Wednesday, 28 February 2007

28th Feb 07

Another busy day, with a meeting to prepare for a meeting, AVP this time. Alternatives to Violence Project has re-organised its structure and AVP York has joined up with AVP Sheffield, AVP Nottingham and AVP Northumberland to become AVP North East and East Midlands. This new group has its first annual meeting in April or May and it'll be in York, so today a small group of us are planning that meeting.

I cycled up to New Earswick via a Freecycler who has offered my son a CD player. The lady I met was offering it on behalf of a friend in the same sheltered accommodation block ,who thought Freecycle was a great idea but didn't want to do it herself. The CD player was more than that, infact a compact radio, tape and CD system with seperate speakers. It's been in storage for a couple of years. I hope my son is happy with it, my wife and I will check it out tonight to see if it works.

The AVP meeting went well. I facilitated/chaired and took notes and offered to type them up and circulate. Such is the life of a hyperactive overenthusiastic sustainable communities idealist.

Then into York to see one of my favourite people, an unconventional professional and well-off woman who always has time for a coffee and chat. I don't entirely approve of her jet-setting lifestyle, always off to somewhere far-flung, but she intrigues me and we are good friends, just good friends! I moved off to Cycle Heaven to return the Filibus bike and collect mine... but my back wheel was still being built, so I went to Out Of This World to pick up compostables on the Filibus. Home for 2.40, just 20 mins for a late lunch before leaving to pick up the kids. Gill my wife has gone to Scarborough to see her Uncle who's in hospital. She'd made potato salad and quiche for the boys tea before going, so I had little to do when we got in. At about 4.30 my friend Mark came to visit for the first time, and I gave him a cuppa and a tour of our large garden and 30 compost systems. I think he was impressed!

Gill came back and met Mark, which was nice as I'll be working closely with him over the next few months, on the CrUST Green Gala scheduled for July. Mark left and we had tea. The boys wanted to go on the BBC 'Shaun the Sheep' website, so before bedtime I went online and got onto the site, but we couldn't really get it to work properly. A bit of a let-down.

My friend Justin Rowlatt emailed me to say I will be on Panorama next Monday, which is on Justin's 'Ethical Man' experiences as part of his job with BBC Newsnight. I must phone my Mum and Dad to tell them. It's nice to be able to do/be something they can be proud of, as for many years they viewed me as a failure and a dropout, but all that time I was 'incubating' my green-ness, which is now fashionable! Justin came to film last year as he was intrigued by my compost toilet. It's very satisfying to use the BBC media machine to promote sustainability.

Must go, I'm really tired tonight. But I'm loving blogging!

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

27th Feb 07

Today I had booked my bike into Cycle Heaven on Bishopthorpe Rd for a service, but as they didn't open til 10.30 I popped into Pauline to saw some floorboards for her. Years ago, when she saw my Clearview Stove, she was so taken that she bought one too. It's the smaller cleanburn model, the Pioneer 4.5kw, and she's always on the lookout for wood. She's got a friendly joiner who drops off bits and bobs, and she sometimes calls me to attack the oversize planks with my bowsaw. In return she plies me with coffee and, this time, gave me some reclaimed lego for my boys and a squeezy bottle with nozzle for making a jet of water which I'd requested on Freecycle. I wanted it so I could wash out my ears, something I've done since childhood, and my usual squeezy bottle has had the top lost by one of my family members.

Anyway, a useful, and as usual, lovely time with Pauline, then off to the cycle shop. When I take my 'Dawes Streetwise' for a service, Cycle Heaven always offer me a replacement bike to use during the time they've got mine. This time I had a new experience, a load carrying 'Filibus' bike was mine for the day. It has a platform in the front of the handlebars, and the front wheel is under this, connected to the handlebars via a connecting bar or rod, rather than being under the handlebars. It was a good ride, not much different to a 'normal' bike, and fab gearing, making starts and uphills very easy.

I cycled home. When I got home Gill told me that our eldest son had left his gloves at home, and he was due to undergo his first cycle training, and being a cold and wet day, he needed them. I volunteered to cycle them down to the school for him. I made best use of the Filibus and brought a huge log back, from an immense beech tree which was felled a while ago, and sliced up so that locals could take it away. The bike handled really well. I have fallen in love with this bike!

