Archive for December, 2007

New Year’s thingies…

I don’t really want to call them resolutions, largely because I’m contrary and don’t want to think of what I want to achieve as being in the New Year’s Resolutions category along with unrealistic pledges to lose weight, drink less, exercise more etc… I actually do need to exercise more, but that is a general ongoing thing.

I don’t expect that the house will be cleaner, that I will spend less time on internet forums, that I will remember to sterilise my mooncup before it’s actually needed, or that I will cork up the rest of the bottle and save it till tomorrow, just because of an arbitrary promise I make, so I’m not going to make myself feel guilty by trying. If I want to decide to be tidier in August, I can be tidier in August!

However, there are several things that I could do which I feel will enrich my life. They are more a product of my crisis a few weeks ago than the New Year, and are things I want to do anyway, but thanks to the happy coincidence of timing, I will be starting them in the first few days of January…

1) Take a dressmaking course, and learn how get more use out of my beautiful Singer treadle machine than just as a really nice table.

2) Do something with the piles of scavenged curtains we have lying around to make my house warmer and more efficient. (Possibly contingent on the above!) Nag bf to put up curtain rails and get second draught-excluder for the back door.

3) Grow something (other than herbs) that actually gets big enough to eat, unlike my winter spinach which is still alive, but not getting any bigger due to the cold.

4) Try and find some people in my area who are interested in these sorts of things, so I don’t conduct my social life entirely over the internet. Have been meaning to go to my local FOE group or Green Drinks since I moved, and never got a round tuit…

And, more prosaically, 5) get a bit better at my job, so it takes me less time and I have more time to knit and garden!

December 30, 2007 at 10:17 pm 4 comments

Seasonal greeting-type thingies

I probably won’t be online very much over the next few days, as I’m off to see my boyfriend’s family for a heady whirl of birthday/festive socialising and booze, followed by visiting my family in Northumberland, who I don’t see very much and who I’d quite like to actually talk to when I’m there, rather than spending all my time on the internet!

So I would like to wish everybody reading this a very happy Christmas, whatever it means to you. I hope you eat well, drink well and get to spend time with the people you love.

And, in case I get really sidetracked, hope you see the New Year in in style….

December 22, 2007 at 10:33 am 1 comment

Drat that Mr Seymour!

My wonderful boyfriend got me the wonderful ‘Self-Sufficiency’ by Jon Seymour out of the library last week, and now I want a smallholding and a cow.

Which I can’t afford.

Well, I could maybe save up for the cow, but I think my neighbours would look on my garden with even more disapproval if it had a cow in it.

December 19, 2007 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

Next step

I have covered my cakes in marzipan.

Also my kitchen.


Dear lord, I’ve only realistically got a week to make a bookmark, some toffee and a pair of mittens. Aargh! Why was I not more organised?! I spend TOO MUCH TIME on internet forums.

Sorry for the heavy tone of the last post. Well, I’m not sorry really, because it was important, but I realise that being depressing is not the way to achieve whatever the hell it is I’m trying to achieve (or really to achieve anything), so while I don’t apologise for anything I thought of felt, I do apologise if it made you feel anything like I did on Friday night! Still haven’t come up with that damn list, either…

We also have a Christmas tree. There was some confusion and faffing about in the garden centre, so we aren’t actually entirely sure if it has roots or not – responsible consumer or what?! – but it is the right size and very cheerful, and if it doesn’t have roots we can get one with roots next year….

I ordered some decoration kits from the nice people over at Christmas Matters which should arrive tomorrow, so I can get started on those. So little time, so much to do….

This extract from the Song of Songs was just read out as part of the sermon on Choral Evensong.

“For now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

Made me think of Christmas.

December 16, 2007 at 10:41 pm Leave a comment

"Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux"

I’m not sure I’m convinced by my new colour scheme. That’ll teach me to fiddle around with the settings!

I had a bit of a slump on Friday. The bf was out revelling and I was alone in the house and it was absolutely freezing, and I was reading the news about Bali and writing Christmas cards, and suddenly felt very despondent about the planet and my efforts to save it.

It seemed as if Bali was just another talking shop – as The Now Show put it, world leaders have agreed that the time for action is now and so they’ve decided to have another meeting in three years. (I paraphrase.) I do feel somewhat encouraged that the US has signed up, but I still don’t really see it as a victory. Firstly, with our government’s plans to expand Heathrow and give planning permission to any supermarket that wants it, I hardly feel that Britain is really in a position to claim any moral superiority, and I can see no evidence that the government is willing to act, even by passing simple regulations such as making offices turn their lights off at night. If our leaders really believe that they are making a difference, I despair, I really do.

I also don’t see how all these politicians can’t be worried about it as human beings. Yes, I know the aviation industry wields a lot of power over the government and it’s difficult to regulate them politically, but do these people not have children? Can they really, genuinely not see that if they don’t act now, the planet will not be capable of supporting their descendants? Does this not worry them?

I just don’t understand how you can read about peak oil, read about climate change, read about overfishing, deforestation, overpopulation and not feel as angry, as passionate and as motivated as I do.

In addition to the political apathy, I also feel that the general population is stark, staring bonkers. People running around, spending, spending, spending, consuming, consuming, consuming, not thinking about how things were produced or how to get rid of them responsibly when the adverts tell them it’s time to move onto the next thing. I want to stand in shopping centres and scream, ‘We’re all going to hell in a handcart – what are you people DOING?’ These things are made from trees, made from oil, made by real people, but most people seem to believe that stuff comes from ‘shops’ and then they can throw it ‘away’.

I felt like there was no way we could prevent or really slow down the catastrophe. I no longer believed that writing to my MP or taking direct action will help, and I no longer believe that the majority of people are going to accept there is a problem and start being more responsible until they are forced to by circumstances or heavy-handed legislation (and I don’t believe the legislation will be forthcoming, so basically we will need to lose Norfolk before anyone believes there is a problem).

I try so, so hard not to become dry and humourless about my greenness – I do have the odd rant, and the odd moment where I just have to bite my tongue, but on the whole, I’d like to think that instead of preaching at people about driving to work and carbon emissions, I’d be more likely to say something like, ‘Oh, I prefer to cycle home, as the fresh air really blows away the cobwebs after a day in the office, and I get a good work-out so I can put my feet up in the evening instead of going to the gym!’ I don’t view anything that I do in order to be more green as a hardship (except possibly when it’s cold as it was yesterday!) and generally find it to have been a very positive influence in my life – I’m eating better, fitter, more relaxed and have learnt so many new skills, and have so many exciting projects for the future.

I don’t resent doing all this stuff – I love that my woolly jumper is warmer than an acrylic one, I love all my second-hand furniture, I love knitting and cooking and growing things and eating local seasonal food and walking places instead of driving, and I’d do all these things anyway because they’re good for the soul.

But it was absolutely FREEZING in my house and I refused to turn the heating up and almost everybody in the world would think I was crazy for sitting there in the cold, and I suddenly realised that rather than thinking, ‘I mustn’t turn the heating up, because if we all save resources, it can make a huge impact and we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change’, I was thinking ‘I mustn’t turn the heating up, because if I can save this tiny bit of gas, and if a handful of other people save tiny bits of gas, there’s the tiny chance that it’ll last just that tiny bit longer, so that by the time it hits, we might have a house with a proper garden and I might have learnt how to use my sewing machine.’

I never questioned whether what I’m doing is the right thing to do, but it upset me that my motivation seemed to have momentarily changed: instead of believing that by all doing the right thing we will eventually influence governments and communities to do the right thing too, I seemed to have been gripped by a manic, baked-bean-hoarding drive for self-preservation and lost my faith in the goodness of humanity!

I suppose we all have moments when it’s nigh on freezing outside and there’s nothing to eat but cabbage and swede for four more months and we feel completely out of kilter with the rest of the world, and the scale and enormity of what we’re facing suddenly hits home: how things are going to change, and how we are going to have to change, and all the things that won’t be there any more.

