Monday, 26 November 2012

Field Study's Man in E17 meanders in a cryptoshrubbery

Empress Avenue 24th Nov' 2012

Ash tree growing flat sided right up against Walthamstow Stadium 

Many of the drainpipes have been removed from the stadium wall 

The 'cryptoforestation'* of the stadium interior I 

The 'cryptoforestation' of the stadium interior II

 Where the Ching is piped under the stadium and Chingford Rd towards Hoxton Manor Allotments.

The Ching swelling with the recent rains. According to Joan Morgan**
 this stretch of the river bed was deepened to help prevent flooding. 

Divellicated willow fallen across the river 

Collapsed river bank 

The River Ching meandering between Labour and Conservative  

 All that remains

The bridge over the River Ching near to the end of Cavendish Rd

* Cryptoforestry -

**Joan M. Morgan,  A Study of the River Ching, Walthamstow Historical Society, 1952. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Field Study's Man in E17 loses himself in the remains of a tree

During the week I found myself walking across Chingford Plain, on a perilous expedition to find the source of the River Ching. You may ask what this has to do with E17 and Walthamstow. I believe a section of the Ching marks part of the northern boundary of the parliamentary constituency of Walthamstow. The continued existence of this constituency is in some doubt as it is the subject of a review by the Boundary Commission. Would I gain any worthwhile insights into a sense of Walthamstow (MP) as a place by visiting a source of part of its boundary and, in the dering doing (pronounced, "doyng") of this my foolhardiness, find thee reason not to lose Walthamstow?

A fierce wind ravaged the forest edge. It stripped the last autumn leaves from flailing branches ominously clattering against each other overhead. The terrain was sodden and the footpaths were mostly a deep and grabbing mud. A chatter of parakeets launched into a collective antipodean screech that distracted and disorientated me and before I knew it I had slipped off the path and was hopelessly (or was it hopefully?) lost in a tempest of arboreal motions and noises the like of which I had never seen, felt or heard. Whole and huge drifts of leaves were lifted by squalls and driven with all the icy malice of blizzards intent on obscuring the expeditionary vision of Field Study's Man in E17.  
I do not know how long I tramped in the vortex before I stumbled into an eerily tranquil clearing. This place was the eye of the storm. My legs were so tired I could barely walk any more and so I sat down against a tree and, absorbed by the soft floor of the forest, fell asleep. Although there was physical refuge to be had in the soft mouldy mattress of countless years of abscission, there was no such refuge to be found in the Epping Forest dream space of Field Study's Man in E17. I would like to tell you I continued exploring in the oneiric darkness of the forest, that I was visited by the poetic spirits of the forest past (John Clare among them) who mapped and illuminated the dark topography with their panoptical odes, rhymes and meters. This fantasy, if told as truth, would be untruth - merely thought of but not dreamed. The dreamscape of Field Study's Man in E17 is remote, nigh on inaccessible and possibly barren. There is little if any recall of the dreams within - if indeed there are dreams there. Any prospect of the territory might only consist of some vague adjectival quality; the dreams that day, if there were any, in the forest floor, were restless. 
Imagine my surprise when on waking I found the tree I had rest lessed against had undergone a terrific and greatly accelerated transformation. The tree remained a figure of some terrible contortion, victim of a mythic lightning bolt. The woody remains were host to the opportunism of countless fungal spores and the unfathomable reach of their hyphae gripping at the towering vascular tissue. Had you put your ear to the stump you might have heard the myriad mastications of micro beasties mining the xylem and phloem. Cascades and collapses of intricately wrought cellulose littered the corporeal provenance. What nourishment can be taken in pictures of, or from, the new life of this tree?
I was even more surprised when I discovered I had grown a beard that reached to the ground. Had this beard arrived by some candid trickery or was the sojourn actually a long, long fairy tale of a sleep? Call me 'Rip Van Field Study's Man in Winkly 17'. A moment of panic flushed through me as I recalled the mission to locate one of the sources of Walthamstow's political boundary. Was Walthamstow still there? Strange noises, perhaps the grunts and shuffles of less miniscule beasties, emanated from the tree trunk as the afternoon quickly disappeared into a twilight. A well fertilised imagination got the better of me and, I am ashamed to say, I abandoned the expedition for fear of Epping Forest at night. I found my way back to Walthamstow by following the rain swollen Ching down its meandering course.
Back home I discovered there are moves afoot to defend Walthamstow MP. In the blogosphere there is a call for 700 thespians to defend the democratic identity and integrity of the area. Perhaps a battle will be fought here:


Bridge over the River Ching between Cavendish Road E4 and the Peter May Centre Playing Field
24th November 2012

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Field Study's Man in E17 on the exorcism of Rachman's spirit in Waltham Forest

Field Study’s Man in E17 has been preoccupied by problems at home recently and they have made it difficult for him to progress with field studies into the fats of E17 and neighbouring postcode areas. He doubts there is little or no concern (beyond his petty qualms) about his lack of progress in studying local aspects of the crisis in global food production however the causes of the preoccupation and hindrance are rooted in another global crisis; that of housing.
Conditions are not so good in this here field student’s ‘zone zero’ (to purloin a permacultural term). Much of my domestic crisis is personal and private, involving others whose privacy has to be respected. I live in a shared flat or ‘flat of multiple-occupancy’. The conditions are certainly not as wretched as those endured by huge numbers of people worldwide e.g. in slums, refugee camps, war zones and areas of natural disasters. My (our) crisis is minor by comparison and many people would, I imagine, gladly change their habitation for mine or others similar.
The crisis here is mainly, though not entirely, one of personal expectations and a sense of entitlement regarding private rented accommodation.  There is a notion that the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ signifies a combination of danger and opportunity and, with these forces in mind, this post is a tentative introduction to a series (of posts) aiming to explore some of the private and public territories of home here in ‘lost and found in E17’.
I acknowledge my dissatisfaction is parochial and inward looking. What though is the collective or broader social consequence to an area or neighbourhood of (private rented) housing problems and their causes? Many people rent privately; perhaps as much as 32% of the housing stock in Waltham Forest is private rental property. Of this contingent there is likely to be a (large?) proportion disappointed by and aggrieved at what is provided in return for the rent. Locally and nationally, grievances may be justified and their causes can involve legal obligations on the part of the landlord and tenants. Low quality poorly maintained housing stock, often owned and let by private landlords, can cause a variety of adverse effects in a neighbourhood with the consequences paid for by all e.g. respiratory disorders/diseases, caused by infestations of mold, to be treated by the NHS.
I’m reluctant to divulge details about where I live now however I have experienced some difficult situations with other landlords which do encompass circumstances of public and private concern. Here is a personal experience of a dispute with a landlord some years ago.
I had a room in a shared house and had been there for nearly 18 months and as far as I was aware none of the gas appliances (boiler/heaters/fires/cookers) had been inspected. I was particularly concerned about the gas fire in my room. I asked the landlord when the most recent inspection had been done. He said he would get it sorted out. By the time of the next rent collection no inspections had been done. I asked again. The same answer, with more irritation, came back. I asked again at the next rent collection and when the landlord tried to fob me off with the same reply, I explained I was very unhappy about the situation and I was going to get some advice. The landlord returned half an hour later with a letter giving me notice to leave. He told me he could not have tenants who did not trust him. For obvious reasons I did not really want to stay there however other circumstances meant moving was a difficult option; something I think the landlord was well aware of. We negotiated and the landlord withdrew his notice and gave me a carbon monoxide detector/indicator. About 6 weeks later a gas engineer visited and did some maintenance work, although no official record of the work was made and I was not entirely sure the engineer was appropriately certificated.
