Adventures in crochet

Recently I finished yet another blanket – this one a mash-up between Lucy’s Harmony blanket (which I made last year) and my own experiments in playing with colour.  It was a belated ‘new home’ gift for our god-daughter, who last year moved into supported housing with two friends – a major milestone and achievement in her life.  I chose colours I liked together, and then realised that it had to be a blanket for her – a young woman who has always enjoyed colours from this part of the spectrum.

The day we visited her parents and I left the blanket with them to pass on, they took us to the Isabella Plantation in nearby Richmond Park.  It was full to bursting of loud, vibrant colour.  There was nothing delicate about this.

And now I’ve set the blue/green blanket aside for a while, to play a bit more with my growing (but now shrinking) stash of leftover bits of colour.  A cot blanket is emerging.  Along the way I was inspired by Gillian’s blanket for Angus, and I learnt a new-to-me stitch (once again, thank you Lucy!).

Posted in Craft, Family, Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Whatever next? – April 2017 update

1. LISTEN

Oh. My. Goodness.

I had already written the rest of this post, but I was struggling with what to write under this heading.  I needn’t have worried.  There is now only one subject worth writing about.  The forthcoming General Election.

I have listened to all sorts of voices in the past 10 months or so, and learned much.

Yesterday I listened in disbelief as the woman who had repeatedly asserted that there would not be an election until the end of the 5 year period of this parliament declared the opposite.  I listened as the woman who supported (albeit quietly) the ‘remain’ camp declared that Brexit must be enabled to proceed without opposition.  I listened as she declared that “at this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is devision.”

Really?  I thought that one of the greatest strengths of a parliamentary democracy is that there is an effective opposition in parliament to test and debate and check Governments.

“In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union.

“The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standsill.

“The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union.

“And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

I found this statement chilling – especially following so swiftly on the heels of the (probably fixed) election in Turkey.  Why not go the whole hog as Trump did and phone Erdogan to offer her congratulations.

Because to oppose is precisely what opposition parties are for – including representing the 48% of voters who voted to remain in the EU.

Look away now if you’re not comfortable with reading about politics, because for now, for this brief period of time, there is nothing more important.

This Government has

  • steadily eroded local democracy and local authorities and their services – the ‘new localism’ seems to have quietly morphed into central (national) control and local blame
  • undermined the massive positive progress made by the NHS and education under the Labour government – schools and health services struggling to survive, with money haemorrhaging away to private companies and wealthy individuals; Sure Start centres closing down
  • slashed away at state provision and services, while pouring money towards the richest in our society in the form of tax cuts and other benefits
  • repeatedly given millions and millions of pounds to private companies (hello Capita, Serco, G4S, Atos among others) to carry out Government benefits cuts, imprisonment, deportations, and support to needy individuals – even when some of those companies have been found to be incompetent and duplicitous
  • reduced millions of citizens (the majority of them in work) to poverty and the need to resort to food banks in order to feed themselves and their families, and vastly increased the number of children growing up in poverty
  • been busy quietly deporting thousands of people without due process (see below)

I have been a Labour Party member (twice).  I have voted LibDem.  I am now a Green Party member.  But none of that matters right now.  For now, for this moment, for me, nothing trumps removing this increasingly hard-line right wing doctrinaire government and working towards bringing to power a centre left government.  Trying to secure a future that reflects our best selves and the best of British values.

We can only do this by working together and setting aside our personal party political preferences, and voting for whichever centre/left candidate has the best chance of winning.

So in the coming weeks I will be in touch with all our local candidates (other than the sitting Tory MP) and putting them on the spot about this, and trying to extract a pledge that their parties will listen to those of us arguing for this and for a better future for my children, your children, for you and for me.

I’m hoping that this time, they will listen to me and others like me.

Everything else I have written below was written before yesterday’s surprise announcement.

2. TAKE CONTROL

My goodness this has been a tough month for that.  How to take control when so much horrible stuff  that we can do nothing about is happening all around?  Particularly with powerful politicians posturing and strutting with their bombs of all types (‘mines bigger than yours‘); and individual terrorists attacking ordinary people.  Plus I’m still reeling from feeling in March that the clocks simultaneously went forward an hour and back about five decades.

But.  Life does go on (for those of us fortunate enough), and indeed we have to make sure that it does, and that while it does, we do the things within our power to make sure things are as good as they can be.

So.  This month I want to focus on supporting people at risk of deportation.  This means a lot to me, for a whole range of personal reasons:

  • my family history  – all of my grandparents came here to escape a worse life elsewhere.  If changes to nationality law that happened in the 1980s had been made before I was born, my own situation would be radically different
  • my work history – years ago when I was a solicitor I did a small amount of immigration work, and I will never, ever, forget accompanying a very kind and gentle single father from Jamaica to be deported with his (British) five year old son, having been lied to by Immigration Officers
  • others close to me who have experienced for themselves the fear and insecurity of having escaped violence in their homeland, and not knowing if they would be able to remain here in safety
  • back in the 80s a good friend ran a successful campaign to prevent the deportation of a local woman who had used the service he worked for, and I know the difference those kinds of supportive actions can make
  • last week we celebrated Pesach (Passover), a time when we reflect on the meaning of freedom, oppression, and personal responsibility.  This year was the first time for many years that I have hosted a Seder (the retelling of the story, with the symbolic Pesach foods) – I do hope the Brexiteers and Trumpers appreciate the irony of being the stimulus for me renewing my Jewish practice (to be distinguished from faith, which I don’t have).

So – I have signed petitions in support of people who, having lived here for many many years, contributing to our communities, have suddenly and apparently randomly been singled out for deportation.

Abdul Hassan – an 18 year old who was brought by his parents to London aged 5 and left living with his aunt, where he remained following the death of his father and his mother’s  mental ill health.  He achieved excellent A levels and was offered a professional apprenticeship by KPMG, but instead his application for ‘leave to remain’ has been rejected by the Home Office, and now he is appealing against that refusal.  His appeal will be heard on June 8th, so there’s still time to sign the petition supporting him if you feel moved to do so (click on the link above).  It will mean a lot to him to have many people showing their personal support for him.

Stoly Jankovic – he came here when he fled Yugoslavia in 1991 to escape from the war.  He’s lived in the UK for 26 years.  For the past 15 years he’s worked in a whole food store in London, paying his taxes and NI.  Below is an extract from the Guardian article where I first read about him:

For the past 10 years, he has signed on every month at an immigration reporting centre in London Bridge, Grayson [his employer] told the Guardian. “Last Thursday afternoon, he went down there, and instead of signing a piece of paper, they locked him up and put him in a van, with no warning at all, so he only had the clothes he stood up in,” he said.

“It is a horrible shock. He is a very integral member of the community in Kentish Town, very popular, and very well-liked. It has made a lot of people very, very angry that this could happen so arbitrarily,” he said.

Speaking from the Verne immigration removal centre in Dorset, Jankovic said: “I am mortified about losing my life.”

“I see myself as completely assimilated. I don’t know what more I can do in that respect. This is my neighbourhood, my culture,” he told the Camden New Journal, which first highlighted his case.

Was it a coincidence that, after 10 years of signing on monthly, he was arrested without prior warning the day after Article 50 was triggered?  Maybe, maybe not.  But what does seem to be true is that more and more of these kinds of decisions are being taken – in our name – usually against people expected to be unable to fight back.

Remember, these are the people we’ve heard of.  Many many more have simply disappeared on flights you and I know nothing about.  And this will carry on happening.  In our name.

Each time I read of one of these incidents, I think of how I would feel if it were my son, my mother, my friend.  Me.

And if you’re questioning whether these petitions achieve anything beyond a ‘feel good’ for those of us who sign them, well I think they do.  Because this kind of state behaviour (in our name remember) seems not to stick under the bright light of publicity.

As a result of the publicity around his situation (including strenuous representations by his MP Keir Starmer), Stoly Jankovic has been given two weeks in which to make his case for being allowed to remain here.  The same has happened to others for whom there was publicity.

Does this affect how others are treated in future?  I have no way of knowing.  But what I do know is that it certainly makes a difference for those individuals whose cases are picked up, and that matters.  It matters a lot.

3. BUILD COMMUNITY

I’m going to follow in the footsteps of Plot34 over at Allotment Life and talk about giving stuff away.  I expect you’re familiar with Freecycle and Freegle – if you’re not, they are online local ‘noticeboards’ where you can ask for things you need, or offer things you don’t need.  All free of charge.

I use our local Freegle group a lot.  I’ve been the happy recipient of some beautiful primroses, snowdrops in the green, two very healthy rhubarb crowns, a good-as-new compost bin, and a top-of-the-range worm bin for youngest son’s tiny garden.  Over the years we’ve given away all sorts of things.  Just this week this included the shed my allotment neighbour had given me that I decided not to use after all – it’s gone to someone who is using it to make a sturdy hen house; my tiny tool shed has gone to someone who wanted exactly that; and the tractor tyre we inherited 25 years ago from our childminder has gone to a local infants school for their ‘wild outdoor space’.

And through it all you do kind of ‘get to know’ local people you might not otherwise have come across.  Building community indeed.  And of course at the same time saving more ‘stuff’ from landfill, and therefore helping to …….

4, LOOK AFTER THE PLANET

Well I suppose this month the biggest thing I’ve done under this heading is all the work on my allotment and garden.  Improving them, weeding, tidying, and generally making them ready for another growing year.  And quite a lot of how I’ve done it could equally come under the ‘build community’ heading, because when we improve how places around us look, that does have a knock-on effect on how people feel about the place when they walk by or through.

Along the way I have sorted through a lot of ‘stuff’ on my allotment, to sort the genuinely useful (or decorative) from the rotten, outgrown, or simply no longer useful to me.  I am determined that my allotment and garden should look good as well as be productive.

And we are making good progress on improving our front garden.  It will take a while to be how I want it to be, but it has come on a long way since I first wrote about it.  I have planted some edibles (Chilean Guavas – delicious!, Japanese Quince – to be used for quince jelly, an aromatic shrub).  I’ve grown hollyhocks from seeds I collected around my neighbourhood.  I’ve taken split plants in the back garden and saved self-seeded plantlets.  I’ve planted two roses, wallflowers, and tulips.  It is starting to look good.  It will look much better by this time next year.  Most important of all, I’ve begun feeding and improving the soil, which was poor thin stuff after years of neglect.

Phew, that was heavy going!  to soothe your brow and lighten the load, and reward you for reading down this far, I hope you enjoy there photos from a recent visit to Heale Gardens in Wiltshire.

Posted in Community, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized, Whatever next? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The allotment: autumn, winter, and into spring!

My goodness, I had no idea it was so long since I last wrote an allotment post (October last year, I see).

In part that reflects that not much was happening there, but in fact there was a lot of thinking and planning happening.  All in my head – much to some people’s frustration (hello Malcolm!) I’m not a great ‘put it down on paper’ planner when it comes to gardening, but planning does happen.  It evolves, develops, and consolidates in my mind’s eye.

As a result of the learning from last year and thinking during the autumn, winter and spring so far, change has happened, and there is more to come.

The biggest change of all is that I did indeed give up my fruit plot, and much effort was expended (by me) moving all my fruit bushes that I had carefully taken up there back to my main allotment – but to different places.  And I had to remove all the posts and fencing left from when the hens lived up there.

Instead of 12 beds for rotating vegetable crops, I now have 4 mainly soft fruit beds, and just 8 rotation vegetable beds.  But my plan is to use all the space I have much more intensively than I have ever managed before, and so to produce just as much as before, or perhaps even more.

Youngest son and Malcolm spent a long morning creating my badger defences – a fence all along one side of the plot made from pallets gleaned from skips and posts reclaimed from my former hens’ enclosure.  I’m very, very pleased with it.  I’m equally pleased with the ‘gate’ Malcolm fashioned for me from an old bedhead, part of a bed base, a couple of sturdy wooden posts and some cable ties.

 

Now I can easily partition off part of my plot and let the hens free range outside their enclosure without them spoiling any crops.

Sometimes change happens through pure chance.  When an allotment neighbour took down his (tired looking) shed recently to make way for a brand new beauty and he offered the old one to me, I jumped at the chance – a 3’x6′ shed to replace my tiny 3’x2′ one.

Then youngest son and Malcolm suggested I’d be better with a new shed myself.  At first resistant, I soon became excited at the prospect, and began planning not just a new shed but a lovely sunny veranda outside it to sit on and just be sometimes.  With a bed on two sides so I can grow things up it.

So now the inherited shed has been freegled (our local version of freecycle) to someone who will cut off all the rotten bits at the bottom and use what remains to make a very sturdy hen house.  The small toolshed/sentry box shed has been freegled to someone needing somewhere to keep her tools.  Someone from a local primary school will come later today to take the tractor tyre we inherited and used first as a sand pit, then as a surround-seat for a plum tree, and more recently as a climbing frame for the hens – the school will use it as a sand pit.

