Striving for a greener, more ethical life

Quietly Vegetarian

I have decided to break the habit of a lifetime and talk about why I am a vegetarian. This has been prompted by a news story today on the BBC. This features an American study of 120,000 people which found eating processed and red meat can greatly increase the chance of heart disease and cancer. I then also read this morning a report about the relative greenhouse gases produced from what we eat by Mike Burners-Lee. This study found that a vegetarian diet could mean 20% less greenhouse gases are emitted.

I have been vegetarian for over 30 years and it has never been difficult for me to sick to as I never really liked meat and as a child would only pick at it because I was told I should. Sometimes people ask me why I am a vegetarian and I usually say it is because I don’t like meat but it is more than that. Even as a child I could  always  see the animal I was being told to eat. To me it was the same as someone else being asked to eat a rat, a family pet or even a human. Why would you want to if you weren’t starving or in some awful air crash in the Andes mountain. I don’t believe animals have been put here just for us to eat. Walking past a butcher for me is disgusting and makes me sad, whereas walking past a green grocer is uplifting and energising. I don’t however make judgements about what anyone else should do. My children are vegetarian but when in turn they reached the age of 5 I sat them down and explained that although they wouldn’t get meat at home, if they went to friend’s houses for sleep overs or for parties or at school with school dinners they could chose what they wanted to eat. They still know this but so far they are vegetarian which I admire because it can still be pretty tough to be ‘different’. Who knows what they will want to do when they are adults – that’s really up to them. My daughter has tried ham  as she was accidentally provided with a ham sandwich at school, and she has tried fish with her father but she did not enjoy the experience and so far hasn’t chosen to repeat it.

I also now see meat as a human equity issue. Often when people are taken out of exreme poverty the first things they do are send their children to school, buy basic necessities and then choose to eat more meat. The world cannot sustain the whole human population eating as much meat and diary as the ‘Western’ diet so it is only ‘fair’ that the Western diet should contain less meat and diary. Luckily this is now proven to be a good thing for human and planetary health. I have seen so many amazing vegetarian/vegan/raw food recipes on WordPress blogs that there is no reason why we can’t all make small changes to our diet.

What am I going to change? Well, I am aware of my hypocritical habit of eating dairy. Unfortunately, calves are killed on dairy farms as part of the cycle as cows need to give birth regularly to keep them producing milk,  so my changes will be to make sure we go vegan at least two days a week. This will no doubt bring health benefits to us.


Bringing Spring Inside

Every late winter my mother would bring branches of Forsythia into the house to bring them into flower. It became, for me, one fo the ways of celebrating the seasons. I have continued and extended the tradition. I almost always have some flowers from the garden in the kitchen as well as some sort of display (Christmas, New Year, Valentines, Easter, Summer Solstice, Harvest Festival, Halloween etc). As usual this year I cut Forsythia branches to hang our Valentines display.

Valentine's display in a pot made by mother in the early 1970's

They look at little bare but they do emphasise the hearts (mostly charity shop finds or from Fairly Traded sources) and this just reminds us of the love at the core of the family. We all get grumpy and techy at times but we’ve been getting on pretty well recently. My underemployment situation means that I am around a lot more if the children want to talk. It will be hard on all of us when I go back to a full time job.

Less than 10 days later the forsythia burst into bloom (usually it is around for me to hang an Easter display on which goes well with the yellow).

Forsythia in bloom


The weather has been strange in London for the last two months. Mild, then cold, then extremely mild then cold again. The region is in official drought due to lack of rain and despite a bit of rainfal over the last two days it is not going to fill the reservoirs and aquifers. Despite the rain and grey skies of yesterday I ventured out into the garden as I could see some of my favorite spring plants in flower.

Winter Iris - has been flowering since January

Lungwort originally from my mother's garden

My garden is full of plants that remind me of special people – primroses from my father’s garden when he moved back to Scotland, herbs and bushes taken as cuttings from a myriad of people and lots of plants that I have bought at Charity fairs and fetes.

A rosemary that grew from a cutting of a plant that was a cutting from my mother's garden...

Hellebore from my sister in law's garden

Fairtrade Fortnight 2012

It is Fairtrade Fortnight and there are lots of events happening all over the UK to celebrate. I am usually more involved but what I am now calling my ‘year off’ has pulled me in different directions for now. When I heard that Lambeth Fairtrade Network were going to have two farmers from Divine Chocolate speaking about what a co-operative is and how they have benefitted from this and from Fairtrade, I wanted to go and support them. I have heard Fairtrade farmers from all over the world speak at events during Fairtrade Fortnight and they are always inspirational. Yesterday was no exception.

The speakers were Elias Mohammed and Agnes Armah from the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative in Ghana. The co-operative owns 45% of Divine chocolate so the farmers get their Fairtrade price, their community Fairtrade premium (that they spend on classrooms, wells, latrines) and if Divine makes a profit – a dividend. Last year the co-operative agreed to spend the dividend on buying a machete for each farmer. This seems a small thing to us but is essential equipment to them. Elias and Agnes were asked what they would chose to buy this year if there is a dividend. They explained patiently that this would need to be decided by the district and regional branches of the co-operative and then options put forward to the AGM. We pressed and said if you could chose what would it be? ‘Wellington boots’. Apparently these would transform working among the cocoa trees where snakes can be common and a bite difficult to treat and potentially fatal. I don’t have much disposable money at the moment but I know that I could always afford Wellington boots if my life depended on it. How grounding is that? We have so much it feels as if the world is completly out of balance. Anyway, I felt so inspired by their humerous and happy approach, I went out and bought my favorite bar of Divine chocolate – how amazing that I don’t have to sacrifice anything or make some meaningless donation to have a positive impact. I LOVE FAIRTRADE.

Agnes and Elias at either end of the first Fairtrade banana

Photos From Recent Walks

I have been inspired by a number of WordPress blogs to really stop and look with the camera. I try not to let things interfere with my walks (from the physical activity point of view) but actually you start to see things you really want to capture. Here are a series of photos from recent walks that sum up for me the season and weather perfectly. I think they also show that even in London’s Zone 4 (for those that don’t know London, it goes out to Zone 6) you can feel at one with nature and get some respite from the hurly burly.

Countryside in the city

A single berry - you can just see the leaves the sparrows nest in.

Lichen and railings along the hedgerow where the sparrows live

You can feel you are deep within woodland

Some sort of telecommunications box (?)

Detail behind the leaves

Wrought Iron Column - Not sure of its function

Another Great Walk

My third long walk of the week. Big Tick For Me! I wanted to walk vigorously for at least half an hour three times a week and I have (more or less stuck to it) and this week have done some long walks where I’ve done my form of power walking and also stopped to observe small details. Today it was spotting the 3 types of lichen that are growing on the hedge (by the bowling green) that is often alive with sparrows. I didn’t take a photo so maybe next week. My friend M and I walked a long way today and pushed ourselves harder and also got to see lots of extra bits of green space we haven’t walked around for years. In the cemetery which has not been used for years we found a lot of the graves resting against a wall.

A huge Beech tree in the cemetary

Stone heads on either side of the cemetary chapel door

I find it sad but it is typical that once places are not maintained they become too expensive to do anything about.

We also walked in a local park that used to have the most amazing formal gardens including a series of ponds going down the hill. Even though a Friends Of group had started up to restore the gardens they are going to have a huge job keeping back the woodland that has taken over. I must see if I can find some old pictures of the gardens that I’m sure I took in the early 1990’s. If not J&P (old friends that have lived here as long as me) must have some.

Anyway I got back and felt invigorated and energetic. When I first started these walks I got back and had to sit down for hours. Love it. I am so lucky that I can walk in so many bits of open space and really feel in touch with nature. I went to look at the knotweed again. I am keeping an eye on when it will start to regrow. Sorry about the formatting of this post. Can’t make it work. I’ll edit another time.

Walking for Fitness

Walking For Fitness

I have been pretty good so far at sticking to one of my New Year goals; getting fitter by walking more. I love walking. I am a trained walk leader to boot but haven’t done that for a while. Anyway where I live is pretty down at heel part of London but it has amazing amounts and variety of open spaces. These photos are from an area that I am hoping to work on in conjunction with the local conservation group. It is a HUGE area of Japanese Knotweed which the Council does not have the money to do anything about. A former colleague recently told me that the ‘green’ way to deal with knotweed is to cut it back and leave the cut stems on the ground to help block out the light. I can imagine that it will require weekly cutting in the busiest growing period but I hope to rope in enough volunteers.

Japanese Knotweed as far as the eye can see

Knotweed stems - thick and tough

My friends are also looking for somewhere for a community bee hive. That might be more difficult to persuade people to get involve with and protect from vandalism.

Yesterday I walked in the driving snow and was alone apart from one woman walking her dog. It was bleakly beautiful and I wished I’d had my camera. So today when B suggested coffee, cake and a walk I took the camera. Today was a beautiful sunny and very crisp day. So far I have managed to walk at least 3 times a week (my goal) and I really do feel fitter. It lifts my spirits to have that extra contact with nature and after reading a lot of blogs where people take photos of small things I found this today and couldn’t resist.

A holly berry next to tiny bird droppings - is this a robin's dinner table?

Can The Internet Explain This?

This post arose after B, who is going to be my blog’s critical friend once I get to 10 posts, suggested that the internet might be the only place to solve this puzzle.

About 20 years ago I took an empty box to use as storage from my local KwikSave  (I think they were just a UK supermarket) which sold very cheap food and a few kitchen items. I used the box to store Christmas decorations on top of a cupboard in the living room. After a while someone noticed the writing on this box and asked what it had contained.

The mysterious words (apologies for reflections in photo)

We could not work it out as the box was a normal square shape. We questioned if it could be brushes or brooms but it was not the right shape for brooms and at that time I had never seen brushes just in red or black. The stiffness thing might apply to brushes?!? I ended up framing the words on the box as they seemed to hold people’s interest and made them smile (must be the words soft and stiff)…

Anyway if anyone out there worked in Kwiksave and remembers emptying these boxes or worked in another shop/supermarket that also sold them I would really like to know. It won’t spoil the power of the words but it would be interesting to know.

A Moment of Electrical Insight

The Sunday before Christmas we had been visiting my Aunt and arrived home at about 3pm. It was completely eerie entering the house because the hall light (which despite my eco claims is left on 24/7 – my defence is that it is always dark…) was OFF! We went round the house checking light switches – nothing. It could be a short circuit so Bebo went out to see if she could see light in any of the neighbour’s houses.  A couple were outside with inquisitive looks so we guessed it was a power cut. From how cold the house was I assumed it had happened a while ago but as I keep the heat as low as possible (carbon and cost wise) the house can rapidly seem cold. Anyway, I thought, we are experienced campers – we can cope. The kids decided to play something on the laptop using its remaining charge and I went down to the kitchen desperate for a cup of tea (my drug of choice). Oops, I couldn’t boil the kettle so checked the cooker and the hob gases were working (I had to light them with a match – shock horror) but got a small pan of water on to boil. The oven which could have provided some heat wasn’t working – a failsafe device, grrr. I felt a bit peckish so thought about making toast – no toaster! I wanted to relax so thought about the television – X, the cd player – X, make a phone call – X. Ok, I went and got the wind up radio (which I think won’t work when they do the digital switchover in April).

Freeplay wind up radio

At least that was something. As it was just before the winter equinox it was already getting dark so I had to start searching the house for candles. Why am I so disorganised? It took me half an hour to find some but I have now put them somewhere logical. I had to light about 8 candles to get enough light and put 2 on the basement stairs as they are really dark.


I decided that we would need at least one room that had warmth and which we could sleep in with our camping mats if the power cut continued. I filled up our largest saucepans with water, put the lids on and put them on the hob to heat. I reasoned that they would be like radiators and actually the room was a reasonable temperature. I had just made myself a second cup of tea, contemplating what we could do to see out the evening (play cards with candle light, use the heated water for a strip wash) when the power came back on. I actually felt quite disappointed but quickly got over it. Electricity is absolutely at the heart of our lives and we routinely take it for granted and over use it. I have been a lot more conscious since this event – even though I am always aware how lucky we are to have this constant, plentiful supply. Due to the strong winds and storms recently a lot of homes across the UK and in Scotland in particular were without power for days. When we are so reliant on these national supplies we find our lives very difficult without them. And yet much of the world doesn’t have running water or a stable supply of electricity. What is our fair share in this? I know how I could make our home less reliant on national supply, I just haven’t been able to afford to do it as yet.

The post I meant to write ages ago…. ‘Autumn Finally Came’

Sometimes I have a post all mapped out in my head but it doesn’t materialise because I haven’t downloaded the photos or because I am just too busy with other things. This week I am trying to catch up with myself.

I wanted to write about how late autumn was this year and how topsy turvy things have been. I had several of my late winter flowering plants that flowered in October. This photo is of some that I picked.

Forsythia and winter flowering jasmine in October!

  To make sure I really enjoyed the autumn a good friend and I decided to go ‘away’ for the weekend. I don’t do this often because I am usually with the children. They were off sailing with their father for the weekend so I was FREE.  We decided late on Friday night where we would go that was cheap and rural and happened through the magic of the internet. on the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire. What and amazing place. I had been there many years ago but it has really changed. They have 50 acres of grounds and some basic, cheap and really pleasant accomodation as well as a wonderful cafe.
We arrived at lunchtime having stopped briefly for tea from a flask at Oakham Common and interesting plantation that has a special beauty in the autumn

Oakham Common

We had lunch in the cafe at the Sustainability Centre (near East Meon) and then went walking in the grounds and further afield. In the warmer months they have tipi’s and a yurt that guests can stay in.

Autumn at the Sustainability Centre

 The Centre also runs bushcraft weekends where you build and stay in your own shelter.

bushcraft area

As we walked down a country track we came across a field full of cars and the sky full of paragliders. We went back the next morning as it had been too dark to photograph them and there were far fewer people but I could really see why they do it.

Paragliding above the Hampshire Countryside

We left the Centre on Sunday afternoon feeling like we had been away for ages and decided to go down to the sea. Someone at the Centre recommended going to Bosham which it a very old town near Chichester where several roads flood with the tide. Ironically we had afternoon tea/picnic overlooking a sailing competition. Sailing has been a theme of my summer since the children decided to enter competitions all over S.E. England over the summer and autumn. I enjoy it but it’s nice to do something for me.

The edge of Bosham and its' much photographed swans.

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