Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Lofty Tones

We must do free lunch - says Tony Allen.

Squall 10, Summer 1995, pg. 28.

A mate was over from the States in February, he’s a founder of Stephen’s Farm in Tennessee which was set up in the sixties and is rediscovered every few years by the current wave of anarchs and DIY advocates.

He told me to turn off the light and then waved what seemed like a sparkler in the dark. Piezo electrics apparently. A strip of plastic and a mini gizmo on the end, shake it about and the gizmo sparkles. “The strip is in fact two strips,” he explained, “each with a very ordered molecular structure - one pointing one way and one pointing the other. Any movement creates energy.

“Imagine it twenty foot wide, half a mile long and floating on the sea!” He was getting enthusiastic. “That’d generate some amps and power, a few two bar electric fires, wouldn’t it?” I agreed - I love this sort of talk.

There’s a serious case can be made for a self-sufficient lifestyle, and I’m just the sort of smart-arse urban armchair utopian to make it. The scenario that’s squatting my brain, and most of my mate’s brains, is a rural paradise of eco-warrior communities, permacultured orchards and hemp fields complemented by equally idyllic greened cities buzzing with wild-life, invention and imagination. Nice. And there’s just about enough resources to slot in everybody’s variation and satisfy all but the most die-hard of soul-less materialists. It’s simply a matter of gatecrashing our own fantasy.

Sometime in the late seventies I was wandering round the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit, sneering at the consumerism of it all and resolving never to go there again, when I discovered an exhibit that wasn’t trying to sell me anything. A rather eccentric, middle- aged woman was riding a makeshift exercise bike while knitting and watching the telly. On closer inspection it became apparent that the bike was rigged up to a dynamo and battery and that her leisurely pedalling was in fact generating power for the telly. An elegant PR job for DIY culture and I’ve never forgotten it, although I’ve never done much about it either. Some years later I came across the same technology powering the lights and sounds for the small-scale cabaret tents at summer festivals.

Even more recently I heard tell of a job-lot of pedal power generators going cheap in Amsterdam. It transpires that they are Second World War vintage models, originally designed as auxiliary power supplies for submarines. Which all makes perfect sense when you think about it - a sub gets knocked out of it in battle, engines go down, a few able seamen start pedalling and Hey Presto! - Let there be light!

I spent about ten days at last year’s Glastonbury Festival hanging out with the SQUALL crew in the Green Futures Field, surrounded by eco-buffs building alternative saunas, mud-wrestling and sitting round camp fires. It’s a much more relaxed way to do the festie. Okay, there’s a blip of activity for a weekend in the middle when lots of punters and noisy bands turn up, but for the most part it’s a holiday. I did a couple of stints as MC for the Rinky Dink seven person pedal power stage (a single, a tandem and a double tandem). This year it’s the energy source for the Rainbow Dragon tent and I’ll be there MCing again and persuading the festie-goers to donate their legs and pedal for power.

But why stop there? Every home should have one. If you want to watch telly, net surf, or heat water for the communal jacuzzi; first you have to get pedalling. And for all those who can’t pedal, because they are too old, too young or too ill; forget the energy wasting fun runs and sponsored walks, let’s have “sponsored knees up?” recruiting all those fitness freaks on exercise bikes in health clubs up and down the land - get them doing something useful for a change.

Beyond that, there’s all the excess sexual energy of the pulp gangster generation lolling around waiting to be harnessed. Now I know this must seem dangerously close to advocating a return to national service, but I prefer to see it as a sort of rough blueprint for a new international sport involving teams of testosteroned lads competing with each other to charge up the most electricity.

“Nuclear power? On yer bike.”

Here's more from Tony Allen...
Lofty Tone’s ColumnTony Allen on dead pigeons and other sculptures. Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995.