My aim is to travel from the UK to Brisbane for one of my best friends' wedding. Plane travel is so environmentally damaging so I am looking for another way. I also think that by travelling over land and sea I will be able to understand our world better as I will connect with the people and landscapes and not just look at the departure board in the airport. Any tips gratefully received!! Departure date 1st September.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I have sold my first book/Hitching is great!

The exciting news of the week (apart from the fact the rain stopped for long enough for me to finally paint the henhouse with some nice bright green eco-paint to stop it rotting) is that I have sold my first book!!

I was hitching from Machynlleth to Talybont to meet my friend Peter who has kindly been taking lots of time to teach me all about horses with the patient and adorable Buster and Lucy. (More about this future slow, low carbon transport mode another time.) I had missed the bus - as I was buying some new boots from the second hand army stall on the market, which I hope will see me through the winter - and so had to resort to my thumb again. I was quite glad really as the bus is expensive and I always meet really interesting people hitching (scope for a new book maybe?)

I was picked up by David who was on his way to Borth and as with all polite hitching conversations we started chatting about where we lived and what we do for a living. I was lucky today as I discovered David has a library of 10,000 books and was keen to add a new one to his collection. I told him my book wasn't out until January but he insisted on giving me the money there and then and I could sign a copy and post it to him when it came out. What kind-hearted and trusting encouragement. I was over-joyed and now have my £9 (£8.99) safely stowed with his address awaiting the publication date......

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The city of Edinburgh is buzzing as I arrive through a flooded railway line on a damp Thursday in August. The Edinburgh Fringe is in full swing and soon to begin is the Book Festival. I am here to have a laugh, listen to some writers and most likely be simply inspired by the immense amount of talent which is exploding out of Scotland's capital.

It is a pricey affair visiting these festivals and so I thought I would suss out the free events first. New to the Edinburgh Book Festival is the Ten at Ten slot. Start your day with a 10 minute reading of poetry or short stories. After a late night out watching comedy at the Fringe, I find it impossible to get up in time but finally make it and think it would make sense if we all woke up to this every morning. What a difference it makes to your outlook for the day and so much better than a book at bedtime, as you actually hear the ending.

Next I watched Another Kind of Silence, a one women play about the life and work of Rachel Carson (author of seminal work Silent Spring and a heroine of mine.) She was a truly inspiring woman who changed the course of the environmental movement globally. She campaigned tirelessly against the use of unnecessary chemicals and pesticides in our world and brought to light the importance of using the pre-cautionary principle before unleashing these deadly weapons on our world. The story was beautifully and carefully told, not a story of despair, but one of passion for life in all forms. (Ticket cost £4.50 on Friends of the Fringe 2 for 1 deal.)

Later in the day is the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series. Each day they are using a different article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to focus the mind. Today it is 'The Right to a Fair Trial' and the idea, most of us take for granted, that we are all innocent until proven guilty by a fair and public trial. Writers from the book festival took to the stage to read various works from writers who were currently unfairly incarcerated. One account written by Hu Jia, the now famous Chinese human rights activist, told how he was abducted from his home and held for 41 days, with no voice and without his family being told of his whereabouts. It was sickening to hear.

This was shortly followed by two poems from people imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. All I could keep thinking as I listened to a beautiful poem entitled 'The Sea' was 'this man is in Guantanamo Bay now. He is there now and has been there for over four years, away from his home, with no voice.'

There is still lots more to see, but so far my Edinburgh Festival experience has been everything I wanted it to be.

(photo of me and big sis and the Firth of Forth)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hitching to St Chartier

I haven't felt like travelling much since returning from Brisbane but when my friend Tabitha (the fiddler) suggested hitching and busking our way to the St Chartier folk festival in the middle of France, there was no way this budding accordionist and lover of free (both carbon and money) travel could resist.

With barely any practice we set up on the South Bank in London with our nearly matching red felt hats and colourful clothes to see who would enjoy our music. Somehow we managed to sound half decent as the rain fell and the tourists and Londoners huddled with us under the bridge. A couple danced as we played the Amelie Waltz, and another lady danced alone entranced by what she called our 'mysterious sounding' music - our favourite traditional tunes from around the globe. So with a few pounds in our pocket we began in East London with our thumbs out and spirits high.

After a slow start, Ken got us underway and through the Blackwall Tunnel. He was followed swiftly by Simon and then Billy the Trucker who deposited us in Dover. A short ferry and no lift later (Billy was stuck on the ferry behind) we stood in the dusk in Calais on a roundabout of lavender thinking our luck had run out, but then Jean-Michael and Paul turned up and squashed us and our bags in the back of their three-door Peugeot and took us all the way to Paris at top-speed. Tabitha's fluency and my bold attempts at French kept the conversation going and soon we were dumped in the suburbs at midnight. Sticking to our ideals for travelling cheap and easy we found a comfy mound in a park and lay down to sleep.

After a day in Paris busking we had enough for a couple of coffees each and took the RER train to the end of the line in the direction of the south-west (it seemed a sensible way as any to get going again) and were soon in Dourdan (and nearly left on the train as it ran to the depot). Again it was about midnight but we were lucky to find a spooky canal and misty park to put up the tent. I was a bit freaked out and panicy but Tabitha took charge and we had a great night's sleep.

The next day was easy with ride after ride (after relaxed coffees and pain au chocolate) as we barely waited for twenty minutes between hitches and soon found ourselves in Chateau-Roux. Here we treated ourselves to an expensive meal, but it was well worth it and then, amused at the contradiction, took to the street again to find a spot to sleep. It was a bit harder this evening but we soon found a cosy bush near some old derelict buildings and shared the night with what we thought may have been a Marmot (mountain squirrel type thing). Rainfall at 6am woke us up and we trudged to the nearest cafe for coffee and advice on how to reach St Chartier (which so far no one in France seems to have heard of!).

Our final lift came at 8am and we were at the festival by nine and pitched our tent before the rain fell. The morning was spent playing music again. I have never played so much every day and was even starting to think I sounded ok. Fiddle and accordion were soon joined by other musicians on the guitar, bass, drum and clarinet and soon had our own little session going under the relative dry of a gazebo.

And so the festival continued with music, music, music. I played as much as I could and watched some amazing musicians, especially in the village bar. We danced to Breton music on a huge sprung dance floor under the shadow of the marvellous Chateau, and I was spun around and instructed by many wonderful French men. Traditional music and new tunes were spinning around in my head as I watched, played, hummed or talked music for 6 days! A truly wonderful, simple, real festival with a fabulous friendly vibe and I will definately be back...Maybe by bike next time.....

Not sure what the general consensus is on the eco-impacts of hitching. In my opinion more people should do it, it is fun and you meet such a bunch of characters. And as the journey is happening anyway, it makes my carbon footprint for the journey nothing! How could I do anything else!

p.s picture is me playing my accordion on the Trans-Siberian railway...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Bees Knees

At home when the sun shines there is a hum in the air. At first I am not conscious of the noise. But then I recognise the sound of insects busy at work. Bumble bees and dragonflies and damsel flies and hover flies, and fly flies and all sorts of insects I don't recognise, all so delicate and decorative, going about their work. Honey bees from the hives on the farm are also racing around. Our bees are made of sturdy stuff and last summer produced a lot more honey than any other hive nearby, despite the rain and being stuck in the middle of a pine forest clearance. There are a lot of foxgloves out this year, which bees love and perhaps that is what keeps them going.

Whilst everything remains idyllic at the farm, I keep reading about how bees are dying everywhere, they are disappearing and never reappearing (3 native species of bumble bee are now nationally extinct) and the native wild honey bee is also extinct. Honey bees are contracting diseases and dying and all bees are struggling against ever increasing uses of pesticides and reduced habitat space. Bees, who love warm sunny days, are probably also struggling with the confusing climate at the moment with hot sun turning quickly into monsoon type rains and cold nights in the middle of an otherwise hot summer. Bees are wonderful insects that should be conserved for the future. But for those less altruistic of you, bees are essential for our future food supplies. This recent news article from the US shows how we can't live without our buzzing friends.

Thanks to the Bumblebee Conservstion Trust for the photo. Look at their website to see how they are trying to save bees and how you can do your bit.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

World Refugee Day - June 17th

Out in the wilds of west Wales, where we have actually been suffering a drought of our very own (no water coming out of the taps at our off-grid hilltop farm), it is sometimes hard to remember there are millions of people worldwide whose lives are acutely threatened by drought on a daily basis.

ABC News reported on a day of events that aimed to draw attention to the issues of water resources in Africa, which some argue is directly increasing the number of refugees worldwide.

The former Portuguese prime minister, Antonio Guterres, is now the UN's High Commissioner for refugees.

He says climate change is an ever-growing problem, fueling conflict and thus indirectly fueling the growth in refugee numbers, as in the case of Darfur.

"There is an increased competition for water resources. We need a political solution for Darfur, but that solution will not be stable, if at the same time we don't solve the underlying problems of dwindling water resources.

"What climate change is doing is in many circumstances reducing resources, increasing the competition for resources and because of that, triggering or amplifying conflicts."

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency set up a refugee camp in Trafalgar Square yesterday to draw attention to the scale of this humanitarian issue, which is happening now, people are suffering now because of climate change.

For now I can collect water from elsewhere, but for others there is nowhere else to go for this life-giving liquid. In the greedy 'West' our actions are already severely affecting the lives of our fellow humans. When are we going to stop being selfish and cut our emissions?

Thanks to cayusa on flickr for photo of water drop

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hay Festival

So finally I have to own up to it. I feel guilty for keeping quiet so long. For the last year since returning to Wales I have been writing a book about my travels to Brisbane. It has been a wonderful experience with much heartache and debate with myself over whether this was the right thing to do as well as how on earth do I write a book!? But I have done it, I have written it and my book is due out in January 2009!!

So I decided to take a trip to the Hay Festival to see what I could discover about the literary world.

I knew from my previous cycle travels that Hay was only 81 miles away from Machynlleth, on Lon Las Cymru, the National Cycle Route 8. In fact it is about 5 miles from route 8 as just before it hits England it sensibly dives back into the Brecon Beacons National Park.

I miraculously missed the rain and the mud and cycled this stunning route in 9 1/2 hours over two days and arrived, pitched my tent just as the next lot of rain fell on the festival.

Hay was an interesting experience. There were a lot of talks from an amazing range famous and less well known writers. This year I was pleased to see there was a strong 'Green' theme as Hay seems to be taking sustainability issues seriously. On a pauper writer's budget I was only able to see a few talks. 'A Women's Guide to Changing the World' was a discussion based on a book by Karen Eberhardt, who presented the talk with Clare Short and Elaine Brook (one absent contributor was my friend and colleague Tanya Hawkes who wrote a piece about Cuba for this wonderful book). It was an re-inspiring hour and I was impressed by the high turn out, so high they had to change the venue! And it was not just women, there were lots of men there all ready to do their bit.

I also went to see ecological writer Rory Spowers give his slideshow of his 'Bio-versity' project in Sri Lanka. It was interesting to see what he had done but I preferred the more native discussion 'Trust the Woodland' which was hosted by Clive Anderson. He led an interesting and humourous talkshow style discussion about Trees, along with Monty Don and Will Cohu.

I think Hay is ready for more ecological tales and hopefully is ready for me and my book and I hope to be back, with my bike and my book, next year......

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The End

I have been home for two months and can now start to reflect back on the trip. I know one thing for sure, it has changed my life in many ways. Not just in terms of the amazing things I have seen or the people I have met but more about what I have discovered about the generosity and kindness of my friends and family as well as complete strangers. Also in terms of seeing so much of the world. It is humbling and overwhelming and I feel stronger than ever we need to make radical changes, which can be positive for our lives, if we are to stop climate change or slow it down at least. Look at this radical proposal for an alternative energy strategy for the UK

Having so many strangers comment or discuss me and my beliefs and my trip was incredibly wierd and I still can't get my head around it all. The whole experience is one I am grateful for and I am so glad I had. I just hope that people have been interested in the debate and will think about the issues more. Anyone who has read the blog and knows me will know there were many ups and downs and there were times when I thought I was going completely insane. There were also other times of complete joy and real happiness too. I would recommend this trip to others, especially the outbound journey and hope that people will not completely write it out of the question thinking that they 'can't' do it as often people seem to do. I have been fascinated with the blogging process and have found it frustrating, bizarre, heart-warming and fun. I have really enjoyed writing and interacting with people through it but now I don't know what to do with it. I hope it will remain a resource for people wanting to follow this trip or something similar.

I am loving getting back in touch with my life at home, away from the modern world. I have made a compost toilet, got out into the garden and done lots of work to stop the leaks in the roof of my caravan and fitted back into my life in some ways where I left off. I have been working on a great project with some friends of mine building a Recycled Venue, the Junk Boat, which will be floating around festivals this summer promoting simple, happy, beautiful and sustainable lifestyles. I have been playing the accordion in my gypsy music band and trying to write about my adventures as much as I can.

I am also working out some more accurate figures on how many miles I travelled, how much it cost and what the CO2 emissions are using the real and detailled information I gathered when travelling. It is hard to put an exact figure on the CO2 emissions and although the terminology is becoming more understood and used, it is still inexact. We do know for sure that travelling over land and sea is producing far less in terms of carbon emissions than flying, whether the vehicles are full or not and whether they are old diesel trains or modern electric ones. I believe even more strongly now that our planet Earth is beautiful and is full of beautiful people and it is possible to save it. Whatever the scientists say, or indeed the naysayers, we should care for ourselves and the planet, we should slow down a bit and just, well give a bit more love. Even if no one else stops or changes there is no reason why we can't make a stand for what we believe in. One person can make a difference...(just think about all the stuff George Bush has achieved??!!)

If you want any more information about this trip please take the time to read through the blog first. I know it is not all easily accessible, especially as you have to start at the end! But go back to the beginning and the information is all there I promise! If you do need help or want more information then do contact me through the blog, your contact details can be kept secret, and I will endeavour to help you out. Thanks for all your support and for taking the time to read this.

Babs xxxx