Thursday, September 8, 2011
In August 2010 my husband and I cycled and took trains from Hastings to The Forest of Dean for our first ever WWOOF experience (world wide opportunities on organic farms). Our toddler son was in a trailer. I chose Sid's place from the list of farms because the hours of work were less than the others (I was worried I wouldn't be able to commit with a demanding three year old) and we had never visited the area before. After a few phone conversations our host Sid announced that it sounded like I needed a holiday and insisted we stay at his house while he was at his summer Superspirit festival. He was keen for us to join them at camp but I didn't fancy it. We chose to live in his old truck in the garden instead; big enough for a king size bed and cosy wood burning stove.
Sid and his family have created an amazing garden extending downhill from his bungalow, on what had been characterless farmland. It was easy to become lost in the maize of trees decorated with berries and buddleia flowers, which are the living walls of a number of outdoor rooms that are seemingly random, but were carefully planned and planted. We passed a shady area of standing stones and Sid casually mentioned some witches would be coming to perform a ceremony there later. Moving on we came to an orchard. The grass underneath was long and unkempt, the trees heavy with fruit. Wasps were snacking on ripe, juicy apples. "Try one," he offered. He wasn't too bothered if the fruit was picked or not. "It will all be here again next year," he said. Next to this was a nut orchard. We carried on our journey, having to crawl through overgrown shrubs at one point, emerging into a large, colourful vegetable plot. Kim, the gardener, had filled the beds with sweet peas, leeks, potatoes, cabbages, chard, marigolds, squash, courgettes, onions and beetroots. Next to a polytunnel was a colourful collection of flowers overflowing from anything that could be used as a container, including a drawer in an old chest.
While I was there I tidied up the borders: weeding and planting out some of the many flowers that were in pots clustered outside the greenhouse. I planted white pelagornium along a path leading from the main lawn to the rest of the grounds. I knew they would glow in the dusk lighting the way. I put a pot of flowers underneath a statue of Buddha. I dead headed the pots outside the back door and rearranged them, clearing away old broken ones as well as garden debris. I trimmed back nettles that were obstructing paths. I cleared brambles that were starting to throttle a large yucca. My husband cut the lawn. I also cleaned the kitchen and hoovered and dusted the living room. Outside Sid's bedroom window stood a small tree. When I went in to see if he wanted a cup of tea he was sitting watching the birds feeding. He's like a child, I thought. He replaced the coconut shells filled with fat and seeds every few days. The tree was alive with activity even though his garden was bursting with rowan, elderberry, dogwood, rosehip, guelder rose and sea buckthorn berries.
I had to hold back the tears when saying goodbye to Sid on the phone. I felt embarrassed! I sobbed as we cycled away; it felt like a deep, overwhelming grief that I couldn't understand. He was so kind and considerate to us and clearly dearly loved by his family and friends who he always stopped for and had time to listen to, even though he seemed not in the best of health to me. Other than his name on a list of wwoof hosts I knew nothing about Sid. It was only when I got home I found out more about his work as a campaigner for peace and land rights, free festival organiser, a former resident of 'Beatle Island', John Lennon and Yoko Ono's retreat off the coast of Ireland, former leader of the London squatters movement, a prominent member of the summer solstice celebrations at Stonehenge during the 70s and 80s, a traveller who narrowly missed the traumatic battle of the beanfield, one of the founders of Tipi Valley in West Wales as well as the first green movement gatherings then becoming involved with the Green Party in it's early days. He set up Rainbow 2000, now known as Rainbow Futures which hosts a number of camps running throughout the summer, near his home, in the beautiful Forest of Dean. He was staying at Superspirit camp while we looked after his house and garden.
A whole year later I was working in Craig Sam's garden. Craig who had set up a macrobiotic restaurant "Seed" in London in 1967 which expanded into retail, wholesaling and manufacturing and later founded Green & Black's Chocolate with his wife Josephine Fairley, knew Sid from the festivals in the 60's. He remembered one occasion when Sid had asked the model and actress Jean Shrimpton for some money. He spent it on produce that he cooked up and gave away for free. Then Craig told me that Sid had died. I was shocked. He was sorry to have to give me the sad news. I was shocked because Sid had had a heart attack and died at the end of the Superspirit summer camp a couple of days after I spoke to him on our last day at his home. I was happy to hear he was sitting by the fire surrounded by his friends and family when it happened and it explained the grief I had felt when we left. I had prepared his home and garden for his funeral without knowing it.
Sid wrote a manifesto called the Vision of Albion, an ancient name for England, where he imagines the first post industrial scoiety will develop here that will be a peaceful, green community. He spent his life living this vision. From my time with him and his family I learned that we can choose our families, that nature looks after itself but we can lend a hand respectfully and with care and that there is something to learn from everyone we meet.
"I used to have to tell everyone how to do things or they wouldn't be done right," he said to me in his last days. "I don't care so much anymore".
Further information and the Vision of Albion can be found here: