For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
When I showed her my ticket as we boarded the train, the white-blonde compartment manager wearing a smart red beret held up one finger. She said, firmly and clearly, directly into my face, ‘One’. Gottcha. I clambered onboard with everyone else and wandered up to the end of the compartment to realise there was no number one. I went back to find the first compartment held three worried looking faces staring at me. I had place number 11. I guess she meant the first compartment.
I was very lucky to share a compartment with Tatiana, her daughter Maria, and colleague Ella. Tatiana and Ella are teachers at a select Secondary College and extremely clever people. Tatiana speaks excellent English as she spent her teens living in London with her parents. They gave me an introduction into life onboard a long distance train. First get into your comfy clothes because it’s warm inside. Then crack open the snacks and keep going. And keep hold of your keycard.
We had basic Russian lessons, compared teaching lives and enjoyed some simple jokes. Like the one about me going to spend 6 days, one hour and four minutes on the TransSiberian. They couldn’t stop giggling. ‘You’re going to live like this for a week?’
We were in a Russian train. It seemed new. It was certainly a solid heavy piece of equipment. There was no riketty racketty clicketty clackity here. This ironmongered beast was a smooth driving force.
Soon enough the Belarus police came to check our passports. The Russians got a stamp. I had to fill out a duplicate form. It took a good time for the officials to get through the train. Then a short trip to get our wheels changed. The rail gauge changed over the border. This also took considerable time. As we pulled in the men-power were getting into formation. There seemed to be about twenty blokes involved. They set about rolling a huge gantry thing overhead, connecting each carriage somehow to the side yellow pillars which must be a jack system. When the other train pulled in opposite I could see what must have just happened under our train. I didn’t feel any perceptible lifting of our carriage but it’s clear how high they have to go. I could see the folk in the carriage opposite going about their snacking and chatting. The others in my compartment had gone to sleep by now. We were not allowed out to watch. They have to physically move the wheels under each carriage. Three frail men sliding under the trains, heaving and pushing these enormous machines into place under the carcass of the carriage. There seemed to be mortal danger everywhere I looked. There was a far bit of smoko and wait and check the phone but the job got done.
How they manage without loosing a plate or a bolt or a wire in such dim lighting is astonishing. How much would a continual line of equal gauge cost between the two countries? Or is it better to keep decent men employed in an important and responsible position?
After a short trip along to the station, customs officials came to call. They brought a cute dog that everyone along the corridor cooed at in turn. We had to get out of the carriage so they could take a good look. We were very serious and obedient.
Around two in the morning my bladder called, we argued, I lost. I slipped out of the compartment to go to the toilet. As the door clicked firmly shut I remembered Tatiana’s advice. ‘Keep your keycard with you.’
After making use of the facilities I made my way slowly back down the corridor. A corridor lined with locked and shut doors. My locked and silent gate. I looked longingly at the empty manager’s chair as I passed but I could not invade that sacred space.
I went out to the doorway and sat in the stairwell. I had passed the sleeping manager but I did not think her temper would be improved by me waking her around 2:30 am. I came back and stared at my door. I figured my best place would be where either the manager or one of my ladies might go so I sat down and practiced my meditation skills just outside like a loyal canine companion.
A shiver of hope came when the manager’s little alarm went off. Something was about to happen. Soon enough the train slowed and came to a station. She moved around quickly, putting on her uniform and attending to things in her office. Then she noticed me and without a hint of surprise indicated the door. Oh, yes, spasibo! And I was back in my comfy welcoming bed just after 3 am. I was so pleased to straighten out!
It was after 8:30 when I became aware that our breakfasts had been delivered and our door was clicked open. New day!
Bread bun thing I will not name with a French word beginning with C, biscuits, tea/coffee/sugar, napkin, salt and pepper and a refreshing towel. What more could a train traveller want?
Taking careful turns with the available space, we managed to get the packing done we managed to get going with the day.
We had a twenty minute stop to change the engine – one of those thunderously big machines. It reminded me of the old iron lawnmower we’d inherited on moving in to one of our houses. Incredibly heavy and incredibly effective. The wooden roller tamed the grass and, once sharpened, the heavy blades made short work of the greenery. The train was built to last. Possibly your grandmother’s sewing machine would also share that permanence and purpose?
There will be more about the Metro in Stage Six – Moscow – but for now, I’m getting ready to start that hilarious six day TransSiberian jaunt. Not sure when I’ll get email again.
But trust me, I’ll soon be back and let you know more of my tågskryt journey!
And guess what lesson I will endeavour to remember just as hard as I can?
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
On the train (Tågskryt!) from Berlin into Warsaw I sat next to Simon. He lived in Berlin and was not a DJ. Proof that not everyone in Berlin is a DJ. (See previous post or if you’re brand new and want to read about planning this trip, here’s Part I ) He was editing music on his laptop, working on songs to play with his new band, the Soft Boyz, chill electro-jazz, so watch out for them in the future. Simon comes from Warsaw and loves to spend time with his family – he speaks to his mother EVERY DAY. He is saving up to travel through South America next year. He told me the best things to do in Warsaw are to visit the Polin Museum and to take a walk through Praga (no, not the city, silly) the artist’s side of Warsaw.
Kind Simon actually walked me out of the underground maze and pointed me in the right direction. It doesn’t take long to get familiar with a place but those initial first few minutes … Do you remember those 3D hidden picture puzzles? That’s how I feel when I stare at a map of a new city until it comes into focus. Takes a day, normally. I was very grateful to the first citizen of Warsaw, Simon. I hope his travels in South America find him many kind and helpful people in return.
When I asked my Airbnb host, Alicja, she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t go to Praga, it’s dirty and violent.’ So I didn’t. (Actually I ran out of time!)
But, Alicja could name three vegan restaurants within five minutes walking. Cake for dinner!
The next morning I trekked in to the Central station to see if I could catch my Moscow train from there rather than out in the suburbs.
Beautiful aromatic walk through a block and a half of flower stalls next to the market.
As I marched up to the station a man appeared at my elbow and said, ‘Passport?’ He kept saying ‘Passport? Passport?’ and then added, ‘Australian?’ and I said ‘Yes’, but even as I pulled my passport wallet out to show him (regular readers will know I’m not holding an Australian passport but I am a citizen) he indicated I should follow him and I did because he also added, ‘Police’. I would follow this man to the end of the earth. This is Warsaw. Round the station and out the back and into a twisty office section and he flung open the door and announced to the ladies inside, ‘Passport! Australian!’ One of the ladies rose to her feet with a sympathetic and worried look. She found a small handbag, fished out a passport, opened it to reveal a wad of cash, and the police officer grabbed it and thrust it towards me. I felt, one, relief, I wasn’t in trouble and two, tremendous pity for the poor woman who had lost her passport. I spent the rest of the day looking for her. My friend Nadine lost her passport in Canada. When she reported to the police, they opened a drawer full of other passports, so it must be common. Keep a hold of your identity, people.