Information regarding health and safety requirements for gas safety in rented properties is available via the Health and Safety Executive web site – here.
In my opinion that landlord abused his position of power and neglected his responsibilities with regards to the safety of his tenants, and potentially the safety of neighbours. There were other long running issues about the maintenance of the property which the landlord failed to resolve while I was resident there. Given the experience with the gas safety inspections any thought of confronting the landlord usually concluded with the memory of that letter of notice. The message was clear; put up, shut up or leave. Unfortunately it took me quite a while to get out of that place.
Shelter is running a campaign calling for rogue landlords to be ‘evicted’. ‘Evicted’, as I understand it, involves landlords having to be licensed (Selective Licensing) and if they fail to comply with the terms of the license the license is revoked and they cannot continue to let properties legally. Are there sufficient public sector resources to enforce selective licenses? Would selective licensing lead to an increase in rent costs without necessarily a proportionate improvement in the services provided by landlords? What would become of the tenants of landlords whose licenses have been revoked?
There have, recently, been some motions made about a licensing scheme in Waltham Forest (in selected areas) following a pilot project taking place in Newham.  Here is a blog post by a landlord, considering buying properties in Waltham Forest now rather than in Newham, who considers the adoption of ‘selective licensing’ to be akin to ‘contagion’. Other landlord organisations consider selective licensing to be ‘draconian’ and an ineffective measure to deal with bad landlords – indeed, a measure that only serves to reinforce a stereotype of greedy/abusive landlords. Waltham Forest Council have produced a briefing document which aims to outline the core issues about selective licensing and some of the content seems quite obviously intended to placate the anger of landlords who consider themselves stereotyped, abused and penalized.
It seems selective licensing will:
Educate tenants ‘to ensure they only live in properties that meet a minimum standard’
and provide
‘Support for landlords in dealing with anti-social tenants’
at a (proposed) cost of £900 per license, lasting 5 years, per property. That proposed fee is considerably more than in many other boroughs and councils. As far as I understand, the legal requirement for a ‘selective license’ would extend to ‘buy to let’ landlords with just one property. I don’t know if households with a lodger would also need to have a license.
I think the license fees will be passed onto tenants, possibly at a higher cost than the actual license fee incurs (due to admin’, bureaucracy and profit), and will there actually be an improvement in the standard of private rented housing?
Council housing departments still may not be sufficiently resourced to deal with all the demand from private tenants and landlords in dispute over what constitutes acceptable living conditions. Even when some landlords are exposed as ‘slumlords’ - by local and national press, local networks, campaigning charities and national television – with incontrovertible evidence of letting malpractice there frequently seems to be inadequate resources to enforce the law.

Jon Snow (Channel 4) presented, ‘Landlords from Hell’, a Dispatches investigation into the contemporary housing malaise which showed appalling living conditions endured by tenants and neglected by landlords. In the blog accompanying the documentary there is a comment, made by a local authority housing officer, Jefferson37, which gives a detailed first-hand account of the institutional inadequacies of local authorities that are so easily exploited by unscrupulous landlords (and tenants?). Does Waltham Forest Council have an adequate (at the very least) track record in local governance to manage such a fundamental shift in housing culture as is proposed by ‘selective licensing’ and is the culture of complaint about housing really just a perpetuation of the myth of ‘Rachmanism’; an all too willing participation in an oppressive system of housing? 


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Field Study's Man in E17 paddles in the shallows of the fat of the land

a streaming path  - 4/11/12

Field Study's Man in E17 felt alternating-ly/directly wired and confused following all the electrifying drama of a hazardous liaison with a pylon on Walthamstow Marsh. Some radical earthing was required to re-root his energies and so avert a state of couch potato entropy. He was inspired by Argentinian artist, Victor Grippo, to stick some appropriately coloured wires into himself and power his way to the northern most reaches of his home ground, an allotment in Chingford.

On Sunday the allotment site was saturated; an expanse of slippery paths, muddy puddles, pools and ponds; the result of relatively heavy rain in October. According to the Met' Office, the south/south east had 129.9mm of rain in October, which is 173% of the (October) monthly average between 1981 and 2010. Going by the BBC Weather service, November is usually the wettest month in the London area and if this is the case this month the site will get much wetter. Here are some more images of the sodden site as it was on Sunday 4th November with various autumn maintenance tasks in progress.

 water logging between raised beds

 pond area

Over the last 10 years various things have been done to try and control some of the movement of water on the site - mainly via a swail ditch and, more recently, the introduction of another pond with an overflow channel leading down to the main pond area at the bottom of the sloping site. There are also some very large water tanks (currently full) to collect or harvest rain water run off from various sheds and outhouses close to the allotment. Here is a short video of the (not inconsiderable) diverted and channeled water flowing into the main pond area:

Back in August I published a photograph of the same location featured above (top) in, 'Field Study's Man in E17 Returns From Myrmidonia E4', and that photograph shows a drier, though still often moist and soft, path 'engrooved' by many journeys made between a water trough and the 17 thirsty raised vegetable beds which make up our allotment. Each journey was made with a wheelbarrow full of watering cans, the latter alternately filled with, and emptied of, water for the purposes of irrigation. After much practice and repetition I was able to transport five watering cans, two buckets and a water cooler bottle at a time via the wheelbarrow without spilling very much. I developed a weary familiarity with the bumpy terrain between the trough and raised beds and this embodied knowledge along with a careful arrangement of the water bearing vessels in the barrow meant that what water did spill out was mostly caught in the wheelbarrow and that spill could be poured back into the cans or poured directly into the beds.

This experience of carting water might be the basis of an image to be included in a contribution to the 2012 Field Report (Field Study) from 'Field Study's Man in E17'.

Hives 4/11/12

Sunday also presented an opportunity to seize the warmth of the sun rays and make a quick inspection of the beehives in the apiary to find out how much honey the bees have managed to store in readiness for winter. So above is a short observation of bee activity at the hives at about 12.30pm. Each hive had been given a feed of specially treated sugar syrup 2 weeks prior to this inspection and I hoped the syrup would help boost the honey stores.

Hefting the hives indicated a surprising and encouraging increase in weight and opening them up very briefly allowed a glimpse of some frames fat with honeycomb - which, going by the weight, were likely to be more full than empty. The situation might be less dire than it seemed two weeks ago. This is also a time of year when beekeepers need to practise a form of water/moisture management as conditions in the hive can get very damp. If a colony of bees in a hive has approximately 20kg of stores it will, in the process of digesting those stores for energy, create around 20 litres/ 4 gallons of water. All that moisture can build up causing mould and increased susceptibility to disease. The beekeeper can make slight alterations to how the hive is put together which ensure increased ventilation and less build up of moisture.

It was several hours after making the inspection when I recalled having seen some wet patches in one of the hives. I judged the wet patches to be a consequence of the heavy rain and trusted that the changes we'd made to increase ventilation would deal with that dampness. It was with a distinctly uneasy feeling that it occurred to me the wooden hives might have been saturated - waterlogged - as they have not been treated and weather proofed for several years if at all. Might some of that weight, assumed to be of honey stores, actually have been of soaking wet wood?

This has set Field Study's Man in E17 to thinking about how the hives can be weather-proofed or shielded without disturbing the bees as well not compromising the ventilation.

waterlogged beehive?

My hopes are that the bees survive the winter and that next year does not see a re-occurrence of the weather we had this year; the unusual inclemency of the weather in early summer is recorded in stark terms in the Met' Office statistics.

I have been thinking about how these personal and sometimes shared pursuits fit in with other local initiatives to produce food sustainably. Some of this thinking involved going to Organiclea's recent event at the Hornbeam to mark, International Food Sovereignty Month - an introduction to that event is here.

The reflections on a growing season have also involved a return to an interest in artists who use food and food growing in their work - hence the reference (albeit flippant) to Victor Grippo.

I have also started reading, 'The End of Food' (Paul Roberts) which presents an in depth study (for a lay person) of the crisis in the global food economy. Robert's critique, so far as I have read, relies on a calorie based analysis of food production/productivity which might be used to judge anything I do via the allotment as being quite ineffective in terms of a viable local food culture. Future posts might see me try to present some locally based understanding of Robert's study, including a reflection on another presentation organised by Organiclea in which Simon Fairlie examined the desirability and sustainability of various sources of fat.