Resplendent Nature At Every Turn

Retirement has brought me closer to Nature and I seem to have had even more than my usual exposure to Nature in the last two weeks.  The local walks have been particularly good.  The rain in June and early July has made the pastures, hedgerows and trees a lush green and the recent sun has brought out the garden and wild flowers so they are now showing off their peak displays.

My Favourite Field

My Favourite Field – Filling With Maize This Year

One walk was especially spicy in underlining our closeness to Nature.  We were crossing a field with a neighbour during a walk that we hadn’t undertaken for a while, when we saw another figure crossing the field at right angles to us.  Thirty yards out, we could only see the man’s bare and bronze torso above the wheat.  As we crossed paths though, it became clear that we had met – and then briefly engaged in conversation with – the infamous ‘Naked Rambler’.  Our neighbour remarked that his naked rambling exploits are frequent since ‘he was brown all over with no tan lines’.  I could only mutter that I hoped he looked out for stinging nettles.  The encounter made our day.

The Naked Rambler

The Naked Rambler (Picture Courtesy The Evening Standard – I Didn’t Have The B*lls To Take My Own Picture Of Him)

We also completed a series of walks when my Best Man (BM) visited us last weekend. He has been working from home and in isolation throughout lockdown and needed a break.  Fortunately the weather was excellent and we were able to visit our now re-opened pub for our first sit down (outside) meal since lockdown started.

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

A highlight during his stay was a long walk during which we saw a field sown with green manure coming extravagantly into flower.  Another marvellous natural phenomenon was the sighting of a crazily large number of small white butterflies fluttering together in the sun and drinking from wet mud on our path.  Both were uplifting sights.

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure - Antirhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin And Many More

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure – Antirrhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin, Bladder Campion And Many More

BM works for a large oil company which is trying to shift away from fuelling (literally) carbon emissions.  His job is changing and intense.  Even while he was with us, he had to prepare a short presentation that he was due to give on the following Monday.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were sufficiently intrigued by this that we signed up for the public event he was a panel member for and run by the ‘World Business Council for Sustainable Development’ entitled ‘Nature Action for a Healthy and Resilient Future’; what a couple of mouthfuls!

As I listened in to the webinar, I was reminded of my own corporate work life by the business jargon being used by the numerous presenters including BM, and how it flows off the tongues of business professionals.  I was also left with a greater feeling of hope for Nature and the planet.

I suspect that the event was populated largely by the ‘green mouthpieces’ of the corporations that were represented.  However, several sounded convincing about their company ambitions and commitments and the scale of the opportunity to turn our destruction of the planet around while creating millions of worthwhile jobs in new green industries was clear.

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

I have just started reading Wilding by Isabella Tree.  She is so aptly named given that the book is the story of how a failing arable farm has been turned into a successful experiment for re-wilding a large tract of land in Sussex.  The timeline at the start of the book shows how allowing nature to reclaim intensively farmed land can bring back flora and fauna diversity very quickly.  Given the chance, Nature can recover surprisingly quickly and I’m enjoying Isabella’s account of her experience.

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

I have continued to busy myself with some local climate action activities – my small push towards alleviating the pressure on Nature.  There is also much to do in the garden and on the allotment given that we are in peak growth season for vegetables and weeds.  We are thinking up creative ways to use the inevitable courgette mountain, we are eating chard with almost every meal and the runner bean avalanche is about to hit us.  In the next week too, I will need to brush up on my blackcurrant jam making skills since I have a bumper blackcurrant crop this year.

Flowers Among The Veg On The Allotments

Flowers Among The Vegetables On The Allotments

Nature is amazing.  Just last week, we saw a recurrence of another incredible phenomenon we have been lucky enough to spot a few times before: the inundation of our home valley by seagulls predating on flying ants.  It is almost unbelievable that the gulls will fly over 25 miles from the nearest coast on just the right day to catch the flying yellow meadow ants that rise from their nests in our neighbouring fields on just a couple of days a year; but there they were again.

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Nature can also do us damage.  Badgers rip up crops, deer eat the roses and strawberries, earwigs are eating the dahlias, blackfly are tormenting my beans and hay fever can be really annoying.  The climate emergency and the creation of new human diseases when we encroach too much on the wild are macro problems far greater than my local problems with wildlife.  The solutions to these are going to be challenging to find but my immersion in Nature this week underlines the importance of doing so, and gave me some more hope.

