I've stopped thinking of myself as a virtuous person. I don't think I am. Every human being on this planet makes mistakes, becomes impatient, angry, emotional. I'm no saint - I'm a questioner.
I took my saint-less self along to the Quaker-led conference in Llandudno on the North Wales coast at the weekend with my family, (child and atheist other half). I'm going to write a few words about this, as I know that some Quakers are following this blog.
The weekend was called 'Living Simply'. It was a chance for people from Wirral, Chester and North Wales to explore what this might mean for them - in the context of peak oil/climate change and the rest of it. 'Living Simply' I felt, is just now, and has been for many years in fact, something that I do. For many years, a long time before I started talking directly to Quakers.
I discovered I don't want to imbue this thing (Living Simply) with all sorts of ideological meanings that I don't feel it should have. I feel it really puts people off. And I don't want to put people off, it's really important to save resources, cut your emissions and grow your own food.
I'm not vegetarian. We don't eat much meat. We don't have a car, we don't have a television (this astounds people - but please be assured - there is no shortage of information in our house!).
So, there were lots of joys at the weekend. Thank you everyone for organising it. I went to two work groups. One was called 'Combatting the Media'. The other I initiated - I called this 'Building Training for Organic Fruit and Vegetable Production'. The groups lasted 45 minutes each.
The 'Combatting the Media' group was particularly interesting for me. We talked about the 'red tops' - what sort of news hits the headlines and why. I tried to explain the sorts of challenges journalists are facing right now. Not a lot different I felt, from people in other industries hit by the recession with job cuts. Journos have a special place perhaps because (like teachers) people expect certain things of them. But like everyone else, they're fallible.
I talked a little bit, (in an individual capacity) about the NUJ campaign 'Journalism Matters'. That's a national campaign to protect quality journalism and it's vital role in our democracy. I painted a picture of what I thought would be a typical scenario:
Budget cuts in the newsroom - reporters wanting to cover particularly issues, but not getting the travel expenses or resources that they might need to do the best job they can. Not being able to travel to where the news is - to witness it yourself, but having to make do with telephone research. Needing to work faster and faster. Producing copy for print publications and with the Internet, producing web copy that's updated very fast, maybe more than once an hour. Having to multi-task. Not just writing, but photos too - using a video recorder...
I mentioned to the assembled company that the NUJ had an ethical code of conduct. Someone laughed. The expression on my face didn't change - I just took it as an indication of the ways in which quality journalism has been eroded. Maybe this started with Blair and his spin doctoring. Can we find our way back to something that consistently educates, informs and entertains without appealing to humanity's baser instincts? Our group scratched the surface of a discussion on the power of blogging, what blogs are, and what they can (and can't do).
Several insights came out of the organic food production group. We talked about Tim Lang, Garden Organic and the fact that only 5% of fruit is produced in the U.K. We collected and exchanged information about available training - in colleges of further education, at Garden Organic. There were some very experienced gardeners in the group and some newbies - so I hope during the course of the weekend that helped them get in touch with each other.
We talked raised beds and the pros and cons of them. Someone reminded me that railway sleepers are generally coated with preservative. One person did a presentation of the 'bag garden idea' which she said had come from South Africa, where land was in short supply. Put soil in a bag, (plastic or otherwise) and grow vegetables in it.
Allotments and the Allotment Act came up too. Shortages of them. We mentioned the allotments petition on the Wirral and someone said although the Allotment Act states that local authorities have to provide allotments if six people want them, there is no time scale attached to this, and so it is a blunt tool.
How to get round this, when people want land to grow vegetables on? If people have large gardens and they can't tend them, then you might be able to share with a neighbour. Check out the Landshare project.
As for the children - they got on with their bit. Building sandcastles on the beach.