Friday, July 30, 2004
Odd coincidence as I left the office for a week of holiday and working at home. A huge black dragonfly (dragonflies are a totemic creature of mine) flew into the office. It took Seb and I quite a while to track it down and then coax it back out into the day. A double sense of liberation as it helicoptered off and I mounted my cycle to pedal into the west. It’s the time of year when I have to keep my mouth shut as I cycle, because of the profusion of insect life. Around this time the swifts, which seem to be around in smaller numbers this year, bomb down the streets towards me, sceeching as they scoop up the buzzing biomass. Diminutive Hell’s Angels, playing some form of chicken, they always break before we collide. Gaia and Hania both at home this evening, with Britt Keay, daughter of our once-upon-a-time best man Ian.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Very lively SustainAbility team lunch today with Kris Murrin of What If? (www.whatif.co.uk). Judy (Kuszewski) had cycled past their front door and been impressed – and then Francesca (Muller) had knocked on the door and promptly been ushered up to see Kris. The session left us with a real appetitite to put the team through a creativity training process, but a number of us were also struck by the way that What If? have set up a (social) venturing arm. This is something we are pondering. One of their recent initiatives has been the launch of the new bottled brand, Belu, where all profits go to help meet the developing world’s growing thirst for clean water.
Monday, July 26, 2004
A ZERO WASTE SOCIETY
First meeting of new Advisory Council of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA: www.rsa.org.uk). I have been a Fellow since the 1980s and was a judge for several RSA initiatives with the Environment Foundation, including the Pollution Abatement Technology Awards and the Better Environment Awards for Industry (BEAFI), the second of which eventually spawned both a Queen’s Award and a European version
The Society was founded in 1754 by William Shipley, a painter and social activist. He brought together a group of individuals to propose a manifesto “to embolden enterprise, enlarge science, refine arts, improve our manufactures and extend our commerce”. The RSA’s revamped mission now focuses on five areas: (1) Encouraging Enterprise; (2) Moving Towards a Zero Waste Society; (3) Fostering Resilient Communities; (4) Developing a Capable Population; and (5)Advancing Global Citizenship. I find myself in the Zero Waste box, though we are encouraged to roam.
Sunday, July 25, 2004
CAN JAPAN HELP RESTORE IRAQ MARSHES?
In 1973, I spent some time in Paris with Gavin Young, who Wilfred Thesiger had introduced to the Marsh Arabs of Iraq – and who subsequently wrote an excellent book on these people, their habitat and their culture. More recently, they fell seriously foul of Saddam Hussein. He ordered the marshes drained to deny rebels cover, turning much of the marshes into salt pans and desert. As yesterday’s Guardian reported, satellite images analysed by the UN Environment Programme in 2001 showed that 90% of the wetlands had been destroyed. Now Japan has pledged £6 million to help the process of restoration, already started since the surviving Marsh Arabs breached the dams and blocked the canals that Saddam built to wreak vengeance on his enemies. No-one expects that the marshes will return to their full glory any time soon, but the news is encouraging in the context of the non-stop bad news coming out of Iraq. The latest hostage is an Egyptian diplomat, representing the country where I was privileged to work on the extraordinary Nile Delta wetlands in 1974-75.
LEARNING FROM OUR MISTAKES
Earlier in the week, I spoke at a Global Action Plan (www.globalactionplan.org.uk) event in Portcullis House, Westminster, alongside the Houses of Parliament. My concluding slide was a picture of the Wright Brothers Flyer in flight 101 years ago. The point I make with the image is that the early years of aviation were characterised by endless crashes and other misadventures. Those who did best learned rapidly from the mistakes they – and others – made. And for that to happen there had to be a reasonable degree of openness. Unfortunately, even in today’s world, bad news often travels slowly.
(In the book on archery I’m reading, the author notes that it took the French over 100 years to successfully adapt their tactics to the advent of the longbow, despite virtual massacres of the flower of French nobility at battles like Crecy and Poitiers. In this case, however, the news travelled fairly fast, but the ability to understand the implcations was seriously impaired. The noble classes couldn’t really afford to accept the fact that they were being brought low by such simple technology wielded by ‘peasants’.)
A day or two after the GAP event, while cycling home, I stopped off at the new Princess Diana memorial in Hyde Park. It’s fairly low profile, but that evening was full of people paddling and splashing about. As I watched, a fat boy lost his footing and crashed into the shallow water, all the while talking on his mobile phone. More fool him. Then, a day or two later, the newspapers were full of reports of people falling over in the ‘fountain’. Shock, horror. The thing was closed for investigation, as it had been when unseasonal leaves blocked its drains.
