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Spring Lamb Bonanza!

Waiting for my flight across the Atlantic with some minutes to start summarizing the last few days of my “UK Nowtopia (Sublebrity) Tour”… After Bradford I went to Lancaster, where Dave Horton was waiting for me. We’d met ten years earlier, when he was a grad student and had been quite involved in starting Critical Mass in Lancaster. It’s a lovely town still, maybe 50,000 people, making up a semi-continuous urbanized area with Morecambe, which has another 50,000 or so. Dave is married to Sue, and they have two lovely children, Bob and Flo.

Bob, Flo, Dave, and Sue (l to r).

Bob, Flo, Dave, and Sue (l to r).

Getting to Lancaster, and later taking the train to Newcastle via Carlisle, was a journey through Lamb Country! Spring lambs were in nearly every field, cavorting with their moms, nursing, sleeping, traipsing about in their awkward newness… quite a beautiful scene, rolling green hills hedges stretching in all directions, and spring lambs by the hundreds. I guess the sheep are on a similar schedule with one another!

lamb-and-mom_8734

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

Lancaster has a somewhat utopian feel about it. Small enough to be intimate and cozy, large enough to have some diversity and energy, plus a large university too. I arrived to spectacular, crisp spring blue skies in the mid-afternoon. Dave took me out right away for a walk to his nearby “allotment” (as they call community gardens throughout the UK), where his wife Sue was weeding, his son was playing soccer in an adjacent field, and his daughter Flo was bouncing back and forth between a nearby playground where many neighbors’ kids were, and the allotment where it seemed half the town was out preparing their plots for spring planting. I walked around and took a bunch of photos, of course!

Lancaster castle on distant hilltop, allotment (community garden) in foreground.

Lancaster castle on distant hilltop, allotment (community garden) in foreground.

Working the garden on a beautiful day...

Working the garden on a beautiful day...

The town is dominated by a venerable old castle, which–I forgot until Dave reminded me–is now a prison! At 6 pm I had my gig at The Dukes, a really nice theater and pub in the center of town. A full house of about 40+ turned up for my Talk, which was also the opening event of the next two weeks’ local Bicycle Film Festival. The Talk went over well, as usual, and we went out for food and drink afterwards, where I got into some interesting conversations with locals, especially a couple of guys who were grad students in computer science and were particularly interested in what I had to say about free software. One was from Syria, the other from France originally… (I met a lot of French while travelling around on this trip. Two more gave me a great welcome in Glasgow, which I’ll write about in a bit.) I also did an extended conversation/interview with a gentleman whose name has slipped away into the blur of these past days, but he is a major player in the local cycling scene (as is Dave). We spoke at length about bike politics, different kinds of organizing, what I thought of lots of issues, from sidepaths and helmets to inside/outside strategies. As the recording was overwhelmed by the loud conversation and restaurant noise, Dave resumed the interviewing the next day, when he and his family took me (with some other locals, Patricia and Helen) on a 12 mile easy ride to Glasson at the mouth of the River Lune where it reache the Irish Sea (it cuts through Lancaster).

Cycle path on canal in Lancaster.

Cycle path on canal in Lancaster.

The town not only has a series of huge community gardens, but it also boasts some great, easy, dedicated bikeways. Like in Manchester, I was cruising along a really beautiful canal, before we eventually emerged alongside the river. The tide was quite low, so we had a nice view of long mudflats with swans and herons in abundance.

Herons on the River Lune

Herons on the River Lune

Wetlands at low tide on the River Lune, Glasson town in distance.

Wetlands at low tide on the River Lune, Glasson town in distance.

On the way back we stopped to admire this view that is only still there thanks to the work of cycling advocates and others some years ago to stop plans for a motorway bypass right across these marshes.

This wetland saved from a motorway some years ago.

This wetland saved from a motorway some years ago.

The spectacular morning ride ended by pedaling along the river into the center of town, where we got to Lancaster’s newest cyclepath and briefly rode up the Millennium Bridge (a bike/ped bridge over the River Lune) before going back to Dave’s via the alley behind his house…

New riverside cyclepath in Lancaster.

New riverside cyclepath in Lancaster.

Lancaster's Millennium Bridge for peds and bikes.

Lancaster's Millennium Bridge for peds and bikes.

The alley to Dave's house.

The alley to Dave's house.

Dave saw me off after a fun reunion, albeit weirdly short. Lancaster was in the midst of the seven nights in seven cities, 24 hours in each place, jammed with new and old friends, political discussion, a public Talk, bicycling and walking, eating and drinking, and then “bye bye!” Off I went on the train, this time to Newcastle via Carlisle. I expected a more rugged and spectacular landscape, but it was much like what I’d ridden through already, lovely green rolling hills full of sheep and lambs. The day was crystal clear, warm and delicious. On arriving in Newcastle, I was met by Roger from the Star & Shadow Cinema and Green Festival group, who quickly broke the news: the day was soooo beautiful that they cancelled the Talk which was scheduled for 4:30. Roger and others kept talking about how hot it was (it wasn’t more than about 66 or so!), which amused me, but it was a gorgeous day and it seems that being Easter Sunday too, a cancellation was probably a good decision.

So Roger introduced me to his friends, Phil and Liz and Ruth and later Kev and Shelley and their wildly charming kids… Roger, Phil, Liz, Ruth and I all piled into their old VW and drove an hour back to the west to a collection of cabins where some of them live some of the time. It’s a bit tricky since if they stay there too much they are liable to pay property taxes… the cabins they own line either side of a big field fenced off in barbed wire, and as the evening progressed we kept thinking out loud about how perfect it would be to turn that whole field into a permacultural food zone.

The field in front of the cabins outside Newcastle.

The field in front of the cabins outside Newcastle.

I had a great time with these guys. Phil is incredibly funny, and it was an unusual evening for me as I gave a partial presentation to four of them in their living room, interrupted quite a lot by Liz and a bit by Ruth, who each had their own ideas of what I was talking about, occasionally intersecting with what I was actually talking about (!). It was all in good faith, and for me it was pretty interesting to have dialogue and feedback long before I finished my Talk, much of which proceeded from completely different assumptions and went off on tangents that made me feel like I often do in my daily life: like an alien! Sometimes it’s really hard to frame a discussion, and certain words like ‘class’ or ‘feminism’ can trigger radically different trains of thought… and being in a living room undercuts the “authority” I usually enjoy while presenting… It was fun though!

It was growing dark and there’s not much electricity in the cabins, so we went across the field to Kev and Shelley’s place where the kids were asleep and a bonfire was blazing. The stars filled the sky, we drank Phil’s sangria, and the jokes and political ideas flowed. Both Phil and Kev had traveled to London the previous week for the G20 protests, with which they were decidedly UNimpressed. “Rubbish, it was rubbish!” they agreed. I met a lot of people across the country during my travels who had been there, few of whom were very satisfied by their experiences.

The cabin n the middle is where our campfire was and where I slept.

The cabin n the middle is where our campfire was and where I slept.

For those in the U.S. who may not have followed it, there were two demos simultaneously, one that featured masked anarchists sacking a Royal Bank of Scotland branch before eventually being dispersed by the police. The other, the Climate Camp protest, seized an intersection not far away, with four separate colored marches converging on it, representing the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and with quick flips of the wrist, self-assembling tents were tossed out and a full-blown campsite was established. They held the area for some hours, but after a while the police used their preferred tactic in London: “kettling,” which means they mass around the protest and block everyone in. They kept them there for a good long time, and then in the early evening a phalanx of riot cops came wading in and brutally attacked the Climate Camp occupation, clubbing protesters who were sitting with hands upstretched imploring the police to recognize that they were peaceful. But the authorities continued the escalating state violence seen in past summits and demonstrations and unleashed relatively unrestrained violence on the trapped protesters. One guy who was not in the demo, but was trying to pass through the various moving fronts of police, got attacked by the police and died from a heart attack (The autopsy revealed that he died of abdominal bleeding, probably caused by a blow).  It’s now a big scandal and there’s an investigation to discover whether or not the police caused the death (their first statement claimed there had been no contact between the dead bystander and the police, but a half dozen phone videos have appeared now, proving that they had clubbed and shoved him to the ground before he got up and staggered off, and then keeled over).

Anyway, the Newcastle agragrian anarchists didn’t think much of the protest, too pacifist for them, and too foolishly ineffective, apparently. At some point during the star-lit night around the campfire we were joking about flammable thumbs, the key to human survival in nature. The next morning, after my third night as a guest of a couple with two small children (and sleeping on children’s single beds each night, which was fine), I was driven down back to Newcastle where I took the train to Glasgow, Scotland, a city that I almost missed, but I’ll tell that in the next installment. It was an interesting sequence of juxtapositions to see the three different families, each with rather different political practices, economic situations, and housing situations… from the Anglican social center in Bradford, to a comfy middle class row house in Lancaster, to an agragrian anarchist cabin without running water or electricity in the far north of England’s countryside… but each couple lovely, and the kids uniformly charming too!

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