Thursday, 31 December 2009

That Was the Year that Was!

Being a true Scot I love Hogmanay and the New Year (almost as much, if not more, than Christmas). There's something about drawing a line under the year that's past and stepping over it into the year that's to come, that's very therapeutic, especially if the past year hasn't been a particularly good one.

Not that this is the case this year. 2009 has been a pretty good year on the whole.

It started with an Ithaca* walk following Bristol's Heritage Trail and ending with a bowl of soup around our dining table.
(* the name given to the 6 of us who meet once a week to share food, drink and stories of our journey through life - which I always look forward to and which keeps me going)

We had a loft conversion, a house face lift and stripped floorboards in the autumn of 2008 but the makeover wasn't complete until the kitchen and bathroom floors were tiled in January. And we're still not back to normal, whatever that means.

After being on the waiting list for several years I was finally offered a place in the Gasworks Choir. It's been a while since I've sung properly (20+ years ago at Edinburgh University) and the first time I've sung alcapella, which was pretty scary to begin with, but which I'm gradually getting the hang of. I've now done two terms, with concerts in May and December and an 'appearance' at the Festival of Song at Stourhead. I also took part in Sing for Water at Lloyd's amphitheatre.

I surprised myself by joining the WI, without the need of a blue rinse! The Malago WI is one of the latest urban branches run by some frighteningly efficient yummy mummies who have devised an incredible first year programme including Christmas decorations, egg cosy knitting, creative writing, Indian head massage and clothes swapping. And lots and lots of tea and cake!

As if that weren't enough to be getting on with, I've also started to attend, albeit sporadically, a Stitch and Bitch group that meets twice a month at the Tobacco Factory. One or both of my daughters usually comes along too. I started knitting a scarf for myself but was waylaid by a patchwork blanket for my younger daughter. Suffice to say I haven't yet finished either! Still there's something very relaxing about sitting with a drink and chatting away while you create a work of art. And there's always someone to help you when you get stuck.

I've been on two Year 6 residential trips to Treginnis Farm in Pembrokeshire. The weather on both occasions was excellent and we had a fantastic time with the farm staff and the animals as well as several long walks along the spectacular coastal path.

I became involved in the Grow Zones project, an Earth Abbey initiative to encourage and support the growing of fruit and vegetables in back gardens. I've helped make over a couple of gardens and have had our garden made over in return. I also took a course in permaculture which I hope will come in useful as we expand our microholding.

We took two holidays, the first a week in our old favourite, St Ives. It was our tenth visit, and our tenth cottage, this time a stone's throw from Porthmeor Beach. We did a few of the normal things - Easter morning service at St Ia's (where we missed Andy Couch), the Tate, body boarding, walks to Man Head and Clodgy Point and from Lelant, and breakfast at the Porthgwidden Beach Cafe. But we also racked up a few firsts - a very muddy walk to Gurnard's Head where the heavens opened, but where we were fortunate to take shelter, and lunch, in the Gurnard's Head Hotel, a pint at the Sloop and dinner at Blas Burger, an eco-friendly fast food restaurant on Smeaton's Pier.

The second holiday was one we'd been promising ourselves ever since our older daughter went on her first Bristol-Bordeaux student exchange three years ago. Her host family in Bayonne invited us to visit them 'en famille', and this year we finally took them up on their offer and spent a delightful 10 days getting to know both them and the Basque country. We travelled by train, stopping off in London for a few days in both directions. Our time was split between their homes in Bayonne and Creon (just outside Bordeaux) and highlights for me included a dramatic re-enactment of a battle between the French and the English (no prizes for guessing who I cheered for!) and the delicious paella we shared with 20+ of their family and friends on our last day. It was a real privilege to spend time with the family who'd looked after our girls and whose own girls have become honorary members of our family. I hope one day we'll be able to return the favour.

We've also made two summer trips to Scotland. The first was to visit prospective universities for my elder daughter who sits her A levels next year. We took the train to Durham (which we'd laid great hopes on but which sadly failed to impress) and then ventured further north to Edinburgh from where we took day trips to St Andrews and Glasgow. The 4 year MA course appeals and, if all goes to plan, our daughter will follow in her parents' footsteps and study at Edinburgh (albeit social history, as opposed to French or Zoology).

The second was just a week later when we travelled to Biggar, again via Edinburgh, to attend my an old friend's 50th birthday ceilidh. It was only as he welcomed his guests at the beginning of the evening that we learned that he had got married that afternoon! We didn't know many folk there, apart from his family, but we had a wonderful night reacquainting ourselves with the dances we'd first learned at school.

I've been busy campaigning. Our local community organised an effective protest against the opening of a new Tesco store and I travelled to London to take part in The Wave demonstration at the beginning of December. Cutting down on waste and reducing my carbon footprint are still priorities with so much more to do.

