As we slowly edge towards a possible easing of lockdown, we've continued to catch up with our community. With Father's Day coming up, we checked in with one of our favourite sea-loving dads, Dan Burgess and his family in Bath - finding out what they've been up to in their landlocked Backyard Base Camp.
What’s keeping you inspired, and what is the current source of that inspiration?
Nature as always. Mainly the green/land version right now as we’ve been locked down in Bath, Somerset. We’re blessed with a great garden and surrounded by woods, meadows and streams. Epic trees, lots of birds, deer and all sorts. Walking Gem (our mad three-year-old German short-haired pointer) every morning through the springing of spring was a joy. Growing veg, foraging various hedgerow delights, bivvying out for the night in the garden with Willow. Sunsets and Sunrises. Big Moons. It’s been elemental and that for me is the source. Feeling insanely lucky to be locked-down in this place. Really noticing life and connecting with the land around me; its rhythms and patterns, the rare traffic silence and clean air, and sharing that all with the kids and Seemah.
When I look back on this unusual time, I feel grateful for the time I’ve had with my family. I have been inspired by watching and learning how the kids have cooked, baked and made things – especially Olive’s amazing murals she painted and directed (with the help of Fin and Willow) outside in the garden.
What’s been occupying your time? Is it projects, fitness, or just prep and planning for after lockdown?
Well, it’s been beautiful chaos much of the time, juggling home-schooling. We have three kids – Willow (9), Olive (13) and Fin (15) – so we’re kept on our toes with them. And then of course there’s feeding five of us three times a day, and baking bread twice a week to keep us going… But everyone has mucked in which has been a joy to witness and watch everyone’s capabilities and autonomy grow.
I have a mix of consulting projects and side project experiments which are keeping me busy involving collaborating with remote teams – it’s something I’ve been doing for many years so not too much disruption there. Then there’s my podcast The SpaceShip Earth which I record out of my studio in the garden. I decided to do a mini-series experiment during the lockdown – I’ve put 7 episodes out called 'Reflections from the Great Pause', which includes offerings from Tom Kay, Easkey Britton and Matt Smith from the Finisterre family, and loads of other lovely humans!
I’m growing more veg than I ever have, and my boy Fin is getting really stuck in to the growing and helping me which makes my heart sing – and makes the Xbox angst slightly easier to cope with! I’ve also been doing more foraging than usual, nettles and cleaver have been especially interesting for me during these times.
I’ve been running with the dog, practicing yoga on my Down Dog app and the girls and I have been following various workouts on YouTube with homemade weights. Project wise, four years ago I bought a beehive. When it arrived though, it made its way into the attic where it’s lived since. I think at the time it was all too daunting to actually put it together! Two weeks into lockdown something came over me and I built it ready for bees. A swarm arrived a couple of weeks ago and the bees have provided daily exhilaration in our house - the girls can’t wait to get kitted up and hang out with them. I’ve been logging my journey on my Instagram feed which has been super encouraging!
What has been the toughest moment of lockdown so far for you?
Well I slipped a disc in my neck three weeks ago, that was pretty tough. Pain like I’ve never experienced. Trying to get an MRI scan in hospital was interesting! Also, like everyone else, I’ve been worrying about my family. My mum lives on her own in Spain, my brother in Italy and my dad in London. Everyone has been in different levels of lockdown since early March and there was one point in April where it felt like everyone was losing it a bit. But putting it into wider context we really have nothing to whinge about.
Losing my bee colony within the first 2 weeks of receiving them without knowing why… I went from being elated to devastated – but I'm on the list for a new swarm and am ready to go again with a wealth of beginner's knowledge. I just have to be patient. Onwards and upwards and most importantly always moving forward!
And what has been the best moment so far?
Seemah’s birthday at the start of the lockdown was brilliant. We’d planned a big party in a venue in Bath. Loads of mates were coming from afar for the weekend but obviously we canned all that and ended up doing a virtual rave! About 50 of us in a Zoom room and I DJ’d a live 3 hour mix via Mixlr - you can access the set here. Loads of our old friends from different time zones around the world connected and we all had a bit of a groove, laugh and virtual blowout. It was good because we were all quite stressed, confused and fearful in those first weeks. A good dance sorted us all out.
And there have been so many moments with the kids, I feel absolutely blessed with the slowing down time and the ability to really connect with them, to experience proper time together. Eating together three times a day has been special. Such a simple act, but you see how much it supports and bonds everyone, a time to check in and ground, feels mad to me that we’ve let the basic foundations of ‘living well’ disappear in pursuit of ‘progress’.
Again to reiterate I’m very aware and grateful for this privilege we have. I realise that for so many this has not been the case, and there are many who are suffering. I hope at a cultural and societal level we decide to act on this great reveal we’ve experienced and ensure we start to redesign and regenerate our world with the most vulnerable supported at its heart, along with the wellbeing of our ecology which supports all life.
Creating a WhatsApp group for our road at the start of the lockdown feels like a good thing now. I was nervous at first, should I suggest it or would people feel weird about it. So I did it and it’s definitely been a good source of connection and support in these times - we are now also connected to other streets nearby which has strengthened our community. We all share information and discuss issues and it’s brought more conversation, compassion and understanding of different people’s needs and fears, and offerings of help and support to those most isolated.
What are you reading? And what should we be reading?
I’ve always got several books on the go, but to be honest I’ve found it difficult to really get into reading deeply during this lockdown. I don’t know why, but I’ve struggled with the focus so I’m snacking on a few. Some are stimulus for a project I’ve been working on since last year which is stepping up again around stories for a new form of economy where people and planet are front and central. So, I’m currently re-reading John Thackara’s ‘How to Thrive in the Next Economy’ and ‘The Creative Destruction of NeoClassisical Economics’ from AdBusters for creative inspiration. Finishing off ‘Dark Emu’ from Bruce Pascoe (which is mind-blowing!) and slowly getting into ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers. As a parent I find myself quite torn with conventional education at the best of times, and the pandemic has opened that up for me again. I’m reading ‘Instead of Education’ from John Holt who was one of the home-schooling pioneers. He believes that you only learn through doing and following your own curiosity, so telling kids what they should and shouldn’t know and then judging them on that knowledge alone is insane in his view - quite a read!
I’ve been swatting up on bee books – reading ‘DO Bee-Keeping’ by Orren Fox, 'Beginner’s Bee Book' by Ted Hooper and ‘The book of Bees’ by Pior Socha with my girls, which has gorgeous illustrations and fascinating bee history! I recently finished ‘Where the Crawdads sing’ which is painfully beautiful and a total page turner. Oh, and I’ve just been recommended ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ which is next on my list.
What lessons from lockdown do you feel we need to keep and build on as society swings back into gear?
I wonder how we might keep our children much more intentionally in the mix - front and centre as custodians for the future. Could we begin to think in much longer time scales, going about our work and lives mindful of our impacts on the future we will not see. Could we become motivated to be seen as ‘good ancestors’ by our future generations?
We’ve experienced a never again moment. The pandemic, by stopping the world in its tracks, has revealed many uncomfortable truths of our economic system and the everyday realities being suffered by huge numbers of humans and non humans on this planet. Now with the Black Lives Matter movement building again after events in the US, the centuries of hurt and oppression suffered by people of colour, that we’re now beginning to understand at scale, is hurt that all of us as white people are implicated in and need to take responsibility for moving forward.
Alongside all of this most of us have witnessed glimpses of what could be - of solidarity, empathy, kindness, compassion, generosity, collaboration, creativity, resourcefulness, care and responsibility, of connected communities, clean air, streets for people, slower living, time for each other, local food and nature rich lives. How can we ensure that we keep these new behaviours firmly in the mix as we step back into gear?
What we do with this new knowledge really matters and it really matters at an individual level. The decisions we make now about what we truly value as we move forward will impact everything, it is real people in real places who make change happen. Could we begin to see now that all life is connected, that what impacts you impacts me, that the destruction of nature, like the pollution to our ocean and the suffering of marine species is violence that we are committing through our ways of seeing and thinking. What if we put human dignity and ecological wellbeing front and centre in our lives as we reset and begin to co-create a more beautiful world? What if we all committed to begin to ‘unlearn’ these destructive ways of being in this world that have been revealed? What if we committed to support the younger generations to become wise, compassionate, healthy, creative regenerators of their world and for the generations of all species yet to come?
A favourite quote of mine from Edward Abbey feels apt right now - “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul”.
Words & Images by Dan & Seemah Burgess