the couscous to the pan to absorb some of the tomato sauce left in the bottom, then served it up. We also had some coleslaw from a couple of days ago. It was a better balanced meal than yesterday.

After a rest reading Naomi Klein on how big tech is taking advantage of the pandemic, I went to the top garden to weed the broad bean plants. There were weed seedlings that looked just like parsley – and it wouldn’t be surprising if last year’s parsley plants which have gone to seed had spread them around, but I couldn’t be sure so I pulled them up with the rest. Dave arrived with his big important tomato plants to put in the bed I dug a while ago thinking sunflowers could go there, but it’s a good spot. Dave put canes in the support the plants and planted them, which was difficult because they had big roots and there was only just enough depth of soil. My job was to tie string round – the job Dave hates. I also brought up fresh mint teas and slices of almond tart. It was very hot up there and Dave had to fetch his straw hat. One thing that annoyed me when I was weeding was that I squeezed my wrist very slightly at one point and I knew what would happen, one of my ugly purple bruises. It appeared first of all as a tiny spot then I watched it spread to the size of an old half crown. These spots don’t hurt but they look ugly and take days to fade away.

There’s been no reply from any of the trustees, but it’s too soon to expect that. I mentioned to Dave the forty minutes limit for the free Zoom conference and he remembered that from a meeting we had with Fizz and her family, so maybe the PFAF one was the same, but I remember it as being longer. Dave said that perhaps Paul had been using a work version that doesn’t have such a limit.

Yesterday I printed this document from where I’d got to last time, when I printed it to have a record of my thoughts about recruiting a PFAF students network. When I read through yesterday’s words I found a few errors, so next time I print I should reprint the last two pages of Day 54, and maybe check to see if the same thing happened when I printed before. So, this has been a day of nothing to write of any moment. I must reread the NLR article on the philosophers take of the pandemic because I remember nothing about it apart from a couple of names: Agamben and Foucault.

Day 56

I decided that my seeming to have nothing to write about yesterday was due to reluctance, a kind of cowardice, about the writing that’s needed to make progress with the world saving project. After I stopped writing here yesterday, I remembered that when I have managed periods of journal writing in the past, I generally included what Dave and I watched in the evenings, sometimes struggling to remember, especially if I’d neglected to write anything for a few days and made myself do a catch up. But I haven’t often mentioned our evening viewing in this journal – if that is what it is in part – so yesterday, at a loose end, I could have written about the film we watched the evening before, which was Deep Blue Sea, a film version of a play by Terrence Rattigan, directed by Terence Davies. We also watched the extras including an interview with a very enthusiastic, bubbly Davies, and a ‘making of’ with more from him, including his insistence on the central character being played by Rachel Weisz for her ‘luminosity’. I could now mention last night’s film He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not directed by a very young Lætitia Colombani, with an adorable Audrey Tautou playing a woman with ‘erotomania’, a dangerous obsession with a cardiologist. The film was divided into two parts: from the point of view of Tautou’s character and then by the doctor. So what might have either or both of these films have to do with this Twelve Weeks writing with a mission? The answer is that in my SA scenario, entertainment would not be like that. People would entertain each other, all would be performers, there would not be expert, trained singers, dancers, actors and musicians on stages and mass audiences in the silent dark watching them. The entertainment industry, including the film industry, would have ceased to exist.

The idea of SA is that there will be no class divisions, no special people provided for from the surplus labour of others, no hierarchies of importance, power and worth, no division of labour, so anything that we all need we all provide, including entertainment. It would be more like what Tagore called ‘life in its completeness’, but more scrupulously than he did in practice. I say that with a letter in mind from Arthur Geddes to his father Patrick, in which Arthur told how Tagore had spoiled the play Arthur devised for village boys to perform to teachers and students at Visva Bharati, Tagore’s university. Tagore had generously contributed a number of songs to be part of the play, but he refused to allow village boys to sing them because they would not have done so well enough. The result was that most of the boys refused to participate. The disparity between Tagore’s ideas about reviving rural life was at odds with his own celebrity and authority deriving from his being the kavi intermediate between the human and the divine, the Poet-Guru.

The idea of DE is that we identify harmful and unnecessary activities, behaviours, attitudes and industries which are accepted components of human society now, with a view to phasing them out, perhaps initially by making personal choices not to participate. Challenging normal practice is far from easy and there are no easy wins, but the coronavirus crisis has at least brought about an atmosphere of stop and think. Many popular and some more exclusive activities have been disrupted in such a way that those responsible for providing them may find it difficult or impossible to get them going again. As consumers, we will have differing sympathies and preferences for which ones we want back in what form and how soon, and what kind of resources and help they will need. For example, I feel quite a lot of sympathy for the Shakespearean Globe theatre in London, which is closed to live audiences, will soon run out of money, never had an Arts Council Grant, and has many people besides the actors depending on it for their livelihood and job satisfaction. I might have something of the same sympathy for the film industry if it were also under threat, because it employs huge numbers of people besides the actors, judging by the closing credits of films from the last few decades, and there are probably hundreds more people who carry out work on the periphery of the production process. I’m sure the film industry will have challenges due to coronavirus. Cinemas are closed, premiers and launches postponed, and there will be films at the financing and planning stage or part way through production which are stuck. If I came across an appeal to help rescue the Globe, I might make a donation, despite the argument I’ve made about SA. With film my personal response is that I will still watch DVDs, I won’t watch them online or subscribe to any streaming service, and I will go to the cinema when they re-open. This is just one area of the many examples of SA and DE requiring different perspectives and potential for responses. With more understanding of the urgency, the gap could close quite rapidly.

I am feeling some relief today because of an email from Trev with his ideas on the new PFAF book. He told me he is using a freelance permaculture writer, paying her out of his own pocket, to write pieces for the website, and he suggests some of her material could go in the book. Wendy and Ed have responded to my email about the Zoom meeting on Saturday, and Ed may be able to tell us how to have a subscription which may not be very costly. I now have to think how to steer the discussion in a helpful direction.

I’ve felt exhausted again today, despite not doing anything very strenuous. I washed the bedding, had a bath and washed my hair, made lunch, later I tied some string around the sunflower plants to deter cats from using the nice soft soil to poo in, as they do. The cause of my exhaustion may just be not sleeping well, plus a lot of buzzing and worrying, and brain work is tiring, perhaps especially with feeling I was drying up yesterday.

L sent a text to say the Pink Elephant book had arrived while she was in school. I hope it’s a reasonably nice copy.

Week Nine

Day 57

I am starting writing for today at 15:18, very late. This is largely because I got no further than reading through yesterday before getting involved in trying to see how I could get Zoom to work in my counselling session with Sophie at 12:00. There were two emails from Paul about Zoom, one to give the link and password for the PFAF meeting on Saturday, the other responding to my asking for his help and specifically to set up a rehearsal, and so he gave me a link and password for that – but for tomorrow, Friday, too late for the rehearsal. He did apologise for taking ages to get round to things, and also said it was good I’m getting counselling at last. I hadn’t heard from Sophie so I sent a reminder saying I’d like to try Zoom again. Then I made elevenses as Dave said I needed to boost my energy for the session with Sophie. I made fried bread and baked beans with fried tomato and mushrooms – my favourite energy boost and treat, which I always think is a bit naughty because baked beans are junk food. I had a mouthful of that then looked at my Inbox and Sophie had replied saying she’d emailed that morning – I looked back later and that didn’t come in my Inbox or in junk or deleted – and she gave me the link and password. Just before the time she set for the meeting, which was 11.55, I put in the link and after a bit of fiddling around, there she was and then she could see me. She is very young, in her twenties I think although I find it hard to judge, and I looked my usual ancient woman I don’t identify with. She said what she remembered us working on last week and she was right about that, and she asked how I was today. I told her about being upset by the phone call from my son, and I ended up telling her a version of that big horrible story. I won’t write about that here as I told her I wasn’t going to do that. I think talking about it was helpful, but afterwards I was thinking that everyone has ‘stuff’ from their past and maybe Dave is right that we just need to move on.

Before all that, Dave and I went out for him to shop at the Co-op and me to exercise, and there were very few people about and they were all still following the two metres distancing rule. That was a relief because I had been worrying at the news that more people were out and about, making gridlocks on the roads and dense crowds on some beaches. On the news last night Exmouth beach was mentioned as having been very crowded and Dave and I had been planning to go there today to have a long walk in an open situation. When we were talking about that I’d forgotten about the counselling session in the middle of the day, although we could have gone afterwards, but the news put us off – me especially, as I’ve become very scared of picking up the disease and vowed I would self-isolate even more strictly from now on, but this morning was fine as we went early.

There was an item on the Today programme which interested me as a follow on from thinking about the Globe theatre. They were saying Covid lockdown is harming all theatres because of no revenue from ticket sales coming in. Theatres are taking advantage of the government’s furlough scheme, which pays 80% of the salaries of staff who are kept on, but that runs out in October, and they think it’s unlikely that audiences will be back by then. One thing they mentioned was that people in theatre audiences in the UK number three times the number in the crowds who go to Premier League matches. They also talked about the contribution to the economy by the ‘creative industries’ – and I had to look that up see what it means and includes, and found it is ‘those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’.[54] The ‘arts and culture industry’ includes ‘book publishing, sound recording and music publishing, performing arts, artistic creation and operation of arts facilities’. On the website where these definitions come from, there are facts and figures and about people, jobs, seats, and lots about money such as turnover, grants, things like ‘Gross Value Added’ and ‘aggregate turnover’, and finally a mention of the arts and culture sector having ‘an important benefit on health and well-being’ and that ‘[p]eople valued being in the audience for the arts at about £2,000 per year, which is higher than sport’. For me there is something deeply weird about such stuff, and it made me think about the very different values of Tagore and Morris.

The Riverford box arrived today with not a lot in it given that we’re back with the small organic box and Riverford is apologising, and thanking customers for being understanding, because they’ve had to simplify what they supply. Our new box was dominated by a huge bunch of carrot tops, and the card that came with the box suggested making pesto with them, so I have cut some of the feathery bits off. The recipe said tops from one bunch of carrots, but it is so bulky so that even separating those feathery tips is hard work and leaves lost of stalky stuff to go in the compost via our not very big kitchen compost bin. The recipe suggests adding basil to it but we only have a small amount from the two seeds which came up. I could use marjoram of which we have plenty in the garden. To that is added nuts, garlic, olive oil and vegan parmesan, but I don’t like vegan cheese. I’ve always made peso from pine nuts and basil and not added parmesan when I used to add that before I went vegan, not realising it isn’t vegetarian. I think I’ll consult Dave before going any further.

Day 58

I made some carrot pesto with the bits I’d cut off, Dave pointing out that the Riverford recipe is for six portions, and he trudged down to the compost bin in the garden to get rid of the rest of the carrot tops. I whizzed together the feathery tops, some cashew nuts, garlic, salt and pepper, plenty of marjoram leaves and some olive oil, and scooped it out into a cup. I tasted it as I was adjusting the oil and it seemed ok, and decided it was really nice when I had some of a cream cracker biscuit. Dave agreed when he had some on his water biscuits – we have different taste in dry biscuits. I was feeling exhausted by then and went back to bed until nine o’clock when we watched the rest of The Princess of Montpensier, a period drama with gruesome battle scenes and lots galloping around and gorgeous costumes. There was also a bedecked camel at one point as part of a fancy dress pageant – love camels!

This morning we went to Teignmouth for Dave shop at Tibbs the greengrocer and I walked along the front. I wore some trousers I bought last year when I was trying to find something other than dungarees or long dresses that was comfortable with my bulge. I put them on to show Thalia at our Winter Solstice gathering but couldn’t keep them on because they were painful. Today I put them on for the first time since then and they’re fine.

I’d asked PFAF trustee Paul Harding who has technical expertise to help me with Zoom and arrange the Zoom meeting for PFAF on Saturday, tomorrow. He always takes a while to respond to requests but he did with this one but too late for the rehearsal prior to my counselling session I’d asked him for. He gave me a link, meeting id and password for today and I tried the link. All I got was my ancient face and nowhere to enter details for meeting Paul. I sent him and email about it and gave up until I hear back. I hope I can get Zoom to work for tomorrow’s meeting. I realised I had to send an email to the trustees on where we are with the new book. I started doing that on my laptop but I expect I’d go on to have problems with the cursor shifting if I brush against the touchpad so I’ve moved it to this PC. This is the main thing I’ve written today so it’s not inappropriate to copy it here.

Dear all,

I hope our meeting happens tomorrow – any doubt is due to the fact I’ve been having problems using Zoom. The main thing to discuss is the new book and I’m feeling optimistic that this will go ahead because of Trevor’s thoughts in a recent email.

In the paper I sent you in March with suggestions for a new book I said:

We began in Edible Shrubs to mention food forests and carbon farming, just in a short Introduction before the usual detailed plants pages in the bulk of the book. We have some material in blog posts and presentations to draw on for a more proactive book, presenting the PFAF database as a valuable resource for direct action to address climate change with a combination of drawdown, agroforestry and local community growing. Specifically, we offer information on around 8000 useful plants, a wide variety for designers to choose from, for tropical and temperate situations, with sophisticated search facilities including the option to restrict the choice to a 1500 plant subset of plants favoured by top experts in food forests and carbon farming, and presumably available from suppliers.


This book could be a continuation of the others, called perhaps Edible Forests, with a short introduction followed by illustrated plants pages featuring (say) 100 favourite plants from the 1500 now marked as ‘food forest’ and/or ‘carbon farming’.[55] Or we could produce a more exciting and different style of book, with more text on the climate change and ecological crises and how our database and search facilities provide invaluable resources for designers. This would mean more work, not least in blending text and illustrations.

It was a nice idea to go for a ‘more exciting and different style of book’, one that reflects the seriousness of the climate emergency, but I think realistically we have to go for a similar book to the ones we’ve produced before. All but one of those were titled Edible [something], so a suitable title for the new book would be Edible Forests: A Practical Guide, with the subtitle reflecting that we can now do better than a selection of ‘favourite’ plants, since Trevor has done such a lot of work to add to the value of the ~1500 set of plants you get in a search restricted to carbon faming and food forests.

These are Trevor’s suggestions for the main plants pages:

  • A selection of 100+ plants that are good for food forest;
  • Probably temperate zones only but with a little more emphasis on the US, although later we could do a ‘twin’ book on tropicals. (Most of our other books have been UK biased);
  • Plants chosen for layers: canopy, sub-canopy, shrub, climbing etc.;
  • Plants included for wildlife and other food forest building blocks, including a section of plants for nitrogen-fixing, companion plants, deep accumulators etc. These probably would be just a list section (like a box in the main text);
  • New icons for the above – an icon for good for wildlife, nitrogen-fixer etc.;
  • Less on medicine and more on edibility, food forest building;
  • Possible a section on propagation. I need to check this but I think we have a lot of repeat information. So possibly a section on division or seed sowing etc and then for each plant say propagate by cutting, seed, rather than a long detailed section for each plant;
  • A table for harvest time showing what to harvest in what month.

In other books we have had a few pages of introductory material before the main plants pages. With the ‘more exciting’ book in mind, I suggested ‘special interest topics’ with the trustees contributing a section each. Wendy has written a piece. David is working on a section about Carbon Farming and Food forests as best/only hope for human survival. I’ve contributed pieces to earlier introductions, but there is always a lot of work involved in editing so I’d rather concentrate on that. I had been a bit worried we wouldn’t have enough material even for the old-style format. However, Trevor has been using a freelance permaculture writer – paying her out of his own pocket – to write material for website pages, in particular: and, and she has also written a good piece on carbon farming. Trevor suggested we use some of this new material in the book, so I think we will have enough.

Looking forward to our discussion tomorrow, and your comments and suggestions on the new book.

Chris x

Day 59

We had the PFAF Zoom meeting and I didn’t have any technical hitch. Wendy did though, she couldn’t get the audio to work, tried using her phone instead, but then switched to another computer and that was successful, but Wendy looked small, a little face low down in her box in Zoom. Because I’d felt I looked ghastly on Zoom, I took some trouble this time, especially with my hair – it’s is such a joy to me that it grew back after so much falling out after the car crash. I also closed the curtain in my room that I’ve had open in order to see the yellow climbing roses outside. This was to reduce light on my face. I also angled the laptop screen and sat back so I wasn’t peering at the screen or keyboard. This seemed to work well. All of us were visible in boxes within Zoom, two by two and Wendy below and I presume we all saw the same and I looked OK, and Paul and then George said I looked well, much better since they’d seen me last. I told them briefly that I am better but still with mental and physical problems from the car crash and now Covid. But arranging myself as best I could and then actually feeling more relaxed and confident in the meeting made me sympathise with the regular social media users who go to so much trouble to look good, even, I gather, using software to improve the look of their skin and reshape their faces with virtual cosmetic surgery.

Much of the meeting we were just catching up and chatting, partly waiting for Wendy’s struggles to be resolved. We did discuss PFAF business, and the other trustees gave the go-ahead to the book, and agreed we should pay Trevor’s freelance writer he’s been using. I brought up my idea of a PFAF students network, and others had various ideas on interesting people in our database, with Ed offering to watch any relevant gardening and farming posts and videos online and make contacts. I told them about the mention of PFAF in the Guardian Weekend section a while ago and Paul said he would look into a google service which tells you of media mentions, I presume of a particular person or organisation. George rambled on bossily about what should really be in the new book as if he hadn’t read or engaged with my paper suggesting a more ambitious book in terms of content, structure and style, and inviting comments and suggestions and contributions. Anyway, I invited him to write something about what he had in mind – all contributions welcome! Wendy has been badgering her MP to put pressure over the new Agriculture Reform Bill which has a lot of good intentions regarding regenerative agriculture and rewilding, to try to make sure some of those actually happen. She also raised the issue of identifying suppliers of the plants we recommend. I mentioned Mandy Barber’s list which is now incorporated into our suppliers list on the website, Martin Crawford being top of that. I’ve just hunted that out via searches and found it at last and forwarded to Wendy. I suppose the searches didn’t locate it because I have a habit of leaving out spaces in document names, so this one was 181220manybarbersupplierslist, with nothing in the document itself with the words ‘mandy’ or ‘barber’ or ‘suppliers’ which is what I’d searched on.

The two books of American short stories I ordered came today, big fat books. I looked at the Contents and was surprised that Richard Ford the editor didn’t include even one of his own stories. I began to read his introduction to the first volume and it’s of course very intelligent and knowledgeable about the genre, and I was feeling very tired (as I do) so I gave up and had a nap.

Yesterday I was going to write something about the word ‘industry’ or ‘industries’, having encountered that coupled with football, hospitality, creative, and arts and culture, where it stands in for money and jobs and measures relevant to the economy and the state. It turns activities which are enjoyable in their own right – for some people anyway – into opportunities for exploitation and profit making. In manufacturing and construction – the part of the economy Johnson stated must be got going again after lockdown as a matter of urgency – it is people and planet (workers and ‘natural resources’) which are exploited: made to produce surplus value, cheaply and carelessly. With these other ‘industries’, it is people’s disposable income and their disposable time and energy for other activities than working which is exploited. In the SA scenario we should be moving to, people will have work which is vital for meeting basic needs – and everyone will participate equally in that – and they will have time for other activities, including fun and games, and it may be that those two will be blended and blurred. As in News from Nowhere, work needed for producing food will be communal and enjoyable. Everyone will be joining in with cooking and feasting, making clothes and dressing up, architecture and decorating, story telling and listening, singing, acting, dancing together and by turns. And crucially, as is very clear from Nowhere, nothing and no one is paid for, there is no property or ownership, no book learning that is admired and rewarded, just perhaps a residue that is a hobby for some oldsters who remember or have spoken to those who remembered the horrors of how things used to be done and the great ugly, destructive upheaval which left all that behind.

I sent a text to L yesterday suggesting we make a plan for a bring-your-own picnic at some National Trust garden when one is open. She is going back to school full time – she has been on a rota looking after a few children during lockdown – on 1 June for her usual teaching work, which means she is free on Mondays. I looked in my diary and found that Monday June 8th is a day before Fizz’s birthday, suggested Fizz come too and L said ‘that’s a plan!’ but that it might worry Fizz to have three households meeting up when the latest guidelines is only two. But the guidelines are so arbitrary and nonsensical in some circumstances that maybe Fizz won’t worry. We will keep two metres distance between is and any risk is worth it for the mental health benefit, I said, and L agreed.

Day 60

I read through Day 59 making a few changes, and I was going to print this out from page 34 and start a new document. I did the printing, but when I looked back at the first document, I saw it is 52 pages long and this one only 41 so far, so I decided to carry on until it’s 50 pages.

I’ve had various thoughts about what to write about today. One was about writing taking charge of time, stopping its dribbling flow, indeed its rush, where a week feels like a day, and counting the items in the wash surprises: where have all those days gone? A piece of writing is a balloon emerging from that dribble or rush. It has its own time which is enduring and has a different kind of duration.

Taking charge and defying time is empowering at best, and at least it gives a sense of achievement, even if the words and ideas are banal, like my cookery reports, included to make up my daily word count. Using the word ‘achievement’ made me think of people claiming as an achievement having done some physical fitness workout, albeit indoors on an exercise bike or round the garden or whatever they can manage under lockdown. The product of that activity could be a stronger and more shapely body and a sense of wellbeing, presumably caused by a rush of those famous endorphins, or perhaps taking pleasure in looking better to whoever is viewing you, including yourself, on some online platform: ‘Look at me looking good!’ the fitter you is transmitting via this, for me, insidious medium.

I read Richard Ford’s introduction to his collection of American short stories, and I read the first story twice to get a sense of the extent to which his choices and his preamble defines the genre: ‘The American Short Story’ as in the title of the published volume. I suppose because I had been pondering the matter of writing and time, I got something of the same idea from what Ford says the story does, the way it makes something out of what would otherwise have passed unmarked into the on and on of the everyday. This is not to say that any or all short stories depict unremarkable events and people, or even that they dress up the everyday into colour and sharp focus, and only that. I haven’t read many short stories, and to the extent that I have read what authors and literary critics say about the genre, I’m sure I got the wrong idea. I am looking forward to having my own ideas when I have read more of Ford’s collection. I did really like the first story, which was a day in the life of two prostitutes, quite an unusual day when a client took them and a male friend of his out for a picnic of champagne and whisky by a river and waterfall, and accidentally dropped one of the women on a rock cutting her head badly, and this was a woman who seemingly had cancer, but was just left alone in her room at the end. I recall one of Ford’s selection criteria, an item in what he likes in a story, is that it should end and not just stop – and I think I know what he means where the one story I have read is concerned.

I read the next short story, which could not have been more different, apart from its form of ending. I think what Ford means by an end is that the episode depicted is over, so the story has not stopped mid flow, and yet there is no closure or resolution, and in one’s mind the life or lives depicted would continue in some way, probably – as with these two stories – not happily. The story itself was set somewhere remote in the Sahel, where a professor of linguistic returns to a town he had been to before for his studies, where he expected to meet a hotelier he had befriended and exchanged letters with for a year. He got to the hotel and was told his friend had died. He tells the man serving that he wants a camel udder box – of all things! – and was escorted to where he was told these were to be found but was left in a remote spot with fierce dogs, was captured, had his tongue cut out and was clothed in tin cans and made to perform dances and acrobatics. He is sold to a new owner, fails to perform, then he runs off and a policeman takes a pot shot at him which misses and he carries on and the story ends. It is all very vivid and horrible but it is hard to sympathise because why on earth did someone who is a professor take such a stupid risk? I thought about reading another story, perhaps by one of the authors whose names I had at least heard of, if not their stories.

What is the point of reading pieces like these? While having a cup of fresh mint tea and a piece of Dave’s delicious flapjack, I picked up the Saturday Guardian Review section, which features reading suggestions by literary worthies from an ‘online Hay Festival’, with the title: ‘Turning the page: Our horizons may be limited, but reading can open up new worlds [...]’. So, ok, my reading of those two American short stories opened up two new worlds, not ones I would want to visit myself, with imaginary people I would not want to know, with problems in their realistic but imaginary lives that I could not do anything to remedy, even if I could seek and find a real life equivalent I might agitate about or send in a donation. So to return to my notion that writing challenges time by making something that stays around, out of ordinary life that disappears moment by moment. Yes, writing does that, but reading? what does that do? If anything it makes time slide away to no purpose faster. It is this demon distraction I’ve talked about before, which puts off the happy day when we pay attention to our having exhausted the planet and begin to do something about it – like, as a good start, cease wasting time reading short stories.

There are other things to read which may also be only distractions but which have the potential to be something else, a spur to action, material to employ to make a case for action. I would make such writing a genre, which just means kind or style, although usually applied to art or literature, perhaps I’d call it ‘spur to action’ writing. I read a piece in that genre this morning in New Left Review (NLR) called ‘The Land Question in 21st Century China: Four Camps and Five Scenarios’. NLR allows downloading its articles as pdfs so I have that now on this PC. I will write about how it might be a spur to action tomorrow.

Day 61

I listened to Start the Week on the radio and it was about teaching and learning about the classics. One of the guests was Edith Hall, author of A People’s History of Classics, a polemical work arguing that all children should learn the classics, in English translation, because the Greeks and Romans debated all the important issues which continue to need challenging today. I tried to buy a copy but it was out of stock at hivebooks and Waterstones and the only affordable one – £26 on abebooks – was already sold.

Back to ‘The Land Question in 21st Century China’, starting with this:

Rapid economic growth, urbanization and dramatic industrial expansion over the past four decades have transformed a poor country into the second largest economy in the world. Yet over 40 per cent of the population—about 564 million people—still live in the countryside, with an additional 173 million migrant workers moving back and forth between rural and urban areas. In other words, more than 700 million people continue to rely on land for at least part of their livelihood.

What excites me about this passage – and indeed the whole article – is that China, this huge country, now perhaps the top economic power in the world, despite and, who knows?, perhaps because of coronavirus wrecking economies elsewhere, including in the US, still has peasants with political clout. The UK has not had peasants since the Enclosure Acts deprived rural people of their common land. There are plenty of people who ‘live in the countryside’ in so-called villages and small towns but theirs is as urban a lifestyle as that of city dwellers. Some of that kind of thing is happening in China too, as one of the threats to those millions still relying on land for their livelihood is expropriation of rural land for building over with industrial parks or urban real estate.

Another point of interest is that the history of China as it involves peasants and the land is well known, and is set out in the article: from 1949 the Communist party of China (CPC) carried out sweeping land reforms that redistributed nearly half of all farmland from landlords to peasants; from 1955 the party-state made peasant households form cooperatives to which their land ownership and use rights were transferred; in 1958 the CPC launched the Great Leap Forward when farming cooperatives were organized into People’s Communes; the failure of the Great Leap led to a hierarchical arrangement which remained in place until the end of the Mao period; in 1978, the Chinese government launched the Reform Era policies that gradually replaced the planned economy with a market system, communes were abolished and collective farms divided up between households, on an equal basis; most villages continued to re-adjust land allocation according to changes in household size until the late 1990s; after 1992, Chinese government priorities shifted to the big cities, which were given a gigantic boost by easy credit access and favourable tax and land-use policies, while rural areas were neglected and starved of investment.

That the history of land use and ownership in China, at least since 1949, is more or less common knowledge, contrasts markedly with the equivalent in the UK. When Dave and I first moved to Devon, I made various efforts to get to know people and do some useful work, one of which was to volunteer in the Devon and Exeter Institution Library, which I heard about from Kevin Cahill, author of Who Owns Britain? I’ve just watched part of a YouTube video of a talk Cahill gave to a parliamentary debate on land ownership in 2015 chaired by John McDonnell. Cahill begins by pointing out that most of us don’t know who owns the land on what basis: ultimately the Queen, or how much land there is and how it is used: sixty millions acres, less than ten percent built on, and this is because such information is not on record or accessible to the public.

When I first pondered the question of what we know of how land use and ownership has changed in the UK, I thought the answer is very little, because people have little relationship with or interest in the land. What interests people is markets: supermarkets, job markets, housing markets. But that isn’t all, not for me anyhow and probably for others. I have seen how farming has changed, small mixed farms merged into bigger and more specialised ones, hedgerows dug out to make bigger fields, meadows replaced by grass leys, animal and fowl husbandry industrialised and mechanised and hugely scaled up. There was the Common Agricultural Policy. There were farm subsidies. There were grain and butter mountains and wine lakes. This is all indicative of government interference and regulation and poor planning, and an absence of any peasantry to draw change back towards rural reconstruction and local subsistence farming.

Rural reconstruction is the term I associate with Tagore’s work to revive rural communities, economies and cultures in India. Tagore declared that if his work were successful in only one or two villages, it would be a model for the whole of India. If it were applied throughout that country, and indeed the world, it would be a panacea. Hence I was excited to see the term used in the China article, as one of the four ‘camps’ of the article’s subtitle. Rural reconstructionists in China argue that the expansion of capitalist agriculture will undermine peasants’ livelihoods because large agrarian capital has a considerable advantage over small farmers in the markets for agricultural inputs and products, even if it does not have an edge in agricultural production. This camp is strongly against the privatization of farmland, as this would break up village communities and render small farmers even more vulnerable. Its solution is not to preserve the status quo, but to organize small farmers into cooperatives to increase their bargaining power in the market.

The struggle – if not open competition – between peasant agriculture and capitalist agriculture is complex, and one is bound to think beyond this article to what has been written about how that struggle may have been a contributory cause of the coronavirus pandemic. The article has a hint of the circumstances when it refers in positive terms to households managing to retain their land and use it for more remunerative undertakings in addition to regular food production, such as high-value cash crops. The breeding of exotic meats such as peacocks and pangolins for sale at ‘wet markets’ in the city is thought to have been made necessary by industrialised farming monopolising regular food production.

Day 62

I listened to A Life Scientific this morning, but almost skipped it this week after the announcement half an hour before the programme that the guest was a woman whose science career is in space exploration, and if there is anything that is a prime candidate for DE, it is surely that. I’ve looked up her name, it is Liz Seward.

I’ve found myself really upset by this programme and the attitude of Seward and Al-Khalili too. I feel it is an insult to the planet to talk about looking for life on Mars, taking samples from below the surface because microbial life could be present there, protected from harsh solar rays. There was one piece of work Seward was involved in which could be said to be useful, which was using lasers from a satellite to make images of wind variation in vertical slices through almost the whole thickness of the atmosphere. There was no sense though in what they said in the interview that this work had practical value and all the rest none. The atmosphere of the discussion was excitement, how thrilling to be doing yesterday’s science fiction for real. I might call that childish except that we have been seeing that children are better at appreciating the urgency of threats to the planet than many adults.

I was feeling so depressed I couldn’t bring myself to write anything. I don’t want to witter on about household stuff, although that can sometimes lead to a satisfying flow. Like many people right now I am disgusted at the prime minister’s top advisor breaking the lockdown rules, providing a pitiful and surely disingenuous explanation and no apology – but I confess I’m quite enjoying being one of so many others similarly disgusted, and the relief that brings that there are many sensible people out there.

There need to be sensible people out there for when we really move on saving the planet, and difficult part of that is understanding DESA: that we have to back right away from all that gives the illusion that our species is clever and successful – that’s the DE part – and also we have to be peasants again, rural reconstruction everywhere, for everyone. Minds are opening to that direction, and it is heartening to read about activism with the flavour of rural reconstruction. George Sobol, one of PFAF’s trustees, passed on a facebook post from the Landworkers Alliance (LWA) which I hadn’t heard of. I copied the post and printed it out, and towards the end it sys that LWA is a grassroots union representing small-scale farmers, growers and foresters in the UK. It campaigns for policies to support the infrastructure and markets central to its members livelihoods, building alliances and encouraging solidarity. That is a grouping I sympathise with, and in the present economic circumstances what they are campaigning about is important. The important thing for me is that they are growing food on a small scale, presumably for some customers local to them, not only aiming to do what the reconstructionists in China advocate: ‘organize small farmers into cooperatives to increase their bargaining power in the market’.

The facebook post is a report by LWA of a debate on the Agriculture Bill in the House of Commons on 13 May. LWA had asked its members to support Amendments 18/19 on Agroecology, and they had sent 4,990 letters to their MPs. This amendment was designed to raise the profile of agroecology, especially certified organic farming, with MPs, and secure promises from government that the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) ‘would provide for environmental measures adopted across the whole farm’. I can’t say I understand what that means, or the implications of partial adoption of these measures in any or all farms.

I’ve searched on Agriculture Bill on its own and coupled with agroecology and there’s a lot available online, including the progress of the Bill on the government website:,html and the LWA website: .

We’ve just had a Zoom meeting with Fizz and her family. She took her device around the garden to give us a tour. I’ve just seen we were on that for an hour and twenty minutes – too long really, would have been better with the free Zoom 40 minutes limit. Now I have no time to finish this. Neither of her children is going back to school until September. Laurie seems to be happy enough as he is set work and it gets marked promptly. Mindy seems less happy, she is a star footballer so misses that. She has been able to visit friends since the easing of lockdown. The family had booked to go to Russia this week so that is off. It was a big hassle getting visas. Fizz has just finished reading The Mirror and the Light, the final part of Hilary Mantel’s series about Thomas Cromwell and Fizz said it is brilliant, un-put-down-able, evokes the life and times very vividly.

I’m actually rather excited at having found LWA and their lobbying. I wonder if PFAF can connect to that somehow. I moved to the PFAF folder an email from University of Exeter asking me to update their alumni records about me and what I’m doing because I’m thinking I could put something about our food forests and carbon farming project – if it can be called that, but it could become a project to make contacts with small farmers and growers and students. I also thought I would look again at LinkedIn because I did join a permaculture group on there, and other things, ages ago, and recently joined a LinkedIn group for Exeter alumni.

I am sixty words short of my 1000 words for today. When I wrote about my disappointment with A Life Scientific, my intention was to use that to write more about the whole issue of what has to be given up for the planet. Some of these are just bad because they are distractions. Others are harmful, and space projects come into that category because of the various strong links to the US military. They have been funded because the technology can often be applied to weapons and surveillance. I remember the old excuse that more generally useful technologies have come out of such work, the one usually mentioned is Teflon, non-stick pans and suchlike.

Day 63

I listened to More or Less on the radio this morning, and it was particularly fascinating on people flying here before the lockdown on 23 March. I’ve asked Dave to listen to it via Sounds and make a note of the figures. He isn’t as bothered about avoiding streaming as I am. He deplores people spending hours on Netflix and other streaming services, but thinks small bursts are OK, and I did read that the carbon cost of YouTube is much less than that of streaming services. One thing that struck me about flying before lockdown was that the disease was probably spread by people flying from Europe. North Italy was mentioned, returning from skiing, and that’s exactly what Fizz and her family did, and she came back with cold-like symptoms, but not the ones then thought typical, like dry cough and fever. There were no tests available then.