When I got back, Cycle Heaven had phoned to tell me that my heavy use of my Dawes had worn the back wheel rim through with the braking and all the loads I lug around. I need a new back wheel, and I need one building as if I buy one 'off the shelf' it won't last long. So that means collecting my bike tomorrow, not tonight. Never mind, I'll enjoy going back to school to pick up the kiddies, as there are a number of bike enthusiasts who'll be interested in the Filibus. And I'll be able to pick up another giant lump destined for the stoves.

During the day I'd gone onto my emails to check Freecycle, and someone was offering a CD player, so I emailed and told the offerer about my son's desire to have a CD player. During the evening, the offerer, Daphne, phoned, and said we could have the CD player. Brilliant! So tomorrow morning I'm going to pick it up.

I cooked tea for my wife... pasta (bought, wholemeal), tomato/onion/pepper stir-fry (all out of the rejects!) and carrot and cauliflower (free also), steamed. All cooked on the stove-top, all without fossil fuel. What a life, I love it!

Monday, 26 February 2007

26th Feb 07

A day with not much on, so a late start and then my usual monday cycle into York to collect compostables from Out Of This World ethical supermarket, via Richard the greengrocer, who was a happy recipient of a super selection of home-made dried fruit, as a thank you for his sorting out materials for me... and keeping them out of landfill. So OOTW had about 40kg for me and on the way back, Richard gave me another 15 or 20 kg. I know the approx weights as when York Rotters got its first funding, DEFRA requested information about weights of materials being diverted away from landfill. I bought a pocket-sized spring-balance from Barnitts and weighed my compostables for months and months, and recorded the weights and types of material (ie from our kitchen; commercial fruit/veg; cardboard; neighbours garden materials; my compost toilet materials) and so I know approximately how heavy any particular bag or brewing bucket is. So today I diverted about 55 or 60 kg from landfill into my lovely compost heaps.

I know I've got OCD (Obsessive Composting Disorder) but at least it's a healthy pro-sustainability obsession. I also love doing my dried fruit on the logstove. I gave Richard a selection including blackberry and apple leather, pomegranate and apple leather, pear slices, apple rings, experimental dried lychee blobs, melon strips, mango slices, a single strip of pawpaw, a jar or stove-dried raisins and ditto of stove-dried bananas. Richard wanted to have a snack which was healthier than biscuits, so he was happy with the delicious fruit.

When I got home I bunged some of the manky stuff on the current heap and then I started to prepare the leafmold for this year's seed compost. I collect aunumn leaves from the side of roads, Windmill Lane is good as I can cycle fast down it and then put my booted foot down in the gutter and scrape up a big pile of leaves as I come to a halt. Then I put this pile in the trailer and do another acceleration and foot down scraping action for another load. All these leaves are collected in a chicken wire leaf-mold holder and left for a year. Before I collect the next year's autumn crop, I put the partly rotted leafmold into plastic sacks, removing 'contraries' as I do this (fag ends, plastic bits, broken glass etc) and also sticks which go into the fruit/veg compost. A year later these bags are rotaseived into a 'dalek' composter, layered with comfrey leaves to add some nutrients. This well rotted and by now very fine material is an excellent alternative to peat, and I use it in seed compost as the major constituent, and in my potting composts as a third of the mix. So I got together a sack of ready-to-use leafmold and also riddled (with the rotaseive) some fresh stuff into the top of the dalek. No comfrey at this time of year, but it isn't essential.

I went to the school with my wife to meet with one of my boy's teachers, to discuss how he was doing. Apparently his behaviour is OK at school, and he keeps his loud outbursts for us at home. This is very common, as other parents have mentioned it. Both boys requested 'bundles' when they got home, so I obliged after a half hour of bow-sawing some oak logs. I like to do a bit of logging fairly often. The bundling was a little rough but tea being served put a stop to it.

Tea was omlette done on the woodstove, even though Gill said it wasn't hot enough and would make a rubbery omlette. If I lived by myself I wouldn't eat omlette, infact I probably wouldn't eat eggs, as I would probably go vegan. A vegan lifestyle is the lowest carbon diet, and of course it's the most respectful of animals. It's funny, I love animals but would prefer not to see them in the fields or being used as pets or for entertainment, unless they were wild animals such as birds in the garden and other wildlife. I like the spiders and the silverfish sharing the house with us, though. But not mice, which I admit to trapping and composting. Mice in the house are not acceptable, mice in the compost heaps are. Rats in the compost heaps are not acceptable and I disturb them to encourage them to go elsewhere. It's odd, I have different standards!

Sunday, 25 February 2007

25th Feb 07

Another day not working, and a chance to go and visit the new City of York Council 'Eco Depot' which had a well-publicised open day today. This facility has been built to replace the previous 'Foss Islands Road' council depot, and one of the buildings has been constructed using sustainable materials. So shortly after 11am, my boyos and I cycled down to the James St/Hazel Court Eco Depot and it was already quite busy. After a chat to the York Rotters team and quick look around, we booked onto the midday tour of the Depot. A film crew found me and I obliged by answering their questions. The tour was interesting, but I was disappointed that only the office building had been constructed from renewable resources, the other buildings were traditional brick and steel, although the roof water is collected and stored for vehicle washing, negating the need to use drinking water at great cost. I was also saddened to learn that the council has formed a partnership with a company connected with the military, and are therefore, in my view, not totally committed to sustainability. There is nothing less sustainable than warfare, and a sustainable society wouldn't spend so much on armed forces. I would avoid any such partnerships or collaborative working, as it signifies support for this wasteful activity. However, I'm not in charge, so my views are nowt!

I'm delighted the council has invested in offices which are built from renewable, low carbon materials, and that generate much of their own energy from solar PV panels, and have lights which switch off when not needed and windows which open and close automatically. Wouldn't it be nice if all future buildings were built this way?

24th Feb 07

It's Saturday and an exciting meeting... for me anyway! At 9.30am at CVS was the first AGM of York Credit Union... exciting for me as I was the person who started the ball rolling back in 1997 and so to get to the first AGM is quite a milestone and makes me very happy. The meeting room was already quite full when I arrived, and soon filled up so much that more chairs had to be put out. The proceedings were very sober and really quite boring, as a CU AGM should be! However the fact that at 9.30 on a wet Saturday morning we could pack out a meeting room with such an event bodes well for the future of the organisation. The info reported was up to last September, so things have moved on somewhat with numbers of members, monies saved and loans taken out.

In AOB I told the assembled about the creation of CrUST, and our plans for a summer Green Gala on 29 July, and on the way out three people gave me their contact details and asked to be kept in touch with proceedings. I was pleased with this.

Cycled home via Richard's greengrocery to collect about 40kg of compostables.

Home-life this Saturday seemed to consist mainly of my boys wanting to 'bundle' with me, ie play fight and roll around trying to overpower me. They're not yet big/strong enough to do this but it won't be long. There is quite a possibility that someone could get hurt in these bundles, but we're sensible enough to hold back and not do anything too violent. Lots of fun, boys need bundles!

Saturday, 24 February 2007

22nd Feb 07

How nice to have a lie-in this morning. My wife Gill nearly always gets up early and breakfasts the children and cycles with them to school, and I do the collecting at the end of the school day. So I woke shortly before 9am, had my habitual branflakes and home-made muesli, and went back to bed for an hour. Luxury!

After I got up I cycled speedily to town via St Nicks, to see if York Rotters would pay my £10 fee for next weeks Community Composting Network event at Offshoots in Burnley, on Food Waste Composting. Keely, our project manager, said yes, so long as I make notes and give her and several other interested parties a talk about it the following week.

I collected one potato sack's worth of sad veg and unloved fruit from Out Of This World and cycled home for lunch. After sandwiches I processed some dried fruit I'd started last night. I'd taken some some previously dried pear slices, made on my Clearview Woodstoves on cake racks, and immersed them in lime juice and a second batch in orange juice. These were then re-dried, making a fantastic tasty snack. I've experimented with apple rings in blackberry juice and have used squishy raspberries this way too. It's a little fiddly but the results are just amazing, dried pear with citrus overload. And of course all the ingredients are more or less free, I give my favourite greengrocer Richard (from Martin's Country Fresh on Heslington Road) a penny per sack for unsalable fruit, cauliflower stalks, green potatoes etc etc, and compost most of it in my garden. However, some fruit is worth drying, and as I have woodstoves going much of the time, I dry apple rings, bananas, melon slices, pear halves, and make dried tomatoes which I then put in extra virgin olive oil, for 'woodstove-dried tomatoes' .

I spent a few minutes splitting logs for the drying pile, and my neighbour came out and complained that it was making his house shake. I suppose it is annoying, but I've never complained about having to inhale petrol fumes when their cars start-up from cold in the morning. I've never mentioned to him how this makes me feel, and I wonder which has the worst long-term health effects, breathing in Benzene or a bit of banging now and again? I'll try to stick to using my electric hydraulic logsplitter, although this increases my elecrticity bill and it takes time to get it set up and put away again.

