The Pictures: Sustrans folk; signing Bike Belles petition; Andrew Kelly, me & John Cabot; The Third Floor meeting.
BRISTOL: Green Initiatives: September 8 and 9
Who knew that Bristol is one great big hothouse brainstorm of greenery? Not me. But I was about to find out…
On September 8, off I went on the train to Bristol with the tour organizer, the ultra-efficient Fiona McMorrough of FMcM– we were the last two left of our Year of the Flood Travelling Minstrel group, as Graeme Gibson and then Phoebe Larmore and Orville Stoeber departed for North America. Fiona located our “9 Princes’ Building” Bed and Breakfast – “Clifton’s Hidden Secret” — behind a mysterious unmarked red door, in the beautiful Georgian home of Joanna and Simon Fuller (building started in the 1760s.) (www.9pb.co.uk.) The Fullers are aware of all things green, and had laid in the organic coffee. They also have a friendly interest in their guests, a great view of the river and the famous 19th century Brunel bridge, and serious furniture. “What a discovery!” said Fiona, meaning not only our B&B, but Bristol itself – the town where the architects went after they’d finished setting the scene of lovely Bath for Jane Austen. Bristol has more listed buildings than Bath, we were told. (“Listed” = historically important, can’t-tear-down.) It’s quite a short journey by train from London, and would be a fine weekend getaway.
Next on the agenda was dinner at the Bordeaux Quay (www.bordeaux-quay.co.uk. ), said to be the most sustainable restaurant in the UK. They meticulously source the excellent food they serve, and even recycle the rainwater. At dinner I heard about so many green initiatives I started getting sage-coloured spots before my eyes, and wondered if I would pass out from the overdose of virtuous viridian beams heading my way. Had I heard about the Tridios Bank, dedicated to ethical and sustainable entrepreneurial development? How about the Transition Network, a fair trade org? Did I know about the Schumacher Institute? The Natural Step? Bright Canopy? The Soil Association? The University of Gastronomic Sciences, a slow-fooder outfit? Those were only the bits I managed to scribble down in my small notebook: there was a lot more. If you were a person in search of green original thinking in the UK, Bristol would surely be the place to start.
The next morning, accompanied by Andrew Kelly of the Bristol Festival of Ideas – the mastermind behind my whole Bristol experience — we crossed a quayside square adorned with a sculpture of a huge beetle, where preparations for the next day’s Organic Food Festival (www.theorganicfoodfestival.co.uk) were underway. Then we met with two of the major Bristol/UK/International green outfits. One was Sustrans (sustainable transport: www.sustrans.org.uk. ), dedicated to a more bicycle-filled and bike-friendly world. I’d spoken with Peter Lipman from Sustrans the evening before, who was a cheerfully fit advertisement for the benefits of bike riding — though we diverged into a q & a about whether or not, for a passionate vegan such as himself, hookworms qualified under the heading of the sanctity of all life, supposing you yourself were infested with them. (A sticky point, that one. After some thought, he gave a thumbs down to the hookworms, and we threw in deadly bacteria and viruses as well.)
Now, amid the productive, helmet-strewn chaos of the Sustrans operation, I met Malcolm Shepherd, the CEO, and Gill Harrison, Alexander Allan, and Jason Torrance. I heard about the many Sustrans UK bike routes, and the efforts to make urban streets more pedestrian and bike-friendly through “Art and the Travelling Landscape,” and shortly found myself signing a petition for the Bike Belles initiative, aimed at making biking safer and thus more appealing to women through information-sharing and participation . (www.bikebelles.org.uk. ) (Hints on makeup to wear while biking? They’ve got that, too.)
The biggest meeting of the morning was at the Third Floor, designed as a location and synergistic think-tank where a number of green .orgs and .cos can flourish and interact. It’s on the third floor of the Arnolfini Building, and is creating a template for other Third Floors in other cities. Many orgs and researchers were present. The driving force behind The Third Floor is angelic developer John Pontin (when was the last time you saw those two words, “angelic” and “developer,” stuck together?) who helped build Bordeaux Quay. John is also involved in The Converging World (www.theconvergingworld.org. ), an ambitious and clever plan to take villages in the UK carbon neutral by twinning them with villages in India and China, where you can plant – for instance – many more trees for the price of one in the UK, and much more solar or wind power for the price of installation. The plan is already up and running at the village of Chew Magna, which has signed on to become zero-waste (in the broadest sense) and is well on the way to doing it.
The Bristol Green Initiatives morning – and all the other greenery we encountered in the UK — left North American me feel as if the Olde Worlde is way out in front on these matters. They hadn’t entirely caught up on the bird-killing attributes of sun-grown, pesticide-sprayed coffee, however, so I did flog Bridget Stutchbury’s sobering book, The Silence of the Songbirds, which has the hard science in it. And I’m happy to report that the AMT coffee kiosk in the Bristol train station is not only all-organic, but Fair Trade as well. “Yum, yum,” we said. Delicious guilt-free caffeine! Staves off Alzheimers, or bowel cancer – something like that.
Of course, there may be some Hitchcockian bird-haters out there. “Pour me another cup of Drop Dead Bird,” they will say. “Add extra DDT!” But they should take care not to tell Mr. Tweet of Twitter about that. He’ll call up the fearsome Twitterers, and there will be a sound like the rushing of two million tiny wings, and then the pecking of a million tiny beaks, and then…