New Beginnings

Blowy Day In Our Field

Blowy Day In Our Field

Life in our home has become a little quieter since lockdown eased enough for Youngest Son (YS) to leave us for his new start in Northern Ireland.  The Monopoly Deal box has gone, the breakfast coffee isn’t quite so consistently good (YS is a qualified barista!) and there isn’t as much energy and enthusiasm in the house.  We miss him.

The upsides are that he is with his girlfriend again at last, is excited about a new career as videographer in Belfast, and my study is empty of all his stuff.  I have also taken on YS’s grocery lockdown delivery slot for the Village Shop which is making me feel more helpful and virtuous.

Otherwise, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I continue much as we have throughout the lockdown.  The main twist to our lockdown routine has been triggered by the gradual opening of the village pub, now, mercifully, under new management.  It has been great to re-integrate visits to our local pub into our activities once again.

We first tried the take-away arrangements, sipping beer on the kerbside from a bottle and glasses that we had brought.  Then, at the weekend, we paid our first proper visits, post-lockdown, to see the changes the new leaseholders have made to improve the pub and make appropriate social distancing possible.  Although the pub was busy, we felt safe and the changes that have been made to the interior – narrowing the bar and moving the kitchen – have made the pub look and feel like a local pub for the first time.

Approaching The Hog

Approaching The Hog Post-Lockdown

Critically too, the new leaseholders already know loads of people in the village and so I believe villagers will want it to succeed more than ever.  The pub has had a chequered history and now is a difficult time for anyone in the hospitality business, but, as we chatted to fellow villagers, it felt like a positive new beginning for The Hog at Horsley.

I am hoping for new beginnings and directions elsewhere too.  The coronavirus outbreak has forced massive re-thinking in government and in many families.  There is talk of building back the way we live and the economy in a better, greener way.  A recent YouGov poll suggested that only 6% of people want a return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic.  Hoo-ray!

Hopefully the re-build of the UK will involve increasing home working, walking and cycling and an improved electric car charging network to reduce carbon emissions and reduce air pollution.  Perhaps Treasury money will be found to create an enlarged skill pool (re-trained baristas perhaps) for the retrofit of homes through improving insulation and replacement of oil and gas boilers; that would create jobs and reduce our carbon footprint.

Maybe too, we will see promotion of renewable energy, more sustainable and diverse food production, and a continuation of the local community support groups that have taken off during the lock down.  I’m still hopeful that something positive will come out of the mess the virus outbreak got us into.

The Way To Go?

The Way To Go? Local Wind Turbines Near Forest Green Rovers’ Ground

In our small village climate action group we are looking at how, amid the virus disaster, we can help to perpetuate some of the positive side-effects of the lockdown on the village’s carbon footprint and its resilience to the climate emergency.  We are trying to promote our existing community assets such as the pub and shop, encouraging local and sustainable food production, and investigating community energy schemes and better, greener local transport solutions.  We have a plan – indeed, just last night, I presented it to the wider Stroud District Climate Action Network – and we just need more time and energy (probably a little more than we actually have) to implement it.

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

My involvement has been focused on trying to help sustain the revenue growth the Community Shop has seen during lockdown.  I am reluctant to become a full blown volunteer (beyond my new weekly delivery duties) or Committee Member.  That is because I fear that, on top of other regular commitments LSW and I already have (and will have when the football season starts again!), signing up formally might be an obstacle to the sort of travelling we want to do – once that is unencumbered by the current coronavirus fears and constraints.

However, I am anyway getting increasingly involved in trying to understand how we sustain the popularity of the shop as lockdown continues to ease.  It’s interesting and more complex than I thought and I think that I can help – we’ll see how this participation develops.

Another recent new beginning is that LSW and I are re-starting outings away from the local vicinity.  The easing of the lockdown has allowed LSW to see more of her old workmates during tours of local, recently re-opened gardens.  Then, this week, we drove several miles south to Old Sodbury.  There, we took a break from the numerous local walks from our house to explore one of the many Cotswold Way circular walks.

It was a lovely blustery walk that took in big views and an impressive Iron Age fort, and it was fun simply because it was new to us.  We will try some of the other parts of the Cotswold Way – it is something I have long wanted to traverse – but we will have to get used to meeting more people on the way than we are used to in our equally attractive local walks.

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

We are very spoilt for lovely, quiet walks where we live.  Amid all the current change – positive and negative – those remain consistently enjoyable.

Life Drifting Along

Our Hamlet

The Westernmost Part Of Our Hamlet

This picture of our hamlet in Gloucestershire is a picture of sunny tranquillity.  That is, until you realise this is taken by a tree feller, who for two days, seared the air with the noise of his chainsaw!

Despite that aural intrusion, the last couple of weeks of lockdown has been peaceful and, frankly, have felt like a very pleasant, seamless drift from one day to the next.  The only things that keep me aware of what day it is are the maintenance of our routine of sourdough bread at the weekends and the date labels on my Guardian newspaper subscription vouchers.  I do wonder when and how the lockdown will end but, in the meantime, no complaints here yet.

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintisential English Countryside

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintessential English Countryside (And One Of The First Wind Turbines In The Country)

What might become boredom has been fended off by the recognition that there is always an endless number of jobs to do in the garden (and the good weather in which to do them) and some work to promote our village climate action group.  On the latter I have been interested in following up the themes that arose at out village meeting just before the lockdown that related to strengthening community cohesion, neighbourliness, sharing and mutual support.

Of course, a number of community based initiatives related to the virus outbreak are already underway in the village independent from our climate action group.  One group are making protective headgear for front line medical staff using 3-D printers.  Another, including Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), is sewing up gowns for nurses.  Our climate action group wants to build on that community spirit while focusing on things that reduce carbon emissions.

The WhatsApp Group that LSW set up in early April for sharing of services and things in our hamlet has been very successful.  Similar groups are already up and running in other hamlets around the parish.  Together with the village Facebook presence, they have served as useful support mechanisms during the lockdown.  A new group that our village climate action group established that is specifically focused on sharing seeds, seedlings, plants and surplus crops has also thrived.  Social media technology is really helping with social cohesion although we are also using old fashioned means of notice boards and local magazines to ‘spread the word’ to those who don’t use it.

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb - Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped and Shared By LSW's WhatsApp Group

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb – Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped And Shared By LSW’s WhatsApp Group

It is almost distasteful to imagine that there are positives arising from the coronavirus outbreak.  So many have died, so many are worried about their jobs and incomes, and so many are suffering from just being cooped up in their flats and houses.

However it is also possible to recognise that the lockdown introduced to dampen the Covid-19 infection rate has had some beneficial impact on community spirit, carbon emissions and air quality.  We are spending more time communicating with our neighbours (albeit while socially distancing) and we are working, entertaining ourselves and shopping more locally, and are therefore driving and flying less.

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet - One Of Three A Joke-A-Day Boards

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet – One Of Three ‘Joke-Of-The-Day’ Boards

Given that the ongoing climate emergency is going to eventually come back to be the headline risk to humanity, the question becomes: how do we sustain the effects of the lockdown that have had a positive impact on carbon emission levels and community resilience against the climate emergency, beyond the lockdown?

The area I am thinking about most at the moment is whether we can find ways of sustaining at least the majority of the extra revenue that has resulted from many more people in the using our Community Shop during the virus outbreak.  Revenues and footfall have more than doubled and so the shop is thriving relative to normal operation.  The shop has long been a great community asset but it is now even more of a hub around which neighbourliness, gossip and information can circulate.  It would be great to sustain some of those economics and the stronger social feel after the lockdown is eased, not least because local shopping will reduce carbon emissions in line with the objectives of our climate action group.

IMG_6020

Meanwhile, Zoom meetings are keeping LSW and I in touch with our sons in London and various friends – possibly more than usual in fact.  The ‘Clap for Carers’ session on Thursday evenings is becoming an ever more sophisticated event in our hamlet with a trumpet player now accompanying the saxophonist that started the musical dimension.  These events are ripples on a steady drift through a largely unchanging stream of locked down days.

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

How fortunate it is for me that the weather is so warm and sunny and I have the means to enjoy it.  The local woods have been full of bluebells and now are strewn with carpets of wild garlic.  The trees and hedgerows have that brilliant green foliage that Spring brings.  The skies are blue and populated with attractive clouds rather than the vapour trails of aeroplanes.  The birds seem louder and happier this year and the lambs more numerous.  My phone is full of pictures of sweet little lambs; how many does one need?

Stay safe!

