Singing with Raging Grannies and bye bye USA

We are sit­ting at gate S16 at Seattle Tacoma air­port wait­ing for our Icelandair flight to Glasgow via Reykjavik. I can still see the tower­ing snowy vol­canic peak of Mount Rainier through the win­dow, one of the many vis­tas that makes Seattle such a beau­ti­ful city.

We’ve had a great couple of days here stay­ing with Viv and Rick. Viv is a friend of Chris’ from his WRI days, and so we got a good glimpse of ‘rad­ical’ Seattle.

On our first night here around 30 people, includ­ing 4 or 5 Raging Grannies (one wear­ing the best raging Granny t-shirt I have ever seen), some folk involved with the Ground Zero com­munity (nuc­lear sub­mar­ine base), and Chuck Esser one of the authors of the Resource Manaul for a Living Revolution, turned up for our Freedom Come All Ye protest song work­shop which Viv had kindly organ­ised. It was a great even­ing and much enjoyed, although I felt a little under­prepared. We also passed on cop­ies of the 50 years of Scottish anti­nuc­lear song­books and the Guid Cause song­book to some of the Raging Grannies and other activists.They were really excited and it felt good to be passing on those songs in the know­ledge that they will be well used by act­iv­ists in other corners of the world. The power of song lives on!

Yesterday Viv and Rick took us on an altern­at­ive tour of Seattle which took in the sites where the WTO protests took place, the Fremont troll and artists quarter known as the Centre of the Universe with the won­der­ful motto De Libertas Quirkas.

We fin­ished with a won­der­ful swim in Lake Washington under the watch­ful eye of Mount Rainier. As we were dry­ing off in the sun a bald eagle flew right above us — we must be in America! Truly spectacular.

Viv and I then spent a happy hour in Value Village, a thrift store super­mar­ket with many excit­ing bargains.

In addi­tion to hous­ing Bill Gates (we looked a cross at his com­plex as we swam), Starbucks, Amazon, Boeing and many oth­ers Seattle is a very green city.  Many res­id­ents are grow­ing food in the side­walks in front of their houses, and there are ‘Pea Patches’ — com­munity food grow­ing spaces.

This morn­ing I went to the museum at the Univeristy of Washington, where , in addi­tion to won­der­ful exhib­its about wolves, owls and wood­peck­ers there was some great art work and inform­a­tion about the nat­ive peoples. I enjoyed study­ing bas­ketry through Viv’s know­ledge­able eyes, and hope to finally make my own bas­ket in the not too dis­tant future.

Drive through ATMs and other drive throughs

In Asheville’s lovely organic food store I asked where the nearest ATM was.  The very friendly chekout per­son gave me clear dir­ec­tions to a Whachovia ATM just across the park­ing lot.  I walked across and it was only when I got right there that it dawned on me that what i was doing was unusual beha­viour.  I’m not sure that any­one even saw me — but in a way I hope they did spot the for­eigner walk­ing up to the drive through ATM and with­draw­ing money. I star­ted to feel strangely vul­ner­able stand­ing there in the road, as if cars were going to be com­ing at me and get­ting impa­tient with me for not fol­low­ing the norm, even though there were no cars near at all!

Today in Portland we went to the post office to post some post­cards.  Drive through.  Drive through post­boxes! Very funny.

Beth told us a story of a friend of her’s who went to a drive through bur­ger bar on his bike and they refused to serve him.  When he insisted they called the police, who in the end took his order for him and went in to get his food.  The rationale was that drive throughs can be taget­ted by hit and run incid­ents and while their secur­ity cam­eras are set up to pho­to­graph the regista­tion plate of a car, if you are on foot or on a bike you could eas­ily dis­ap­pear without trace after shoot­ing a few folk. It’s not funny, but rather tragic.

It’s inter­est­ing just how import­ant social norms are in shap­ing beha­viour. Everyone has a tumble drier, so even those who think more deeply about these things get one too. Washing lines can be bought, but are unusual.  More elec­tri­city down the drain.

And com­ing back to fly­ing — it is the norm here, not just to take one flight to your internal des­tin­a­tion, but to take lots of dif­fer­ent con­nec­tions to reach your des­tin­a­tion in the cheapest way. Delta Airlines scares me, with its web of too many red flight lines cris­scross­ing the States each day.

And now for the pos­it­ive story! On my last day in Asheville, NC over break­fast Laura and I were dis­cuss­ing the poetry fest­ival she has been organ­ising for the last 4 years and how she could incor­por­ate ideas from geo­po­et­ics, weav­ing together strands of sci­ence, poetry (emo­tion) and spritu­al­ity. The con­ver­sa­tion ended with Laura com­mit­ted to mak­ing the next Asheville Wordfest a zero car­bon event, hav­ing poets and oth­ers enga­ging in con­ver­sa­tion by weblink, and look­ing into pedal powered screens. If that hap­pens I will have helped to save no end of air­miles, and who knows how many other sim­ilar fest­ivals may fol­low her lead. Does that jus­tify my jour­ney here? It’s always good to make a dif­fer­ence, and whilst this is turn­ing into a truly amaz­ing and inspir­ing trip, I still don’t know if I can really jus­tify so much car­bon emis­sions. I feel as if I am liv­ing on bor­rowed car­bon and Chris and I have decided to put some money into the Portobello Wind Turbine as our ‘car­bon off­set’. (More on that later)

My latest the­ory is that the aver­age US cit­izen car­ries on regard­less because there is no vis­ible effect of their life­style. The wil­der­ness is huge and inspir­ing and beau­ti­ful, so why not enjoy a big car and a few dozen flights each year?

Two hours in Atlanta Georgia

My flight onto Asheville, North Carolina is delayed because the crew hasn’t arrived yet, and then a big thun­der storm hit, and light­en­ing strikes inside the air­port com­pound means that no planes are mov­ing for a while. A good while.

I’m sit­ting here enjoy­ing hear­ing the sweet drawl of the Southern accents and see­ing Black faces again.  Laura tells me that there are still big divi­sions between the African American and white com­munties in Asheville, and that she is enga­ging with the African American com­munity through poetry.

Atlanta air­port is huge.  Detroit air­port was humung­ous.  At each air­port there’s a slick, mod­ern, bur­row­ing indoor train to take you to your gate. Edinburgh air­port is a small rodent to these dinosuars. Everything here is huge.  Big cars, big roads, big fridges, big bel­lies.  The high aver­age car­bon foot­print of the aver­age American is so alarm­ingly visible.

Delta is the Greyhound of the skies, the Ryan air of the States.  Most flights are overbooked.

On land­ing at Detroit we are told that small hand-held elec­trical gad­gets can be used again, and fin­gers are out tap­ping cell phones, smart phones, ipods and the like before we even get to the gate.

All of us fly­ing with so many per­sonal pos­ses­sions. How would it be if we trav­elled with little but the clothes we stood up in and a full wel­com­ing heart? No gad­gets, no char­gers, no wheel-pulled cases.  Just a note­book and a pen and my glasses to read.

Give me a red cres­ted Sandhill Crane to ride.  No air con­di­tioned cabin, Coca Cola vend­ing, inter­com announce­ments and flat screen news.  With a ka-r-ouk, ka-r-ouk we’d be off tak­ing a non-prescribed line safely below the clouds, powered by a gen­er­ous cubit of feathered grace and with the sum­mer air on our legs.

Canoeing down the Thornapple River

1 Northern Cardinal

1 Crayfish

2 White tailed deer

2 Turkey Vultures

3 Great Blue Herons

3 Turtles of unknown species

5 Muskrats

5 baby Turtles of the same unknown species

16 Belted Kingfishers

Ebony jewelwing damselflyEbony jew­el­wing dam­sel­flies dart­ing every­where, rest­ing on our paddles, hats and arms. Many mating.

Innumerable dragon­flies

And racoons screech­ing in the Silver Maple at 4am this morning

This flying lark

Up at 4am after very little sleep. I’m really nervous about fly­ing so far after so long — this mys­ter­i­ous and magical pro­cess over which we have no con­trol and which seems to work on trust alone — and not look­ing for­ward to the bur­eau­cratic, unwel­com­ing and offi­cious immig­ra­tion pro­cesses. Also full of the dilem­mas of hav­ing chosen to emit so much car­bon.  All a bit emo­tion­ally exhaust­ing, and yet wildly excit­ing — and we’ve not even left the ground yet!

Edinburgh air­port at 5.30am is fright­en­ingly busy — far busier than Waverley train sta­tion would be at this time.  This is the norm for so many.  It’s far too easy, and too much fun.

Up above the clouds over South-East Scotland, the Irish sea and the Irish shores the magic is palp­able.  The won­der and delight of the skies, the sparkle of the sun on the clouds.  The mag­ni­fi­cence of human cra­tion and abil­ity — we can do it! We are won­der­ful! It is our birth­right to excel and suc­ceed and to push the bound­ar­ies in all mat­ters.  Progress can only be good.  Onwards and upwards!

Whizzing through the air at 500km/hr at 40,000feet both ter­ri­fies and exhiler­ates.  We are def­in­itely the fly­ing novices here, and yes, as pre­dicted, soci­ab­il­ity rat­ing so far is minimal.

As Naomi Klein says, just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should.  But how do we change that mindset?

Porty sings for water

A big mass sing to raise money for Wateraid, ‘Scotland sings for Water’ is tak­ing place in Edinburgh on Saturday 2nd July. This involves singing 6 great songs in har­mony with about 299 other folk  — it should be a great sound!

If you like singing and are inter­ested in tak­ing part, Penny Stone and Jane Lewis from Protest in Harmony will be teach­ing the songs at 3 ses­sions in Portobello Community Centre in May and June.

Tuesday 17th May                 7.30 — 9.30pm
Wednesday 1st June             7.30 — 9.30pm
Wednesday 22nd June        7.30 — 9.30pm

We will need to ask for a small dona­tion from every­one to cover the cost of the room (it only costs £10 for the 2 hours so is very reasonable)

As you can see from the info below, every­one is wel­come to join in, and no, you don’t need to be able to read music! — or to live in Portobello.

If you want to take part you need to register and this costs £5 and includes a learn­ing pack and a CD with parts for all the songs (cheques pay­able to Band of Song).  You can do this by let­ting me know by email to <> by 24th April and send­ing a cheque to me at 252 (1F2) Portobello High Street, EH15 2AT.  I can then obtain the packs from the organ­isers and hope­fully get them to you before 17th May.  Please be sure to include your name, address and con­tact details.

See below for more info. The request is for every­one who is  tak­ing part to raise at least £40 for Wateraid. Download the spon­sor­ship form.

Scotland Sings for Water


Saturday, 2 July 2011

Exciting event for singers!

What, Where and When?

Three hun­dred sing­ers in Scotland will gather in Parliament Square, in the Royal Mile, Edinburgh on 2nd July to Sing for Water.

What is Sing for Water?

Sing for Water raises funds for WaterAid, an inter­na­tional non-governmental organ­isa­tion whose mis­sion is to trans­form lives by improv­ing access to safe water, hygiene and san­it­a­tion in the world’s poorest communities.

Is my singing good enough?

If you can sing in the bath you can sing!  You don’t need to be able to read music. Everyone is wel­come to join in.

How do I participate?

The regis­tra­tion fee is £5 per singer.  When you register you will be sent a pack with a learn­ing CD and word sheets for the songs you will sing on 2nd July (along with 299 others!).


Singers tak­ing part will each receive a spon­sor­ship form, because of course its not just about singing! The aim of Scotland Sings for Water is to raise as much money as we can for WaterAid.  Each par­ti­cipant will be asked to raise around £40 in spon­sor­ship — more if you can.

You will also receive inform­a­tion about where to go on the day, how to get there, what to bring and everything else you need to know.

Why Wateraid?

Raising money for WaterAid is a great way to give some­thing back to coun­tries whose songs we sing but who have no sys­tem of col­lect­ing roy­al­ties.  WaterAid is a hugely effect­ive and effi­cient char­ity giv­ing a massive per­cent­age of the money raised back into pro­jects where com­munity involve­ment is val­ued and expec­ted.  The Sing for Water pro­ject was star­ted by com­poser Helen Chadwick in 2002.  Since then almost £500,000 has been raised by sing­ers all over Britain.

What hap­pens on the big day, 2nd July?

All sing­ers will gather from 10 a.m. to 12 noon for a rehearsal at Old St Paul’s Church, Market Street, Edinburgh, loc­ated across from the Market Street exit from Waverley Station.  After a lunch break we will gather in Parliament Square by St Giles Cathedral in the Royal Mile  to sing from 1 pm to about 3.30.

Great fun and good music in a good cause!

Want to know more about WaterAid?

How do you reserve 3 beds from Thessaloniki to Bucharesti?

9.00am Greek train book­ing office, Athens:

“No, I can’t give you reser­va­tions on the train  Bucharest.  I have only 3 beds and I must sell them.  But you can buy in Thessaloniki.  The Romanians have more — it’s easy”

1.30pm Larissa train sta­tion, Athens.  Inernational book­ing office opens:

“No train to Bucharest”


“I don’t know!” Continue read­ing


I almost burst into tears when I arrived here — out of sheer delight!  It is a beau­ti­ful, quite and undeveloped island with a few Greek hol­i­day makers (and the French couple with the young child we chat­ted to on the first day).  It feels so much ‚ore relaxed and gentle this way, with just local vis­it­ors, and the com­par­ison with the Scottish islands comes to mind again.  Arriving here felt quite like arriv­ing st Eigg — a few loc­als chat­ting and hanging out at the har­bour cafe, in no hurry to do any­thing other than drink strong Greek cof­fee and watch and nat­ter. Continue read­ing