High on this feeling of relief, I went to Information and, with minimal mime and clowning, managed to extract the information my train could be easily caught from platform two the following day.
On to the next thing, a walking tour, a mere short walk away. Only, the map of Warsaw is a bit bigger than it looks! The walk went through parks and streets and took a long time.
No sign of Extinction Rebellion. Regular debates and free speakers gather outside the White House to express their thoughts. This is where they would be. Should be.
Behind the square you can just see the Opera House – the third biggest stage in the world after Moscow and Beijing.
Warsaw citizens still debate what to do with the site of the Saxony Palace. Many wish it to be left open, with the Tomb a sombre reminder of the waste of war. Some, including a local lady in our group, suggested that it could be rebuilt and used to house the Polish National Museum. It turned out almost half of our group, with that opinionated lady, was from a business that supports International Workers arriving in Poland with their visas and guide them through the myriad legal requirements. They were out for a team building exercise which was fun for them but meant our guide was often tested and gently reminded of her facts. Sometimes they offered the punchline of her story without waiting for her build up. She remained admirably calm in the face of this intense scrutiny from the senior female cohort and they had a good time, looking at their city from a different perspective. Sometimes.
The building in the photo at the top of this post and here, the Palace of Culture and Science was given to the people of Warsaw by Stalin. It is a copy of one of his Seven Sisters of Moscow. Apparently most older people in Warsaw hate it. They wish it had been destroyed along with other Russian edifices in the ’90s. But the younger generation are more practical. They believe as it’s made its mark on the city, it’s iconic and there’s a couple of cool bars inside.
And the walking tour finished directly opposite a cool vegan restaurant, Nancy Lee! Truly delicious soup.
Finding strength for more exploration I went in search of the Museum of Modern Art’s Architectual Exhibition at the Zodiac Gallery. It was called Pomnikomania – Monumentomania – Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. There was a lot of art-speak but as Warsaw contains so many monuments the young artists’ responses varied from absurd to offensive. I liked a video piece I didn’t understand but it was a ritual performed next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The next day dawned bright and early. After washing and organisation, Alicja let me leave my luggage for the day. I would seek the Copernicus museum down at the river’s edge. It’s right by the Modern Art Museum. Glorious day. Off I marched once more to discover that map really is too small. I walked FOR AGES to get to the river.
When I passed the underground I relaxed, I’d certainly be able to get back in time for Alicja. Continued to walk under the bridge, passing enterprising stallholders displaying freshly picked mushrooms, great grey platters of sunflower seedheads, homemade pickles and jams. Finally reached the shores of the great Vistula. Across the river is the enormous sports arena.
I was reminded of my visit to Merida, in Spain, and the remains of Roman civilisation visible there. What will citizens of the future find here?
Amazing how fast I calmed down as I walked by the river, looking out at the wilderness preserved opposite. This side is for smooth paths, museums and cafes. The other is the famed and ‘dangerous’ arty Praha. There are bicycle paths that run through wild areas left for animals and even eagles have been spotted there. Our guide lived there and spoke rapturously of her interesting environment. Alicja, you have to make a visit. In the daytime, you’ll be safe. Certainly, the Warsaw I visited so very briefly was clean and under development. It is a modern city like most, however, it is in Poland!
I couldn’t find a good vantage point to photograph either the Copernicus or Modern Art buildings so I turned away and found this lookout. Oooooh.
It’s not easy to work out, two innocent bystanders pointing up, over and around things for me, and finally I walked through a gate and then up into a wonderfully peaceful garden over the roof of the University. Given the proximity of Copernicus and Modern Art, this garden is surely worth a visit should you have a day to spare in Warsaw. Leave time, though. It’s all a lot closer on the map!
The metro from Kopernicus was clean, fast and easy to work out. Once I’d worked it out. I had minutes to spare before my Airbnb deadline so I raced back through the supermarket, bought some mandarins and a bread roll for the trip. Back at Alicja’s, made sandwich from leftover dinner, left most of the fruit for weight, got act together and went to one of her recommendations, Cafe Miasto, for lunch. So busy! But, as I waited, I saw the library of exchange books and decided to ditch the one I’d been carrying around recently. Sped through last three chapters and plonked it on the shelf. This made up for the newly added weight of mini shampoo and biodegradeable baby wipes. Had to speed through my meal as well but it was extremely tasty.
That was it. I jumped on the tram straight down the line back to the station. I was ready for the big train journey ahead. My first overnight experience. What would it be like? How would I cope? Locked in a compartment for nineteen hours with three others? On to Mother Russia!
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
On the rails again, I was encouraged to see so many windturbines, not only through the Netherlands but also in Germany, as the train trundled over the border. We also passed workers building an enormous solar array in the middle of lush green pastures.
On passing through Gouda, I reflected on the illustrious history of that cheese and the many times I had enjoyed a sumptuous slice on a cracker. Which lead me to contemplate the current lack of (cows milk) cheese in my life. No bad thing. Imagine if, when breastfeeding Felix, someone had snatched him away to make me ‘donate’ my milk to other beings? I suppose, when our cows were Daisy and Buttercup out in the back paddock and we were all friends together it might have been different but now there are billions of us drinking billions of café lattes and billions of little calves snatched away from their billions of bellowing mothers. What happens to the baby cows? The things you think on a train …
The verdant green paddocks flashing by my window were divided by slim, flat channels of shining water. Wooden fences, trees and fat ponies were interspersed with modern buildings and power lines. The old and the new sat back to back in the Netherlands, like the woman in the Rotterdam memorial to the fallen facing sadly down to the past and the man with the spade looking up for a new vision.
Netherlands is trying to shake the Holland image – Holland being only one part of the country. I’m shaking off the Netherlands! Onward! Forward, forward went the rattling train, into the next county, the next region, the next country. Human muttering, snuffles and snores surrounded me all the way to Amersfort.
Amazed how stressed I became when I couldn’t find a notice
board giving me the onward time and place for my connection. I had to go
outside the station and find a tiny little screen well-above head-height to
spot it. It did not show on the platform screens for another twenty minutes.
It’s difficult turning up bright and early, prepared and ready, when the
systems are not ready for you.
