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01 September 2020 @ 12:00 am
Quaker Blogs

William Penn
(photo - me with the statue of William Penn in Bristol)

I'm a Quaker living in London, UK. This blog contains my thoughts about Quaker issues, events and Testimonies and my experiences of them all. Feel free to comment/email/ping me.

Content Warning:: I do Rant occasionally!
22 August 2016 @ 10:12 pm
 It's all too late of course. Half London will be underwater within a decade and climate catastrophe plus capitalist catastrophe is going to render most aspects of living extremely difficult even for someone in my comfortable situation. So I'm not making a difference to anything but my own conscience, but it's always been my conscience that I've followed.

What I'm doing is continuing to use fewer resources and generally make less of an impact on the planet in a few little ways. About 10 years ago I started replacing eg.

- Household paper products with recycled paper products (kitchen roll etc)
- Disposable period pads with cloth reusables
- Tampons with a mooncup
- Tissues with handkerchiefs
- Paper towels with cloth napkins
- Choosing organic more often

I was already using vegan cleaning products, soaps etc. which also tend to lack environmentally damaging chemicals. When I got dogs, I bought biodegradeable poo bags.

Five years ago I was living in a part of London where garden waste and kitchen compost was collected by the Council weekly, but when I moved to Lewisham a couple of years ago I had to sort this out for myself. The Council did provide free compost bins, so I got one for my garden which I use for compost and garden waste. When it started to get full, I ordered another and installed it at the front of my building. I wrote on it with a Posca paint pen that it was the compost for the whole building and a short list of what to include and not include. I was very happy to see that it worked and some neighbours started using it as well.

My current home is the first permanent home I've had since I left my parents, and settling in meant I also got to do lots of gardening. I've been gradually improving my green fingers and this year have successfully grown some fruit and vegetables and kept flowers alive as well. My building is surrounded by some unloved patches of ground so with mixed success I've planted sunflowers and wildflowers, picked up rubbish, weeded and watered.

In my garden I have a few bug hotels and birdfeeders around. Today I saw a moth there for the first time! I made a container pond in a washing up bucket and 2 of the 3 plants I put in to keep it aerated have flourished amazingly. I have lots of nice scented things growing - lavendar, jasmines and honeysuckles and this summer there have been lots of bees. I saw two yesterday drinking from one of my 2 bird baths. There is a blackbird that loves to get in there and splash around. I got a water butt that keeps the garden ticking over for most of the year without needing to use the tap.

I thought I was pretty good at bringing along my own shopping bag, but the Government bringing in the .5p bag charge had a noticeable impact on my bag use. Apart from carrying extra bags, I also stopped using carrier bags for my recycling. When the Council finally provided kitchen containers that could be emptied into the street recycling bins, that was a great help. Around this time I was becoming increasingly conscious of all the packaging I throw away/put in the recycling bin.

A few months back there were stories in the news of dead whales found on the North Sea coast with stomachs full of plastic, and that was a big push for me to change my behaviour more. Most of my best ideas have come from Pinterest for the past year or so. It's the first place I look for recipes, and I started taking more notice of DIY cleaning and toiletry options. Recent changes:

- Going out of my way to get fruit and veg without packaging
- Making oat milk at home instead of buying packaged vegan milk. It's unbelievalbly easy - soak the oats for an hour then put it in the blender with a bit of salt & vanilla for flavour if I want. I make enough to last about 4 days which is a tiny amount of oats.
- Making deodorant out of bicarb, cornflour, coconut oil and essential oil: much more effective, cheaper and more pleasant on my skin than anything I've ever bought. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/ultimate-guide-to-diy-hygiene/
- Making toothpaste also out of bicarb, coconut oil, stevia and peppermint oil: still experimenting with this and not using every day - I've read bicarb can damage the enamel.
- Soap bars rather than liquid soap, or diluted Dr. Bronners in refillable containers
- Continuing to experiment with growing my own salad at home
- Only getting Europe-grown apples, and almost always English apples.
- Buying Splosh refillable cleaning products https://www.splosh.com/. Really happy with this as I was getting through a lot of plastic containers before. It's also saved me lots of shopping trips
- Microfiber towels for cleaning the house which mean I can use fewer cleaning products and less hot water
- Getting big pots of yogurt and mixing stuff in at home instead of individual serving sizes
- Making tahini-based sauce instead of buying ready-made sandwich spread, dip or salad dressing. With a fork I mix in vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, and then water to the desired consistency. Any mix of herbs & spices goes in depending on what flavour I want.
- Making coffee at home to bring to work - hot or iced. I got 2 sizes of double-insulated bottles which keep the temperatured pretty much constant for a whole day. I did this to save money, but I'm increasingly conscious of how much packaging I'm saving from not occasionally getting takeaway drinks.

It's actually become a game now to figure out ways of using less, replacing, making things at home etc. I feel more self-reliant and autonomous.

Future plans:
- Doing more cooking from scratch and buying less convenience ingredients eg. jars of curry paste
- Making my own nut butter using our Nutribullet blender
- Making my own hoummous
- Finding a local bread supplier that doesn't use plastic bags or charge £3 for a tiny half loaf
- Making juice at home more often and giving up packaged juice
- DIY shampoo and conditioner
- Acclimatising better to cold weather so I can keep the heating lower.
Current Location: Office at home
feeling: Toothache
listening to: Some '90s British pop on tv in the other room
01 January 2016 @ 12:57 am
This from Quaker Faith & Practice sums up 2015 to me:

“Evils which have struck their roots deep into the fabric of human society are often accepted, even by the best minds, as part of the providential ordering of life.” – William Charles Braithwaite, 1919, 23:05

Toward the end of this year three evils in particular have been at the forefront of my consciousness.

Firstly, the catastrophic effects of climate change which are all around us and have been very dramatically manifesting as extreme weather and the reverberations of Syria's civil war, itself the result of an agricultural crisis due to climate change. We are past the point of no return, and this year's crises will soon be seen as the new normal. I find that I do not talk about climate change with friends who have children, because I know they are trying to hold on to hope that the next generation will be ok, and of course they won't be. It's all happening so fast now. Ten years ago I thought that some of these problems were still 40 years away. So it won't be ok for the rest of my lifetime either.

Next, the re-establishment of misogyny in our culture. In Britain, we never got as far as being able to take any aspect of gender equality for granted, and the backslide has been very noticeable. The 'in your face' sexism noted by the UN Special Rapporteur is used with the same lack of consciousness now as it would have been 40 years ago. It really is as if second wave feminism never happened. It's easier for capitalists to profit from exploiting our bodies and using patriarchy for divide and rule, and neoliberals don't have a problem with social division in general or abuse of women in particular. So much of our public discourse, public anger and public money is directed towards a really very remote terrorist threat. Those in power have no interest in the daily experiences of gendered oppression and violence experienced by half the population, or in addressing the gender divisions that lead to male violence.

Finally, the re-establishment of class priviledge. Again, social equality never progressed very far in Britain. As just one example, we got one working class prime minister out of half a century of social democracy, and now so quickly we have regressed to power being held blatantly and explicitly by hereditary social elites. Those social elites use that power to further their class interests at such an extreme and with such velocity - not unlike that of accelerating climate change. The horror of seeing how quickly social evils can be brought about, established and infect everything around them - what a pandemic we are up against.

Of course focusing on these evils alone is not the way to overcome them. This year I've also been more aware of veteran activists such as Quaker George Lakey pointing to the need for radicals to set up an alternative set of institutions that is ready to meet our needs and that are demonstrably more just, effective, sustainable and human than those of the capitalist elite and the patriarchy.  This can be seen in action with the momentum I've also seen this year behind veganism.

There has been good news this year for veganism as the cases for sustainability and health have pretty much become established and are entering mainstream discourse. As people become pursuaded to move in the vegan direction, they will find an infrastructure to support them thanks to the many activists who provide this voluntarily and use the internet effectively to provide information and more. If only the same practical and intellectual self defence could be found from googling 'be a feminist' as there is when searching 'be a vegan'.

The Religious Society of Friends is also an alternative set of institutions to an extent. We have so much going for us and used it to great effect to abolish the slave trade. It's time to do this again. We have to be aware that making a corporate statement to the prime minister or a newspaper about something we don't like... that just doesn't cut it as a response. We need a revolution in our hearts, our relationships with each other and then our relationships with the world. I hope to spend 2016 experiencing this.
Current Location: Home, London
04 June 2013 @ 08:26 pm

I did a callout for Quakers to witness at last Saturday's fascist march in London and 18 folks turned out from several meetings in London and from further afield too. I often do activism, but this was the first time I'd felt called to witness. The support from Friends was terrific including Friends House promoting the action on social media. I couldn't get ahold of the 'Quakers for Peace' banner from Friends House, but happily I was offered the use of the lovely banner from my local meeting Forest Hill. We found a nice sunny spot in front of Parliament and had a great meeting for worship while people ran around us, photographed us and set placards on fire nearby. We got lots of photographer attention and even an audio interview.


Our meeting for worship:

Me with the wind having blown the banner over me!
It's another moan about housing in London. The most recent outrage for me is the realisation of the extent to which London properties are being flogged off to foreign speculators and then rented back to Londoners at above mortgage costs. Lend Lease, the evil multinational who were given for free a massive swathe of prime zone 1 real estate by my council, Southwark, immediately set up a department in charge of selling the eventual flats to investors in Asia and the Middle East. This week I was in a little local estate agent in Lewisham, of all places, which turned out to exist only to sell local flats and houses to Chinese speculators. Ironic really - we won't be a property owning democracy because our property is owned by people in places like China and Dubai. I can't compete with that, or with the members of the merchant banking class of the UK who also own numerous properties as investments, or with the prices themselves that rise far faster than my income. I don't want to own anything, I just want to live with some dignity in a community where I can feel rooted and to have my family (including dogs) with me.

So I've lost the class war. My middle class privileges turned out not to be privileged enough. In five year's time, anyone without a phone number income can expect their children to live their lives out in the sort of accommodation that I only experienced in university halls of residence. Fascists will say it's because asylum seekers have taken all the houses. Other right-wingers will blame people on benefits, if they still exist then. I'll blame the 1%, but they will remain as unaccountable as they are now.
30 December 2012 @ 01:08 am
I was rather pleased, without examining the reason why I was pleased, that the Obama children were sent to a Quaker school when their father became President. It has emerged that this school is permitting armed guards to be on the premises.

This news is being discussed in Quaker circles a few weeks after a primary school shooting in Connecticut. Once again, the UK media has forgotten that the USA is a separate country and the debate over US gun control has been getting a lot of attention. Many British people have been trying to understand US gun culture and whether it is really insurmountable. In the paper I read, The Guardian, some American guest writers and British columnists have done editorials that seek to excuse/explain American unwillingness to address/reign in their gun culture.

In Britain, we may have a stereotype in our minds of the sort of American who believes the propaganda of the National Rifle Association. We may sort of understand that gun culture is so embedded that it's just taken for granted and not questioned by most Americans. It turns out that there are Quakers who also take gun culture in their stride.

I admit I don't stand apart from mainstream society myself to the extent that the early Quakers did. Not many of us do, these days. Society has caught up with Quakers to a large extent. I do wish that we had continued a corresponding radical drift though. Individually, not many of us are moving out of our comfort zones. One of the few ethical stances I tend to take for granted though is that we have the peace testimony in common. Then I saw the thread on the Facebook Group Quakers in which Chuck Fager, among others, approve of the Sidwell guns.

This discussion does more than showing Friends taking a comfortable acceptance of their country's mainstream culture. The school's decision, and this discussion reflects a fundamental lack of integrity around the practice of the peace testimony.

To summarise some of my views on this issue:

- Just to get it out of the way - I'm not in favour of private schools in the first place and do believe they are not in keeping with our testimony to equality.
- I would expect a Quaker school to not have weapons on the premises - not in the hands of students or staff.
- I would expect a Quaker school to bear witness to this by having a public statement on the website about refusing weapons.
- If a pupil's admission depended on them having armed guards, I would expect a Quaker school to refuse admission and to explain the reasons to the family.
- Publicly refusing weapons is a counterpoint to gun culture, just as refusing to keep slaves was in Woolman's day.
- Publicly refusing weapons as Quakers is a form of outreach.
- Publicly refusing weapons is a challenge to us a Quakers - we benefit from being reminded of the testimonies and encouraged to apply them in our lives.
- Accepting weapons undermines peace and undermines our integrity as individuals and as a church known for peace.
- If Quakers don't take a stand on this, who will? What are we waiting for? Do we draw any lines anywhere?

One final point, the pro-guns Quaker thread missed a very important point made right at the beginning of the thread. A link was included to a post by a right-wing blogger sneering at Barack Obama for sending his children to a school with armed guards. The blogger was undermining Obama's attempts to address gun culture. How much more undermining is it that not even Quakers are challenging guns in schools?

Lorcan Otway has been having some photoshop fun about the Sidwell guns. Many more examples are on his facebook.

Current Location: Home
listening to: BBC 6 Music
22 November 2012 @ 05:20 pm
Jon Watts has posted videos for each song on his latest album. Here's the title track:

22 November 2012 @ 05:00 pm
When we wake up from the nightmare of the 21st Century, we will be appalled and ashamed that the entire section of humanity known as Muslims could be subjected to any abuse with absolute impunity by those with military supremacy.

No matter how opposed I am to this desecration of life, I am powerless and am also implicated because I'm a citizen of a Western democracy. These powe
rful people have made me culpable in what may amount to genocide.

What in reality can I do about drones and about Gaza? Set myself on fire in Parliament Square? My vote is worthless, popular protest is ineffective and the right to protest is being dismantled. Though I'm culpable, I'm also nobody. I have no access to the elites and no leverage.

Leviticus 19:16 - "Do not stand idly by".
18 November 2012 @ 05:28 pm
A special treat at my former local Meeting today - a visit from Alastair McIntosh, whose book Soil and Soul transformed my view of environmental activism. I tend to forget that he's a Quaker. This was my first time seeing him in person and experiencing for myself the way he speaks by bringing together the depth and breadth of his knowledge and experience while still managing to come across as a bit of a mystic and a holy fool (this is a good thing).

In Soil and Soul, McIntosh wrote that the resurgence of community is essential for us to address ecological catastrophe. This was a huge revelation for me and has also troubled me ever since because community feels remote and hard to even begin to achieve. I asked him today to say more about community. He described the 3 types of community - community with the Earth, community with the spirit/God, and community with one another.  To my relief, he said that the way to rekindle community is to open to the spirit. I'm going to have to let that idea settle in for awhile yet, but I'm starting to see his point of view. I'm glad that the way to do it isn't to organise a load of meetings to address the local eco crisis.

I started reading Soil and Soul during a visit to Woodbrooke and next weekend I'm back there for a few days. I'm looking forward to lots of space for reflection and planning there.