All in all I've had a good year. AS levels and UCAS applications have been stressful and with A levels and GCSEs to come next year we're not out of the woods yet. I try to stay 'chilled' but I'm afraid I don't always succeed. Hey ho!

Still, tomorrow's another day ... and another year!

Friday, 18 December 2009

I don't know about anyone else, but I often feel completely powerless in the face of major events. The UN Climate Conference is one of them where, confronted with arguably the biggest threat the planet has ever witnessed, our leaders seem unable to take the steps necessary to avert it.

There are hundreds and thousands, maybe even millions, of us switching off our standbys, converting to low energy light bulbs, turning down the heating and putting on jumpers, taking the train instead of the plane, eating less meat etc etc. And, in case our governments haven't noticed what we've been up to, we send them postcards and emails and even paint our faces blue and go on demonstrations. Yet still they do nothing ... or at least as little as they can get away with.

However, the threat of climate change is too important to give up on. So yesterday I signed the Avaaz petition here and today I emailed President Obama here. I don't know whether it will make any difference (although NGOs insist that it does) but at least I know I've tried.

Perhaps if you tried too ... ?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Round Robins

Yesterday we received our first Christmas 'round robin'. I'm not sure what to make of them. On the one hand I'm glad of the opportunity to catch up with old friends who I don't see very often and only hear from at this time of year, but on the other hand they can come over as rather boastful and often leave me feeling rather inadequate. Illusions of the achievements of my past year are shattered when I learn that someone else has been cruising in the Caribbean, or bought a second home in the Dordogne, or whose children have got a clean sweep of A stars in their GCSEs. I don't think I could ever bring myself to write a Christmas letter, unless I took up the suggestion of a friend and wrote a spoof one, chronicling all the disasters that had befallen me in the previous year.

A few years ago I came across the excellent The Cat that could open the Fridge Door by the Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart. This compilation of Christmas round robins sent to him by readers had me in stitches. He has now brought together this and a subsequent collection (The Hamster that loved Puccini) in a volume entitled The Christmas Letters. The perfect stocking filler.

Anyway, what do you think of Christmas letters? Are they a source of information or entertainment? Do they make you feel better or worse about your own year? Do you write your own, and if so how do you decide what to include and what to leave unwritten? Have I been too hard on them?

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Traditional Christmas

Our Christmas is packed with traditions, some old and some recent. They are extremely important to my daughters, for whom they represent comfort and stability. So what are they?

Well, I've already mentioned one of them - our Advent calendar. Then there's our annual visit to Bath Christmas Market and the pantomime (at Bristol Old Vic until last year when we switched to the Theatre Royal in Bath). We try (not always successfully) to read A Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. We wait until a week before Christmas until we buy our tree, from a lorry parked in Asda car park, and we always decorate it (in red, green and gold) to the Handel's Messiah. There is usually an argument over whether it is quite straight. This too is a tradition!

We throw a mulled wine and mince pie party on Christmas Eve with white iced star biscuits, adorned with silver balls. After midnight mass the girls are allowed to open one present - a pair of pyjamas (pinched from a friend, the tradition not the jimjams). We still leave Santa a glass of sherry and a mince pie and a carrot for Rudolph. There's a stocking for everyone. The girls' stockings must contain chocolate coins, pistachios, a Lush bath bomb, a pair of knickers, an orange (which they traditionally never eat) and a chocolate Santa. Christmas dinner is not necessarily turkey, but breakfast is usually Bucks Fizz and Christmas morning muffins (courtesy of Nigella Lawson).

After Christmas we tackle one of our Christmas jigsaws and visit the BBC Wildlife Photography exhibition at the Museum. We have to watch Love Actually at some point during the holidays and we keep our tree up until the twelfth night.

So how about you? What do you do?

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Waving - and (hopefully) not Drowning

Yesterday 40,000+ people marched through central London, giving the government the mandate it asked for to negotiate a safe and fair deal for the planet. We've done our bit, now it's over to you, Gordon!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Christmas is Coming!

Advent invariably catches me unawares, and this year is no exception. Advent Sunday has come and gone and I've neither boiled a pudding nor baked a cake. As for making any mincemeat, well ...

There is however one thing I have done - and in good time for a change. I've successfully filled and hung the girls' Advent calendar ready for the first of December this morning. (It was actually Alan who hung the calendar, but on my instruction!)

I'm not a particularly skilled needlewoman and so I'm quite proud of this embroidered Advent calendar I made when the girls were small. It took me several Advents to finish it and there were a few years when the 6 , then 12 and finally 18 pockets had to be emptied and then immediately replenished in order to see us through the season.

Each pocket contains a small wrapped present. The girls share the calendar, opening one present every two days. On the days they don't receive a present they get a chocolate from their Divine calendar.

