Archive for June, 2008

Independence days update

Planted: cavolo nero seeds; also picked up some pepper plants at the garden centre and got some more chillis in a swap

Harvested: lots of salad leaves

Preserved: made 3 jars gooseberry jam, 3 jars rhubarb and ginger

Managed reserves: sorted out store cupboard and stocked up on dry goods

Cooked: made mayonnaise! And a new kind of jam. Scientist Boyfriend has actually excelled in this this week: he made brawn (I know, I know…. actually tastes just like pork pie with no pastry, of which I am not a fan, but it was okay fried) and the most delicious bread rolls ever.

Prepped: went to fleece workshop, used drop spindle, have been washing fleece; finished knitting sock, cast on second.

Worked on local food systems: bit of seed/plant/produce swapping at the Ish meet on Saturday; cooked for lots of Scientist Boyfriend’s friends yesterday.

June 30, 2008 at 9:32 am 5 comments


Here are a couple of photos from when I was washing the fleece the other day. I was told to put boiling water in a bowl/tub, put the fleece in, being careful not to agitate it too much in case it felted, leave it until the water cooled, then replace the water with lukewarm water, then again with cold water, changing it until it was clear.

It was amazing how clean it got, just from soaking. The bottom photo is the clean fleece drying – you can see how the white glints in the sun! – and the top one is the unwashed fleece, but it’s mostly brown, so not a great comparison… 😉

Here is my lunch from yesterday. Seems like everybody (well, GTM and MrsL) are posting photos of what they eat atm. I probably won’t do a whole week’s worth, but I was proud of this one, because the salad was from the garden, so were the chives, I cured the bacon myself and Scientist Boyfriend had made the bread. Bought ingredients: 1/2 carrot, walnut, butter, oil and vinegar for salad dressing.

And this one…. Well… Is this not just the perfect spot for a little lemon tree?…..

June 27, 2008 at 4:30 pm 3 comments

Avoid the post-apocalyptic chaos: get a piano!

My grandpa died in April of last year. It was horribly sad and I miss him dreadfully, and I remember just what a good person he was, how active he was in his community, always on the parish council and committees for societies and organising events, how curious he was about everything, and sometimes, selfishly, I think of all the gardening wisdom that I never gleaned from him. I wish he’d been able to see my strawberries and lettuces and the other week, when Gardener’s Question Time was from Cumbria, where my grandparents lived since the early 1980s, I inexplicably found myself in tears. This was a piece of music I always found mawkishly sentimental, but since the line ‘And there was no more sea’ reminded me of his naval experiences during WW2 when we sang it in choir about a week after the funeral, I’ve listened to it about once a fortnight. I’m not even religious…

Yet I also look at my family now and feel much closer to them. My dad’s family have never been close – not that there’s ever been any animosity between them or anything like that, but they are a quiet, rather introverted bunch and he never rang his sisters for a chat or anything like that – and in the last year or so I have seen them all work much more at keeping in touch, at helping my grandma move, I’ve spent time looking at old photos and learning much more about my dad’s childhood. My parents make (and made, while my grandpa was ill) a lot of effort to go over and visit, taking gifts of things like shepherd’s pie, taking my grandma out for the day. I make much more effort to write to my grandparents, and visit them when I can, and help out my neighbour, who is quite elderly and lives on her own. I appreciate my own parents more, aware that they won’t be around for ever.


If I am an optimist, it is more because I try to look for the best in people and in situations and I try to make things into positive experiences as far as possible, rather than because I always expect the best to happen. (I try to be baldly realistic in my prognostications for the future, imagining the best and the worst and trying to be prepared for anything, but mostly expecting something in the middle.) I’m not so Pollyanna-ish as to try to spin anything so awful and finite as death into a blessing in disguise, but perhaps it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that as well as the sorrow, positive things have been born out of it also. I find that if I can put my grief to good use (by getting closer to my family and being to be kind to old people) it helps me cope with it better. Denial is useless; let in the bad, explore the bad, embrace the bad – it is part of you and part of life. But after a while, for god’s sake channel it into something useful.


The more I’ve delved into this rather personal dark place, the less I feel that it was a useful comparison, but never mind.

