The Tale of The Kids in The Woods

Once, in a time that was, and was not, a time of Transition, there were three settlements, in a wooded area in the southern Hams not so very far from the famed town that was not too big and not too small.


The first settlement to form took it upon themselves to include the pathway as part of their territory, for they said, a toll could perhaps one day be charged, to bring income into their community.

Later two more settlements sprung up; one lower down the hill, on the road to the market place, and one higher up, on the top of the hill, in a wooded glade.


The people of the lower settlement were in general a young people, they built swings, and quickly established their shelters, and they delighted in clothes of the brightest of hues, and costumes that remembered styles of old. Dashing were the young men, with robes and turbans, and bright young faces. They became known, over time, as the Stylists.

Picture pending parental permission

The people in the middle named their settlement Crown Land, for they had a princess, the Princess Edda, who wore a crown of pastel shades, golden sparkles upon her cheeks, and who spoke the language of those parts better than any other in her community, except perhaps for her advisor, an older man, who also cared for those who needed support in the community.

Princess Edda greets the Storyteller

With time it was inevitable that the people of the lower settlement should have cause to meet the people of Crown Land. Times became challenging, and trade with other places was becoming more expensive. The Stylists went off to see if they could negotiate with their nearest neighbours.


The Stylists, maybe because of their youthful exuberance and their liking for carrying fine wooden spears, did not meet with a friendly reception from the Crownlanders. Rather, a wooden gate did they find, blocking the way forward, and the townsfolk stood at their side of their finely constructed gate, and drove a hard bargain. To come and trade with us, a toll must you pay.


Well, the Stylists liked this not. In the spirit of good neighbourliness it was not, and with youthful passion, stormed the gates with their spears.


For some time to come relations between the two settlements were not friendly with unexpected assaults on Crown Land happening by day and by night. Crownlanders were not fair traders, declared the Stylists.


Within the borders of Crownland, however, the tale was another. Their neighbours were warlike, said they. They were constantly having to defend their gates against assault.

The Stylists and the Crownlanders

The Princess Edda was graceful in her reception of the Storyteller, took her on a visit of the territory and the fine green castle that afforded the royal family with peace from the multitudes when things were stressful, and from where she commanded her subjects do her will, with “if you so please”s quite unexpected from one in her position.


Came a young woman, suddenly, breathless like a young hunted gazelle. Escaped from the Stylists, said she. The trouble was, for folk like her, from the settlement at the top of the hill, to get to market meant passing by the community of Stylists, and they were become ever more warlike with each day that passed.


It turned out that the people from the top of the hill had come to an arrangement with the Crownlanders for payment of the toll. For in their pleasant grove was much fine building material; long thin flexible lengths of the most attractive wood. With this had they traded free passage through the territory of their neighbours, and now the two were in alliance, and the menfolk of their community had joined with Crown Land in the wars that had ensued with the fierce Stylists.


In the grove at the top of the hill peace radiated as if no ill feeling had ever passed through the minds of the womenfolk living there whilst their menfolk defended their place from ever being disturbed. Signs of the activity that had begun before the wars were evident; a beautiful dome shaped construction covered over with fine silks of the brightest of hue lay half finished to the side of the main square, where the women folk sat in council, and dealt with the challenges that came day by day for with each foray to the market for supplies, news came of what was happening in their world, and find solutions they would.


Peaceful Grove was a veritable haven of quiet presence. Nature was abundant, birds could be heard, the air was soft and warm, and the people welcomed visitors gladly. Occasionally a little excitement broke the tranquillity; the menfolk back briefly from the wars, the arrival of the ones who had braved their lives on a trip to the market, and the sharing of the news, and the council that then formed to decide what was to be done.


The tale of Peaceful Grove began not so pacifically. The people there remember, back when, before they had moved to Peaceful Grove, how it had been that their people had not been so harmonious; one person kept wanting to take charge and organize everyone without listening to others’ opinions. The people organized a meeting to talk over the problem. They had beer and music, and all was well.


After the move to Peaceful Grove refugees from the war had come to their settlement. They were made warmly welcome. They were immediately introduced to the trade system, and the community agreements. They were given free beer, and asked to tell of themselves their stories.


Time went by, and there was a really wet autumn and all the logs for the fuel got wet. The townsfolk moved all the wood into their polytunnel to dry and in the meantime they heated their homes with the energy they had generated from the small precious stock of oil they had and the solar panels on their roof tops.


During the time of the wars it became important to them to think about how they could celebrate when somebody became a teenager. It was decided to have a great big party with music. Drums were built out of the local wood. The new teenager would be given beer, and presented with his own scarf; a brightly coloured garment to be worn when he went out of the settlement to visit others.


Meanwhile, Crown Land had become deserted. Nobody knew whence the people had gone. Some say that there were some who knew; but none were telling. It was rumoured that their princess had been abducted, and that the townsfolk had gone out to rescue her, but no one knew for sure if this was true. At the lower settlement signs of determined activity could be spied. The Stylists were packing up.


“What’s happening?”

“We’re leaving” declared their Elder. “This is not a good place for a community to settle; we are too close to the market place. Everyone has to pass by here, and we are not left in peace”

Picture pending parental permission


The Storyteller journeyed through the woods with the Stylists. They were a sad people. They still wore their brightly coloured garments, but on their faces their vitality was gone. With great enthusiasm had they approached their neighbours, to trade, and with great sorrow had they learnt that not everyone’s idea of the truth is the same. When they had tried to defend their truth, fair trade, they had been shut out, and branded villains by all and sundry.


Through the woods they trudged, till they came upon a place that was to their liking, on the very edge of the known world. Pretty soon to their name they were true, and with the rising of prices, they stopped making garments from oil based products, and instead grew hemp and fashioned their beautiful costumes from that instead. They began to recover their spirits as they concentrated on the well being of their own community without trying to trade with the others.


High above them, in Peaceful Grove, the council had decided to spend money on one new thing for the community. They decided to complete their community round house, so that they could meet and celebrate together with other communities.


During this time though, some people kept insisting on taking on more projects than that group had time to do properly, and then they would complain about getting burnt out. It was decided to make a work schedule and spread all the work equally. Meetings were held about the work, and each person was expected to take responsibility for themselves.


Then a block of High Rise flats became empty, and it was decided to make them available for any new community members that arrived, but not until they had all had a make over and were beautifully interior designed. A film studio was put in the building too, and vegetables were grown on its roof.


By this time in our tale less and less things were being imported from other countries, and Peaceful Grove extended their field space, and started to preserve fruit. They found that they were consuming less and saving a lot.


Further down the hill the inhabitants of Crown Land were taking it easy after the tribulations of the war. Nobody knew what other challenges they had faced, but all could see that the princess and her people were glad they did not have to fight any longer. They had taken down their castle walls, and were lying down together in the sunshine, relaxing in the knowledge that they would not be attacked. The gates had long gone, destroyed in the war.


Down in the glade of the Stylists, a new bright blue structure had gone up, and beneath it, some of the warrior folk were reclining, resting in their new found peace, glad to be far away from other peoples.

The Stylists New Settlement

Some of their people, however, were to be found on their bellies, crawling along through the undergrowth, on route, the Journeyman was heard to say, to kidnap the Princess Edda…


And then the bells rang out for 2030. A new year was born, and as was the custom in those times, all the peoples of all the settlements set out to the market place, together, to hear the tales of the past year, to wonder at the trials and tribulations through which neighbours had passed, to learn from one another’s experiences, to resolve conflicts, or not, and to celebrate those who had achieved great things. The scroll of the history of Peaceful Grove, who had quietly beavered away working on their local challenges without interfering with the lives of their neighbours, and held safe harbour for those who wanted it, was greatly honoured, as was its scribe, Kira of the wild gazelle running legs, for her steady organizing of her people.


The Elder of the Stylists lamented the return to what he said were quite medieval ways, whilst the Elder of Peaceful Grove was heard to declare that her community was quite a beautiful jewel. The Princess of Crown Land said that machines should remain part of the future, and the warriors of the warring settlements continued to lock spears at every opportunity. Life, it seemed was to continue much as it ever does.


Into the air the proud survivors to 2030 leapt; we did it! Together, in a circle, a-joined, the merry kids in the woods followed the lead of the Journeyman whose skills had supplied so much of their building knowledge, and celebrated that life is very much just as you find it, and just as you make it, and what you put in, you are sure to get out!

Picture pending parental permission

It’s not the Grail, it’s the Quest that Matters

Philippe, France


Recently I have had the pleasure of working with groups on Hal Gilmore’s Big Green Canoe initiative.


It was a participant of a recent group that partook in the delights of a Transition Tour with Hal himself that got to the heart of the matter and it is he who I have quoted in the title of this blog.


It is a metaphor that speaks volumes, particularly relevant in Our times. When we think back to the Knights of old we know it was the grail they were searching for, but to this day we don’t know exactly what the grail was, or whether they ever found it; it depends on whose version of the tale we read.


In Our times we talk of Transition. This word can conjure up a myriad of different images and they are as diverse as the people who imagine our future and how it will be. Will it be a Mad Max scenario, Business as Usual, Techno Fix, a Utopian return to the past, or will we achieve a Power Down low impact future that embraces the best of the past with that of the present whilst still innovating the new?


In the Age of Chivalry they were looking for a representation of the feminine principle, which was somewhat sadly lacking back then. Nowadays it could be said we are looking for something more like balance. How do we celebrate diversity, honour both masculine and feminine roles, respect that both doing and being are of equal importance, understand that there is a time to act and a time to reflect, in all of our lives, and at all times in our lives.



Whatever the Grail of a time and its people, it is, as Philippe so beautifully said, “the Quest that matters”.


This has been brought home to me so poignantly with the death of my father this month. Did he ever find his grail? Has he found it now? I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know though, pretty intimately well, was his Quest. I know how he struggled with being the child of poverty and repressed Northern emotions, and having a big heart. I know how he struggled with the Victorian beliefs instilled in him when still young by his already old, maiden great aunts who took him in when his mother died when he was at the tender age of 7, and his own capacity for connection to nature and his intuition.


I know that he compromised his longing to live on the land, to fish, hunt, listen to the birds, and walk through woodland, to bring up his family in the manner of everyday folk of his times. My father’s Quest led him to compromise his health, for love of his family, his demons; the authoritarian figures who challenged him to work hard and pay a mortgage to keep a roof over his family’s heads, bring his children up well by sending them to school that instilled the values of the times in them, when his heart told him that recognising the plants and trees were things worth knowing.


My father’s Quest was about Love. Love for family, love for our earth, love for the poor children he struggled with watching on the TV, starving with hunger whilst he saw food being thrown away before his eyes. My father never compromised on that. His Quest tested his Love at every turn, as he struggled with the balance between his heart knowledge, and the stuff his head had been stuffed with from an early age.


My Quest is about Truth. I believe we need both Head and Heart. I believe too they need to work in tandem, not in compromise, not in one accepting dominion over the other, not in forsaking my own inner knowing for one given to me from the outside. Right now my Quest challenge is to follow my heart’s guidance, and then engage my head to act accordingly.


My website is my living experiment upon myself to test this out. My father never saw the finished site, he was too ill. It is his legacy though. His love for me guides me to trust my heart, and my search for the Truth engages my head to act.


I can feel the beginnings of faith in my way. Already the book that refused to be written for a conventional publisher has orders. Orders for each chapter that is written to be sent out month by month, to delight those that enjoy the plop of the written page on the welcome mat as it drops through their letterbox, and orders for the leather bound uniquely written limited edition volume of the Tales of Our Times. A cheque arrived yesterday with the words £100 with lots of love written across its bureaucratic body.


My Quest is for the Truth. It is also to see the never ending story of our lives be told, not just by historians, not just by those who we set up in authority over us, but by each and every person that has the honour of living in Our Times and helping the story unfold.


I don’t know what our Grail looks like, but I do know our Quest, intimately. I join in every day as I believe we all do, whether or not we are awake to that truth.


One of the ways I play my part is to chronicle the tales of the people I meet. Another, aptly enough, is to play the giant interactive Transition game, The Quest.

The Market Place
The Market Place

This game had its genesis in 2008 when playwright Hannah Mulder handed the task of designing an activity to enable young teenagers to envision a positive future to Guy Chapman and myself. Inspired by the young people we knew and their near obsession for Dungeons & Dragons type computer games, we developed a giant classroom sized board game, which has grown and developed over the past 4 years into quite a living project.

Its aim?

To find community led responses to the wellbeing of individual settlements and their bio regions.


Since I took over the facilitation of Transition Tales (the first Transition project to engage young people) from Hannah in 2009,  the Quest, with the help of a diverse and ever changing group of engaged and enthusiastic people, both in Totnes, and further afield (we have had collaborators based in London and Glasgow, Budapest and LA) has been played with kids from 6-16 and adults of all ages (the eldest in his nineties) all over England, in Scotland, Hungary, Spain, S Africa, and the States.


It has changed too, under the influence of all those many collaborators.  It has moved from being board based to classroom based, to woodland based. In Edinburgh they wanted more varieties of sheep added to the resources, in Glasgow they wanted to know why there were no High Rise flats, in Hungary they missed the bees, and a little boy in Rattery wanted to know why cricket couldn’t become a skill. The original 20 skill cards and the same number of resources now have 100 cards each in their packs, as each group that played added their suggestions.


