26 ways of looking at hope

Sunlight through trees.

Gathering. Waiting. An opportunity to observe. An older couple sit side-by-side under the multitude of life captured in the Fitzrovia mural, filling the whole side of the building edging the square. He is reading to her from a book called Political Crumbs. She is leaning in to him to hear the words. Nearby, a woman scatters crumbs and the pigeons flock to feed.

The performance is cancelled due to technical issues. The audio transmitter won’t work despite the best efforts of electricians. It was on the theme of consciousness and Virginia Woolf. What would Virginia Woolf do, I think? She would walk.

Walk like a writer. Write like a walker.

It is a privilege to be alive – here – on this crispy blue sky morning. Red berries on the holly trees. Crisp leaves underfoot. To be able to explore. To have this freedom. I take a picture of sunlight through the trees. The London plane trees, connectors between sky and earth.

Trees are solar collectors.

One of Jessica Strang’s flower photographs, wide open pink blossoms, draws me to the window of a shop. A pile of books is next to it, Treadwell’s Book of Plant Magic. It is based on actual magical powers attributed to plants. I have recently been researching the spell of the harebell.

Stephen Iliffe’s portraits of deaf people celebrate the jobs they do and the contribution they make, from focus group co-ordinator to postie, from vicar to artist. The shadows from the plane trees in Brunswick Square Gardens dapple the portraits. The message is that with the right support, deaf people can do anything.

Gathering for a Bookshop Crawl. Two people in berets. A slogan on a bag: “We live for books.” (Umberto Eco).

At Housman’s bookshop, off the busyness of Euston Road, Christine, one of the managers, tells us the history of the bookshop and the building. It is not-for-profit and the offices above provide political campaigning space. The CND peace logo was designed there. The bookshop has the largest stock of radical books in the UK.

A fellow bookshop crawler asks what the definition of radical is. “Left of left. Examining the roots of what causes inequality. Radical means of the root.”

What would it mean it if we lived by the principles of the root? Connecting, supporting, sharing with others. That would be radical.

I buy the lime green-jacketed Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility, edited by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua. A quote at the beginning: “Having hope and maintaining hope is a chore. And that’s something we should be honest about. Right, it’s work. It’s not easy to be hopeful all the time. That’s the beautiful part about having people around you who are encouraging and who are constantly reminding you that you are built for this moment, that you are meant for this moment, that you are right for this moment.” (Tarana Burke, in conversation with Ai-Jen Poo).

Geraldine and Barley, are the welcoming mother and daughter partnership who run Atlantis Books. The bookshop has been running for 101 years, and it has been in their family for three generations. They specialise in books on magic, witches and the occult.

“Being a witch is about practical ways of making life better. Do a clear out when the moon is waning. Bring in the new when the moon is waxing. But it’s in danger of being taken over by the wellness industry.” I buy a book on Celtic Tree Magic.

“The braver you are, the better life gets.”
Notes to Strangers, spotted on a lamppost.

“Poetry can’t solve the climate crisis. But we can grow awareness of the crisis we are in, add to the conversation.” Kate Noakes is introducing a reading of poetry at City Lit. She is reading with Cath Drake.

In one of her poems, Kate describes the painting of a glacier, hanging in a gallery in a shopping mall in Paris. The painting is called The Wreck of Hope. Everyone else is out shopping.

“I must try and be more cheerful to give us some hope,” Kate ends with. It’s a found poem, of old nature writing, from Ladybird books dated 1958. It ends with the lines:
“No one should ever kill owls,
they are much too useful.”
I’m not sure that this gives me hope.

Cath speaks of how it is difficult to hold all the conflicting emotions in the face of the climate emergency. She reads a poem to immerse us in nature, Dhanakhosa, Scotland.
“The mist hung just above the earth
with the illusion of being held, the hope
of a soft landing.”

“It made the impossible seem possible, opposites viable.”
Also from Dhanakhosa, Scotland.

Cath is wearing a Friends of the Earth t-shirt. There is no Planet B, says the slogan. She reads a final poem, as yet unpublished. It is about the karri trees in southwestern Australia, a gum tree, the second tallest trees in the world. I have been among the majesty of these trees.

The poem is in the form of a ghazal, which is in couplets with a repeating line. An audience member, a distinguished poet herself and an expert in this form, says in chat at the end that traditionally the audience would say the repeating line with the poet. It is decided that Cath will read the poem again. She raises her arm to signify when we come in.

Like sunlight through trees.
Like sunlight through trees.
Like sunlight through trees.
Like sunlight through trees.

The beauty of being part of something.

The power of speaking out.

“Cath, tell me there is hope.
I’ve seen it here in the sunlight through trees.”


Inspired by the Bloomsbury Festival 2023 and the following events:
Jessica’s Flowers – photographs by Jessica Strang
Deaf Mosaic – photographs by Stephen Iliffe
Bloomsbury and Kings Cross Group Book Crawl
Nurturing the Planet: Kate Noakes and Cath Drake

Olivia Sprinkel is a sustainability consultant, writer and member of 26. She is currently writing a book about trees.

Photograph by Olivia Sprinkel taken at Housman’s bookshop showing the ‘Climate Crisis’ table displaying the ‘Not Too Late’ book.


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Day 10 (Sun 22 Oct): Olivia Sprinkel