100 Miles and 2 Mouths

In the summer of 2015 Holly Black and Jo Barker decided to only eat food from within 100 miles of their home city Bristol, for an entire year to find out what it truly means to eat local. See if they made it...

A BlackBark Films documentary short, this film follows their journey through the highs and lows as new feasts are foraged, old traditions explored and tantrums are thrown at the loss of comforting eating habits.


Even in 2016, listening to our bodies is a radical idea

Frist published in the Bristol Cable.

Bristol company Coexist have caused a media sensation by discussing a ‘period policy’ for its majority female workforce – the shocking idea that women who need to take time off to deal with menstrual pain should be able to.

While most coverage was supportive or ambivalent, some commentators such as the callers on LBC radio slammed it as ‘a very convenient girly card’, and unfair to men. It seems acknowledging that severe period pain, is, well, painful is still a radical idea in 2016. And that’s not even taking the feminist politics into account.

Bex Baxter, a director of Coexist and facilitator and life coach, is not entirely sure why this story has been so big, but wonders if it could be the phrase ‘period policy’ itself.

“The word ‘period’ represents the core of life – what it is to be a woman, and ‘policy’ represents the patriarchal mechanism to control people to make sure they don’t abuse the system,”  Baxter says. The combination of these two words presents us with an unexpected combination of ideas that seem to be in tension with each other.

Coexist, who manage Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, announced their plan to create a period policy for their staff in February, aiming to recognise and plan work around employee’s natural cycles.

The Coexist policy is currently in process and will address all natural cycles, including the menstrual cycle. Baxter says that even in it’s most basic form, any period policy at all – even voluntary – is radical, “We offer choice. Some women might not want to take it, but we will support women if they think it’s beneficial to them.”

 “It is revolutionary… It’s about truth.”

Headlines latching on to the idea that women could be given time off work due to bad period pains have almost universally missed the wider point. They’ve instead highlighted that capital is the priority as opposed to health, menstruation has been medicalised, and talking about periods in general is still taboo. For Baxter it’s much bigger than one day off work a month.
“It is revolutionary. It is groundbreaking work. It’s about truth. The reality is that women have periods and they shouldn’t be a problem – they’re not a sickness.” Baxter said, “Sickness can occur when natural cycles have been repressed, because women are not being given permission to recognise and work with these cycles.”
Behind this policy is a way of valuing our natural cycles in all aspects of our lives – not just the workplace, suggesting that humans are cyclical beings trying to fit into a linear society.
Baxter thinks we are misinformed about our menstrual cycles:
“Even for women it’s taboo, they are embarrassed and ashamed of their periods, feeling that these natural cycles repress them, making them the weaker sex. This is old debris but still in our consciousness.”
The power of our menstrual cycle can be used intelligently for emotional help. “When this happens,” Baxter said, “women become powerhouses.” Could this be the beginning of a self-care revolution?

As Baxter argues, resistance is an opportunity for change and Coexist are happy to be the first to the party, even if they are not exactly sure why this story has been so explosive. “If we at Coexist can begin to pull it apart, then it might give other people confidence to explore it for themselves.”

Baxter confirms that this could be the beginning of something bigger,  “Women in pain is almost missing the point, but it is a starting point. I don’t mind wherever anyone is in the conversation as long as the conversation is happening.”


Lift leg, place foot down, take a step

First published on Medium.

Recently, whilst I was in India, I had a sudden realisation. It hit me when we were halfway up a huge hill on a forest trek with a group of school children. I was sweating through my clothes, panting slightly from exertion and wearing a pair of seemingly over-the-top sturdy boots (in comparison to the sandals of one of our guides). Each time I paused for a breath or for a swig of water I felt tired, but I felt good. Usually any kind of exercise that is constant for an elongated period of time makes me feel sort of guilty. It makes me feel bad about my health, my low levels of fitness and the state of my under exercised heart. I tend to choose sports like climbing, yoga and silks — which take short spurts of energy and strength, combined with resting positions and moments of consideration. Which way does my body move, where is the fulcrum of my balance? Half of this kind of exercise is about understanding your body and solving the riddle of how to use it to it’s best potential, a form of technique or style. The other half is pure strength.

On my way up the hill I realised something. I felt grateful. I felt grateful for my health — rather than the usual feeling of not feeling quite healthy enough. I felt grateful for my knee which has always caused me problems, but seems to be doing so less and less these days. I felt thankful that actually, I do exercise - cycling every day, climbing and doing yoga, and that my body seems to function more or less in a great way. Aches and pains come and go — I occasionally get a cold, but I haven’t had a serious knock out flu for a long time.

I have never really thought of my health this way before. To be proud of my body — not in an aesthetic sense but in a deeper way. I had that little buzz, the little ripple of excitement in my stomach, that I can remember from way back (over ten years ago) when I reached the bottom of the Himalayas after a two week trek in Nepal. Back then I was in Kathmandu, watching the pouring monsoon rain from my humid hotel room, slowly registering that I had climbed the Himalayas. It felt indescribably good. And it felt good in a deep deep place.

Suddenly, I had this feeling again. I felt indescribably good about my body. My bones, my skin, my nerves and my muscles — they all seemed to be working. They were doing what they are supposed to do and it felt like a fucking miracle. Yet, it’s just the human body doing human body things that it’s pre-programmed to do. Lift leg, place foot down, take a step. But even these minute details blew my mind. It was like a moment in a film when someone is brought back from the dead, or given a new body, or made visible for the first time (there should definitely be a film about this if there isn’t already) and they look at their hands as they slowly turn them over… These are my hands. And they do all the things hands are supposed to do. Aren’t they brilliant? YOU ARE BRILLIANT, HANDS, well done.

I wondered why this feeling had resurfaced. When I arrived in India I told myself to stop worrying about my lemons. I asked myself to not wallow over the negative feelings I’d been struggling with in 2015 and to not focus on what happens when I get back to the UK — instead, to just sit with myself. Be present. Try and see India for what it is — a break. A series of moments to appreciate everything that India may mean to me, without pulling it apart. I found myself just sitting much of the time. Listening. Watching. Just kind of ‘being’ (whatever that means). At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but now, back on my home turf, I feel as though it has allowed me to see the good alongside the bad. I’ve always turned to words, turned into myself when I feel things are bad — capturing descriptions and frustrations in my private notes. Yet, now the staccato moments that I usually have of seeing the spectacular or of recognising this beautiful life we are all a part of — these moments are lasting longer. They are sitting inside me for longer. The sunset last night still lingers in my mind. The beauty of the winter sunlight drowning me as I cycled home past the dock yard this afternoon feels overwhelming. The bright and simple feeling of my feet on my bike pedals driving me across the city that I love. The funny words in the local paper that made me smile. The little girl in the vegetable shop eating a pear with such detailed dedication that she almost made me cry with happiness.

I don’t really know what this all means, and to be honest, I don’t really mind not knowing. As long as it keeps on happening, I’ll keep on lifting up my legs, placing my feet down and taking another step.