What a magic day it was yesterday! From end to end it was a day of beautiful synchronicity, wonderful meetings with old and new friends, gorgeous autumnal weather, evidence of hopeful creativity everywhere, and a real sense of closure on the old and lots of new beginnings. Oh and the Pope’s visit. More of that later.
An early start as I have a 3-way conference call to finalise my departure from my current job. Yes, after 19 months working in the wood pellet industry I am moving on. I am stepping out into the world of consultancy again, using my skills and experience in the wonderful world of biomass energy to anyone needing guidance, advice and hand-holding. The call goes well and it seems that everything will be completed by close of play today. It’s really my last day.
A quick meeting on the way back home to talk to my financial advisors Chris and Karen, who as usual provide honest, pragmatic and direct advice. They are real gurus at the unusual end of finance and are invaluable in what is a somewhat crazy world we live in right now.
Shortly after breakfast my friend Iza arrives. Iza has been a real mate and a stalwart for me through good times and bad. We bought some woods together with a few other friends some years ago and we share a love of mushrooms, butterflies, dragonflies and all things wood. Today we are off to Woody Heaven – the annual Weald Wood Fair over at Bentley Wildlife Park. Several thousand ‘woodies’ all hanging out and showing off their wares, their skills and generally catching up. The car park is filling up fast as we arrive and the weather is great. We pay for our tickets and immediately spot Matt, a confirmed food forager and woodie from Firle Village talking to a wooden boat builder with two beautiful clinker boats. We tag up and immediately bump into Ben Law. Ben, as some will know, achieved some fame through his appearance on Channel 4’s ‘Grand Designs’. He built, for very little money, but with huge amounts of love and hard work, a beautiful chestnut cruck framed house in the woods. Ben and I first bumped into each other at the Earth Spirit Festival more than 12 years ago. We were both going through very difficult times with former partners and our children and supported each other.
Since then Ben has become a national figure and in great demand to talk about managing woodland, building sustainable houses and as an author. He was there to sign copies of his latest book ‘Roundwood Timber Framing’ (via publishers Permanent Publications – http://www.permaculture.co.uk). We caught up on families – he now has three children, work (busy, busy) and life in general (really good). I promised to come back later and get a book signed from him.
And the day just went on like that. Bumped into James Little, an old friend whom I have done pellet boiler and pellet fuel business with. It’s a really honest relationship and we are able to talk frankly about life, wood fuel business prospects and his pellet making project. After a few false starts due to pellet equipment not performing to spec., he is now on course to produce quality pellets (see http://www.harvestwoodfuels.co.uk)
Right after saying farewell to James, run into Max Brownrigg who runs a business called Tree Spirits. He takes kids into a magic space where they see pieces of wood and turn them into Sprites, Elves and other magical creatures. He has a huge sprawling stand with scores of his ‘friends’. Max is slacking off lying down on the job but just about raises himself up to pass the time. He’s a great character. (http://partywithtreespirits.com/index.htm)
Into the wooded area at Bentley where lots of active wood things are going on, ranging from horse logging to firing clay pots in the way they were 1000 years ago. Iza and I buy a nice thick enamel pot for camping as well as a great copper kettle. A bargain at £15. I spy a simple wood stove that might be suitable for our tool shed in the woods. This will allow us to work the land in winter and give us some warmth in inclement weather. Steve the Romany who runs the stand and owns a classic horse-drawn caravan, is helpful and can deliver another time when we are ready.
Great carvings and practical skills are on show all over the woods, ranging from flint knapping and wood turning, to metal smelting, wooden shingle making and iron forging. We bump into Ruby who works for East Sussex Archaeology and Museums Partnership (www.esamp.com ). An artist and all-round craft lady, she is slow firing some clay pots via a simple wooden fire, covered by bracken and earth. She explains to us with real care how the system works and that it is due to complete the following day. What a great teacher this lady is – really enthusiastic and with attention to detail.
We are really taken with a magnificent timber framed structure in the woods brought by Frankie Woodgate and her partner from Kent. It was erected and designed by Ben Law. Frankie offers horse-drawn timber extraction and woodland management (www.sylvanenvironmental.co.uk – 07929202 963). Where access is limited for big vehicles, horses really do the business. For keeping on top of the ubiquitous bracken they also offer a more cost-effective system than standard diesel vehicles. The timber frame is made from softwood pine. That’s very interesting for us as we have a lot of quite mature pine in our woods and much less oak and chestnut. A knowing look between us at this point – one for the future.
A quick purchasing run of two wicker baskets (Iza), two chopping boards courtesy of Dave West (W. L. West the timber mill near Midhurst in West Sussex), a big kettle, rope, some balm for furniture and kindling sticks, and then a late lunch. Saw some beautiful modern tipis offered by Mark from Green Outdoor (www.greenoutdoor.co.uk). Mark’s an IT guy who loves camping and canoeing and with his partner has made a business out of his true passion. Tipis are great tents but in winter the traditional ones take a lot of work and effort to erect and keep dry. These modern ones are really quick to set up and dry easily. The two guys have also designed a neat portable stove in stainless steel that is light and small enough to be carried in a canoe but can heat a tent in winter. I have to keep my credit card firmly in my pocket at this point.
There is a really good vibe all round at the Fair. Money seems tight according to some of the stall-holders, with as many people coming as in previous years but not so many people spending cash. We end off with Ben Law signing his book for my friend Chris, who is going to spend more time in France at his second home.
What’s really inspiring about many of the woodies here today is that if the proverbial really does hit the fan, there are a lot of people who have kept key knowledge alive that we all might need. While it’s great to go on courses to discover how to flint knap and fire pots, the fact that we really can do all kinds of practical living even if the power is off and supermarket shelves empty is re-assuring.
Over at 4pm to Rottingdean village by the sea to meet up with my friend Willow. Willow is a master fire-keeper who travels across the UK and internationally, keeping fire for ceremony and ritual purposes. Having seen him at work in a tepee over 12 hours his fire work is quite magical and incredibly focussed. He believes that through the fire and the re-connection this gives us to the Sun and Nature, we can really make big changes in our own lives and life on this planet. He has some great insights. “Slow down and let the good catch up” is one that resonates. We talk about doing a piece on him for my ‘Extra-Ordinary People’ series. Over a long drink and then a meal we travel through our various life stories. Quite an awe-inspiring the journey he has made to be here now. We agree to meet at the Wood Fair the following day.
Home now, quite tired but peaceful. The late radio and TV news is full of the Pope’s visit. This is the first irritation in a great day. Jeez – why are we giving this guy a State visit? He heads up a medieval organisation with enormous power and influence, but with a terrible track record on women, paedophilia and the cover-up which is still going on, birth control and education. When it really counted in the War they buried their heads to survive but left the Jews to the tender mercies of the Nazis. Lots of apologies to all and sundry since then, but whenever it really counts the church and the hierarchy this guy represents have never been brave.
Sorry for what might seem a bit of an anti-Catholic rant. Lots of individual Catholics are wonderful people and do amazing work, but the senior people, including the MD who run their Church, should collectively hang their heads in shame. A lot of healing is needed here. I guess it’s a reminder that not all people and organisations want change. Still a lot of prayers and work to be done.