Mary Clear, death doula and kindness propaganda gardener

Episode 3 notes/blog

On the wooded hillside in Todmorden adjacent to a supermarket and its car park - as viewed from the car park.  The word 'kindness' in white letters and Hollywood font .
On wooded hillside in Todmorden adjacent to a supermarket and its car park – viewed from the car park.

Transcript

Follow this link for a transcript of the episode.

Description

The Incredible Todmorden Way. This is a photograph of a stylised and hand painted map of Todmorden located on a sign board positioned adjacent to an Incredible Edible planting bed and little library on Burnley Road. The map shows Incredible Edible landmarks.

This episode of Time is Sliding is a natural progression from the previous two. That’s because it starts on the theme of death and dying.  It then moves on to cover the community growing phenomenon known as Incredible Edible Todmorden. This has garnered a great deal of attention from across the world and is sometimes described as propaganda gardening. The common thread that connects these two themes is kindness.  You’ll hear about all of this from Mary Clear, the chairperson of Incredible Edible Todmorden. She’s a great speaker and a fun interviewee. 

Mary received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2011 for her work in the community. Whilst this was awarded under the British honours system, she’s certainly not an establishment figure. Her Twitter profile (@thelonggoodby) gives a much better indication of how unique she is. This is what it says: “Dreamer – activist – Death Doula, a woman on the edge of adventure. I sleep like a baby. I am afraid and brave. I believe in change and kindness.” 

A few years ago, Mary along with Hannah Merriman and Sue Robinson established the award-winning week-long Pushing Up Daisies festival of death and dying in Todmorden. This ran for a few years and you’ll learn more about it from Mary including the reasons why it hasn’t continued. The resources section below includes a video recording of highlights of the Pushing Up Daisies festival in 2017. It was made by the Lien Foundation, a Singaporean philanthropic organisation that seeks to inspire social change in Singapore.

During this episode, Mary explains what a Death Doula is and talks with passion, compassion and wisdom about the work she’s involved in to support the dying. This includes helping people to have open conversations about the many aspects of death and the processes of getting there. 

A collage of photographs depicting a little library and colourful play barge located adjacent to the Rochdale Canal's tow path on the boundary of Todmorden heading towards Hebden Bridge.

On Incredible Edible, you’ll hear about its aims, what it does and its guiding principles.  One of the most important of those principles is kindness. ‘Vegetable tourism’, little libraries, doing rather than talking about doing, paralysis by fear, how to bring about change around you, and in yourself, litter-picking, breaking rules and taboos about eating eggs all enter the conversation.  

Before the interview, I found the following quotes from Mary:

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”. 

“If you don’t want to do anything, just follow the rules.” (TedX talk 2012). This is elaborated on in this episode.  

There are some great one-liners that come up during the interview too.  Here’s some:

“Every day above ground is a blessing.”

“Kindness is contagious. When money doesn’t step in the door, another piece of magic happens.”

“Money is never a problem.”

“If you talk too much, you will be paralysed. Fear paralyses people.”

Mary’s activism is rooted in Todmorden, a Yorkshire market town that’s very close to Lancashire physically as well as in its collective mind. It’s nestled in the Calder Valley that runs through the South Pennine hills of England.  Todmorden has a population of around 15,000, around 10,000 fewer than when it was a bustling cotton mill town during the industrial revolution.

A photo of Todmorden viewed from a hillside. The pointed spire visible in the photo is part of the Unitarian Church, the epicentre of Incredible Edible's work. The picture shows houses and other buildings with many green trees around them. In the foreground are two wind turbines.
Todmorden viewed from a hillside. The pointed spire is part of the Unitarian Church, the epicentre of Incredible Edible’s work.

The interview with Mary was recorded in her own home because our plan for a covered but open-air setting was too windy on the day.  During the same week in August 2021, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its scary assessment of what is in store for humanity if it doesn’t change its ways. Click for YouTube video: The latest IPCC report explained in 7.5 minutes.

Chapters

The episode has the following chapters with timings:

Intro 0:00
Pushing up Daisies 6:15
What’s a death doula? 16:46
Mary featured in the London Science Museum Medicine Galleries 20:33
The kindness goes on after Pushing up Daisies 21:52
Incredible Edible Todmorden 25:33
Ashamed of her generation and making amends through activism 42:26
Complying with rules 47:51
Chicken eggs, Napoleon and the Irishman 53:54
Thanks to Mary 56:42
Mary’s lost recommendations 57:19
Outro 59:30

A photograph of the Incredible Edible mural on the wall of Todmorden Library and facing lock gates on the Rochdale Canal. There are many plants in front of it and a bench for sitting on.  The mural features a girl in front of a scene including the Stoodley Pike monument on a hill near Todmorden, the Unitarian Church, railway arches, a sign for "Pollination Street" - an area of derelict land reclaimed by fruit and vegetable planting and a grassed area for social gatherings and events.

The Incredible Edible mural on the wall of Todmorden Library and facing lock gates on the Rochdale Canal.

Resources

Pushing Up Daisies & Death Doulas

Mary mentions that she trained as a death doula in Lewes.  This is a place in East Sussex, England. Membership of End of Life Doula UK can only be gained after a death doula has completed a training course or is a current trainee. 

National Dying Matters Awareness Week:

https://www.dyingmatters.org/AwarenessWeek

Emmerdale was referred to during the interview when discussing hospital beds.  Emmerdale is a long-running British soap opera set in a rural Yorkshire village. More information here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmerdale

Information and video of Pushing up Daisies made by Singaporeans from the Lien Foundation who visited the festival in Todmorden in 2017:

http://aftercicely50.com/#section1

Not mentioned but Pushing up Daisies in Scotland: https://pushingupthedaisies.org.uk

Mary featured in the London Science Museum Medicine Galleries

General information about the Medicine Galleries can be found here:

https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/medicine-wellcome-galleries

The kindness goes on after Pushing up Daisies

Humankind. A hopeful history.  Rutger Bregman, Bloomsbury Publishing 2020 (2019 as De Meeste Mensen Deugen by De Correspondent in the Netherlands):

https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/humankind-9781408898956/

Incredible Edible Todmorden

Web site with lots of resources, blog, photos and videos:

https://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk

Mary talks about Gig who runs Todmorden’s famous pub. It’s called the Golden Lion.

Here’s a blog about Gig’s trip to South Korea and Japan on behalf of Incredible Edible Todmorden:

https://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/blogs/incredible-matthanee-trip-to-south-korea-and-japan

Mary refers to ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.  That’s a film about Dian Fossey, a scientist who went to Africa to study and later protect mountain gorillas. Details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorillas_in_the_Mist

Wise Women Working For A Kinder World: Mary Clear at TEDxBradfordWomen:

Ashamed of her generation and making amends through activism 42:26

During this wide-ranging chapter, Mary is critical of the Transition Movement for being too focussed on the harm being inflicted on the planet and action being curbed as a result. Information about the Transition Network here.

Mary uses the phrase “small is beautiful” in this part of the episode. The origins of that phrase lie in the book of the same name by E.F. Schumacher. Read more about that here.

Complying with rules

There is a reference to catalytic converters that implies a connection to lead poisoning.   Since the 1920s, lead had been added to petrol to boost engine performance but it was discovered to be harmful to human health, especially children. Catalytic converters are fitted to vehicles that run on petrol to control the exhaust emissions of harmful pollutants but not lead.  In fact, catalytic converters are damaged if a vehicle is fuelled with leaded petrol.  

Leaded petrol was banned for use in car engines in the UK from 1st January 2000 (along with many other countries at different dates) although there was a minor exemption for ‘classic cars’.  It was only in July 2021 that it was no longer for sale in Algeria, the last country in the world to make that happen. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetraethyllead