All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for August, 2013

Talking Walking (or the Wisdom Teeth of Hindsight)

[I’m writing this with the benefit of hindsight. A whole year’s hindsight in fact. For reasons that will become clear below.]

On Friday 2nd August 2013, I walked nearly 30 miles from my then home in Lea (in South Herefordshire, mere metres from the Gloucestershire border) right across the Forest of Dean to the Green Gathering Festival at Chepstow racecourse. En route I had arranged to meet Andrew Stuck of Talking Walking – the dedicated podcasting website for ‘activism, art, gossip, interviews and news from the world of walking’ – to do an interview that would ultimately be made into a podcast.

He was travelling by train from London to Chepstow, and then planned to walk along the Offa’s Dyke path north of Chepstow. I was to join up with the path towards the end of my walk, so we hoped to walk towards each other and meet at the allotted hour. I would then be interviewed for TW. (It didn’t quite work out like that – though we did succeed in meeting – but more on that anon.)

It did not begin well, underslept and flustered, I set off at 8 am knowing I had about 24 miles to cover before I met Andrew, and very little spare time for getting lost built into the tight schedule necessary to ensure a timely rendezvous.

It was around this time that I’d more-or-less worked out that, on a 1:25,000 OS map, the span of my loosely-stretched hand aligned with a walk’s planned route was approximately an hour’s walking for me. But not allowing for getting lost, tracking back, talking to anyone or an overly wiggly/meandering path.

(I quite liked this one:one scale of my own though – a satisfying physical/temporal take on the one-inch-to-one-mile maps, for a walking geek and a map addict…)

Within half an hour, I had got hopelessly, dangerously lost in a field of >6ft high maize [I am 5 ft 1] that had been planted across the footpath. By the time I’d backtracked, run up a farm track and onto the road to take a longer, alternative route, I already knew that I would deeply regret agreeing to meet someone at an allotted time after 28 miles of walking. That is a lot of miles for mishaps… When the going (and the waymarking) was good, I did have a great sense of bounding through the Forest of Dean: this ancient hunting forest, freemining country, this “strange and beautiful place … a heart-shaped place between two rivers, somehow slightly cut off from the rest of England…” (as Dennis Potter described his home-place).

At other times, I was battling through overgrown undergrowth, with bare legs becoming so scratched and bruised that I eventually drew a sketch of the ‘map’ that the walk had left on me.

By mid-afternoon, Andrew – who had left London without a map and so was attempting to navigate his way from Chepstow along the Offa’s Dyke path by signposting alone – and I ended up in a ridiculous series of mobile phone exchanges. He was asking me to relay directions for him from my OS map, at the same time as I was trying to use it to navigate towards him. But our relative locations spanned either side of the enormous map sheet and so to respond to his requests, I was obliged, one-handed on the phone, to keep unfolding and refolding it.

We did eventually rendezvous – on the Gloucestershire Way, not the Offa’s Dyke path – and walked back towards Chepstow, where, once the calm of navigational certainty had resumed, we found a small meadow high up on the cliff edge of the Wye gorge to do our interview. The sound of drumming from the Green Gathering festival site at the racecourse on the opposite side of the river faded in and out of ear shot with the breeze.

We parted in Chepstow and I walked on alone to the festival, weary, scratched and ready for the wood-heated-water eco-shower that awaited.

***

What happened in the intervening three days is something of a blur – talking to ‘real’ activists: climate campaigners, road protesters, foraging experts, bee advocates, editors of ‘occasional land rights magazine’ The Land; and working in a cafe. I also had a very enlightening conversation with foraging expert Carol Hunt

I set off to return home on Monday 5th August, the penultimate day of the performance. I knew I’d got a long hard walk home and I also, foolishly, couldn’t shake the misperception that it would be ‘more uphill’ going north. I was also cumulatively tired – from the performance, the walking and the festival. So my spirits were dampened still further when there was a deluge of truly biblical, climate-change-freak-weather-type proportions within the first 5 miles: three hours of solid lashing rain, thunder and lightning. It was so wet that rain pooled inside my waterproof map case, having somehow managed to force its way through the almost imperceptible hole made by a thorn on the walk down.

Fortunately my phone, which I’d used to document the entire journey down, including film and audio, was safely zipped into the waterproof Gore-tex pocket of my waterproof Gore-tex coat. But it was not so waterproof as I’d thought. Water even managed to find its way to pool in there too. My phone switched itself off near Bream and refused to reawaken. Running late by the time I reached the middle of the Forest proper, I called in at the Speech House hotel (former hunting lodge and site of “Court of the Speech” for verderers and free-miners) and asked to use their phone to make a call to the dog sitter to let her know where I was.