A pretty young blonde sitting in my seat, innocent as you please, said, looking around at her fellow gang, ‘Oh, most of us don’t have reservations’, as she snuggled in (to my seat) and looked smug. The rest of the passengers seemed to nod but I may have imagined that. They might have just looked down to avoid my eye or read their book or check a piece of fluff on their shirt. I passed on to lean on a patch of wall with the other too-lates-for-a-spot. I remembered the summer of 2016 when I had travelled on a Eurail pass, two of my German trains had neglected to add my carriage. Clambering into any available wagon, many of my fellow passengers squeezed into corridors, sat on the floor or leaned on their luggage to while away the hours. Perhaps this was normal in Germany. When the ticket inspector came along he made no comment to those hogging the reserved seats, looking carefully at each ticket and then grudgingly approving them. When he gave my ticket the required grunt, I asked about my seat number. He said, ‘Well, you should go and sit there.’ I explained that I could not. ‘But you reserved it.’ Shrug. And he said, ‘Well, she should move.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think she wants to.’ And he said, ‘She has to.’ And I said, ‘I can’t make her.’ And you could see the exasperation in his eyes. ‘She has to.’ And my silent shrug made him decide who was in charge. He marched toward the pretty blonde but pretended he didn’t realise it was her, looking around at all the seat numbers innocently, creeping closer to his prey. She didn’t like it but he persisted and soon enough she was packing up and the seat was mine. The woman next to me said, ‘Awkward’ in that funny American sitcom kind of way. I said, ‘She’s young. She can cope.’ And the woman leaning next to me smiled and said, ‘That’s the rules. Unfortunate.’ BUT NOT FOR ME!!
I had desires to buy a coffee and eat my sandwich but her blonde companion sat beside me like a disapproving thunder cloud, crossing her long legs uncomfortably against the seat in front of her like a thin-legged crab trying to get into a shell. Her judgement lay across me like a forbidding arm.
The train stopped to change staff and take a break. The voice said you could go outside for a smoke so I went to look out of the door. Ah. This is the sort of thing I could expect on the TransSiberian. Pausing. But I did not want to risk losing the train so I did not set foot on the platform plus, you know, tobacco smoke. It was only for a few minutes and I’d left my run a bit late. Still. Got to practice the idea.
My Hamburg walking tour – sadly forgotten guide’s name – mainly because she lost ME – began by the water (river Alster) next to a Venetian looking shopping mall, Alsterarkaden. She was an excellent speaker. She told us that one in forty citizens of Hamburg was a millionaire. And there are more billionaires registered in Hamburg than anywhere else in Europe, maybe the world. The rivers were full of ships and boats of all sizes and shapes, tangible evidence of supremely successful trade. I was also reassured of wealth and comfort by the chateaus grandstanding in the leafy suburb near my cosy Airbnb apartment.
Not sure what the people sleeping in the street imply, tucked up, silent and hunched, in their sleeping bags in shop doorways and alleys. One was even curled over into a wheelchair. What sort of life is that? Hamburg was cold.
The guide told us the city has been built and destroyed over and over again in its long history. It was originally a fort surrounded by three rivers, Alster, Elb and Bille. Water is more than life-blood. It is food, drink and communication channel. It is wealth.
A couple of young lads rolled up on their little scooters and peered over shoulders. When the guide asked them if they were joining us they said, ‘Yeah, nah,’ and I knew we were in the presence of Melbournians. ‘Yeah, nah, we’ll just park the scooters.’ We walked up from the river, part of the lake now, up to the Hamburg Rathaus (town hall).
The Rathaus is canvas writ large with historical figures and symbols.
At the rear of the Rathaus to look at the Goddess of Hygiene in her fountain, chosen because of the cholera epidemic as a result of the Great Fire of Hamburg. The fountain is cleverly used as part of an intricate cooling system throughout the building. When the water trickles, it must be summer. In the winter it’s turned off or else the pipes will freeze and cause all sorts of trouble for the Rathaus.
We walked to the Patriotic Society – a kind of NGO for growing community – and found a group of several small brass squares embedded into the footpath outside. These little squares, called Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) by Gunter Demnig, are now all over Europe (apart from some places where they do not think walking on memorials is a respectful act). I’d seen them before in Lubeck. She explained they were memorials for those persecuted by the Nazis, regardless of religion. They give names and dates but cannot tell much more of the story apart from their placing. These particular people must have been members of the Society. Our guide explained that when locals go about their business they often keep their eyes down and they will see those names, and perhaps be jolted. That those who notice will have to look down to read the names and therefore will be bowing.
She told of meeting an elderly man on his knees in front of the plaques when she was delivering her tour. He was polishing the brass. When asked, he explained that his father was a member of the SS and this small task, polishing these little squares of metal, were a way for him to atone his inherited feelings of guilt.
We moved to Saint Nicholas, a blackened wreck of a church, which has been left as a site for memorials. It makes for sombre visiting. Most of Hamburg was bombed by the allies. It is now thought to have been the most bombed city in WWII. The allies decided to force the citizens to decide to give up – they rained down white fire on Hamburg for ten days and nights. The white fire was so powerful it drained oxygen from the air, sucked life from deep inside bomb shelters and killed old, young and creatures alike. When offered the choice, Hamburg quickly surrendered.
My father was a navigator in the Royal Australian Air Force. I do remember him talking about Dresden. He thought the destruction of Dresden was one of the greatest crimes of his war. He talked sadly about the beauty of that small city before the allies had smashed it. I don’t think the Australians were involved in bombing Hamburg. He did not talk much about his war, apart from jovial remarks about his only injury coming when he’d drunkenly fallen off a gate. I knew he’d been shot down in the Mediterranean because his brother, Syd, told me so. His crew had been rescued by a British submarine that surfaced metres away, saying clearly and commandingly to ‘Douse that light, you … ’
I did not inherit any guilt about these bombings. As far as my education and assumptions about WWI and WWII went, we were on the right side, we won and we did the right thing. My grandfather and my father told me so. I could not help but think of those who are suffering in wars at this time. Have humans learned nothing but arms deals?
My walking tour took a break in Starbucks. I could not remember ever having taken food or drink in one of those before. I really enjoyed my almond-milk hot chocolate but the three other Aussies (from Melbourne) despaired at the quality of their coffees. ‘Yeah, nah.’ Making faces they said things like, ‘Disgusting.’ ‘Medicinal.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ Think of all those poor little calves and their milking mummies.
Then we visited the surviving 16th century buildings near the beginning of the Great Fire, some of the few old buildings in this city. They not only survived that fire but also both world wars. These are strong buildings. See the tidal marks on the foundations?
We progressed towards the harbour proper, still river water. When I started chatting with Debbie, a ceramicist from Florida, we lost sight of the group. More and more tourists and locals out for a weekend stroll swirled around us. I thought I saw the other American on the tour wave at us but perhaps I was mistaken as our dash to catch up was fruitless. So I never did get to hear the end of the guide’s story. But Debbie and I talked about Extinction Rebellion and the gritty reality of American politics until I had to meet my friend in St Pauli, the edgy side of town.
I met Tanja at StrandPauli, a funky beach themed café. Wish I’d taken some photos but we were too busy gossiping. I met Tanja at a Christmas yoga retreat near Seville nearly ten months ago. Later we walked down to the Elbphilharmonie (or concert hall on the Elbe). She told me the glass for the windows was difficult and expensive and when you see the melty bends and flexes in the surface of the glass it is easy to understand why. Apart from the fact it’s very high up and really, will people notice that, or the tailor-made light bulbs that also had to be made internationally?
The next day was sunny and delightful. I wandered from my little apartment to the old fishing village area, Treppenviertel, now a gentrified suburb for some of those millionaires!
I wandered and waited to catch a ferry from Blankenese (white nose). Had no idea where the ferry was going so I wasn’t surprised when it seemed to be driving towards shallow water, a surly bridge and an opening gate.
There was an aborted landing attempt, presumably because the open gate was releasing a force of muddy water (were they dredging in there?) twisting the ship around at unpredictable angles. Our ferry had to push away from the dock and regain composure mid-stream.
I did wonder if we were to go through the gate but finally, with much bumping and clanging of those big metal pillars, we tied up, folk disembarked and new passengers ran to get onboard. Then we sat again. Cigarettes were smoked. Babies’s chins were chucked. The sun was brilliant. Glorious day. Expectation remained high amongst the other passengers. We would surely be leaving soon. Wouldn’t we?
Went down to ask about buying a ticket (and our destination) in this luxurious autumnal cruise and found my daily train tick was ample and I would change ferry at the next landing. Eventually we got underway.
Back we went to Blankenese, carefully avoiding the mudflats pimpled with small birds.
No hesitation here. Off we went into deeper shipping channels and new industrial vistas. It is a huge port.
The main reason I came to Hamburg was to check on the assertions given to me by young peregrinos on the Camino. They all attested to the great beauty of Hamburg. No, really. It was far more beautiful than Sydney harbour. Much. Well. Yeah. Nah. I don’t think so. Sorry.
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
Quick update: I have been granted an electronic NZ Endorsement, which I don’t need to print out. I trust the server will keep those records safe. Thanks, NZ Immigration!
Finishing up my summer teaching with Kings Education Brighton (I don’t know how I could have attempted this journey without Stephen’s support, thanks Boss DOS!) I moved to London for a couple of days to gather myself together.
A few chores and little shopping things: I wanted to get some currency, euros, roubles etc, just small change, so that if I needed a taxi or something on arrival in a country I wouldn’t have to panic looking for a bank. I found a cache of Money Changers nested close together around the Leicester Square Tube, near Covent Garden. It was raining. I went from window to window to compare rates and was informed that, yes, it was a good idea but I should have organised it three or four days earlier. They have to order in the different currencies. I could call back in the afternoon when they would have enough euros and possibly some yuan but unlikely roubles or zlotys. Every morning they start afresh.
Here is the lesson. If you want to go overland start thinking ahead. Minimum three months to get the ship and the visas and now, three days for the currencies!
King proposes to repair climate change by refreezing the poles.
Baroness calls out for system change and sustainable development goals.
Sister reminds us each and every one of us is part of our family.
(Note: the arrested one is silenced.)
It was Saturday Sept 21 13:15, grounds of Kenwood, Hampstead Heath
My great-aunt Winifred (Min) was a charismatic dowager who took great delight in teasing status. She arrived at our house one day thrilled she’d caught a lift in a vehicle bearing the Royal Coat of Arms. She’d hitched a ride in the post-office truck, while wearing her fur coat, of course.
She taught me the value of persistence.
When I arrived at the glamorous tent city that housed the UK’s answer to TED, I discovered that I had not purchased a daily ticket for eighty-four pounds online. (Eighty-four pounds!) Instead, I had two months previously, merely bought a ‘fast-pass’ for this one ‘Crises’ seminar for five pounds. I arrived half an hour early and the bag search people let me in as far as the ticket desk, shaking their heads, muttering to each other, how could it have happened? At the desk where I was told I could not enter without a daily ticket, I explained I could not stay for more than a couple of hours. Could they let me buy an afternoon ticket? Nope. All or nothing. (NOTE: This is how ideas are spread. By money.)
I asked to speak to a superior. Finally, Daisy the manager let me in just for the session, bless her. I did remember Min’s charming, cajoling ways. She would have been proud of me.
I explored the surroundings before my seminar began. No water refill station. No compost toilets. (The reason I’ve linked to UK companies here is when I asked organisers they said they couldn’t find any. Took me all of three seconds each, if you’re reading this for next year… ) What was I in for?
King’s opening remarks began with the sad observation it took twenty-seven years to get the Paris accord and nothing has changed since then. Making a valient effort to speak to the topic, he noted Greek, Judeo/Christian philosophy has changed the original meaning of ‘physis’. No longer the universe we’re thrown into, where the Gods of the seas must be appeased with sacrifices to prevent them rising up and swallowing the sailors, but ‘physics’. He also referred to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of nature as being separate from humans:
nature /ˈneɪtʃə / ▸ noun 1 [mass noun] the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations: the breathtaking beauty of nature.
Oxford English Dictionary phone app
King, also a Knight and a Scientist (Chemistry), believes humans are both part of and separate to nature. He thinks we have treated the world like a dustbin and run the risk of losing the earth. He asked how did we lose the sense of the essence of the Earth?
As you know, I think humans are very much part of nature. What do you think?
The Baroness, also a Politican, agreed that we have used the planet as a mine and a dumping ground. She believes arrogant science attempts to offer solutions to problems without fully understanding the consequences. When she studied soil science, at Uni in Australia, fertiliser was all the rage for farming’s woes but now new science recognises fertiliser kills off micro-organisms, causing long-term damage. ‘Fertiliser is good for the father but bad for the son.’ She called for system thinking – bringing together knowledge from many different sources to develop sustainable goals.
I wondered if she recognised she was in a perfect position, seated between a representative for science and one for religion. How could this politician work with her neighbours to create a sustainable goal right then and there?
The Sister, also a Director, explained that not just one part of humanity is to blame. Each and everyone is part of our family.
We could compare that with the brother’s speech in the recent film Farewell, as he exhorted the granddaughter to follow the family tradition of working together to assume the emotional weight of the elder. The revered grandmother must not be allowed to suffer. Her children and grandchildren should take the emotional weight for her. The family worked to keep her happy. If the granddaughter had told her of her cancer it would only have been to assuage her guilt at not being honest. Not telling the truth? The truth so valiant and important? But who would that benefit? Only the granddaughter.
The Sister quietly reminded us that all human beings have values. It’s not science that’s lost values. It’s humans. She said, ‘Come back to knowing who you are’.
David Malone asked King if it was true that 80% of all nuclear power stations were within the projected sea level rise zone. The King (who has a past in nuclear matters) stated it was of greater concern that places like Calcutta and most of Bangladesh were currently in direct peril, with the probable consequence of unimaginable amount of refugees.
The Baroness suggested that science must become more critical of itself. That it was important to recognise all creatures have a need for quality of life. Wellbeing? What does that mean? If all are depressed and stressed, how can that result in a healthy planet? She thinks we need to think about our own existence as a natural organism. What is necessary for survival?
The Sister pointed out that if minds are in a state of chaos,
if individuals are struggling within
themselves, that is reflected in the world outside. Everything starts from
human consciousness. We have to shift our thinking, not just our own spiritual
consciousness but our relationships with each other. We need to evolve to a
state of harmony and from there to a harmonious relationship with nature.
The King feels now is a dangerous time. It’s not 1932, but similar, a slippery slope. He asked who controls the media? Big money. Not just to sell copy. They are influencing people. We have allowed a small percentage of people to acquire enormous wealth while there are people living on the streets. Consider Europe in the 1930s. Something is wrong. Polarisation does not always end in the right place.
The Baroness said that change has already started. People can see the system is broken. She believes centrist politics is dead. She said, ‘Chose, either Right or Green. We’re not going to stay the way we are. That’s profoundly unstable.’
The Sister wants us to change from within and work together as a family.
Come on, everyone. We can do that!!
I spent a couple of nights in YHA Lee Valley, London. This hostel is set in a park full of lakes and canals although strictly speaking, it’s still in London.
There’s water activities everywhere.
Birdwatching hides and a dragon fly sanctuary, the young mariners club and a white water centre were all part of the once London Olympic complex. It was a great place to admire bird life and sculptures and it even had a proper dog playground with brilliant climbing frames and hoops.
I farewelled England with a quick visit to King Harold’s memorial in Waltham Abbey.
Then I caught the train (forty-three pounds this time) from Cheshunt to Stratford to Dedham Vale to Harwich International. I would be delivered right into the port!
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
Once I established my travel would be by train and sea, I turned, with some trepidation, to The Man in Seat 61. The Man lists each step of the travel.
I hasten to add the trepidation was not due to any doubt about his veracity and, in fact, I wrote him an email thanking him for making even imagining this journey possible. He wrote back, saying, ‘Enjoy your trip!’ I felt a long way away from actual travel. I didn’t even have a ticket or a visa or immunisations or those … unknown unknowns … like a destination.
First things first. Following his suggestions, I was almost
certain I would be travelling from Singapore to Australia by freighter ship.
These ships are cargo carriers; they’re already going this way, there’s no song
and dance, it’s a working transporter. They take few passengers and those
passengers are left to themselves, pretty much. Sounded ideal. The carbon is
already spent before I got involved. I would just hitch a ride. (For something
like $4,000 Australian dollars).
To begin, The Man advises getting in touch with these lovely
Reading through these websites reassured me that freighter
travel was safe, comfortable and within my physical capabilities. I sent emails
to all concerned and within a week had four quotes from Singapore to Australia.
They were all within much of a muchness but there were certain differences. It will depend on what you want to do and where you want to go as to what you choose. Yes indeed. Just where did I want to go in Australia? Fremantle? Adelaide? The next stop, surprisingly, was Sydney. Then the ships seem to loop back to Melbourne after that.
The Man in Seat 61 blithely recommends travel through several Asian countries to arrive in Singapore. So many different languages, borders and currencies – I imagined basic survival was going to be taxing – especially as a vegan!
I found it difficult to visualise where I would be going. I needed support. I went to the library.
Then I called in to international company, STA travel, a travel agency that helped me plan my initial Gap Year – three and a half years ago in Australia. Way back then I booked a flight from Melbourne to Madrid via Hong Kong (to revisit my childhood). A simple year away in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago and working in a school in Catalyna evolved over time, not only because I was reluctant to return south by air, but also because after the Camino I decided to develop a writing project. This project eventually needed research across France, England and Belgium. So much travel, so little time! The Gap Year stretched and stretched …
And then, so did the novel! But that’s another story …
Back to the freighter cruises.
STA travel could offer me a package deal on the TransMongolian (even suitable for old people such as myself) which would take all the worry out of planning and give me some expensive friends to play with along the way. Did I mention my budget?
The kind representative proffered the fat, glossy brochures
of both European and Asian holidays – which gave me a plan. Taking them both, I
proceeded to the nearest large bookshop and bought a map of the world. I pinned
it to my uni-accomodation wall and proceeded to chop up the glossy brochures,
liberating pictures of landmarks and cities the train would visit on the
TransMongolian Express! Office-craft with destination in mind.
Starting at the UK, I pondered how best to get to Moscow. I loved the Eurostar and I had travelled by ferry between Dover and Calais and also between Santander and Plymouth. Humming and haaaing and using the ecosia search engine often, I saw it was time for a new ferry. This time from Harwich (pronounced ‘Arrrich because it’s England) to Hook of Holland. I’d already visited Amsterdam, time for Rotterdam.
Three years ago I journeyed with a Eurail pass to many of the bigger cities, such as Paris and Munich. Now I particularly wanted to visit Hamburg – on the Camino I had met many argumentative people who told me that Hamburg was the most beautiful city in the world. Really? I was nonplussed. And what about Sydney harbour? You can’t tell me a little old German town can beat the home of the Eora people? Really? THE Harbour Bridge? That Opera House? Oh, they insisted, it could. What of the glory of the two rivers, the artificial lakes, the churches … I wanted to go to Hamburg and see this magnificence for myself. Sticking up more little signs I added Berlin and then Warsaw. There was a nice direct line beginning to happen. Straight ahead to Moscow and just under a week to Beijing. Simple. Then I had to get to Singapore.
Soon I had a neatly-labelled wall of the world. I could see for myself where I was going. It made a big difference to my thinking. No longer a world away, here were colourful representations of these places right in front of me. I examined the route with interest. Only, as I stared at the journey, it began to look very complicated. I did not want to be a tourist. I wanted to be a commuter.
I watched YouTube videos of the train journey to China and, thence, most particularly, the border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. What a shemozzle. It sounds as if a new trainline has now cleared that particular blockage but it did cause me more than one second or third thought. Thailand. Vietnam.
She thought it nothing to cross half the planet by train. ‘It’s easy,’ she said.
Another intrepid Australian woman, Narelle, told me, if in doubt, one should just pretend to be invincible. ‘And you will be.’ She reminded me of my typing teacher from the early 80s in Sydney. She was a small elderly lady with terribly died hair. One day as she attempted to straighten my paper or point out some error in my typing ways (there were many) I noticed the tattooed numbers on her arm. I paid attention to her. She told me to sit up straight, hold my wrists correctly and pretend to be a typist. I was an acting student at the time and she thought I should make the most of this experience by ‘acting like an efficient secretary’. It would probably work. In these mindful days she would probably say, ‘Be the person you want to be.’ I sat up straight.
Okay. I’m an efficient secretary and an invincible traveller. If I can walk across Spain then I can sit on my bum in a train for a few days!
Yet, I was not sure I wanted to go to Cambodia without seeing Ankor Watt or the Bayon Temple and I did not want to buzz through Thailand without exploring … aaaaaaah the world is so BIG! There’s so much to see. Budget. Time.
Somehow the messages I was getting from the freighters became mixed up as I dithered over routes and final destinations. I started to see that if I really wanted to be in New Zealand in January what was I doing going to Sydney or Fremantle? There were curls and twists in the different itineraries. Every day at sea gets more expensive. I began to imagine landing in Fremantle and catching the Indian-Pacific train across the Nullabor to visit my sister in Adelaide. That would add a mere twelve hundred dollars to the budget. But how cool would it be …
I got more and more confused until I contacted the company
that most of the agents seemed to be quoting about directly.
I would no longer be travelling UK to Australia via Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. I would be going straight from China. And I would be travelling to New Zealand.
I had a plan. I paid the deposit. I filled in the forms.
I just needed to organise a medical certificate. Pop in and see a doctor.
I couldn’t get past the guardians of the various reception areas. Or email enquiry forms.
‘Not in this medical centre.’ ‘We don’t do that here.’ ‘Our doctors don’t do certificates.’ ‘Not here, sorry.’
I couldn’t even pay for it. One surgery gave me the NHS forms to fill out, then when I returned them, realised I was only a short term visitor and gave me the short form. She took it, smiling and nodding. The next day I popped back in to hear her say, ‘The doctors are not prepared to fill in the certificate,’ as she handed me back my carefully filled out NHS forms. She would not register me in this surgery.
How was I going to be able to see a doctor in Brighton?
I could not proceed with my ticket purchase until I had that certificate. I tried writing to my Australian family doctor (they do not use email) with no reply. Long shot. After all, I had not seen them in over three and a half years.
Access to the vessel is dizzying [préciser la hauteur pour les grands navires], the passenger shall be able to climb the access gangway with luggages on his/her own.]
Some passages in a container vessel are narrow or hard to access. It is essential to ensure the passenger has full mobility. The passenger may have to promptly don an immersion suit if need be.
If the passenger is on regular medication, the latter shall bring on board medication in sufficient quantity for the length of the journey increased by fifteen days taking in account the uncertainties of the sea passage such as weather conditions, maritime accident, deviation.
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
My feelings of guilt were not allayed at various airports where I could see glamorous airline bill-boards claiming successful research into fuels made from seaweed or boasting forward-looking management teams with gleaming teeth who reassured the public beside the ugly heaps of plastic water bottles mounded up by the entrance to security areas.
We all know flying causes pollution. Yet, who doesn’t fly? Today I’m sitting in the reception area of an English Language school in Brighton, UK, where over a dozen people are about to leave for the airport. When I asked a class (focussed on travel) of language learners what they thought about av gas pollution, they stuck out their bottom lips, turned the corners of their mouths down and shrugged their shoulders. A young Italian man said, ‘Oh, that is nothing. Air travel is the same as car travel.’
I realised I couldn’t argue. I had simply accepted aviation was a contributor to climate change and should be avoided. Maybe I was wrong after all. Maybe it was just, ‘Nothing’. Maybe I should rush to the nearest airport with all their vegan cafes and seaweed fuels and jump on the first jet outta here.
The Conversation agrees with the environmental cost adding, ‘The second problem is, as Air Asia puts it, “Now everyone can fly”. It’s so cheap and easy! Just ask Skyscanner or Momodo or Expedia or ALL THE OTHERS … Of course, the number of travellers grows every year. And why would those numbers slow when more people all around the world can sit in their own homes with their own online systems, getting travel alerts for cheap international flights at lower prices than catching a local bus to their own town centre? They too can visit relatives and friends on the other side of the world, have a sexy beach holiday in the Mediterranean or adventure hike all the way up there. Why not? Travel broadens the mind!
Surely someone must be doing something, somehow, to change this dangerously polluting system? Don’t they realise climate is in the air? Don’t they know we’ve only got, twelve, wait, eleven, (sorry that old IPCC report came out in October 2018) years to do something to save our planet?
What does the industry body, representing 193 members have to offer? ‘International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a UN specialized agency, established by States in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).
In 2004, ICAO adopted three major environmental goals, to:
a. limit or reduce the number of people affected by significant aircraft noise;
b. limit or reduce the impact of aviation emissions on local air quality; and
c. limit or reduce the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate.
Climate change rates last. Something? Admirable. Effective? Old news? Er … I find more up-to-date information on another website: Phys.org is a physics gossip site which says the aviation industry itself has set up ‘an emissions trading scheme that aims to stabilise the situation at 2019-2020 levels’. Ah. Someone is doing something. Really?
Guess that inevitable climate change and uncontrollable weather is most certainly on the way. Or, hang on, maybe the aviation industry knows something I don’t. Maybe they think unpredictable weather is going to be a benefit? Is global warming good for business somehow? Maybe flying isn’t affected by the weather?
Inconceivable. It seems airlines intend to keep their shareholders rich … er … until hurricanes start blowing their planes out of the sky.
This is a global climate problem, everyone. This affects all of us. All the corporations know it. All the insurance companies know it. But we keep booking an aisle seat because it’s so annoying having to climb over people to get out to the toilet …
I’m in England. There’s a family reunion in New Zealand in January. I have a limited budget. I’m flying less. How am I going to do it? My personal preference is always train. I knew I could get across Europe, through Russia and into China by train but, as you know, there’s a body of water around Australia and New Zealand that is, as yet, non-navigable by rail.
Before you get all thrilled and retirement-home-positive for me, I am not going on a cruise. For a start, I don’t have that sort of money and secondly, WHAAAT? Some of those ships carry more than 6,000 passengers. Plus staff. And they eat and drink and have fun. And flush their toilets straight into the sea.
I think you will agree, the WWII slogan, ‘Is your trip really necessary?’ needs a dust-down and perk-up.
We must go at once to the wonderful The Man on Seat 61. Well known as The Train Expert, he lays out a possible journey from the UK to Australia in simple steps. I sent him an email to thank him for doing the hard work for me. He replied, wishing me an enjoyable trip. Gulp. Am I really going to do this? Europe, Russia and China, people. For a start. Then, there’s ocean and the South China sea. Where they have Big Waves.
‘The gravest threat to Western society over this century is therefore neither global warming nor international terrorism. Rather, it is the unprecedented, sustained decline in the birthrate in almost all developed countries … ‘
Clearly, it’s not ALL the human race Turnbull was worried about. He carefully avoided definitions of undeveloped breeding people leaving that to others. Instead, he concentrates on the reasons that women in developed countries (Western civilization) are choosing not to have babies. They’re educated, they have careers and they are not supported to have more children by the government. So he recommends ‘we’ alter all that with some pro-family policies.
Obviously, this Australian article (collecting my cut-off hair) was a piece to get people interested in reading the biography. Of course, Turnbull must have changed since then, although he hadn’t altered anything for his maiden speech (presumably 2005):
Can it be true that at the peak of our technology and prosperity the western world is losing the confidence to reproduce itself? Are we witnessing the beginning of the dying of the West? Certainly we are at a tipping point in our civilisation’s story. Unless fertility rates dramatically improve then, in a cycle of loss and dislocation matched only by the Black Death in the 14th century, societies with birth rates substantially below replacement level will either dwindle into an insignificant fraction of their current numbers or be swamped by larger and larger waves of immigration.
Malcolm Turnbull’s objective is a mystery. Hopefully one of those startups his innovation stimulus manages to innovate will innovate a way to stop using fossil fuels. Otherwise, I can’t see how Turnbull has changed anything from the sad embarrassing days of Tony Abbott. Turnbull may be more urbane, civilised and better spoken but he’s still a clever, educated, rich mystery perceived as left by those in the right – and right by those in the left. So he’s smack bang in the middle? Malcolm in the middle. Does that make him a target?
Mr Birch remarked that all three novels were about the interactions between people, whatever the circumstances in their lives and added all the books displayed great storytelling featuring strong and engaging characters. The audience was amused by Mr Birch’s comments regarding surprises in Clade such as Bruce Springsteen’s apparent prescience with titles such as Thunder Road and Darkness on the edge of town and; the Australian Rules football team ‘Carltonwood’ resulting from a blend of two currently strong clubs. Thus warmed up, Birch commented asked the writers if it matters, what writers write about? Does their work make an impact? Did they expect or want their work to affect readers?
Jane began A wrong turn by just wanting to write a story but by the edit stage she really did want to make readers think about climate. She’s learned that as a result of her book, people do experience concerns when the days are getting hotter.
Alice began from the issue and had to construct story and characters to fit the cause. Essentially her book became a family story as climate is a family issue.
James stated the bar was too high for writers to imagine they could change the world. Perhaps the opening chapters of Silent Spring or Neuromancer might have succeeded but there are not many books that actually altered the way people thought. Climate change happens on such a scale that people might be able to engage intellectually but not meaningfully. He feels that writers are more like weather vanes, picking up on what is around them rather than making real change.
Tony thought these writers might be underestimating their knock-on effect and they should be pleased as they don’t know what effect their books might have. He went on to ask about time. The books are about people, memory functions and time. He pointed out each writer is interested in how we remember.
Alice spoke about her driving concerns. To think about the future means we must think about how we got here. To look back into the past means the story of settlement and the history of the land before Europeans. What are we going to do now? How do we live now?
James felt remarkable connections with Anchor Point. There were similar motifs – particularly around time – in Clade. Jane has a time traveller called Ray in A wrong turn, who happens to be Aboriginal. Tony congratulated her on this creation and also commented on her theme of homelessness and compared an essay he had written about the subject.
James drew heavily on science for Clade. As he began to write scientists were warning about the dangers of methane burps in the frozen tundra. As he edited, the craters came to public attention. As he wrote, he invented an idea about the planet’s shifting axis which, of course, has now become observable. All the writers agreed that it was indeed unsettling to see their writing bed down in actual events. But that is the nature of climate change. Scientists predict and then we see their predictions come true.
It was when Tony Birch commented about our relationship to nature I began to really feel part of this community! He asked the writers how they conceived of nature? James remarks the power of nature can’t be denied. In his book, in the north of England around Norfolk, the Fens were created to keep the ocean at bay. Now ‘the sea is returning’. The sea will not be denied. Laura, in Alice’s book, wants the land to return to what it was. Alice believes we must succumb to nature.
James says he didn’t want the land to mirror people’s traumas. He wanted to create a book saying on some level that the planet doesn’t care. He wanted to get away from the common anthropocentric view of the world. He commented that the line between the virtual and the real is becoming less clear. The same technology that can pry into nests and follow birds on migration, showing the world’s amazing natural life, can do nothing to stem the force causing the extinction of those very creatures.
Alice remarks the books all have positive points; James’s landscape is beautiful and Jane’s book is funny. Jane said that we are born into the world we’re born into. People in the future will have to deal with what lies in front of them. Alice said that people’s lives are so busy with their everyday children and dishes that trying to deal with the big issues while real life is so involving. Tony highlighted a quote from Clade that ‘normality keeps fighting its way in’. James felt that was more about grief than the everyday life lived facing climate change but he believes that people are smart, that we will not turn this planet into Venus. Of course he recognises there are massively entrenched interests protecting their power and money. He believes we are having the wrong conversations. It’s not about whether politicians believe in climate change but whether we can recognise who is being used as a shill for powerful corporations.
Jane commented that learning about the terrors of climate change can incapacitate a person but not acting … is just STUPID.
Alice really cares about climate change – it took her seven years to write the book plus have two babies. On the one hand things she felt things going terribly wrong with the planet and on the other she made an enormous investment in the future by having children. That’s galvanizing for her – she had to do something.
James also wrote his book because he’s got small children and he noted that most people are now alienated from the decision-making process. Australia is no longer run for the benefit of the many, particularly obvious after the debacle of the mining tax.
Tony wrapped up the discussion by bringing it back to the writers’ power to energise activists. He thinks they can nudge the reader and produce ideas that Tony, for one, can recycle out into the world.
The first question from the audience was about books around a dystopian future implying a moral judgement on those that came before. Jane said after the discovery that the majority of emissions causing climate change came in her own lifetime she can only blame herself. Alice agreed the blame can only be placed in the present. She thinks of what the children will have to carry into the future. James thinks the world is always ending for writers. Apocalyptic fiction is a way to wrestle with big ideas such as nuclear war in the eighties and terrorism ten years ago. Dystopian fiction tries to make great concerns and worries manageable. He added that worrying about morality makes him itchy.
The next question was about artists’ obligation to take climate change seriously. Jane agreed that for her climate change was the most compelling issue for nature and other species. She can understand that others have different priorities but says that writers shouldn’t cut themselves out of the world of politics. Alice is deeply ambivalent. She wishes she didn’t have to care about climate change but once engaged she feels a responsiblity to try to show that each individual and their children will be affected. James thinks that writing is a political act but is wary of saying to any writer, you should write about this or that. He doesn’t think artists have a political obligation.
The final question was about books like 1984 and Brave New World, what effect can they have? James says that fiction is a way of thinking about things in an incredibly powerful way. Alice says she knows books can change lives; for her Little Women and Anne of Green Gables showed her that it was possible to make a living out of writing. Jane thinks that those books that make us alert to those kinds of futures, showing us the signposts, act as a warning; ‘Oh, no, don’t do that, that leads to dystopia and rats on your face.’ But then, possibly, we don’t recognise other, newer threats …
Tony wrapped up proceedings by admiring the humility of these three writers. As far as Mr Birch is concerned they will all influence his thinking about climate change.
You’ll be interested to see James Bradley signed his book twice. The first time, emulated by Jane Rawson, he calls the American way. Lined and signed. When asked why he crossed out his name, he did not know. So that’s why he signed again in the clear space of the title page.
It was the first time I’ve really been inspired by a group of writers. They were on my wavelength! I wish them great success and hope they do manage to nudge a few readers as Mr Birch suggested.
They could even take the time to read my book, Man of Clay, and see the themes of time, change and heat repeated therein!
Simran Sethi (image from the Asia Society blog page)
Simran Sethi, Environmental Messenger, is part of the barrage of the Wheeler Centre‘s 2015 questions to Melbourne. She gives a talk entitled ‘Endangered Pleasures; the slow loss of food we love’ on March the first. Simran is a petite woman with shining black hair that swings around her like a mobile halo. Her generous smile is a brilliant white. She gestures with her hands, moulding meaning into the air in front of her, giving, exuding, impressing influence into her audience.
image taken from Bings Boba Tea site
The focus of her speech, as best suits cafe-cultured Melbourne, is coffee. A few years ago, on a research trip to Rome, she was side tracked by a novel concept (to her). She’d been writing a book about seeds when she discovered scientists were actually concerned with teetering bioagrodiversity. Remember the beginning of that very scientific film Interstellar? Where that geeky science boffin, Michael Caine, points out the blighted corn? Not so fictional after all.
It seems many of our staple food crops are at risk of extinction. Wheat. Cows. Chocolate. And coffee. (Simran didn’t mention bees.) Of course we know the threats. Loss of habitat, pollution, climate change, disease …
Only 30% of all species are used by humans. Basically we don’t care what happens to stuff we can’t eat, drink or wear. If it doesn’t act like a pest, we ignore it. If it’s a crop we choose the best of the best, breed it up and maybe add some spicy cells to a test tube to improve it further. Then we only farm that one species. All across the world. The same species of banana. And when that one species falls prey to one disease? All gone.
(image from http://agrobiodiversityplatform.org/)
Where the scientists see genetic erosion Simran sees cultural erosion. She became animated as she described her fantastic global research project to understand the web of coffee making. To seek the hands that make the coffee.
(image taken from http://blog.yellow-seed.org/65/)
From the calloused farmer to the tattooed barista, it is the sweat and toil of humans that intrigues Simran. Her coffee guru comes from Seven Seeds, a Melbourne coffee roasting cafe, educator and specialist. His coaching leads her to understand the taste of coffee for the first time. Now more than just wet brown stuff, along with flavours of lemon and hints of peach, she can discern the soil and the weather of Ethopia, or Columbia perhaps. The flavour of her coffee is mixed with farmers’ sweat and the swirl of dryers’ rakes. There’s packers, drivers, container loaders, ship crew, unloaders, more drivers, roasters, grinders, and the hiss of steam at the end. All endangered.
Simran pointed out that scientists use a combination of strategies to save plant species from extinction. There’s ex-situ conservation such as seed banks (struggling for funding in the main). There’s in-situ conservation such as leaving the plant to grow in the wild or at a farm. And there’s in-vivo conservation where humans eat it, drink it and keep it alive because humans like it. Love it.
If we all learn more about our foodstuff, Simran says, we will give thanks. She believes we can save our favourite plants by our very dependence. If we consider our coffee, we will save our coffee. Her reply to the question about an individual’s ability to affect the food chain was that we should all be kind, learn the provinance of our produce and revalue what is important. If only that was all it took, Simran.
The final question about population caused her to bridle a little. As an Indian she did not think that millions of brown people in subsistence living standards damaged the planet as much as the millions of fat people living in America, consuming fossil fuels as though they are going out of style. (Which they are.) According to Simran, consumption, not population, is the real problem.
Black Friday Sales Frenzy (image from Business Insider Australia site)
Simran is an extremely highly regarded academic, journalist and eco-activist. She is working hard to activate the audience’s ‘green brain’, the part of our brains that imagines the future, that might act to save our planet if it cares about something. I’m sure her book about Bread, Wine and Chocolate (due Nov 2015) will be very well received and completely ineffective. People in the Fair Trade and Slow Food movements have been saying these things, DOING these things, for decades. In my own files I have a report dated 1986 by the World Wildlife Foundation called The Wild Supermarket: the importance of biological diversity to food security.
I can’t believe that anything Simran can add, (even if she is The Environmental Messenger and an expert on engagement) will cause millions of people to stop buying cheap food from Woolies and rush to their nearest farmer’s market. I fear those under the verdant green plastic globule that is RMIT’s entrance to Storey Hall Lecture Theatre on Sunday are already converted.
If only Simran wasn’t busy flying all over the world taking photos of hands with her great big carbon footprint. Just because it’s self-confessed doesn’t make it right. Many activists now use Skype to deliver just such communications. (People such as Professor Mary Wood, the lawyer fighting for Nature’s rights.)
Simran’s pat reply to the inevitable population question stems from her heritage and from her heart, I fear, rather than her head. Any parent, anywhere on this beleaguered planet, will raise up their children as high as they can. It is in our genes. If they are in a tent in Somalia, a slum in Mumbai or the Dakota building overlooking Central Park, that parent will try to ensure their child can afford a fridge and a car and a mortgage. And a nice secure share portfolio with an eye to growth. Consumption is of course part of the problem. Human’s need to improve their lot drives it. Human greed drives the use of fossil fuels, habitat loss, climate change …
And, as no there is no effective action to slow any of it, then the species of greatest risk of disappearing is not coffee, or bananas or wheat.
And you’d think people would care enough about them, wouldn’t you.
Lord Deben is the chairman of the UK Committee on Climate Change, the government’s statutory adviser. He is a former environment secretary and Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal. He writes in the The Guardian reports that the government should committ to halving its emmissions at 1990 levels before 2027.