As I was leaving for school my friend M phoned. She was stuck in traffic, and would I pick up P if her hubby hadn't made it into school by hometime, and bring him home. P is good friends with us, and although his behaviour has been difficult on some occasions, I have never found him to be particularly different to other children. However, problems at school and certain behavioural traits have led his parents to get a diagnosis, and he has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. When all the children came out, so did he, expecting to see Dad or Mum and to be taken home for his usual Friday after-school routine. I told him that his parents couldn't make it and Mum had asked me to take him home, where he would be collected. He ran back into the school screaming. He was obviously completely unconsolable and refused to come home with me. My boys had some extra time cycling round the playground, as I reasoned with P. Several staff members got involved, and were very understanding, and were gentle with him, explaining the situation. He still refused to budge. Several phone-calls were made and it was agreed to leave him at school to be picked up by whichever parent arrived first.

His recent diagnosis helped me understand this unusual behaviour, and seeing the behaviour helped me understand why he had recieved the diagnosis. I got a phone call minutes after getting home, mum thanking me and saying she'd arrived soon after I'd gone and P was allright now, and happily back in his expected routine. Poor old P, I'm very fond of him and now I feel I understand a little bit more about him.

Friday, 23 February 2007

22 Feb 07

A busy day today, with a 'freecycle' meet-up, a 'Professor Fiddlesticks' gig and 2 social visits.

A few weeks ago, during the gales, a sheet of expanded polystyrene blew into our garden. It was too big to be called litter, so it didn't get tidied and put in the bin, it got put in the conservatory and we wondered what to do with it. Last week I was delighted to read on my 'Freecycle' email digest that someone wanted a sheet of polystyrene, so I offered it to him. Freecycle is great. You find your local Freecycle group on the net and sign up with your email address, and wait for the first emails. I wanted to get a block of up to 25 emails at once, and the messages are from people offering all kinds of things for free, and a few wanting free things. The aims are to stop items going into landfill which could be reused. All sorts of things are offered, from kitchen cabinets to childrens books, old computers suitable only for spares to as-yet-unwrapped (but unwanted) bathroom toiletries, and everything inbetween, and then some things you didn't think of!

So far I haven't recieved anything I've asked for, as other people are invariably online as the message is posted, but I've helped out several people with their wants... wood for repairing something, an electric toaster, and now the polystyrene sheet. The happy recipient said he could collect it by car on Wednesday, so I emailed back and suggested that I could deliver by bike on my way to my gig today. So at midday I met him at the Fox and handed over the polystyrene. He wanted it to place under a heated propagator for germinating seeds, to reduce heat being conducted away through the staging in his greenhouse.

I cycled on to the school I was working in, a lunchtime circus skills workshop with some slightly special-needs youngsters. This is the third in a series, today was focussing on 3 ball juggling. I earn my living as 'Professor Fiddlesticks' (, an entertainer performing circus skills workshops and shows, and teaching balloon modelling. I've been doing this since 1992 and still love it! The youngsters all had a go with juggling and some suprised themselves by learning the basics. One lad was keen to show me his yoyo tricks, others are diabolo-mad. My favourite is devilsticks, it really grabs my attention and I love doing it. Seemingly I perform it well enough for others to enjoy watching me, and I'm a good teacher, patient and good at explaining 'how to'. Infact my science background and my ability to explain stuff means I have developed a show called 'Professor Fiddlesticks Fun Physics' which has key stage 1 and ks2 science in a fun interactive format. I'd like more gigs presenting this.

After my 45 minutes full-on circus teach-in, I visited my lovely old lady-friend Jean. She was 90 years old a week or two ago, and she resides in a care home. We have been friends for over 10 years and she's very unconventional and free-thinking. We can talk about anything, no subjects off-limits. She doesn't get a lot of physical contact anymore, so I always give her a foot massage which she finds very relaxing. Next week I'm going to visit and she'll dictate a couple of letters to people who sent her letters for her birthday. She got so many cards, quite a few were from people she couldn't remember or work out where she had met them. But in 90 years you must collect quite a few contacts, and by that age it must be easy to forget some of them!