Exultant journalists were quick to point out that Ove Arup, the engineers involved in the memorial fountain, had also been involved for London’s ‘wobbly’ Millennium Bridge. Once described as a “moat without a castle”, the memorial has certainly had a chequered history, aesthetically and otherwise. And the Royal Parks people apparently had to insist early on that non-slip technology and roughened stone be used. But the key point here is that sustainable development will need an intense period of innovation, over many decades. And, on past experience, most of the new things we try will fail, to some degree.
If we are to innovate successfully – and on the scale likely to be needed – we need to work out ways to prototype and test technologies. And in the full range of circumstances that they and their users are likely to experience. In the case of the Millennium Bridge, I was talking at the GAP event to a woman who worked on the Bridge – and we were recalling that the Japanese had built a somewhat similar bridge some time back, had learned the same lessons, but hadn’t told anyone – presumably for fear of loss of face.
Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain (© JE)
Friday, July 23, 2004
THE ARCHER AND THE YEW
Took the day off and, among other things, went to look at guitars in various places around the city: Gibsons, Fenders, Guilds, Rickenbackers. Have fitfully played an Ovation 12-string for 15 years, but am also interested in tracking down an electric 6-string. While playing a vintage Gibson ES-355, one salesman unprompted began to tell me about how these days the rosewoods and other woods used in some acoustic guitars no longer come from the rainforests. Well, maybe. But in discussing the woods used for guitars, it struck me that there were parallels between these instruments and the bows and arrows that are the focus of one of the books I am reading at the moment: The Bowmen of England by Donald Featherstone.
The yew has always been one of my favourite trees, partly stimulated by the strange copse that stalks up the flanks of Hambledon Hill in Dorset. Featherstone, though, says that many of the longbows that so dominated the military landscape of the 12th to the 15th century were not made of English yew, but from yews felled in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany. An interesting legend: at one time, Spain had so suffered from raiding English bowmen under the Black Prince, using longbows made from among other things Spanish yews, that the Spaniards felled every yew they could lay their hands on, for fear that the English menfolk would make fatal use of the trees. Well, maybe.
Last had my hands on a bow several years back in Provence, while staying with Jan-Olaf Willums. Various of us spent a happy afternoon firing at a mark set out among the trees. Elaine, weirdly, beat us all. And this memory puts me in mind of the bows we made from garden canes as children. They turned out to be suprisingly powerful. We even fletched the arrows with goose feathers from the nearby farm. Up in Church Field, near Little Rissington’s 12th century church, the site of the old village before the Black Death struck, we spent a jolly afternoon firing arrows up into the fierce blue sky. Problem was that they went so high we lost sight of them – and one came down straight into the face of one of us, Robert Hamilton. We took him home with the arrow still sticking out from alongside his eye. Along the way, shattered, we broke our bows and tossed them over a nearby Cotswold stone wall.
Poor Robert. Some years later, we were at the Village Fete when ashen-faced friends came to tell us that he had drowned in a gravel-pit between the village and Bourton-on-the-Water. I often say I enjoy funerals, because people are more open than at weddings, but that was one grim service, with many people openly weeping. No doubt that passed through my mind on a happier occasion years later, when Elaine and I finally got married in 1973. And, quite coincidentally, earlier this week I found myself e-mailing (at his request) photos of that event to Ian Keay, who was our best man and now lives in California – after going underground in the 1970s and surfacing after a general amnesty.
To get the images, I photographed some of the photos in one of our albums, which explains the quality. Ian has the beard and the longest hair – among the menfolk – and is squiring my sister Caroline. We were lucky to get any shots at all: the photographer who had offered to do all the pictures contrived to destroy the negatives, so we were left with photos that others had taken. We are passing pretty much the spot where the shaft came down from the heavens. And that thought makes the terror of “hissing death” of those Middle Ages weapons of mass destruction all the more real.
Little Rissington, 1 September 1973
Thursday, July 22, 2004
NICK & THE INTERNS
The penultimate day of this year’s Global Reporters benchmarking odyssey. The object: to analyse several hundred corporate environmental, social and/or sustainability reports from around the world – and then pick the Top 50 for in-depth benchmarking. That’s all now done. Because I won’t be in tomorrow, we celebrate this summer’s successful tour of ‘Nick & The Interns’. A really great team. Luckily, a couple are staying of for a while. And now all we have to do is write the report.
On the sofa: Susanna Jacobson, Therese Nicklasson, Nick Robinson, Patrin Watanatada, Daniel Bussin and Ishani Chattopadhyay (© JE)
Sunday, July 18, 2004
KEWING FOR JOOLS
After the Old Quay House breakfast (see separate post), I drove back from Fowey to London yesterday morning, via a series of jams, several alongside crashes, on the M5 and M4. Then, with Elaine, Hania and John Jencks, went to Kew Gardens – where we had a picnic ahead of a Jools Holland concert designed to raise money for Kew. Stunning music and, at the end, a really spectacular fireworks display. And odd to have flitted from the Eden Project to Kew Gardens more or less in the same day, given that at the breakfast yesterday someone argued that Eden is the 21st century Kew.
Jools (© Hania Elkington)
Saturday, July 17, 2004
Well, I’m not sure there were any epiphanies, but to labour the obvious it rhymed with Tiffany’s. And the phrase ‘herding cats’ might well have been invented for the collection of environmentalists and fellow travellers that Tim Smit and Richard Sandbrook had rounded up for the Smile concert and aftermath breakfast. This was held in the Old Quay House in Fowey’s Fore Street, with a cluster of tables circled on the verandah that juts out into the estuary. To a chorus of gulls, and distant grumble of fishing boats, we tried to get a grip on where we had come from, where we are and where we want to get to.
The breakfasters included the likes of Tom Burke (ex-Friends of the Earth, ex-Green Alliance, special advisor to three successive Secretaries of State for the Environment, a co-founder of SustainAbility, and so on), Chris Hines (founder of Surfers Against Sewage, now responsible for sustainability issues at The Eden Project), Alan Knight (who handles the sustainability agenda for the Kingfisher Group), Malcolm McIntosh (who I last saw at the UN Global Compact event a few weeks back and who apparently now teaches at six universities), Sara Parkin (ex-Green politician, co-founder of Forum for the Future), Richard Sandbrook (ex-FoE, ex-IIED, on the Eden board, among many other things), Charles Secrett (ex-director of Friends of the Earth), Jane Smart (PlantLife) and Richard Wakeford (Countryside Agency).
Tim Smit was impressive, though admitting that his optimism – and that of his Eden colleagues – was “child-like”. He believes that sustainable development is achievable, isn’t as far out as some might assume and that we are currently living through a revolution (with a small ‘r’,” he insisted). He also sees the Eden Project as a metaphor for what might be achieved elsewhere. Not surprisingly, we all came away upbeat, pleased to have had the opportunity to catch up, and determined to find some way of leveraging the success of Eden to wider effect.
Veteran’s Veterans’ day: Sandbrook and Smit (©JE)
Richard Wakeford, Charles Secrett, and – out of Eden – Gaynor Coley, Deborah Hinton (©JE)
Friday, July 16, 2004
BRIAN WILSON GETS HIS TEETH INTO EDEN
Umbrellas sprout in Eden (©JE)
You could tell something was afoot as you entered the St Austell area: I was passed on the road by a huge white stretch limo, with smoked windows, headed out. The original invitation from Tim Smit had suggested the following dress code: Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. But a heavy sea mist was driving in from the sea as I started off at around 18.30 from the hotel outside St Austell for The Eden Project. By the time I arrived, the cloud was sinking into the old quarry site where the Eden biodomes are sited. A bit like being ushered into a sunken cloud forest.
As I walked through to the VIP area for pre-concert drinks I recalled that I first visited the quarry in 1977, when writing an article for New Scientist on restoration ecology and the old English China Clays. Extraordinary how modern miracles can happen.
The invite had gone out to a bunch of long-standing environmentalists, asking them to come to a Brian Wilson concert and then – the next morning – have breakfast with Eden founder Smit and some of his colleagues, “bury hatchets” and explore ways of working together in future. This was the second time I had seen the ‘lost’ Smile work performed this year – and the extent of Brian Wilson’s resurrection still takes my breath away. On the other hand, the man is clearly frail.
I had never expected to hear Surfin’ USA, lead track on the first album I ever bought, in 1963, played with such vigo(u)r in a Cornish quarry, or anywhere else. Once again, the concert was fantastic, though Wilson’s voice is pretty uneven – and the younger folk who tried to talk to him backstage said his main subject of conversation was his new teeth. I suppose it comes to us all in the end. And if you’re promoting a Californian smile-fest, teeth come into the picture.
Brian Wilson (©JE)
Glowing biomes (©JE)
GOODBYE TO TINTINHULL?
