‘Do you believe in magic?’

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Day 1. 16 miles.

Bontgoch – Mynydd Gorddu – Bontgoch – Bow Street – Rhydpennau – Dole – Llandre – Rhydypennau – Bow Street

Treatment works – chapel house – wind turbines – holding tank – old school – building site – farms – housing estates – cafe – school – farms – housing estates – cottages – housing estates – bus stop

Well, people talked to me. (Of course they did. They always do. I worry too much.) About washing the car, deserts that were once oceans, coffee and crystals, rainwater harvesting, over-filling the kettle, magic, turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, a three million year old drop of water in a piece of Chilean quartz, the use of water on building sites, tulips, the waste and laziness of buying bottled water, filling a saucepan with the not-hot-enough water while you’re waiting for the tap to run hot and using it later, the benefits of European showering, our over-obsession with cleanliness (or lack of it!), water wastage and OCD, and the taste of water from the hills.

So, an ongoing flow of ideas, thoughts, guilty water-use secrets, admissions, poetic imagery, water-saving pride, promises, platitudes and truths.

The overwhelming sense is that most people think about water and water usage: they know what they do right and what they’re doing wrong. But then (in my experience) acknowledging something we need to change is too often the first brave step that we spend so much time praising ourselves for, then do nothing about putting into action. (I am guilty of this a million times over.) So, the feeling I get from people is that agreeing to make a promise with/to a stranger – even if it’s to do something for a day, a week or a month – feels like a start, a token, stepping over the bridge of awareness into action. The cumulative power of small acts…and a sense that other people have made the same committment today. ‘Oh, there are other people out there doing this too.’

But why even save water in a wet country? The published reasons are manifold (the UK water industry consumes 8100 GWh per annum, 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and is the 4th most energy intensive sector in the UK e.g. see this Nature and Climate Change review article or this Environment Agency ‘essay’ collection) so the more you consume (or waste) the more energy it takes at both sides of the treatment process: ‘creating’ clean drinking water and treating/processing waste water and sewerage.

But it’s more subtle than that. One person I met yesterday was talking about a friend who’d visited Spain during a drought and when he returned to the UK, used much less water as a result. ‘Ah, so do you believe in magic?’ the person I met had asked his friend. Because, while conserving water in the UK won’t ‘magically’ help the water situation in Spain or Africa, there is something vital and ‘magical’ about the shifted mindset of responsibility to natural resources and the more-than-human world – ecologically oriented ‘citizenship’ – that we all need to cultivate and which might make a real difference. It isn’t the magic that is sleight of hand, but it is a ‘magic’ that is a massive shift of consciousness in the hive mind…

[For more images visit the Gallery]

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Trepidation and radical tenderness

It’s the eve of performance day 1. Tomorrow I’ll be dropped off at Bontgoch – a village in the hills between Aber and Talybont – outside the water treatment works at about 8.30 am. There, I have to find somewhere and someone – with a mains water tap – to fill up my bottle of water to allow me to begin the walk. I was half-thinking a few weeks ago that I’d arrange with Dŵr Cymru to see if someone there would give me access to the works and perform a ceremonial filling-of-bottle from the ‘source’.That hasn’t happened. And as usual, I’ll just have to blag it instead. But it’s a good excuse to start ‘engaging’ from the very first step. In at the deep end.

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As always I’m ready (I know where I’m going) and not-ready (I don’t know what i’m doing) at the same time. I’m nervous. I’m plagued by the usual anxiety: will people talk to me? And if they don’t, how do i talk to them?

For once though, I’m feeling emboldened and inspired by an incredible day at WMC in Cardiff yesterday with the mind-blowingly brave and talented young recruits of Bryony Kimmings’s The Boys Project. This is an ambitious long-term art-activism project making ‘peace warrior artists for positive social, political and media change’ from an ‘army’ of young men (18-25) recruited from council estates across the UK. Currently the lads are ‘tooling up’,at a number of training days addressing politics, media, art and activism. I was asked to offer a short provocation based on my practice – about finding creative ways to invite conversational encounters with strangers on foot (which is a slow activism of sorts), that could give rise to a meaningful conversation that shifts perception and challenges stereotypes. I was worried that my rural, low-fi, fluffy, eco-art practice would seem totally alien and irrelevant to this strongly urban, passionately political group. But they listened with such courteous attention and I was totally impressed with their willingness to embrace this whole idea so open-mindedly, so many of them going out into the streets of Cardiff for the afternoon ‘task’ and finding ways – more or less radical, creative, unsettling, funny, beautiful – to engage in conversation with strangers about issues as diverse as climate change, race, benefits, voting and homelessness. Their willingness to embrace a ‘softer’ form of activism – when they are truly passionate-to-the-point-of-(sometimes)anger about the issues they hold dear (and are well-informed about) – has made me feel braver about being bolder and more direct with this work. Their passion translated through these creative, convivial acts into what felt like a sort of ‘radical tenderness’; something I’m going to try to cultivate and practice.