Last night I went to Mangreen Hall. The Stranger’s Circle was meeting to discuss everyone’s personal powerdowns. We met in the kitchen and after supper did the unthinkable - we got our electricity, gas and oil bills out on the table, said last year’s totals out loud and discussed how we could live without all that central heating and hot water. Those of us from large warm houses and those of us in small cold ones. One thing was clear. That no matter how we looked at it, we have been living in an artificial world for so long, we are finding difficult to find a way out of it and discover the real one – the earth outside our doors, in all its beauty and challenges, with all its seasons that now in East Anglia, in these islands, means coldness and damp.
“It is hard to know that this magic carpet exists and that one will no longer fly on it,” Jean Cocteau once wrote. The artist was writing about his life-time opium addiction. Opium is one of the most powerful natural medicines in the world. It has relieved the physical suffering of people for thousands of years. But it has also distracted us from reality and stimulated our minds to such a degree that we find ourselves prefering to live in the stately pleasuredomes of our imaginations rather than face the (often terrifying) truth of the situation. Fossil fuel is one of the most powerful and addictive power sources in the world. It has enabled us to live like kings, flying over the planet, whizzing up and down the country, eating luxurious food out of season. But the fact is millions of us are destroying the real world in order to live in an artificial paradise.
Some of us in the Transition Circles are struggling to awaken from a life-time’s addiction to that cruel dream.
There were some sober moments in the kitchen last night. I live frugally, partly because I am poor and partly because I’m in Transition. But even without the central heating turned on and minimal use of electricity I am still 1.5 tons up with personal energy use, without considering transport or food. If we are cutting our personal carbon footprints from 6 tons to 3 this year, it’s going to be tough to cut more.
“There are those daily baths of course,“ said Mark.
I’ve been going cold turkey for years. I’ve kicked lines of cocaine at parties and little glasses of wine at six. I’ve given up supermarkets and holidays, I don’t have a freezer or a tumble dryer or a dishwasher, I don’t eat chocolate or bananas or go to restaurants, all my clothes are falling apart. But oh oh oh, HOT WATER! I’m finding that one quite tough. If you live in a cold house and get up at five to write there is nothing quite like that fragrant steaming tub to steep yourself in at breakfast time. Scented with juniper berries for stiff joints, lavender for a sore head, sea salt when your circuits are jangled, rosemary when you need a bold burst of sunshine. . . in those warm scented waters all those fractious thoughts and tangled-up feelings dissolve and a door inside swings open. 90% of my inspiration comes from lying immersed in H2O. This year I started sharing baths with Mark (taking it in turns), using only half the tub, using the water for our clothes, for the loo, for the plants. But whatever way we swing it, it’s still an oil-fired habit.
If I lived in Morocco or Turkey I’d go and scrub myself clean in the neighbourhood hammam. If I lived in Australia I’d walk down the beach to the tea tree lake at Byron Bay. If I was in New Mexico this morning I’d walk through the Apache pine forest and sit in the rocky hot springs of Jemez .If I was at this moment in Quito, Ecuador, I’d take a ride up into the mountains at dawn and immerse myself in the waters of Papallacta, watch the cold Andean mists evaporate and hummingbirds drink from the tree datura flowers that hang over the steaming sulphurous pools. I’d jump into the cold river and back again into the warm baths, and have a breakfast of freshly-caught trout and bitter South American coffee. Sometimes I think about all those mornings, those lovely waters of the earth I have bathed in thanks to the magical properties of fossil-fuel, and like Cocteau, it is hard to know I will never go there again.
Opium flower by Mark