Views differ on the detail of our doom. The immediate reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles, solar flares, epic galactic alignment. Or the Mayan thing, yeah? Or all at once.
Either that or we’ll evolve spontaneously and ascend to the next level of existence. This is the fluffy side of the apocalyptic coin, available in a spectrum of extremity from mild hippiedom to utterly barking. Could be aliens and interdimensional beings appearing in a blaze of rainbow light, briefly posing like a psy-trance flyer for everybody’s FlickR, then laying down some groovy new rules for living. Like, love each other, yeah? And quit killing the planet. Mmmkay?
Others believe 21/12/12 heralds a gentler but very real greater ‘awareness’ or ‘synchronicity’ across the world. As the date is in our collective consciousness, it’s a useful peg on which to hang some collective soul-searching. There’s no denying something of the sort is needed. Our hyper-indebted economic systems, spoiled-child consumption habits and the state of the climate and biodiversity are species-threatening challenges if we don’t radically rethink.
So I try to stay open-minded. But I can’t see myself on the same page as the ‘starseeds’ addressed by galactic guardians the ‘Arcturians’ on this site. Apparently we’re about to Ascend to a 5-dimensional Earth.
“Dec. 21st marks the cosmic tipping point… At this moment of change, we will enter into an eternal space of NO TIME… the Age of Aquarius. Earth is shifting into an eternal NOW… as we rise higher in frequencies to the New 5D Earth…
Yet… there will be people who will not even know that the ascension energy has been downloaded into this planet. What does that tell you?… you have to tune yourself to the frequencies.“
Advice elsewhere on the site for bringing on the Ascension includes ‘if you want to rest, rest. Don’t feel bad about eating a particular food you like’. Top tips for increasing your psychic ability: “surround yourself with pleasing objects, textures and spaces”. There are online love-ins for concepts and nebulous deities. Perhaps not so different from me eating brownies in a red sleeping bag while on Facebook. It is nice and all, but I don’t pretend it’s bringing on anything more than a sugar crash and a case of laptop neck.
Our collective problems are on this 3D Earth. They involve the complex interactions of natural processes, live 3D beings, physical resources and man-made systems. I personally find both the ascension and the apocalypse myths tied to a finite date deeply lazy ways to conceptualise the problems and opportunities we actually face.
If it is the fluffy one though, we’re golden- unless we’re required to believe in Artcturians or respect David Icke. We’re already reflecting on the course of Western civilisation and our own place within it, and trying to expand our knowledge and outlook. Some alien help in the form of a cosmic download would be appreciated but I won’t hold my breath.
But what if it’s the Ball-of-fire/Tsunami/Rapture/Bad Aliens/ Pole flip scenario?
As followers of this blog will know, we set off on our boat much later than intended. Originally, we thought we’d have made it to the South of France by early November. Our plan was to hunt down and interview esoteric survivalists and bemused locals in Bugarach- for various reasons tipped as THE place to survive 2012. But it’d take us too long to get there in Joker now. In any case it appears the journalists descending to cover the story are massively outnumbering credulous refugees. They’ll probably all end up interviewing the same 5 people, who’ll be too busy enjoying the spotlight and doing vox-pops to realise they can’t even get up the mountain:
“Indeed, access to the peak and its underground tunnels will be banned between 19 and 23 December…The roads leading to the village will be screened and, if strong inflows, they will be totally blocked.” -Mayor of Bugarach
What an apocalypse pooper, eh?
So where can we go to be safe? Luckily, Joker is an Etap. Though Etap are no longer making yachts, their marketing has been hijacked by popular doom prophet Patrick Geryl. Etap’s very typical yacht ad has been overlaid with subtitles exhorting Etap owners to abandon dry land on the 21st December. Geryl claims that as Etaps are one of only a few small sailboats to be built with a double foam-filled hull, they are ‘unsinkable’. As all landmasses will be inundated with planet-sized tsunamis when solar flares blow out the magnetic polarity of the globe, Geryl calls for all Etap owners to be ‘out at sea’, gathering to wait out the apocalypse to ensure the survival of the species. Etap are now hosting this adapted video on their website.
So we figured we’d hedge our bets. As it happens Friday’s supposed to be a nice day, so we’re heading out of the marina for a bit. Perhaps we really will be swept aloft for the ride of our lives over the cracked and gushing wreck of the world, only to found tiny colonies on new landmasses with a few weird Etap owners and mountain dwellers. But if it stays nice, we’ll think good thoughts. In case the starseeds need help getting to the fifth dimension.
Good luck, and STAY ALIVE!
Since moving onto the boat we’ve had to deal with new challenges in keeping clean. In the first week I swam a few times, and a few time used Dr Bronner’s rose scented Castile Soap. This stuff is made up of essential oils rather than the usual soapy chemicals so I felt fairly OK about using it in natural water.
As we travelled the canal water changed depending on the area- from river fed, clear streams to stagnant trash-strewn muddiness and back again. The morning after a lovely evening swim in apparently clean water, the cut on my right hand was puffed to double its size, pink and throbbing. I’d waited until it was closed to swim without the protection of plastic and gaffer tape but apparently not long enough. I was sure it was infected. This caused me to reflect on what you can actually do in a resource-scarce or collapse situation when an infection has set into part of your body. Emma Caton had given us antiseptic tincture for prevention but what about cure? Is it only antibiotics that can do that effectively?
If I’d been in Bristol I’d have gone to the doctor straight away- my right index finger is kind of important to me. As it was, I called NHS Direct while going through a lock and anxiously described my symptoms. Apparently the swelling could have been caused either by infection or by overstraining the joint pulling ropes, climbing ladders and winding lock gates since our departure. Either way, as it wasn’t leaking smelly pus or anything they told me to leave it and see if it fixed itself.
Weirdly it felt better as soon as I hung up the phone- which just goes to show a) that NHS Direct is a good gatekeeper for hypochondriacs who might otherwise clog up the waiting rooms and b) that just consulting with somebody and being told I could probably heal on my own was enough to make me feel physically better. The swelling went down within 24 hours, but 2 months later the joint still aches and I have trouble opening tight jars. So for anybody as foolish as me can I just say- don’t bust champagne bottles with your bare hand, however excited you are. And if you must, make sure it’s not your best hand.
Waterways aside, it’s easy to keep physically clean as long as you have a sink or tub full of clean water, and ideally soap and a flannel. Just doing ‘bits and pits’ will stop you smelling but you can rub down your whole body in less time than a shower takes. You need far less water and you can do it without splashing everywhere if you use a flannel and stand on a towel. It’s a good strategy for the scenarios we’ve been in along the London towpaths, when we’ve had to get clean at the sinks of public toilets without getting water everywhere. If the sink area is too public you can fill a squeezy water bottle and do it in the cubicle. Ah, the glamour. Again, at the beginning of the journey on isolated stretches of country canal we rigged tarps and showered in the cockpit. Once you’re in a ‘civilised’ city and cheek by jowl with your neighbours whose barges all have private indoor washing areas, that feels too exposed.
When we move onto Joker we will have an onboard toilet and sink and should be able to adapt that area to have showers in there as well, so our washing situation will be less squalid. While we’re between boats we’re obviously using my parents hot shower, and it still feels like gloriously profligate luxury.
We also washed our clothes at Claverton weir early in the journey, using Dr Bronners body wash and Ecover dish soap. We soaked the clothes in a waterproof tub overnight with the soap and in the morning kicked the tub around the field next to the river for ten minutes or so. Then I got into my swimsuit and rinsed each item, hanging them on nearby trees and bushes. It seemed to get the clothes clean, but then they weren’t that dirty at that point.
