Friday, 30 May 2008


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.