Sunday, 21 December 2008

I've been to the Panto. Oh no you haven't. Oh yes I have!

This afternoon we went through to Bath to see Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal. It was our first visit and I was taken with the main house. Chris Harris put in another brilliant performance as Dame Trott and I was particularly amused by Jon Monie as Simple Simon.

It's been a few years since we went to the pantomime. We saw a few at the Bristol Old Vic when the girls were young. But then the Old Vic switched to staging plays at Christmas. They were very good but didn't generate the same atmosphere as the panto. It's proper family entertainment. Something for everyone and jolly good fun!

So today was a bit of a trip down memory lane.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Frosty the Snowman

I work part time as a secretary in a primary school. Every year, on the last day of term before the Christmas holidays, my job share and I dress up for work. We've been Christmas trees and elves and this year we were snowmen (although one wee Reception child thought I was Santa!).

We're already working on next year's costume, which will be kept a closely guarded secret until the day.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Who's Bright Idea Was All This?

We are in the throes of major house renovations. It started in the autumn with the installation of a new combi boiler and two new radiators in the living and dining rooms, followed by a loft conversion, continuing with the installation of double glazing to the front of the house, preceding the rendering and painting of the facade and finishing with the stripping of the ground floor floorboards and the tiling of the kitchen and bathroom.

If I tell you that we live in a fairly untidy house packed to the gunnels with stuff that we should have got rid of years ago, you will begin to realise the scale of our predicament. But the sheer horror of it all will only set in when I add that, during the course of these proceedings we have also had to deal with a week's visit from our French exchange student, my younger daughter's exacerbated eczema, the death of my husband's mother, a leaky shower and the flu which laid my younger daughter and me low for most of last week. Happy days!

Still, we're all alive and (relatively) well and the house will look marvellous when it's finished - or at least that's what I keep telling myself. And sometimes I even believe it!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mumbai Memories

I have been shocked and saddened by the reports of the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. I was brought up in Pune, 120 miles south east of Mumbai (or Bombay, as it was then). We didn't visit very often, mostly on our way to and from the UK, but we had number of friends who lived not very far from where some of the attacks have taken place. I loved Mumbai. It was big and brash and boisterous compared to the relative gentility of Pune Cantonment. I never stayed in either of the hotels but I did go through the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (or Victoria Terminus (VT) as it was then). My memories are happy ones: being mobbed by coolies at VT, the lights on Marine Drive, evening strollers along Chowpatti Beach, the grandeur of the Gateway to India, the Indian handicraft emporiums, swimming at Breach Candy, old family friends ...

It's heartbreaking to hear of such acts of violence being committed against foreigners. In all my years in India I never once felt threatened because of who I was. In fact I was always treated with the utmost respect and consideration, even at the hands of complete strangers who had nothing to gain by their kindness. I am sure that these attacks sicken the hearts of the majority of Mumbaites, and Indians, and I hope that this group, whoever it is, is stamped out before it blemishes an otherwise hospitable country.

I've been Tagged - Again!

This time it's by Maisie of Our Greener Year. I've had to go to the sixth folder in my photo file and post the sixth photo. So here goes:


The dancers are from Madrid's Compania Nacional de Danza and were performing at Bristol's Harbour Festival this summer. It was a lovely sunny day and we spent some time watching them and a couple from the Martha Graham Dance Company before moving on to Queen Square where we sat on the grass eating tartiflette and listening to Beth Rowley and Sheelanagig.

I am now supposed to tag 5 others. However, seeing as I've just tagged 6 bloggers within the last 10 days, I don't want to push my luck. So, if any readers would like to take the challenge please go ahead, and let me know when you do so that I can pop over and see your photos.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

I've been Tagged!

Strawberry Jam Anne has tagged me. Apparently this means that I have to tell you six interesting things about myself and then tag six other bloggers. So here goes:
Six Interesting Things about Me
  1. 1. I am a woman with a man's name. My parents named me after one of King Arthur's knights of the round table. This has led to some amusing misunderstandings but has also enabled me to pass every foreign language aural I have ever sat, on the basis that I knew the first question the examiner would ask me!

  2. I was born in Pune (formerly Poona) in western India and spent the first eighteen years of my life there.

  3. I used to rub drains, which is the same as rubbing brasses in churches except that you do it on pavements/streets at night to avoid pedestrians. This led to some very interesting conversations with drunks on their way home from the pub!

  4. I once won the mothers' potato and spoon race at my daughters' school's sports day. I was up against a few serious runners who ran too fast and dropped their potatoes. A textbook illustration of the old adage '(very) slow and steady wins the race'.

  5. I have ridden through the jungle on the back of an elephant - a truly unforgettable experience, including the time the elephant broke wind!

  6. I have sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Suez Canal - not personally, as in a yacht, but as a passenger on a liner. I have also, obviously, crossed the equator when Neptune rose from the sea and decreed that I be given an egg shampoo and thrown into the swimming pool.
Six Tags
    1. Steve Broadway at bigdaddystevieB
    2. Blue Hands at Stuff and Nonsense
    3. Alice at Crumbs...
    4. Maisie at Our Greener Year
    5. Almost Mrs Average at The Rubbish Diet
    6. Mrs Green at My Zero Waste
Just a bit of fun. I won't be at all offended if you'd rather not.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Christmas Bizarre

I spent Friday evening watching BBC Children in Need and icing biscuits for my local church's Christmas Bazaar. I've never been entirely convinced by the combination of churches and bazaars but I feel obliged to do my bit.

I popped in to the church on my way home from the shops, bought a few cakes and biscuits (mainly my own!) and had a cup of tea and a hot dog. There wasn't anything else on offer to tempt me.

If we are going to continue to hold these sales, the challenge is (and I include myself in this) to provide goods and services that are consistent with what we believe in. It's not good enough to be just another retail outlet no matter how charitable.

Do I sound like a grumpy old woman? Should churches hold bazaars? If so what should they be like?

There is a proposal that we meet once a month to make things to sell at the next bazaar. I think this is an excellent idea. It will bring people together, which is exactly what church should be about. Now we just have to decide what to make. Any ideas?

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Jam & Jerusalem

Well here's something I never thought I'd write. I have joined the Women's Institute. Seriously!

A couple of weeks ago, at the Best of Bedminster Show on North Street Green, my attention was drawn to the WI stall, not by the cakes, but by the relative youth of the stall holders and the retro leaflets on the table. I signed up to receive further details and a few weeks later I was invited to attend the inaugural meeting of the Malago Institute, which is where I was earlier this evening.

There were a good number of women present, most of them in their thirties. I went with a friend and her daughter and recognised a handful of others. The meeting was very informal: an icebreaker game, a short introduction, a chance for suggestions for future meetings and the opportunity to sign up - which I did. It seems to me to be a great way to get to know other local women, have fun and make a difference to our neighbourhood - and, of course, eat cake!

It wasn't long after we moved to Bristol that I had our first daughter. The National Childbirth Trust, with its local coffee mornings and amazing secondhand clothes sales, saved me from going stir crazy, and some of the mums I met at that time are still good friends. But life's moved on and so have I, and it's time to look for new friends and new challenges, and I think the WI might be the answer.

Anyway the next meeting is at 8 pm on Wednesday 10 December at Ebeneezer Church on British Road and will have a Christmas theme.

