Yesterday we lifted the first rows of garlic, after taking a look at the developing bulbs last weekend. This variety – Early Purple Wight – is a softneck garlic and doesn’t store all winter; there’s another crop of Carcassonne Wight hardneck garlic which we’ll harvest later. These first bulbs have been a tremendous success and made stonking progress in spite of the wettest winter and dryest spring since records began, but we noticed that some of the cloves were beginning to sprout and so we lifted the whole crop and set them on a wire frame to dry in the greenhouse; bringing the two or three sprouting bulbs home to use immediately. I can see both aioli and allioli on the menu at the Potwell Inn very shortly. Allioli is much easier to make because of the tremendous emulsifying properties of crushed garlic but it’s not for the faint hearted – fierce, hot and very Basque. Having a plentiful supply of green garlic means that we can be quite extravagent with it, chucking in a whole bulb rather than a single parsimonius clove.
Then while Madame peeled the bulbs, I got on with sowing coriander, splitting chives, planting out leeks and prepping the newly empty beds ready for the next tenants. There’s never a really quiet moment on the allotment whatever the experts say.
But something’s been worrying at me for days now. I half alluded to it a couple of days ago when I joked about not wanting the Potwell Inn to be a lifestyle blog. But I protest too much. Inevitably when I write about the pleasure that the allotment gives us, or the intensity of flavour we get from home grown vegetables, or baking bread – every one of those subjects is connected to lifestyle. When I write about recycling everything from vegetable peelings to cardboard and even our own urine; mending clothes, buying less and wasting less; aside from making us sound a bit whacky and self-righteous even, it’s all a bit inward looking. Our lives might begin to seem like a monastic existence of poverty, chastity and gardening.
But I don’t think that’s true at all. The choices we make have real impact on other people and on the earth as well and I’ve already written that a part of the purpose of this blog is the slightly subversive aim of presenting a simple, less impactful lifestyle in as attractive and positive way as possible, to get away from the hair-shirt image and to help to change our dangerous and destructive culture.
But I’m also constantly aware of the danger that the Potwell Inn could become a form of displacement activity; of withdrawal from the really important challenges of our time. On Saturday during the walk along the canal that I described, we passed a big ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstration in Green Park. Later, after I’d written and published the post I saw a video clip of the Edward Colston statue being pulled down from its plinth in Bristol, and thrown into the docks – in my view a fitting end to the statue of a man who bought and sold hundreds of thousands of slaves, and cast into the sea the bodies of the thousands who died during their transportation. All this was happening while we were doing something quite different: watching a peregrine falcon feed its young. It raised the thought that life without nature would only be half a life, but so too would a life of poverty without education or health care. The search for social justice can’t be an optional bolt-on to a virtuous life, and I don’t think there’s an option any more to take a back seat on the politics and economics.
So here’s the thing – I know we’re not alone in our anger at violence and injustice. I know we’re not alone in fearing the ecological disaster that’s taking us down the ralway line like an out of control train. I know we’re not alone in wanting an end to poverty around the world; an end to war and terror, and an end to avoidable deaths caused by austerity for the many and obscene wealth for the few, and I’ve been paralysed by the the thought that there is no way out of this predicament.
But that’s not true – there is a way out but it demands ingenuity, commitment, courage and above all, vision because these aren’t all separate problems that can be taken down and solved one at a time – they’re one big challenge that can only be successful if we are brave enough to overturn the big lie; the lie that the only way to solve these symptoms of system collapse is to carry on what we’ve been doing but work even harder at it. As if one more drink would make an alcoholic into a temperance leader.
I’ve spent some time this week reading Ann Pettifor’s recent book “The case for the green new deal” which spells out much more in terms of what we really can do to change things. There are a number of other books on my to-do list, new ones and old ones that I need to read again more carefully. My sense of paralysis is gradually lifting because whatever the prophets of Baal say about our present economics being the ‘end of history’ – that’s to say immutable, written in stone, we know that there is another way and if we follow the historical threads that brought us to this dangerous place we’ll find – like Dorothy and her friends did in the Wizard of Oz – that there’s just a bunch of frightened old men with megaphones, terrifying us with the prospect that there is no other way. Well, yes there is!
And that helps me to believe that there is a real purpose in putting a different way of life before the world – so long as we always remember that the Potwell Inn is no more, and no less that the attempted outworking of the bigger picture at the smallest scale. It’s not, and never could be the solution on its own but neither is it an escape from the realities of the world. We still have hearts, and hands and voices – and deep change, paradigm shift change, is always an emergent property. It sits there, latent, sometimes for decades and suddenly it’s there in all its unexpected complexity; much richer, much deeper and more inclusive than any of us ever imagined. In what will seem to be the blink of an eye.