I was bone weary by the time I returned to Lea. The cottage was eerily quiet, the dogs calmly pleased to see me, the dog-sitter having an evening nap upstairs. I put my phone in a box of rice, hoping for the best. Then I went to bed.

The next day, the final day of the performance, I rested. And waited anxiously for my phone to revive (funny how even eco-activists are so wedded to our technology). I was still hungry and looking forward to my ‘first supper’ the next day. But then on the last night, with no warning – but as if I’d finally earned it – a wisdom tooth chose to emerge. It was painful and I didn’t sleep well. So I woke the day after the performance concluded with the freedom to eat whatever I wish, and ironically found myself unable to eat at all.

[My phone never recovered from its ordeal, losing all my photo documentation from the last 60 miles of walking. So all that remains is the sketch of my scratched legs. Oh well. I suppose it could function as a tastefully restrained Richard Long/Hamish Fulton-esque ‘text work’ or similar: neither of them seem quite so concerned about obsessively documenting their walks through the use of technology. The very thought of either of them Tweeting or blogging (esp. en route) is actually quite a funny one.]

[Images of leg-scratch-map copied and later sent to PhD student Nina Williams for her Mapping in Momentum project]

Mapping in Momentum 2 Mapping in Momentum 1

Guilt and abundance (and raw milk)

Giant courgette

I have a new form of guilt to add to the ever-expanding list: gardeners’ guilt. To our surprise (first season of serious growing, my first growing season here at all) the garden here is almost indecently fecund and productive. It’s all the stereotypical adjectives in fact: lush and verdant etc etc. Even things we planted late and expected not to thrive or fruit just yet are approaching giant proportions. That giant courgette is from the gift plant Rach dug in just 3 weeks ago.  This is normally a cause for celebration of course but I have such an association of denial and asceticism with this piece (from the winter performance, or indeed the first few days of this one) that suddenly faced with so much abundance – of variety, texture, flavour from garden herbs – I feel guilty.

Then I realise that’s what the dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist in me wants to feel: it’s not just about this piece, it’s about a whole ‘performance of identity’ through denial and choice that characterises a commitment to belief systems – whether religious or ecological. Dave Horton’s excellent book chapter articulates this brilliantly in a single paragraph around milk (and which raised a laugh-out-loud of recognition from me when I first read it in the quiet work area of Worcester Hive, to the consternation of fellow readers):

Discomfort can emerge over something so seemingly trivial as ‘milk’. Faced with a choice of ‘milk’, whether at a green meeting or when shopping, the activist confronts a choice of identity. There is no one ‘right milk’, and ‘milk’ correspondingly becomes a site around which identities are distinguished and performed. How should one buy one’s milk? Should it be delivered to the door, lugged home from the supermarket, or fetched from the corner-shop? From where can organic milk be bought? Is the best milk container made of glass, plastic or reinforced cardboard? How can one best ensure one’s milk is produced locally? Ought one to abstain from the consumption of animal milk entirely, and choose soya ‘milk’ instead? What if the only soya ‘milk’ available is non-organic, and potentially genetically modified? Given the impossibility of satisfying all these criteria simultaneously, which ones ought to be privileged when making milk-drinking decisions? Which elements of the diverse ‘milk economy’ should be supported, and why? Through their choice of ‘milk’ activists perform and are performed by their positioning within green networks. [From Horton, D. (2003) ‘Green Distinctions: the Performance of Identity Among Environmental Activists’ in B. Szerszynski, W. Heim and C. Waterton (eds.) Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance Oxford: Blackwell 63-77]

(To which I might add that raw milk from pasture-fed cows is the only way to go, but hey, that’s a whole other story…)

Through ‘punishing’ ourselves in some small way (through denying ourselves something perceived as indulgent, excessive or luxurious but attractive all the same) do we get some satisfaction that we are doing something tangible? Suffering for one’s beliefs as well as one’s art to somehow make it all legitimate?

But as far the environment’s concerned, gardeners’ guilt is utterly pointless and wasteful. So I’m not going to whip myself with this courgette. I’m going to cook it, eat it and be happy…

Onions Courgette plant Chilli and tomatoes  Peas Flowering lettuce Red cabbageHerb spiral 3