Finding 24 inexpensive items to fit in the pockets is an annual challenge and one which I always intend to spread over the preceding year. This never works out and there's always a mad dash round the shops mid November scouring the shelves for items of stationery, toiletries, jewellery etc. I try to stick to a budget of no more than £1 a present, and less if possible.

So now that that's done I can look out my recipe for Christmas cake and get chopping.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Buy Nothing Day

Melanie Rimmer over at Bean Sprouts (whose return to the blogosphere has been warmly received) has reminded me of Buy Nothing Day this Saturday (28 November). I say reminded, because it's not the first time I've read about it. However, on that occasion I tried, and succeeded in forgeting about it.

The truth is that I'm am not at all sure that I can manage it - not properly anyhow. The campaign not only advocates buying nothing for 24 hours, but also turning off lights and non essential electrical appliances - a complete shut down. I am to park my car (the only easy bit, as I don't have one!), switch off my phone and log off my computer. Aargh!

However, never daunted by a challenge, I am going to give it my best shot.

Atleast I'll have an excuse not to do the ironing!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Not Drowning but Waving

This afternoon Alan and I went down to Millenium Square to Bristol's International Day of Climate Action. It was a blustery old day and the rain came and went - not ideal event weather. However there was a fair crowd which I hope will have swelled by this evening.

We signed a few cards and petitions, listened to Jonathan Porritt and had our faces painted.

This evening I booked coach tickets to The Wave in London on Saturday 5 December.

Are you planning to be there?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Essential Trading for a Greener Lifestyle

Yesterday evening I attended the inaugural meeting of a local food buying co-op. It's the brainchild of a local green shop keeper who has enough space to sort and store the orders when they are delivered. Members will pay an annual fee which will allow them to order from a catalogue and take advantage of the wholesale price plus 10% to cover expenses.

I'm very excited by this project as I'm hoping it will enable me to reduce my dependence on supermarkets. I've been trying to cut down on my visits to Tescos et al, in favour of local shops, markets and a weekly fruit and vegetable box, but I'm invariably forced to return to the supermarkets for store cupboard essentials. If the co-op can plug this gap then I shall be very happy indeed.

I can hardly wait to place my first order.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Through Leigh Woods

This afternoon Alan and I joined Steve and Moira for a walk through Leigh Woods. It being a mellow autumn day was a good enough reason in itself, but we were on a mission. In November we are hosting an Earth Abbey event and this afternoon's stroll was by way of a rekkie.

The event in question is a meditation on trees. As we follow the path through the woods we will occasionally pause to observe a tree. One of us will read a short passage describing its history, or properties or religious links, followed by a poem. We will then move on to the next one. At some point along the route there will be a break for a hot drink, a piece of cake and a chance to discuss our thoughts. We are hoping it will offer us an opportunity to reconnect with nature and reflect on its significance in our urban lives.

The idea was a collective one but we are indebted to Alison Swinfen for the readings from her book 'Through Wood'.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day - Climate Change

Gordon Brown has agreed to attend the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Summit. Now we need to urge him to use his influence to ensure that other major world leaders attend and that they deliver a fair and safe global climate deal.

Sign up to Oxfam's Here and Now campaign and book your ticket to London for The Wave.

See you there!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Rediscovering our Humanity

Yesterday evening the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed a gathering in Southwark Cathedral organised by Operation Noah. My husband, who was in London for work, stayed on after his meeting and went to hear him. He was very impressed and so this afternoon I logged on to read what he'd said.

"People should use the climate change crisis as an opportunity to become human again, setting aside the addictive and self-destructive behaviour that has damaged their souls."

Rowan Williams is so right. If, instead of regarding the lifestyle changes that have to be made to save our planet, as curtailments of our liberty, we were instead to welcome them as the means of a deeper understanding of ourselves, our neighbours and our God then, not only would we have prevented a catastrophe, but we would have rediscovered our humanity.

The archbishop made reference to CRAGS, carbon reduction action groups, which reminded me that I was once quite keen to initiate one locally. A timely reminder to revisit my plans.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who may belong to such a group and who would like to share their experience.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Planet Zog

I spent yesterday morning at the Royate Hill allotments. It was the first of our permaculture course field trips and we were given a guided tour around the site by the extraordinary site manager, Mike Feingold.

After having started life as the source of fruit and milk for the city of Bristol and then as a clay pit, Royate Hill has been given over to private allotments for the last 100 years. There are currently 56 plots and a waiting list of 38. In the centre of the site there is a a community orchard planted with approximately 40 variety of apples, pears, plums, damsons etc. Mike pointed out a few varieties and allowed us to sample fruit positively oozing with juice and flavour. He then walked us round the area he cultivates where we tasted some of the variety of salads and soft fruit that he grows in abundance. After a cup of tea and the opportunity to use the compost loo, we were set to work pressing apples and mulching the apple trees with wood chip waste from a local timber yard.

What surprised me was Mike's apparent lack of interest in exploiting the land for as much as he squeeze from it. In fact, when questioned, he admitted that the tradional cultivation of vegetables was way down at 17 on his list of 'values'. Far higher up that list were education, community projects and working in harmony with the natural environment. Top of his list was his own sanity. The allotment is where he goes to escape to his own Planet Zog.

This got me thinking about our own Grow Zone project which has, on the face of it, been of limited success. Our herb garden at the front of the house has flourished and I even managed to achieve my ambition of growing a few giant sunflowers against our new sky blue wall. We harvested a reasonable crop of potatoes from our old dustbin and from various tomato plants. I was able to eat peas straight from the pod in my own back yard and the chard in our rockery is still producing an abundance of vivid leaves. However our courgettes refused to fruit, the runner beans failed to thrive, the pumpkins were attacked by slugs and I didn't harvest our radishes until they were too woody to be edible. In terms of produce we come out approximately 50/50.

However, when measured by the Feingold scale we have done extremely well.

We have had fun
We have recognised the potential of our small space (and I really do mean 'small')
We have actually done something with it
We have worked with (and for) others
We have shared food and drink and friendship
We have learnt new facts and practised new skills
We have brightened up the street
And finally ... we have grown some of our own food!


PS I described Mike as 'extraordinary' in the best sense of that word. Click on the image below to see just what I mean.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Sustainable Living

I've enrolled for a course in permaculture and attended two classes. At the end of the last session our tutor set us a piece of homework. We are to come to the next class prepared to share with her and the others what it is that is preventing us from living a more sustainable life.

I've given this some thought and I think it boils down to lack of organisation. It's not thinking ahead that:

allows me to leave the house without a carrier bag and have to accept a plastic one to carry my groceries home

prevents me from buying all the ingredients for a meal from the high street shops and not have to dash out to the local Tesco Express for an essential item

prevents me from baking a cake or a batch of biscuits to last the week and not have to buy plastic wrapped alternatives for the girls' lunch boxes

prevents me from doubling up a recipe and freezing half of it to save me to lighting the gas or heating the oven twice

allows perfectly edible food to fester in the fridge because I haven't thought of a way to use it up in time

If only I set aside a few minutes each day/week to make a few notes then I'm sure I could do a lot better.

I wonder what my fellow class mates will come up with?

The image is of The Egg of Life, the classic permaculture symbol.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Focus on Me

Along with approximately 14,000 other children born in Bristol between April 1991 and December 1992, my elder daughter is a 'Child of the 90s'. ALSPAC, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, is a long term research project which has tracked the health and development of these children from before their birth until the present day. We have completed questionnaires on almost every aspect of our lives and my daughter has been observed, examined and sampled at regular intervals. The study has published a steady stream of findings including:

laying babies on their backs has no harmful effects and can reduce the risk of cot death

eating oily fish when pregnant improves the child's eyesight

peanut allergy may be linked to the use of certain nappy rash and eczema cream

children brought up in very hygienic homes are more likely to develop asthma

just 15 minutes a day of moderate or vigorous exercise cuts the risk of obesity by 50%

Today it was my turn. At Focus on Mums I gave blood (to check glucose, insulin and cholesterol) and had a DXA ( to scan bone density) and an ultrasound (to take pictures of my carotid artery). The hard part was fasting for 8 hours prior to my appointment for the blood test. I had to get up at 5:30 for a light breakfast and then sip nothing but water until 14:20. After that it was quite fun and I was relieved to learn that I am not at risk of osteoporosis.

Monday, 6 July 2009

One & Other Again

I've spent more time than I care to admit this afternoon watching a succession of individuals taking their turn on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar. The first plinther took up her position at 9am this morning, the first of 2,400 to do so. There was a man with a blackboard and a piece of chalk who wrote messages to the crowd beneath him, a second dressed as a panda who got viewers to phone him on his mobile, a third who didn't do anything except walk around looking out over the square, and the present incumbent who is by turn reading poetry, playing music and having afternoon tea! Every hour, on the hour a cherry picker swaps them round. It's compulsive viewing.

One & Other is described as 'an exploration of the connection between individuals', with the plinthers becoming 'representations of themselves and of the human population of the world viewed by fellow members of the wider society which they inhabit'. From what I have seen today I think the genius Antony Gormley has done it again.

As mentioned in an earlier post I've applied for my own hour on display, but have thus far failed to be selected. However, there are two more draws to come and, having witnessed the first day of this incredible installation, I'm now more eager than ever to take part. I've even decided what I would like to do but am not telling you what it is yet, just in case I get lucky! Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

One & Other contd

Just to show that I harbour no ill feeling for failing (thus far) to secure my own place on the plinth, I am drawing your attention to the launch of this installation (?) at 9 am on Monday 6 July. More details here.

Meanwhile I've got my fingers crossed for the two remaining draws in August and September.

Friday, 3 July 2009


This evening I attended the first meeting of BERATE (Bedminster Residents Against the Expansion of Tesco into Ashton Gate). It was convened by a couple of local residents and was encouragingly well attended. The group pledged itself to provide a forum for the residents of greater Bedminster to be kept informed of developments and to give them a voice. I was greatly impressed with the level of experience and commitment and came away feeling very optimistic of our chances. Ialso rather rashly put my name forward for the steering committee!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Simple Acts

I spent the afternoon soaking up the sunshine at the Celebrating Sanctuary Fun Day in Queens Square. There were stalls and workshops and food and drink and some amazing music. We arrived to hear some Ghanaian drummers, followed by Polish and then Ethiopian dancers and finally a Middle Eastern band.

The fun day was one of a number of events to mark National Refugee Week, which started on Friday 12 June and runs until Monday 22 June. For those of you living in Bristol see here for details of all that's on offer. One thing that caught my eye was the Simple Acts campaign, which invites us to 'do something small to make life better for refugees and everyone else around you'. The list runs as follows:

Cook a dish from another country
Tell a child a story from another country
Watch a movie about refugees
Do a quiz on refugees
Say a little prayer for me
Read a book about exile
Sign off your emial with a note about refugees
Find five facts about refugees
Find out who you REALLY are
Visit a Refugee Week event
Smile :O)
Learn to say a few things in a new language
Have tea with a refugee
Share a song
Join a big action campaign in support of refugees
Share your sweets
Give a book about refugees as a present to someone
Define the word 'Refuge'
Take a picture of you and your pro-refugee banner
Play football with a refugee

The website states that if everyone does at least one of these acts then we can make a big difference to the way refugees are perceived in the UK.

Which simple act will you do this week?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

'Vote Early and Often!'

Random thoughts on polling day:

I meant to vote first thing this morning but didn't get up in time so I had to wait until this evening. When I arrived at the polling station I had to queue to cast my ballot. Unheard of! I also met three sets of friends on the way in.

I live just around the corner from the my polling station and one of my favourite sights is the stream of people making their way along the road to cast their vote. Elderly couples, mums with their children, young people on their way to or from work. Democracy in practice is a wonderful thing.

I well remember listening to the Today programme on the morning of the first elections in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Brian Redfern's humbling interview with an elderly woman who had walked miles to vote for the very first time moved me to tears.

I have voted in every election since my 18th birthday, with one unforgettable exception. I was a student. It was a local election. I had other things to do. When I returned to the family I was living with that evening and admitted to not having made it to the polling station I was left in no doubt that I had betrayed the sacrifices made by the brave suffragettes. Thanks to Irene I have never missed an election since.

I voted Scottish Nationalist on the first occasion and Labour ever since - until today when I voted Green.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

When Every Little Doesn't Help

This week I was reminded of just how much I've changed over the past few years.

About 10 or more years ago, when my eldest daughter was very young, Sainsburys opened a new superstore on Winterstoke Road in Ashton. I remember being very excited by the prospect and looked forward to my first visit. Our existing Sainsburys was small and didn't offer the range of lines the new store promised.

This week I learned of Tesco's plans to open a superstore on the old Ashton Gate football site and my reaction could not have been more different. Instead of looking forward to its arrival I intend to do all I can to oppose it. I've started by emailing my Labour councillors, the local Green councillor, my MP, my MEP and the prospective Green MEP.

So what's changed? Climate change and the regeneration of North Street.

Supermarkets have a enormous impact on the environment - food miles, energy consumption, waste generation, car usage etc. They are vast impersonal retail outlets in comparison with local shops which are friendly and helpful and more likely to source local produce. There is, in my mind, no comparison and I've been delighted by the gradual transformation of North Street into a vibrant shopping centre with a wide variety of shops, including a long awaited fishmonger.

Now before you ask, I'll come clean and confess that I do of course shop in supermarkets, both online and in person. Nor do I have any immediate plans to stop doing so. I have nevertheless been consciously and deliberately trying to reduce my dependence on them - by shopping local. It's better for me, for the community and for the environment.

Suddenly all this is threatened by the proposed arrival of Tesco at Ashton Gate. I'm afraid that the competition will prove too much for some of our local shops and that they will be forced to close. I suspect that, once they're through the doors, shoppers will be tempted to pick up all the items on their list under the same roof. I'm worried that there will be an increase in the level of traffic. I fear the relentless progress of the multinational retailers.

Besides which, with a Sainsburys, a newly expanded Asda, an Aldi, a Lidl and two Tesco Expresses, why on earth do we need another Tesco?

So thank you, but no thank you, Sir Terry.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Greening of my Diet

In the campaign to reduce my carbon footprint it has been all too easy to pick and chose my targets to suit my lifestyle. As a non car owner and someone who hasn't flown (except for two family emergency short hauls) in almost three years, I am justifiably proud of my relatively low level of emissions. I reduce, reuse and recycle my waste. I buy local and organic. I've even started growing my own veg. However I have thus far, turned a blind eye on the composition of my diet.

Some time ago I was reminded of the significant contribution livestock farming makes to global warming, accounting for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. These are produced by clearing forested land, making and transporting fertilizers, running farm vehicles and the digestive system of animals.. Transport, on the other hand, 'only' accounts for 13%. The average household would reduce their emissions by more if they halved their consumption of meat than if they halved their car usage.

While I respect the convictions of my vegetarian, and vegan, friends I am not persuaded of the need to give up eating meat altogether. However I am, rather regretfully, coming round to the environmental benefits of eating less of it. I've tried going vegetarian on several occasions with limited success, the chief obstacles being bacon sandwiches and my children. So it will not be easy.

Happily this week is National Vegetarian Week which may kick start me in the right direction.

With toast and marmalade for breakfast and a feta cheese and salad baguette for lunch I've done alright so far. This evening I have been invited to a barbecue (of the indoor variety unless the rain clears) which will prove more of a challenge. I'm taking a Spanish tortilla , but I fear I'll be tempted by the sausages (especially any with sticky burnt skins!). However for the sake of the planet I will resist. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

I've been Grow Zoned!

Yesterday four members of the Grow Zone project descended on our garden and helped us transform it from a rather untidy yard into a potentially productive mini allotment.

The Grow Zone project is part of Earth Abbey, a movement of people helping each other live more in tune with the earth. Half a dozen or so households have taken the challenge to grow at least some of our own food following permaculture principles.

So to get back to our garden. Two of us dug up the tired looking shrubs from the narrow bed outside our front window and replaced them with hardy herbs - a variegated sage, Russian tarragon, bergamot, Moroccan mint and hyssop. We replanted a rosemary bush from a pot in the back garden and finally added two giant sunflower plants which will look magnificent standing proudly against our new sky blue wall. We filled three window boxes with compost from our compost bin. I sowed mixed salad leaves in two of them and will transplant a couple of trailing tomato plants into the third as soon as they are hardy enough.

Meanwhile out at the back the rest of the team uprooted an overgrown rosemary bush in the rockery and removed a couple of the larger rocks to make space for some runner beans to be trained up the back fence and some spinach and rainbow chard which will nestle among the alpines. The rocks were piled up against the raised rockery wall to enable any frogs who leap down into the back yard to find their way back to the pond. Our old rubbish bin and two large containers were planted with the potatoes we've been chitting in our dining room doorway for the past few weeks. A growbag was planted with a miniature squash and two bush courgettes and various other containers with peas and broad beans. A second growbag awaits three bush tomatoes.

The sun shone brightly, tea and conversation flowed freely and when we were done and tidied up we shared a simple of lunch of soup, bread and cheese and chutney, salad and cake (much of it homemade), before heading off home.

I don't know what it was; the sunshine, the friendship, the labour, the food, the fresh air, but my spirits were uplifted and I spent the rest of the day on a high. This morning I came downstairs and felt compelled to go out into the garden to see how it was. It looked lovely.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Beth Terry - Where she leads, will we follow?

Almost Mrs Average on the Rubbish Diet directed me to this very moving video from Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish. I would urge you to watch it ... and then challenge you to give up one plastic item for ever.

I've bought myself a small aluminium water bottle which I have begun carrying around with me to avoid having to buy bottled drinks. I am now going to follow Beth's example and invest in a travel mug for those occasions I pop into a cafe for a latte.

Why don't you let me know what you'll give up?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

One & Other

This evening I applied to occupy the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square for one hour as part of Anthony Gormley's One and Other project.

There are four plinths in Trafalgar Square, one in each corner. Three of them are occupied by statues of military men. The fourth was destined to feature an equestrian statue of William IV but was scrapped due to insufficient funds and remained empty. Then, in 1999, the Arts Council set up the Fourth Plinth Project which used the plinth to showcase the work of contemporary artists (Ecce Homo, by Mark Wallinger (1999), Regardless of History, by Bill Woodrow (2000) and Monument by Rachel Whiteread (2001). The project is now managed by the Greater London Authority who commissioned Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant and Thomas Schütte's Model for a Hotel 2007.

The latest work, One and Other, was chosen from a shortlist of six. We were in London during the public consultation and I voted for Anthony Gormley. His concept of elevating everyday life to a position normally occupied by monumental art appealed to me and I knew that if he won I would apply to be a part of it.

I realise that encouraging others to apply will reduce my chances of being selected, but hey, life's for sharing, so log on and sign up. You've nothing but the coach fare to London to lose!

But if I can't convince you then maybe the man himself can ...

Antony Gormley on the Fourth Plinth from One & Other on Vimeo.

Now all I've got to do is decide what I'm going to do for an hour! Any ideas?

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Love Life Live Lent

Although Lent doesn't begin until Wednesday of this week I'll commence my observance of it tomorrow. I'll be following a book produced by Love Life Live Lent. It's traditional to give up something for Lent, but the CSMV nuns at St Mary's School in Pune which I attended, taught me to take up something instead. This year I'm going to do both.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Stitch & Bitch

This evening the girls and I attended a Stitch and Bitch session at the Tobacco Factory. The group meets every first and third Monday but this evening was devoted to the creation of an Oxfam blanket. The campaign to raise awareness of maternal mortality has been running for some time now. Volunteers have been knitting hundreds and thousands of squares which are now being assembled to form blankets. The blankets will be sold to raise funds for Oxfam.

We passed a very pleasant evening drinking coffee, sewing squares and chatting. The only bitch was about the poor service offered by First Bus!

One of my 49before50 challenges is to knit myself a scarf. Once I have picked a pattern and bought the wool, Stitch & Bitch may provide the required encouragement to finish it off.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Bon Appetit!

Today we began using something which I am hoping will revolutionise our packed lunch routine. Some time ago I read about bento lunchboxes. Both the girls and I were excited by them and last week I ordered them one each. As you can see, they are plastic versions of the traditional Japanese bento boxes. Inside the case there are five containers (two with lids) and a fork and spoon. The idea is that you fill each container with different food to make up a balanced meal. You could, of course, carry several separate plastic boxes to school but the bento box is much more compact - and leak proof.

I have grown to hate packing lunches. I get bored of sandwiches, no matter how many changes I ring with various breads and fillings. Then there's the waste. Sandwiches need wrapped, biscuits and cakes need to be protected against crumbling and fruit against squashing. Yoghurts and crisps come in individual packaging, invariably plastic. I'm hoping that these boxes will help me pack more exciting lunches and cut down on waste at the same time.

Today the girls had pasta with tuna and sweetcorn, grated carrot with vinaigrette, a crunch jumble (biscuit) and an apple.

Who knows what they will find in their boxes tomorrow!

PS If you would like to find out more about these boxes, including idea on what to pack them with, go to Laptop Lunches.

Happy Birthday Rabbbie

Yesterday being the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland's most famous poet, we celebrated by inviting a few friends round for dinner. We ate cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, neeps and tatties and cranachan and partook of a wee dram o' the hard stuff. I'm not so keen on the whisky but I love haggis.

I think it's important to celebrate occasions with family and friends, but I don't do nearly enough of it.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Sing Up

This afternoon I attended my first rehearsal at the Gasworks Choir . I've been on the waiting list for so many years that the phone call a fortnight ago offering me a place caught me off guard. Did I still want to sing in a community choir? Was I up to it? Could I spare the time? I took a few minutes to think about it before phoning back to say I'd be delighted to accept the offer.

I had, in fact, been offered a place on two previous occasions but, when I confessed that this Gareth is a woman and not a man, I was put back on the waiting list!

Well, I enjoyed my first outing. There was a goodly crowd, with a fair number of beginners like myself. We began with a warm up which involved making some extremely silly faces. Then on to the songs, three of them this week - one from South Africa, one from Scotland and one from the States. It's a a cappella choir - four or five part harmonies with no music, and printed words for only one of the songs. Ali and Dee sing the part to us and we sing it back. Simple as that! There was a brief moment of panic but the atmosphere was so relaxed and friendly that it soon disappeared and I had a lovely time. I even managed to join in when we were invited to walk about during the first song, though I did stick close to someone who looked like she knew what she was doing. I'm already looking forward to my next practice.

49 before 50

This summer I'll be 50. Although I don't feel it, and hope I don't look it, I shall nonetheless reach my half century later this year. So, in anticpation of this momentous day, I have devised a list of 49 things I would like to do before I'm 50. Phew, I'm going to be busy!
  1. Catch the ferry to Bees Tea Gardens
  2. Bake a brioche
  3. Watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy in one day
  4. Knit myself a scarf
  5. Teach my daughters how to knit
  6. Make a Cornish pasty
  7. Walk to Bath along the cycle path
  8. Make my will
  9. Make a year's supply of marmalade
  10. Sort through my photographs
  11. Have our Amsterdam poster framed
  12. Grow half a dozen vegetables in our back garden
  13. Paint the front door
  14. Make a birthday card from recycled materials
  15. Work my way through my piano book
  16. Make tablet
  17. Watch a Bollywood movie with my daughters
  18. Make a note of all my friends' birthdays
  19. Read a French novel
  20. Buy an address book and make a note of all my friends' addresses
  21. Reduce my BMI to 20
  22. Write to all the people who sent us Christmas cards
  23. Reduce our landfill waste to 100g or less per week
  24. Write one letter a month for Amnesty
  25. Read at least one book a month
  26. See at least one film a month
  27. Phone my sister once a week
  28. Clear out my wardrobe
  29. Book tickets for Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory
  30. Make Pashka at Easter
  31. Give up something for Lent
  32. Take up something for Lent
  33. Bake Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday
  34. Remember to use the shrink wrap egg decorations at Easter
  35. Follow the longest trail in Leigh Woods
  36. Take a picnic (and some friends) to Brandon Hill
  37. Visit the Georgian House
  38. Make butter
  39. Learn to crochet
  40. Make my daughers something for their birthdays
  41. Cook a special Valentine's dinner
  42. Preserve lemons
  43. Have the piano tuned
  44. Devise a 4 week menu
  45. Attend evensong at the Cathedral
  46. Arrange our classical CD collection
  47. Book tickets for the BBC Proms
  48. Grow giant sunflowers in our front garden
  49. Organise a 50th birthday celebration
To record my progress I have started a new blog called (wait for it!) 49before50 which also give me the opportunity to try out blogging on Wordpress.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

A Nation's Hope

This afternoon I rushed home from work to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was an impressive ceremony and, judging by the numbers who turned out to witness it, a significant moment in their lives.

I couldn't help being reminded of 2 May 1997 and Tony Blair's triumphal arrival in Downing Street ...

Monday, 12 January 2009

Turkish Delight

On Saturday we had our kitchen and bathroom floor tiles laid. It meant that we could not use either room until the following morning. Fortunately we have a second bathroom, which left only the lack of cooking and washing up facilities to cope with. We ate sandwiches for lunch and cadged an afternoon cup of tea from our neighbours but decided to eat out in the evening. We owed ourselves a wedding anniversary from way back in November and this seemed as good a time as any.

When we moved to Bedminster 18 years ago there was nowhere to eat locally, and for a while nothing much changed. However, within the last 10 years or so, a rash of pubs, cafes and restaurants has sprung up all over the area, almost too fast for us to keep up with.

So this was our first visit to Caffe Sazz (or at least it was for Alan and girls)*. It's a Turkish restaurant specialising in mezze and impromptu belly dancing! The decor is authentic -bright mosaic lampshades, colourful costumes hanging on the walls and a large TV screen behind the bar showing snapshots of Turkish life.

The food was tasty and plentiful and the service was helpful. My only criticism was that, instead of the fresh mint tea in an exquisite glass I was expecting, I had to make do with a teabag in a cup and saucer. Ah well!

However, the best bit was that after paying the bill, and sighing with relief that we had escaped being prevailed upon to indulge in a spot of inevitably embarassing gyrations, we only had a short walk home. Eating, as well as shopping, local has much to commend it.
* My first visit was on the occasion of last year's reading group night out. We go out once a year in January because it's so hard to agree on a date in December. Besides which we need something to cheer us up after the festive season is over.

Book at Bedtime

A few years ago a couple of friends and I decided to start a reading group. As mums of young children we recognised our need for the occasional evening of intelligent adult conversation (complete with red wine and nibbles!) and a reading group seemed to fit the bill. As a teenager I was a voracious reader, mainly of classical novels, but having to read set texts at university had put me off books of any kind and when the girls arrived I persuaded myself I didn't have the time, or the energy. I hoped that committing myself to a deadline would provide the necessary motivation. And, happily, it has.

We meet every 6 weeks or so in one or other of our houses. Books used to be chosen by consensus, but we have recently swapped to alphabetical order by surname. I don't know how many books we have read over the past years. One of us once had a list but it hasn't been kept up to date. What I do know is that it has encouraged me to read a wider variety of books than I would otherwise have attempted. There have been some truly dreadful books, but many more enjoyable ones. Funnily enough, it's usually the least popular books that have generated the longest and fiercest discussions.

Last Friday we discussed 'Prodigal Summer' by Barbara Kingsolver. I didn't care for it very much but listening to us dissect it persuaded one member, who hadn't managed to read it, to borrow a copy to take home with her.

While I wait for the next person on the list to choose our next book, I have started 'The Remains of the Day' by Katsuo Ishiguro, so that I can discuss it with my elder daughter who is studying it at AS level. I'll need to read at least one book in between reading book titles if I'm to achieve my target minimum of 20 books this year.

Any recommendations will be warmly received.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Good Hair Day!

Not being someone who lays very much importance on my appearance, I don't have my hair cut very often. The last time I visited the salon (on my account, because I have accompanied the girls on a couple of occasions) was way back on the 7th of April last year, when I blogged on my dread of hairdressers.

So today was a pleasant surprise. After I'd given her an outline of what I wanted, my hairdresser took over and did the rest. And, to my relief, she didn't even ask me what I was doing at the weekend! I shall ask for her next time I make an appointment which, on previous form, should be sometime in October!

The self photo does not afford you an appreciation of the graduated cut on the back of my head, but I have been assured that it looks lovely!
Actually, it doesn't look very different from the last time I had it done. Oh well, plus ca change ...