Climate Change, Wildlife and Cars

A lot of the last week or so has been taken up with preparation for, execution of and then follow up from a meeting held in our village hall to discuss, our village’s response to the climate emergency.  The Chair of the District Council’s Environment Committee presented to us the Council’s position on the climate emergency.  Then we held a workshop to share ideas on what we can do as individuals and collectively in our village to respond.  We finished up with a visioning and priority setting session.

The meeting was organised by the Carbon Neutral Horsley group, of which I am a part, with the Parish Council.  Coincidentally, but aptly, the meeting was scheduled as Storm Dennis was near its height.  The meeting exceeded our expectations both in terms of how many people turned up (despite the weather) and in terms of the quality of discussion and ideas that were put forward.

Our Village Vision For Resilience Against Climate Change In A Word Cloud

Our Village Vision For Resilience Against Climate Change Represented In A Word Cloud

It has now fallen to me to document and summarise these ideas.  Speed in doing so is important since we need sustain momentum and show that action is arising from the meeting.  This is quite interesting, worthwhile and almost exciting work.  Plus, it brings me closer to the heart of the village community.  That is something I am finding rewarding after so many years of working in London and being away from village activity except for weekends (when I just wanted to switch off from any demands and relax).

A wide range of topics cropped up at our village meeting on the response to the climate emergency.  Of course, cars (too many) and wildlife (not enough) were prominent themes.  These were also, again coincidentally, subject matter of two exhibitions I visited while I was in London in the days just prior to the meeting.

Views Of The Natural History Museum, Home of the Wildlife Photography Exhibition And Bringing Back Memories Of Taking The Kids Back In The 90s

Views Of The Natural History Museum, Home of the Wildlife Photography Exhibition And Bringing Back Memories Of Taking The Kids Back In The 90s

The first was the Natural History Museum exhibition showcasing the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.  I try to get to this every year and the quality of the competition this year was on a par with the best I have seen.  Once again, almost every photo is incredible either in terms of its composition, the amazing aspect of nature it captured, or the unimaginable patience that had been required to get just the right shot at just the right time – or all of these things.

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year: Winner Of The Birds Behaviour Section, Auden Rikardsen

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year: Winner Of The Birds Behaviour Section, Auden Rikardsen

The captions accompanying each photo contain some amazing wildlife facts too – weddell seals can stay underwater for 90 minutes, golden eagles reach a top speed of 320km/hour when hunting, and hummingbirds beat their wings 85 times a second.  It is mind-boggling stuff.

Overall Winner of Wildlife Photoprapher Of The Year 2019: The Moment By Yongqing Bao.  Incredible Photo!

Overall Winner of Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2019: ‘The Moment’ By Yongqing Bao. Incredible Photo!

Also eyebrow-raising was that so few female photographers are represented (though almost half of the competition judges were female).  I can’t imagine why that is but I have become sensitised to this sort of thing having been to so many exhibitions in recent years that explicitly underline female contribution.

Black And White Photo Winner: 'Snow Exposure' By Max Waugh

Black And White Photo Winner: ‘Snow Exposure’ By Max Waugh

The second exhibition I went to see (with Youngest Son, which made this visit extra-special) was a major one at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  This shows the depth and range of impact of cars on almost every aspect of human life: social life, geopolitics, gender politics, city building, ecology, tourism, economics, landscape, industry, design and more.

The First Automobile (Benz Patent Motorwagen) And The Firebird Concept Car Capable Of Going 20 Times Faster in 1953

‘Cars: Accelerating The Modern World’ Exhibition At The V&A – The First Automobile in 1888 (Benz Patent Motorwagen) And The Firebird Concept Car Capable Of Going 20 Times Faster in 1953

This is another excellent show.  It covers both the positive and negative aspects of the car as an innovation and possession.  For example, on the down side it portrays the impact on Ford’s assembly line manufacture on workers, the incidence and then response to car accidents, and the increasing awareness of the role of the car in accelerating climate change.

1959 Messerschmitt 'Bubble Car' - One Of The First Efforts to Address Fuel Scarcity

1959 Messerschmitt ‘Bubble Car’ – One Of The First Efforts To Address Fuel Scarcity After the 1956 Suez Crisis

Relating to the latter, most ironic was an advertisement from Humble/Esso Oil Company showing an Antarctic glacier and emblazoned with the caption: ‘Each Day Humble Supplies Enough Energy to Melt 7 Million Tons of Glacier’.  It showed how we have moved on a bit in our awareness of a climate challenge.