Here yesterday, gone today

Soon, in a few weeks time, I will have the shed of my dreams, and in front of it will be a terrace made out of a pallet Malcolm spotted yesterday in a skip covered with some leftover decking from youngest son’s garden.

In addition I had a farm trailer load of muck delivered, and I have forked and barrowed most of it into my 2 pallet bins, onto the potato beds, and around some of the fruit.  Who needs a gym when there’s an allotment to work ?  (Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘no dig’ cultivation means ‘no hard physical labour’ – it certainly does not).

In the meantime,  growing now on the allotment (but mostly not yet ready to eat) are: potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, various brassicas (just about hanging on in there, against all the odds), broad beans, beetroot, spring onions, swiss chard (from last year, still producing well), more swiss chard (baby plants just planted out), globe artichokes, chives, asparagus, rhubarb, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries, gooseberries, horseradish, lovage.  

So far there are only two three spears of asparagus – we’ll wait to see how many of the crowns I planted last year have survived the badgers’ attentions.

For beauty, there are roses, marigolds, primroses, daffodils (mostly finished now), crocuses (no flowers left there either), and Sweet William.  I hope to have poppies, zinnias, dahlias, and some other flowers this year.

The plan includes planting some apple trees but I think I’ll leave that till the autumn.

There are lots more baby plants to go out in due course, and lots more seeds to sow.  This must be one of the busiest times of year for any gardener, and what lovelier way could there be to spend time outside in weather such as this?

(Once it’s all finished and tidied I’ll give you a proper guided tour.  At the moment it all looks a bit ‘work in progress’.  Because that’s what it is.)

(and à propos of nothing at all, by chance I’ve just discovered where to find letters not part of the English alphabet – as in Fanø and Hélène; and how to change font colour – what fun!) ♥  

Posted in Allotment, Food, Frugal, Growing, Local food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Gap Year: March adventure

This is getting to be a habit – an ‘adventure’ that to the outside world looks like nothing of the sort.  But maybe that’s just the point – to do things that are meaningful and different for us, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it.

In March we went to Rye, on the Sussex coast.  We had planned a longer expedition in the autumn, but postponed because other things came up.  We planned our March trip to be longer than it ended up being, but cut it down because other things intervened (not least of all my wish not to be away from home for too long, to reduce the impact on the already dire sleep problem).

We wanted to visit a friend in Hastings, we also wanted to visit Dungeness, Rye, and possibly other bits of the coast.  Rye seemed like the perfect place to stay, and indeed it was.  All the more so because we found a delightful B and B run by a lovely couple who were a fount of local knowledge and information, and were warm and welcoming without overwhelming us (and the breakfasts were both delicious and very beautiful).

Window in Appledore church showing Fairfield Church, the next place we visited

An afternoon exploring Rye; a day visiting Dungeness, Appledore and an extraordinary church in a field (appropriately called Fairfield Church); a day visiting our friend in Hastings; a stop to explore Winchelsea, and its church with some very striking stained glass windows (early C20, by Douglas Strachan); another morning exploring Rye.

Hardly any time at all, and yet by the time we got back home we felt as though we’d had a long holiday.

Definitely somewhere to revisit, and we hope to do so this autumn.  Preferably before the garden at nearby Great Dixter closes for the season (we dropped by on the way home, but it wasn’t yet open for this year).

We’re almost at the end of this Gap Year experiment.  We’ve already learned a lot about what works for us, both together and separately.  We will certainly be carrying that learning forward once we get to the end.

At Dungeness we watched (and spoke with) two groups (teams) of men from Dagenham, all of Pakistani origin.  They had come there for the day to ‘kite fight’.  Beautiful.  I never knew that was a thing.

No more words, the images speak for themselves.

Posted in Gap year, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My designer life

I haven’t had a sudden conversion to fashionable designer brands nor a make-over.  What I want to explore here is my journey through design and my love of ‘good’ design.  By which I suppose I just mean design that not only matches its function, but also gives pleasure in its execution.

Street drinking fountain, Lille (suburban backstreet)

I can remember an exact moment when I realised that every single thing we encounter in our lives each day has been designed, for good bad or indifferent, by someone.  It’s not a deep or novel thought, but it changed forever how I looked at the world.

