Does a Fridge Have an ‘Off’ Switch?

Suzie Webb nee Eiloart was raised green. She is an environmentalist and Quaker. For fun she loves playing inside and outside with her daughter, husband, friends and family. She enjoys dancing the Five Rhythms and is glad to be living in Cambridge. For money she teaches primary children and writes.


In most people’s minds they don’t. Fridge’s are seen as an essential part of the home, and even in the depths of winter people will pay to heat their homes then cool the air in a fridge. Domestic refrigerators have been available for less than a century yet now most people see them as vital components of their homes. Cold appliances are responsible for 20% of electricity usage in British homes. Our family successfully lives fridge free and I want to share how we have achieved this. It delights me to have enviable electricity bills currently £1 a month and to be part of combatting the myth that we need a fridge.

We discovered the joys of fridge-free living when we moved into a narrowboat about 10 years ago and realised that if we were going to use solar and wind for electricity (not the noisy engine or gas) then we could not afford the luxury of a fridge. When we later moved back into bricks and mortar, we felt a societal expectation to get one now that we had mains electricity. Eventually, we were given an old one as a gift, but even now we rarely turn it on.

So how do we keep our food fresh? Products like cheese, ham and salami last for a good few days in a coolish place. On the boat, we learned the hard way to use clean utensils in products such as jam, mayonnaise, pickles, and margarine to keep them from growing mould. Things like pesto, marmalade, ketchup and jam that instruct you to keep refrigerated will keep for months if they are not contaminated by other foodstuffs. We enjoy explaining to visitors when they sit down to eat and asking them to only use a jammy knife in the jam, not to put any crumbs in the margarine, etc. At mealtimes we put out lots of extra knives and spoons if it is a meal with bread and spreads. This would be good practice for anyone who is thinking they might want to turn their fridge off, even just when going away for a while. We tend to buy uncooked meat as we need it and cook it within a day. We eat leftovers within 2 days or compost them. I became intolerant of cow’s milk shortly before giving up the fridge, which is fortunate because it’s one of the few products that does go off quickly. Instead we drink rice or hemp milk, which keep well outside a fridge in all but the very hottest few days of the year.

Fridge 01

Lots of spare knives and spoons to prevent cross contamination between jars.

Our unplugged electric fridge is still useful: it fills the fridge space in the kitchen, and it makes a good cupboard, work surface and a fridge magnet holder. However, it was last on when a friend house-sat a few years ago. After years of fridge-free living, I have slowly come to realise how much I hate eating cold food, such as cheese, when it is straight out of the fridge. I feel it is unnatural to eat food that is so far below ambient temperature. I also dislike the noise pollution fridges cause. That said, I am grateful for the refrigerators in local shops and they are essential to our food storage system.

One of the uses of our switched off fridge

One of the uses of our switched off fridge

After about 5 years of being fridge-free, I read a Patrick Whitefield an article in Permaculture Magazine 65 on how to build a pot-in-pot fridge. They are sometimes called a zeer (from Arabic) or an evaporation refrigerator. I was immediately taken by the idea, having delighted in drinking chilled water from botijo in hot Southern Spain.

Botijo - an unglazed earthenware water bottles that cool by evaporation

Botijo – an unglazed earthenware water bottles that cool by evaporation

Pot-in-pot fridges can be useful. They are best kept in an area with a ventilated space because that helps the water evaporate off the surface quicker, which draws heat from the inside.
Materials Required:
Two unglazed teracotta pots with a difference in diameter of about 8cm;
(The smaller pot can be glazed on the inside to keep food drier);
A bag of sand;
Funnel or plastic bag with a corner cut off;
Plant pot saucer or plate bigger than the larger pot;
Plan pot saucer or plate that fits inside the smaller pot;
A lid such as a plate, wet towel, piece of polystyrene, plant pot holder or in our case an upturned woven basket.

Two possible upturned saucers to go inside the fridge. The brown plastic one has a lip that will collect anything that leak and a smoother surface. However, the white ceramic one benefits from being shallower so giving more space.

Two possible upturned saucers to go inside the fridge. The brown plastic one has a lip that will collect anything that leak and a smoother surface. However, the white ceramic one benefits from being shallower so giving more space.

How to build it:
Place the pots in a well-ventilated area where they will remain (the finished product will be heavy);
Fill the larger pot with sand so that the tops of the two pots are at the same level;
Place the smaller pot centrally inside and pour sand in the gap using a funnel or plastic bag with a hole in it;
Place smaller upturned saucer in the base;
Put your lid on;
Fill the large plant pot saucer with water;
Wait for it to cool and arrange your food inside.

The original zeer pots have a cloth lid like this so that water evaporates from the top too. The drawback is it has to be full or the cloth will collapse inside and the cloth needs regular wetting.

The original zeer pots have a cloth lid like this so that water evaporates from the top too. The drawback is it has to be full or the cloth will collapse inside and the cloth needs regular wetting.

We like this lid because it has handles and objects can rest on it temporarily.

We like this lid because it has handles and objects can rest on it temporarily.

To make ours, I diverted play sand that my mum bought for our daughter’s play pit to this better cause. At present, our lid is an upturned flat basket which means it also serves as a table or stool. To maintain our pot-in-pot fridge, we pour a jug full of water in the water tray every week in summer, probably monthly in winter. Occasionally I clean it with water and baking powder or tea tree oil. Moss grows around the base on the outside, but I’ve decided the creation of this habitat is another one of its benefits. Do not expect it to keep food anywhere near as cool as a fridge in the British climate. However, it will give you one place where you can keep an eye on what needs eating.

Inside our evaporation fridge.

Inside our evaporation fridge.

Before we built it, we stored food in a cool place in the boat then in an unheated room in our house. I do not need a fridge at all, but the pot-in-pot fridge gives us a dedicated place where chilled food lives, whereas before it occasionally got lost in our unheated room. Having built the terracotta fridge helps concentrate the mind on what we have around.

A simpler evaporation fridge that kept butter fresh through the hottest week of the year.

A simpler evaporation fridge that kept butter fresh through the hottest week of the year.

Other cooling options that may apply to your locality are: using flowing water, digging pits, leaving things outside in a secure box through winter, or building an ice house. I would encourage you to start using clean utensils in products and experiment with turning off your fridge. If, for now, you are not going to explore your fridge’s off switch then here are some top tips:

• Make it easy for your refrigerator to stay cool by putting it in a cool place, and letting hot food cool down to room temperature before you put it in;
• Clean your coils, clear clutter off the top, and defrost on a regular basis to improve efficiency;
• Keep your fridge and freezer doors closed. Each minute a fridge door is open it can take three energy-hungry minutes for it to cool down again;
• Pack the freezer. It takes less energy for a full freezer to stay cool than it does an empty one. Use plastic bottles filled with water or newspaper if you don’t have enough food to fill it;
• If your appliances are getting old but still work well, try a Savaplug (www.savawatt.com). This gadget reduces the flow of electricity to your fridge to match the actual amount it needs, making it more efficient.

Unpsychology – Deadline Extended!

Things have been a little hectic for us Vagrants over the past few months–not least because a lot of the work on our upcoming Dreampunk! antho was lost in an untimely laptop-based disaster! But we are indeed still here, and are extending the deadline on our Unpsychology ‘zine by another month.

Do you have poetry, prose, non-fiction, or artwork on the subject of alternative mental health? Are you a member of a group like the Icarus Project or the Hearing Voices Network? Well, then get over to our submission guidelines and send us something! If not, then help us spread the word. We’ve already had some great pieces for this project, and we’re looking forwards to making it something very special.

Review: We See a Different Frontier – Post-Colonial Speculative Fiction

We See a Different FrontierColonialism is one of those things that’s always in the background when we build fantastical worlds, and far too often it goes woefully under-explored by both the author and their audience. This doesn’t just lead to the further exclusion of non-white and non-western readers from the science fiction and fantasy communities—it leads to those communities becoming dull and lifeless echo-chambers with the same narratives and stories bouncing around over and over again. With that in mind, short fiction anthology We See a Different Frontier is a rare gem indeed: an anthology of post-colonial speculative fiction from the folks behind progressive fiction ‘zine The Future Fire.

And I don’t think I’m going too far in saying that there will be something in this collection for everyone. The authors, and indeed the stories themselves, are so diverse in their styles, backgrounds and content that you’d be hard-pressed not to find at least a couple of pieces that knocked your socks off. And, whilst this did mean that I ended up reading a couple of stories that just didn’t do anything for me, the editing work of Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad meant that I never felt as though the anthology had lost its focus.

The introduction does a great job of setting the collection up without getting in the way of the stories, and the inclusion of forewords and afterwords from the likes of Aliette du Bodard and Ekaterina Sedia are evidence enough of the high standard of the work involved. All of this boded well. Nothing puts me off an anthology more than forewords, afterwords and annotations that only serve to boost the ego of the editors. Fernandes and al-Ayad both obviously know what they’re doing—how to pick the right stories, and then leave them to speak for themselves—and the whole anthology is much stronger for it.

As for the stories themselves, some of my particular favourites in the collection are:

Sunny Moraine’s ‘A Heap of Broken Images’, which presents the typical image of a colonised alien world through the lens of a tour guide showing humans around the sites where their ancestors massacred zir people. Socially prohibited from discussing the past in any way that could cause offence, the story details the guide’s journey in confronting zir own past, and the scars it has left on the people that zie cares about.

J.Y. Yang’s ‘Old Domes’. An inspired look at the colonised landscape itself, ‘Old Domes’ takes a look at the patchwork landscape of Singapore, where every building and space has its own spirit—appearing in human form to anyone clever enough to see them. The story itself is about the re-purposing of two colonial-era buildings, the City Hall and the Supreme Court, and the young woman tasked with hunting down the spirits of these buildings and killing them so that they can be born again. I don’t think that I can sing this story’s praises highly enough. It is the kind of narrative that sticks with you for a very, very long time after you’ve finished reading it.

That said, I have to admit that my favourite piece in the anthology is Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s ‘Vector’: a highly-experimental, second person story that draws an extended parallel between viruses and cultural imperialism. Almost impossible to categorise or explain, ‘Vectors’ is both brutal and breathtaking in its concept and its use of language, and should serve as a guide for anyone trying to figure out how to write something that is layered, textured and utterly immersive.

There were a couple of pieces that fell flat for me: maybe I’ve just read far too many steampunk airship stories to find Ernest Hogan’s ‘Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus’ engaging, and I did feel that maybe it could have ended on a slightly stronger note than Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s ‘What Really Happened in Ficandula’, which read a little too much like a straight-up colonial revenge story for my liking.

That said, it’s possibly just a matter of personal taste and I did find far more stories that I enjoyed than ones I didn’t. Either way, I was very rarely bored—which is an achievement in itself. On the whole, I’m pretty much a sucker for anything that mixes social activism and politics with speculative fiction, and this collection does it damned well.

Call for Submissions – Unpsychology Magazine

A journal of post-civilised neurodiversity and wild mind

Unpsychology is an attempt to scavenge our own consciousness from the ruins of industrial civilisation. To trace a path through our current climate crisis of the mind, and find ways of living in whatever lies beyond.

In some ways, our feelings on ‘mental health’ have changed dramatically over the last hundred years. The great Victorian asylums of the past now lie derelict— mouldering reminders of the people (particularly women) who were shut away for everything from post-natal depression to infidelity. When we think of them at all, we congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come.

In doing so, we brush over the pervasive image of the ‘mad’ as knife-wielding psychopaths, when, in fact, those suffering from ‘mental illness’ are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. We ignore the growing medicalisation of the diversity of human expression and experience. Everything from bereavement and stuttering to anxiety and depression is classified as ‘mental illness’, to be ‘cured’ and ‘managed’ with clinical, evidence-based therapies, and the drugs provided by multinational pharmaceutical companies.

While some are undoubtedly helped by these methods, such a narrow paradigm also robs us of the basic experiences of life–with its births, deaths, righteous anger and distress. This is before we even begin to discuss those on the fringes of mainstream society: dominants and submissives, therian and otherkin, anarchists and activists, gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals, all of whom still struggle not to be classified as ‘mentally ill’.

Unpsychology seeks to redress that balance.

It re-affirms diversity and the independence of our own minds. It re-claims the psyche through self-education, self-development, and community-based support for the non-neurotypical. It builds new rites of passage to replace the ones that we have lost, and draws on the work of many other exceptional groups of people trying to live their lives beyond the confines of the medical and psychotherapeutic establishments: from the Hearing Voices Network and the Icarus Project to the Psy-Commons and the Dark Mountain Project’s Uncivilisation.

We seek to integrate progressive, imaginative and wild approaches to healing, therapy and development that makes sense in what sometimes seems to be a crumbling world.

The magazine (which we hope will be the first of many) is co-edited by writer and activist Allegra Hawksmoor and independent psychological practitioner, Steve Thorp, who is exploring these issues through his work on 21soul. We are looking for fiction and non-fiction, poetry and art, with a particular focus on the practical and generative. Some suggestions for pieces likely to find a home in this journal are:

  • How neurodiversity is handled in activist circles, and activist approaches to the non-neurotypical;
  • The relationship between mental health, hierarchy, culture and capitalism;
  • Articles which provide creative critiques of dominant paradigms and narratives of mental health and illness, wellbeing and happiness;
  • Suggestions for post-civilised rites of passage;
  • Mind-hacking and punking the psyche;
  • Stories of confronting and integrating the Shadow;
  • Ideas for community- and self development-based alternatives to medication;
  • Non-Eurocentric approaches to psychology;
  • Practical Jungian and archetypal self-development;
  • Activism in mental healthcare: How radicals are treated by mainstream psychotherapy, and the political role of mental health institutions on maintaining the status quo;
  • Therapies which focus on creating meaning, stories, imagination and soul, connecting and integrating the ecological, soulful and relational aspects of ‘self’.
  • Experiences of the mental health system from those who are transgender, otherkin or belong to other ‘minority’ groups;
  • Living with diagnoses and experiences of schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, post-traumatic stress, post-natal depression etc etc;
  • The environmental or ecological mind. Nature as therapy. Greencare and ecotherapy, and the imaginative integration of eco-psychological approaches with other progressive therapies.
  • Explorations of the the lives of John Clare, Louis Wain and other famous mad folk;
  • The psychogeography and urban exploration of ruined asylums;
  • Practical herbalism for the non-neurotypical;
  • Art, writing and creative pursuits as therapy;
  • Fiction with non-neurotypical protagonists;
  • A guide to the meaning and reality of dreams;
  • Mythical and allegorical stories serving as guides to dealing with bipolar disorder, eating disorders, autism-spectrum conditions etc;
  • Art and stories written by the non-neurotypical and those working outside (or within) the system;
  • Depictions of mental illness and mental health care in the media;
  • How-to guides for writers looking to increase their representations of non-neurotypical characters;
  • Meditative practice and mindfulness as tools for dealing with anxiety and depression etc.

Deadline: 28th February 2014

 

Fiction

Word limit: up to 5,000 words (will consider works that run a little over) We invite all kinds of fiction, but have a particular interest in the speculative (for example, subversive genres like steampunk, cyberpunk and dragonpunk). Bonus points for anything that uses a fantastical setting to consciously reflect the truths of our world and societies.

 

Non-Fiction

Word limit: up to 5,000 words

Essays, polemics, interviews, memoirs and diaries, manifestos and biographies all welcome. We’re particularly interested in practical, ‘how-to’ style articles and guides, and have a bit of a soft spot for travelogues and travel journals.

 

Poetry

Length: up to 100 lines

Poetry can rhyme, or not, as the author chooses. Our preferences lean towards lyrical and non-rhyming, but this is my no means a hard line. More than anything, we appreciate poetry that is beautiful in its darkness as well as its light.

 

Art

Dimensions: 297mm x 210mm (A4)

Due to printing constraints we are only able to accept works in black-on-white, and are unable to consider greyscale pieces or photography. Pen-and-ink drawings, woodblock and linocut pieces are of particular interest. We’d also love to have artists involved who are interested in creating specific illustrations for the stories and articles in the ‘zine. If you’re interested in doing that, just send some samples of your work to the submissions email address below.

 

All submissions should be sent to:

vagrants [at] amongruins [dot] org

Fiction, non-fiction and poetry submissions should be in a easy-to-read font such as Arial or Times New Roman, and should be attached to the email in .doc, .rtf or .odt format.

Artwork should be in .tiff format for preference, and should likewise be attached to the submission email. We will also accept links to online portfolios of work.

To Call Each Thing by its Right Name

The path trodden by wayfarers and pilgrims followed the railway and then turned into the fields. Here Lara stopped, closed her eyes and took a good breath of the air which carried all the smells of the huge countryside. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the meaning of her life. She was here on earth to make sense of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not within her power, then, out of love of life, to give birth to heirs who would do it in her place.”

The quote above, from Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel Doctor Zhivago, was also used in the 2007 film Into the Wild: a biopic about the life and, ultimately, the death of the twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless. McCandless, for those who haven’t heard of him, walked out into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 to live apart from the rest of civilisation. His body was discovered four months later, emaciated and huddled in a sleeping bag on an abandoned bus in the Denali National Park. To many, he is seen as a Romantic and a visionary. However, I’ve never been able to get past the nagging idea that McCandless was part of an almost hyper-masculine approach to Nature: an attitude that views the wild world as something to be conquered rather than understood. That judges Nature for its worth as a commodity, rather than for the value it has in its own right. Christopher McCandless walked out into the wilds without a compass, with almost no experience in living in harmony with the land, and with seemingly little respect for the power and the rhythms of the landscape that he was walking into.

No, there are doubtless many reasons why Christopher McCandless was worthy of admiration, but I cannot count his attitude towards the natural world among them.

The quote, however, has stayed with me and has only echoed louder and louder through the passing of this year: pulsing through the space between my thoughts like a mantra. The past few weeks have taught me that I am anything but alone in feeling this way. But, before I can talk about that, I need to tell you about a book…

The Book of the British Countryside

I don’t know how this book ended up on the shelf in my bedroom when I was a young girl. The inscription just inside the front cover, “From Mick and Paula. Christmas 1972”, dates it from almost ten years before I was born, and doesn’t do anything to shed any light on the matter. It bears the names of my parents, but isn’t in what I recognise to be their handwriting. The hand looks far more like my paternal grandmother’s, but that doesn’t do much to explain how it ended up back in our house when I was a girl, or why the date on the inscription is the year before the publication date on the imprint. What I do know is that it has been with me more or less since I was able to read, and that it was both an enigma and a joy to me throughout my childhood.

Inscription

It’s covers have always been tattered, faded, and printed with stalks of seeding summer grass and the big, bright heads of daisies that were probably once white, but have now faded to a gentle sepia. The spine, now peeling away from the binding, bears the words “Book of the British Countryside”. It was printed by the AA, probably in 1973, and as far as I can tell it has never been reprinted.

Trees of the British Countryside

I grew up in the suburbs of a town on the commuter-belt between Brighton and London that was almost entirely devoid of any history of its own. What it did have, however, were green and open spaces. Looking back on it, so much of my childhood was spent out in the open: climbing trees, catching butterflies, digging through thick, musty compost in the allotments behind my parents’ house for the skull of a fox that was peeking its nose out of the rich, turned earth. We didn’t have a computer of any kind until I was around twelve, and I did not use the internet at all until I came to university at eighteen. So, when I was a child, this book became my roadmap to the entire world. I remember leafing carefully through the pages of drawn and printed birds and butterflies—sometimes trying to identify something I had seen or found, or else just looking for the sheer joy of it. I pressed dozens, if not hundreds of leaves and flowers between its hefty covers, the shadows of which still discolour the insides of the title page. Sometimes, I even read the words.

Edible Berries

I’m not entirely certain what changed for me around the age of thirteen, when I stopped searching meticulously through the pages of this book or walking through the long grass in the fields near my house. Perhaps, in truth, it was a combination of things: the emotional and hormonal turmoil of puberty; my parents divorcing and my mother moving away; the slow arrival of electronics, computers, digital music. Although, I will admit that I have begun to consider whether the change in schools (and the way that I was taught science at that age) had anything to do with it. Before that point, much of my learning had been hands-on. I remember having school books filled with pressed and preserved flowers and leaves, sketches of butterflies and animals. After I started secondary school, the enduring memory that I have of my biology classes is of staring into text books, or being taught that anyone who disagreed with interfering with the genetic make-up of our food plants was ignorant, and needed to be looked down on.

Common British Wild Flowers

I slowly moved away from the long afternoons that I spent scratching through the undergrowth with my nose pressed close down to the earth, or tearing through dirt tracks through the woodland on my bicycle with the wind blasting in my eyes; feeling just like I could fly. But those memories must still have nagged at me, somewhere in the wet dark of my mind, because when I left home to go to university, the Book of the British Countryside came with me. It sat, untouched, on shelves in student halls and in the damp, rented rooms or buildings that were little more than embodied fire hazards. It was shunted from place to place when I graduated, and came back to the south of England to try and make a go of having a ‘proper life’, and was packed up again a year later when we abandoned that idea and came back to Wales to live among the mountains, write stories, and struggle to pay the bills. In every move, a few more things were lost, mislaid, or given away. But this book came with me. It endured. Like that little whispered mantra at he back of my head, waiting for me to come back to it.

I cannot tell you what is different this year. Whether the change is within me, or without. What I do know is that this year, for the first time in half my lifetime, this book has come off the shelf, and my fingers have re-learned its pictures and its pages.

Birds of the British Isles

All year, the nagging urge has been germinating inside of me. To call each thing by its right name. It started with the birdsong. Another move a year and a half ago brought us down out of the mountains and into the Welsh foothills with their square fields, seeding grasses and syrup-coloured sunlight. Acting upon some instinct that I couldn’t name, as soon as it was warm enough this year I opened up the windows. They have been open ever since, and the first thing that I noticed was the great, sweet waves of birdsong that ebb and flow through dawn and dusk. It burst out of the trees and fields as soon as summer struggled out of its womb of late spring snow. I have never found sleep quickly, and through April and May this year I have lain for hours in the growing dark, and listened to the birds. After the first few weeks, I felt a yearning to know the names for all these voices that kept me company into the night—singing rich and deep into full dark. Blackbird. Robin. Tawny Owl. And other creatures, too. House cat. Hedgehog. Fox. I learned, and slowly got to know each of the night-dwellers and their voices.

Cloud Sequence of a Depression

Next, it was the clouds. I have walked out beneath the heavens early and often for years now, but this year is the first that I’ve found myself walking in the hills, driving into work, or staring out of my window, and wondering what words to use to name the shapes and colours of the sky. What atmospheric conditions cause clouds shaped like dapples over flanks of blue, or great, billowing towers of slate-grey. At some point in my wonderings, I took the Book of the British Countryside down off the shelf. I could have typed it into Google and been done with it, of course, but something in me yearned to have that musty, yellowing paper underneath my hands again.

Cloud Formations

Since then, it has been used to call moths, trees, butterflies and flowers each by their right name. When it hasn’t answered my questions, I have sought out other sources. I have entertained myself with its little anachronisms—with the way it talks about elm trees as though it expects me to have seen them.

Moths of the British Isles

Spending hours carefully plucking the weeds out from between the cabbages and onions I’m growing in my garden (because now I am no longer on a mountain, things can grow without being immediately shredded by the wind), I’ve felt the slow realisation that each of these little plants I am pinching out of the earth is different. That the things which we call weeds are phenomenally varied, industrious, and beautiful. Where I can, I have read their names, learned their uses and their properties. I have ordered myself a little book of herbalism that will sit beside the venerable old soul of the Book of the British Countryside on its shelf beside the window.

The Umbrella-Flowered Parsley Family

Slowly, surely, I have fallen into a fascinated orbiting of all things that live and grow. And, through accident or synchronisity, I have begun to seek out others who are doing the same: from Cryptoforestry’s attempts to document every flowering plant along their street to Rima Staines beautiful ‘Weed Wife’ painting and reflections on how loudly the plants are calling us back home to them.

'Weed Wife' - photo by Rima Staines

‘Weed Wife’ – photo by Rima Staines

Learning to call things by their right name has value far beyond the use of names to categorise, separate and dominate the world around us. These days, our lives are often muted to the wild, ferocious act of creation coming into being all around us. We numb ourselves to the visceral, uncomfortable and diverse beauty and brutality of nature with central heating and air conditioning. We scour away our natural ebbs and flows through day and night and light through dark with artificial light—forcing our bodies out of the gentle rhythm of sleeping, waking and then sleeping again in preference for one long block of eight hours where we twist and turn restlessly in the blinking electronic gloom. Our food is delivered onto supermarket shelves and then into our fridges and freezers as regularly and predictably as the roll of a production line, regardless of the weather, the seasons, or the things that grow best in our soil and our climate. We buy recipe books and ingredients from across the globe instead of using cooking to its original purpose: to make use of the things we have available, and to provide variety.