1937's Symbol Of French Pride: A Delahaye Type 145 Grand Prix Winner

1937’s Symbol Of French Pride: A Delahaye Type 145 And Grand Prix Winner

However, this irony and concern is in the midst of more upbeat messages about how the car has delivered freedom, design energy and socio-economic transformation.  For example, the car enabled easier access to the countryside and so, a better understanding and appreciation of it.  There’s a fascinating section on how car manufacturers had to both create and respond to demand from women drivers and so encouraged gender equality.

Epitome Of Luxury: 1922 Hispano-Suiza 'Skiff Torpedo'

Epitome Of Car Luxury In1922; A Hispano-Suiza ‘Skiff Torpedo’

Above all, there are some marvellous and very shiny cars on show.  Some show off car design in response to the need for speed, some are the ultimate in luxury, others are tiny and economic vehicles built as the car industry responded to the threat of oil shortages.  Some exhibits show the demand for mass production, whilst others are pimped up one-offs to reflect the individualism, fashion preferences or status of their owners.

1962 Chevrolet Impala

1962 Chevrolet Impala Customised By Tomas Velaquez Of The ‘Imperial’ Lowrider Car Club

The exhibition, predictably, ends with an item on the future car and the imperative to respond to the climate emergency while delivering more flexible transport.  The future progression imagined here includes the further development of the electric car to reduce pollution, the increased safety of an effective driverless car, the shift from car ownership to transport by car as an on-demand service and, finally, flying, electric, driverless cars available on demand.  Cars have never been something I have enjoyed driving but I watch these evolutions with interest.

'Cars: Accelerating the Modern World' Exhibition At The V&A Starts And Finishes With This Shiny E-Type Jaguar

‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’ Exhibition At The V&A Starts With This Shiny E-Type Jaguar

Climate Change in January

It seems incongruous thinking about climate change and the Climate Emergency on a day like today when there are clear skies and degrees of frost outside and I’ve just returned from a lengthy walk down icy lanes.  However, the recent fires in Australia – many close to areas that we visited during our two relatively recent trips there – and the floods that followed Storm Brendan here in the UK, have underlined that all is not well with the climate.  It is increasingly imperative that we act to, hopefully, avert permanent and very significant upheaval to global life as we know it.

Frosty Garden

Frosty Garden

As readers of this blog will know, for several months, I have been a member of a local group agitating for our Parish to declare a Climate Emergency, to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2030 and to help the establishment of plans to achieve that target.  The Parish Council have agreed to take climate change seriously and have committed to a number of measures including mass tree planting.  However, beyond this, in practice, we are making only slow progress; we are simply a too small and a too intermittently dedicated group.

Frosty View On The Way To Nailsworth

Frosty View On The Way To Nailsworth

I am now planning to align myself more with a much larger group of climate change responders in our nearby town, Nailsworth.  This group (Nailsworth Climate Action Network) seems to have more momentum as well as size.  I’m excited by some of their plans.

One of these plans is to hold an ‘envisioning session’ along the lines advocated by Rob Hopkins at which we will think about what we want Nailsworth to be like in a couple of decade’s time.  Rob Hopkins established the Transition Network movement many years ago.  Since then, he has developed his thinking to promote the harnessing of our imagination to envision a near future that has responded to the pressure of the Climate Emergency and to measures of well-being and societal health rather than Gross National Product.

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I saw Rob speak in Nailsworth in October last year and he was very inspiring.  LSW has read his latest book – ‘From What Is To What If’ – which encourages the reader to use hope and imagination to break out of the current systems and structures we find ourselves in to envision a different way of living.  He also provides examples of how others have done this in various parts of the world, and how these can inspire similar action in our own lives and towns.  I too must read this fully before our town ‘envisioning event’ planned for June.

Walking Near Our House Between Showers

Of course, all climate change activists encourage us to reduce our reliance on planes for travel.  Air travel is apparently the most carbon emitting of transport methods.  I have calculated my personal carbon footprint using a calculator provided by the World Wildlife Fund and, while I am just below the average for a UK citizen without flights, with the two flights I took last year, I am almost 50% higher.  As I reported in this blog a few posts ago, I did carbon offset one of these flights and plan repeat that process in future.  But the impact of flying on the climate is disproportionately high and LSW and I plan to cut down our few flights even more.

That means ‘staycations’ in the UK and train based holidays.  We plan to walk some of the north Somerset/Devon/Cornwall coast in June and try a train trip somewhere in Europe later in the year.  Holidays in India and Thailand, which we have also talked about, may be now on hold.

Perhaps we will adjust to one long haul flight a year and offset it through Solar Aid again.  Certainly we have a strong desire to revisit India and try South East Asia for the first time.  And not only do I want to visit these places; I also miss the opportunity to see the world from the window of a plane flying thousands of feet above the ground.  What better, often stunning way is there of appreciating both the planet as it is and that we have to act to prevent a climate disaster ruining it?

One Of Those Dreamy Views Out Of An Aeroplane Window - In This Case Over The Alps

One Of Those Dreamy Views Out Of An Aeroplane Window – In This Case Over The Alps.  I’d Miss These If I Wasn’t Able To Fly

Back on earth, the first signs of weather change and the onset of Spring are emerging amid the sodden ground and current frost.  I’ve seen my first lambs, bees, snowdrops and primroses of the year.  The dippers and kingfishers are active near the streams again.   Excitingly, a kestrel has been hovering over our garden and field looking for strays from a colony of voles or mice that have taken up residence there.

Early Snowdrops and Bee Activity

There is another uplifting development in the valley I walk through to Nailsworth every day.  A swan arrived on the lake there over three years ago.  She has occasionally disappeared for weeks but always returned alone and apparently lonely.  Last year she produced some eggs and they now lie abandoned on her nest.  This week, suddenly, a partner has arrived and so the chances are that they will mate and that new eggs will be fertilised this year.  I am so hoping for a clutch of cygnets; fingers crossed!

Early Lambs And Swans In Love?

Early Lambs And Swans In Love?

Venice: Waterworld!

Earlier this week Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I experienced being in the midst of a natural disaster and human tragedy for the first time.  We have seen forest fires from a distance and the damage they have done, seen chronic pollution in Delhi, and seen widespread flooding and wind damage.  But we hadn’t seen anything so dramatic or as awful as the tidal flooding that we witnessed in Venice.

Rialto Bridge And Flooded Pavements Near Our Hotel

Rialto Bridge And Flooded Pavements Near Our Hotel

We finally arranged our oft postponed city-break and were sanguine about the fact that the weather in our destination city, Venice, was forecast to be rainy for all three days of our visit.  After all, we reasoned, there will be loads of churches, museums, galleries and restaurants to visit and waterproofs and umbrellas would enable reasonably comfortable walking through the streets.  In practice, the weather wasn’t as bad as forecast anyway.

View Of Isola Di San Giogio From Near Piazza San Marco

View Of Isola Di San Giorgio Maggiore From Near Flooded Piazza San Marco

We first became aware of another difficulty as we arrived at our hotel from the airport in our taxi boat.  As it deposited us outside the hotel we immediately saw that there was water about 6 inches deep on the pavement between the jetty and the hotel steps.  We looked bemused, considered our inappropriate footwear, and were told the water would subside in 30 minutes.

Within a few minutes, we were approached by someone selling temporary galoshes that fitted over our shoes and trousers.  We procrastinated long enough to halve the price (the salesman knew the tide was going out) but bought a couple of pairs.  LSWs were a stylish black, mine a lurid blue.  They were ugly and identified us as naïve tourists but proved to be the most vital purchase of the holiday.

By the time we had checked in, the tide had gone out.  We fuelled up at a modern hipster café called Farini and spent the rest of the day walking past the dense strips of classy palaces, around the drying streets and along the canals strewn with elegant gondolas.  Even wrong turns proved to be sources of picturesque views.

Some Of The Myriad Of Views Of Canal-side Buildings

Some Of The Myriad Of Views Of Canal-side Buildings Gradually Crumbling In The Face Of Rising Sea Levels But Retaining Wonderful Charm

We walked over the nearby Rialto Bridge and then south to the astonishing Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) and the incredible Basilica Di San Marco which dominates it.  The crumbling grandeur of the palaces along the main canals and the casual beauty of the residences along the tributary canals were awesome.  There was just so much that looked unchanged, apart from wear and tear, since it was built centuries ago.

Basilica Di San Marco (Before The Worst Inundations)

Basilica Di San Marco (Before The Worst Inundations)

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco (With Seagulls)

We rounded off our first, long day with a walk around the old market buildings and a very friendly and pleasant bar (Ancora).  By this time even the main thoroughfares were empty since the majority of tourists had retreated to their hotels outside of Venice.  The city was almost eerily quiet and strangely romantic despite the day’s flood and the threat of more.