There has been a lot of talk in various places about The Future, and how we’re all doooooomed, and we’re all going to end up shooting each other over the last can of baked beans in T*sco (whose shareholders have rejected HFW’s chicken idea, the barstewards) and I’ve been trying desperately to point out to anyone who’ll listen that this does not necessarily have to be the case, and that while it’s important to be prepared for the worst, if we go around acting like the worst is definitely going to happen… well, it’s more likely to happen than if we do something to try and avert it. (Like, say, if the motivated people who are aware of what’s going on and why all get terribly depressed and mistrustful and bunker down with tins of food and firearms we’re more likely not to have any of the systems in place that can mitigate disaster and therefore there are more likely to be rampaging, hungry mobs than if, say, they band together and encourage the creation or continuation of resilient local food systems, sustainable textiles and building materials, and so on and so forth.)

However, sometimes I do feel nauseatingly Pollyanna-ish (I do it for your own good, people 🙂 ), and I was wondering if perhaps I was coming off as painting too cheerful a picture of our post-oil future. After all, just because woodburners are nicer than gas central heating, and gardening and making jam are more fun than sitting at a computer all day, and if we had no telly and no internet Scientist Boyfriend and I would probably spend more time talking and playing Scrabble, doesn’t mean there won’t be a load of things I’ll miss (my iTunes playlist, 24/7 Bach if I want it… washing machines… not having to chop wood in Arctic temperatures…). And also, gardening and making jam are a lot more fun when I know Waitrose is just down the road. I made rhubarb and ginger jam yesterday, and effectively buggered it all up (though I might be able to sort it out), and if that had been my stock of rhubarb jam for the whole winter, the consequences would be a lot direr than just feeling slightly peeved that this lot didn’t work when all the other jam I’ve ever made set perfectly. Same when my pepper plant was dug up, or my pak choi got munched by slugs. I was thinking about this when I was spinning and when I was knitting my sock – back in the days when this was how all socks were made, people wouldn’t have had many pairs of socks!

I’ve recently read Affluenza, by Oliver James, which was really interesting. I didn’t agree with all of it, but one point he did raise was that in Shanghai, one of the cities he studies, material wealth does generally correlate with happiness. He explores some of the differences in Chinese and Western philosophy and culture which might cushion the people of Shanghai against ‘affluenza’, but ultimately agrees with the hypothesis that in 20 years’ time, they’ll in all likelihood have the same rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders etc that we have in the West (except Denmark, Denmark seem to have pretty much cracked it, but their childcare system is flawed). Similar themes were picked up in a Guardian article at the weekend: basically, having more stuff makes you happier up to a point, such as getting indoor plumbing, or your first electric sewing machine, or your first car, but after you’ve got a certain amount of stuff, the thrill of getting a different coloured bathroom, or a newer, bigger car, doesn’t give you the same buzz and you just get trapped into a cycle of working more to buy more stuff because you believe it will make you happier, while losing valuable things like relationships with your family and community. (And that, folks, was the whole of postindustrial social and economic history. Tune in next week, when Hamster summarises the complete works of Tolstoy in one paragraph.)

I can mostly agree with this logic, although I do get very acquisitional whenever I go into the yarn section of John Lewis and I love pretty old houses and beautiful textiles and owning shelves of books. Would my life be terrible if I don’t have those things? Probably not, though having shelter, clothing and entertainment/intellectual stimulation in some form would be nice…

But overall, although there are certainly things I do that are unsustainable in the long-term, I find that rather than getting upset about not being able to have 24/7 Bach (do I really need something as wonderful as the Mass in B Minor or The Well-Tempered Clavier as mere background noise when I cook anyway?), I’d rather put my energy into finding ways of… not replacing them, per se, but finding something roughly equivalent that I can carry on having. Like a piano. 🙂 As with food, being a producer as well as a consumer, as Mr Hopkins would put it.

And so, when reflecting on the fact that I have been utterly let down by my education* and I’m going to have to pretty much teach myself (or at least actively seek out someone to teach me) all the skills I am probably going to need in order to thrive in my future life, I don’t find it very helpful to concentrate on the probable widespread poverty and drudgery, the potential for social disorder, or the possibility for days-long power cuts, or any of the Mad Max-type scenarios. I don’t deny they are a possibility, I just a) feel they are an unlikely one and b) can’t really do much about them.

So I let that negativity in, the fear and the loss, but I then try and focus on the positives. Okay, so we won’t be able to travel as much, but we might find or create more to interest us in our local communities. Okay, so we might have to do more hard, outdoors, physical work, but we’ll have better food and probably be healthier. Okay, we won’t be able to blog and use internet forums as much, but we might write more letters and get more post that isn’t bills. And the internet, for all its wonders, is not an unalloyed boon: I have RSI in my right wrist (and really shouldn’t be typing this) and an irritating tendency never to get around to doing anything, because I believe I can do it any time, because somehow broadband creates that illusion in my mind.

Sharon Astyk summed it up well, I think, here:

And the answer, I suspect, is [I am intentionally romanticising subsistence agriculture] a little bit, in the sense that I don’t think anything is served by my saying, “your future and the future of your children is drudgery and misery.” I think it is certainly possible that I elide some difficulties – or rather, that I prefer not to focus on them. Some of that is the optimist issue – I am one, despite my dark prognosis for our culture. And part of it is that ultimately most of the things that will necessarily get harder aren’t the things I value most. That is, I suspect our physical loads will get heavier. On the other hand, I suspect that will only be good for my overall health and wellbeing, so I choose to look at it not as a negative, but as mostly a positive.

So that, really, is my plea to everyone who is worried and concerned about the future. Allow yourself to worry, get it out of your system, and then stop worrying. Decide that you are going to be aware of the bad stuff, and start examining the things in your life that you will miss and the things you definitely won’t and try and work out a way to compensate for the things you will. Think about the things you might look forward to and focus on them.

Choose to see things as positive.

Talk to your loved ones. Get a piano. Be nice to old people. Don’t overcook your jam.

* Not the part at Oxford, where I was encouraged to think critically and manage my own learning, with occasional intervention from the finest minds in their field – the part at my hideous, pushy girls’ independent school, but that’s a story for another day.

June 27, 2008 at 4:14 pm 3 comments

History of Oil

Here is Robert Newman’s History of Oil a stand-up comedy show about peak oil, which, apart from the rather tasteless part about composting the Pope, is excellent – just the kind of eccentric, erudite comedy I love. Watch it.

Bizarrely enough, I found the link to it from the Girl with a one-track mind blog, which, yet more bizarrely, I was linked to by Almost Mrs Average. Funny old world.

June 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm 1 comment

More sheep-related things

There’s a spinning wheel on ebay, for £49.99, about 20-30 mins drive away from me, good working order – what’s the catch?

No, no, must be sensible. I went along to a Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers meeting on Saturday and had great fun. A friend from FOE let me experiment with her drop spindle, which I slowly got the hang of, though I’d practically bitten my tongue off by then – the lady next to me said ‘BLAST!’ very irately and looked extremely shocked and bashful afterwards, and I was tempted to say much worse things when I kept dropping the thing on the floor and couldn’t get the two bits of yarn to fix together, and had to restrain myself from shouting profanities in a village hall full of 80-something-year-old women. I also got to play with carders, things a bit like hairbrushes that you use to get all the fibres going in the right direction before starting to spin, and I now have the drop spindle on loan, along with some rolags (round bits of wool ready to spin) to practice on, and on the way home I mentioned to the lady who very kindly gave me a lift that I was primarily interested in spinning, but having seen some of the lovely peg loom cushions and rugs on the Woolly Shepherd’s website and WW’s mat on Creative Living I also wanted to have a go at weaving, she said, ‘Oh, would you like to borrow a peg loom?’

I also, somehow, unintentionally came away with some raw fleece. Quite a lot of raw fleece, in fact. Fortunately, Scientist Boyfriend was out running when I came home, so I hid it in the spare room, and yesterday I washed some of it outside while working. I have some pictures, which I’ll post when I have more time.

Hmmmm. My next project was meant to be a hooky mat (see here for lots of fab rugs and instructions) and I had some hessian all ready.

So many beautiful textiles, so little time…..

June 24, 2008 at 9:11 am 1 comment

Sheep and strawberries, cats and peppers

When my parents moved to the country when I was about five, to live the good life at least at weekends, I was extremely excited about the prospect of the strawberry patch.

I was extremely fussy about vegetables, but summer fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, nectarines, peaches etc – were top of my list of favourite foods and reasons for being alive.* We went on holiday that first summer and I was assured that on our return the strawberries would be ready to eat.** My excitement mounted all the way home, and when we arrived we found that the sheep that were meant to live in the field behind our house had broken through the fence and happily munched their way through the entire crop.

I was absolutely devastated, and this is probably a not insignificant contributor to the fact that I became a dedicated frustrated urbanite throughout my teenage years, until I left home and realised the town wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and may also have been why my dad’s vegetable growing remained rather small-scale for many years.

This morning, I discovered nefarious goings-on afoot in my garden. Some creature (probably a cat) had dug up one of my pepper plants overnight and left it on the patio. I popped it back in the grow-bag and gave it a good water, but it might not make it. What cheek!

And a pepper as well. They’ve been causing trouble from the start. I had a germination rate of about 0.00005% and of that only one surviving seedling remains, and it’s still very much a seedling, not a plant. I managed to acquire three plants on Freecycle which are now happily, slowly growing in a sunny spot in my garden. And now, of all the plants the ruddy creature could have destroyed, it went for the least replaceable. Mr Sod, his law (again).

I suspect a villainous feline. I might post confirmed cat-hater Scientist Boyfriend on sentry duty with a water pistol.

But I realise it’s just par for the course. After all, if all I wanted was a steady supply of peppers, I could just buy them in T*sco…

*I only really liked one type of vegetable, carrots, but ate various others under duress and adored fruit. My brother ate a bigger variety of vegetables, but no fruit except apples. I can’t wait to have children…

** It strikes me now that that must have been late August, as I had my birthday while we were away that year, and I’m harvesting strawberries now. Perhaps I should allow Scientist Boyfriend to convince me to move west instead of north…

June 23, 2008 at 11:27 am 3 comments

Teach a man to fish and you get his money for one day; sell a man a fish and you get his money for life…

I don’t think GM crops are going to cause us all to grow three heads. They might (after all, they assured us that feeding ground up bits of dead animal to other animals who were supposed to be vegetarians was fine, and look where that got us), and they’ll probably do strange things to the ecosystem, so it’s wise to be cautious, but overall, I think the whole ‘Frankenfoods’ thing is rather exaggerated.

I don’t think it’s ethically wrong to genetically modify food. After all, scientists are just boys with their toys, that’s what they do. What is wrong is generally what people choose to do with a new discovery, outside the lab, rather than the discovery itself.

However, GM foods are not going to feed the poor. Seriously. Locking people in developing countries into buying seeds and fertilisers every year is not going to help them. Seriously. Do not believe the PR hype. If we really wanted to help people in poor countries feed themselves, we could slash our carbon emissions starting tomorrow so that the entire planet, with the exception of Britain which is going to get colder and wetter, does not turn into a desert. That would be the single most useful thing we in the West could do
to ensure food security for developing countries. That and take our water-intensive cash crops elsewhere. Autonomy is everything.

Now that, I freely agree, is cloud-cuckoo-land talk, but nonetheless, I suspect it might be time to be a good citizen again and be prepared to dust off your ‘writing to your MP’ pen…

June 20, 2008 at 10:14 am 4 comments


Ladies and gentlemen, please ignore my hairy legs and focus on the fact that

I have knitted a sock!

Please also ignore the fact that the toe is about 1.5 in. longer than my foot, giving them a rather elfin aspect, and that the end distinctly does not look like the kitchener stitch invisible seam in the video. I have knitted a sock. Hallelujah.

June 18, 2008 at 11:33 am 1 comment

Independence days update…

This is waaaay overdue. But I have done much this month. I’ve also decided learning new skills comes under prepping!

Planted something: did a second sowing of pak choi, rocket and lettuce; potted a strawberry runner.

Harvested something: few more strawberries; picked some elderflowers; cut and come again lettuces are sooo close! pick

Preserved something: tried to make elderflower cordial but it didn’t really work. Hmph.

Cooked something new: broad beans in various forms, made veggie bean-burgers, used the pea shoots from the veg box.

Managed reserves: Waitrose own-brand pasta was back so we stocked up on that. Using up some of the older dried beans in the cupboard and wondering where to get more from as the supermarket ones all seem old and fall apart.

Prepped something: learned various new things at the Downsizer weekend, including making sausages, using a scythe, gutting a chicken 8) and lots of things about bees. Have been inspired to join the local beekeeping association and learn things from them as a long-term project. Got to the end of one sock, now just got to graft the toe. Also going to the fleece workshop this Saturday!

Worked on local food systems: have given lettuces to two friends and herbs to one – muahahaha. Talked about bees to anyone who will listen. Plugging away with the leaflet too. Also bought some local flour at the independent health food shop, and I could get spices from there (not that they’re local) but they come in plastic bags and Bart ones come in glass jars. Ohh, I hate when it gets all complicated….

June 18, 2008 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

Boyfriend vs. citrus fruits

I don’t normally buy Dorset Cereals muesli, even though they’re fab, cos M&S unsweetened is quite a bit cheaper and almost as nice, but secretly, I long to be a little bit richer (or a little bit more decadent) and eat it everyday because it is so yummy. However, Waitrose had lowered the price of some flavours and I bought some last week to save me a trip, and it had an offer to win some trendy, middle-class, Guardian-reading-type gardening tools. And I’m a bit of a sucker for offers like that, so I typed in the code on the website and didn’t win 😦 but it did have codes for discounts on various gardening websites.

The last two winters I have been eating locally as much as possible, and one thing I have learnt is that it is much easier to make the bulk of your diet local if you can rely on things like chillis, lemons, limes, garlic and ginger, none of which are particularly abundant in these climes in the depths of December, to jazz the cabbage-and-swede routine up a bit. I’ve not felt too guilty about eating the imported ones, but it did get me thinking about the possibility of growing some of these things myself, in a long-term, post-oil resilience sense.

Garlic should be fine (though I think my experiment with the stuff that sprouted in the veg rack might be doomed to failure) as in theory I can grow loads of it when I have my allotment and plait it artfully and hang it in my kitchen. I repeat, in theory. We do eat a lot of garlic.

I also recently bought a chilli plant, the particular variety (prairie fire) supposedly being good to keep as a perennial houseplant. This was inspired by some old family friends of Scientist Boyfriend who had an enormous chilli plant that was taller than me, living happily on their south-facing dining room windowsill. Mine is more modestly sized, but it does have little mini baby yellow chillis on it already. Eeeeee, so exciting! 😀 Someone from Downsizer also gave us another chilli plant (which I think produces rude-shaped chillis) which is outdoors atm as an experiment.

Ginger would need to be indoors according to my research and might not be as easy. Need greenhouse or polytunnel.

But lemons (and by extension limes)….

I went to a French cafe in London and they had a little lemon tree sitting in a pot on a cast-iron table and since that moment I’ve been obsessed with the idea of having a personal supply of lemons in my front room. It’s south-facing and quite warm and we have a little tiled spot in front of the fireplace where we could put it. However, Scientist Boyfriend is being a bit of a spoilsport and saying we don’t have room for one so he’s not going to buy me one for my birthday. Harrumph. We do have room for one by my estimate – I think he’s just worried it will block his view of the telly with its glossy, dark-green foliage.

And now this online gardening shop, where I have a 10% discount, has lemon trees for about £20. It also has an offer where you can buy a lemon tree, a bottle of gin and some tonic water, which, even though tonic water makes me violently ill,* appeals to my sense of self-sufficiency-in-the-name-of-good-living. (Sandi Toksvig was on The News Quiz only the other week bemoaning the rising price of lemons.) And they have bay trees (I also have a peculiar desire to have two bay trees either side of my front door, but people might mistake the house for an Italian restaurant). The bay trees could live outside, over which I definitively have dominion, so that’s not an issue, but….

Do I want a lemon tree enough to risk incurring the wrath of my beloved and long-suffering boyfriend?

* Had malaria, was given quinine, now a mere whiff of tonic water conjures up horrible flashbacks of being in a dingy clinic in Burkina Faso and makes me double up in agonising queasiness.

June 16, 2008 at 2:12 pm 1 comment

Older Posts

Most recent ramblings

June 2008
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."