Friday, 22 February 2013

The Land

THIS DRAWING I made for the current issue of the marvellous Land Magazine ~ written by and for people who believe that the roots of justice, freedom, social security and democracy lie not so much in access to money, or to the ballot box, as in access to land and its resources
I think the drawing probably doesn't need very much explaining, but it was designed to fit in with Issue 13's theme of Land Grabs, whereby global corporations and wealthy nations buy up huge swathes of land in "less developed" countries to make money from biofuels, agribusiness, industry, and other ecocidal delights, thereby ousting those human, animal and plant communities living on that land. 
Land is such a fundamental thing to all of us. It would take a certain kind of unimaginable stupidity, short-sighted greed or off-the-scale insanity to believe that destroying the land upon which you stand, your only home, is somehow sustainable. Access to land is the thing which keeps us alive, rooted, fed, watered, and sane, which is why uprooting these communities is such a terrible thing. Not so very different from what happened in this country in earlier centuries.

My drawing in Issue 13 of The Land Magazine - somewhat cropped, for some reason

As The Land's manifesto states:

Demands to “make poverty history”, and the responses from those in power, revolve around money: less debt, freer and fairer trade, more aid. Rarely will you hear someone with access to a microphone mouth the word “land”.

That is because economists define wealth and justice in terms of access to the market. Politicians echo the economists because the more dependent that people become upon the market, the more securely they can be roped into the fiscal and political hierarchy. Access to land is not simply a threat to landowning élites — it is a threat to the religion of unlimited economic growth and the power structure that depends upon it.

The market (however attractive it may appear) is built on promises: the only source of wealth is the earth. Anyone who has land has access to energy, water, nourishment, shelter, healing, wisdom, ancestors and a grave. Ivan Illich spoke of "a society of convivial tools that allows men to achieve purposes with energy fully under their control". The ultimate convivial tool, the mother of all the others, is the earth. 

The timeline of civilisation has mapped a continuous robbery of land from the poor, the indigenous, the non-human, to bring us to the point where those holding the power own or control a vastly disproportionate area of land to their numbers; for example: Queen Elizabeth II, current monarch of this tiny green-grey island in the North Sea, "owns" 6,600 million acres of land, one sixth of the earth’s non ocean surface.

So, in the face of this sickenly unfair system, what choice do we have but to grab the land back? As Gill Barron points out in her excellent article on land-reclaimingThere is an honourable tradition worldwide, and strongly so in Britain, of small-scale land acquisition by stealth. These historic precedents suggest that even more of us should be actively following in the noble (if a bit scruffy) footsteps of our cotter & squatter forebears. [The Land - Issue 13]

Alongside the many admirable land-reclaimers, guerilla gardeners and squatters mentioned in Gill's article, a group of folks off the western shoulder of London's sprawl decided last year to occupy some disused land on the Runnymede Campus of Brunel University, which has lain disused since 2007 when Brunel University sold the land to a private property developer to turn into luxury homes, to much local concern. The property owner stalled, however, and so in between the apocalyptic gusts of tumble-weed blowing through the empty overgrown university buildings, watched over only by the sinister eyes of  CCTV, the Diggers2012 walked in, planted vegetables, put up tents and shelters, begun building a cob longhouse, and lived. The site is significant, being so close to the Magna Carta Monument, heralded as the "birthplace of modern democracy", where the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago, introducing, alongside democracy, ideas such as freedom through law and limitations on authority. The Diggers2012 take their name from the original seventeenth century Diggers who planted crops on St George's Hill in Surrey in order to make the land a "common treasury for all". You'll all know the folksong telling their tale:

World Turned Upside Down
written by Leon Rosselson
recorded by Dick Gaughan

In 1649
To St George's Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people' s will
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace, they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common
And to make the waste land grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it can be
A common treasury for all.

The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Rise up at their command.

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve

We work, we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to masters
Or pay rent to the lords
We are free men
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory
Stand up now

From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers' claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed -
Only the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
The earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The order came to cut them down

I visited the Diggers2012 camp last autumn, following a path through the woods and a wheelbarrow track through the dewy grass to a hole in the chicken wire fence.

And found there a friendly and diverse group of people sat around a fire in the main cob longhouse, talking unhurriedly about the day's plans, and cooking breakfast.

There were escapees from London, who had found no way to live the expensive life the city demands, nor been able to afford housing. There were activists and foragers and visiting families with children and dogs. Fifteen people were living there permanently, and as we sat and drank our fire-cooked coffee, they referred, with despairing seriousness, to the sprawling city which we could see in the distance from our hill as Mordor.

As well as growing vegetables and running workshops, they had set up a rudimentary water system from a spring higher up in the forest, which carried the water down through a long blue pipe via a home-made filter suspended between the trees.

I felt a great deal of purpose in the people I met there. They had had several evictions served against them but were fighting on, with a great openness to engage with the local and wider community, and challenge the deeply embedded idea of land ownership. The day I was there they were leading a foraging walk, and visitors gradually arrived to join us on the hunt for wild foods and medicines growing on this patch of "disused" land.

We found various edible and useful mushrooms, this one below is Chicken of the Woods

Not all fungi were in easy reach

We returned to the camp to make tea, and I had to leave before getting the chance to share in the meal of foraged foods.

But I did learn a new plant - this is water pepper - which has amazing spicy-tasting seeds!

It seems to me that we have been so disconnected from the land beneath our feet by so many tools of modern civilisation, that we no longer are able to tend it and speak to it, live with it and love it and know deeply that we cannot live without it. And because we have had our earthen umbilical cords which tie us to our ancestral place cut so brutally, for so long, we cannot stand up for our land when it is threatened, either. As Derrick Jensen says: "It's no wonder we don't defend the land where we live. We don't live here. We live in television programs and movies and books and with celebrities and in heaven and by rules and laws and abstractions created by people far away and we live anywhere and everywhere except in our particular bodies on this particular land and this particular moment in these particular circumstances."

Activists take to the trees to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas and Oklahoma
as part of the Tar Sands Blockade

There are those still fighting for their land, though, like the Combe Haven Defenders, who have been standing in the way of the UK government's new road building program, by protecting the trees and hedgerows of the soon-to-be-annihilated tranquil and beautiful Combe Haven Valley in Sussex. Or the Unis'tot'en Action Camp in unceded occupied Wet'suwet'en territory of "British Columbia", where the land's indigenous people are standing in the way of massive pipelines for transporting tar sands oil and shale gas from fracking being built through their territory. In France right now Europe's biggest post-capitalist land occupation La ZAD (Zone À Défendre) is fighting a new airport in the most inspiring ways, which I really recommend you read about here: part 1 & part 2. There are countless other warrior projects across the world taking place right now where people have decided that enough is enough, and that they are prepared to fight to the death for the only thing that gives them life: their sacred and beloved land. To all those stopping in their flight from the enormous pustulent grabbing hand of progress, and turning back to face it and say: no more! I offer this fantastic rousing song by the Oysterband ~ We'll Be There! The last impassioned lines Leave this land alone always make me cry.

I've walked this hill a hundred times
To hear the river talking
A murmuring, a secret sound
Never found
And times I've leaned into the wind
To smell this earth I'm walking
With the song of the wind my heart is wound
All around
It's holy ground


You can bring your JCBs
You can bring your drills and your 'drivers
You've got the might
But you've got no right
We'll be there, we'll be there, we'll be there

We've wandered under winter stars
To trace them in their courses
Summer nights at standing stones
We stood alone
We took the water in our hand
We rode the chalk-white horses
We dreamt one day they'd understand
We share this land
This holy ground


Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
I said leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone

Sunday, 3 February 2013


Young Rima and family in my first wheeled house - a Bedford CA, en route to Europe
Young Rima in living-van window seat with toy arrangement!
WHEELS have turned in my life since before I can remember. The characters in my paintings are wheeled, their houses are wheeled; my stories are wheeled. Handcarts and wagons and caravans have always drawn my eyes, in that urgent, beautiful way a well-loved colour or a certain kind of face stands out in a crowd. Wheels call to me even louder if they have a door, a window or a chimney atop them. Something about the combination of vehicle and house sets my blood thrilling.
Travelling, I have gradually realised over the years — and more specifically, living in a house that moves — is a fundamental part of the person I am; it’s what makes my heart sing the highest, and my feet feel the rightest.

☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸

...And so begins an article I've written about my love for the travelling life, published this month in the beautiful EarthLines Magazine. I'll not write more reflections here on my travelling-vagabonding urge, because I've mused at length in this illustrated article - Wayfaring — A Wheeled & Painted Life, and I'd love for you all to go and buy a copy of the magazine, or better still subscribe to it. Produced from a croft on the Isle of Lewis, this quarterly dedicated to the culture of nature is a wonderful thing, and comes very highly recommended. This issue, apart from being exquisitely put together, is filled with wild, thoughtful, diverse and intelligent writing on all manner of land-based subjects, and I'm delighted to be amongst such company as Robert McFarlane, Guy McPherson, Charlotte DuCann, Melanie Challenger, Sharon Blackie, Hugh Warwick, Susan Richardson and many others. (A PDF of the contents page is available here)

☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸

Last year my Bedford TK Horsebox house was featured in the newest book from Shelter Publications - Tiny Homes. It's a beautiful book, chock-full of handbuilt, unique and unusual homes from the burgeoning Tiny House movement, where dwellings are counted as tiny when they're less than 500 square feet. Unfortunately the first printing of the book misspelled my name, but I'm told that the book has proved hugely popular and so has run into its second, correctly spelt, print run! It even came with a tiny version of Tiny Homes, small enough to fit in my hand. I was mightily honoured to be included in this book. Lloyd Kahn's books have been an incredible inspiration to alternative self-builders all over the world since the publication of Shelter back in the 1970s. There are homes on wheels, on water, in trees, in desert, mountain and city. There are even some Tiny House-dwelling friends whom I know from the internet amongst its pages, like Nikki of Click Clack Gorilla in her Bauwagen in Germany, and Keith Levy of The Flying Tortoise in New Zealand, as well as the now widely-recognised 'Hobbit House' built by Simon Dale in Wales. Here are some pages from Tiny Homes, photographed back when the sun used to shine through the windows...

This is one of those books to pore over again and again, full of pictures to make your heart sing. Here's Lloyd Kahn talking about its creation:

☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸

Longtime followers of this blog will have accompanied me during my travelling days and watched the green lands pass by my windows. Since moving back into a house three years ago, I have felt a profound sense of loss for the half-indoor, half-outdoor life on wheels that I loved so much, which I've not really been able to write about here since. Suffice to say, that the desire to live this life has never left me, and the waysides still call to me, loud and nettling...

Rima reading in hammock, tied to truck-house in a Devon field
Washing strung from truck-house in a field in Colchester
Truck-house interior, Rima's painting desk corner
Rima stacking wood by truck-house in Kent orchard
Truck-house in Kent orchard
Truck-house in Kent woods
Truck-house interior - kitchen with woodburner, gas stove and belfast sink
Rima playing accordion by truck-house stable door
View from back door of truck-house in Devon field
Truck-house on Devon hill
Truck-house on layby in Wales (NB No Stopping sign!)
Truck-house parked up in Wales
Rima washing clothes in river
Rima selling artwork at Weird and Wonderful Wood Fair, Suffolk 2009
View from round above-cab bedroom window on Dartmoor hill
Truck-house in Lincolnshire sunset
Incense smoke escapes out the back door of truck-house in Wales
Truck-house leaves Scotland at the beginning of winter
☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸ ☸

...which is why, after three years in a house, I am 
taking to wheels again!!
Rejoice with me as I look excitedly out of our cottage windows at what is parked in yonder field:

A beautiful 1960s Bedford RL ex auxiliary fire-service vehicle, with the smileyest face you've ever seen on a truck!

These vehicles, along with the Green Goddess fire engines which share the same chassis, were bought up in their thousands by the government during the cold war in case of nuclear disaster, and then never used. So years later they gradually got sold off to private collectors and consequently have done hardly any miles! Ours has just 7000 on the clock!
It's four wheel drive, converted to run on LPG (and not exactly easy on the petrol!); the back is solid oak with not an iota of rot in it, topped with military canvas. The interior of the cab is an unnamable shade of tawny orange, and there are boxes and compartments and hooks and ropes all over the place. The split windscreen opens, and the truck does a maximum of 45 mph! The journey home from collecting it was an adventure and a half. It's incredibly loud and slow and big. Its previous owner described it as the water buffalo of the vehicle world. It draws waves and comments from all who see it passing by, and we were exhausted and elated when we pulled into the field at last.

Now we go out with our cups of tea and sit out on the tail gate, almost as high as the trees, dripping in their winter bareness around us. And we grin to each other, dreaming of the tangible travelling days, now within our grasp. We have much building to do. Tom and I are ridiculously excited, planning and dreaming of the right spot for the woodburner, and the windows, and the kitchen, and of the wonderful days which await us on the wayfaring goosegrassed byways of our coming happy years.

Baby Rima at Bedford CA wheel