Chapter 3 – Page 6


Paula and Rob headed to Gaia house for the course and that evening Steph and I attended an outreach event run by Schumacher College, upstairs above a pub. As people arrived at the event they picked a table, littered with glossy magazines and one large word written on a piece of paper. I picked Transition. Slowly the tables filled and then Jon Rae the Head of the College gave us a bit of background about their work.

“We run postgraduate, vocational and short courses. There are four areas that the courses are based around. Holisitc science, Sustainable Horticulture, Economics for Transition and Ecological Design.”

We discussed what the word on our table meant to us and cut out pictures from the magazines to make a collage. The conversations flowed from practical experiences people had had to the abstract or deeply spiritual. As each person explained the images they had chosen and what it meant to them there was often a silent pause and thoughtful nodding. Strange that something as commercial and crass as those magazines could generate such a heartfelt exploration.

Some groups created a beautifully integrated single image out of the combined thoughts but we were a little shy to get started in our group and didn’t try to control where we placed our images. As we went round the table each person pasted on their image wherever they felt the urge, or if they were unsure, there would be some discussion about the symbolism.


The following day I hitched part of the way into town and walked the rest along the Dartington-Totnes access for all path. The woodland path runs near a stream but also partly near the noisy main road. Mosses were everywhere and there was a cascade of bluebells on a slope. Passing a boarded up warehouse I instinctively look the other way and I almost blank it from my observations before I realise I’m supposed to be looking at everything, not just the pretty things. I decided it was time to begin my ‘smile tests’.


During the walk I decided I would conduct smile tests. In different towns and situations across the country I would smile at everyone and note the proportion of people that smiled back and try to look for patterns.

Of course, a smile is not a smile. You could smile with your lips closed or open, you could make eye contact or not, your heart might not be in it, your eyes might not be smiling too. What if you were wearing sunglasses? What if the other person was facing into bright sunlight? What if I’m the ‘sort of person’ they don’t like, but they would smile at someone else? Despite all these and many more factors I decided I would try to be as consistent as possible and work out when and why people smiled.

During that day I decided that to be fair I must not be wearing sunglasses and if there were other factors I should note them down. The couple of dozen relaxed walkers on the Dartington-Totnes path all returned my smile without too much effort. A couple of focused runners with headphones did not. On the way into Totnes past a garage and main road the five people I passed all had great difficulty returning the smile, only one managed it and several had headphones on and some were rushing, wearing office clothes. Through the high street headed to Phil’s house, the vast majority of people were already smiling at me. I estimated at least a ninety percent return rate here.

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