PAN EMERGENT: a dream in the shadow of the Dark Mountain

There are some truths which can only be glimpsed by firelight.
Shadows hold the secret of the void.
Scalpels of light reveal nothing of the darkness;
She must be embraced to be understood.
Through the smoke, and embers, and the sting of burning green ash
I see him.
Goat. God. Man.
His odour is my fear; midwife to my prayers:
“Oh Prophet of the pastures. Prince of Arcadia. Lord of the lingam.
Hairy, hoary, horny, piper at the gate.
Deliver us from these crowded places, and return to us your sweet ahuman dreams.”



Meet the ‘Crunch Bunch’ Pt 2: Upcycle Your Life


The following post is the second part of an article which was originally published as ‘Repo Man’ in The Idler 42: Smash the System. It follows on from yesterday’s post.

It’s a frank look at why low-income families like mine can suddenly find themselves struggling with debt. It does however have a happy ending 😉

Meet the ‘Crunch Bunch’

(or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Recession)



I am the first to admit that I have never been good with money; I’m one of those terribly old-fashioned individuals who sees money merely as a means to an end; something that we’re currently forced to endure in order to provide for our families and friends . But with the rise of the dominant puritan ethic money became an end in it’s own right; nowadays money is used simply to generate more money. Usury has gone from being a criminal act to being the corner-stone of our socio-economic system. This, in turn, has lead to actions that most of us find unethical, if not reprehensible. If usury were not the norm we could never accept a situation where £500 billion of public money is used to bail out the banks when, according to The Joseph Rowntree Trust, just one hundredth of that money – £5 billion – could end child poverty in the UK by 2020. In order to elevate usury from a criminal activity to something that was not only acceptable, but desired, greed had to become the norm and poverty had to be treated like a social disease. Indeed with the progression of the puritan revolution the poor have become ever more deeply ostracised my mainstream society. From the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act which created the terror of the Victorian Workhouse to the modern obsession with ‘chavs’, ‘neets’ and ‘hoodies’, society is taught to fear ‘the great unwashed’. Even more importantly, if the rich were to be comfortable in their position of privilege, the poor must be blamed for their own impoverishment.

I guess it was this attitude towards impoverishment which swayed the magistrate’s decision to award GE Money a repossession order on our house. I had actually been through several evictions as an activist during the 1990s anti-roads protest movement, but now, having a wife and four children, I was facing something altogether different. I decided to jump before I was pushed. My first – and only – priority was to my family, they needed a roof over their heads and as little disruption to their schooling as possible – we had to find a place to rent.

As usury and the monetary system crept into every aspect of human life we began to confuse ‘money’ with ‘value’. We seem to have reached a point where the only value we see in an item is that which is written on it’s price tag. But, as we can see from the nylon leopard print ‘Prada’ jogging suit which sells for £600 in Harvey Nichols, charging a large sum of money is not necessarily enough to guarantee an items intrinsic worth.

The true nature of value can be found in the words of William Morris – who’s own attitude towards money is made crystal clear in his utopian classic, ‘News from Nowhere’. Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It is an item’s ‘usefulness’ and/or ‘beauty’ – beauty, of course, is a form of spiritual usefulness – which creates value. Usefulness alone gives us an items intrinsic worth; money is simply a crude – and wildly inaccurate – way of balancing the ‘value’ of items that are to be exchanged. But this system demands that everything in life be uniformly quantifiable in economic terms – in other words this system does not reflect the real world. A friend of mine once tried to set up a LETS scheme in a wealthy part of Sussex. LETS is a form of bartering whereby you collect LETS cheques by doing work for someone; I paint your house for 50 LETS and then pay you 20 LETS to cut my grass. It is a system that, quite literally, turns time into money. The LETS system has it’s uses – especially during times of economic uncertainty – but it still relies on the myth of uniformity. My friend persuaded a professional Opera Singer to join the scheme. The singer was thrilled and she couldn’t wait to get started. She was having a new kitchen fitted and she explained the scheme to the carpenter. He said “So let me get this straight. You want me to build you a kitchen and you’re going to sing for it?”

I found a house that was within walking distance of where I worked, this would save me money in transport. It was near a junior and comprehensive school for the kids and was a mile and a half away a large supermarket (my wife and I now use backpacks and reusable carrier bags to do the weekly shop – it’s cheap and healthy and I can guarantee that you’ll have the best tasting cup of tea ever if you walk a mile with your shopping first!) The move would help us save money, but in order to rent a house you have to have a bond as well as your first month’s rent. We were already poor so we were forced to rob creditor Peter so that we could pay landlord Paul. This meant that the move got us into even more trouble with the money men. But in truth was I was already past the point of no return with those guys; I had made a leap into the unknown – and I was beginning to like it.

The day that you realise that true value exists only in usefulness or beauty (spiritual usefulness) is also the day you free yourself from the power of others. When we buy the latest ‘mod-cons’ we are actually allowing others to steal knowledge from us – and knowledge is the key to real value.

A vast amount of personal debt is generated by our perceived need to own the latest technology or ‘must have’ item in order for us to fully function in the modern world. The more complicated these items become the more alienated we are from the knowledge needed to produce them. This is great news for the capitalists, but it costs the rest of us a lot more than just money. The enclosure of knowledge is as damaging to today’s society as the ongoing enclosure of land has been to common people throughout history. The money men are currently in a mad dash to claim ownership – through patents, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and copyrights – of every little scrap of human knowledge; from traditional crafts to genetic information, nothing is safe. It is one thing to reap rewards for something you have invented, it is something entirely different to try and ring-fence the sum of human knowledge just to make a few quid.

The rented house was a virtual paradise compared to the squalid little cave that had cost us so much money and worry over the years. There is, of course, the constant threat of having to move at the landlords discretion, but this has to be weighed against not having to pay for every little thing that goes wrong – like the windows, guttering, leaky roof and boiler that had played a large part in our debt crisis. Unfortunately there was also the matter of the debts we still owed. I juggled some debts, paying as and when I could, but there were some that I ignored altogether. One was a demand for council tax on a house that, in my mind, had already been handed over to GE Money by the Magistrate’s Court. I genuinely couldn’t afford to pay, but I probably could have avoided going to court if I’d really wanted to. In truth I was beginning to find the whole situation somewhat farcical. As expected the magistrate decided in favour of the council. The bailiff who knocked at my door went by the wonderfully Dickensian name of Bill Sturch. He was a nice enough bloke who went through the motions with the air of a man who dreamed of having a better job one day. The thing to remember is that bailiffs don’t really want the hassle of carrying your goods to their van, if you don’t have the money they’ll write a ‘Walking Possession Order’, which is a list of goods that they will take if you don’t settle the debt within a given time-scale. As long as you make payments you shouldn’t see the bailiff again (the best advice with regard to bailiffs in the UK can be found at ). Unfortunately this meant I was giving more money out when I was already flat broke. Life goes on, but life doesn’t wait for you to get back on your feet. I had to find a new way to live

The realisation that knowledge was more important than money in turn helped me to realise that, in our throwaway society you can have everything you desire simply by replacing all the ‘mod-cons’ with all the ‘made-cons’.

The best way to avoid debt is to ‘Do-It-Yourself’ rather than ‘Buy-off-the-shelf’. It’s relatively easy to grow your own food, there’s already a huge movement back to allotments and, as allotments get harder to find, many people are turning their hand to guerilla gardening (see, but there’s no reason to stop there. I’m wasn’t much of a gardener, guerilla or otherwise, so I focused on other skills and have used them in exchange for freshly grown food.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time at Access Space in Sheffield a few years ago where they use ‘end-of-use’ computers to provide people with free ICT training and equipment. People who visit Access are taught how to ‘upcyle’ a computer using GNU/Linux and Free Open Source Software (FOSS); studies have shown that this can effectively double the usable lifespan of a computer. Upcycling is a process conceived by German chemist Micheal Braungart and architect William McDonough whereby end-of-use, disposable materials (especially items that are usually considered ‘waste’) are transformed into objects that have a greater usefulness – which, in turn, creates greater value. Braungart and McDonough argue that the present industrial system, one which “takes, makes and wastes”, can become more sustainable through a system of “lifecycle development”. But we don’t need to wait around for business and industry to finally get their act together, we can already turn the existing “take-make-waste” principle on its head by taking their waste and making something new from it, thereby retro-fitting a ”lifecycle development” policy to any old junk we can find. What’s more we can save ourselves a small fortune in the process.

The utter wastefulness of consumerism means that there are no end of available materials which can be used for upcycling and with landfill taxes and the new Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive – which makes it more expensive to get rid of electrical goods – many people are only to happy to let you take their ‘rubbish’ – some companies will even pay you to take it away. Some projects – like turning an old X-Box into an ‘Ultimate Multi-Media Centre’ or an old laptop into a ‘Home Server’ are high-tech and geeky, but upcycling isn’t an altogether new idea; many people still remember the ‘Rag-Rugs’ their grandmothers used to make (rugs made out of old sackcloth and torn strips of rag). There are thousands of upcycling projects to be found on the internet, from a greywater filtration system made from old bathtubs to a passive solar shower made from the backs of old fridges, the Upcycler – or Uppie – is limited only by their own imagination. As the Tory imposed cuts bite deeper more and more people will realise just how wealthy we can really be once we turn our back on money.

The Uppie ‘upcycles’ everything that they possibly can in each and every aspect of their daily life; they live by Henry David Thoreau’s maxim “Never buy what you can make.” Indeed Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ may be considered a primer for Uppie living, but despite having sympathy for Thoreau’s wish to “live deliberately” the Uppie is not anti-consumer or anti-technology, rather we seek to take back control of our lives by utilising (and openly sharing) technological, engineering and artistic skills to avoid the excesses of blind consumerism; this has a positive effect on our personal health, the health of the planet and the health of our bank balances. In fact the thrifty, creative Uppie can be seen as the antithesis to the greedy, ultra-consumerist Yuppie; ironically the Uppie is in a position to be financially more secure than the Yuppie ever was.

In case you’re wondering how much of an Uppie I’ve become I’m using an upcycled laptop to write this article, I get all my eggs from a friend who’s website I’m building using upcycled ICT equipment, I wear 100% upcycled clothes – nowadays I believe that all designer labels are made from 100% pure wool, that’s to say they are a covering for sheep – I’m using a stack of old tyres to grow a tower of spuds and am about to start work on building a bike from spare parts that I find at the side of the road. In short, I’m enjoying the wealth that my poverty has opened my eyes to.

Escaping the mind forged manacles of debt is not an escape from poverty (that day will be decided by society, not individuals), but it is a welcome and necessary step away from the dangerous mythologies of consumerism that are currently causing widespread misery and anxiety. I am presently in the ridiculous situation of having to save up enough money to pay for my own bankruptcy, but at least the term bankrupt no longer holds any fear for me. Once I have finally put my old, consumer lifestyle behind me I will work to collate and distribute Uppie projects and concepts in any way I can – in the meantime if you’d like any tips then why not check out the following sites…

And if you’d like to become an Uppie feel free to get in touch for further tips 😉

Meet the ‘Crunch Bunch’ Pt 1: No More A Money-Slave


The following post is the first part of an article which was originally published as ‘Repo Man’ in The Idler 42: Smash the System.

It’s a frank look at why low-income families like mine can suddenly find themselves struggling with debt. It does however have a happy ending 😉



Meet the ‘Crunch Bunch’

(or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Recession)



I am – if judged by economists, bank managers or the media – a broken man; a victim of the global recession which is bringing hardship to the lives of millions of people around the world. My family are just one among the tens of thousands in the UK who have already had their home repossessed. We have learned first hand what it means to be threatened by creditors, debt collectors, the courts and bailiffs. For a while we fell victim to the fear, stress and despair that this system is designed to create, but we came to learn that every cloud really does have a silver lining.

I must confess that I have never understood money and I have never held wealth (or indeed the wealthy) in very high regard. At school I had one of those awful old-fashioned, no cane – no gain, teachers who seemed to sneer contemptuously at the world every time he opened his mouth; he actually laughed when he told us that the American Indians “gave up their lands for beads and blankets” (he chose to omit the part about ‘guns and disease’) and I remember thinking, even then, that money seemed so very much like ‘beads and blankets’ to me.

I live in one of South Yorkshire’s former mining communities. Since the pit closures this region has become officially one of the poorest in Europe. Almost 1 in 3 people live in ‘breadline’ poverty (breadline poverty is a level of poverty which excludes people from partaking in “the norms of society”). The childhood poverty rate of my eldest son’s comprehensive school is around 80% and the number of children from impoverished families that go on to attend university has not improved nationally since the early 1970s. This situation has led to a climate of low aspirations and some rather insular attitudes in our communities – on the bright side at least we still have some semblance of community.

Maybe my own complacency was due to my social background, or maybe I didn’t possess the tendency for greed that is so celebrated by the purveyors of the puritan work ethic; either way I was quite happy living on minimum wage in a council house with my young family. But today’s ex-mining towns are little more than housing estates set in semi-rural locations and they have all the problems usually associated with inner city estates; drug addiction being the biggest and most destructive problem of all.

Mrs J. was a one of the regions most successful drug dealers; so successful in fact that she actually used a small van to deliver her wares to neighbouring towns and villages; unfortunately Mrs J. moved onto the street where we lived. To be honest I don’t really care if people use drugs; but people who allow themselves to be used by drugs are a real pain in the arse. When we found needles on the lawn where our children played we knew we had to get away from the area if we could. When a friend of a friend said that they were selling a house for a price that even we could afford we jumped at the chance.

It took us some time to get a mortgage; due in part to the fact that we were low paid and high risk, but also because few mortgage lenders believed that it was possible to buy a house so cheaply! The mortgage rate was a little high, but we were too blinded by the light that had appeared at the end of our tunnel to worry about a little thing like interest; besides it’s a well established fact that the poorer you are the more things cost you.

A lot of people are surprised that poor families sign up for loans from companies which charge extortionately high interest rates. This situation is not just down to despair, ignorance a lack of alternatives; many people grow up with door-to-door loan companies and the person collecting the debt is usually well known to the family. Every week there’s a familiar knock at the door: “It’s Bill” – “Ask him if we skip today and can pay extra next week?” – “He says OK, but will you be needing another loan with Christmas coming up?” – etc. If Credit Unions called at people’s doors each week I’m sure the uptake would be much higher than it is.

When we finally got a ‘yes’ from the mortgage company we were thrilled; the kids would be safe from the recklessness of Mrs J’s clientèle. Unfortunately, in our haste, we had forgotten the old adage ‘you only get what pay for’ and it wasn’t long before the rot – quite literally – set in. We knew the house had old fashioned painted wooden windows, but it turned out that they were more paint than wood. Within days of moving in I opened the front window and the bottom of the frame fell off. It was closely followed by a pane of glass which dropped like a guillotine and embedded itself in the front lawn where, for a brief moment, it quivered like the sword of Damocles. This led to our first ‘home improvement’ loan. As with most things in life, the first time was awkward, embarrassing and over in a flash – I’d spent the equivalent of nearly two year’s wages on doors and windows, but not to worry, it was only £x-a-month for a decade or so.

One of the double glazing salesman’s favourite lines was ‘added value’; the logic being that you get into debt, but it’s debt that adds value to your house, so it isn’t really debt – except, of course, it really is debt.

Next we ‘added value’ by redecorating; then we ‘modernised’ the bathroom; then we landscaped the front garden. Holidays and Christmases came and went and we borrowed more because we were paying out too much to our creditors to save money the way we used to do. Then the boiler broke, but I don’t think the new boiler ‘added’ anything but another £1000 to our already spiralling problem. The situation was ridiculous, but as long as house prices were on the up and we were ‘home-owners’ (a nice little metaphor which disguised the fact that the banks and money-lenders were our absentee landlords) we were offered more and more ‘credit’.

Ever noticed how the money men use language to disguise the reality of the situation. For instance, ‘credit’ is used when they really mean ‘debt’ and a ‘debit card’ describes a facility that ensures you cannot spend more than you already possess – which actually protects you from debt and keeps you in credit; it’s the same strategy that governments and generals use when they talk about ‘defence’ rather than ‘war’ – Orwell would have recognised the necessity of this.

A number of factors (that would double the length of this essay if I were to talk about them here) came together and we began to struggle to make ends meet. Bizarrely our first threatening letter came from General Electric (GE); which surprised me because I wasn’t even aware that they were one of my creditors – apparently they now owned one of the finance companies I had dealt with. GE are one of the largest corporations in the world, they make most of their immense fortune from the arms trade and through the reckless pollution of our planet’s seas and skies – and now they had their grubby little sights set on me. Not only were GE the first to threaten us, they would be the first to seek legal action. Within months of that first letter the Magistrate’s Court would grant GE a repossession order on our home (the same Magistrate’s Court would later side with the council when they chased us for council tax on a house that the magistrates had already allowed to be repossessed – which, of course, only added to our impoverishment).

Impoverishment is very stressful and the money men think the best thing they can do to help is add to your stress. First they add additional costs – how Kafkaesque the law remains, let’s punish the poor with financial penalties – and then they threaten to take your home from you. You end up getting a sick feeling in your stomach every time the letter box rattles. And they wonder why it is that you begin to ignore their letters.

Stress (internalised fear) is the weapon of choice for the capitalist system; a human being with raised levels of anxiety is far easier to control – and as an added bonus they tend to go shopping (which brings down their anxiety in the short term, but only adds to the problem as a whole). In a consumer world the threat of losing possessions can be very traumatic. The threat of losing your home – and all that the word ‘home’ implies – can be crippling.

Stress is the unsung epidemic of our times; what once saved our lives is now killing us in our millions. Where once we were threatened with becoming tomorrows sabre tooth tiger shit; we are now threatened with losing our possessions or our jobs (which equates to the same thing); this is what makes the mortgage such a reliable form of mental bondage. Where once we would either flee from a predator or hit it with a big stick; we now internalise the issue and allow a toxic cocktail of chemicals to course through our veins and poison our bodies every time we feel threatened. We act as if stress were purely psychological, but the more stress we endure the more physical the condition becomes; low level stress gives us headaches and symptoms similar to having a cold or flu, but over time stress will lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and other serious conditions.

The debt collection industry knows exactly which buttons to press to induce more stress and their daily threats – which, at the time, I perceived as threats against my family – came very close to having the desired effect. But then something clicked; first for my wife (who’s Barnsley blood seems always to choose ‘fight’ over ‘flight’) and then for my-more-cowardly-self; we began to ask questions – questions like “What are we really going to lose?”

I had convinced myself I was fighting for my family, but in truth I was fighting for things. All that the banks, money-lenders, collection-agencies and courts were really threatening to take from me – and all that I really had to ‘lose’ – were material possessions. I suddenly realised that I had allowed these things, these latter day ‘beads and blankets’, to become my manacles. Capitalism promises ‘freedom’ through private ownership, but in reality our possessions are the very thing that keep us from true liberty. Perhaps it’s time to let go?

The true value of an item lies not in it’s material existence, but in the knowledge and skills needed to create the object in question. Knowledge is tightly controlled in the same way that De beers controls the flow of Diamonds, OPEC controls the flow of oil or Guggenheim controlled the flow of copper (this ‘philanthropist’ was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in South America when he refused to sell ore from his mines – but never mind, their loss was art’s gain). The logic is simple; control supply and you control prices. This process leads to exploitation and the weakening of real democratic political processes. Unfortunately we seem only too happy to exasperate the problem; whenever we let other people produce our everyday items – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – we submit to them a portion of our independence – and we do so in the name of ‘convenience’.

The good news is that we live in the ‘communication age’, which means that it is harder than ever for power-mongers and profiteers to keep a lid on knowledge. A quick scan of the internet can provide cheap and effective solutions for most of our needs – and quite a few of our desires as well!

The second part of this essay focuses on how my family and I came to realise that you can live a much happier life when you refuse to be a slave to money. It looks at free/low-cost, practical, DIY solutions to the ongoing problems created by the credit crunch.

Pre-order Vol. 2 of the Dark Mountain anthology

Volume 2 of the Dark Mountain anthology, probably one of the most honest and important publications currently being produced, is now available for pre-order. Click here for further details.

As a self-funded project pre-orders are vital, order your copy here…