The Quest mimics our real life challenge. How do we transition to a more positive future? As the years go by new challenges cards are added to the pack. In the beginning we were asking what we would do if oil became more expensive. Last year, as more and more groups formed to work together to bring about change in their local communities, we started asking how we deal with the dynamics of people when one feels excluded, or another takes on more than s/he can cope with.


As we encounter challenges on our Quest to a Transition future we learn, as children always have, very effectively, through play and image – ination, to try things out, think and act creatively, and be amazed at what is possible when we stop thinking according to the stories we have grown up believing, and begin instead, to co create a new story – the Tales of Our Times.


In Quest workshops we describe GNP as being part of the old story, the reaction to the Depression of the thirties, and GCH as being part of the new story – Great Community Happiness.


Yesterday Earthwrights playscape designer, Mike Jones, and I were out in the woods with a group of German teenagers from Freisberg, and their teachers, playing the Quest for real. Participants got to enact their challenges and responses to them in settlements they had built for themselves out of wood and found materials.

 a Quest temporary settlement

a Quest temporary settlement

They struggled with boundaries, what happens when the neighbouring settlement trades unfairly? What do you do if your neighbours are not cooperative? What is the basic requirement for a community to maintain its state of well being? Some found that they were very active in defensive mode, others felt peaceful self sufficiency was more appropriate. It is endlessly fascinating how play mimics real life.


It is an interesting challenge we face in Our times. How do we learn to interact with one another in a state of balance where all communities are able to be reflective and inward thinking enough to maintain their own state of wellbeing regardless of what is going on around them, and equally are able to contribute to the well being of those around them without losing their own equilbrium?


There are four buzz words in the Quest; Diversity, Trust, Collaboration, and Resilience.


My sense is that when we are able to utilise these qualities during our Quest, we shall stop worrying about our Grail; we will be too busy living in our Transition future.


Watch this space tomorrow for the tale of the Kids in the Woods.

An Adventurous Soul

This is my latest poem – I wrote it for my father, who died on the 11th June.

He’s gone fishin’

Gone Fishin'
Gone Fishin'


An Adventurous Soul…


Have I been

The ties of bondage

Did I break

To be free

Sailed across the ocean

To a land of rich exuberant


That set my heart alight

Left behind

A training ground

Of heartbreak


And comradeship

Forged in

The furnace of

A Lancashire landscape

Where Accrington red brick


Covered the valleys

Between long lost forests



Enslaving a people

Once so proud

And brave

Even bears trod with respect

 A people

With such a will to live

That deafness working the loom

Rations not fit for a warrior folk

       And loss of power

Took not their souls

But lifted them;

Survivors in humour


A perfected art form

Cushioning the agony

Protecting their chicks

Look out for our own

Make summat outta nowt

Make merry

Like there is no tomorrow

An adventurous soul

Have I been

From the waters of Eire

To the rivers of Ayr



I have fished

And made merry

Forged friendships in malted hops

And left memories in the hearts of hosts




Music in my soul

From the dancehalls to the theatres

The language of my soul

Both irreverent and deep reverence

Served my time

Aboard a naval vessel

Learnt the ways

Of islands still wild

Loved and lost

Explored my freedom

Lived life

Like tomorrow never comes

Came home

Settled down

Gave up my hard earned freedom…


Known in my heart

That our own destiny we forge

That whatever we reach out for

Is within our grasp





Settled down

Gave up my hard won freedom

To take up the mantle

Of a householder

Bowling with aim

Sure as an archer

Met me a wife

Reared me a daughter

And then one more

Accepted the mantle

Of response ability

Found the tender one


And to distressed child in the night

Offered succour

Rose early

And coaxed breakfast

Into the mouths

Of reluctant young

Lifts to school

Sucking strong peppermints

A kiss goodbye

And suddenly grown




Step away

And I know the poignancy

Of young leaving the nest

My heart aches

And forgotten grief

Attempts to rise


To the surface


Can I find strength

In vulnerability?

Lancashire born

Countryman heart

Wild adventurous soul

Vulnerable, me?

Ah, no

Ask not that

Leave me my dignity

Warrior, hero, father.

A challenge, a step too far,

For this time around.

A move down south,

Take it easy

But habits they die hard

In a Lancashire lad

Life and Soul

Our George

Made us laugh

One o’ t’ lads

Heart o’ gold?


But don’t wear it on your sleeve lad

Be a man

‘er indoors

And the bairns

Need you to be strong.

Ah yes, dad


Need you to be true

To you


Loving heart

Don’t hide that

It’s solid gold

More precious than a diamond

Adventurous soul,

It’s your heart that we love.