Dropped in to see Julia (Hailes) at Tintinhull House, on my way to The Eden Project. Had what will probably be my last walk around the gardens, since the family is moving on after ten years there. Sad to say goodbye to the place where, apart from anything else, Julia and I wrote a couple of books, though the gardens seem slightly the worse for wear in some places. Maybe the season? The lilypond, in particular, looked as though it had been filled with chocolate milk rather than water. But my favourite box trees still clustered together conspiratorially.
Tintinhull House (©JE)
Conspiratorial boxes (©JE)
Julia – and her car, decorated by her sons (©JE)
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
A BELATED HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Two celebrations today: a belated champagne-on-the-sofa celebration of my 55th birthday, followed later in the afternoon by a mass migration to Numa, a bar on Shaftsbury Avenue, to celebrate Frances’s wedding on Saturday. As we say to our cleaner, Fernando, it’s not like this every day.
Happily drowned strawberries (©JE)
Nick pops another cork (©JE)
And then Numa ©JE)
Monday, July 12, 2004
A PATTERN RECOGNITION ORGAN
The human brain, they say, is a pattern recognition organ par excellence. One result, particularly in a world awash in information, is a growing number of apparent ‘coincidences’. Indeed, I recall reading something of the sort in an odd book called The Celestine Prophecy some years back, which argued that the number of coincidences is likely to go off the scale as a major socio-economic transformation takes hold. Whatever, this evening I read the obituary of Dr Henry Adam in the 7 July edition of The Scotsman. It was 93-year-old Henry’s funeral that Elaine went to in Edinburgh recently (see SPOUTING IN BRUSSELS, 30 June). Henry and Elaine’s father first met when they shared digs at medical school.
Well, on TV this evening there were a couple of programmes which caught my eye: Outbreak, the film in which Dustin Hoffman et al fight to control a virus that threatens to wipe out humankind and, secondly, a Secret History story recalling the 1938 expedition to Tibet mounted by five members of an institute set up by Heinrich Himmler to seek (or manufacture) evidence of an erstwhile Aryan master race.
I watched the Tibet programme, which was both fascinating and horrific, particularly the execution-to-order in Auschwitz and elsewhere of Jewish prisoners for related ‘research’ purposes. The coincidence was that Henry’s obituary noted some aspects of his work about which I had been blithley unaware, among many other things on chemical and bacteriological warfare, including his time at the Chemical Defence Experimental Station, Porton Down, and his mission at the end of the war to rescue scientists from Buchenwald – to prevent them from falling into Russian hands. Not at all clear from the obituary – and now I can’t ask him – whether these were imprisoned scientists, or German ‘scientists’ who had been conducting experiments on prisoners using agents like typhus.
The further wrinkle is that when I first met Elaine at Essex University, there was a major protest against a visiting speaker from Porton Down, which by then had acquired a certain notoriety, with one of the protestors who managed to shut the university down for a while being a previous boyfriend of hers.
If Henry had known, I suspect he would have been intrigued, even amused, rather than riled. A pharmacologist, his best-known work was on the role of histamine in sickness and health. He showed that, in addition to playing key roles in such areas as anaphylactic shock and asthma, histamine also plays central roles in digestion and the workings of the brain, the organ that keeps tripping over all these coincidences.
Friday, July 09, 2004
THANK YOU, BOSE
One way I manage to keep myself sane as I shuttle around the world is a set of BOSE noise cancellation headphones. Flying back from Tokyoa couple of weeks ago, I left the headphones on the floor and pressed the button to transform the seat into something like a bed. Thousands of miles later, I awoke to find that the chair had merrily ground through the headphones and through the Truman biography I had been reading. Both left distinctly worse for wear. When I called BOSE, they took the headphones back and mended them for free. Then I found I had lost the cable, which they had advised should be detached from the phones before mailing. Having e-mailed them to see how much a new cable might cost, I returned from Evian to find an envelope with a new cable, again free of charge. I don’t know whether they’re always like this, but this form of customer service builds real customer loyalty.
A TOP FLOOR WEEK
A week mainly spent in paroxysms of coughing, it strikes me, but with some other activities squeezed in around the spluttering edges.
On Tuesday morning, while cycling in to the office via Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, I passed a new flush of Diana imagery on the gates of Kensington Palace – and then skirted the security activities around the new Diana Memorial Fountain, which the Queen was due to open later in the day. The same evening, cycling home, I found Oxford Street packed with pedestrians and a constipated string of buses trying to pass down the great commercial intestine. Turned out to be trials for Formula 1 racing down Regent Street, of all things. Part of the efforts to show that London can host F1 and other major sports events, including the 2012 Olympics bid.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I was in Evian, France, with the top management of Danone (www.danone.com). When the paroxysms became too much, I exited and sat among a cluster of goldfish bowls, atop a glass table full of transparent marbles (I have a marbles fetish) and watched the steamers trundling across the lake way below.
Oddly, as often happens, opened the book I had bought at Heathrow – Stephen Ambrose’s Eisenhower – on page 68, to find him complaining during WWII: “I live in a goldfish bowl.” Remarkable to read this after David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman: Truman comes off well in McCulloch’s hands, Eisenhower somewhat less well, and vice versa in the Ambrose book. If I didn’t so dislike what I have read of Field Marshal Montgomery, I would now read a book on him to cross-check whether he deserved the evisceration dealt to him by Ambrose. From what I have read elsewhere, however, I suspect he probably did.
Hotel Royal goldfish (©JE)
aka Eisenhower (©JE)
One highlight of the Danone meeting was meeting Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farms (www.stonyfield.com). Turned out that we shared a fair amount of common ground, including an early fascination with the work of Dr John Todd of the New Alchemy Institute (see, for example, www.oceanarks.org). Indeed, Gary had been tapped by John to take over the Institute, but then along came President Ronald Reagan and his radical cuts in public funding for sustainability-related projects. Found Gary also knew Denis Hayes, who I first met when Reagan had just slashed the funding for the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), which I was visiting in Golden, Colorado.
Elaine and I tried to track down the New Alchemy folk when we were on Cape Cod last year, but found that Todd had migrated and the original site had evolved into a sustainable housing project. Gary also knew Robin Clarke, who founded a UK version of the New Alchemy Institute, the Biotechnic Research & Development (BRAD). I worked there in 1973 or 1974, managing to pick up a case of sinusitis which lasted me threee years until Elaine found a faith healer, a retired seaman from Bristol, who managed to effect a cure. Oddly, I met Robin again a few years back when we were both working for the Dutch agricultural bank, Rabobank. And Rabobank’s name surfaced today in the office when some of us were talking about the latest sustainability reports, which our team of interns are energetically helping us benchmark.
Then, this afternoon, I found myself back in Docklands, on the fiftieth floor of 1 Canada Square, with the organisers of London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics (www.london2012.org). Interviewing David Stubbs, who is coordinating the sustainability aspects of London’s bid, for SustainAbility’s newsletter, Radar. Way below, the ill-fated Millennium Dome, where I was involved in a Sustainability Panel years ago. Once the Dome looked quite exciting: now I find it hard to shake the mental image of a blistered thumb, crossed with the agonising spines of a crown of thorns starfish. [NOTE from Financial Times, 15 July: The Dome’s site will now become a Las Vegas-style casino, thanks to Kerzner International. Of course.]
But, more positively, I left Canada Square believing that a successful London bid might well not only promote the regeneration of the Lee Valley, over which my returning planes often gyrate, but also provide channels to communicate sustainability issues to a wider audience. Put me in mind of the time, several years back, when SustainAbility helped Shell and J Walter Thompson work up their TV advertising campaign linking sustainability (via energy efficiency) to Formula 1 racing. All of which is a long way from the renewable technology and fish farms espoused by the likes of BRAD and the New Alchemists. But that period infected many of us with dreams and values that continue to play through.
David Stubbs (©JE)
Blistered thumb (©JE)
Monday, July 05, 2004
ELVIS, TAKE 50
The latest edition of Rolling Stone magazine (www.rollingstone.com), which I have read irregularly for nearly 40 years, celebrates the 50th anniversary of rock. And it dates the invention of the genre to fifty years ago today, when Elvis cut ‘That’s All Right’ at The Memphis Recording Service, later Sun Studios. If I had to pick a single genre of music, it would be Rock’n’Roll. Truly, aged five when the revolution began, I have been a child of my generation. [See elsewhere on this site, under ‘Influences‘]
Friday, July 02, 2004
The virus I picked up on the way back from New York really got its claws into me this week. Hacking away, night after night. Elaine made me up some patent cough medicine yesterday, for a long meeting with Shell on the issues and locations they will cover in their 2005 sustainability report. Didn’t need it in the meeting, but on the train back home I started to cough, so downed the small bottle of lemon, honey and, it turned out, Glenmorangie. By the time I got off the train and started to walk across Barnes Common, I was feeling distinctly light-headed.