Oh and I voted that we sing Jerusalem at our meetings!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Bristol Green

Bristol has been shortlisted in the competition to become Europe's first Green Capital in 2010. There were 35 applications and we are one of eight on the shortlist, the others being Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Freiburg, Hamburg, Munster, Oslo and Stockholm. 4 out of 5 Europeans live in cities and towns, which not only pose challenges to our environment but can also be the means of their resolution. This award is in recognition of the contribution that local government makes to achieving a sustainable balance and will be given to the city that:
  • Has a consistent record of achieving high environmental standards
  • Is committed to ongoing and ambitious goals for further environmental improvement and sustainable development
  • Can act as a role model to inspire other cities and promote best practices to all other European cities
I'm really chuffed that Bristol is the only British city to make the shortlist and I wish the Helen Holland and the council well in their efforts to go on and win the award.
According to the council website they have already made progress in the Green Capital Action Plan they launched in 2007 including:
  • the expansion of the cycling network, resulting in Bristol being chosen as the UK’s first Cycling City earlier this year, winning £11.4m of government funding with South Gloucestershire Council
  • the implementation of two ‘showcase’ bus routes and the expansion of the Park and Ride schemes
  • the introduction of a Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, which aims to improve accessibility for all as well as improving the quality of the green space. In recognition of the quality of their work, Bristol Parks this year won the Civic Trust National Green Flag Award for Blaise Castle Estate, the Downs, Queen Square and Trooper’s Hill Nature Reserve
  • the formation of the Biodiversity Action Partnership (due to be launched next week), which sets out an ambitious blueprint for the future of Bristol’s wildlife and identifies practical ways to protect and promote local flora and fauna
  • the adoption of the West of England Joint Waste Management Strategy, which will deliver significant reductions in the amount of waste being sent to landfill sites, maximise the efficient recovery of resources, and maintain a long-term commitment to increase waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting
  • a planning application submitted for two wind turbines at Avonmouth to supply up to 20% of the council’s energy needs
And I know that there's a lot of hype and that there's much more to be done besides, but Rome wasn't built in a day.
So well done Bristol!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

God Bless America!

Despite the seemingly interminable build up I am nonetheless thrilled to have witnessed this momentous event.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Christmas


Yes, I know it's rather early to be considering Christmas, although you wouldn't think so from the shops but, if I've got my act together, the October half term is the time I start to get the ball rolling. I look through cookery books and make jars of mincemeat and maybe even the cake. This year I'm going to have to maybe go a step or two further as we've decided to Do December Differently.

I love Christmas and have happy memories of celebrations as a child in India, as a student in Edinburgh and France, as a young adult in London and as a parent in Bristol. What made these occasions special was marking the birth of Christ with the community in which I lived. Sure, there were carols and lights and trees and pudding and champagne and presents, but at the heart of it were friends and family and a new life.

Recently I have become overwhelmed by the growing commercialisation of Christmas, and the pressure to organise the 'perfect' celebration has threatened to ruin the whole event. So when I came across Doing December Differently - an alternative Christmas handbook by Nicola Slee and Rosie Miles I ordered myself a copy. It promised an exploration of how to celebrate Christmas with 'integrity and simplicity' and a solution to the 'intolerable strain' and the 'false and oppressive myths of the ideal family life'. I have read the book and passed it on, having made a note of some of the suggestions it makes. I hope this Christmas will be another one I will look back on with happiness.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Stand Up

Whatever you are doing this weekend (17-19 October) take time to stand up against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals.

In September 2000, 191 of the member countries of the UN set themselves 8 goals aimed at the eradication of poverty and inequality. They are:

  • to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • to achieve universal primary education
  • to promote gender equality and empower women
  • to reduce child mortality
  • to improve maternal health
  • to combat HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases
  • to ensure environmental sustainability
  • to develop a global partnership for development
The target date for the achievement of these goals is 2015. However, at the half way mark no region in the world is on-track to achieve them and some regions are off-track on many of them.
Last year, over 43 million people Stood Up to demand that world leaders keep their promises to the world's poor. This year's aim is to break that record and send an even louder message to our governments.
So wherever you are and whatever you are doing this weekend stand up and be counted!
For details of how to register and add your numbers to the count click here.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Organic Food Festival Update

Recipes from the Organic Food Festival are now on the Bordeaux Quay website.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Credit where credit is due - No thank you!

This morning we received a letter from Barclaycard advising us that our credit limit has been increased by 50% 'to help you make the most of your card'.

We had not asked for our credit limit to be increased and, given that we have never come near the old limit, there would appear to have been no reason why we would require this to happen.

In view of the precarious nature of the current economic climate, tempting customers to borrow more seems to me to be highly irresponsible, which is what we intend to advise Barclaycard when we write and ask them to leave our credit limit where it is, than you very much.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Words Fail Me (... well almost!)

This afternoon I was walking down East Street. A young woman came out of baker's with a sandwich in her hand. As she walked down the road towards me she removed the sandwich from the paper bag it was wrapped in, scrunched it up and dropped it on the pavement. This was quickly followed by the paper napkin. Then she opened the sandwich, and I'm guessing she'd had her 5-a-day at breakfast because she proceeded to remove the slices of cucumber and tomato and drop them one by one to the ground.

It was the casual ease with which she carried out these actions that really struck me - as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

As I said ... words fail me.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Organic Food Festival

On Saturday I visited Bristol's Organic Food Festival. I love this annual event which gets better and better every year. My personal highlights were:
  • Listening to a talk by the West Country's very own Self Sufficientish duo where, amongst other things, I learned how to make an insect house using a plastic bottle and corrugated cardboard. They were so reassuringly down to earth and unpretentious.

  • Watching a cookery demonstration by Sophie Grigson, she of the amazing ear rings. On Saturday she was wearing ones that looked as if they had been made from a tin of pilchards. She prepared a selection of 'white' dishes - a chowder, a Thai soup and junket.

  • Being given samples of organic recyclable female sanitary products and discovering that I can buy them locally

  • Watching another cookery demonstration by Xanthe Clay, whom I had never heard of, but who created several dishes from one duck including confit, which my daughters loved during their recent exchange visit to south west France, and which I would like to recreate for them at home.

  • Discovering Dove Farm's Ezekiel Bread Mix and picking up two packs for £1 each. It's a savoury loaf which apparently goes very well with cheese.
My only reservation about the festival is the amount of waste it must engender but I was pleased to note that most suppliers appeared to be using recyclable containers and utensils and the site was well supplied with recycling bins.
PS If the mention of Sophie and Xanthe's dishes has tickled your taste buds then you will, hopefully soon, be able to access the recipes on Bordeaux Quay's website. However you'll have to wait as they are not there yet.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Zero Waist

I have decided to post my Zero Waste Challenge Week progress in a separate blog which you can find here.

Bristol's very own Zero Waste Challenge Week

Bristol City Council has just announced its very own Zero Waste Challenge Week (Monday 29 September - Sunday 5 October). For anyone who lives in the Bristol area you will find details of this challenge here.

Spurred on by Mrs Green's success I am going to see how close I can get ... and, who knows, I may even go all the way! But whatever I achieve will be better than doing nothing and I hope the good burghers of Bristol will feel the same. I hope to chart my progress on this blog and will be grateful for as much encouragement and advice as you can offer.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Hooray, I'm a Brillante Weblogger!

A week or so ago I logged on to discover, to my amazement and delight, that I had been awarded a Brillante Weblog award by Mrs Almost Average. Thank you very much. Blogging can be a very lonely pursuit and it is always gratifying to receive feedback (especially as positive as a shiny award). I shall treasure it.

One of the 'conditions' of accepting the award is that I nominate 7 other bloggers to receive the same award. Being a relative newcomer I have not yet built up a lengthy blogroll. However these are a few blogs I read regularly, all of which are worthy of this honour:

You are:

bigdaddystevieb - Steve Broadway's the man to blame for my sporadic offerings, as it was his blog that inspired me to start my own. I love reading his views on a wide variety of topics, from football, to football, to football ..... (sorry Steve, I couldn't resist!) ..... to music, to cinema, to education et al. And then there are the captivating photographs that accompany each blog.

Diakonia - Ellen Loudon's refreshingly frank account of life as a newly ordained curate in inner city Liverpool. A follow on from an equally insightful earlier blog about life as a theology student. Plus music and video clips.

3191 A Year of Evenings - No words - just beautifully evocative photos. Another follow on, from (you guessed it) 3191 A Year of Mornings.

Shouting at the Radio - Susan Harwood's pithy one-liners never fail to elicit some form of response.

Stuff & Nonsense - Blue Hands doesn't blog as often as I would like to read her, but when she does her posts are unique expressions of her life and work.

embody - A few months ago I attended an 8-week Happiness for Life Course, run by Bruce Stanley, which gave me a greater understanding of what it means to be happy and how I can achieve this in my own life. This is his blog, packed with loads of interesting stuff. And if anyone would like to enrol on his next course, starting on 8 October, then this is where to look for further details. I would highly recommend it.

Musings from a Stonehead - The tagline (the trials and tribulations of a modern day crofter) make it sound heavy going, but it does him an injustice, as there are plenty of posts to lift the spirit. Observant Observer readers will recognise him as one of the smallholder featured in today's magazine.

I'm now off to notify you of your rewards after which you are free to pass it on to others.

The 'rules', should you chose to follow them, are:

1) Put the logo on your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded you (ie me!).
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on yours.
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

Thank you for your blogs and thanks again Mrs Almost Average.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Today is the first day of Mrs Green's Zero Waste September Challenge Week. While I haven't risen to the ultimate challenge, I have nonetheless pledged to do the following:



  • I will cancel any newspapers or magazines that I no longer read
  • I will offer one unwanted item on Freecycle
  • I will use washable cloths instead of disposable ones
  • I will make and send a recycled card instead of a shop bought one
  • I will start keeping and reusing old envelopes and packaging
This is a very timely dry run for my more ambitious attempt to achieve Zero (or as close as I can get to Zero!) Waste later this month. According to our local magazine Bristol is running a Zero Waste Challenge Week later this month, but despite searching the website and emailing the Council I have been unable to come up with any further details. Hey ho!


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Holiday Recycling

Our fortnight in St Ives was my first holiday since I started taking zero waste more seriously, and I discovered that it is not so easy to achieve as when I am at home in Bristol.

While we were waiting to collect our keys to the cottage we had a cup of tea in the beach cafe. The tea came in a corrugated paper cup which wouldn't have been too bad if there had been a paper recycling bin to pop it in, but it had a plastic lid and the milk came in individual plastic containers.

I hadn't realised how accustomed I'd grown to separating my rubbish and I missed my compost bin and wormery. We looked for the glass bottle recycling bins but they weren't where they used to be and we thought we were going to have to bin our bottles until we discovered a row of colourful recycling bins at the far end of Porthmeor Beach. There was another on Porthminster Beach. So we were atleast able to recycle paper, glass and plastic bottles and aluminium cans.

I was pleased to see that cloth shopping bags were available at the Coop, Seasalt and the excellent Fore Street Deli. They weren't expensive and were rather attractive. In fact, if I hadn't already had such a collection I would have been tempted myself.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Happy Holidays

We've just returned from a fortnight in St Ives. The weather was disappointing. There were only two days when it did not rain at all and only one (our last day) which could accurately be described as warm and sunny. However we did not let this prevent us from having a wonderful time. In fact, our inability to spend whole days on the beach lead to our doing things we might not otherwise have done. Highlights included:

  • visiting the Penlee and Exchange Art Galleries in Penzance and the Leach Pottery in St Ives (the first two were worth a visit including the cafe at the Penlee, but I wouldn't rush back to the Pottery)
  • shopping at the recently introduced farmers' market (where we bought delicious locally produced cheese, sausages, cake, curry sauce and chocolate)
  • attending a concert in St Ia's church given by the Cologne New Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra which was an absolutely brilliant performance by musicians who clearly love their music
  • walking from Zennor to Gurnard's head and back in the mud and rain
  • rising early most mornings to walk along the beach before anyone else got there
  • reading three books (I highly recommend 'if nobody speaks of remarkable things' by Jon McGregor and 'the private parts of women' by Lesley Glaister)
  • watching the Olympics
  • drinking cups of tea and playing Uno and Scrabble
  • attending services at St Ia's church and saying goodbye to Andrew Couch, who has been the vicar ever since we started holidaying in St Ives and who retires in just a few weeks

I could go on and mention sandcastles, mini golf, Cornish pasties, clotted cream ... but I will stop there before I lose you.

As you may gather from the above I positively adore St Ives and can't wait until our next holiday there.

The photo is the view along St Ia Street from our cottage in Burrow Road.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Pledge & Win

For those of you who haven't come across Mrs Green's Zero Waste blog, now is the time to pop over for a visit for, in addition to a variety of interesting and informative posts, there is currently the chance to pledge to reduce your wase and win an attractive eco prize.

Congratulations!

We returned from a fortnight in St Ives to find the brown envelope containing my elder daughter's eagerly awaited GCSE results. She did very well (1 A*, 8 As, 1 B and 1 C), a fitting reward for the tremendous amount of hard work she has put in over the past months.

So today, as promised, we made 'pedas'. In India, where I was born and brought up, important events, such as births, engagements and success in examinations and interviews, are marked by the distribution among family and friends of boxes of 'pedas', a sweetmeat prepared from milk, sugar, pistachios and cardamom. Unfortunately we don't have any Indian sweetmeat marts in our neighbourhood, so we resorted to making them ourselves, and I am pleased with the results A sliver of edible silver paper would not have gone amiss but they look, and taste, pretty good as they are.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Busy Weekend

It's been a busy old weekend!

On Saturday we visited Bristol's International Harbour Festival. Although, as its name suggests, it's centered around the harbour, we almost missed the boats out altogether, there was so much else to do. We started with two pieces of modern dance, the first from the Martha Graham Dance Company from New York and the second from the Nacho Duato's Compania Nacional de Danza from Madrid. The photo is of one of the Spanish dancers. Next we wandered round the French and Italian street markets where we bought some tartiflette (an unctuous combination of potatoes, bacon, mushrooms, double cream and Reblochon cheese) washed down with a mango lassi (from the Indian food stall!) Finally we found ourselves a space on the grass and settled down to enjoy an afternoon's musical entertainment. First on was Asere, a lively Cuban band, followed by Beth Rowley, Bristol's up and coming R&B/soul singer, and rounded off by my favourite, Sheelanagig, a delightfully wacky folk band.

This afternoon we walked up to Goldney Gardens for the annual Amnesty International Garden Party. The rain held off long enough for us to browse the stalls, sign a few postcards, buy a few books and take a turn round the garden. Which took us nicely to our favourite local band, Fromage en Feu's, slot in the Orangery. We sat and drank tea and ate cake to their lively music before heading off down the hill. Fromage en Feu are apparently releasing their first album in September and if it's as good as their live performances then it'll be worth the investment. Meanwhile they are on at the Tobacco Factory next Sunday evening at 8 pm.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Man on Wire

Yesterday afternoon Steve & I went to see Man on Wire, the story of Philippe Petit's spectacular tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. What an incredible man who, after seeing a diagram of the towers in a newspaper in a dentist's surgery, drew a line between them and determined that, when they were built, he would walk along that line.

It has been described as 'the artistic crime of the 20th century', Petit talks about it as a 'performance' and that is what it is, a ballet dance more than 1,300 feet above ground. Perched on that wire high above our heads, his face lit up with the sheer exhilaration of his achievement, he looked like an angel.

Although the film made no reference to the fate of the towers 27 years later, viewing footage of them under construction so soon after having seen them destroyed, was very moving.

For Steve's review see his man on wire.

PS In addition to being thoroughly entertained I did also add another word to my French vocabulary. 'Funambule' is the French for 'tightrope walker'.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Blowing my own Trumpet

This morning I received an email from Timothy Latz to let me know that my application to have my blog entered in the Best Green Blogs Directory has been successful, which I am very pleased about.
I received another email from a friend who sent me the link to A Month without Plastic, Christine Jeavons' attempt to live plastic free for the month of August. She plans to blog about it and the link to this will appear later today.

Funnily enough I was planning to do something similar myself in September and use this month as a dry run, to monitor the plastic I buy and throw away, to assess the enormity of the challenge and to consider some of the alternatives. So I shall be following Christine Jeavons' experiment with interest.
Christine Jeavons is, of course, not the first to blog about such matters. One of my favourites The Rubbish Diet, features in my sidebar.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

How to Recycle Plastic if you live in Bristol

On my way to the pub last evening my attention was drawn to our local Aldi car park by a loud rattling noise. I peered through the bushes to discover that it was caused by a Recresco van emptying the plastic recycling container. I've never given much thought to how the container is emptied but I now know that this is achieved by connecting it to the lorry with a large plastic pipe and sucking the bottles out into the lorry where they are compressed. Apparently plastic is very expensive to recycle on account of its volume, and compressing it to a tenth of its original size makes collecting and transporting more efficient and therefore more economic.

I'd been minded to contact Bristol City Council to clarify exactly what kind of plastic I could legitimately place in the recycling container, but seeing the Recresco lorry prompted me to go straight to them instead. Their website was most informative and I have pasted below their definitive instructions regarding the recycling of plastic using their containers. This has cheered me up as it allows me to recycle even more than I thought I could!

WHAT CAN I PUT IN THE PLASTIC BANK?

This is a question we are asked a lot! It's difficult to list every single type of plastic container, there's just too many. So here is a guide:

We would like Plastic containers with ID numbers 1-2 as long as they are not excluded in the list below. If there is no Plastic ID on the item, the general rule, “Plastic Bottles” should be followed. This is because most plastic bottles are type 1 or 2. So you can be fairly certain that your plastic bottle will be acceptable. Any of the items described above can be recycled regardless of whether it has been recycled previously, that’s the great thing about recycling!
LIST OF UNACCEPTABLE ITEMS
We do not accept:

- Plastic Type 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,
- Plastic Toys
- Plastic Bags
- Cling Film or Bubble Wrap
- Non Plastic Items
- Video Cassettes- Drain Pipe
Any items that do not fit through the round opening in the bank as these damage our machinery.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Tate Bedminster

I mentioned in my birthday blog that I had received a card from my younger daughter which I was going to stick up on my kitchen cupboard door. So I thought I'd lead a guided tour around my existing collection.


I'm starting with the corner cupboard. Top left is a list of Riverford organic fruit and vegetable boxes, out of date as they now offer many more than the three boxes featured. They have an excellent website from which I order online. A couple of weeks ago we ordered our first meat box. Some of it's still in the freezer but what we've eaten so far has been excellent, the porchetta being particularly delicious.

Immediately below is a Corn Street Market postcard which I will deal with later.

Bottom left is our refuse collection schedule. Bristol's making serious attempts to reduce the amount of refuse that ends up in its landfill sites. We have a weekly kerbside collection (paper, cardboard, glass, cans, kitchen foil, battery, shoes, rags) and a kitchen waste collection. All other rubbish is collected fortnightly. Christmas trees are collected in January. Plastic bottles have to be taken to collection points in supermarket car parks (why do they make it so difficult for pedestrian recyclers who have to take their lives in their hands to reach the bins?). A recent development is the tetrapak recyling point in the Asda car park. The recycling website is reasonably helpful.

Bottom right is a flyer for St Nicholas Market. This is a vibrant shopping centre in the heart of Bristol. Running right through the centre is a row of stalls selling the most tempting food from around the world - pasta from Italy, olives from the Mediterranean, pies from Bristol, Jamaican curries, fresh soup and salads, wheat grass juices, North African couscous, local sausages, Portuguese stews and Welsh cheese. Oh and round the corner there are more curries, this time from India, and a whole food cafe. I sometimes pop in for lunch on Wednesday and am spoilt for choice.

On the open cupboard door is a picture of Nelson Mandela, one of my heroes, about whom I blogged on his recent 90th birthday. What more can I say? The man is truly a legend. I keep his picture here to remind me to continue to strive to be one of that great generation.

The two postcards below were picked up at Bristol's recent Ethical Expo. They advertise Fig1 a shop in Totterdown which sells fairly traded goods. I'm very rarely in that part of town so I can't claim to have shopped there but I liked the artwork and the messages they illustrate.

So there it is. Part 1 of my collection. Part 2 to follow.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Brushing for the Planet

Ever since I read Amost Mrs Average's blog about her wooden toothbrushes I have been worrying about the impact my dental hygiene routine has been having on the planet. I almost certainly don't change my toothbrush as often as is recommended, but when I do it eventually ends up in our local landfill. I use the word 'eventually' advisedly as we keep a supply of old toothbrushes to help in cleaning things with grooves and other inaccessible recesses. Mrs A had discovered wooden toothbrushes and had just ordered one for each member of her family. I wonder how she is getting on with them. I admired the concept but baulked at the price tag of £4.25.

So I continued using my nasty plastic brush until today when I came across the Preserve toothbrush in our local Sainsburys. This brush is made from recycled plastic including yogurt cups from a nearby supplier. It comes with a reusable travel case with ventilation holes. When it's time to replace it you can send the brush and its case back to Preserve to be recycled into plastic lumber for picnic tables, boardwalks and decks. And it only cost £1.99 (although I seem to remember it being on special offer at the moment).

To be fair Mrs A did mention the Preserve brush in her blog but was put off it by the need to ship it back to the States for recycling. Well she need worry no longer because the bush and case can now be returned to an address in Haverhill.

I bought two brushes for the girls for their trip to France. I shall be buying another for myself as soon as my current brush is too worn out to be any longer effective

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Summer Street Party

Inspired by BeanSprouts' recent offering on the subject of her local farmer's market, I thought I would post a few lines about our local Sunday market and illustrate it with some photos taken on my new camera (see Coolpix below).

Our market is held every Sunday in the car park behind the Tobacco Factory. It's an interesting mix of food, clothes, jewellery, art, cleaning products etc. There are a few regulars and other that surprise us. It used to be held once a month but then increased to weekly. I feared this might be too much to hope for, but it appears that I was wrong, and it continues to thrive, even in the most inclement weather.

I don't make it every Sunday but when I do my favourite stalls are those selling food - cheese, jams & pickles, coffee, tea, olives and pies, but I have from time to time picked up various pieces of jewellery as gifts. The best thing about local markets, apart from the quality and freshness of the food, is the opportunity to talk to the producers about what they are selling. They are always very passionate about their wares and, in the case of food, are a mine of information about how to store and prepare it.

Today was a special Summer Street Party. The road outside the car park was closed and there were extra stalls set up along the pavements including a barbecue and bar, with tables and chairs sprawled across the street. It was hot and sunny, Fromage en Feu were playing the tango and the party was in full swing.

If I can remember how to set it up there are photos on my Flickr slideshow to the right, and for those within sustainable transport reach of the Tobacco Factory there are two more Summer Street Parties on from 10:30 am t 4:30 pm on 17 August and 21 September respectively.

Coolpix

Yesterday Alan bought me my birthday present - a new camera. My old camera broke a couple of years ago and I have been borrowing the girls' camera on and off ever since, much to their annoyance.

But now I have one of my own again - a Nikon Coolpix P50 - which is small enough to fit in my handbag and which takes good enough photos for my purposes ie to illustrate this blog. I took a few photos on the way home including this one of the window in the Arnolfini bookshop.

When I was Hungry ...

On Thursday evening my elder daughter took part in a performance of At the Border, an oratorio composed as a sequel to Tippett's A Child of our Time, which she had performed at Easter.

The oratorio was composed by Richard Barnard and written by Peter Spafford, in collaboration with students from my daughter's school. It is, according to the programme, a piece about the effects of ethnic hatred and violence whose aim is to help the students, and the audience, to a better understanding of the plight of those who are forced to flee their homes as a result of war, political oppression or religious persecution.

I was moved by the performance which skillfully combined what I imagine to be the traditional oratorio form with children's songs, an electro-acoustic piece using sound recordings taken at Temple Meads station, a traditional English ballad and a Zimbabwean chorus. The script dealt sympathetically yet honestly with the reasons that force refugees to leave their homes and the reception they receive in the communities in which they seek refuge.

Back in my country, men with guns.
Here in my country, men with forms.

To flee with your life from a land of pain
To lose your life in a land of pain.

In no man's land I become no one,
Future barred as my past fades.

It made for uncomfortable listening but, here atleast, the tide turns when a refugee is offered a token of acceptance, a cauliflower from an allotment!

I can never grasp your way of life.
Yet it clings to my skin changing what is within.
Once there were two countries,
The one in my heart, the one where I live.
Now there are two countries in my heart.

We shall find peace.
We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.

I always enjoy listening to my daughters perform, even if they are 'only' one musician in an orchestra. I played the piano at school which, compared to the violin and viola my girls play, is generally a solitary instrument, and I have always envied them the experience of being part of a larger sound.

PS For Steve Broadway's account of the same performance see at the border.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 49th birthday. It's been a funny old day. I had to be up early to make a special packed lunch for my younger daughter who was setting off on a week's school trip to Wales. While I was cutting the sandwiches an old friend rang and sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone. My younger daughter gave me a retro card which reads 'Oh My God! My Mother Was Right About Everything!' which I shall add to the collection on my kitchen cupboard. She also gave me two bars of Toblerone with a promise of something else to follow when she returns (and, presumably, has saved up enough money!). I found a pile of cards waiting for me when I got to work but didn't take in any cakes/biscuits as I had to leave early to take my daughter to catch her coach and then on to a (boring) course in the afternoon. Fortunately it ended an hour earlier than scheduled and, thanks to a lift from a friend, I was home in good time. My elder daughter had spent all day making me a fabulous cake (an Autumnal Birthday Cake from Magnolia via Nigella Lawson) and a classy homemade card. She gave me a CD of the music from Once, one of my favourite films this year. Our French exchange family phoned from Bordeaux and my sister phoned from Edinburgh. Alan came home and poured me a glass of white wine and has just called me through for dinner. Not a bad day after all.

PS There would be photos of all of the above but our camera's broken and the girls' one is in Wales. However, Alan is going to buy me one for my birthday. He just hasn't decided which one yet.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

I am Striking

Well ... maybe not in the supermodel sense of the word, but as in taking industrial action.

Although a socialist since I was old enough to hold political opinions, I've only relatively recently joined a union. There was, unsurprisingly, no union action in the firm of solicitors I worked for in the City of London! I'm not an active member. Indeed I must confess that I didn't vote in the strike ballot. The envelope remained unopened until after the deadline had passed. I'm not sure I 'd have voted to strike. However, as a staunch believer in democracy, I 'm ruled by the majority decision and have withdrawn my labour for today and tomorrow.

This morning I joined a couple of hundred other strikers for a march from Castle Park to College Green. The sun shone and motorists beeped in support. There were a couple of rallying speeches denouncing the government and congratulating us on our solidarity, and then we sang a song. It was called 'Soidarity Forever' and was sung to the tune of 'John Brown's Body'. The words were hilarious, the second verse in particular, which went like this:

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left for us but to organise and fight?
For the Union makes us strong.'

Rousing stuff eh?

I'm not convinced the strike will have the desired effect. However, it did feel good to have joined with others (mostly women I noted) in letting the government know how strongly we feel about our 2.45% pay award.

PS It's my sister's birthday today. Happy Birthday Morv!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

The End of An Era

This evenng I attended a party to mark the closure of our local post office. Despite considerable opposition the government did not back down from its decision to close numerous local post offices. Our postmaster shut shop at 1 pm on Wednesday 9 July and the signs came down the following day.

Hang on a minute. A party to celebrate the end of a livelihood? Yes indeed. Instead of just walking away our postmaster threw a party to acknowledge the support he had received from the local community. It was a bring and share event in the church across the road, with food and wine, music and singing. We arrived some time after it had started, not knowing what to expect, and were surprised by the attendance - over a hundred people of all ages and backgrounds, from an elderly man in a wheelchair to a babe in arms. Despite the sadness of the occasion this was a community come together to show appreciation for an institution and a person who have served us well over the years.

I wish him well whatever happens next.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Me

I spent all of yesterday in retreat with a dozen or so women in a boathouse on the Floating Harbour. In the afternoon we spent an hour or so in creative activity. I chose to flick through a couple of magazines, cut out images that apealed to me and create a collage to illustrate who I am. This is the finished result.

I brought it home and showed it to my elder daughter, who giggled and remarked on the number of images of food!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

In Praise of Morris

William Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.

I first read these words in the window of a shop down a side street in St Ives and they struck me then, as now, as being a very wise principle by which to manage one's possessions.

I am, by nature, an inveterate hoarder, the result of which is a cluttered house. Friends are kind enough to say it looks lived in but I know it's often a mess. Not only is it difficult to keep clean but it's also a terrible waste of stuff that would be better off elsewhere.

Lately I've been attempting to 'downsize', in other words, get rid of stuff. It's not always easy but there is a real sense of liberation in filling a charity shop bag and carrying it out the front door.

The other side of the equation is attempting not to acquire any more stuff to take its place. This is harder but William Morris' maxim might help.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Fourth Plinth (update)

I have Alan Mann to thank for learning that the Fourth Plinth Competition was won by Anthony Gormley's 'The One and The Other' and Yinka Shonibare's 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle'. On 22 March 2008 I blogged about the competition. I'd voted for Gormley's entry and said that if he won I'd be up for an hour on the plinth. Well it looks as if I may get my wish. Apparently the process by which the 2,400+ 'human statues' will be chosen is being finalised. I'll be keeping my ear to the ground.
There was a challenge to the revolving programme of modern art in the form of a campaign to put a statue of RAF hero Sir Keith Park in Trafalgar Square. It had the backing of the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. However it appears that a compromise has now been reached by which Sir Keith Park's statue will temporarily occupy the plinth in 2010, the 70th anniversary of the Batle of Britian, before being moved to another permanent location nearby.
I've nothing personal against Sir Keith Park but there are enough statues of men in Trafalgar Square already (the other three being George IV, Henry Havelock and Sir Charles James Napier) and two of them were generals. It's time to do something new, something that looks to the future, rather than harking back to the past, something that challenges our preconceptions and encourages us to look at the world from a different angle.
Anyway Gormley's entry won't be on display until 2009. I'll let you know when to look out for me!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Happy Birthday Madiba!

Nelson Mandela is 90 today.

23 years ago I took part in a demo in Hyde Park when we called, once again, for his release and the end of the apartheid regime. I can't remember whether I dared hope at the time that anyone would pay any attention to us, or to the millions of others across the world who were doing likewise. However five years later he walked out of jail and I saw him at Wembley - a small figure on the large stage, but with that now famous smile and a wave of his hand. I watched him at his birthday concert on the telly tonight, suddenly looking much older but still smiling and waving.

I listened to an interview with Stephen Fry who was refreshingly frank about the great man, saying that if, when he dies, as will surely happen sooner rather than later, our hope for the future dies with him, then it will be a tragedy. But he is just a man, like the rest of us, and if he can live for what he believes in then so can we.

In the words of the man himself: 'Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.'

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Couscous

This afternoon Moira and I went to see Couscous at the Watershed. I'd been looking forward to it since I watched the trailer last week and read Philip French's review in Sunday's Observer, and I wasn't disappointed. It's the story of one man's attempt to make something of the last years of his life and to provide for his family and loved ones. It's a long film and the at times jerky handheld camera does not make for easy viewing, but the gritty portrayal of family life is very moving, without ever lapsing into cheap sentimentality. The mounting tension in the second half had me breathlessly willing a happy ending. I won't tell you what happens in case you go and see it, but it was as fitting as it was unexpected.

And then guess what we had for dinner? Yes, couscous. But nowhere as good as the couscous in the film which looked absolutely delicious. Our instant couscous may be convenient but it's not nearly as light and fluffy as I've tasted in North African restaurants in France.

Monday, 23 June 2008

No Parking

We are being consulted on a Residents' Parking Scheme which, if adopted, would oblige local residents to pay for the privilege of parking within their local parking zone. A permit will cost £40 a year but will be free of charge for the lowest polluting vehicles. A second permit will be subject to availability and will cost £80 a year. A third permit will only be granted in exceptional circumstances and will cost £500! The scheme is designed to prioritise on-street parking spaces for the local population and encourage commuters to use other forms of transport, thereby reducing congestion.

As someone who does not own a car this scheme will have little direct impact on my life. (I will be able to buy £1 temporary permits for any car-driving visitors I may receive.) But I will vote for any measure whose aim is to get people out of their cars and into more sustainable means of transport. If only our local bus service were more attractive and less expensive. Perhaps I shall mention this in my response!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

I've decided that this week we shall live off what I find in our fridge and freezer. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly because both are full to bursting and secondly because we're shortly to be receiving a French exchange student and I'd like to be able to stock up on something more interesting than leftover bolognaise sauce (not that my homemade bolognaise sauce isn't quite acceptable) but you know what I mean.

This could be a very interesting exercise as I'm one of those annoying people who doesn't always label the containers I put into the freezer. I'm always confident that I'll be able to recognise the contents by their appearance and smell. I've still not learnt that the process of freezing often alters both beyond recognition. I well remember defrosting what I thought was a juicy stew to go with a bowl of pasta, only to discover that it was stewed apples! Not a good combination.

Still, so far so good. Last night I defrosted a chicken breast which I roasted with olive oil and tarragon to go with the girls' couscous salad in their lunch boxes. This evening Alan and I had a puy lentil and vegetable risotto type dish. The girls had a curry. It was unlabelled. I thought it was chicken but it turned out to be beef in a aromatic coconut sauce, which was fine.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

The reason my fridge/freezer is so full is that I rarely throw anything away. Portions of leftover stew, sauces, roast meat etc are packed into containers, labelled (if they're lucky) and buried in the freezer. Smaller amounts find their way to the fridge, ingredients for the next pan of soup, sandwich or stir fry. Alan is an expert at concocting a delicious meal from a combination of most unpromising scraps. His stir frys are legendary. My dad was good with leftovers too. Could it be a man thing? Or maybe it has to do with them both being Scottish?

I've discovered a very helpful website called Love Food Hate Waste. Sponsored by WRAP its aim is to help us shop and cook efficiently and advice on how to use up anything that does get left over. Apparently we throw away about a third of all the food we buy which is a criminal waste, especially in a world where we can no longer expect to have quite as much as we are used to.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

Even if I'd remembered to take my camera to the allotment on Saturday morning I'd have been too ashamed to post a photograph of our patch, so neglected was its state. Hugh (Fearnley Whittingstall) would have been ashamed of me, especially the amount of time I spend sitting watching his programmes and echoing his philosophy. The thing is, it's not good enough to aspire to a lifestyle unless one is prepared to put in the effort to bring it about. And I have certainly not been putting much effort into our allotment of late.

Still, it's no good wallowing in self criticism, which is what I'm often inclined to do. I have learnt from experience that that does not get me anywhere, except wanting to throw in the towel. Instead I donned my gloves, armed myself with a pair of secateurs and set to clearing a path through the undergrowth. We spent an hour putting it to rights and by the time we left, although it would not have won any prizes for the best kept allotment, it was at least looking more like one. We do have a decent bed of potatoes (thanks to Alan!) and the onions are looking up, so it's not a total disaster. In fact we took home a handful of leaves from our bolted chard and a dozen or more strawberries which provided lunch. My daughter made a smoothie with the strawberries and I sauteed the chard with garlic and capers and ate it with toast.

I've promised myself I'll return in the week to hack back the nettles and brambles and prepare the ground for the possibility of some runner beans. Meanwhile I'll have to investigate what else I can plant at this late stage. Any ideas anyone?

And now that I've put it in print I'll have to do it!

Monday, 9 June 2008

Eco-Living

Yesterday, at Bristol's Festival of Nature, I answered a questionnaire to find the size of my eco-footprint. I scored 73 which placed me in the 60-120 bracket, the European average. Apparently if everybody lived as I do, we would need an entire extra planet to support us. Not good. But it was better than beig in the next bracket (120-180), the UK average, requiring three planet earths.

However, on looking back over my scores, I discovered that I could 'easily' reduce my score by 17 points by switching to green energy (13 points), reducing my consumption of meat (2 points) and installing a water butt in our back garden (2 points).

Funnily enough these are all things I was planning to do - at some stage! In fact I have been meaning to change to a green energy supplier since the Organic Food Festival in 2006 (or was it 2005!) It's just that I haven't done it ... yet!

Reducing my score to less than 60 would make my existence sustainable, which is definitely worth the renewed effort.

Watch this space for my progress!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Our Daily Pinta

This afternoon I answered the door to a man from Dairy Crest trying to drum up trade for doorstep milk deliveries. I was able to tell him that we not only use this service but are also very pleased with it.

Our milkman's called John Mills. He delivers a daily pint of semi-skimmed milk and a weekly pint of pink grapefruit juice. The milk costs 54p per pint and the juice 91p per pint. We could buy our milk from our local Tescos where it is considerably cheaper at 42p per pint. However for various reasons we have decided to stick with John. It gives him a job, saves us from having to venture out in the mornings, is fresh, local and flexible and uses electric powered floats and recycled glass bottles instead of plastic cartons. While researching for this post today I discovered that I can amend/cancel my order online and have a sack of compost delivered along with my daily pinta!

Doorstep deliveries have declined dramatically over the last couple of decades. According to DEFRA only 7% of milk is delivered to our doorsteps today, compared to 30% in 1984. 65% of milk is bought from supermarkets and 23% from convenience stores. In order to boost sales milkmen have set up a website (http://www.findmeamilkman.net/) which allows visitors to discover whether their address is covered by a milk round.

The truth is that we do not buy all our milk from John. The girls drink 2-3 pints of full fat milk a day, which we buy in 4 litre cartons from a supermarket. We also have 2 litres delivered by Riverford along with our organic fruit and veg box. We can't(?) afford to spend £2 per day on milk so we compromise. That's life, I guess.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Unsaved

Despite having received 3,800 responses to its 6-week public consultation the Post Office has decided to proceed with its plans and, starting next month, will close 62 branches in Bristol and Somerset, including my local Chessel Street office. The Post Office claim that 99% of people will not notice the change. Well I will, and I suspect there will be a lot more than 1% who do.
The trouble is that we just do not value our local amenities as much as we should. This includes libraries, swimming pools and parks. We take them for granted and its only when they are threatened that we wake up to their importance - by which time its often too late. I know beacuse I'm as guilty as the next person.

Of course it could be argued that the fact that they are not sufficiently patronised, is sufficient argument for closing them and diverting the funds saved to finance more popular services. The trouble with that argument is that it is often the most vulnerable members of our communities (the children, the elderly, he disabled and the less well off) who rely most heavily on these amenities and who cannot access the alternatives which are usually less local and more expensive.

So let's make better use of what's on offer before it's too late.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Amphibian SOS

I spent some time this morning constructing a structure to enable two little frogs to get back to their pond. Our garden is mostly concreted over but there is a raised area at the rear where we have laid a pond and planted a rockery. The pond is home to at least two adult common frogs and four offspring from last year's spawning. While hanging out my washing I spotted one of the young frogs who must have jumped down from the raised bed onto the concrete below and who was trying unsuccessfully to climb back up the wall. I used two short lengths of wood to create a ramp and hope that he, and the other frog I found behind a plant pot, will have the sense to hop up it and back to their pond.

If I had been brave enough I would have picked them up and put them back myself. But I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to handling animals that jump!

The Greening of Middlesbrough

There was an item on Radio 4 today about a revolutionary experiment in Middlesbrough in which derelict urban spaces have been transformed into fertile vegetable plots. 1,000 residents as well as schools, mental health hospitals, residential care homes and retailers were given seed and advised on how to grow them. The aim was to increase awareness of food miles, improve health and regenerate the city. The gardeners celebrated the end of the project with a communal meal in which 8,000 people shared the food they had grown.
The inspiration came from Havana where, in order to beat the American blockade, locals took over waste land and used it to grow fresh fruit and vegetables. Monty Don visited Cuba for his series Around the World in 80 Gardens and I remember being impressed with the sense of community these urban allotments generated.

Perhaps this is the way forward us city dwellers who have lost touch with where our food comes from and what it means to share with our neighbours?


Monday, 26 May 2008

Carbon Credit Crunch

Well, it looks as if the government is getting cold feet on the carbon credit issue. The Environmental Audit Committee has declared that personal carbon credits would be more effective than green taxation. However Hilary Benn, has criticised the scheme as being 'ahead of its time'.

Forgive me, but isn't that the whole point of green policy - to at the very least keep abreast of and, if at all possible, overtake the destruction we are wreaking on our planet. Anything less is just painting over the cracks.

George Monbiot has backed the scheme. It was at a meeting addressed by him last year that I first heard of CRAGs (Carbon Rationing Action Groups). I took the first tentative step in trying to set one up locally with a few of my friends (most of whom were up for it) but I didn't get any further. So I'm going to print out a spreadsheet and have a go at working out my own carbon footprint - and maybe even get around to forming that group!

I'll let you know how I get on. Meanwhile, if there's anyone out there who's been there and done that and bought the T-shirt (no honestly, there is a T shirt!) please leave a comment.

PS The David Milliband carbon credit card is taken from the Marches Energy Agency website

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Happiness for Life

Tonight was the last session of my 10 week Happiness for Life course and it was with sadness that I bade farewell to Bruce Stanley and my fellow 'pupils'. I have come to look forward to Wednesday evenings and the opportunity they offered me to stand back from my daily routine and examine myself in relation to the world around me. At the end of this week's session there was the inevitable course evaluation form to complete, on which I guess many of us listed making butter as one of the highlights. What's that got to do with happiness'?' I hear you ask. Well, you'll just have to sign up for the next course to find out. The more important question is whether I end the course any happier than when I started. The simple answer is 'yes, a little', but more importantly I have come away with a deeper understanding of myself and how I function and equipped with a set of tools to help me find my own personal happiness in the days, weeks and years to come.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Christian Aid

Last week was Christian Aid Week. I've collected door to door for many years now, in Sunningdale, London and Bristol, and I can honestly say that I've always enjoyed doing so. In Bristol I cover the same road every year and have grown to know and be recognised by its residents. No matter how many visits I make, there are inevitably some doors that are never opened. However whenever they are, the welcome has, until this year, been generally friendly and rewarding. There were always a few people who refused to donate, but they numbered no more than a handful and only one or two of them were rude.

This year I noticed a distinct difference. Almost a quarter of the road refused to give anything at all. That's almost a quarter of the total population, not just of those who answered their doors. A few of them claimed to give to other charities, but the majority didn't give any reason, just that they did not want to give.

This saddened me. Firstly because after a fortnight of media coverage of the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China, they could not fail to be aware of the necessity of giving. Secondly because they were, almost without exception, young people. The older residents are remarkable. They have their envelopes filled and waiting by the front door and have even been known to cross the road to hand them to me, because they know they will be out, or in the back garden hanging up the washing, when I ring their bell.

Despite the credit crunch we have so much more than our fellow human beings in the developing world. That's at the best of times, let alone in times of crisis. If we are unwilling to put our hands in our pockets and place even a couple of coins, let alone a note, in a Christian Aid envelope, then we are indeed a very sorry lot.


Sunday, 11 May 2008

Global Worming

I have now fulfilled a long term ambition (see previous post) and bought a wormery. Alan and I visited Bristol's first ever Ethical Expo yesterday morning where Bubble House Worm Farm had a stand. We were so impressed with their Herb Planter Wormery, and their tag line ('promoting global worming') which I nicked, that we bought one and carried it home in the bus. I don't know how the passenger in front of me would have felt had he/she known that the container on my lap was full of hundreds of wiggly worms. The girls were not terribly impressed but I hope they will be won over when they see them in action. I would have given you the link to their website but it is temporarily out of action.

Th expo was perhaps not as big as I expected and there wasn't nearly enough food for me, but it was nonetheless very interesting and informative. Well done to the organisers. One useful piece of information that I did pick up at the council's composting stand, is that in a few weeks' time there will be one of five new Bristol Tetra Pak recycling collection points at Asda Bedminster. I have started washing out and collecting juice and milk cartons, which a friend of mine was going to take to an out of town site. Now I will be able to recycle them myself. Well done Bristol.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Compost Awareness Week

I've just learned that this week is Compost Awareness Week. There is a website packed with ideas. Do check it out.

We have a compost bin in our back garden which is coming along quite nicely, and another on our allotment which is also home to a frog. I've always fancied a wormery but, not having space to bring it indoors during the winter, I'm afraid of the worms dying of cold. Bokashi bins sound fun, but again I wouldn't know where to put one.

Fortunately our council operates a weekly food waste collection, which has greatly reduced the amount of rubbish we send to the landfill site.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Hello Again!

It's been a while (almost a month) since I last blogged. Sometimes the gaps are caused by lack of anything to say but sometimes, as in this instance, by lack of time in which to say it. However I find myself with time to spare. I've finished work for the day, there are two central heating engineers finishing installing our new combi boiler, most of our rooms are piled with stuff moved to make space for them to work, the kitchen's a major thoroughfare, Alan's picking up a couple of pizzas on the way home from work, I have finished the book we are discussing at reading group this evening (Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, in case you are interested), and there's nothing good on the telly. So here goes, while the going's good!

Entertainment: I saw Mike Leigh's latest offering, 'Happy Go Lucky', at the Watershed and haven't laughed so much in a long time. I can't recommend it highly enough. You must see it. For those 'lucky' enough to live in Bristol it runs until 8 May at the Watershed.

Then last weekend I went to hear Kate Rusby at the Colston Hall. It's been few years since I last saw her there, during which time she has grown in fame, as the hall was packed to capacity. However I was glad to see that it has not gone to her head and she is still the archetypal girl next door, albeit with a hauntingly beautiful voice. She sang a few old favourites of mine plus a number of tracks from her new album Awkward Annie.

The following day I heard my elder daughter play Tippett's A Child of our Time with her school orchestra and choir. It's not an easy piece to play, nor to hear. The uncomfortable wooden seating did not help my concentration but I persisted and felt rewarded for my efforts. I was interested in fellow blogger Tracey Wheeler's thoughts on it and hope to read more on Tippett's motivation and the piece's reception. Meanwhile I am, again, full of admiration for my daughter, her fellow musicians and her conductor, for having attempted and pulled off such an ambitious performance.

Tippett's oratorio was preceded by a short piece composed by one of the teachers based on klezmer music. I have heard klezmer music performed by a couple of local bands (the Blue Badgers and Fromage en Feu). It was apparently recently described on Radio 2(?) as being the next rock and roll. It is certainly very catchy and I have made a mental note to seek it out next time I am in Fopp.

Plastic: In my continuing challenge to reduce my plastic consumption I have discovered three alternatives to my normal plastic rich purchases. The first two (Trichomania shampoo and Aromaco deodorant) are from Lush. They are both solid and come wrapped in paper and are completely biodegradable. The third is soap nuts, which I bought in Lakeland in Bath. I remember these from my childhood in India where we used to play with them. I've used them twice and the clothes looked clean enough, but I haven't tried them on anything really dirty yet. The spent nuts can be chucked on the compost heap.
Allotment: We (or rather Alan!) have planted our early potatoes and hope to get the main crop in on Sunday. I planted the onions and garlic. Last year's chard is thriving. At home I am growing tomato plants from seed in a propagator.
Garden: The garden's a mess but we have 6 frogs in our pond. Yeah!!! There are two big ones and at least four small ones, who must have grown from last year's spawn. I was disappointed that we had no spawn this year but the sight of these 'adolescent' frogs has more than made up for it.
Happiness: Steve and I have been attending Bruce Stanley's Happiness for Life course. We're almost half way there. I'd be lying if I said I woke up every morning full of the joys and went around with a permanent grin on my face; but that's not what it's about. I'm slowly but surely gaining a deeper understanding of myself and how to deal with the life I lead, and I am confident that the lessons I learn will stand me in good stead for many years to come. Besides which it has introduced me to the delightful Pierian Centre and a roomful of fascinating individuals.
So, there you have it. I hope it won't be so long before I'm back again.

Monday, 7 April 2008

New Look

I've had my hair cut. I also had it washed and blow dried and when we got home I asked my younger daughter to take a photo of me, as I know I shall not look this good again until I next visit the hairdressers, or get my daughter to style it. With me it's a good day if I manage to run a brush through my unruly locks before I walk out the front door in the morning.

I don't know if I am alone in this respect but, despite the fact that I am usually much older than most of the hairdressers who have cut my hair, I invariably feel quite threatened by them. I don't believe I have ever emerged from a salon having achieved the look I wanted. Perhaps that's not really surprising as I'm never altogether sure of what I want to begin with. So I just go along with whatever it is they suggest, the result of which is that it is rarely me at the end, just someone who looks like me, only a bit more stylish (well, the hair at any rate!)

Anyway after I've slept on it and the serum(!) has worn off, it will be back to normal tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Allotment

We have an allotment in Windmill Hill City Farm. We've had it since early last year, but our first year wasn't altogether successful. Spring was taken up with the illness and death of my dad, frequent trips to Edinburgh and the visit of our French exchange student. Most of what we did grow was eaten by slugs. However we did eventually harvest a decent crop of potatoes and some onions.

I was determined that this year would be different. It may yet be but we have not made a very good start. Still, this morning we popped in to the Riverside Garden Centre to buy some seed potatoes and onion sets, and this afternoon we went down to the farm to tidy up our patch and draw up some plans for the year ahead.

Happily the allotment is in fairly good shape. The chard is thriving, as is the rhubarb. We've decided where to plant the potatoes and onions. Now we have to work out what else we would like to grow. I fancy some spinach and leeks. Alan would like to grow some sweetcorn. And we are both agreed on a few giant sunflowers by the compost bin.

Oh and we found a frog in the compost bin which was a pleasant surprise.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Post Office

I've just responded to my local MP's consultation on the proposed closure of our local post office. I am opposed to it, as I am to all the other proposed closures. I realise there are financial considerations but I also believe that there are aspects of our life as a community on which one cannot, and should not, put a price - and local post offices are one of them. Doorstep milk deliveries are another. It would be cheaper to buy my daily pinta from the local supermarket but it's not as convenient, not as environmentally friendly and wouldn't keep my milkman in a job.

Anyway I hope I remember to post my response in time and that it helps keep our post office open.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Local Heroes

The Observer outstanding ethical achievement award was given to Leona Williamson, of St Werburgh's City Farm cafe. In all the 16 years I have lived in Bristol I have never visited St Werburgh's City Farm. Perhaps the main reason is that we we have our own excellent city farm here in Bedminster, Windmill Hill City Farm. When the girls were little I spent hours and hours down there looking at the animals, painting in the play centre and bouncing in the rumpus room. It is now the location of our much neglected allotment.

However I am now tempted to venture to St Werburghs and see what all the fuss is about. I promise to let you know when I do.

Railway Path Saved

This afternoon I attended the Save the Railway Path rally on College Green. The more dedicated protesters had cycled or walked in along the path from Fishponds and arrived shortly after I did. We listened to the end of another remarkable performance from the Ambling Band and then heard from a few activists and supporters, including two very well spoken children. It seems that the protesters have forced the council to shelve the plan to run a rapid transit bus route along the railway path. What possessed them to even consider it in the first place beats me. Not living in East Bristol I have never used the path but I understand that it serves a much greater function than its name suggests and is beloved of walkers, children on their way to and from school, families relaxing at the weekend, and a variety of small creatures. Anyway, it's safe - for the moment at any rate.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Earth Hour

I celebrated my Earth Hour by playing Boggle by candlelight with my family and a few friends. How did you spend yours?

Lights Out!

Please remember to turn your lights out for one hour at 8-o-clock this evening. To find out why visit Earth Hour.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Plastic

This week the BBC have been broadcasting reports from Midway Island highlighting the problems caused by plastic waste. Apparently every one of the 2 million albatrosses living on the island contains plastic and about one third of the chicks die from plastic mistakenly fed to them by their parents.

Over the last few years I have been trying to reduce, reuse and recycle my waste and, with the help of my local council's recycling scheme, have had success with paper, cardboard, batteries, glass, cans, aluminium foil, organic waste etc but plastics continue to cause me real problems. There is a plastic bottle recycling centre within walking distance but it only accepts certain types of plastic. This leaves me with a a binful of items destined for the dreaded landfill site.


A link from Bean Sprouts led me to The Rubbish Diet which has inspired me to raise my recycling game and tackle my plastic waste problem head on. And the best way to do this is to stop buying plastic. This is not going to be easy, and in some cases, I suspect, impossible. But if I can achieve a significant reduction then I shall have made progress.


So I have today bought what I hope will be my last pot of yogurt and am making my own following Melanie (Bean Sprouts) Rimmer's recipe. I don't have a kitchen thermometer so I have had to guess what 50 degrees feels like. I will find out whether I got it right when I open the thermos flask tomorrow morning!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Leigh Woods

Today Alan and I went for a walk in Leigh Woods. The sun kept popping in and out, and there were some very ominous looking clouds but the rain held off. It was good to be out in the fresh air and witness the first signs of spring. We're so lucky to have these woods within walking distance of our home and it's such a shame that we don't make more use of them. But today we did.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Alleluia!

Happy Easter! Alleluia! (which for some inexplicable reason I prefer to Hallelujah)

The eggs were decorated Ukrainian style (known as pysanky) by my younger daughter and myself at a friend's house a fortnight ago. It's a method not unrelated to batik, and involves tracing patterns on the shell with melted wax before dipping them in a series of coloured dyes. There were a dozen of so of us (all ages and both sexes) seated round the dining room table working away while drinking tea, eating cake and chatting. It was one of the most relaxing and yet most productive Sunday afternoons I have spent in a long time. I'd like more of them. The friend is American and I get the impression, from films such as Witness (one of my all time favourites*), that Americans are traditionally better at communal artistic activity than we are. There's nothing like a bit of manual work to help people relax and communicate with one another.

* due in large part to a memorable scene in which Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis 'dance' round a broken down car to Wonderful World by Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert and Lou Adler.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Fourth Plinth

My elder daughter has chosen Impressionism as the theme for her GCSE Art exam next month, so today we visited the National Gallery in London for some inspiration.

While we were there we saw the latest work of art to be exhibited on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square - Model for a Hotel 2007 by Thomas Shutte. It adds a bit of colour to an otherwise fairly grey landscape but I preferred Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn.

There is an exhibition in the National Gallery of the six shortlisted models for the next Fourth Plinth and an opportunity to express your preference. Antony Gormley, of whom I am an admirer, as is my fellow blogger Steve Broadway, would like to exhibit members of the public 24 hours a day for 1 hour each. His entry is entitled One and Other and he got my vote. ‘Through elevation onto the plinth and removal from common ground’, explains Gormley, ‘the subjective living body becomes both representation and representative, encouraging consideration of diversity, vulnerability and the individual in contemporary society’. Over a period of 12 months 8,760 people would take part and, if he wins, I'd love to be one of them.

My second favourite was Tracey Emin's Meerkats (Something for the Future). You can see them all and cast your vote by following the links from the Fourth Plinth website above.

I think the whole concept of the Fourth Plinth is brilliant and should be encouraged.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Passion - Re-examined

I watched the third episode of The Passion this evening. It did not make easy viewing.

I still don't believe that it has shed any new insights on the events but maybe it doesn't need to. Maybe it's enough just to tell it once again.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Passion

I have been watching the BBC's Passion. There have been two episodes with two to come. The set is authentic, the cast excellent and the music atmospheric. The bad guys (Pilate, Caiaphas and Judas) are given a sympathetic hearing and Jesus is deliberately portrayed as a fairly ordinary human being. The trouble is that I don't really like him very much. He appears smug and self aware. I don't think Jesus would have been like that. I think he would have been kinder and gentler. But maybe you'll disagree. And this is the difficulty in making a film about Jesus. Everyone's image of him is different because everyone's image is personal.

There have been many other versions of the passion, some of them stand out above the others. My favourites are Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ, Monty Python's Life of Brian and the BBC's Manchester Passion. Three very different productions but united by their challenge to us to look at a familiar story from a completely different angle, to see it afresh - something that this Passion has so far failed to do for me.