I can’t recall where or when it was, but I went to an exhibition and there in the museum was a Kenwood Chef Major, the same as my mum had at home (and I now have and use).  Somehow until then I had just accepted that things were as they were without thinking about how and why they were that way.

Since then, books and conversations and exhibitions and simple observations have enriched my understanding and appreciation of design of all sorts, and it has become a real passion.

Some of the things that have particularly influenced me are:

  • A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander.  I borrowed this book from our public library for months on end, until eventually I realised it was a book I wanted to own, and I used some birthday money to buy a copy.  It’s still a book I love to dip into, full of interesting ideas and beautiful photos (black and white).
  • Ways of Seeing, by John Berger.  This book really did change the way we see, capture and create images.
  • Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) – this is a fascinating (and very accessible) read – an examination of what makes cities work and what works against that.  “The eyes on the street” is just one memorable idea (and phrase) from her book.
  • Permaculture – a fascinating design process that I can’t begin to do justice here, but I will revisit some time.  Many years ago I did a weekend introduction to permaculture design course, and I have often applied it since, in all sorts of contexts (garden, home, allotment, processes….)
  • Inclusive design – the social model of disability proposes that disability is the result of the way society is organised (or buildings built), rather than simply the impairment of the individual.  It is possible to design our built environment to ensure that all can access it, rather than excluding some, and I see no reason why we should not do this as a matter of course rather than as the afterthought if often tends to be
  • Upcycling – I am drawn to ways of (re)using materials to convert ‘waste’ (a problem) to ‘usefulness’ (a solution).  Hence my love of wandering around allotment sites everywhere I go; visiting community gardens; enjoying innovative building methods.  In our house, garden and allotment you will find many things enjoying a second, third, or even fourth useful life.  Malcolm and I began our lives together by scavenging things from the street and skips, of necessity (our first fridge; the door we carried home through Brixton on our heads that became our ‘sofa’), and have continued doing so by choice.  Youngest son has proved to be a whizz at making real the vision I have in my head, using the materials I’ve accumulated for the purpose
  • Simplicity – I love the clean lines of Scandinavian and German design.  A long time ago my friend from Denmark gave me a book of pictures by Carl Larsson (Ett Hus – A House).  Years later I went to an exhibition of work by him and his wife Karin Larsson at the V and A.  I recently found the V and A book that accompanied the exhibition in a second hand book shop.  It is very beautiful.  Much of what you will find today on blogs and websites talking about hygge (Danish) can be found in the Larssons’ work (Swedish), dating back to the late C19 – early C20

House exterior, Fanoe

  • Nature – there is so much inspiration to be found in the forms and patterns of nature.  The beauty of repeating mathematical patterns seen in plants, seashells, snowflakes.  This is something oldest son has explored and been inspired by in his architectural and design studies and practice
  • Travel – both far and near.  So many visits to Denmark and to Germany.  Visits to (and a longer stay in) Freiburg.  Stays in the Dolomites.  A trip to the Stockholm archipelago.  German ‘Shreber’ gardens in large blocks in towns and cities, or strung alongside railway lines.  Trips to the seaside, walks in the woods, and on the hills
  • Detail – brickwork; ironwork; stained glass; carved wood.  I love the unnecessary detail added for the simple pleasure of adding beauty provided by craftspeople and designers.  Walking one day across a high alp in the Dolomites, there was a fence and a gate.  For no reason but beauty, the gate had a heart shape cut out of the centre.  And surely no other reason was needed

House wall, Avebury

I like to think it is no accident that both sons are designers and makers, each in their own way.  (Despite my much-resented and oft-repeated instant reply to oldest son’s 6th form art teacher that “he couldn’t have got his talent from either of us because we’re both totally talentless” – clearly this is rubbish).

And now I’m continuing to unleash what talent I have in that direction on my allotment. My shed plans have taken off in a big way.  I’ve waited until there was something I really wanted as my 60th birthday present from Malcolm, and it came to me yesterday that this is it.

I’ve (almost; maybe??) decided to buy a new shed and make it just how I’ve been dreaming. It will be small, it will be black, there will be yellow trim, and there will be flowers and stones.  There will be a place to sit and be.  It will be beautiful.

(Though since I wrote this I’ve been researching new sheds, and I’ve realised that the old one I’ve inherited is/was/could be much better quality than I could buy new.  So now I’ve started to revise my plans, and want to revive the original plan of repairing rather than buying new.  Let’s see if I can persuade those whose help I’d need to be able to make it happen….)

 

Posted in Craft, Frugal, Inspirations, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘Whatever next?’ – March 2017 update

1. LISTEN

Contrasting things this month – a small personal story; and two examples of inspiring courage from terrible personal tragedy.

First the small personal story.  No details because they’re not mine to tell, but I think the lesson I learned is.

I inadvertently upset a good friend (and former work colleague) last week.  She told me about an incident that had happened to her at work and (I thought) asked my view about it.   I didn’t agree with her take on something quite important to me, but she was sure she was right about it.  I went away and read up and around the subject, and was convinced my interpretation was correct.  So I emailed her explaining why and with some information I thought she might find useful.  In essence what I was telling her was that I believed I was right and she was wrong.

Thank goodness she had the courage to write back to me saying how upset she was to get my email.  Because it turned out, I realised, that actually she had told me about the incident asking for reassurance and comfort, not for advice.  By responding in a calm, lawyerly, academic way, I had inadvertently failed to hear what she was really telling me: that she needed a bit of tlc.

I was able to get back to her swiftly, apologising and explaining where I had come from (it happened to be a subject that meant a lot to me, and I was worried and upset by her interpretation of it).  She replied explaining what I had already figured out: that she was in a fragile emotional state and hadn’t been ready to hear my initial response.

We’ve made a good job of patching up the damage through caring enough to listen and apologise; through recognising our own frailties and weaknesses; and through hearing what the heart was feeling as well as what the head was saying.

The inspiring stories came in the wake of the death of Martin McGuiness.  I heard two powerful radio interviews: one with Jo Berry (whose MP father was killed in the 1984 IRA Brighton bombing – her subsequent experiences led her to found Building Bridges for Peace); the other with Martin Parry (whose son Tim died in the 1993 IRA Warrington bombing) – experience led him to help set up Foundation4peace.   Both inspirationally positive responses to the most terrible events in their lives.

2. TAKE CONTROL

These days it sometimes feels as though we have to hold two opposing ideas of the future in our heads at the same time, and somehow work through both.

There’s the Hard Brexit future, which frankly I fear for all sorts of reasons, not least of all the prospect, looming ever larger, of this being the stimulus for the UK breaking apart.  How to prepare for what that future might hold for us without sinking into despair?

I’ve been revisiting some of the things I’ve read over the years about permaculture and the Transition movement, mainly because (with shared roots) they both have an inspiring positivity, and a great way of working creatively with ‘problems’ to make something good.

Food

For me, part of that preparation is about seeing and seizing whatever opportunities come my way for a positive outcome rather than the negative one I fear.  Just looking at our food for now, Hard Brexit seems to carry major challenges for farming, food production and food supplies.  But maybe there are also opportunities in there as well, for us to be forced to straighten out the mess that is our national food (in)security.

This train of thought was sparked when we recently visited Dungeness.  I was fascinated to watch some day-boat fishers come in with their catch.  I chatted with one of them as he unloaded sack after sack of whelks.  I asked if there was a market for them locally.  “Oh no”, he replied. “No-one wants them here.  These are all off to Korea – they can’t get enough of them!”.

Now I don’t know whether or not I’d enjoy eating whelks, but it does seem the height of a crazy system when we harvest a sustainable, local crop like this and then send it half way around the world to be eaten.; whilst at the same time importing products from half way around the world.

As ever, it’s important to check out the credibility and reliability of our information.  I began with a Guardian article by Professor Tim Lang, someone I’ve been listening to with interest for decades now.  He knows his stuff, and his stuff is food reliability, food security, food production, food statistics.  The article was written just a week or so after the referendum last June.

He says that in the UK we produce only about 50% of our food.  30% of what we eat is currently imported from the EU.  38% of the labour force in UK food production is foreign-born (and that I think includes the labour forces in both food growing and food manufacturing).

And how’s this for some facts about where the money we spend on food goes:

The money from food is syphoned away from primary producers. Of the £201bn we spend on food annually, agriculture’s gross added value is £9bn, manufacturing adds £27bn, wholesalers £12bn, catering £29bn and retailing £30bn. This is a long-chain, unequal distribution system. Almost as unequal as the diets of rich and poor consumers in the UK, the running sore of UK food politics.

In other words, only tiny proportion goes to the growers.  Three times as much goes to manufacturers, and slightly more than that to retailers.

None of this is simple.  We export a lot of food (both products and raw materials), and we import far more than we export.  A lot of the food that is manufactured in the UK (and then exported) relies on imported raw ingredients.

But I think there are some useful things most of us can do to TAKE CONTROL of our food.  Like me, you’re probably already doing some or even all of them.

When we’re buying our food we can:

  • try to reduce the length of that food chain by (a) buying products as close to their origins as possible (ie buy unprocessed rather than heavily processed), and (b) buying as close to the grower or producer as possible (ie buy direct and/or local where possible).  By doing this we help support UK and local farmers and producers, and we reduce the oil miles incurred.
  • reduce the amount we need to import by eating seasonally, and by buying local where possible.  Same beneficial effects as above.
  • reduce the amount we waste by accepting ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables, using up all leftovers, using what we already have before buying more, and finding uses for what would otherwise be thrown ‘away’.  By doing this we help reduce the amount of food needed to be produced.
  • reduce your waste still further by giving away food you know you won’t be able to use yourself – to neighbours, friends, or strangers.  By doing this we help reduce waste (which all costs money to take away and deal with), and we help build and strengthen our communities.

Fish stall Hastings beach

Fresh fish, landed today. Hastings beach

Today’s catch. The netting is to keep the gulls off the fish.

These are all actually very simple steps to take, and yet if everyone did it they would start to make a significant difference.  Though as I say, nothing in this complex spaghetti that is our food chain is simple –

  • if we all buy locally, there won’t be enough.  Will that spur on more local growers, knowing there is a ready market on their doorstep?
  • if we all buy locally, who will be willing to pick the produce if the foreign workers on whom we currently rely are no longer able to come here?  Will that support higher wages that local people can afford to work for?
  • if we all buy raw ingredients, what will happen to the jobs of people working in food manufacturing?

I know – more questions than answers, but as always we have to start somewhere, and doing the things I suggest above will at least help us to….

3. BUILD COMMUNITY

This has been a busy month what with one thing and another.

At the Farm, we’ve been busy reviewing our policies and procedures – dull stuff to some perhaps, but the academic and legal side of my brain enjoys all that, so I’ve got stuck into several areas of the work.  Putting together Action Plans, spreadsheets, and proposals all tap into the kind of work I did before I retired, and helps take some of the load off our over-stretched staff.

Much more fun for all was the Bath Half Marathon earlier this month.  With more than 12,500 runners, and taking place right through and around the heart of our city, this is the largest such event in the SW of England.  The Family Fun Run alongside it had almost 1,000 participants.  All in all it’s a massive affair, which needs massive community support and event planning to enable it to happen, and happen safely.

The Bath Half also raises a substantial amount of money for charities, many of them local. Bath City Farm had 12 runners, between them they raised over £3,000 for us – money we can spend on some of the background work needed to provide the many services we provide.

I spent most of the morning staffing our stall in the Small Charities area, looking after our runners’ belongings for them, providing information for browsers, and looking after the bananas and home-baked cakes ready for the runners on their return (and working on my current crochet project in the quiet moments).

Malcolm was a Cycle Steward, patrolling his stretch of the route with his hi-viz vest and whistle.  In fact he ended up helping look after one of a number of people who collapsed in the last mile – fortunately no lasting harm to anyone.

The Bath Half is a great community event.  So many of us turn out to support and cheer on the runners and to play some small part in the support team.  It also brings a lot of trade into the city, so it’s a great economic boost as well.

4. LOOK AFTER THE PLANET

One of the best things about the Bath Half?   Almost a whole day with no traffic in the centre of the city or in the approach roads.

No noise.  No noxious fumes.  A tiny taste of what our city could be like if we had a council willing to ‘join the dots’ and see the connections between public health and transport policies and practice.

And of course March is the real start of the growing season.  I’ve sown some seeds (which are germinating – hurrah!).  I’m chitting my seed potatoes.  I’ve planted out the rest of my onion sets.  And I persuaded Malcolm and younger son to spend today building my badger defences with me.  I’m delighted with the result – just what I wanted, and not a penny spent on materials.  Everything we used apart from the screws and staples is in it’s second or even third life.  We’ll see just how effective it proves to be.  All it needs now is a bit of beautification – I have plans for a climbing rose, some bunting, and a few other embellishments.  Watch this space!

In the gap between the showers there was blue blue sky…

My brand ‘new’ fence

I also have plans for a ‘new’ shed, donated by an allotment neighbour who’s getting a brand new one as a retirement gift.  My family all think I’ve been had – as d-in-l put it, “can it really be described as a shed if it needs a new base, a new roof, and some of the walls need attention?”.

Call that a shed??

But I’m confident it will be fine, and I have a vision of something inspired by Derek Jarman’s beach hut on Dungeness – think dark black painted shed with gorse-flower-yellow trims.  With something growing over it – a kiwi maybe?  Do let me know how it went if you’ve tried growing a kiwi in the UK – I’m torn between wanting to give it a go, and worrying it won’t fruit.

This is not my shed

And then a thought for another time – I came across a series of articles called ‘make your life less oily in 2017‘.  I need to read them carefully and reflect, and thing about what changes I might make myself.  Very interesting though – fascinating to realise just how big a part oil and its derivatives play in all aspects of our everyday lives (not just energy and transport, but also food, clothes, possessions –  just everything).

Posted in Allotment, Climate change, Community, Inspirations, Local food, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized, Whatever next? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

To sleep…..

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, feeling somewhat desperate.   Since then I have continued with the medication, been to the GP (who was very helpful), and gradually begun sleeping more.  But I decided to publish this anyway, in the interests of ‘keeping it real’ – this is life, we take the good and the bad together.

And if I’ve neglected to read and comment on your blog, or to respond to your comment on mine, I do apologise.   I’m working my way through my backlog of ‘stuff’ at the moment, but it will all take a while to catch up.

I have been overwhelmed by a long-standing inability to sleep enough.  The past couple of months have been particularly difficult.  I have done whatever I have been able to manage, but have also had to absent myself from some things I really wanted to do (farm meetings; a friend’s 60th birthday party) because I knew I simply wouldn’t cope with the added disruption to already disrupted sleep.  And most weeks I’ve had at least one day when I was so exhausted that all I could manage was to go for a walk, to put one foot in front of the other and just go.  No thinking or planning or destination needed.

I know this is not something truly awful in the scale of things (I don’t have cancer or any other life-threatening or life-limiting disease; I don’t have to do anything I don’t feel up to doing; my life is generally very good).

On the other hand, if you haven’t experienced the effects of long-term insomnia maybe you think it’s just like having the odd bad night.  I can tell you it’s a very different thing.  An average night of 5 hours sleep is just not enough for me to cope on.  I can do it for one night or two, but not week in week out for months on end.  I am no Margaret Thatcher (in more ways than just the sleep department, I hope).

A few days ago I wrote a post reflecting on some of the things that may have kicked this off – all of them normal parts of everyday life for most of us at some time or another: the stresses of combining demanding paid work (albeit part time) with multiple substantial (part time) family caring responsibilities; some challenging relationship issues in my extended family; effects of menopause (especially the many years of hot flushes day and night).

Then I decided it was sufficiently cathartic simply to have written it. I don’t need (or want) to publish it here.  But it did help me realise just how hard I am finding it.  Which in turn helped me resolve to put first the things that aid a better night’s sleep (and the converse – avoid the things that make it worse).

So – hello to a regular bedtime routine; ensuring that I stick to the ‘sleep hygiene’ rules we all know; revisiting medication tried some years ago but rejected because it was difficult to combine with the need for an early morning start to work; and saying ‘no’ to some invitations and trips and commitments that just don’t work for me right now.

It’s goodbye to late nights out, alcohol (no great loss for me – though I enjoy the odd glass of wine or beer, I’ve never been one to drink much); caffeine beyond the early afternoon; evening meetings or parties.

And thank you especially to Malcolm for being so supportive through all of this (and for being such a good cook).

My ambition isn’t massive: just to be able to sleep at least six and a half hours a night, every night, would be truly wonderful.

A week into the new drug regime, I seem to be managing just that, and am at last waking up each morning feeling refreshed and energetic.

Maybe I’m still recovering from a backlog of weeks and months and years of lack of sleep, or maybe it’s the effect of the drugs, because right now by late afternoon I’m fairly done in.  I’m hoping that will resolve itself soon, because it’s not how I want to be nor is it how I am when I’ve slept well.

But even so, I can do (and enjoy) so much more than has been possible of recent months.  Long may it last.

 

Posted in Family, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments