Hard Labour

I published this post on This Low Carbon Life (the Transition Norwich community blog) yesterday (Saturday 31st July). Here it is verbatim.

When the first rains fell
we did what was necessary
we climbed down from our lofty thoughts
and began to work the fields

(from ‘Poor Memory’ by Alberto Blanco, trans. Mark Shafer)

Some weeks ago I met a woman on a bicycle just outside the village of Uggeshall, a few miles from where I live. She was born and raised there, has a garden orchard and sells her apples and jams outside her gate. She told me she remembered the moment when practical jobs and skills started to be looked down on in favour of adminstrative and office work, which was about the time she left school. We were roughly the same age. I am 48.

I was born in London, and grew up in High Wycombe on a council estate. My dad was a car mechanic and my mum cleaned offices and worked in shops. My dad also repaired wind instruments as a sideline, and built our kitchen cabinets himself from wooden fruit crates. My maternal uncles, who like my mum had emigrated from Ireland in the 50s, spent their lives laying bricks on building estates in London.

I passed my ‘twelve plus’ exams and went to grammar school. The last thing I wanted to do was work with my hands. I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t want to know. I couldn’t wait to grow up and move back to London, which I did, where I worked in television and then studied for a degree in languages.

Yesterday, eight of us from Sustainable Bungay turned up to shovel five tons of earth and compost into the new raised beds and borders at the Library Courtyard Garden. I met Paul (‘Coley’) the bricklayer for the first time. You can see his fine work in the photos.

In all we were there for about four hours. It was hard, physical work, made lighter by the fact we were doing it together, for something that the library courtyard group, led by Nick, has been planning and working on for over a year now. All the negotiations with the librarians, organising a permaculture weekend, a community consultation, the design meetings, sourcing the bricks, soil, manure, plants and trees and transporting them, finding a willing bricklayer. All this and more with the inevitable delays, frustrations and disappointments – WOULD THIS PROJECT EVER HAPPEN?

“Transition is a white, middle-class movement,” is a criticism I hear all the time. But like the famous “We’re all middle class now,” it appears to be saying something when really it acts as a conversation stopper or sends us running off to see how ‘we’ can change how we’re perceived.

The fact is whatever class we are from, when we float around with our ‘lofty thoughts’ and opinions and don’t get down to the actual work, others unseen, mostly somewhere else but sometimes in the same house or group, will be picking up the tab. Doing the hard graft, the cleaning, the mining, the building, the paperwork, the phone calls, the communicating, the organising, the donkey work.

For Transition to work we all have to pull our weight.


Pics: Sustainable Bungay Shifting and Tamping Down Soil at the Library Courtyard Garden; Wheeling Barrows and Raking

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