I’ve made an email to the PFAF trustees on LWA and the agriculture bill, suggesting we do more to make links with small farmers and growers. George Monbiot mentioned the bill in the Guardian today saying MPs voted out the measure: ‘We will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.’ That is deeply shocking.

Dave listened to More or Less and made notes on the piece about flying, as follows:

Excess deaths in UK so far during pandemic: 60,000

Border Force stats: 18.1 million people entered UK by air from 1/1/20 to lockdown date23/3/20

During this period there was no screening or health checks on entry and less than 300 people were quarantined.

Programme makers attempted to break down the total and estimated:

7.5m were UK citizens returning home

Around 1m were foreign nationals returning to their UK home

2m were passengers transferring to another flight

So around 7.5m were foreign visitors coming to UK of which two thirds were from Europe around lm of whom from Italy. 90,000 came from Milan (Covid-19 hotspot) alone in February

Around 100,000 came from China. Some came from Wuhan in January but none from there once Chinese authorities imposed a lockdown there on 23 January

The total numbers of air travellers entering the UK for the whole 3 month January to March 2020 period was later announced to be 23.7m which implies that 5.6m people entered in the last 7 days of March when the epidemic was nearing its height in the UK.

Dave and I talked about this over lunch. I said I wasn’t going to fill my target of words with descriptions of what I cooked but today was quite special because there were five elements to the meal when very often I do one main dish and quite often just one or maybe two extras such as a green vegetable or fried tofu. This time I had a tricky set of ingredients, based mainly on what needed to be used up. That included quite a lot of leeks which had a hard core and were past their best; the chickpeas and aquafaba left over after Dave used some aquafaba for the macaroons, some of a cauliflower and its leaves, half the flat beans from last week’s veg box, some new potatoes, two large mushrooms from last visit to Tibbs, and I added a carrot, a bit of onion and two cloves of garlic. I fried the leeks in sunflower oil, then added the carrot, while I boiled the new potatoes, adding cauliflower pieces half way through. I added cauliflower leaves to the leeks and carrots. Once this was all soft, I added flour, plus steaming liquid and chickpeas and aquafaba, seasoning, soy sauce and paprika. I made a mushroom sauce with onion, garlic, mushrooms, flour and oat milk, put the beans on to steam, fried the potatoes, then the floured cauliflower, hence, as I said five dishes, and it was lovely. And we did talk about flying.

Dave and I have both got ‘a thing about flying’, seeing it as the worst human activity for the planet, but he’s got it worse, I think. One thing we disagree about somewhat is over all the people who fly to resorts in Spain and elsewhere for two weeks in the summer to lie on the beach, which Dave condemns but I am more understanding, because of my socialist sympathies. The working class needs its annual holiday, which used to be at a seaside resort in the UK but is now abroad. Those masses add up to a lot of flying admittedly, but they are not frequent flyers, and my understanding is that the bulk of the flights are made by quite a small number of people who are frequent flyers. I include amongst them the comfortably off retirees like those I meet through U3A, who fly several times a year to exotic, or at least new to them, locations catering for sightseers like themselves, taken by coach or cruise boats to see the sights, escorted by an informed guide. We went on one such tour ourselves two years ago, to Cities of Empire in Europe and we travelled by train, so we didn’t fly and it was a rare event for us, but it gave us a taste of tourism put on for our age group.

Our feeling – on this we are in complete agreement – is that a public questioning of flying is essential to a waking up to the realisation that we all need to think about our exhausted planet all the time, relating everything else in life to that, open to deciding on action or desisting from action according to its effect on the ecological and climate emergency.

We have just been working in the top garden to clear a space for some cabbage plants. We didn’t get as far as the planting because it was so hot and both of us were tired, me especially. The patch needs raking and some good compost adding to the soil. I saw lots of raspberries coming on but I don’t think we’ll get fruit unless the plants are watered. It is so dry, and there was a mention of the news of hosepipe bans. An item in the Guardian today is about further evidence that climate change is an emergency and is anthropogenic. The writer wondered what the world will be like for his now nine year old daughter when she is in her eighties. I don’t think it’s helpful to talk always about predictions for the end of the century, when surely we’re feeling the effects already.

The second-hand copy I ordered of George Eliot’s Silas Marner and two short stories arrived today. I’ll be interested to read the novel to see if I’ve read it before.

Week Ten

Day 64

I’m enjoying reading an historical novel Dave got for himself and passed on to me, called The Great Level by Stella Tillyard. The central character is a Dutch engineer employed to drain the Fens. He develops a relationship with a woman of the people who live in and from the marshes, teaches her to read and write, using a book on engineering which is the only one he has, and she evidently comes to understand that, and his maps of the works, and it seems betrays him by passing on to her people how to make enough breaches to destroy the works, at least for some time. There are awful descriptions of the suffering of the prisoners from Cromwell’s wars who are made to do the labour.

I had another session via Zoom with my counsellor Sophie but before it started I was thinking I didn’t know what my state of mind is or what we could work on. I began by saying I felt after our last session that it was self-indulgent on my part to pour out all my feelings about something that happened so long ago (the awful story of my first husband and son), and that I agree with Dave that everyone has those kinds of things in their history and it’s best to put them behind us and move on. Sophie said it’s fine to share those feelings and have them listened to, and I have felt helped by her acknowledgements. I talked about my mother telling me ‘I never wanted you, you know,’ and that I did know that. I told her about how when I was a baby my mother left me with my grandmother to go driving an ambulance picking up casualties of the bombing in London. Sophie asked if that was a sacrifice she made for a greater cause, and I said that my mother enjoyed the war and her role in it. I shared my memory of myself toddling round the little front garden of the house in Enfield, with its little box hedge and paving stones maze, and twisting my thumb in the top of my dress and putting two fingers in my mouth. It was a dark little garden but there was something comforting about walking round it, and I told Sophie that I love that little girl and it helps me now to feel that. I talked about my grandmother asking me to dance to the music broadcast on the Home Service on the wireless and that she had loved me, maybe too much and I got fat, which worried my father when he came home after the war and I was taken to a specialist. I said I was an unattractive child: fat, with glasses from aged four and later a brace, and I was teased at school because I cried easily. Sophie said it wasn’t right that I was treated like that, how I looked did not excuse such treatment. There was more we talked about but I can’t write it down.

I’ve had a third email from Exeter uni inviting me to participate in their survey – with the chance to win £100 in a draw. I’d actually moved the last email from them to my PFAF folder because I’d thought it was an opportunity to put something about our charity to interest students. This time I looked at the survey and it would be a waste of time. Not surprisingly I suppose, it’s all about money: how much do you earn, are you a donor already, how valuable did you find your time at Exeter?

I felt exhausted after the counselling session, but I’m often exhausted, and don’t know why. Maybe I’m just bored, with myself, with trying to write and think what to write, of being shielded, of being scared to go out, of the whole Covid horror and nonsense, of having to be content with being horrified and critical and cynical, of wanting to hear from my daughters, of cooking, of being so old and caring about that and much else that I can’t do anything about. I’m also bored with my shoulder being painful again, a resurgence of my torn rotator cuff – perhaps I’ve mentioned that before. Most of all I am bored with living in Dawlish when the only good thing to come out of our ghastly car crash was our agreement that we would move – perhaps to Bristol. Dawlish continues to be boring with endless emails from people who want to join the Dawlish Local History Group facebook page – which I set up originally, which is why I get all these emails to just delete. There is other history group correspondence, often from people whose relatives once lived here and did we know anything about them. Somebody else from the group will answer them, usually saying there’s nothing on our database, a recent one saying there are graves with their name in the churchyard. It’s a peculiar sort of egoism to want to trace one’s ancestry, but isn’t that mean of me; it’s a harmless hobby, that could perhaps lead to some understanding of social history.

Dave was saying this morning that the reports of Covid deaths in this country: 60,000 as compared with those in others is misleading, especially compared with the US: 100,000, which has over four times the population: 300m compared with our 67m, and perhaps it’s a government conspiracy, so I searched online for reports of deaths per million in different countries and as Dave expected the UK is right at the top of the list with the US several countries down, this from a comparative report in the FT on excess deaths.

Dave called me out into the garden to decide where to put the pot full of cabbage seedlings he’s been nurturing. I split them up as best I could, but a mass of root unattached to any shoot was left over. He also asked me to tie some more string around the tomato plants. Dave also planted another row of spinach seeds as hardly any came up of the ones I planted so carefully a few weeks ago, and I put in some peas too.

Day 65

I finished The Great Level and got more enjoyment reading it in bed in the morning than I had from the bits I have been reading at night before going to sleep, and when awake in the night or too early to get up, hoping to get back to sleep again. I had a morning without the Today programme because I’d watched Newsnight last night so was completely up to date on the Covid saga. It is Friday so Moslem God bothering day, so maybe I’ll do the same tomorrow as the Jewish one and then perhaps mind less about missing the radio on Sunday which is the main UK God bothering day.

I’ve been thinking about the coming new episode in my life, looking forward to what that might be, what I shall be able to do, the people I might meet, the groups I might join. Apparently estate agents are going to open soon so we can embark on Dave’s plan which starts with getting advice about selling this house, perhaps with the side of the garden we bought separately from the previous owners who had got some planning consent for a house or maybe two semis to be built on it.

I looked at my emails, the most interesting usually being about facebook posts. There was one from Sue Haswell sharing a letter from Richard Bradshaw to his MP Simon Jupp, East Devon, Conservative, about the Dominic Cummings saga. It inspired me to write to my MP, Anne Marie Morris, Newton Abbot, Conservative. Richard concentrated on the idea of doing our civic duty, as we were instructed by Matt Hancock. I looked at today’s Guardian with my letter in mind and there’s a quote from Johnson about people who are shielding that I’ll use. There is also a heading mentioning barbecues on the front page which made me think of the fires caused by disposable ones – I’ll look that up to get details – the point being that the cautious steps towards ending the lockdown require people to be responsible. This is going to be much more difficult than the straightforward ‘stay at home’, so to have the PM’s top advisor bend the rules to suit his personal convenience is really dangerous. Cummings’ excuse that what he did was legal because child care is made an exception to staying at home is disingenuous because that exception was put in with children who are at risk in mind, not for the privileged parents of privileged children. I asked Dave to help me find the facts and authoritative sources, and he sent me an eight page document. It has taken me a while but here is my letter:

Dear Ms Morris,

Please add your voice to those of almost 100 Conservative MPs who are critical of Dominic Cummings for his careless disregard of the quarantine laws and guidance, and moved by letters from their constituents who have made heart-rending sacrifices and feel betrayed by his refusal to consider his position. (I have researched this matter carefully myself and Cummings certainly took advantage of a clause in the government’s quarantine laws introduced to protect children stuck in domestic abuse households.) There is now serious concern that Cummings’ conduct is being used to excuse irresponsible behaviour which could lead to a second wave of the epidemic. We know there are people who are impatient with being told what they may or may not do. One notable and serious example of such attitudes is local news about forest fires started by people carelessly leaving disposable barbecues behind. Due to my compromised immune system I was one of those to receive a letter in March telling us to shield ourselves for twelve weeks by remaining at home. The prime minister has thanked us because our efforts ‘have helped the NHS to cope’. I am now frightened that it will never be safe for us to leave our houses and see our families again. The people of this country pulled together to save the NHS and to save lives. It is deeply wrong that this renegade government advisor is being allowed to stay in his post, having set such a dangerous example.

I sent that to Morris via the ‘Contact me’ form on her website. I doubt if I’ll get a reply as she has a reputation of laziness or carelessness with letters from constituents, perhaps this is mainly when she dismisses them as political. Perhaps she is better when she is being asked for help and when people attend her surgeries. We were very surprised when she was re-elected with a handsome majority in 2019 to the Newton Abbot constituency, as other parties do well in local elections and there is quite a lot of deprivation in this area, but of course deprived people often don’t vote, and so many people were taken in by the simplistic slogan of ‘Get Brexit Done’, which was thought up by Cummings. Morris was a very vocal supporter of a No Deal Brexit, and as thoroughly nasty woman. How do people like that get into politics? Dave the cynic says it’s a necessary qualification.

I’ve taken so long fiddling with that letter I’m short of my daily target of words, so, again, a bit about food and cooking. The Riverford box included bunched carrots with masses of tops, which I put into a glass of water yesterday as I wasn’t in the mood to make pesto out of them. I did that today, and included some pine nuts with the cashews and it was, again, delicious. Dave went shopping and I didn’t want to go as there are more people about, but I’d warned him not to buy lots of extra food as I don’t like having too much and either wasting it – putting it into the compost – or more likely using up oldest first so we miss out on eating things when they are freshest and best. We had a huge lettuce with the box and salad leaves, and there was coleslaw leftover, so I had to do something that would go well with salad. Rissoles are good for that, so Dave made potatoes for mashing and also cooked some brown lentils. He also chopped carrots, red pepper and aubergine and garlic. He forgot the onion so I did that, also some mushrooms. It was all chopped small. I asked Dave to get some herbs. Instead of chopping them up to add to the mashed potato, lentils and fried vegetables mix, I put the herbs in the mixer where I’d made breadcrumbs for coating the rissoles. So I had to add some herby breadcrumbs to the mixture which made it fall apart when I moulded the rissoles, and rolled them in the rest of the herby breadcrumbs. I managed to fry them in spite of that and they were delicious.

Day 66

I’m on page 50 so I could print this document out and start a new one, but I don’t want to do that as I’d like to start on a high note and I’m feeling anything but high. I kept up the idea of God bothering days for all three Religions of the Book so didn’t listen to Today. Instead I read Silas Marner which I’m enjoying. The central character is a strange lonely soul, a weaver who left his previous village accused of a theft carried out by his best friend, someone he’d looked up to, who then married the woman Marner had been engaged to. The old village revolved around a superstitious Christian chapel which cast lots to decide of guilt or innocence. Marner had been under suspicion before because of his knowledge of medicinal herbs, and that also affected how he was seen in the village he escaped to. Eliot’s descriptions of the attitudes of people in these small communities are very affecting. The way people accept social divides, grateful to rich residents for the occasional feasts put on for them, reminded me a little of Tagore’s similar acceptance – so long as the rich man does his duty, which meant maintaining roads and bridges, something those in Eliot’s story may be supposed also to do, even if that doesn’t feature.

The highlight of my day is that I’ve washed two of the curtains in my room that were stained when we had very heavy rain which found its way through mucky tiles onto the windowsills. Now of course, there is no rain, this May has been the driest on record according to the weather man on the local TV news. Another highlight was a text from L again suggesting we meet up on 8 June, but no mention of Fizz joining us. The difficulty is finding a suitable venue. L gets emails from the National Wildlife Trust and nominated Collyers Brook in Dorset, and I mentioned the wildfires, and said I would get ‘Dave Tours’ onto it – this is a reference to Dave’s reputation for being good at investigating and arranging trips.

I’ve hung out two curtains outside, both almost dry as the fabric is not absorbent, so I decided to wash the other two. Now it is very bright, sunny and cheerful in my room – but not good for my books, some of which have faded despite the curtains. The view outside is mainly of our enormous climbing hydrangea which has nowhere to climb to so new growth that keeps coming reaches upwards with fronds ready to curl around anything they can find, but there’s nothing above. Sad really. We bought it because I have fond memories of a climbing hydrangea in a corner of the north facing back of our house called Durlston in Cookham. But that one did have heights to climb and it flowered beautifully whereas ours doesn’t. The flowers are lovely, unlike the big pompoms of ordinary pink or blue hydrangea shrubs, the climbing ones have white flowers in a ring and flat in the centres.

I was dashing around earlier from one thing to another and felt queasy, so asked Dave to do the salad and turn the oven off. I had made stuffed aubergine with the rest of the rissole mixture plus a chopped onion and the aubergine flesh cut out, but my half collapsed when I tried to serve it up because it had been in the oven too long. I’d also made fried tofu, but perhaps the whole thing had too much oil, although the dietician at Exeter said I needed oil, and it is essential for skin and connective tissue. I went back to bed after that as I hadn’t slept well – as usual. I think I need more exercise but I’ve become scared to go out. I carried on reading Silas Marner then slept for a while. I read Dave a bit from the book about irresponsible people worshipping the god Chance. Dave has hung back up the first two curtains I washed, and the other two, again hardly damp at all after washing, are on the line. He has been trying to find somewhere we could meet L and family on 8 June, hoping to find somewhere suitable half way between us and hasn’t, at least not yet.

My state of mind is a problem. I feel low, but calm, not about to burst into tears, as if I’d taken some dulling medicine. I’ve had three sessions with Sophie, and last time she asked me if those times when I cried hysterically were panic attacks. I said I don’t know what a panic attack is, and she said it’s when someone cannot breathe, and I said that doesn’t happen to me, but thinking again about it now, I do gasp for breath, but sobbing does need lots of breath. Anyway, I don’t feel now as if that could be triggered by those things that make me feel I don’t exist. I think something has shifted since my last session, in me and in Dave too, as if he has some understanding of what depression is as I experience it. One thing that happened yesterday evening is interesting. I had a painful distended tummy and felt exhausted, as seems to be a regular evening pattern, but I made myself get up and rinse the bathroom floor because I’d used too much detergent in the water when I washed it earlier and realised that when I got a cloth to rub at a white mark that was still there, an imperfection in the pristine floor, and found it lathered up, showing that the whole floor needed a rinse. After forcing myself to do that I felt well, the distension subsided and I felt alert.

This is all very dreary stuff. I should be writing about my ideas for saving the planet. Dave was just saying that there is a lot of items in the Guardian with commentary on action related to climate change. I’ve got to the bottom of page 51, time to print and start a new document.


Day 67

I’m excited about starting my third document making up my Twelve Weeks of writing a thousand words a day. I’m going to concentrate on getting changes underway that are needed to save the planet, and on being active myself despite shielding – and I’ll ask Fizz again whether or not that applies to me.

Today I’m going to write about what I might put in a letter to Caroline Lucas, whose name came up as a fellow alumna when I wrote to the Exeter academics who had done a study showing that being in gardens helps people’s health and wellbeing, to see if they might help raise interest amongst students in the PFAF food forests and carbon farming project. Dave suggested at the time that I write to Lucas about that, and that I should join the Green Party, so that’s the next thing to do – after resigning from the Labour Party. I’ve asked Dave to cancel my direct debit and then I have to notify the secretary of the constituency by email – no need to return my ripped up membership card, although that wouldn’t be easy since it isn’t a card but a plastic thing. Dave said I should get involved in the campaign for proportional representation because the Green Party will not have political power without that, but the Labour Party would need to get into power to get that enacted – but would they? It makes me wonder about belonging to any party. I joined Labour to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as leader but I was disappointed not to be able to get involved with the local branch due a fault with the computer system the party used.

I don’t know much about the Green Party nowadays. I was a member some years ago – before we moved here. I belonged to a permaculture group in the party. I wonder if that still exists. Carolyn Lucas is no longer one of the co-leaders, just a well known figure and the sole Green MP, so I wonder of she would reply to me if I were to write. Perhaps I should join and then find our what’s going on locally. There may be some group more relevant to PFAF than a permaculture group. There are sure to be peopled interested in the new Agriculture Bill.

I’ve just watched and listened to Carolyn Lucas on YouTube with a message about joining her on the final ‘Clap for Carers’. It was about people’s responses to the pandemic having demonstrated that we care about each other and can make sacrifices for a collective cause, and that the climate crisis needs such a response for a Green recovery. I replied to the email with the link and got an automatic reply thanking me and saying they are extremely busy with high volumes of emails. That is good in a way but the automatic communications which one encounters are dehumanising. I have sometimes thought I would like to write actual letters, but now is not the time since we’d soon run out of stamps and have to go to the post office which is one place with a risk of contact with the virus which is avoidable.

I said I might not worry about my target of a thousand words a day in this third document, or resort to writing about my moody ups and downs, house and garden chores and cooking to get the word count up. One chore that Dave has lined up for me is to make us a cloth face mask each. He’s been suggesting for a while that I make at least one for him because of the notice on the Co-op door asking customers to wear them – but that is because the Co-op is a chain with stores around the country and in some places the masks will be more necessary than here. He said I must make two before next Monday when we are going on this trip to meet L and family at a distance. The venue is quite a long drive from here so Dave is talking about stopping at a petrol station for a loo break and wearing masks and using protection and a hand washing kit. I said I would rather pee behind a bush and to take loo paper. I do badly want to see them and I say and put in texts to L that the risk is worth taking, but I’m not sure. Sue Haswell put a link on facebook to a piece on blood clots caused by the virus which made me think I might be vulnerable to that because of the bleeding I get under the skin of my hands and wrists with the slightest of bangs or squeezes. But I did have a blood test – for platelets, I think it was – and I was OK.

There, still writing about stuff other than saving the planet. Never mind, I do have to survive if I am to do anything. Also my angle on all this is what we have to stop doing for the sake of the planet, and stop valuing, stop relying on, and online technology is a big part of that. What I’d like to be able to do is something like Greta Thunberg did, go to the gates of Downing Street with a placard saying I’m shielding myself and the planet right here by turning up, a witness, as an example of stopping everything else that’s going on until everyone is doing the same, ready to go forward in a new direction: De-Evolve and Start Again.

It’s interesting to see the divide opening up in the Tory party over Dominic Cummings, with those who want to ‘move on’ also impatient for the economy to restart, and tacitly unworried that people are still dying in large numbers, but only people who are not economically active, people in care homes or being cared for at home, they are expendable although they cannot say that openly, instead they talk about people suffering because they can’t get back to work, and it’s obvious they don’t care about those people either.

There, I’ve written a thousand words after all. Perhaps my resolve can be that if I write useful words on DESA, I don’t need to bother about the target.

Day 68

I didn’t draft a letter to Caroline Lucas yesterday, I just wondered about doing so. Well, so be it, maybe I shall just have to burble on, or give up what is probably pretty pointless – and I didn’t enjoy writing ‘pointless’ because it is, capitalised probably, the name of a TV quiz programme, one which Dave has occasionally watched, but switched off when I came in, and he did once tell me what its curious format involved.

One useful thought I had over lunch – I’m inwardly groaning at myself for adding that lunch was a very delicious stir fry – was that DESA means giving up all illusions that humans are in control. We kid ourselves in all sorts of ways. We are not in control of the weather, which is worrying at the moment because May just gone was the driest May on record, but we think someone, some people, hence us collectively, is in control because we are given weather forecasts, so whoever is involved in producing those is in control. Similarly, we get a sense that we, collectively, are in control of climate change, or soon will be, which is just as good, because there are international agreements made, targets set, studies done, articles written from all sorts of angles. Hence no panic, no pledge to have a bulletin on climate change on every news programme, which would be a start.

I listened to Start the Week with Andrew Marr this morning. I enjoyed the earlier broadcast of that programme when they talked about provincialism and I got interested in Richard Ford and George Eliot and short stories. And today’s topic promised to be really interesting as it was about what will be changed after Covid. One of the guests puts on workshops all over the place on being imaginative about the future. The other one wrote a piece in London Review of Books (I think) about not having children as a response to the climate crisis. Marr himself closed the programme by saying that what was said had been more positive than he or listeners might have been expecting. One point that the no children guest said was that Paul and Anne Ehrlich were wrong in their Malthusian prediction in their book The Population Bomb because the Green Revolution came in with hybrid crops, irrigation and fertilisers and there was masses more food. Well, yes, but who got that food? and how long did the bonanza last? and what’s been the effect on the land and subsistence farming communities? And the idea that other technological breakthroughs will change the future that we imagine but cannot know is again believing that humans collectively are in control.

Dave and I went to Teignmouth this morning for me to get exercise and Dave to shop at Tibbs the greengrocer. I was very nervous as there are now many more people about. It was still possible to keep a two metre distance or at least turn away, but at one point I was dodging from side to side of the path to achieve this and I think I startled someone behind me, who cried out. There was an announcement, I think on Saturday, that people who are shielding can now go outside, with someone from their household and not to the shops, but a woman on the Today programme said she was too nervous to do it. As with all the other lockdown easing measures, there’s precious little information about why this is thought to be safe. My feeling is that MPs have had lots of letters from shielding people saying they feel neglected and left behind so they were given this present to make them happier. The Guardian said it was a PR stunt.

Dave is on the phone with his friend Jan and they will go on for an hour. They have known each other since Jan’s children were babies, forty to fifty years ago. She asked him what he was doing and he said writing for a book on food forests, and she evidently asked what these are, and I found myself unable to stay in the room while he was rather vague about that, which is fine as it’s just a social call. I like Jan although I have a problem with the fact that she’s wealthy due to her husband having worked at CERN in Geneva, I presume paying little or no tax and also getting a big pension. Jan wears loads of gold jewellery given by her husband, and owns several properties. She also approves of those of her children who have made lots of money and not the one who was a rebel. Long story, indeed lots of long stories, and I think Dave and I have shifted Jan’s political views and attitudes somewhat over the years.

Before that call came, I went into the front garden and felled – literally – some enormous docks with masses of bindweed around them growing on the side of the pond. They have been bugging me but I shouldn’t really do work like that because of my shoulder giving me trouble again. I mentioned them at lunch and Dave said we will have to get another gardener when Martin, whom we’ve had helping us for years, eventually gives up. He has been planning to do so for a couple of years, and is moving to a flat in Spain, delighted not to have to do gardening any more. His departure is delayed by Covid travel restrictions, but I expect they will be lifted soon. I read that Spain is welcoming visitors as they are a major part of the economy. Martin and his family will be going for good so the quarantine period for people entering the UK won’t apply.

I went out yesterday evening to help Dave water the front garden with the hose. My job is to manage the very long hosepipes, so he can reach different areas, and he says it’s a big help although I’m standing around much of the time. If it were not for my shoulder problem I’d be busy doing weeding and dead heading. Dave mentioned again today the bindweed round the soft fruit bushes which has been my job in previous years. It’s important not to pull the weed off the shrubs, just cut the bindweed stems so the weed above the cut dies, and you can maybe seek where they’ve emerged from the ground and pull them up from there. I did this with our raspberry patch in the top garden a while ago, but now the bindweed is back, not as bad as it was although Dave doesn’t remember that.

Day 69

Dave and I both listened to The Life Scientific because the guest was Jane Goodall. She was brilliant, in the way she manages to cover all the issues and concerns – including how cruel and terrible industrial farming is. She said pigs are as intelligent as dogs and mentioned ‘Pigcasso’ so I must look that up. One part of what she said about chimpanzees struck me. She said they have strict hierarchies and that she had seen civil war break out when there were too many alpha males for the territory. She was originally sent to Africa by the famous anthropologist Richard Leakey to investigate chimpanzee behaviour because of his interest in their common ancestry with humans. What Goodall said about chimpanzee hierarchies made me think I need to revise my theory that it was agriculture capable of yielding surpluses which led to our social divisions, hierarchies, division of labour, but not I think abandoning that idea altogether. Perhaps agriculture gave more powerful rein to our tendencies for hierarchical social behaviour.

I have just finished watching – streaming! – an hour and forty minutes documentary film called Planet of the Humans by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore. It has been free on YouTube and viewed over eight million times. It totally debunks green movements like the Sierra Club for falling for Green energy, showing the dependence on fossil fuels of solar, wind and biofuels, being especially critical of power plants fuelled by woodchips. It comes down heavily on the billionaires and big businesses that support and fund all these green cons. It is very hard on Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, founder of (climate campaign operating in 188 countries). It shows the mining and processing required for green energy, how solar panels and wind turbines last only a few years, and have to be backed up by coal and gas, even in a huge rally that was supposed to be powered by solar and really by diesel. It shows how biodiesel and ethanol destroy forests. It shows that deserts are precious ecosystems, not expendable empty areas suitable for solar farms. It shows that capitalism, economic growth and business-as-usual is behind all the supposed developments and promotions of alternative energy, and that green initiatives are funded by all the baddies in big industry, fossil fuels and also banks. It also shows how trusting many well-meaning people are in the promise of Green energy, and how ignorant. I have put my Twelve Weeks writing in a folder called ‘endcapitalism’ and that is just what we have to do, as Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore would agree. The trouble is they don’t offer in this documentary any solution other than reducing the human population, and no ideas about how even that might be achieved. I asked Dave to watch the film, and he has watched part of it, making notes, which he found very tiring. I’m not sure what it would add to what he knows already – especially as it needs backing with facts and figures, of which there were some but hard to catch when someone spouts them out against disturbing pictures, sound effects and dramatic music.

Trev sent his regular PFAF emails with his invoice and the trustees report, so I paid him and forwarded the report on. I liked what he wrote about work he’s doing on the new book which should make it the ‘practical guide’ Dave suggested as its subtitle. Trev’s looking through the food forest plants we have to make a selection of possible plants to be included. He’d like to add a new section on native plants to a particular country, more detailed in the US as their climate zones are so different depending on the location, also true for Australia. In the trustees report he included a breakdown of books sales by country and far more copies are sold in the US than in the other nine countries, so it’s important the information is as good as possible for the US.

Following on from my work yesterday in the garden, Dave cut back one of the enormous kale plants by the pond which was overhanging the path. He cut off more than I would have done, right through some very thick stems. I asked him to pile them on the car park for me to go through and pick some edible leaves, many being damaged by aphids and snails. He doubted I would find very much but there was enough to make bubble and squeak which was lovely. Earlier I had a phone consultation with a dietician, Katie, from Exeter hospital. I reported that I’ve put on weight and that advice from the trainee who was with her when I saw her in January led to me stopping taking regular penicillin, which seems to have solved the problem with not digesting what I ate because the antibiotic had destroyed my guts microbiome. She suggested I contact her colleague Kirstie, whom I saw at the ICU clinic in January, if I need further advice, and she gave me her contact phone number at the hospital. It didn’t help me much to talk to Katie where my diet is concerned but it’s good to have someone care about I am, albeit professionally.

I’m feeling exhausted again – not something I mentioned to the dietician as a regular thing – despite having slept well last night, with deep urgent dreams unconnected with hospital, which is a good sign. I was organising some sort of socialist meeting or conference and had left things to the last minute so I was in a panic, later I was trying to decide what to do with some quantity of liquid which might be a drink, or stock for use in cooking or perhaps a medicine. I woke up at dawn as I usually do but went to sleep again without needing to read, and woke up just before eight o’clock. Yesterday evening we were watching an early episode of the police procedural set in and called Shetland. We set subtitles on, partly because of my poor hearing but also difficulty with the accent, and if I’m tired I often have trouble stopping subtitles from going double, so I was tired and had a nap part way through and so it was good that I slept well at night. I do usually sleep better after a walk, which I’d had when we went to Teignmouth, so that would be why.

Day 70

I had my usual short night of sleep last night, waking up at dawn, and I got up to see if it was raining yet, as that had been forecast, but it wasn’t. I didn’t get back to sleep so read more of the Eliot short story which doesn’t seem very short. It’s called ‘Lifting the Veil’ and it’s about a rather weak and dreamy young man finding he was able to have premonitions and also see the characters of everyone he encountered, apart from that of Bertha, the soon-to-be fiancé of his much stronger brother, their father’s heir and his pride and joy. She is a mystery and so he adores her, despite having a vivid dream where they are married and hate each other. The dream comes true when his brother is killed in a riding accident. I haven’t got to the end yet. I’d always thought ‘short’ indicated you could read a story in one session, but I suppose reading to go to sleep is different.

It did rain later on and quite steadily and heavily, not ‘showers’ as the forecaster said, and very welcome. We won’t have to drag the hoses out and round the gardens today. We went out in the rain for Dave to get some heavy things from the Co-op, like bottles of beer (non-alcoholic), sunflower oil and baked beans. On the way we saw that the Brook was flowing surprisingly strongly, considering how low it had been. There were geese with their goslings on the Lawn and we were chased off as a threat. I walked to the sea front and there were few people about, then back to the Co-op for Dave to load the heavy stuff into the trundle. We got quite wet but happy to be out in the rain as it was so welcome for the garden.

I spent some time preparing to reply to Trev’s email yesterday. I wanted to try some searches to see how many plants came up, particularly ones with high edibility rating. I think that what I then wrote counts towards today so here it is:

Your work on the new book sounds good – I like the idea of a new section on native plants to a particular country, particularly for the US as I note we sell far more books there than anywhere else.

I’m wondering at what stage I could help and how. You are selecting on the basis of quite a lot of parameters: food forest, temperate, layers, wildlife, food forest building blocks, propagation, harvest time, and now native plants and climate zones, so I wonder if I could concentrate on the potential mix of edible yields and food values. I’ve been playing with searches and I started with one for edibility 5 and special uses food forest and carbon farming and I got a table of 114 plants, which is about the number we need. I see there are near duplicates in that list from a cooking point of view: lots of onions and fruit, and one plant (maybe others) that takes too long to yield: Ken’s favourite Monkey Puzzle Tree. Searching on food forest and carbon farming and edibility 4 or 5 gave 412 plants. Searching on food forest and edibility 4 or 5 got me 309 plants. A search on carbon farming with all the staple crops ticked got 280 plants. Without looking up the plants pages, I couldn’t take account of the parameters you are taking into account, well, some I could, like layers, but there’s little point in me trying to duplicate what you are doing. But if you send me your draft longlist, in sections by layer perhaps, I could look at the potential for harvesting enough of the right kinds of foods. Would that help? I could also look at that with a view to an intro piece on vegan-organics.

We’re both fine, but are struggling to manage the garden, both in terms of the invasive weeds, also massively overgrown perennial kales, and keeping some annual vegs going in the driest May on record. It did rain today, quite hard for a little while, but it’s stopped now and no more forecast in coming days.

Loved your rainbow lorikeet! What’s its story? Surprise visitor or are there lots of them eating your bananas?

I read out to Dave what I wrote yesterday on Planet of the Humans and discussed what should happen if the message is widely received that alternative energy has been taken over by big business and is not going to solve the climate crisis. Dave said that wind and solar can be done better than the poor quality installations shown on the film, that it’s OK if fossil fuels are used to construct robust alternative energy systems with a long life. I said that I found it difficult to think of an intermediate point between my DESA and the business-as-usual con, a point which would have to be seriously local community based, Transition as conceived by Rob Hopkins with Peak Oil as an urgent driver. I am more drawn to DESA as a version of the Tagore and Morris utopias, with no social divisions or money or property or ‘greed of profit’, with everyone involved in all activities from food production to crafts to entertainment. Dave has always wanted to know ‘how we get from A to B’. My hope is that a collapse of the current system might allow food forest community solutions to survive and thrive independently all over the world, and I see PFAF as a resource that I hope food forest designers are using, and I wish I knew for sure that they are. Our strong book sales in the US and the huge and thriving local food movement there give me hope. Anything is possible in that huge country where all sorts of lifestyles, good and bad, can be found. PFAF exists to provide free information on thousands of useful plants. This is an online website and database, and I increasingly cringe from online technology pervading all our lives, with GP consultations being via Zoom, and students having to settle for online lectures and bubbles of personal contact. So for me, the PFAF database is a sword I wear as long as I can and hope this will be so for all our users.

Week Eleven

Day 71

I was awake quite early again this morning, having gone to bed after midnight. I first looked at the clock at six o’clock and read the second Eliot short story Brother Jacob, finding it lighter, wittier and more enjoyable than the other one. Before that, as usual I looked out of the spare bedroom window and it was after dawn and there was an almost clear blue sky unlike yesterday. I was conscious of feeling joyful, due to seeing a brighter future for the world and so for myself. I had found and read an article from online Forbes magazine taking apart the Gibbs and Moore documentary and arguing that it is a polemic against the renewable energy industry which is outdated and wrong in several respects. The article is a biased polemic in itself but a useful contrast, so that taking a position on that subject between the two: against and supportive of a green industrial revolution involving existing big business and finance, encourages me to think that something else is necessary and possible. There could be a widespread lifestyle change, with people consuming less, more selectively, more locally, and travelling less. The experience of lockdown had a pleasant side for some, and they may now question the need for parking their children with other people and shooting off in other directions to work, work, work. With such a shift of attitudes and expectations, ideas and practices like food forests and carbon farming would excite interest and be part of deeper, healing human and ecological change.

Trevor replied straightaway to my email yesterday, which is unusual for him, so he must be feeling as keen as I am to make progress on the new book. He said it would be great for me to concentrate on the potential mix of edible yields and food values and a section on vegan-organics would be great too. He said he should have a better idea of the plants by the end of the next week. He then sent a bulleted list of points he’s considering, and I’ll reply to them individually.

We already have a book on Woodland Gardening with some interesting sections and a choice of plants. How will the new book be different, should we include some of this detail etc?

It’s seven or eight years since we started on the PFAF books and you did most of the work, taking the text of Edible Plants and Woodland Gardening from what Ken wrote: the PFAF ‘Concept’ from ‘About Us’, Robert Hart’s ‘Garden of Love’ is still on the website, ‘Woodland Edge’ is from one of his leaflets, and so on.

I think we should make this one different, with fresh text and more topical, esp. with respect to the climate and ecological crises: how food forests, plants based diets and vegan-organics address land degradation, carbon costs, health issues and pollution from reliance on domesticated livestock. The new text can address the hows and whys of all that, in addition to explaining what a food forest is and does. We can include Wendy’s piece on community growing and Dave’s piece on the urgency and the weakness of carbon targets, technological fixes and all that.

We have a number of books with a choice of our top plants. Should the new book be different using new plants?

Yes, as far as possible, although if we happen to choose a few of the same plants, the details from the database that have appeared in our other books can be included.

A food forest is an ecosystem so should we include plants that may be good for the health of the forest like nitrogen fixers, wildlife, dynamic accumulators but are not a top edible (5 out of 5 ratings)?

I think we should look at this from a permaculture design point of view, the way Dave Jacke does. A food forest is modelled on a natural forest, so yes, properties needed by a forest ecosystem will be vital, but no plant should be included just for that. Every element should have more than one function, in this case at least three functions: sequestering carbon either in its woody parts and/or in the soil if it’s a fleshy perennial; having a role in the forest ecosystem; and producing a substantial edible yield.

I’ll probably focus on plants that are good for carbon sequestration rather than carbon farming. The CF ones are for warmer climates.

Fine! As you said, this book will include plants for temperate regions – with a tropical twin book later. But temperate regions are likely to have distinct seasons, aren’t they? And this will affect food yields, so we’ll need to make sure there’s no ‘hungry gap’ as with annuals. We were amazed how our perennial kales kept on yielding right through the winter and Mandy Barber grows lots of plants with that advantage.

Mention annuals but not in detail.

Yes and no. I suggest we don’t have any named annual plants, just mention that people will probably not rely on their food forests for all their food, and are likely to have separate food growing areas, raised beds, polytunnels etc.

More emphasis on the US.

Yes, but perhaps without making an issue of it, aim for clarity.

Different than other lists (Martin Crawford and Eric T both have top plant lists).

Dave Jacke too in Vol Two. Will we have a species matrix with 400 additional plants as in Edible Perennials and Edible Shrubs? I expect that would overlap with the other lists, apart from Eric T’s as you said that’s not temperate.

Focus on a genus if it has a number of good plants (for example alliums have lots).

Certainly, but looking at their role in a forest: I think wild garlic is invasive in US and perennial onions and leeks may be best choice, and bring in their nutritional value including adverse effects: disallowed in some diets for IBS, and their value in cooking. There may be many example of plants and geni which are stronger on one of the three essential attributes and weaker on others. It will be interesting and challenging! I’m really looking forward to your lists and the sections and layout you have in mind.

Day 72

I was exhausted yesterday evening, a state different from and worse than ordinary tiredness. What I didn’t mention from yesterday was having a session with Sophie. Before the time came round for that I had been wondering what we would work on because I’d had that feeling of joy and optimism and I haven’t had hospital dreams – or any that I remembered on waking – or disabling fears, although I am still frightened of getting the virus, having to go to hospital, the after-effects of that even if I’m fine, as Fizz from the start said I’d be. When it came to the session there seemed to be as much as ever to tell her about, particularly my criticism of myself for not being a good human being because I care most about the planet and blame people for the harm we have done. I told her about the times when I did some caring work: volunteering to visit families near where I lived in London who had free school meals to provide support and find out of they needed anything else; being a Samaritan; visiting a hostel for people with mental health problems. Sophie asked about children: wasn’t that the most demanding kind of caring? I told her about the effect of the custody trauma on my feelings for my daughters, then my second marriage not surviving and pain of separation when they went to John for the holidays. I also said caring for one’s own children is different from caring about people because it is so possessive. Anyway, we covered a lot, including my feeling of failure, with two books that didn’t sell and went to the recycling, a few journal articles and other writing, a PhD which looks impressive but was another fragment like so much of what I’ve done over my long and ineffectual life, as if proving the pointlessness that comes from death dread. I did also tell Sophie of my feeling of joy that morning and my hopes for lifestyle changes, food forests and my work for PFAF being a contribution, and wondering if we’d have anything to talk about with me feeling happy. She said it would be fine for us to talk about feeling happy.

As I said, I was exhausted yesterday evening, a large part of that being from using my brain, a very demanding organ I think. Dave had the DVD of the film Knives Out and I tried to watch it but was getting nothing from it, and yet couldn’t tell him it wasn’t working and I wanted to stop. I had a break for a nap and resumed watching but it got worse, and still I was unable to say. Dave and I talked about that. I said I needed him to understand and notice when this is happening and make the decision for me.

My task for the day was to make two face masks out of an old green t-shirt. I measured them out and cut pieces the size I’d noted from the video I watched some time ago and I unbent a paperclip to allow the mask to be bent around one’s nose. Then we couldn’t find the power lead for the sewing machine, spent a while hunting, then I found it in a drawer in the spare bedroom. But then I found the t-shirt fabric quite hard to sew, causing the machine to stick and hard to push a needle through when sewing the elastic on by hand. I found myself hating doing this, resenting having to. Anyway I completed one which would work, although it feels suffocating. I might cut some of the fabric away at the bottom as it doesn’t need to go below one’s chin. Dave is going to order some paper ones, but not the surgical ones used in health and care workers’ PPE although the ad says its supply is quite separate from theirs. I may not make the other one as the new rule says ‘face covering’ not necessarily a mask so I could use a scarf. I made dal to go with the leftover curry from yesterday. Earlier I cooked and ate the artichokes which came with the veg box and ate them with some of Dave’s lovely salad dressing. I also made some carrot top pesto. We wrote a birthday card for Fizz and Dave posted it when he went down to get shopping from Poppadums.

I looked up another mask pattern, one that is shaped, because Dave said the one I made came too high on either side of his nose. The shape as shown on the pdf is very dark so I did a screen shot of it to copy it into Gimp, my image editor, and used to brightness and contrast tool to make it pale enough to print and I’ve cut out the pieces. Then Dave served up some rhubarb crumble and fresh mint tea which we had in his room upstairs. I was a bit annoyed that he has ordered some disposable masks at £30 from Boots. Then we got to talking about his writing project for the PFAF book which I described earlier as ‘on the urgency and the weakness of carbon targets, technological fixes and all that’. It’s a daunting task and Dave has a huge amount of material already, and much that is contentious, such as whether or not planting forests can sequester enough carbon. Dave read a piece by Martin Crawford in Permaculture magazine where he estimates how much carbon his twenty years old, two and a half acre forest garden has stored in it, and it’s a lot, but far from enough if that were scaled up, even though it is better than forests only for sequestration, or those which produce timber which won’t have a long life so the carbon is released back after about twenty years. Crawford has said that when you cut part of a perennial crop plant to harvest the food, its roots shrink so it then stores less carbon, but I wonder about that because surely it’s the undisturbed soil that stores the carbon. I mentioned E.O. Wilson’s book Half-Earth with its idea of freeing half the land for rewilding, humans occupying only the other half, and surely at that scale enough carbon would be sequestered. There was also an article in NLR: Troy Vettese, ‘To Freeze the Thames: Natural Geo-Engineering and Biodiversity’, with a similar idea, based on what happened to bring on the Little Ice Age, whereby abandoned land was reforested naturally and so much carbon was drawn down that a severed cold spell resulted.

Day 73

This morning in bed I read all through my newly arrived copy of: Twenty-First Century Socialism by Jeremy Gilbert. His account of how capitalism developed last century and into this one, is really good, and what happened to socialism over that period too. There are useful topics and phrases like ‘platform capitalism’ and ‘cybernetic revolution’. In Part III on ‘Twenty-First Century Socialism’, I like some of what he advocates, in particular more participation in decision making and cooperation in communities and workplaces, but I have some points of disagreement which I’ll categorise as ‘too urban’, with nothing on the ecological crisis and the natural world, apart from one reference to a Guardian article of the sequestering potential of trees, which I passed on to Dave – and I disagree with his optimism about the internet.

It’s been a strange day today. I wanted to make up the pieces I cut out yesterday to make a shaped mask I think will suit Dave better. First I mended Dave’s trousers where the leg stitching had come undone, and did that upstairs for the better light there and because I needed Dave to lift the sewing machine onto the table. He did that but then I couldn’t find the empty bobbin I’d been about to fill with thread yesterday. Dave located it but by then I was in a tizz, and my feeling of exhaustion came on – what is that about? The house being so cold today doesn’t help. I suppose it’s partly because I didn’t sleep well, but that’s become normal. Yesterday evening was lovely as I wasn’t exhausted so we re-watched Knives Out and I enjoyed it so much. When Dave found the bobbin and I’d wound the thread, we had coffee for me, tea for him, and macaroons and read the paper; so much boring and alarming stuff about covid, and also all the big protests about the death of the US black man George Floyd who was killed by a policeman kneeling on his neck for eight minutes as he gasped ‘I can’t breathe!’ This was horrible and shocking and is symptomatic of the ‘original sin’ of prejudice against African Americans, and made worse by Trump calling out the military to dispel peaceful crowds and calling himself the ‘law and order president’. The good news is that his approval ratings are down, but he’s bounced back because there was a surprising easing of unemployment claims after those had risen to about two million due to covid. Johnson’s ratings are not what they were either.

Dave made spaghetti to have with the rest of the basil pesto I made a couple of days ago, and cut up some tomato, cucumber, red pepper and radishes, and I got in a tizz about that because he’d not done it ‘right’, but while he got on with that I pinned the mask together, first the middle seams of the two layers and stitched them. Then we had lunch which was all lovely. After that I went back to bed for a while and slept a little and felt calmer. So then I pinned the two layers together by the edge which curves over the nose and also the bottom edge. I tacked the top, then stitched that and the bottom which didn’t need tacking, then turned it inside out and saw that it’s going to be fine. I tried it on Dave several times to get the elastic right and the four ends are now ready to be stitched. I went out to the patio to flit through the Guardian Review section and took a photo with my phone of the splendid pink geraniums in a big pot at the edge of the patio. In past years we have replaced the geraniums we have around the patio and elsewhere round the front garden each spring. This year we didn’t get any new geranium plants and I don’t think we replaced them last year either, but surprisingly this year they are all flowering splendidly, partly, of course, because Dave has been watering them – and everything else in the garden and seedling and house plants too.

I sewed on the elastic onto Dave’s mask, with green thread, which I didn’t have enough of to do the machine stitching. Did I mention the t-shirt fabric is deep green which is Dave’s favourite colour? I sewed the elastic on very fussily, unpicking it once when a stitch was visible on the right side. Silly really, but I’m pleased with the mask, and relieved to have got it done.

The reason I’ve made masks is for protection – or perhaps just the responsible look of it – because we are going for a long drive on Monday, to Collyer’s Brook near Shaftsbury to meet L and maybe others in her family, and we could have to stop on the way to go to the loo and be more at risk than usual. Also wearing ‘face coverings’ is becoming compulsory. Dave said it is 88 miles each way, which is the longest drive since the car crash on 22 July last year. We’ve had only two other trips since then, once to Taunton on 9 November to celebrate Dylan’s 18th birthday, then to the other side of Dartmoor on 25 March for a walk before we got the message of not going on unnecessary journeys; neither of those was as long as 88 miles.

Dave had just told me a story from the Guardian magazine about someone who had a serious problem with his lungs which was not covid and he had an horrendous time trying and failing to get some help through the NHS. As we heard from Fizz, hospitals got well organised to set up so many extra ICU beds that, in the event, they coped and didn’t need the Nightingale hospitals equipped for the peak demand – and anyway there were not enough staff for those. But they made this effort at the expense of elderly people sent back to care homes without being tested, and as the story of the man with the lung condition shows, they abandoned everyone other than the covid patients. It makes you wonder about all that Thursday clapping, and I wonder if those involved in the public enquiry that’s being demanded into the whole thing will dare criticise the NHS.

Day 74

I’ve been wondering how I’ll be able to write my thousand words tomorrow, and also, obviously, if it matters. I’ve ‘achieved’ precious little else over this time – back to ‘poor me, the failure!’ – not even the article for Quayum, which Dave still tells me I could and should do and I’m capable of it.

We’re thinking about our picnic for tomorrow. Hummus is the best sandwich filling for vegans so I’m cooking the chickpeas Dave put in soak yesterday evening when we realised we’d used up the last lot. He’s gone to the Co-op to get some bread, also olives to put in the hummus. I first spelt hummus wrongly as humous and checked Graham Burnett’s spelling, which is ‘hummus’, then I worried that I’d done that elsewhere in this writing, so I searched for ‘hum’ in this document and the first Twelve Weeks and was impressed how many occurrences there are of ‘human’. I did find one ‘humous’ at the end of Day 3 and corrected it in the document and made a pencil note on the printout. I didn’t find any in the second document. What a waste of time, but maybe that’s what it’s all about. I searched for ‘humous’ online and it seems there are several ways to spell it including my wrong one, because I got the ‘did you mean’ query from google offering ‘houmous’ but hummus seems the favourite so I’ll stick with that from now on.

I read one of the American short stories, a brilliant one by James Baldwin called ‘Sonny’s Blues’ about two brothers in Harlem, one the ‘good’ one who was a dutiful son and became a school teacher, the other the ‘bad’ one who dropped out of school, had a spell in the navy, returned and got into drugs. They lost touch then met again and it turns out Sonny was the successful one, as a jazz musician. So far so banal, almost, but the way it was written carried you deep into their grotty world. I don’t have the skills to say how that was done and how it moved me. I could not but admire it, despite my view that literature is a dangerous distraction and one of the categories of human (that word again!) achievements we have to drop for the sake of the planet. The topic it drew me into was the same as the Socialism book: urbanism, the city, and what happens to that if we ‘start again’ as food forest dwellers. In News From Nowhere cities have gone, destroyed in a violent revolution and not rebuilt. No one in Morris’s utopia seems to mourn their loss, all are delighted with their simple life. I wonder what proportion of the population today would regret the loss of culture as we have come to admire and revere it if the reward were security and contentment for all. You cannot even ask the question, so precious is culture and creativity achieved by the few for the enjoyment by the rest seen my those who determine our values. There is much shock and distress being expressed currently about the uncertain future of theatre, opera and ballet because venues have been closed during lockdown and these creative industries are dependent on people paying for seats.

There is another kind of culture which is not threatened by lockdown, may even be thriving on it. I began to read an article in the Guardian Weekend magazine about a family which is ‘TikTok royalty’, TikTok is an online platform which describes itself as ‘the destination for short-form videos [whose] mission is to capture and present the world’s creativity, knowledge, and precious life moments’. Like google and facebook, TikTok is ‘free’ and makes money through advertising. It is part of ‘platform capitalism’, there are ‘influencers’ who somehow – I’ve not actually looked at any of this – expose products in such a way that people buy more of them. I paused for other things and then read the rest of the piece on TikTok so I understand what it is and my heart bleeds for GenZ and the planet. I’m not going to make my word target tomorrow, but perhaps that’s OK. In these final couple of weeks I need to get to grips with what needs to change and when.

Rather than miss my target for today I’ll write about what’s been going on here. I got a bit upset when Dave told me about a recent and authoritative article he’d read which shows that the carbon cost of streaming has been exaggerated, calculated on the wrong basis, and I have read many such pieces, as well as some who see the problem as serious. I have written quite a lot about this subject so it seemed as if Dave hadn’t taken on board what I think and what my concerns are. This is of course something I’ve been attacked on by my niece Megan, in her case because she says streaming is necessary for people who don’t have access to DVDs and for others – in Africa, she says – who need access to the internet in their lives to have any hope of lifting themselves out of poverty. Paul and Ed, two trustees of PFAF, tell me the tech giants who provide these services are committed to divesting from fossil fuels in favour of green energy – and there’s a lot of green washing and false claims around that.

Dave made macaroons and I advised making the mix softer as I’d been thinking that if aquafaba is like egg white, it should harden the mixture on cooking. He tried that and it didn’t work, which is a shame as he wade them to take some for Thalia who loves them. He did that anyway, in spite of them being a bit spread out and flatter than they should be. They will taste good in spite of that. I made hummus as I said, for sandwiches tomorrow. There was loads of washing up after roast potatoes and nut roast, mushroom sauce and steamed spinach, plus everything for macaroons and hummus. I did most of it but ran out of draining space as we don’t use tea towels as I think they are unhygienic.

Days 75 and 76

I knew I wouldn’t write anything yesterday because of our trip to Collyer’s Brook, no time before we went and I didn’t even try when we got back home. I’ve just completed a small cycle begun early yesterday as I hung out my black wool hoodie on the line having washed it as hot as I could manage to try to kill the moth larvae I assume are lurking in it. I discovered what looked like moth damage yesterday morning when I was considering what to wear. I’d decided to wear my black with a white flowers pattern cotton dress because of comfort and ease of going to the loo should I need to – and I expected I would as it was a long journey there and back, plus the time at the picnic. We left at a quarter to ten and got home at a quarter to six so that’s eight hours. We arrived at Collyer’s Brook at a quarter past twelve and left at quarter past four, so it was a quicker journey home despite a stop for petrol than going, partly because we took a wrong turning on the way. The other candidate for wearing with the black dress was a grey lacy cotton top L sent me for my birthday and I already had that on when I found the moth holes. I’ve just spent a bit of time looking online for information on clothes moths and found that they only attack animal fibres, wool, silk and leather, and fortunately I have few things in wool and nothing in silk, or leather fabric, although I have leather belts and shoes. Of course as an ethical vegan I shouldn’t have any of that.

For our picnic – which had to be ‘bring your own’ of course because of the distancing – I made a mixed salad in a big plastic lidded bowl, and sandwiches, mostly with hummus and also carrot top pesto. We also took three pieces of flapjack and two macaroons, and Dave took macaroons as a present for Thalia who adores them. Apart from the wrong turning, the journey was uneventful, although I was nervous, and there was one scary incident when Dave didn’t wait for a car coming onto a roundabout at the previous entry point. We arrived at the small car park and there were no spaces but we parked behind L’s car. And Fizz was there! Meeting the day before her birthday had been my idea, but L had said Fizz would be troubled by three households meeting so I assumed it would be just Dave and me and L’s family, actually L, Sam and Thalia as Dylan is living at his girlfriend’s house so he didn’t come. Fizz was wearing a highwayman’s mask, obviously very careful not to infect us. The others didn’t have masks but distance was kept, with hugs by gestures. They were all wearing pointy party hats. There was a picnic table which Dave and I took over, the others on a rug. L had brought a present for Fizz which she opened; it was a lovely top. L brought cup cakes with candles for Fizz’s birthday, one candle only stayed lit, but we sang happy birthday. We had a really good catch up, going round the party: Thalia’s plans for uni, Sam’s work, L’s school. Then we went for a walk, still carefully distancing. I walked behind Thalia and asked if she’d seen her boyfriend Finn and she said she went to London for two weeks to be with him and they were the best two weeks of her life. Later I asked about his research. I knew he’d just completed his dissertation for his masters, and I asked about his PhD which presumably would come next. Finn is a palaeoarchaeologist specialising in palaeolithic scraping tools, and he has a theory that the use of these tools has been misinterpreted by those who have described the exhibits in the British museum. These tools are not ‘just’ scrapers and do not indicate that these early peoples had simple and limited capabilities. Thalia said she’ll as Finn to explain and pass that on.

On the way home I was fancying bubble and squeak so we made that when we got back, and then settled down to watch an episode of Shetland. As I was having a rest part way through, there was a phone call for me from Jeanette, step daughter of Jean Simpson, my friend from when we lived in Woking. She has died aged ninety four and a half on Friday 29 May. She was living in West Hall care home in West Byfleet, still quite physically fit but from 2016 suffering from dementia, and died probably from covid, very well looked after by the staff. Her partner Ray Ward had died two years ago almost exactly, on 28 May, from prostate cancer which had spread. Before that Jean and Ray had been struggling to look after themselves, hardly cooking proper food, living on porridge, and I remembered staying with them that they loved their porridge then, also grapefruit, which they didn’t offer me for my breakfast – maybe because they don’t divide into three. Jeanette talked on for quite a while, and she remembered that she and I had met, probably at Jean’s own house in Triggs Close, and perhaps at the funeral for Robert, Jean’s son. I didn’t enjoy my friendship with Jean after she moved in with Ray to his peculiar house with no front door. I disagreed with him teaching people in U3A and elsewhere his version of economics coloured with Georgist propaganda – Henry George (1839-1897) and Land Value Tax. This tax is supposed to be progressive, but I worried that it was a threat to wilderness and conservation areas, and would lead to all land being used, and in the process degraded. This was a view I had in the 1990s and tried to have a discussion with the Henry George society (I looked that up and its a Foundation), which just sent me leaflets and propaganda. Many of the great and the good have supported LVT over the last century and a half, and I can’t at the moment get back to being clear about its disadvantages as I saw them twenty years ago. Anyway, it was good to know what had happened to Jean, as I have wondered, so it’s a completed cycle. For years after we moved I used to send Jean and Ray Christmas cards, and when they didn’t reciprocate, I gave up. Jean and I didn’t agree with each other politically. She wasn’t at all green. I remember talking to her about food miles and saying I wouldn’t buy grapefruit that came from beyond Europe, and she said she would buy them if they were available because she wanted them.

Yesterday I really fancied pizza and decided I would make one today. I tried a recipe in the book that came with the food processor because I wanted to try the dough blade instead of kneading by hand because that was a strain on my shoulder. The dough blade worked fine, not so the rest of the process, as I used dried yeast and didn’t get the amount right and the dough didn’t rise. I’d made a mistake weighing the yeast, so had a lot of yeast and warm water and sugar which grew like mad, so I used what was left over to make a loaf, again using the processor book recipe. That didn’t rise either. I’ve made a loaf but it’s very small, a nice colour and crusty but I think it will be hard. I put the pizza dough I made in the frig, remembering that I’d made three time too much pizza dough from another recipe and the best ones were from the dough I’d kept in the frig. I was too tired by that point to make any tomato sauce to put on the pizza base. So, no pizza for lunch; instead we had rice and mushrooms with the salad left over from the picnic. There is now heaps of washing up, despite my having done the washing up from yesterday’s bubble and squeak this morning.

L gave me two novels to read yesterday. I’d been thinking of giving her Barn 8 but was unsure if she’d like it, and Dave said we should have brought The Great Level. I started one that L gave me yesterday. It’s called The Silent Patient and it’s the first novel by Alex Michaelides who is a screen writer, and the film is apparently already underway. It’s about a brilliant woman painter who shot her beloved husband five times in the face and then slashed her own wrists. She didn’t die, was tried for murder, painted a self-portrait as the only evidence of why she did it, but didn’t speak. After a psychiatric report it was decided she was mad and so she was locked up in a psychiatric hospital. The narrator is pretty mixed up himself but he trained as a psychotherapist and is determined to help her. I found the start of the novel disturbing as it is about Winnicott’s theory about the baby having no memory or mind until that is formed by the treatment it receives from its parents, especially the mother. This made me think of when I told Sophie about my mother not wanting me or looking after me, and Sophie saying I should be loved and cared for.

Although I was nervous during the drive yesterday, I did like being out and away from home, so Dave and I agreed we should aim to go somewhere once a week.

Sadly I’ve thrown away my nice black hoodie as I found more holes in it after I put it on the line. I won’t buy any more woollen things, but Dave has lots of woollen jumpers. The only way to kill the larvae is to put them in the freezer but we don’t have one big enough to do that for all Dave’s jumpers. I have woollen coats though, so I hope they haven’t been attacked. I have a bright green cashmere cardigan which Dave likes a lot. I must check that carefully as I have had it out on the chair in the bedroom where a moth could have got to it and laid its eggs. I could put just that in the freezer. We are both feeling tired so we’ll do the washing up later and watch a film – by choice, as I don’t like some of his favourites, like screwball comedies.

We watched the first part of a 1998 BBC production of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. It was superb! Then the news: more covid and also Black Lives Matter and statues of slavers and colonialists. One aspect of racism I think needs addressing somehow is the phenomenon that came to my attention when my sister, who had three children by her black American husband, said that ‘Of course, they are black!’ Why is that? What about the history of the children of female slaves who were raped by plantation owners and bosses? That abuse resulted in generations of Americans who are ‘of course black’. Some very vocal activists, like Angela Davis who spoke on the Channel 4 News this evening, was active in the 1960s and is now a professor, hardly look ‘black’ at all, if that means having the features of black Africans. Davis only looked black by having big afro hair, which she still has although it’s white, her face looks Caucasian. There needs to be another word for the prejudice called ‘racist’ because there is only one race, the human race.

We did the washing up between us. I’d used the dough blade for the first time and it works well, much less effort than hand kneading, but bits of the dough stick to the mixer and even when soaked are hard to remove, so as Dave pointed out there’s as much work altogether. It’s also annoying when I don’t even get a good result, partly I’m sure because of using dried yeast instead of fresh, but also not finding it easy to keep the dough warm while it proves.

Day 77

I’m starting this at quarter past two, although I did go over the previous day’s two thousand words earlier, picking up the typos. Also I corrected what I wrote about The Silent Patient having noted that the narrator is a psychotherapist, not a psychiatrist. I’m finding the novel unconvincing and contrived, written for the film of the story that’s already underway, and I can almost hear scriptwriter Michaelides deciding what comes next in the action. Despite that, I’m finding the novel quite disturbing, to the extent that some of what’s written about mental health problems seems credible, and accords with my own experiences.

I made a pizza with the dough I put in the frig yesterday. I made tomato sauce using tinned tomatoes, with onion, garlic and marjoram from the garden and that was fine. I worked the dough on a floured board, then eased it out further to the edge of the big baking tray, spread the tomato sauce over the dough almost to the edges, arranged slices of red and yellow peppers, mushrooms and olives on top and cooked it for twelve minutes at 250 degrees. It was OK, rather hard, maybe ten minutes would have been better, and Dave was happy with it, and when I said he is sweet to be kind about my failures, he insisted it’s been fine. After that I played carpet patience and got it out in one – a very rare event and considered by me to be lucky.

I often ponder what I’ll write about here before I get down to it. This morning I thought I should have said something in my account of the family picnic about how lovely Thalia is, in every way. She is naturally and effortlessly friendly, happy, relaxed and charming. She is beautiful without trying, and there’s a sense that this is always how she is, not that a family outing was not worth the bother of dressing up. She is interested and listens, asks questions, joins in discussions, has strong views but doesn’t impose them. I love her dearly, always have loved her all her life, and I had a lot of involvement with her when she was little, so I feel some pride about what a delightful young woman she turned out to be. It is sad I see so little of her, but that’s the way of today’s world.

I was also thinking this morning that I listened to ‘The Life Scientific’ yesterday morning and forgot to write anything about it because of reporting on the picnic the day before. The guest on the programme was Emma Bunce whose subject is the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, and she talked first about their auroras, brought about by their magnetic fields as the Earth’s is, although theirs are different. She also talked about one of the moons of Saturn, Ganymede, which has an ocean of water below its surface of ice. Ganymede was also one of the main subjects of a programme on BBC Four on the quest to discover if there is life elsewhere than here on Earth in the solar system, with a focus on oceans. They studied a tiny creature which becomes completely inert when frozen but comes to life again, even years later, so they wondered if such a creature could survive the cold of Ganymede. They also considered Titan, one of moons of Jupiter, which has a sea of frozen methane, considering if a completely other form of life could exist in that environment. Bunce has had a charmed career, from the time she wrote to NASA when she was a child and had a reply with lots of fascinating material to make her decide on space science as a career. After that, at every stage, she seems to have been in the right place at the right time, for being involved in missions and experiments despite each of these occurring at decades long intervals.

All of that work is a waste of effort and capable minds which should be devoted to saving the planet. This kind of waste and distraction is particularly galling when life on Earth is so threatened. This is a particular concern of Dave’s, making him particularly exasperated. My radical DESA model requires all harmful, unnecessary or just distracting human activities to be stopped, so that we can begin again in our food forest communities.

Our important house project today was to tackle the blocked drain from the kitchen sink by pouring down water and caustic soda, then boiling water, then doing that again. This was going on as I wrestled with making pizza, so we had to use the other sink to wash vegetables and rinse hands. I think it has worked. I’ve also deadheaded the rose bushes and pruned the vine taking off growth beyond the bunches of grapes already forming. Dave had just cooked our one crop of gooseberries which I topped and tailed. We don’t have many gooseberry bushes and the fruit are fiddly to pick especially because of the thorns. In previous years we’ve had good harvests of blackcurrants but not this year I fear, largely because all our soft fruit bushes were neglected last year after the car crash.

I had an email from the academia platform with a link to a review of the book on Tagore’s Nationalism to which I contributed a chapter. The review had been posted by Quayum so when I requested a copy, the system invited me to tell Quayum why I was interested in this item, and I said because I wanted to see the book and my complimentary copy had not arrived. Quayum replied to me to say that he would remind the publishers. This made me think I should make a start on the chapter I offered on the next book Quayum wants to get together, this one on Tagore and education. I said at the start of this writing that I hoped to gather some material for that from in amongst what I wrote over the Twelve Weeks. Dave has said I could and should write the article and I’ve been thinking about key points or themes. I will get on with that from tomorrow.

Week Twelve

Day 78

It was chilly and damp yesterday so I had a bath to try to get warm, and while soaking in the hot water I thought about what I could write on Tagore and Morris and education. One starting point that occurred to me was the meaning of the word education, the idea of leading out, preparing a child for life in society, being part of the community, fitted for making a contribution to shared wellbeing. I feel sure that Tagore and Morris would favour education in that sense, and I know they criticised and rejected education in the sense of getting qualifications to get an advantageous position in a competitive world or, worse still, to acquire skills useful for an employer to exploit for profit.

Although I made a start today, I couldn’t carry on because of my session with Sophie at twelve o’clock. That went well, with hardly any of the usual struggle with Zoom. I told her that I felt helped by her, particularly when she told me in several contexts that I should be loved and cared for. We discussed what that meant in terms of the relationship between counsellor and patient which she said had to aim to be an equal one, not as if she were some kind of doctor advising me and having power over me. I explained in terms of when I did Clearing with Tara Devi where I saw it that she had a set of tools and her use of them helped me, and Sophie has a set of tools too through her training. She seemed reassured by that. I told her about the family picnic, being nervous during the long drive but the joy of seeing them all, the catch up and the walk, and Thalia being so lovely and happily in love. I also mentioned L asking about the counselling and what I talked to her about and I said everything including – well I won’t write the names – my terrible story, but I don’t want to write any more about that. I also told Sophie about my sadness about not seeing my family very often and not being in touch as often as I’d like. She asked if I’d told them that and I said I tried once, summoning Fizz and L here to talk about it, but it hadn’t helped, so I don’t say anything now. I told Sophie about how amazing it was when they both dropped everything to look after us after the car crash and how soon after I was home from hospital that that dwindled, not because they decided to contact me less but just because their lives, children and work took up all their time and attention. Sophie mentioned that we can have up to ten sessions, which I hadn’t realised before, and thought the next one, the sixth, will be the last, and I was sad about that. So we talked about having maybe two more after next week and I said I was happy with that.

Trev sent me a lot of material about the plants for the new book, a link to a huge table in something called Google Sheets which is shared; if either of us changing anything it’s changed for us both. He also sent two pdfs with the same plants in tables by Latin name and by habit, and an email explaining what he’s doing. He said he’s not sure at what stage I can get involved. His long list is of 190 plants/genera with 93 being what he calls ‘supporting plants’ which means they won’t have details shown but be in lists, so the rest are presumably the plants featured in the book, and I should get stuck into exploring their food potential and yields.

Wendy sent a puzzling email to the trustees about a request from Ken and Addy. I queried it and she forwarded an email to all of us saying they want to use our charity number for their planning application to live on the land, which I hadn’t received and I searched and hunted for that. I asked Dave about it and we both think it would be a bad idea but it’s hard to think what to say, to the other trustees initially – especially with Wendy seeming sympathetic and saying we should help – and then to Ken and Addy. It is a very long time since I and then the other trustees took over the charity and that is probably enough reason not to do it. Also, I do the administration and so correspondence would come to me and I can see what a lot of work and hassle that would be. Also there would surely be financial implications and the charity could end up be liable for costs – as happened when a group used the Permaculture Association’s charitable status for a planning application, lost that and then appealed, lost that and the PA had to bear the cost.

Returning to Tagore and Morris and education, one subject I can cover will be what aspects of the education of their lifetime they criticised, disliked or dissociated themselves from, and why. For example, Tagore did not read for a university degree and didn’t pursue training for the law he was sent to England for. Morris ducked out of theology at Oxford – although he did go back and get a degree – and didn’t complete his archaeology apprenticeship. Tagore deplored the school classroom environment, discipline and cramming. He also resisted his university becoming an institution which put students through courses to get qualifications for clerical jobs in the city. There is more material readily available to me on Tagore’s criticism of education than there is on Morris’s attitudes, but that’s fine because the book is to be on Tagore. For me the more interesting side is the kind of education and training Tagore and Morris favoured, because these will apply both to their utopian ideas and their projects which I see as relevant to local self-reliance, handicrafts, rural reconstruction, and what Tagore called ‘life in its completeness’.

Day 79

I slept really badly worrying over the email from Ken and Addy. In the morning Dave said he would look at what they asked for and the planning application correspondence that came with it, and write something for the trustees. When I looked at that myself, I felt less worried as it doesn’t look as if they would get planning permission to turn their barn into living accommodation, and even if they did, building it would cost a lot of money and not be something funding bodies would give grants for, in which case being able to use our charity name and number would be irrelevant. It doesn’t appear that anything has changed with them or the site so this is just another version of Addy’s notions. I looked again at the email and the other thing they want money for is rabbit and deer exclusion fencing and I suppose they are more likely to get grant funding for that. I’ll wait and see what Dave is writing, and he’s spent a lot of time on it, which makes me feel rather guilty.

I made a start on looking at the food potential of Trev’s selected plants for the book but gave up as I don’t understand what he’s sent. I had thought it was three tables with the same 190 plants but when I copied the Google sheets table into Excel, sorted that into edibility rating order and copied those rated 5 into a Word document, I found I had 93 plants which can’t be right, and the first few of those weren’t in the table of selected plants coloured to show which ones are supporting plants so not worth me bothering with, but I found the first few plants in my table were not in the pdf table at all. So I replied to Trev to ask him to explain.

I made some gorgeous butterbean soup, which was a relief because the last soup I made with butterbeans was not very tasty, oddly enough because I put in too many ingredients. This time it was just an onion, several carrots (from last week’s box), the butterbeans I’d cooked earlier, also the cooking water from boiling potatoes, and steaming red and green cabbage for yesterday’s bubble and squeak, several very fresh mint leaves and salt and pepper, all liquidised in the machine, which is a messy process but worth it.

What Dave wrote about the Ferns’ request is very good, so I just added a few words to the start to say I’m hard at work on the new book, and at the end to say I’ll draft a reply. I hope the trustees just accept that and I can relax and get a good night’s sleep. I’m still a bit agitated and tempted to have a peep at my inbox to see if anyone has replied. I made the mistake of referring to Dave as Dave rather than David which he doesn’t like. He says it’s fine but I fret over the littlest things.

I must try to do a little on Tagore and education so I’ve got down my copy of Towards Universal Man (TUM), the collection of his essays published for the centenary of his death in 1961. There is an essay in that which I haven’t much studied called ‘The Vicissitudes of Education’, which was his first essay on education (Sikhshar Herfer in Bengali, the English version ‘Topsy-turvy Education’ published in 1947) which he read at a public meeting in 1892 when he was thirty one years old and the father of three small children: Madhurilata (Bela) in 1886, Rathindranath (Rathi) in 1888 and Renuka in 1891. (He was to have two more children: Mira in 1894 and Samindranath in 1896.) At this point, Tagore was already concerned about boys having to learn in a foreign language (English), to pass examinations and ‘cram up a few textbooks with breathless speed’. He condemns too the teacher’s cane and abuse. This joyless education, Tagore told his audience, means the boy grows up weak and poor in mind, knowing ‘neither good English or good Bengali’. Not only does he learn nothing but has no time to play games, climb trees, swim and get up to mischief in the woods. He says he wants his son to grow into a man and think for himself and use his imagination, have the stimulus of literature but not have to learn by rote or study dry and dusty grammars. Tagore’s central recommendation and remedy is for boys to be taught Bengali language and literature which will bring about a union of education and life.

The next essay on the subject is ‘The Problem of Education’ (Sikhsha Samasya) from a public meeting in 1906. It begins very directly: ‘What we now call a school in this country is really a factory, and the teachers are a part of it’. The pupils take from it ‘machine-made learning’ to be tested at examinations and readily labelled because each pupil gets the same, despite the differences between one man and another and how they are on different days. Tagore deplores what he sees as English education forced on a Bengali child who knows nothing of the country it came from and where it belongs. Tagore’s solution is traditional education and the practice of Brahmacharya in the midst of nature, towns not being the natural abode of his country’s people. He sees nature’s help as indispensible when growing up, with trees and rivers, blue skies and beautiful views ‘just as necessary as benches and blackboards, books and examination’. And I wonder if ‘just as necessary as’ was a slip in translation and should have been ‘more necessary than’. Tagore also recommends that classes should be held outdoors, sitting on the ground, in the shade of big trees, and in the evening students should ‘read the stars, cultivate music, and listen to legendary and historical tales’. Tagore also scolds parents who send boys to the nearest school or engage a tutor to turn him into a moneymaker, when their duty is ‘to build up his common humanity’.

Day 80

I slept well last night, and this time not because I’d had a long walk. It must have been relief from Dave’s persuasive text to fend off the threat from the Ferns, and when I looked at my emails, there was nothing from the trustees. I know there still may be, and I haven’t yet written the draft reply to the Ferns which will be another opportunity for uncomfortable comments. Sleeping well could also be because of making a start on Tagore and education, and finding the second essay full of lovely material I can use.

The next essay in TUM with the word ‘education’ in the title is ‘The Unity of Education’ (Sikhshar Milan), read at a meeting of teachers and students at Santiniketan, Tagore’s ashram and the site of his university Visva-Bharati in 1921. Interestingly, the English version published in 1921 in Modern Review was called ‘The Union of Cultures’. The essay begins with typical vigour: ‘It must be admitted on all hands that the world today belongs to the Europeans. It is their milch cow, and it fills their pail to overflowing. We in the East do nothing but gape in bewilderment while our share of the world’s food and wealth rapidly dwindles.’

I went outside to read more of that essay by Tagore, which is rich and fascinating, covering many more topics than education as such, some highly relevant to the article I want to write because of views which accord with Morris’s. I will come back to that but I think now I need to draft my reply to the Ferns. As I’ve done with other tasks which have had priority over this Twelve Weeks project, I will write it here and then copy it onto my laptop for printing and discussion before it is send out.

Dear Addy and Ken,

Thank you for your email message to us about your struggles over planning and funding for building work and protective fencing. We all sympathise, particularly over the discouraging response you received when you shared your aspirations for living on the land with the Cornwall planning officer. It is frustrating that the UK’s planning laws are usually obstructive to allowing the kind of land use that the earth needs for the survival of all life – like Tinkers Wood losing their right to live amongst their forestry enterprises. You are such good examples of living lightly on the earth, as you would if only you were allowed to live on the Field, and we are sure you would inspire a few people who found their way there, despite the limitations of what you have been able to put in place there over the years.

It is obvious difficult for you to provide evidence of your having an ‘established and viable rural business’ with no other suitable accommodation available within reach, and to satisfy the test to establish viability – is the business making sufficient profits to support the workers and is it likely to remain financially sustainable? – and this usually requires submission of accounts for the last three years. Also the planning officer said that site security was not a justification for needing to live on site. So sadly it appears there is no way you can obtain planning permission to live on the site. We are very sympathetic but there isn’t anything we can do to help.

It goes without saying that we are full of admiration for what you achieved in the 1990s setting up The Field, documenting your research findings, and setting up the original plants database. None of the present trustees was involved in Plants For A Future in those early years, not even Chris, who only became a trustee with Rich and Simon when things had gone wrong, when support and involvement in PFAF had dwindled, and planning permission for an ecovillage on the Blagdon Cross site in North Devon had been refused. Their task was a sad one: to sell the Blagdon land, pay off the considerable debts and wind up the Charity. The sale of the land took a long time and in the event, Chris decided to keep the Charity going after Rich and Simon left, and recruit a new team of trustees. Over the past 12 years we have been working completely separately from your work on the original site. At one time your plan was to emigrate to Brazil, partly because – as we understand it – plant foods harvested from your own land no longer suited Ken, who needs tropical foods. It is sad and frustrating that you haven’t been supportive of or interested in our efforts to improve the database and continue to make it freely available, thereby protecting an important part of your legacy, and to offer to the world over these last years a much-valued educational resource. So I really can’t agree with you when you say ‘we are essentially part of the same thing’.

I come now to our serious concerns about Addy’s specific request to use our Charity registration in applications where charitable status is required or expected. Any such application would most probably need to be supported by details of the Charity’s income and expenditure, which is evidently unrelated to The Field or to any activities for which the grant is sought. This would be probably be queried by the potential funder and could cause questions to be raised with the Charity Commission. So this would not work, and could get us into trouble, and we don’t want to have to deal with that.

Despite not being able to get involved with your current difficulties, we really do wish you well, and we will continue to try to think of organisations and people who might provide the advice and support for your aspirations for living on the land.

With warmest wishes

Dave made a few changes, nothing much, so I’ve sent this to the trustees for comments and suggestions. He made a really gorgeous rhubarb crumble with rhubarb from our garden. It’s a favourite dish of his, I think especially because he has cared for the rhubarb plant in all weathers and is proud when it’s productive. I don’t usually like it that much as it sets my teeth on edge, and sometimes there is a slimy layer between the crumble and the fruit, but this example turned out just right.

Much of the text for the letter to the Ferns was lifted from elsewhere so perhaps I haven’t made my word target so I’ll say something about two other essays on education in TUM: ‘Hindu University’ (Hindu Visvavidyalaya) read at a meeting in 1911, and ‘A Poet’s School’, published as an article in 1926. Tagore founded a university he called Visva-Bharati formally in December 1918, but the idea had been forming a few years earlier, its conception took place in October 1916 in California, followed by a meeting with the Calcutta University Commission in 1917, then Tagore wrote about his concerns about their university in 1918, despite it having accepted the Bengali language for study at MA level. In ‘Hindu University’ Tagore does not use the word ‘university’ for several pages, and then the subject is a separate university for Moslems. The start of the essay is about nationalism, and separation between peoples eager to assert their separate identities, and the separation of languages, and resisting assimilating Bengali into Sanskrit to make it more to people speaking other languages based on Sanskrit. When I study books it is my practice to make notes on slips of paper rather than mark the books. In this essay there is a slip from when I read it years ago, with a quotation of a short paragraph:

The world-wide problem today is not how to unite by wiping out all differences, but how to unite with all differences intact; a difficult task, for it permits of no trickery and calls for mutual give-and-take. But then, what appears easy is not possible of accomplishment; what is difficult is in the long run easy.

I like that.

Day 81

It is ‘God bothering day’ today, which means I can’t listen to the radio as a distraction from my mind buzzing, as it’s been doing, it seems to me, all night. It has been partly good buzzing, thinking about the potential of what I’ve read on Tagore and education. I’ve also been fretting over the Addy and Ken thing, this latest threat to all I’ve done to keep PFAF going all these years. To the extent I slept there were dreams I vaguely remembered with the old stuff about hospitals and covid which I thought I was getting over – well, I sure I am troubled with it less, which I put down to sessions with Sophie. But when Dave woke up I told him I was exhausted.

Dave brought me breakfast and, as usual on Sundays, I browsed the Guardian Weekend supplement instead of listening to the radio. It is supposed to be a special issue put together from a collaboration with design students, but there is too much else which isn’t from or about them, so I put it aside and went back to reading: Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler, which L gave me at the family picnic and praised highly. It is very good in its engaging depiction of American family life in the 1960s. The central character, Ian, is a nineteen-year-old who had just started ‘school’, when he is persuaded by a Christian sect he happens upon when wracked by guilt for having precipitated his brother’s suicide, and indirectly the brother’s wife’s death by accidental overdose, to take on the couple’s three children to expiate his sins, for ‘atonement’ as they call it.

Wendy has queried the last main paragraph of the reply to the Ferns. I passed that on to Dave who started explaining it to her in a way that I think would be taken the wrong way by the trustees, and the Ferns too most probably. Dave suggested that if, in particular, the trustees said that the Charity should give (say) half our reserves to the Ferns, I would say that I’d have to resign. That was about the worst thing he could have said, as PFAF is the only thing I have done I can call a worthwhile achievement; take that away and I am nothing. We came to an agreement on how to change the reply safely, and Wendy said it was clearer now, but also asked about our charitable aims as the Charity Commission has them. Dave thought she was asking about our Articles of Association which might be a problem because we haven’t changed those since taking the charity on. It says that all the trustees should be vegans, for example, but thankfully Wendy didn’t ask that and the Aims are fine, although I don’t remember who wrote them and when – clearly they are not original to when the Ferns set the charity up because there’s nothing about The Field and plants research. This is what it says: ‘The charity’s current activities include carrying out research surveys of sites with self-reliance aims, particularly those using vegan-organic methods and/or permaculture design; and a comprehensive overhaul and re-development of our website and plants database’. I’ve spent a happy half hour going through my PFAF files on my laptop and found a document from 2017 with those aims and also activities. While I was at it I dug out a few documents about the Ken and Addy problems including one to Ed in 2018 telling the story of what happened between 2005 and 2008 when we all took over, also one from 2013 about our offer to Ken of £20,000 for the tropical database, the idea being that it would help the Ferns settle in Brazil and do some tropical plants research there. We also said pulling plants info off online sources wasn’t worth that money, let alone double that which Addy was demanding. In the end Ken refused to be paid anything.

Back to Tagore and education: I have looked at my document containing the texts of all Tagore’s five books of English Essays for titles with ‘education’ or ‘school’ or ‘university’ or ‘teacher’ and found these: ‘My School’ in Personality which has many occurrences of ‘education’; ‘An Eastern University’ in Creative Unity; and ‘The Teacher’ in The Religion of Man. It is also pertinent to note that the texts of the first book Sadhana, was taken from lectures or sermons to Tagore’s students. There is no title with the word ‘Education’ although there are many occurrences of ‘education’ with and without capital ‘E’, especially in the third essay of Nationalism called ‘Nationalism in India’.

Also back to TUM and the essay ‘A Poet’s School’, of which I’ve read a little sitting on the porch which is still sunny while the patio outside the back door is in shadow. Tagore starts by saying he has been criticised for being an anomaly: a poet who has founded a school, but he insists his school is a poem, and that the poet in him is a foolish butterfly which has emerged from the silkworm with its useful work and cash value. He goes on to talk about his school of a few boys among the sal trees being comparable to the tapovana of ancient India, a dream fulfilled to heal his own hurt from the bleak indoor city school he endured. There is also in this essay Tagore’s denigration of the materialistic urban West against the ancient kinship with nature in his own country.

There is so much material in the ten or so essays I have identified, the challenge will be how to draw themes from those and find parallels in what I have on Morris. I looked up ‘William Morris and education’ online and found an essay he wrote called ‘Thoughts on Education under Capitalism’ ‘initially published in Commonweal (Volume 4, No. 129) in June 1888 [where] we can see his deep concerns about the state of education (more particularly schooling) offered working-men – and the limitations of what can be achieved under capitalism.’[56]

Day 82

I had raspberries from our garden with my breakfast this morning and they were wonderfully delicious, definitely my favourite fruit of that kind. We have a very prolific shrub which produces large fruit like loganberries – Dave says it was given to us years ago by George, one of the PFAF trustees. The fruits are lovely but I like raspberries the best, although the fruits are small and it is hard work looking after the plants. I didn’t prune them last winter as I was still unwell. It’s a job I enjoy because it is systematic. You have to cut to the ground all the branches which have yielded fruit that year. Then you cut the new branches to the height of the wires around the patch. Of course in the process you weed the patch, but carefully – no yanking out the bindweed, of which there is masses, because raspberries don’t like their roots disturbed, so you find where the bindweed has come out of the ground and cut it there, leaving the rest to wither, which it does quickly, so you can often draw it off then. There will be other weeds and grass that’s seeded itself or grown into the patch. So it’s a big job. All I did earlier this year was tackle some of the bindweed, which was rampant, and much of it has come back and I hope Dave remembered not to pull it when he picked the fruit.

I listened to the first few minutes of Andrew Marr’s ‘Start the Week’ which was about James Joyce’s Ulysses, which has an anniversary which is tomorrow, the book being set on a single day. I have read it but remember next to nothing. Fizz had a Joyce period I remember, which impressed me. I did enjoy Diary of the Artist as a Young Man which was one of the books I studied at one time with the OU. Anyway, I gave up Marr and went back to Saint Maybe, then Dave came in an said he’s going to the Co-op, did I want to come? I didn’t. I’m scared to go out with more people around now. That led to the thought that I am two days away from Day 84 which is the last day of Twelve Weeks. What do I do after that? Stop? What will I do with all these words? I’ve added the word counts in the three documents and it’s over ninety thousand words! I think I will stop and concentrate on Tagore and Morris and education.

On Morris and education, I thought I would do a similar thing to what I did with Tagore and education: go though the Morris essays I have and pick out the ones that are clearly about education. The essay I found online: ‘William Morris – Thoughts on education under capitalism’ has a bio blurb saying he was ‘a passionate social reformer, an early environmentalist, an educationalist and would-be feminist’. If he was an educationalist, you would expect that to be evident from his essays, of which I have about thirty in two published collections: Political Writings of William Morris (1979) and William Morris: On Art and Socialism: Essays and Lectures (1947), but none of the titles includes the word ‘education’. There is a little indication of the Morris the educationalist in Art and Socialism in that the first essay, ‘The Lesser Arts’ was delivered before The Trades’ Guild of Learning’ and the second: ‘The Art of the People’ was delivered before ‘The Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design’, as was the next essay: ‘The Beauty of Life’, then three essays with no such audience. Then we come to ‘Art under Plutocracy’ delivered at University College, Oxford’ and that one has the word ‘school’ in the first line. Meagre pickings. Neither collection has an index.

I will start by looking at the first two paragraphs of ‘education under capitalism’. Morris starts by applauding the efforts of an American he refers to as ‘Mr Charles Leland (better known as Hans Breitman)’ who is planning a project whereby all children will be taught the ‘minor arts’ and so gain an interest in handicrafts which he thought, and Morris agrees with him, would benefit such art and bring happiness to people generally. Morris goes on to say that Leland has been engaged in this work of educating children’s hands for many years, and he expects that the interest in sound workmanship combined with beauty would become general, and that a demand for such work would follow and compel the manufacturers to get such work turned out.

In the next paragraph Morris demolishes Leland’s fond hope of handicraft replacing ‘manufacturing’ in all the wares of which art or beauty forms a part and take us back to the Middle Ages as far as these wares are concerned. Morris says that if the labour on them is decently paid, they would cost so much more than the manufactured wares which they are intended to supplant, that only rich people with a whim for art will be able to buy them and they will not be produced in any great quantity. If there should be a passing fashion for them, the ‘manufacturers’ would immediately imitate them by machinery and ‘organized labour’, and cheapen them out of existence. If the whim of rich people for the genuine article still went on, another process of cheapening would be resorted to; wholesale dealers in such articles would exploit the unfortunate handicraftsmen (or women, whose cheap work would certainly be largely used for such wares).

Morris argues that Leyland’s project would have worked if the capitalists, the ‘manufacturers’ were the servants of society as they sometimes profess to be, but their real position is as the masters of society, so they would take advantage of the competition for the most miserable livelihood between people in dire necessity to produce ‘cheap art’ for the swelling of their own purses; and if the thing grew it would be a favourite form of exploitation, as it would require little capital and little managerial capacity, and would have a dash of philanthropy and ‘practical remedy’ about it, which would help to make such sweating an honourable as well as pleasant occupation. Cheap art indeed – and nasty! But in all probability the fashion for such articles would be limited and transitory, and all that would happen to the persons educated into a capacity for and a pleasure in refined handicraft would be that they would have to be used up in the mere mechanical drudgery of commercial production. I confess I have largely quoted Morris’s own words here, and I would need to pare this down and use more of my own words to use it in an article, and of course show where and how Tagore would be in agreement. Still, it is a start.

Earlier I checked my emails for comments on the reply to the Ferns and there was a positive and useful one from Paul and part of Trev’s reply to my email two days ago had useful suggestions, so I made a draft2 incorporating comments by Wendy, Paul and Trev, which Dave approved so I sent it to the trustees. Wendy replied to say she’s happy with it, so it looks as if I may be getting there. Trev’s email showed he hadn’t understood what my difficulty was and I think he hadn’t received the response I worked so hard on – I put it in this writing – so I copied that below my reply.

Day 83

I almost didn’t write anything today, maybe with the intention of writing double the words tomorrow, as I did with the family picnic outing last week. But I had a bad night again and was feeling very low. I read a lot of Saint Maybe and that depressed me. The central character Ian has a guilty conscience because he told his brother that his wife Lucy was unfaithful, thinking that the expensive dresses she came back from trips out to see her girlfriends was evidence that she had a lover. Ian learns later that Lucy was a regular and skilful shoplifter and she really was with girlfriends. Ian happens on a Christian group called the Church of the Second Chance, whose central tenet is that confessing aloud to the congregants and then performing acts of expiation gives you a second chance, but Ian doesn’t get his reward but a life of duty, the reparation goes on until his brother’s children, little when he took them on, are grown up. He continues to attend the Church, obsessively it seems. I haven’t finished the book but I don’t expect a happy ending; it’s all about one way of wasting a life, and I have had my own ways of doing that.

I stayed in bed until nine thirty, the end of ‘A Life Scientific’, this time about someone who left school with no qualifications, was a rebel, a protester, but embarked on an education into crowd behaviour and is now a professor and an internationally recognised expert on better policing of protests and avoiding riots. Over those hours in bed I began to comfort myself by thinking I could use the Twelve Weeks material as the basis of a publishable books by bringing in some of my articles from my blog or the platform. I’ve thought this before, and the title Twelve Weeks to Save the Planet. I mentioned this to Dave when I told him about having a bad night and also being worried about our trip out today – to the beach, I forget where, forty miles Dave said – in case I need the loo and touch something in a public one and pick up the virus. Dave didn’t seem encouraging over the book idea because he thinks it’s too personal, but that’s because he hasn’t read any of it in spite of my telling him I’d printed it out. He doesn’t usually take an active interest in what I do, and prefers us each to do our own thing separately, which has been a disappointment for me all the years we’ve been together, half my life almost.

I checked my emails and there’s nothing more from the PFAF trustees which is good, but I don’t suppose sending our reply to the Ferns will be the end of it. I had a reply on choosing plants for the new book from Trev asking me what I else want in the spreadsheet to include all the edible properties, which he offered to produce and I agreed to – which will be a very large file indeed and maybe hotmail won’t send it. After our trip out, I went online to reply to Trev about the spreadsheet of a thousand plants with their edible properties. On what other details would be useful I told him country: US or Europe/UK and also layer: tree shrub etc. I also told me about my concern about sending it as an attachment. Still no comments from the trustees.

Our trip was to Bigbury-on-Sea on the south Devon coast not far from Plymouth. We drove there mainly on the A38 and the weather was gloomy, actually raining for the boring main road part of the drive, but blue sky appeared when we turned off – on the same route we took so many times in 2017 when I was having expensive remedial dentistry treatment at Yealmpton with Professor Christopher Tredwin, who was recommended by my regular, local private dentist Stephen Bulmer. We turned off before Yealmpton towards Kingsbridge and the road to Bigbury off that which was quite narrow in places, especially going through Bigbury to Bigbury-on-Sea. There was a great big almost empty and open car park, so that was good, although the machine only took cash and Dave didn’t have very much. As usual these days I was quite nervous and jumpy on the journey and hungry when we got there so we tucked into the hummus and salad sandwiches straightaway, watching two young men pump up an inflatable surf board. Then we went for a walk, two walks actually because there were two beaches, separate from each other. One beach led to shallow water where a kind of tractor with a box for passengers on top takes people to a little island where there is a huge Art Deco hotel, which is where, Dave said, Agatha Christie set the play ‘And then there were none’. Apart from the place where ripples meeting from either side made interference patterns there was not much to see or distance to walk, so we went to the other beach which has a place people can hire surf boards, plus paddles for when there are no surfable waves, also shallow canoe-like boats, also for paddling. It was quite busy with beautiful young people and their gear but we went down the steps to the other, bigger beach with no problem keeping our distance. The best feature of the beach was the rock formations, complex geology, with sections of sedimentary rock at different angles, some vertical, complex patterns of holes dotting some of them, others had seams of quartz. There were sections of these rocks protruding jaggedly from the beach. Just gorgeous! We drove home a different way, via Totnes and Newton Abbot. There was a bit of a scary incident just where we had the car crash which shook me up, but Dave drives carefully, taking account of my jitters without being a nuisance to other drivers. I did appreciate that. On the way back I was thinking about what to have for supper as driving makes me nervous makes me hungry. After the family picnic we made bubble and squeak, but this time I couldn’t think of anything, but later we had pasta with lots of delicious pesto and some lettuce.

Day 84

I feel this heading should have a string of exclamations marks. This is the last day of my Twelve Weeks and I have written a thousands words almost every day, quite a bit more than that on some days, and sometimes counting and struggling to reach the target. Now I have to look through it all to see how much is relevant to saving the planet and how much is personal journal-like.

I listened to ‘More or Less’ this morning and I was interested in a guest who is an actuary casting doubts on a widespread assumption that a considerable proportion of those who died of covid would have died anyway or quite soon. I don’t remember the exact details but he said something like that the life expectation of someone eighty years old with one or two health conditions would be several years, not weeks or months.

Trev has sent me an Excel spreadsheet with 956 named plants with their edible properties and various coded details. I copied it into Word and there are 88,000 words, and 250 pages once I’d made the edible properties column narrow enough so all the words are visible on landscape pages, not spreading beyond the right hand margin. I shall have to sort the spreadsheet by edible rating and pick up just the plants rated 5 to make a start, then divide them by US and other countries, and it will be interesting to see if the sets of plants I get might make up a forest with layers and woody parts as well as a useful mix of food yields. I have done that and I have ninety plants to play with and in Word it is 17 pages long, around 12,500 words – much more manageable. I started looking through the edible properties and very many of the plants produce fruit, very few so far yield protein or oil. It looks as if the edible properties text often begins with what food the plant yields so it may be worth either picking that out into a separate column or just sorting on it to get a feel for the variety of food types there is in rating 5, then do a similar things with 4 and perhaps 3. These rating are very subjective anyway, being based on Ken’s whims and preferences, and Dave Jacke said in his book that Ken’s idea of what tastes good is rather strange. Trev did say in a recent email that he intends to consult other sources of plants information. He said in his latest email that he had not included annuals but I see there are alliums including garlic. He said earlier that he’d had difficulty selecting anything beyond all food forest plants. However there are fifty fewer with this spreadsheet than the first one he sent.

I finished reading Saint Maybe this morning and it does have a happy ending, in a conventional sense that is, in that he gets married, has his own baby son and is all set to live happily ever after. But he doesn’t wake up to the nonsense his little church is founded on, although maybe that’s my prejudice. Ian does realise that its strictures against sugar and coffee are nonsense, and he doesn’t go along with the founder’s idea that he should be his successor. I don’t have another novel lined up, unless I read Our Mutual Friend or The Old Curiosity Shop, both of which we’ve seen TV serials of recently. There is also a book L gave me about four sisters with connections to Morris. I’ll fetch it and write a bit about that now.

A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Balwin, by Judith Flanders is a biography of those four women. Jan Morris is quoted on the front cover saying it is ‘an exhibition of Victorian artistic and middle-class life, public and domestic’. It is a properly researched book with notes, biography and index with many page references to William Morris, but very few of those extending beyond a page or two, and all about personal relations. I will look each of them up but I expect to find they are all a few words each, not even entire paragraphs. There is nothing in the index or contents about education, let alone Morris as an educationalist. Perhaps its being scholarly put me off seeing it as bedtime and insomniac or early morning reading material. Picking it up again after some weeks I find a bookmark in pages 78-9 of 300 or so main pages, so about a quarter, although after such a gap I shall need to start again.

I’ve just ordered The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia because he was on the radio having won a prize and he mentioned the sea being riddled with container shipping and docks no longer full of men and goods being loaded and unloaded; it’s all invisible. As the book is a history there probably won’t be much about what’s going on now, but this could be useful material for my DESA arguments.

I am really relieved that this is the last page as I find myself struggling to reach the word count, and that is rather silly. It cannot be that I’ve run out of subjects to write about, it’s more that this format and the challenge to myself, and the whole covid restrictions situation have become tiresome and frustrating. Having said that, I am still afraid of getting the disease as it doesn’t seem to me that it is known how many or how few people are likely to be about who may be infectious, even in places like Dawlish, small towns in largely rural areas in the South West, where the cases have been fewer than in London and other cities and in the North and Midlands. Certainly, the much vaunted by ministers track, test and trace system is still leaving most of what’s happening out of its reach. It only takes one contact, and it does seem possible that a few people are super-spreaders even without symptoms. That is what I think about immediately after I feel any urges to go out and take chances. No, not yet, maybe in July if there is more evidence by then.

So, farewell Twelve Weeks, I’m done.



[1] Mark Frost, ‘The Ruskin–Morris Connection’ accessed 27/3/20.

[2] Peter Frankopan, The New Silk Roads: The Present and the Future of the World (London: Bloomsbury, 2019 [2018]) Frankopan was writing this at least two years ago (it is dedicated to his father who died in 2018, but that may have been added during the publication stage) and a lot has happened since then. There is a long entry for ‘Trump’ in the index so maybe Frankopan was writing in 2017 – and reading on (2/4/20) I see references to summer 2018.

[3] Frankopan, p. 12.

[4] Michael Le Page, ‘Analysis Carbon emissions’, New Scientist, 7 March 2020, p. 13.

[5] Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (London: Dent, 1960 [1843]), p. 8. (I couldn’t resist going upstairs to check I had the reference right; I hadn’t, remembering my copy is from the Everyman’s Library series, but found that the publisher was Dent.)

[6] Paul Buckley, ‘Time to Lay Down William Penn’s Sword’, December 1, 2003 [accessed 30/3/20]

[8] 200111shadesofgreen [last modified 26/1/20, resumed 27/2/20]

[9] Wikipedia’s page on ‘Green’ has a link to ‘disambiguation’, where ‘Environmentalism’ is the first item.

[10] [reworked from here 29/2/20]

[11] As a Tagore scholar I was ambivalent about identifying as a deep ecologist, with its condemnation of anthropocentrism in favour of attributing legal and ethical rights to other species and the natural world, due to my respect for Tagore’s pragmatic religious focus on the reconciliation between personal and the universal humanity.

[12] The real work is concerned with designing and establishing food forests and carbon farms to supply local communities and economies with all their basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.

[13] Saved as 200316diamondonanimaloriginsofdisease

[14] It was the ‘Great Lives’ group in Dawlish U3A.

[15] E.g. Taylor Kubota, ‘Study casts doubts on carbon capture’, [accessed 1 March 2020]

[16] Carter, Vernon Gill and Tom Dale, Topsoil and Civilization, revised edition (University of Oklahoma Press, 1974 [1955])

[17] Years later Copas planted dwarf fruit trees, soft fruit bushes and strawberry beds for a Pick Your Own scheme.

[18] Some time later, when I was working as a volunteer at FoE Head Office, I wrote a paper and had a meeting with then-Director Jonathon Porritt, who explained that FoE is a lobby group so its campaign areas had to be narrowly focussed on specific policy changes – such as demanding labelling on imports of tropical timber so that consumers could avoid species likely to have come from illegal logging. ‘land degradation worldwide’ was just too big.

[19] Darcia F. Narvaez, ‘The Primal Wound: Do You Have One? Is a primal wound driving you to addiction?’ Posted Nov 12, 2017 [accessed 3/4/20]

[20] Compassion in World Farming:

[21] Frankopan, p. 28.

[22] Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future and the New Frontier of Power (London: Profile, 2019)

[23] Wayne Ellwood, ‘One belt, one road’, New Internationalist, 513 (2018), 34-36.

[24] Yohann Koshy, ‘The Big Story: China’, New Internationalist, 522 (2019), 15-36 (pp. 24-5).

[25] Simon Fairlie, ‘The Infrastructure Lobby: “The Slow Breathing of the Monster”’, The Ecologist, 23 (1993).

[26] John M. Allegro, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970)

[27] John M. Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth (London: Abacus, 1979), bioblurb.

[28] Judith Anne Brown, John Marco Allegro: The Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Cambridge: Berdmans, 2005)

[29] R. Gordon Wasson, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, [1966])

[30] Jared Diamond, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee: How Our Animal Heritage Affects the Way We Live (London: Vintage, 2002 [1991])

[31] Nick Cohen, ‘Surely the link between abusing animals and the world’s health is now clear’ [accessed 13/4/20]

[32] Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), p. 138.

[33] Krishna Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (London: Oxford University, 1962), p. 348.

[34] Hirsi Ali, p. 45.

[35] Hirsi Ali, p. 74.

[36] Allegro, p. xiii.

[37] Author’s Note, p.5.

[38] I added this later on going through what I’d written, but doing so can mess up the flow and the sense; I should resist it.

[39] Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomad: From Islam to America (London: Simon & Schuster, 2010)

[40] Nomad, pp. 273-4.

[41] Judith Anne Brown, p. 279.

[42] Bachelard, p. xxiii.

[43] Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980)

[44] Chris Marsh, Cultivating Confusion (1991), p. 4.

[45] Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (London: Vintage, 2005), p. 888.

[46] Penrose, pp. 43-5.

[47] Penrose, p.81.

[48] Michael S. Northcott, A Political Theology of Climate Change (William B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2013)

[49] Krankopan, p. 36.

[50] David Rothenberg, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p. 50.

[51] Diamond, p. 34.

[53] From Wikipedia entry on ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’.

[55] On the search page, in Special Uses, if you tick the boxes for both Carbon Farming and Food Forests the result is a 15 page table of 100 plants each, from Abelmoselus esculentus to Ziziphus jujuba. Of course, in reality users would also set other search parameters relevant to their site and requirements to select a manageable number of plants out of those 1500.)

[56] William Morris, ‘Thoughts on education under capitalism’, [accessed 14/6/20]