Striving for a greener, more ethical life

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The next Plumstead Community Market will take place on Saturday 8th March, 11am – 3pm at St Mark’s Hall, Old Mill Road. As well as some new and many of our popular stalls, Art Plumstead will be putting on a watercolour workshop.


What I did in the last year (or why I neglected my blog)

I may have neglected this blog for a long time but I haven’t been neglecting what’s important; my children, my health, my voluntary work and my paid work. I’ve found a pretty good balance. I was worried for a long time after leaving my well paid job that we would get into financial straits but on the whole we have managed well with my life becoming simpler.

I am home more for the children and even though they are teenagers they need me around to talk to and discuss important things in their lives. That has been so precious.

I have found a good balance between physical activity (walking a lot, tending my allotment that I’ve had for a year and yoga classes 3 times a week), mostly healthy food, and enough rest to keep a sense of well being.

My voluntary work has expanded. I am vice-chair of Governors at my local primary school, I work with a local environmental conservation group, I have helped set up a local friends of a park group and I am pursuing a really exciting local project that will see a disused local authority building being turned into a community hub with a healthy café at its heart and space for community activities around it.

My work has changed completely. I have been taking on short term part time roles as well as working as a gardener, establishing a local monthly market and even doing ironing! I call it patchwork working and it seems more and more people are doing it. My only criteria are that what I do should make a difference to someone’s life. Finances are not in rude health but they are not that bad either and in just over a year I finish one of my mortgages so my monthly outgoings will be pretty small. I’m getting there and the main thing I have really learnt is that worrying about money is futile. Work hard, trust in the universe, take opportunities as they arise and try to support each other.

Our house still comes pretty low on my list of priorities but I am continuing to make progress. I finally managed to get a shelf and hooks up in my bathroom which really helps with organisation. The children and I are going to work on the hallway for the next few weeks (sanding the floorboards, painting walls, putting up wallpaper and eventually painting the front door).

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Bathroom hooks and shelf

30 Day challenge (sort of update)

Well I guess the biggest challenge is recording what you have done and when.

The results of that challenge are :

I am definitely fitter  – and enjoyed hours of dancing at my nephew’s amazing fusion wedding. I would say it was the nicest wedding I’ve ever been to as everyone was so friendly and the two extended families had loads in common. The venue was stunning, the food was delicious and the band were fantastic and kept us all on our feet. The weather was also amazing, hot and sunny (feels even more amazing as since then it seems to have rained non-stop).

The bride and groom exit the hall after ceremony

The bathroom got finished and looks much better than before (although it seems smaller for some reason. I haven’t put back all the things I love in there yet and we need a new cupboard/storage for towels etc. The perfect container will come along…

The decorating is finished

I still have not found that perfect job although I am a bit more enthusiastic about doing so and remain hopeful that the job right for me is around the corner. I have had a few days paid work and hope to build on that with part-time work and expanding my business ideas (more in next post)

I have done at least one session a week litter picking on the common and love going there to soak in the greenery. It slightly saddens me that people seem to go there to eat and drink in a nice environment and then drop their rubbish. Still, it is always satisfying to look back at the areas you have cleared.

I have continued to clear the clutter in the ‘junk’ room/office and can now walk freely around the room. Having said that there are still areas to be cleared and lots of paper work to be sorted. That’s my June challenge.

Update to Recycling London Style

Just as I had posted the ‘recycling’  blog I heard a car draw up outside, a car door open and close and when I looked out the television was gone.

A Beautiful Song (Doing Good)

If you support the Transition Town Movement then you may like to purchase the beautiful song from Rebecca Mayes on the itunes store. The track is called ‘The Lights’ and all proceeds will go to the Transition Network. The video is excellent, low cost and really sums up what Transition is all about.


Recycling (London Style)

I’ve recently got back into Freecycle which is a great way to give away unwanted items. I am often surprised by what is offered and then taken by someone. My ‘office’ (really just the room where we have the computer and desk and lots of other dumped stuff) has been getting me down. After seeing yet another programme on BBC 1 last night about hoarding I felt I had better tackle the room before a friend calls in a specialist psychiatrist. Actually I have been slowly tackling it for about 4 weeks but the bit by the doorway was the last to be tackled today so from the hallway it had looked REALLY BAD . I have been debating what to do with an old television (doesn’t even have a scart connection so it can’t be updated with a digital box), a pair of broken metal scooters and a very broken but once lovely light fitting from my friend Anne (see more below). I had thought I would wheel them on a trolley to the local tip (reuse & recycling centre) but it is quite a distance away. So today I thought – ‘I wonder what will happen if I leave them on my front step’ so I tried it about half an hour ago and then went off to local shop to buy milk. When I came back the scooters were already gone. I suspect someone will sell them as scrap metal but for me that’s one less thing to organise. The TV is still there but I will give it a day and then I will bring it back in and take it to the tip.

Leaving things just outside your property is a great way to recycle things in London. I have found (and taken) all kinds of things including a wardrobe that I really needed, a push lawn mower (I always use a push mower but had lent the previous one to a friend who then moved and didn’t return it), a Buddha, plant pots, a garden table and a host of other things. It’s Feecycle on an immediate basis

I’m only attaching one photo of my ‘shame’ room but you will see I still have some way to go to get the whole thing cleared up.

Still a lot of ‘stuff’ to clear out and organise…

Ironically part of the reason for the chaos in this room is to do with my friend Anne who died 3 years ago. She was the most amazing person (a single mum) who had two grown up children and a young daughter IV who was nearly 11 at the time and who we still see and love. Anne had been ill for years without telling anyone and only went to the doctors when it was terminal. I guess over recent years Anne has been an inspiration in many ways (the good is about emulating her friendliness and being willing to talk to strangers). The bad, was that living in chaos makes for a difficult life.

A year ago just after I was made redundant I happened by a series of very weird coincidences to be going past her old house. It was finally being cleared out (two years after her death) by the bank who had repossessed it . There was the most enormous skip outside her front door and in it when I looked were all of Anne’s worldly goods – thrown in unceremoniously. Her beautiful furniture had been broken up to get it out of the flat and into the skip. Weirdly (the whole day was weird) two close friends who both were close to Anne happened to be around and two other people who were strong and helpful turned up. We rescued so much stuff from that skip and most of it came back to my house! I washed a lot of the clothes and asked Anne’s daughter to go through them and books, ornaments etc and pick what she wanted. She didn’t take very much but was really grateful to have some of her mother’s things. We also found IV’s passport and other important papers. I am convinced that Anne guided me to the house that day as she knew I’m not squeamish and would sort through the things properly. So over the last year I have taken a lot of stuff to the charity shop, to the local primary school, to school fairs and to but still have some residual stuff that I didn’t know what to do with. The broken light fitting I put out today was something I kept trying to reshape and work out how to reuse it but today I admitted defeat – took off the glass finial which is now a quirky (but small item) in a display bowl and the crystal droplets that I will hang in the bathroom that is now finished!.

Glass finial and droplets – a memory

I know I want this room to be a really inspirational place to work. I have seen lots of images on WordPress blogs to inspire me so I know what I need to do. This room will be part of my next 30 day challenge

SOS Switch Off Something (And Grow Something)

There is a programme on BBC2 TV at the moment that I can’t watch because I haven’t been able to afford a digital box to convert my television. The programme was reported on BBC Radio 4 and it talked about how with the threat of strikes in the 1970’s,  the Government’s reaction to the miners’ overtime ban was swift. Within 24 hours a State of Emergency was declared. Electricity was rationed and the Government launched an “SOS” campaign: “Switch Off Something”. Petrol rationing seemed a real possibility.

I could just imagine the poster – something akin to ‘KEEP CALM & CARRY ON’ and it made me think I should produce one for our home. I do try to switch things off as I go but sometimes I forget. I only have to see a programme where people do not have running water or electricity to make me more frugal with what I use but I do lapse a bit.  It would be great for the government to re-launch this campaign in order to save carbon (and money). Energy security is a real issue in our world and if we are all more efficient with what we have we may one day get to a point where renewables could produce a much bigger % of our power. I don’t want nuclear energy plants built in my name so I try to do my bit by buying my electricity from a green supplier – Ecotricity.

The grow something thing is about how wonderful it is to grow some food. My winter harvest  has not been brilliant but over the last 2 months I’ve been able to harvest enough leaves (kale, pak choi, chard, rocket) to have a meal once a week. I grow things in an unconventional way – mostly because my garden is plagued by snails and slugs and I’m not going to kill them. I grow most of my fruit, vegetables and herbs in pots. This means I can root around for snails occasionally and throw them to the back of the garden where I hope the blackbirds will find them and eat them! I can put scrunched up eggshells or little bits of sharp twigs around the base of the plants to protect them and I can move them to a different area if they seem unhappy. I have a lot of my pots up on a flat roof above the kitchen extension.

This photo of my blueberry shows how covered in flowers it is. I bought this last summer because I love blueberries but hate that so few are grown in the UK. I buy Fairtrade ones (The Co-op has them from Chile and South Africa) but feel eco-challenged with others from far afield where I don’t know what the growers are paid. I bought the blueberry bush a bit late in the season where most of the flowers had dropped off and it only yielded 3 blueberries, 2 of which were polished off quick fashion by a greedy wood pigeon. I held the last remaining blueberry and thought about sharing it with the children. I then realised that was rediculous and put it in my mouth. It was fabulous. So this year I will protect it from the wood pigeons and hope for a decent harvest.

It is in a pot as that is an easier way of making sure it has the ericaceous (?) soil it needs. BBC Gardener’s World said that if you can find dried bracken to put it as a mulch on ericaceous plants. Well I’ve tried it on the blueberry and will see how it goes.

I always grow multiple things in my pots to make the best use of the soil available. In this pot I have kale, chard and pak choi (all a bit denuded from my foraging raids). I can’t pull out the forget me knots that self seed until they finish flowering as I know the bees love them.

I ate a very delicious salad of leaves today and it made me realise that I had better get on with more planing soon. My rocket is all flowering and although I cook the flower buds tips like sprouting broccoli I will need to get some fresh plants going soon. My favourite way of cooking my ‘leaf’ selections is to steam it with a finely sliced onion and put grated chedder on top. Bliss….

Update on 30 Day Challenge (Days 1- 10)

Update on 30 Day challenge (Day 1 – 10)

So far: I already feel fitter, my clothes are not so tight and I have mostly managed to keep to not eating too late at night which for me helps me keep my weight down. I’ve also noticed I am more attracted to healthy food and am not eating as much overall.

The bathroom is looking better (but it is a pain not being able to use the bathroom all the time –it’s a nuisance having to keep taking off the plastic protecting the bath and putting it back).


I haven’t had any positive answers to the job applications I’ve made but I remain postive

The clutter has mostly been ignored as I’m so busy with everything else.

Day 1 (Sunday) – Long power walk where I decided I needed the 30 Day Challenge. Sugar soaping walls and ceiling and finished off sanding uneven parts in bathroom decorating saga.

Day 2 (Monday)  – Short walk with Bebo (pouring with rain), 5 hours decorating. 4 hours job applications. The clutter will have to wait…

Day 3 (Tuesday) – 2 hours decorating.  Long walk with M (after a coffee and pastry), explored new bits of the local woods.  7 hours of job applications (deadline was midnight!)

Day 4 (Wednesday) – Walked to local garden centre and pushed back 3 large bags of compost (and a rhubarb plant) uphill  – I really felt this in my legs and upper arms. 5 hours decorating (another coat of gloss on the window and surround, skirting and both sides of the door and surround).

Day 5. (Thursday) –   Incorporated walk by not taking the bus to Woolwich and back (saving money) when I took Baa to the dentist. Also a long walk along and back from dentist.  Concentrated on cleaning (which has been neglected due to my focus on decorating). Children got involved. I re-potted the apple tree I was given as part of my leaving gift. It has two extra varieties grafted on as branches so produces 3 types of apples. Last year only one type of branch had flowers so we only got 4 apples from it.

Day 6.  (Friday) 2 hours decorating in the morning. Long walk with J (after coffee and cake at her house). J reported she felt shattered afterwards and had to lie down. I remembered that the first time I did a long walk with M I felt the same. Now, I’m finding the walks invigorate me and make me feel more content. That also shows me I am fitter.  3 hours decorating in the evening.

Day 7. (Saturday)  1 hour decorating (still on gloss paint – 4th coat on the parts that had not been painted before). Mango smoothie with M and then a good walk over the common. Not walking fast as M has had a cold. Met a really nice woman doing some litter picking – made me feel guilty as I keep forgetting to take my litter picker and bag with me. Could do better on that… Rested in the afternoon and watched silly films with the children.

Day 8. (Sunday) 2 hours painting in the morning (last coat on the windows and surround – hurrah!) Incorporated walk by walking to Woolwich and back when I was taking Bebo to Upton Park to find an Indian costume for her as she will be presenting the flower garlands at my nephews wedding. We visited a lot of shops and were starting to be overwhelmed by colour and beading and sparkly bits when we finally found something that wouldn’t compete with the bride. Made a special supper as its been difficult to cook anything complicated with all the decorating going on.

Day 9. (Monday) Still no answer to the job applications I have submitted (disappointingly). Updated my financial accounts – I’m finding it difficult not to get depressed by that so got up and got on with the decorating. Finished the gloss on the two sides of the door and on both sides of the door surround – hurrah!).  Started painting the walls and ceiling. The decorating took 5 hours so didn’t get to go for a walk, but it felt like I had been for a work out.

Day 10. (Tuesday) Spent 2 hours looking for jobs to apply for. Had to ignore the decorating today in order to get job application done. Went for a brisk walk and did 30 minutes of litter picking on the common. Have not managed to do as much of this as I imagined but the area I did looked great.

My 30 Day Challenge

My life feels a little bit out of kilter at the moment and I have been pondering what I need to do to get back a little control. I took a brisk walk earlier as I was feeling rather overweight and a bit fed up. On the walk I realised I need to introduce a bit of discipline in order to overcome my natural procrastinating tendencies. So the plan is a 30 day challenge.

  1. Lose weight and feel fitter. I will do this by taking a power walk every day. I know I don’t want to eat a lot less so I have to get more active to compensate. I have my nephew’s wedding at the end of May and need to fit in my one decent dress (from People Tree @ John Lewis).
  2. Get a job. Either through an agency or a permanent post.  My sensible head says it needs to be well paid. My heart says do something you will love. All I know is that my money has run out and I’m in big trouble if I don’t increase my income in May.
  3. Rent out my old bedroom. I moved out of the room a month ago and have cleaned it out  but it really needs decorating
  4. Decorate my old bedroom
  5. Finish decorating the bathroom (including 3 coats of paint on the woodwork, two coats of paint on the ceiling and walls, 2 coats of paint on the door and frame – inside and out)
  6. Keep the local common cleaner and greener. After my power walk I will do some litter picking at least twice a week.
  7.  Spend half an hour a day clearing the clutter at home. I have got back involved with my local Freecycle group and have already given away my daughter’s old bed and a child’s sleeping bag.

I’m hoping that reporting progress on this blog may help me to keep to this plan

The mess one group left on the common after their barbeque just 5 meters away from a bin.


The characteristic that I’m least fond of in myself is my incredible ability to procrastinate. It really annoys me but usually not enough to make me take action. I wouldn’t say I was lazy – I’m happy to be active but usually not on the things that really need doing. A case in point is our bathroom. This was refurbished X number of years ago (I’m too embarassed to say how many) when we discovered all the joists were riddled with rot after a small leak for a number of years! I did not really think at the time about which kind of flooring I would have although I have always wanted Marmoleum (a completely natural product that is naturally anti-bacterial and warm underfoot). It’s not particularly expensive but I have never had the spare cash so the builder without consultation put down chipboard, screwed to the joists.  Even before he finished it a bottle of avocado oil got spilt on it and the greasy patch has remained. I’m really happy with the sink which was from LASSCo (a London-based reclamation place in the wonderful Georgian building at Vauxhall). The sink was taken from a former home of nuns and dates to about the 1930’s. I bought a modern toilet as that is all I could afford and then couldn’t make up my mind about the bath. I looked in bath shops all over London, on line and in magazines. The only baths I liked cost upwards of £3.000 and apart from these I liked my existing bath better than anything I could afford so that has remained in the bathroom. All the walls were insulated with the Fermacell system (recycled fibreboard that can support heavy weights and is fire retardant and insulating. You put the boards together and then just put some plaster like material over the joins, no need for skimming with plaster. These walls have remained unpainted and the extra woodwork that was needed around the window because the walls are now much thicker has never been painted. I haven’t really noticed how shabby it looks until recently when I was trying to look at the house with fresh eyes as I am planning to rent out a room for some extra income. Suddenly I could see that it looked terrible. So I heard my mother’s voice (she’s been dead for 17 years but when I’m feeling self-pitying or overcome by the enormity of what I need to do I hear her saying to me ‘just get  on with it’. It used to annoy me that she rarely showed any sympathy but in the end there is no choice but to get on with things and a small step forward is at least in the right direction. I recently heard a quote from a successful business man who said ‘don’t dwell on the big picture, which can overwhelm, just focus on the individual steps needed to get there’. I’m paraphrasing but that’s the gist.

Bathroom - not a good picture

So I have ‘got on with it’ and have started decorating the bathroom. This has already involved enormous amounts of work as I stupidly started with painting the floor – a low cost (£40) solution that looks good so has given me a bit of a boost (despite needing four coats of paint!). I also got a few small tester pots of a metal paint and managed to paint the outside of the bath with one tube (costing £1.45). Unfortunately neither of these paints is environmentally friendly but I have some Auro Organics gloss paint and wall paint that were supposed to be for the equally shabby hallway and never got used.  I’m not sure pale grey is going to look very nice in the bathroom but as the whole room is disrupted and we can’t use the bath because it has protective sheets and tape all over it, I just need to get it done as best I can.

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