Grand Canal and Market Buildings At Night

Grand Canal and Market Buildings At Night

Venice was proving to be everything we had anticipated but we both confessed that the scale of the consistent attractiveness of the combination of water and old brickwork or stone, at every turn, had taken us aback.  Venice is an amazing city.

Watery Dead-End But Picturesque Nonetheless

Watery Dead-End But Picturesque Nonetheless

Inside Basilica Santa Maria and Basilica Dei Friari

Next morning brought an even higher tide (mainly caused by a combination of the moon’s position and winds piling sea water up in the Adriatic).  We had to shuffle out of a hotel side-door in our galoshes to get to Farini once more for breakfast.

The rain intermittently pelted down and the streets were flooded with the tidal water but we set off again to Piazza San Marco.  This is the lowest part of the city, and the walk to it and then the view of the lake that the square had become, gave us a dramatic picture of the scale of the ‘acqua alta’ as this seasonal flooding is called.

Piazza San Marco Under Water

Piazza San Marco Under Water

We sloshed on past inundated shops, through a number of flooded streets and squares, to the wooden Ponte Dell’Academia and then the Gallery Dell’Accademia.  This gallery was excellent.  It was full of medieval religious works which have retained astounding depth of colour.  There were also wonderful ceilings, impressively large sculptures and landscapes by famous Italian artists and others I was unfamiliar with.  Surprisingly, there were very few other visitors and the visit was a relaxing break from the hiatus in the streets outside.

Ponte Dell'Accademia

Ponte Dell’Accademia

A Room In Gallery Dell'Accademia

A Room In Gallery Dell’Accademia

We continued our walk through the streets as the tide receded and spent the evening in the bar with wine and snacks.  Armed with the following day’s tide times, we tried to plan our last full day around our pre-booked and much anticipated trip to the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery of modern art.

Next morning, all togged up with our waterproof coats and trusty galoshes, we arrived at hotel reception to find we were too late; the tide was higher than ever.  We would have needed thigh-height waterproof trousers to negotiate the pavements outside without getting soaked.

Flood Water Lapping Over The Hotel Steps

Flood Water Lapping Over The Hotel Steps

By the time the tide had receded enough to venture out it became clear that Venice had suffered a dreadful blow.  That afternoon, as we paddled through the streets once more, it was clear that the water levels had been far higher than previously – in fact higher than they had been for over 50 years.  The shop keepers who, the previous day, seemed to be taking the flooding in their stride were, by now, looking shocked, drawn and depressed.  The stock in the shops, from tourist trinkets to cashmere jumpers and pricey shoes, was ruined or at risk and those sweeping the out of their premises, knew they were in for more days of periodic inundation.

Traditional Sugar Biscuits, Harmonicas, Ice Creams, Masks, Gloves and Sweets

Venetian Shop Windows: Traditional Sugar Biscuits, Harmonicas, Ice Creams, Masks, Gloves and Sweets – All At Risk From The Tidal Floods

The art galleries, including the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery, were all shut as their staff focused on protecting their contents.  The shops were closed for business and almost all restaurants were shuttered up.  Bars and bacari – stand up cafés – were opening as the afternoon wore on but we needed to sit down having missed out on breakfast and lunch and having walked through the water for a few hours.  Fortunately, we stumbled upon a pizzeria high and dry on a bridge and its unexpected quality and our hunger was a winning formula for us.

Locals At The Bar With Wellies

Locals At The Bar With Wellies

We brought forward our planned departure next morning by a couple of hours to avoid the next big tidal inundation.  The sun rose beautifully and then shone down on the city for the first time in days but we knew there would be little respite for the people of Venice.  We both felt sad for them.

Clearly, there are huge challenges to maintain the buildings in the city – both the headline tourist sights and the everyday shops and houses.  The project to protect the city from the tides with a huge set of lagoon barriers, is many years late and the will (and probably money) to complete it has seemingly faltered.  The international publicity associated with the latest flood disaster may re-galvanise efforts but one wonders how long the sea can be kept at bay as Venice sinks and sea levels creep up as global temperatures rise.

Ponte Dell'Accademia

Ponte Dell’Accademia With Basilica Santa Maria In The Distance

LSW and I would love to visit Venice again.  There was so much more to see than we managed this time.  We didn’t see the city at its best but it was still incredible and at least we have seen it much as it has been for centuries.  Unless drastic action is taken internationally and locally, that may be a privilege unavailable in a few decades time.