As time has gone by, cumulative grime has built up on our clothes and we’ve realised that our low-maintenance way of washing clothes is not getting any significant amount of dirt out. At one point we were also using a very sooty fuel for our cooking stove, so we’ve smeared a few items of clothing with apparently indelible greasy black marks. To be honest, we were fools to think it might work. It’s well known that the invention of the domestic washing machine was a major factor in freeing up women’s time and liberty for things like, y’know, careers and shopping and kittens and stuff. It takes serious time to do by hand. And in East London it is not an option- apart from all the gak IN the water, a thick coating of duckweed covers the whole surface most days. There are a few pedal and hand crank powered gadgets on the market, and also some 12V ones we’re looking at, but for now we’ve had a few friends in London take pity on us and lend their machines. Thanks Petra and Denise. 🙂
Hair! Hair. Hair. My birthday on 29th August was the last time I washed it with soap. I was inspired by my friend Gemma and her stunning barnet to take the plunge and give it the 4-6 weeks recommended on the interwebs for my hair to re-establish its ‘natural balance’and start self-cleaning. As recommended, I’ve tried to rinse it with clean water daily and brush it as often as possible. I’ve got past the worst 3 week phase when the texture resembled an overused dish sponge. I’ve got past the days when big smears of black grime accumulated on the sides of my hairbrush as I pulled the knots out. Now I only get small smears of black grime. I’ve been chafing to wash it with a nice harsh shampoo for the last 2 weeks. Sam keeps telling me it’s getting better and it is, a bit. But my hair used to actually be nice. And feel nice. And smell nice. Even though the worst seems to be over, it’s still stiff and unwieldy. I’d never want to wear it down, it morphs too easily into a frazzled Wurzel Gummidge or a slicked down Draco Malfoy- or worse, a bit of each. I wonder if it’s because it’s bleached- maybe the self cleaning doesn’t work if the follicle is damaged? Anyway I’m going to give it a few more days to clean up its own act, then either hack off the bleach for a low maintenance crop or retouch the roots and lay the foundations for a (relatively) high maintenance routine of washing, conditioning and re-bleaching that I probably won’t be able to keep up. Honestly, I’ve never talked and worried about my hair as much as in the past two weeks- I just generally don’t worry about hair- so something has to give.
I’m definitely looking forward to moving onto Joker and having just that little bit more private space to keep clean in.
I never wrote the blog post I promised after last year’s Uncivilisation festival. It took some processing and was a much deeper, more emotional experience than I’d expected. In the end I left it too long and lost that strong emotional impact in favour of watching and cutting the footage- which largely emphasised the factual and editorial.
Better late than never, the results of last year’s footage have been edited by Vivi Stamatatos and are ready for viewing:
I think it’s a good snapshot of what the festival and accompanying movement is about, though it does leave out the strand of neo-primitivist art and spirituality, discussed below.
Now it’s 2 weeks after the 2012 festival and I’ve just read the third Dark Mountain anthology produced by the same team. The combination of the festival and the book provoked many responses in me, both positive and critical. It’s a long post, but if you like to read, you probably won’t mind.
Firstly, the tiny size of the festival is fantastic for meeting people and the urgency of the issues involved means you dive straight into deep conversations and debates with strangers at the drop of a hat. It’s totally fine to sit yourself down at a group of people and join in the conversation without introducing yourself. It’s dizzying at times- I know some people who live their lives like this but I’ve never been one of them. I’d like to be.
We did shoot footage at this year’s festival but rather than the sessions and organisers this consisted of interviews with two attendees. We met lots of other people, both wonderful and perturbing, and hopefully became more plugged into this network of people. All are in their way working diligently against denial.
In contrast to last year’s festival with its factual sessions on ‘collapsonomics’ and economic bubbles, there was little in the sessions that dealt with the likely shape and detail of the problems we might face. Instead there was a strand reflecting on the lessons of the 90s road protests and lots of spiritual and creative workshops focusing on reconnecting with ‘the wild’. I enjoyed those, and loved the tales of the road protests as I have friends who were there and speak of it as a huge watershed in their view of the world and in British activism. But I did find last year’s combination of debate on the empirical and political issues of today and the more spiritual ‘re-wilding’ very refreshing and well balanced. This year’s emphasis seemed a bit nebulous and fluffy. Apparently last year’s controversies caused some tension and forced people into ‘entrenched positions’ which was unhelpful. I was raised in an argumentative family, though, so I like that sort of thing. I’d rather thrash things out and then heal rifts with communal rituals afterwards than smother tensions before they arise.
As far as the art and music, again I was torn. There was some very beautiful art by Rima Staines with a wonderful wood-smoked and folk feel to it. Also a combination of paintings and poems called ‘The Fixing of Things’ that recalled the ripping apart and re-merging of natural structures and patterns- storms, wood-grain, stars, mud. The absolute highlight of the festival was the storytelling session by Martin Shaw, a broad bearded man like a dearly beloved uncle, full of exuberant love for his art. He made us laugh, sigh and cry tears of pain and healing joy with his vivid characters and tales that celebrated freedom, love and the wild in us all. Some great acoustic musicians played too, though the ‘Brythonic’ folk band Wod reminded me of the bit in the Mighty Boosh where Vince and Howard make an ill-judged effort to bring Medieval music to the hipsters of East London. The special circle dances they held a workshop to teach were strangely monotonous and the music very repetitive. Having seen my friend Red Vic orchestrate 1,000 very drunk people into a complex barn dance with no practice whatsoever, I felt more could have been achieved. If this is the future of music I will spend the rest of my life weeping for amps, synths and drum machines.
Having said that, there was a magical moment during the dance, when into the firelight stepped several masked figures- a deer man, a tall white figure with a curved beak and walking cane, and a woman with a face. The mask was just slightly more stylized than a ‘real’ face and expertly crafted. As the firelight flickered over it and showed grief, then innocence, then compassion, I experienced a deep shudder of unreality.
These moments that connect me to the sacred place of art and spectacle in ancient times, and remind me how little is needed in terms of resources to touch and transport an audience, are what grab and hold me about the Dark Mountain approach to art.
The third Dark Mountain anthology is a gorgeous piece of work, and features many of the visual artists and writers from the festival. It’s very well balanced in its combination of essays, poems, stories and colour prints. Its balance in terms of theory, reportage, dream, memory, beauty, hope, rage and sadness is stunningly well judged. It’s less well balanced in its inclusiveness.
I’ve heard women attending the festival complain of its macho bias before, and I’d previously shelved those concerns because the movement was so inspiring to me in other ways. Also because although it was chiefly young white men running it, they seemed like awfully nice and intelligent men with great ideas and lots of talent. I do reach a point with my feminism that it can stop me from enjoying the plethora of wonderful things that men make and do because I’m always screaming inside ‘where are the women?’ And that gets very tiring. So I switch it off. I have to do this quite often to enjoy some of my favourite art. I’m used to it.
But after reading several stories in which troubled men find a deeper connection to woodland spirits, dead badgers and mountainsides than their female partners, I started to feel uneasy. Though a few great women writers are featured in the anthology, a theme emerged through several of the fiction pieces of a shadowy female figure smelling of chemical perfumes who represents ‘normality’, ‘civilisation’, numb consumer comfort and everything Dark Mountain stands against. The male protagonist rails against, preaches to or simply deserts this woman without a word, to embrace the wild alone.
If you’ve read Alex Scarrow’s ‘Last Light’ books you’ll know they’re basically pulp horror, dystopian sci fi with a Peak Oil twist. At the start of the first book the protagonist’s wife is about to leave him because he talks too much about Peak Oil and embarrasses her at dinner parties. By the end of the novel the Peak Oil crash has decimated the world she knew and after a tooth and nail struggle across feral England she’s ready to fall back into his arms, wailing apologies. You get the impression this is a private fantasy of Scarrow’s and that possibly Mrs Scarrow is no longer returning his calls. (To be fair though, the second part involves a renewables-powered matriarchy on an oil rig run by the same woman after her husband sacrifices himself for his family in a hand to hand battle. Great stuff if you like that sort of thing).
The Peak Oil forums Sam joined in 2008 are full of men who’ve become geeks on the subject complaining about their wives’ stubborn refusal to uproot their lives. One of the men we interviewed at the festival said his recent marriage breakup was partly caused by his obsession with preparing for the breakdown of civilisation. He’s keeping a place for her at the rural ‘doomstead’ he’s building, in case she ever needs it.
All this is just to say that this field of interest is, like many others, very male dominated. And that can result in the Dark Mountaineers and friends seeing themselves as lonely pioneers, out on the clifftop leading the way, dragging us recalcitrant girls along behind, like as not whining that there’s no power for our hairdryers. Though there is much that is compassionate and good in this movement, this posturing should be taken with a large pinch of salt.
There is also a fetishisation of physical labour and the toughness of withstanding the elements. I’d agree that as more of us need to grow food, and ecological conditions become more erratic, we will all need to become reacquainted with the elements and stretch the capacities of our own bodies. We do need to get in touch with the ecology that we rely on in every possible way. Our alienation from it has caused such irreversible devastation. In that case though, where does the Dark Mountain movement begin to address how we take care of the growing elderly population, and others who are unable to take on this kind of physical challenge? While the Dark Mountaineers are encountering stags in the wilderness, who will look after their elderly mums or disabled children? Or maybe that won’t be such a problem. A few attendees at the festival spoke with casual bluster of ‘die-offs’, and how the key to survival will lie in managing to sit those out until it’s safe to emerge and reconnect with the resourceful few who made it. One man in his 70s joked nervously about ‘killing off all the oldies’ for fuel. Ha ha.
My friend Zoe Young led a session called ‘Bright Valleys’ at last year’s Uncivilisation that I was too involved in to shoot properly. I filmed some of it but it was so full of emotion and deep personal moments that it seemed wrong to use the footage (at least just yet)- especially as there was nobody to film me. When it was my time to share my feelings of fear, shame and grief over the impending loss of the ways of life I know and my part in the damage done, I sobbed my heart out.
Part of Zoe’s point in this session was that come what may in the outside world, the essentials of home and hearth remain the same. The food must be prepared, the fire lit, the children cared for, friendships and loves nurtured. Globally and historically the bulk of this work has fallen to women, and changes less between eras than the range of economically viable careers. From her work on witchhunts among tribal peoples, Zoe said that often when hard times come, the men find it harder to cope because their identity is bound up in going out into the world to provide. This could apply equally to career women whose identities are not also rooted in something more durable. When the particular role they play loses its relevance, they can enter a tailspin of panic and violence.
Women are also often scapegoated in hard times, bearing the brunt of poverty in the developing world, and the harsh end of the cuts in the UK. Witchhunts are not just for so called ‘primitive’ societies. So the alienated way women are portrayed in several of the stories in DM3, and in many of the other ‘survivalist’ and ‘collapse’ narratives out there is a source of disquiet to me. I missed Zoe’s session at this year’s festival as I felt it helped to process and allay the fear some of the other sessions stirred up.
The stated purpose of Dark Mountain’s third anthology is the ‘search for a home’. A couple of the Uncivilisation sessions also touched on founder Paul Kingsnorth’s belief that a strong ‘connection to place’ and ‘belonging to a landscape’ is a good way to a simpler life. The word ‘indigenous’ was used, which sparked off quite a discussion, as nobody wanted to sound like a BNP member. It was meant in the sense of being connected to the land and invested in its well being as much as your own- wherever you choose to make your home. But it’s not hard to see how those ideas could (and do) inform an exclusionary, fascistic narrative in other contexts. In many of the pieces in DM3 and the Unciv sessions, I got an elusive sense of where a home beyond collapse might be found, for me, for Sam and for our family. In the stories of the lonely men and their woodland spirits, though I found beauty, I found no home for me.
These seeds of disquiet don’t extend to a rejection of the group/movement/idea. It’s still the best place to share my much greater disquiet over where our culture is headed and how we might deal with it- on both practical and creative levels. As last year’s interview with the founders makes clear, it’s an ongoing search for meaning and mythologies, not a set of statements or imperatives. I’d recommend seeking out the books and attending next year’s festival. It’s always an eye opener, and the conversations, singing and sharing around the fire are worth the trip on their own.
Sam: ‘So what is this story? Why are we doing this? Apart from because it’s a brilliant adventure. Why don’t we just stay home and join our local Transition group or CSA farm? ‘
Naomi: ‘It’s an adventure story. It’s like Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam are happy in the Shire. It’s safe there, but they know it won’t always be safe. So they go out into danger*, they immerse themselves in it and explore its heart, and when they come back the danger has come to the Shire and they know what to do about it’
* in this case danger could mean a number of things- the big looming dangers of collapse or just the feelings of danger people experience when we’re way outside our comfort zone.
The more I research, discuss and think about issues of resilience for the future, the more I reinforce my belief in local, community solutions. Governments and corporations are massively powerful, and as ordinary citizens, our influence on their decisions is kept as much at arms length as possible. Their structures for doing that can be temporarily disrupted by direct action, or we can join our voice to pressure groups and organisations who will lobby for us through the ‘proper channels’. But for me, taking power should always also mean taking responsibility, and that is so much more manageable when the groups are small and the problems they are trying to solve are close to home.
I am a big fan of the Transition movement for that reason. It’s about people relearning the skills to provide themselves with food and necessities locally, and in the process rebuilding the connections and interdependencies many of us have lost with our local community.
The internet provides community of sorts, but it can only go so far. I have met and befriended like-minded people all over the world, and it’s great. But when it comes to life’s real necessities- food, water, security- jawing on Twitter might help us blow off steam or spread the word but the person next door is where it’s at. And that person may not be ‘like-minded’ at all. It might take some work to build a relationship with that person, far beyond ‘liking’ the same vaguely subversive webpage and having the same snarky sense of humour in comments threads. This kind of work you have to do in person, with eye contact, cups of tea and sometimes heavy lifting.
The real-life community I’m most a part of is The Invisible Circus, a collective of artists, performers and makers and the subject of my first feature doc. It started out with an effort to be non-heirarchical and my film chronicles, among other things, the ways in which that succeeds and fails. Now it is run more centrally by a much smaller group, but the wider community around it is made up of individuals who share their resources and help each other out. Professionally the group comes together to collaborate for creative processes and in terms of overall strategy the door is always open, both for input and people who want to take on the work. I’m happy with this and I don’t see it as a failure of self-organisation because it’s small enough. I know that the people who have power are also those who take the most responsibility, and we all know each other’s faces, names and hearts. That’s my kind of anarchy: not horizontal consensus with the entire group consulted on every point whether they show up to do the work or not, but manageable hierarchy and respect and autonomy for those who take responsibility. It’s only possible on a small scale, and it’s a damn sight easier when everybody is physically near.
So I definitely understand the argument of several friends who’ve questioned our strategy of heading out, just the two of us, on a tiny cramped boat, to other countries and other communities. In a way we are removing and isolating ourselves from the communities we hope to be a part of, that we’ll depend on and contribute to in the long term. But it’s temporary. We’re not saying the two of us on a boat can be entirely self-sufficient. We’re on an adventure to learn how others do it, and bring back those ideas skills and solutions- from the madcap to the basic and pragmatic. We’ll bring them in person to the folks back home on our return, but also to your community, both as we pass through and second hand via you and the magical interwebs. If you see something on our travels that inspires you, go next door, invite them for a cup of tea and see what you can do together.
“Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”