Foraging: First steps…

I guess there are a few reasons why have decided to take up a more agrarian lifestyle (or at least the start of one).

Weary of the bloatedness that accompanies eating meat in significant volumes has led to a pescatarian diet over the last six weeks has already reaped rewards in a two kilo weight loss, and its a more sustainable way to live. Spending time during the same period rambling across the green and pleasant lands of England, and getting back to nature has given a fresh appetite to put materialism to one side (after the basics hunter-gatherer equipment has been bought and delivered from Amazon – naturally), wanting a life of less that gives me more as a result, and its a more sustainable way to live. Detoxifying the body by reducing alcohol and sugar intake, flushing out unfriendly bacteria and negative Covid knots via the esoteric practice of kundalini yoga and with it a new vigour for life outside the norms of society.

Sadly, I am a hypocrite (and my nineteen year old learned and wise-beyond-his-years offspring concurs this on a daily basis without the need for prompt) and I acknowledge that. Working in an industry which is doing precious little to address global warming and investing in renewable energy sources burns deep within my eco-citizen higher self. With over twenty years invested and with retirement just around the corner (albeit a long, long corner), I have too much invested to just walk away.

My mission is simple, do what I can to be more sustainable now as an individual and as a family (even though on the grand scale of things that is insignificant). Try to improve sustainability and promote green issues in the workplace (knowing that a cultural shift from within will help change the mindset of others on a larger scale than the self or the family). Once I do eventually retire, look towards an off-grid lifestyle, becoming self-sufficient by living off the land and via renewable resources, and if possible go a step further set up a new family (an eco community), starting off small and growing over time, with mind, body and soul at the core.

I’ve admired Jacque Fresco for so long and his Venus Project vision, but it stagnates in this rule-bound material world and having a fully operable and autonomous collective which sits outside the taxation system in the US is in my opinion a tall order to achieve.

I may face the same obstacles in the future here in the UK, but there is hope. One Planet Development in Wales is starting to allow applicants to set up sustainable small holdings to help reduce the countries carbon footprint, something Westminster hasn’t done yet across Offa’s Dyke and may not do, ever.

My recent micro-expeditions over the last six weeks has pushed my retirement thinking further forward, to the extent where it is all I’ve been thinking about for the last seven days since returning from Roman Northumbria. It’s clear to me that not only will I need to detach myself from most of the day to day operations I do now, but I will need to acquire brand new skills and an improved physical prowess should I succeed in what will be the final chapter of my Book of Life.

So like Alice, peering down the rabbit hole into an unknown world, I have started to do some research on what skills I will need. Although the list will be long, it will need to be exhaustive and complete by the time I exhaustingly hit fifty five.

Thumbing through the pages on the internet last week, I decided it was time to get back to basics, real basics, and with that I tried to get an understanding of prehistoric history of Britain, and more specifically the Wirral where I currently live.

Whilst I intend to craft a full post which addresses those historical knowledge gaps from the Palaeolithic age, through the Mesolithic and on to the Romans era, what I have uncovered thus far is that the first Homo sapiens remains in the UK were found (rather remarkably – coincidentally?) at Kents Cavern in Devon where I took the family a few weeks back. These remains carbon-dated to around the year forty thousand BCE and exhibits found revealed our true hunter-gatherers forefathers (and mothers); animal bones, archaic tools and means of illuminating the deepest and darkest caverns by using flints, dry mosses and shells (ancient Yankee Candles).

The trip to the caves fascinated me as did the lifestyle, free from the problems we have today, although they had entirely different problems and dangers to face of course.

Survive they did and we are all evidence of that, but how did the sustain themselves and their tribes, what methods did they use to succeed?

Leaving the hunting aside for another post, my focus turned to gatherering, and what we call foraging today.

Buoyed by my mid-morning blackberry breakfast in Northumbria last Sunday, I did a bit of research and was delighted to find that there was a foraging course in Ruthin (small market town in North Wales) which just happened to coincide with my sisters birthday in a couple of weeks from now. So with debit card already in hand, I dutifully booked us on the course (including my eco-wife to-be), and acquireds a few beginners guides and tools, ready for our first foray into foraging.

Annoyingly, I was off ill from work this week, the kundalini yoga on Tuesday seemed to release many built-up toxins and with it a serious migraine ensued which lasted all of Thursday and Friday, and with it an unwelcome return of my tinnitus, turned up to eleven. Already sprouting cold sores on the lips, I put myself into a dark room and nestled under a duvet for two and a bit days, unable and unwilling to focus and concentrate on the deployment of intelligent IT monitoring systems at work (A.I. won’t get ill, one of the benefits of my work for my employers further down the line after my presence becomes redundant, a victim of my own success).

During my bed-bound sabbatical, I did manage to watch some YouTube videos on foraging, sometimes drifting back off to the land of nod.

There were a few videos that stood out for all would-be pickers:

1. Ray Mears Wild Food

2. Ray Mears Bushcraft

3. Ray Mears Wild Britain

4. Wild Food UK Back To Basics

I guess when it comes to cult of personality and living off the land and it’s resources, Bear Grylls instantly springs to mind. I have liked watching his shows over the years, but find them somewhat contrived and of course a little extreme, sensational not educational.

My quick bimble through some of the online guidance revealed some important principles before taking the first step outdoors:

1. Acquire advice from professionals first

2. Acquire reference books to validate what you forage and if it is safe to eat and don’t taste test

3. Acquire some basic foraging kit (waterproof clothes, gloves, bushcraft knife, foraging bag)

4. Acquire a diary to catalogue where and when you forage

5. Only acquire what you need for yourself/family. Only take a third of the fruits available

6. Don’t take on the edge of agricultural land, especially if the foolishness is brown, likely due to pesticide spraying

7. Don’t trust identifying apps like Google Lens

8. Don’t uproot plants on common land or agricultural land unless permission is granted

9. Sample small amounts during initial forays to make sure one isn’t allergic to the plant

10. Give plants a good wash before consuming to remove dirt and bugs, especially at ground level

Feeling a little better this morning (although looking a whole lot worse due to the “scabification” process on my bottom lip), I headed out towards the old beach line on the coast.

As I passed houses and front gardens with a more watchful eye than usual, I found quite a few interesting trees and bushes, all of which were bearing fruits. On one road alone (all with one hundred yards) I found what I believe to be hawthorn bushes, rowan bushes, a cherry tree, a pear tree and an apple tree.

The road itself has a lot of history. Wellington Road has a set of sea-facing villas, built one hundred and fifty years ago by James Atherton, a local luminary and merchant at the time. The villas still stand strong today with majestic views across the Irish Sea, each unique and picturesque. They are all built on an old tunnel system which dates back hundreds of years when bootleggers would use them as stores for forbidden fayre, the sandstone caves providing good hiding hold for non-taxable contraband.

Taking a fruit from each bush/tree for validation when I got back home (except for the apple and pear trees which were pretty obvious), I headed off to the old cliff line, known locally as the Red Noses (due to them being sandstone proboscis that stretch out to sea). These are now set back from the beach down to the creation of the UK’s longest promenade, built over one hundred years ago, leaving the cliffs a few hundred metres back from the shoreline and with it a thick growth of vegetation.

My old faithful and now off-lead comrade loves it there, as all of the long grasses, bushes and shrubs provide him with plenty opportunities to sniff around and roam for critters.

The main source of foraging here appears to be nettles and blackberries, the small stretch of greenery also lies next to a train track and the bushes grow wild up to the protective railings and are mostly impenetrable (except perhaps with a set of fishing waders which may look a little odd).

Whilst this brief outing was more a “recky” rather than a gathering for breakfast or replacing the “Friday Big Shop”, I did take a few blackberries on the way for sustenance, some sweet and some sour, but sweet anyway in the knowledge that I know they are there and my empty jam jar at home sits waiting for the first foray into preserve making.

Returning home through the back streets, yet more nettles and blackberries grew at the side of the local nine hole golf course, giving me even more evidence to suggest that even in urban areas, opportunities are out there, one just needs to look…

A New Hope…

The fact that Jeremy Corbyn has already been part of the “rebel alliance” (albeit within the Labour Party) for the last 40 years means that his transition to Obi Wan Kenobi status tomorrow as “Leader of the Opposition” should on paper be pretty seamless. He really is to coin Star Wars phrase, “A New Hope”, his deep routed socialist views in tune with the greater good and fairer distribution of health and wealth in today’s most complex society.

He will have his work cut out from the beginning should be be successful though, as many New Labour / ex Tony Blair sympathisers will no doubt convene secret meetings on the “dark side” of Westminster to oust him from the very off.

Many people are saying that Corbyn is simply not electable but I do not believe that this is the case. For decades now, there has been very little difference between the Labour and Conservative manifestos and as a result whether the Blues or the Reds win means very little when it comes to governmental policy in the end. I guess the rise of the Greens at the last election was an indication that people are beginning to change their views and vote for change. Real change.

Real change. Real change is what we could have under Jeremy. Given the fact that we will not be able to live out pre-Neolithic Revolution / Nomadic existences or move to Venus Project communes any time soon, we should turn to progressive politicians who see the bigger picture, who see the global picture, rather than focusing in on the self like all Conservatives and Republicans seem to do these days.

For those who seek out a change to Western politics and ideals, Corbyn could be the answer and if enough of us see that (here in the UK at least), then on that basis he is electable as Prime Minister of these green and pleasant lands. This could in turn lead to a political paradigm shift and steer us away from the zombie apocalypse.

Only 66% of the population voted at the last general election and I’m of the belief that the disenfranchised 34% could well be persuaded to vote, and that vote would be a vote for socialism. 34% in itself would almost be enough to get in out right, nevermind the safe Labour seats of Wallasey and other red flag bearing wards and boroughs. If Corbyn can bring that belief back, then he does stand a real chance of getting the keys to 10 Downing Street. 

For those who still do not see him as “A New Hope”, let’s compare our rebel alliance leader with one in a galaxy far, far away (coincidence or an odd case of synchronicty)?

Obi Wan Kenobi:


jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership-election

Jeremy Corbyn:

Let’s take a look at Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto in brief:

Economy

  • An end to austerity, higher taxes for the rich and more protection for people on welfare.
  • A crackdown on tax avoidance and tax evasion, tax breaks for companies, and a Corporation Tax increase to reduce the deficit.
  • Introduce a “maximum wage” to cap the pay of top executives.
  • Quantitative easing for new large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects, creating skilled jobs and genuine apprenticeships, knock-on effects for the supply chain.

Education & Health

  • Introduce a National Education Service, following the NHS model, with state-funded academies and free returning to to local authority control.
  • Tuition fees scrapped and replaced with grants.
  • Introduce universal childcare.
  • Eradicate PFI deals from the NHS by using government money to buy them out.

Foreign Policy & Defence

  • An International policy based on political negotiations not military solutions to secure peace.
  • Withdraw from NATO and opposition to air strikes against so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
  • The UK would not spend 2% of GDP on defence, as pledged by the current government.
  • The Trident nuclear missile system would be scrapped.

Housing

  • Introduce rent controls to help families on benefits to pay their rent.
  • Improved right-to-buy scheme, allowing tenants in council and social housing to purchase their homes at a discount.

Transport & Energy

  • Renationalise Britain’s railway network and opposition to the High Speed Rail Network.
  • Renationalise energy companies, regulating publicly run services which deliver energy supplies.
  • Introduce a moratorium on fracking which is dangerous to the environment.

European Union

  • UK to remain in the EU, but with a vision for a better Europe through a change programme.
  • Opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

I am hoping that by midday tomorrow that Jeremy Corbyn is the new leader of the Labour Party and if he is, I will sign up immediately and become an active member, only under the leadership and direction of a true socialist would I ever even consider doing that.

#JezWeCan

ALS(o) have this on my M(i)ND…

And so it came to be that I was eventually nominated to do the ALS / MND Ice Bucket Challenge by a good friend of mine. Without a doubt the cause is just, those folks out there that suffer from this affliction must go through a living hell. Just knowing that once diagnosed, one is subjected not only to a reduced lifespan the average life expectancy following positive diagnosis of a mere 36 months until death, but a daily degradation of physical service whilst the brain and consciousness remains untouched. A prison without walls.

Stephen Hawking is living proof of what MND does to the body and not the brain. He has defied the odds in terms of MND life expectancy and lived to a ripe old age thus far all things considered, and the scientific world is surely glad for that.

Facebook is often pilloried, but I think in this case it has been used globally as a positive tool to raise both awareness and funds for ALS and MND. Every second news feed at the moment is a video of someone taking part in their own “challenge”. It is a bit of fun for those that wish to participate, and also a vehicle for those who do not wish to participate in person, but either chose to donate to ALS / MND or to donate to other charities (for example a friend of mine’s view point was that all the wasted water concerned him, so instead he chose to donate some funds towards Water Aid), which is great too.

Personally, I chose to take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge, albeit with my own slant on it, and I had fun doing it and followed it through with a donation to MND:

http://youtu.be/kU8MIrAg8WI

However (there always seems to be an however with me), there is a part of me which remains sceptical about donations towards research, not just for ALS / MND, but for any body looking at providing cures for world ills. That part of me is concerned that the funds raised are either misappropriated or not channelled into the right places.

Taking ALS / MND as an example, £50m has been raised in one month, fantastic, but where is it going and what is it going to be used for? Will it be handed to Big – Pharma for them to use it as a way to produce a new synthetic chemical to treat the symptoms and not challenge the root cause and make a tidy profit from it all? Will it look deep into the genetics of the disease and look to eradicate it from happening in the future via a post-modern eugenics movement of sorts? Will it look into complementary therapies like yoga, meditation and reiki to see if these alternative self-healing techniques can aid or assist recovery or combat it’s onset?

All of these questions remain unanswered to me at present, but it’s something I’ll look into, but I do hope that the funds do end up in the right place and used in the right way.

This whole issue really got me thinking, and I think that it is no coincidence (I don’t see coincidences anymore – just breadcrumbs) that I started to watch the Channel 4 series Utopia (available in the UK and on Netflix) at exactly the same time as the Ice Bucket Challenge kick off.

In short, the story follows a small group of people who find themselves in possession of the manuscript sequel of a cult graphic novel called “The Utopia Experiments” which is rumoured to have predicted the worst disasters of the last century. This leads them to be targeted by an organisation known as “The Network”, which they must avoid to survive. Using the manuscript, they must uncover the meaning hidden in its pages before the disasters depicted become reality.

Without spoiling it too much for anyone that hasn’t seen it, the fundamental theme relates to the ever increasing world population, how the future demand for planetary resources will exponentially increase and whether via a ‘humane eugenics movement” is something that we could or should put in place to control the population explosion as a way to extend our existience on our little blue dot.

So this is where I get controversial and perhaps hypocritical to my original gambit about ALS and MND. As a human race, we need death. We need death by any means. Should we just treat the symptoms and keep these things around, but make sure that those who have them do not suffer? No matter how you slice it, global population growth at the rate we have seen it over the last 200 years is completely and utterly unsustainable when mapped against projected resource decline. I was frankly amazed by the following statistics relating to world population studies:

  • 35k BC = 3 million
  • 10k BC = 15 million
  • 1400 = 375 million
  • 1804 = 1 billion
  • 1927 = 2 billion  
  • 1959 = 3 billion  
  • 1974 = 4 billion  
  • 1987 = 5 billion  
  • 1999 = 6 billion  
  • 2012 = 7 billion  
  • 2026 = 8 billion  
  • 2042 = 9 billion
  • 2060 = 10 billion

A little over two hundred years ago, there were only one billion homo sapiens on Planet Earth. We have added six billion people to that amount over the last two centuries.

By the year 2060, there will be an estimated ten billion of us on a planet that is very quickly running out of natural resources. So what are we doing about it?. Rather than looking into the mid-term future and concentrating our research efforts into safe, renewable and sustainable energy sources, instead we invent new ways of raping the geological stratas underneath the Earth’s surface as a way to satisfy our immediate need for energy, much to the detriment of the climate and our precious water table.

All this is to satisfy future demand they say as renewable energies cannot satisfy the supply versus demand curve. Those who will be able to afford energy in the future will be able to pay for it, but with advances in automation and an ever increasing demand for energy (from the needs of a ballooning population), those that cannot will be pushed even further away from the “haves” causing an inevitable future class war of epidemic proportions. It seems that our train is heading towards George Orwell’s vision as laid out in 1984, or Kurt Wimmer’s dystopian world as seen in the film Equilibrium, and the brake cables have been severed.

Of my home town during the Toxteth Riots of 1980, Margaret Thatcher (the then Prime Minister in the UK) said that Liverpool as a city was expendable, and that it should be placed under managed decline until (I guess) it either ceased to exist or it became manageable (a truly awful statement said about one of the most historic cities the world has ever known (not always for the right reasons)).

So for me, the Utopia series really does address and ask us a key question of the future, albeit through shocking graphics and a very disturbing storyline. Should we be managing our own decline globally? Should we put in place a humane eugenics movement for the greater good of our offspring to try and kerb global population booms in an effort to avoid wars and the continuing fight for natural resources (in the likes of Iraq) and inevitable plunge into dystopia?

Would it be our place to put in place such a drastic action (taking over the role of the Creator if such a thing exists), and has evolution turned such amazing potential into nothing more than a collective marauding beast which will stop at nothing including it’s own inevitable destruction?

Or do we say fuck it, let’s live the dream whilst we can, because tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999?

My belief is that the inevitable catastrophic decline will happen (via a global war), and that at some point, mankind (if indeed it still exists post-apocalypse, albeit in significantly smaller numbers) will rightfully have no alternative but to turn our future way of life into resource based economies as detailed by The Venus Project, as the value of currency will quite literally not be worth the paper it is printed on.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could change the paradigm into The Venus Project today. I’d move there tomorrow (I mean today)…