View From The Taxi Boat

View From The Taxi Boat

Climate Emergency Action

Well, I did, as I anticipated in my last blog, manage to plant both trees this week and Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has planted about 150 bulbs; so mission accomplished on that.

Our Newly Planted Cherry Tree

Our Newly Planted Cherry Tree And Our Maturing Hornbeam Hedge

However, we have made no progress on booking a holiday.  A couple of new obstacles have emerged on that.  LSW wants sun and warmth but we both recognise that, as part of our new climate emergency consciousness, we should be reducing (if not eliminating) greenhouse gas-emitting flights to warm places from our life-style.

Also, we have now left it so late in the year that any city-break type holiday in Europe using the train rather than plane may fall foul of extra security checks if the UK leaves the European Union without a ‘deal’.  My idea of hell is spending a large percentage of the holiday waiting in a queue to have a visa check or whatnot.  So we are waiting and seeing what ‘deal’ emerges and may try Lyon by rail in November.

LSW and I have attended a few meetings regarding the climate emergency in the last week.  I have been regularly attending (and documenting) a meeting of people in our village interested in moving the local parish to carbon neutrality by 2030.  We both attended a larger meeting along similar lines in our nearby town, Nailsworth, which set up a climate action group about 4 years ago.  Then we both went to a local Extinction Rebellion introductory session to find out more about the approach of this organisation towards the climate emergency.

Recent Mural By Jane Mutiny In Shoreditch, London

Recent Mural By Jane Mutiny In Shoreditch, London

I mentioned, a couple of blog posts ago, that our local village Parish Council has just committed to planting a 1,000 trees to help offset carbon emissions across the Parish.  Nailsworth is already undertaking a similar exercise and have firm plans to landscape and plant 100 trees around a large playing field in the town.  LSW and I will plan to help directly with that and might also sign up to planting a few more trees in our field.

Our Newly Planted Whitebeam

Our Newly Planted Whitebeam

Of course, our reduction in flights, our migration to an increasingly vegetarian diet, our attempts to reduce waste, our upgrade of our sash windows to double glazing, and the recent acquisition of an e-car powered by sustainable electricity are all tiny steps in the face of a global calamity.  The scale of the climate emergency, and the challenge of reducing global warming given the number of tipping points that have probably already passed, were certainly brought home to us at the Extinction Rebellion meeting we attended.

Replacing Our Sash Windows With Double Glazed Versions - Not Insignificant Work!

Replacing Our Sash Windows With Double Glazed Versions – Not Insignificant Work!

 

However, we need to start somewhere.  Despite now being retired and so possessing a flexible schedule that would allow me to spend a little time at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, I’m not yet sure I’m ready to be arrested for the cause (as many Extinction Rebellion participants evidently are).  While I’m thinking about that protest option, I will continue with some lower key changes.

Extinction Rebellion Protesters

Extinction Rebellion Protesters I Saw In London During My Last Visit

As I do so, I will keep in mind what George Monbiot (a columnist, political and environmental activist) wrote as he was arrested as part of a non-violent Extinction Rebellion protest:

“I know this action will expose me to criticism as well as prosecution. Like other prominent activists, I will be lambasted for hypocrisy: this is now the favoured means of trying to take down climate activists. Yes we are hypocrites. Because we are embedded in the systems we contest, and life is complicated, no-one has achieved moral purity. The choice we face is not between hypocrisy and purity, but between hypocrisy and cynicism. It is better to strive to do good, and often fail, than not to strive at all.”

So, I do worry that China and Russia and, now, the US Government are not at the table joining in to set global carbon emission reduction targets and that governments setting emission targets then take insufficient action to get close to them – a challenge that town and Parish Councils will also have to rise to!  I do worry that oil and gas companies are investing billions more in resource extraction than in renewable energy.  I do worry that our measures of well-being are overly oriented towards gross national product growth and consumption not health, relationships and happiness.  None of that is going to change any time soon despite Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion’s clarion calls.

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LSW and I live very comfortably; we are ‘embedded in the system’ and maybe we are the ‘hypocrites’ George Monbiot identifies.  We are hardly holiday paupers having been to Australia earlier this year.  I’m looking forward to roast chicken dinner on Sunday.  We still buy blueberries grown in Peru for goodness sake!  But we are starting to strive to do a little bit towards reducing our carbon footprint and that’s something.