So I had two hours with Jean and then nearly an hour with my good friend Pauline. She is a 'low carbon lifestyle' person, and is keen on her Clearview stove and her Freecycled kitchen. I met Pauline through a project which helped me when I was younger and angrier, AVP, Alternatives to Violence Project. They put on workshops to help people understand the conflicts in their life, and to help them resolve them creatively. It certainly helped me, as now I am able (most of the time!) to deal with my anger and to recognise my triggers. AVP puts on workshops in prisons and in the community, and I am still involved, helping to run 'AVP North-East And East Midlands', which is a member of AVP Britain. AVP runs worldwide and has helped so many people. One of the jobs I do is to phone up participants a month or two after the workshop and conduct some followup, to find if they found it useful. Most people say it has changed their lives and they have used what they've learnt in everyday situations. Pauline was the coordinator at one time. Then we worked together on the Local Agenda 21 group... but that's another blog!

Home to a big bowl of pumpkin, butternut and leek soup, cooked on the woodstove. Delicious!

Thursday, 22 February 2007

21 Feb 07

Today Keely the York Rotters worker phoned first thing and asked if I'd go to St. Nicks and present some composting info to a group of kids from Harrogate who were coming over to visit the Environment Centre. Keely was unable to do it as her son was off school ill, so I agreed to be there for 12.30 and do three 15 or 20 min spots. I do a compostables colletion on Wednesdays so I cycled to town at full speed, trailer rattleing, and went to Out Of This World, just one potato sack of biodegradables today, perhaps 20 kg. I popped into the shop too as my wife wanted some vegan pate, and OOTW is just about the only place I can buy this. I could go to Alligator but although it's nearer, it's off my usual route, and I'm a shareholder in the Creative Cooperative Ltd, who are the parent company for OOTW, so I don't have a problem buying stuff there.

Came home via Oxfam, who have the cheapest 600g 'fair trade' coffee, one of my addictions. I'm not sure how 'low carbon' one of these tins is every 8 weeks or so, but the fair trade-ness makes me feel better about drinking coffee. I've tried two other brands and definitely prefer Cafe Direct.

Home just in time to say bye to my wife who's off to Scarborough by train to see Uncle Tom who's had a fall and is in hospital. We're both very fond of him and hope that if he has to move out of his current housing, because of his increasing care needs, he'll be able to come to York.

Made the usual large pile of sandwiches for lunch and quickly gathered my composting stuff together; a bag of finished compost, an old duvet cover to riddle onto, and my Rotaseive. Kids love having a go with the Rotaseive, a circular riddle which has a handle to move a bar over the top surface of the mesh, allowing the small composted particles fall through, leaving sticks and larger bits in the riddle for putting back in the compost heap, or using for mulch. The 3 talks went well, the groups also having a talk about the wind turbine and the recycling work that St. Nicks does.

Home in time to cycle to school and pick up my children, and we all cycled home after I had collected fruit skins/cores from the playground bins and popped them in one of the 'dalek' bins I've installed at school. I do wish the school had a proper system for collecting this material seperately. I'm sure the children would be willing to put the materials in the correct contaainer if only they were labelled correctly. I am loth to hassle the school AGAIN about this... so I just get on with what I can do.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

20th Feb 07

A good evening. Just returned from the Friends Meeting house where I met up with 4 others who are starting CrUST, Credit Union Support Team. I started the ball rolling with York Credit Union in Dec 1997, and spent 8 years trying to get the Credit Union started, working alongside a wide range of unionists, ecoactivists, social entrepreneurs and greens, even the leading Tory, after he lost his seat... But, when the Credit Union got the go-ahead from the Financial Services Authority I decided not to be a Director as the responsibilities didn't match my lifestyle. But I did want to support what the Credit Union was doing, so I invented CrUST.

We have 3 'Aims and Objectives'; to raise funds for YCU, as it needs funds to run and has to raise money somehow... so far the money raised by interest on loans isn't enough to pay for the staff; to put on social events for YCU members (can also be fundraising); to raise awareness about YCU and tell potential members (who have to live or work in York) why they should become a member and the benefits that they'd get with membership. (see

Our one focus at the moment is to organise a summer festival in Rowntree Park, provisionally booked for July 29th 07. This will promote a range of 'lifestyle choices' connected with sustainability, peace, social justice, fair trade, personal and planetary health. We also hope to have local bands and possibly other entertainment. We discussed how we could run the event on renewables, and about sponsorship. We discussed a better name, and 'York Green Gala' was popular. I've now got to fill in the forms provided by the Council and see if they'll say yes to the event. Then the hard work begins. We've a second meeting planned in a fortnight.