Pressed Flowers

Learning the names for the birds, trees, weeds and cloud formations around us will not completely undo all of the damage that we have done to our souls in isolating ourselves from our landscape, but it is a start. It roots us in the here and now and provides us with a sense of place. It encourages us to pay attention to our surroundings and how they change throughout the year, and it gives us an appreciation for the place that we are standing in—so that we may fall into a rhythm with the patterns of its weather, and know the living and unliving things that share the space with us. For only then can we begin to know their value rather than their worth.

British Stones - Minerals

For those of us who give way to the natural, human urge to create, calling our landscape by its right names allows us to bring precision, detail, and an incredible, intricate sort of beauty to the things that we make and do: sweeping away anyone who shares in our act of creation, and placing their bare feet in the soil that has created (and continues to create) us.

More than that, this sort of curiosity encourages us to explore, to get our noses back into the rich loam of the soil and into the undergrowth. To find what else is out there, and be fully present in our lives, our bodies, and our world. Then, perhaps, we can walk out into the wilderness—safe in the knowledge that we know the earth beneath our feet and it will not lead us to our ruin. That the land, in turn, knows us.

Tracks of British Mammals


This post was originally published on Allegra’s personal blog, over at Hawksmoor’s Bazaar

Call for Blog Writers and Submissions

With work on the first Dreampunk! ‘zine now well and truly under way, Vagrants are looking for ways to make our blog a much more lively and engaging place to be. We are fascinated by spaces that are collaborative, interactive, and belong to the community, so if you are reading this and you’re into what we do, then we would love to hear from you.

We are looking for pieces between a hundred and a couple of thousand words covering a whole glut of subjects, such as:

  • Wild food recipes;
  • ‘How To’ pieces on upcycle, making and repair;
  • Maker culture;
  • Permaculture;
  • Canning and food preservation;
  • Mythology;
  • Positive approaches to social equality;
  • Works that are death-positive;
  • Craftivism;
  • Open source culture;
  • Interviews;
  • News and updates relevant to our interests;
  • Book and music reviews;
  • Recognising different birds, trees, cloud formations etc.

We’d also love to hear from people who are:

  • Urban explorers;
  • Photographers;
  • Artists;
  • Herbalists;
  • Post-civilised;
  • Scientists and engineers;
  • Experimental archaeologists;
  • Environmental activists;
  • Storytellers;
  • Wanderers.

At the moment, we’re interested in receiving both stand-alone pieces and in submissions from people interested in becoming part of our regular writing team. There are no minimum requirements for frequency of posting, and we are more than happy to publish things that also form part of your personal blogs etc.

If you’re interested in taking part, drop us a line at vagrants [at] amongruins [dot] org with your submissions, or else with your thoughts, ideas, comments and queries.

Links Roundup – 4th May 2013


From Urbex: The Art of Urban Exploration. Photography by Niki Feijen.

Over the past few months, we’ve been posting a lot of interesting articles, pictures and titbits that we’ve found while poking around online on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and we figured it was about time to start sharing some of the best bits on here, too. So, from now on we’ll be doing periodic roundups of things we think you all might find interesting. So, without further ado, here are some things that have caught our attention:

  • It’s time for harmony between science and spirituality, an article from Positive News on reuniting reason and religion.
  • Beyond money: living without the illusion of independence. Another Positive News piece, this one on the possibilities of gift economics and a moneyless society, from the author of the Moneyless Manifesto.
  • On a more photographic note, Dark Pripyat shows us the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, 27 years on. It turns out that Nature is capable of reclaiming almost anything, no matter what disasters we inflict upon it. While the impact of what happened at Chernobyl is still felt amongst all its living things, it is at least a small reassurance.
  • Also in the news this week, and peering into the dark waters of prehistory, the latest DNA analysis of our ancient ancestors has shed light on how hunter-gatherers all but disappeared on the arrival of agricultural settlers during the Palaeolithic.
  • And, on looking into the dim and distant future, the BBC has also given us some interesting thoughts on possible human extinction, and why it may not come from the places you’d expect.

Finally, this week saw the coming and going of May Day (or Beltane, if you prefer) which traditionally marks the first day of summer. And, although this year has seen the area around North Wales swallowed by snows in the middle of March (and the hawthorn that usually signifies the passing of the seasons is not yet in flower), it is growing warmer every day.

In this part of the world, the first day of May is known as ‘Calan Haf’, and it comes with its own unique and interesting collection of folk practises and legends.

Of course, May Day also has a long tradition of protest and activism, like the Haymarket protests of 1886 in which a number of people were killed. The protests were a contributing factor in the establishment of the eight-hour work day.

For as long as human beings have been living by the progression of the seasons (which is pretty much forever), we have been writing songs, stories and poems about these transitional times between summer and winter and back again. One of the oldest of these (and one of the first that I can remember being taught in school as a kid) is the 13th century rota, ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’.

It seems a fitting point on which to end this week. Until next time!

Sumer is Icumen in,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Grows the seed and blows the mead,
And springs the wood anew;
Sing, cuckoo!
Ewe bleats harshly after lamb,
Cows after calves make moo;
Bullock stamps and deer champs,
Now shrilly sing, cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo
Wild bird are you;
Be never still, cuckoo!

Dreampunk! A Call for Submissions

Dreampunk is the search to build a better world in the ruins of the old. To build a world of equality, liberty and community that reaches for wonder, invention, and a more balanced relationship with ourselves, one another, and with the wild world around us.

We are currently seeking submissions for a ‘Dreampunk!’ magazine for release in the late summer or early autumn 2013. The ‘zine will be a collection of fiction, how-tos, essays, artwork and poetry that aspires towards inspiration, sustainability and co-operation.

Some ideas for possible contributions include:

  • Bushcrafts;
  • Recycling, upcycling, re-use and repair;
  • Recipes and sewing patterns;
  • Fiction, especially speculative/genre fiction;
  • Laments and battle cries;
  • Maker culture and vernacular technology;
  • Travelogues;
  • Permaculture;
  • Skipping (dumpster diving) and squatting;
  • Mythology, alchemy, and the exploration of self;
  • Psychogeography, urban exploration and sense of place;
  • The sublime, the mountaintops and stars;
  • Modern, practical herbalism;
  • Short hints and tips;
  • Ritual and shamanism.

We accept submissions from everybody, and judge each work on its own merits. However, we are particularly interested in hearing the voices of people of colour, women, those who are gay, queer, transgender and genderfluid, the elderly, poor or homeless, dominant and submissive, disabled, and people who are managing mental illness.

The deadline is 1st June, and we are looking primarily for submissions up to 5,000 words. We will likely not be able to pay our contributors, but will offer contributor copies where we can to those who help us make it happen.

Artwork should be pure black on white images due to printing restrictions. Woodcut images or engravings are ideal.

For further information, or to submit to the ‘zine, read the Drempunk Manifesto, or email vagrants[at]amongruins[dot]org.

“The Seven Basic Plots”. The key is in how you react to it.

The Seven Basic Plots

In a hefty tome that has gone through a head-spinning twenty reprints (as of 2011), Christopher Booker brings home one important message: To carry a story through to successful resolution is no easy task.

At heart, Booker’s magnum opus is an attempt to unearth the basic affective categories through which human beings parse the world for meaning. And he goes scavenging for them in the plots of the stories we tell. In the process, he ends up with seven cardinal structures that illustrate the dynamic interplay between the basic moral modes of apprehending the world. The orderly, rational properties that belong to the affective realm of the masculine and of the Father need to be complemented with the sense of relatedness and the attitude of selflessness that stems from the feminine and the Mother.

A Hero’s journey is precisely an allegory for the process of weaving together these two attitudes: separatedness and connectedness, order and chaos. The seven plots then stand out as a depiction of this basic process from a myriad different standpoints. I won’t go into all the different types of plot, but a few are worth mentioning. Overcoming the Monster stories, for example, depict precisely the process whereby, after an “old Kingdom” comes to be threatened by a lurking monster, a hero is required to restore order by undertaking a quest that has to be selfless and directed to benefit the community as a whole. On a deeper level, the Monster as a narrative device is just a projection of moral tendencies which can be seen at work inside the Hero himself. Often, in fact, the Overcoming that is required of him is ultimately a self-overcoming, of his own moral outlook that is, for some reason, not yet adequate to the task of restoring equilibrium.

When this process does not come to a complete resolution, then one is catapulted into the world of Tragedy. Tragedy shows what happens when the hero ultimately fails to weave together the dynamic qualities that are necessary for a successful resolution, a balance of centredness/self-discipline and empathy/selflessness of purpose. The heroes and heroines of Tragedy find their focus in a purpose that ultimately turns out to be one-sided and not appreciative of the needs of the wider set of relations of which they are a part. As such, tragic heroes turn into the Monsters of Overcoming the Monster stories. Their inflexibility overlooks fundamental aspects of the world around them, which are necessary to maintain a state of dynamic balance. As a consequence, a progressively larger front of opposition constellates against them, until they leave the stage vanquished.

What Booker’s book also shows is how the constitutive elements of affective experience which come under the Father (the wise king whose kingdom is threatened by a Monster), the Mother (from whom the hero parts, headed to free that other feminine element that is captive in the claws of the Monster) and the Hero are all – ultimately – double-sided figures. The Father can feature just as often as the inflexible ruler that prevents two lovers from marrying, as it occurs in the Comedy plot. The Mother, similarly, is both a source of nourishment as well as a character that can stunt the hero’s development by being overly protective. Last, but not least, the Hero’s quest is itself a teetering on the edge of that elusive balance of masculine and feminine traits, which – if unfulfilled – can have the hero star into yet another Tragedy.

Where this tussle between a light and a dark side is most evident, perhaps, is ultimately within Booker himself. “The Seven Basic Plots” was written over a period of thirty years, and – as such – it also ends up tracking the author’s own uneasy quest to harness the dynamism of the inner processes he has unearthed. So, on the one hand, he is cautious to remind readers that what stories really convey are metaphorical descriptions of inner processes of a fundamentally moral character. As such, it makes little sense to try and read archetypal processes into history. The risk, he says, is to be too quick in labelling something as invariably evil ‘without recognising that we may have the seeds of those same failings in ourselves’ (p. 584). And, yet, in the last part of the book he contradicts himself by engaging in a sort of mythologised retelling of history that makes him sound more like a nostalgic Tory than a mythologist: ‘In 1953, the ancient pageantry surrounding the Coronation of a new young Queen, attended by representatives from Britain’s Empire and Commonwealth, projected an extraordinary image of a worldwide ”family”, gathered together to pay homage to the archetypal symbols of its collective Self’ (p. 671). Contrast this to the attitude of that other famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who cautioned  against too readily applying the moral categories emerging from the tapestry of stories to the historical plane.

In a similar fashion, too swiftly does Booker project what are ultimately affective categories, the masculine and the feminine, into actual gender roles that people should fulfil. Instead, these are better understood as a shorthand for particular moral modes of relating to the world.  Indeed, after reading Booker’s book I am perhaps convinced of the opposite proposition, namely that it is precisely by withdrawing of our unconscious projections from others (so as to not try and force people in the simplistic straitjacket of ‘woman equals feminine’ and ‘man equals masculine’) and integrating them within ourselves that we can reach the balance which the Hero wins at the end of the quest.

That being said, the real value of “The Seven Basic Plots” lies in how you react to it. As although it does contain some politically shaky statements and failings, there is still much merit to be found for those interested in mythology, narrative and story-telling.

Dreampunk – A Manifesto

finding wonder amongst ruins…

Dreampunk is the rediscovery of wonder and beauty in an age of collapse, conformity and decay. It seeks a modern Romanticism: embracing the ideals of love, liberty, equality and freedom, whilst utterly dismissing the systems of colonial and patriarchal wealth and the privilege. It shuns those who hide themselves away from the processes of life and death, and instead embraces the raw spirits of creation and destruction.

Dreampunks seek to find the extraordinary within themselves and their own locus in place and history. We are explorers of the wilderness and urban wastelands alike: psychogeographers who are deeply connected to wherever we happen to be standing, and whoever we are standing with. Dreampunks blur the line between the real and unreal: experimenting with ritual, the occult, and the transformative as ways of understanding our journeys through life. We work to reunite reason with emotion: rejecting those who dismiss overwhelming evidence in the face of personal bias, or those who refuse anything that is deeply felt and understood simply because it cannot be explained.

Our work strives towards the creative empowerment of the normal, and you may find us amongst midwives, makers, gardeners and blacksmiths—working together as true equals in a world that hoards power amongst the few. We make, reuse, repair and recycle what we have, because we understand the true destructive power of planned obsolescence upon our spirits and surroundings. Our hands are in the bare earth of our permaculture gardens, and we are out there in the wilderness: beneath a canvas sky with a firesteel and waterskin, seeking to leave only footprints in the mud behind.

Dreampunks build living, maker-driven, vernacular technologies which are powered by the wind and waves or the strength of our own bodies, and which do not require the destruction of the deep forests, the oceans, and the mountaintops to enable their existence. We reject the propaganda of Big Bio and Big Pharma, who tell us they can solve our problems with money, drugs and chemicals, who would try to copyright life itself, and who are caught up in what is little more than an arms race against Nature. There is much reason to rejoice in the unfettered curiosity of the human spirit, but there is also good reason to be wary of those who would use its achievements for profit. We consider it our responsibility to challenge anyone who disguises their greed behind the cloak of scientific advancement, and reject any efforts to label this willingness to question as opposition to science itself. Instead, we seek systems of participatory and collaborative science, medicine and agriculture—reclaiming use of the medicinal plants that corporations attempt to refine, re-package, and sell back to us, teaching others how to feed and heal themselves, and learning to live long and healthy lives exploring the wonders of this universe.

In the place of intellectual property and the outsourcing of cheap labour, dreampunks reclaim the methods of production as our own. We see this work for what it is: not as tiresome drudgery, but as tasks that are vital to our existence. We realise that even as we give up our ability to produce and repair, we surrender the control we have over our own lives. And so we work to inform and to share our skills, knowledge and stories with anyone who needs them.

When we tell these stories, we will aspire towards new myths and legends—finding fresh ways of exploring our relationships with one another and the land. This work will be achieved with whatever tools we feel are best, without mind for what society tells us does and does not have merit: employing genre as well as the literary in our storytelling, breaking down the barriers between the performer and the audience, and using the laundry as well as our poetry as an expression of ourselves.

We seize both freedom and responsibility in equal measure, and we will not suffer to be told who (or how many) we may take into our hearts and into our beds, what gender we should present to the world, how we should dress ourselves and fix our hair, or suffer any such restrictions on who we are or what we are capable of being.

Dreampunks do not believe that the world we build for ourselves is perfect, or that it will be magically free from pain, discrimination or oppression. We realise that we live in a time which is often filled with an unassailable darkness, and do not seek to immerse ourselves in utopia and ignore what is happening around us. We are flawed people living in a flawed world, but if we are to make things better than they are, then we shall have to get out there and find another way.

Even if the only place it can be found is in the blaze of the night sky above the crumbling walls and creeping ivy: in ruins where we creep so softly, with bare feet, afraid to break the silence.

We will live it. In the living, we will give it life.