It makes me sad. It makes me not want to have children. This isn’t something I’d been planning on doing within the next few years anyway, but I suddenly felt so despairing for the future of the human race that I felt it wouldn’t be fair on my children, and it would only add to the problem anyway. And yet, facing the possible threat to our survival honestly, the urge to replace myself suddenly made itself felt very strongly.

I’ve thought about this a bit more, and realise that we don’t need no people (though the planet might thank us), we need fewer people, and we need those people to live sustainably. The planet would probably be able to cope with us all living a Western lifestyle if there was only a billion or so of us, and if we all lived like African subsistence farmers, the extra few billion would matter much less. Human instinct plays a large part here, and this probably sounds like a shameless attempt at self-justification, but I don’t think that my holding back from having one or two children and raising it/them to be responsible is the answer to the mess we’re in.

I went to bed on Friday evening, with a hot water bottle and a piece of carrot cake and listened to last week’s ‘Gardener’s Question Time’. This restored my faith in humanity somewhat, and I was briefly tempted to hibernate with Radio 4 and baked goods until spring.

I posted about this on INEBG,* and received some very good advice and welcome reassurance from the lovely people on there. They reminded me, and I knew deep down inside, that the only thing we can do is to keep plugging away, doing what we can to prevent, postpone and/or prepare for the coming crisis, whatever it may be, chipping away at the wall of ignorance, denial and prevarication around us.

I thought of Voltaire’s ‘il faut cultiver notre jardin’, with all the myriad of different implications that that has. Yes, we must go out and weed even though the weeds will grow back, but we must also cultivate our souls and our communities.

I thought of Camus’s Sisyphus myth, how, even though we know our actions may be pointless, honest hard work is a better response to existential despair than denial, dogma and death.

I thought of the Inquisition, the Second World War, and all those who have lived through dark times, and how doing our bit and keeping a positive frame of mind is in many ways the best, and sometimes our only, course of action.

A revolution through gardening. A new ‘dig for victory’ campaign.

I am currently thinking of five positive actions I can take to make myself more able to cope with the crisis and to do more, however futile it may seem, to spread the word. It’s important not to be complacent. Yes I am doing lots, and doing lots more than many other people, but I can’t sit back and feel smug about it.

So far I have:

  1. get some thick curtains to stop so much heat escaping through the windows, make a draught excluder for the back door
  2. go along to the local FOE group and the Green Drinks event in Reading – meet people, make connections, stop feeling so much like no-one cares except people on the internet

Have several other thoughts, but need to tease them into a list. I like lists. Any suggestions?

*from which much of this entry is copied and pasted, sorry for being so unoriginal

December 16, 2007 at 2:26 pm 1 comment

December sniffles, obscure cuts of lamb and bio-"diversity" in my back garden

Succumbed to the lurgy this week, shame on me! I felt myself coming down with it last week and thought I had successfully fought it off, and so I went around smugly evangelising about the healing properties of echinacea, zinc, onion soup and sheer bloody-mindedness. Unfortunately, I felt sniffly at the weekend and had to rally myself to meet a huge deadline on Monday, to which my immune system said, ‘don’t push it, mate, I’m not invincible’ and I woke up on Tuesday feeling disgusting.

I get absolutely epic colds – not in the sense that I am ever particularly ill, but for some reason, they always go straight to my eyes, which get all swollen and streaming and painful, so I can’t been able to focus on anything like knitting, reading, the computer, cross stitch etc. But enough of me moaning!

Being now less busy and germ-ridden, I have been able to get on with the mundane tasks associated with this time of year, and have placed a final Amazon order, written all but 5 of my cards this afternoon, while listening to the Messiah (this being the only Christmassy music I have aside from the Britten ‘Ceremony of Carols’ which doesn’t last very long) and given my Christmas cakes a final feed of brandy before icing them this weekend.

Last night, I had my first encounter with lap of lamb (other than selling it), or, as it’s known down south, breast of lamb. With help from the wonderful Old Scrote I managed to bone it out and make a sage and onion stuffing and roast it so slowly that by the end, the bf was kneeling by the oven, inhaling deeply and begging to be allowed to eat it now. I even managed to make him eat sprouts, though only by the inclusion of bacon…

The kitchen is still full of washing up, however.

Casual observation out of my window has shown that my garden is full of wildlife which, for a suburban wasteland whose surface is almost entirely gravel and patio, is rather impressive. Admittedly, much of the aforementioned biodiversity is actually pigeons and a grey squirrel that spends all day running back and forth along the fence at the end of the garden (don’t really count greys as real squirrels, spoilt Northumbrian that I am!). I have seen a couple of robins and smaller birds, though. I wonder if there is any way I can encourage more wildlife while discouraging, or at least not further encouraging the pigeons and bushy-tailed vermin!! Or if, indeed, this is at all an ethical position to hold! Better some wildlife than none…. The greys have long since driven out the reds round here, so I needn’t worry if they pinch some of the food I put out. I suppose I just wish some of the less pushy species would benefit from my generosity.

I got a form from some nosey agency the other day asking what I’d been doing since graduating. I filled it out saying I was a care worker and looking to become a freelance translator and report-writer, because I liked the control this gives me over my work and being able to work flexibly. I also said I was planning doing a dressmaking course next term because I wanted to ‘learn new skills for a post-oil world’. Wonder what their statistics will make of that!

December 14, 2007 at 4:22 pm 1 comment

Carbon footprint

I’ve been working on a conference on carbon capture this week, which has brought back to me some of the science of climate change, rather than simply concentrating on the lifestyle aspect of it.

So, I calculated my carbon footprint on the government website. This is the first time I’ve been able to do it with my own heating bills, which is interesting, although I couldn’t find the bf’s mileage on his car or anything, so that wasn’t taken into account.

Anyway, we came up with 4.43 tonnes per year as our household footprint, which compares pretty favourably with the national average of 10.22 (although if this is for a household, most households may be 3, 4, 5 people, so it’s not necessarily fair – the website isn’t very clear about that) and with the target footprint of 3.54.

We did particularly well on appliances, which considering that we have a pretty crummy old (second-hand!) fridge and freezer, means that there must be a lot of people leaving their mobile phone chargers plugged in…

So, what does our action plan suggest:


  • switching to a green tariff – no can do, renting
  • reduce temp on thermostat – done this already, house is often dangerously cold as it is!
  • set the timer to only come on when people are in the house – well, duh!
  • get a seven day timer if people are in at different times – again, we have no control over the boiler etc, but when I’m in on my own during the day I tend to have the oil-filled radiator on for a burst of heat as it’s better to heat a room than the whole house
  • renewable technologies e.g. solar panels, wind turbine – no can do, renting (when I get my smallholding, though……)
  • draught-proofing – have draught-excluders, but getting some really thick curtains would be good… there were some in Oxfam, so i’ll measure the windows and see if they fit (they looked a bit short at first glance)
  • loft insulation – not shelling out to insulate someone else’s house!! can you take it with you when you move???
  • double glazing – again, no can do…. would look into that or secondary glazing if we buy somewhere that’s not double-glazed, but I flat-out refuse to get uPVC windows
  • underfloor heating – again, no can do, but I had it in my first year at uni and LOVED it!


  • get more energy efficient fridge – yep, when this one breaks
  • get a microwave – I know they are more energy efficient, but we really haven’t room for one, and I only really see them as a tool for defrosting/reheating rather than a cooking appliance… I know I should be more open-minded… I do use my slow cooker a fair bit though
  • get a dishwasher – okay, it only says this if you are a large household and do a lot of washing up throughout the day… we are a small household, do the washing up once in the evening (maybe once at lunch too), and also have a small house with no room for said appliance
  • turn down brightness and colour on the telly – apparently, manufacturers tend to set them for showroom viewing which is too bright for normal living rooms. I have no idea if this is true… I also never go anywhere near the telly… will pass info onto the boy…


  • walk, bike, use public transport whenever possible – do this already, boy does most of the time, sometimes drives to work when late… only really use car for getting places we can’t get to on food/by bus/train or when we need to pick up something heavy
  • keep car in good condition – not my job!
  • stop flying – yes, yes, I know, it’s bad, I am going to take the train to China… never take domestic flights, will take train within Europe, but sometimes it’s just so expensive and time-consuming….

December 6, 2007 at 8:25 pm Leave a comment

Leftovers recipe of the week

This isn’t a recipe, so much as a tip. I haven’t done anything massively creative with leftovers this week. I tried a thing that involved fried rice, but it was vile and peculiar so you don’t want to know about it!

Anyway, I have recently discovered that you can make stock in the slow cooker! As I have a ferocious cooker, it’s quite difficult to keep the heat low enough as it is, which gives the slow cooker an advantage, but it is also so energy-efficient that it must be a more economical and environmentally friendly to make stock.

Just bung all the bones, veg, herbs etc you would normally put in in the crock pot, cover with cold water and cook for about six hours. Skim the fat off about half way through. When it’s done, just strain it into various containers/bags and freeze!

I’m making some onion soup in the slow cooker atm. The boy has a cold, and has very generously shared his germs with me, so I thought it would be a nice, health-giving thing to have for supper. And it smells divine while it’s cooking!

December 5, 2007 at 11:57 am Leave a comment


All finished, ready to frame, only almost-three-months late, but….

the enormous cross-stitch project is finished!!!!!

December 2, 2007 at 6:01 pm 2 comments


I am not preparing for Christmas in the sense that I am rushing out to send myself (further) into debt by buying over-packaged gifts for everyone I know. Nor am I festooning my house with cheap tat made from oil and imported from the other side of the globe. I have a strict rule about not even beginning to think about Christmas before the 1st December. The only exceptions are that I have made my cakes, in order to get maximum brandy into them before I ice them, and bought some cards because I have a friend in China and need to post it early. But that’s it.

I am trying to be as green as possible this Christmas. I don’t buy into the massive festival of commercialism it has become. In fact, the ‘greener’ I get, the more I feel totally turned off by the decorations and naff gifts that are in the shops. I’m a bit of a foodie and love getting foodie things as presents (far better than having yet more stuff hanging around the house), but the weird gadgets that shops are trying to persuade people who don’t know about food to buy you???? Give me a good knife or a Le Creuset dish any day, but really, there is nothing else I need. Or I’d love some good quality ingredients I wouldn’t normally buy (my mum got me some fantastic things for my birthday) but don’t get me something just cos it’s in a pretty bottle!!

I hate how people are ‘boxed’ as well – shops will have a range of £5 gifts, £10 gifts, £20 gifts, so you can neatly slot your friends and family into little boxes for how much they mean to you and buy them presents accordingly.

No thank you! I have given up fighting my way through red, sparkly books of quotations to find things my brother might actually want to read, and now do most of my shopping online.

Now, really, the greenest thing to do would be to boycott Christmas altogether. It is, after all, a huge faff, and extremely expensive. The Victorians have a lot to answer for.

Yet, I can’t quite bring myself to do that. Firstly, I’m a weakling who can’t bear to be different from the rest of society. Okay, okay, that’s not quite true. But it’s important to me to take time out from my daily routine (wake up, drink tea, arrange words on a page, drink tea, faff on the internet, watch cookery programmes, drink wine, listen to Radio4, go to bed) and spend a few days lazing around with my nearest and dearest. I really enjoy cooking a meal alongside my mum and/or my granny, even down to everyone pitching in with the mammoth washing up effort. I love going for walks with the dog on Boxing Day when the ground is all crispy and frosty. I love singing, and carol services, and carols, and hate Slade with a fiery passion. I don’t like mince pies very much, but I’m very fond of mulled wine, stollen, Christmas cake and those little sausages wrapped up in bacon.

On a more spiritual level, I definitely wouldn’t call myself Christian, but as I’ve become more aware of the earth and the seasons, the connection* between the church’s year and the agricultural year has become more acute to me and has become something worth celebrating for its own sake, rather than just because this is the time of year someone decided to plonk Christmas.

I don’t think caring about the environment means we have to deny ourselves everything. For it to be a sustainable lifestyle choice, it has to be about restructuring how we live and how we consume, and coming together celebration is a part of that.

So, having decided to embrace Christmas, what can I do to celebrate it without giving in to mass consumerist hysteria?


I am disorganised and untalented and I won’t actually get around to making many of my gifts. I’ll be lucky to finish the cross stitch for my parents’ wedding anniversary which was in September, let alone knit my brother a dalek. (My cross stitch scissors have gone missing.) I am going to cross stitch a bookmark for my bf but that’s it. However, I am going to buy small, thoughtful gifts for those closest to me and make sure that they are made of natural materials (as far as possible) and not going to get chucked out or left in a drawer come January. Next year I shall have done a sewing course, so will be in a better position to make things.

Gifts will be wrapped in recyclable (recycled, if I can get it) brown paper, stamped with potato-printed stars.


I’m sorry, I just like cards. I know they’re not green, but a card says, ‘hey, I like you enough to get off my arse, go to a shop, find out your address, dedicate an afternoon to writing individual messages to people, buy some stamps and get to the post-box before the last posting date’ so much better than a circular email. Also, my elderly relatives don’t do email. Also, I like getting cards, cos they make the house look festive, and they can be re-used as gift tags the following year. But, yes, I recognise that they are hugely destructive. Therefore, my cards are 50% recycled and all the profits go to Oxfam. M&S had some that were 75% recycled, the highest percentage I could find without getting the train into Reading, and gave a portion of the profits to charity, but all those ones were horrid and naff, and the nice ones weren’t so fluffy and friendly, and I resented the implicit assumption that you couldn’t care about the environment and have taste, so I refused to buy them.


Oh, oh, the big tree debate. Do you buy a plastic tree that is made from nasty, unrecyclable materials and gives off nasty chemicals and is shipped over from China but which lasts for years and years? Or do you heartlessly rip a real tree out of the ground in order to cover it in baubles and then throw it away?

I’ve done a bit of reading online, and the main point is to consider what you’re going to do with your tree afterwards. Does your council collect them? Can you chop it up and use it for firewood? Have you got a big garden you can plant it in?

I suppose it depends on your personal priorities. And, personally, I’m all for natural materials, and the idea of a re-useable tree that is made of baaaad things and is imported and hence unsustainable in a post-oil world comes a definite second to a real tree that comes from close by and smells all piney. Mmmmmm. Well-managed woodland is sustainable. Plastic is not. Plants and foliage help celebrate the passing of the seasons. Plastic does not.

The bf doesn’t even want to get a tree at all, and I sort of see his point, as we are going to be away for most of the actual 12 days of Christmas, but I reckon I’ve found a solution, at least for next year. For £25 online (and that’s without looking very hard, I’m sure I could find one cheaper with a bit of effort, and from nearby) you can buy a 3-4 ft Christmas tree in a pot, which you can bring into the house for a couple of weeks and then put outside again, and you can re-use it for at least a couple of years. Someone mentioned a dwarf spruce that will live in a pot and grow to a maximum of 6ft, which sounds perfect. I can’t plant a tree out here, but from what I’ve read, it should survive in a pot for at least year or so, and hopefully by the time its life in a container is over, we will have bought somewhere with a garden that we can plant it out into.

For other decorations, I’m just going to get some good-quality, tasteful tree decorations and ribbons, and check out the legality of foraging for holly…..


… is entirely the responsibility of my mum and my bf’s mum who are doing the actual cooking over Christmas. I have faith that they will buy what they can locally and seasonally, and anyway, it’s their choice, and I can’t nag them about it, because I’m a guest and that would be rude! I can just buy them Joanna Blythman books next Christmas if I have my doubts. Muahahaha. I may well end up catering at new year though.

My word, what an epic post! Well done if you got to the end!

* some might call it the shameless hijacking of pagan festivals by the Judeo-Christian tradition…. they would not be wrong… but I believe that essentially we’re celebrating the same thing – nature and community – and I’d rather just slot in with what the rest of the community does than split hairs about four days just to make a political point

December 1, 2007 at 10:46 am 3 comments

Most recent ramblings

December 2007
The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."