Saturday, 31 March 2007

Sat 31st March 07

A very nice family day, with an early start as the Green Party are doing a candidates launch this morning at Clifford's Tower. As Gill and I are both candidates, we had to be there for 9.30am for the group photo. I cycled down with the boys and Gill followed on, a different route as she doesn't like cycling down Heslington Road for some reason. But there's many ways into town and Gill got there about 10 minutes after we did, on time for the photo. We all stood on the steps of Clifford's Tower with our 'Keeping York Special' banner.

I was very pleased to meet up with John Gray, whom I first met years ago through AVP York, the conflict resolution group Alternatives to Violence Project. He's an experienced facilitator and helped run some of the workshops, but he left the group to start Face to Face, a neighbour mediation service, I think. It's such a long time ago... and he's now married with two children. This is the first time he's stood in an election.

My sister Anna rang yesterday and told us that she'd like to take our boys to see 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' musical at the Grand Opera House in York in April. She asked me to get tickets so after the photo session I queued in the GOH ticket office and bought 3 tickets for the Saturday night show. The boys waited outside with the bikes, and then we walked on to Barnitts to buy some seeds as a treat for the boys, who want to buy, sow and grow some of their own vegetable seeds in their own bit of garden. I'm so glad that they are becoming keen on gardening. They got Morning Glory (Ipomea) Heavenly Blue, 'Walking Stick' cabbage which grows very tall and has a tough stem similar to the Brussels Sprout, but it can be made into a walking stick as it's name suggests. I got some Crown Prince Squash and Russian Giant Sunflower, and chose some free Purple Sprouting Broccoli seeds as I'd purchased two packets of Thompson and Morgan veg seeds. A good bit of shopping! Boys happy, Dad happy, nice cycle home along the cycle path, and a 15 minute stop at the St Nicks play equipment.

Home in good time for lunch. After lunch I went to the lottie and planted a crown of rhubarb given to me by Linda and Duncan. They've taken several of them out to make raised beds for Linda's vegetables. I'll donate a couple of sacks of finished compost to them for this project. I like this giving culture!

At 4 our friends Bill and Dinah came for a visit, as Dinah hadn't seen the garden, and I'd responded to a Freecycle offer of a nearly perfect black plastic dustbin... I'll find it useful to store 'dry, carbon rich' materials in, to layer with the copius quantities of 'wet, nitrogen rich' materials I bring home for composting. Bill had borrowed a couple of books, one on compost toilets and 'The New Woodburner's Handbook' which has inspired him to install a woodburner in the skate park shed he's been responsible for. He gave me a bottle of wine as a thank you for the loan. Had a nice tour round the garden and a cuppa afterwards. They are easy people to be with, and we enjoy their company. We gave them an open invite to come again and spend a chunk of evening with us sometime.

Boys to bed after Dr Who and Gill and I really enjoyed 'About Schmidt' on telly, a thought provoking film with one of my favourite actors, Jack Nicholson.

Recorded a film late into the night which I've been looking forward to seeing, the final offering in the Koyaanisqatsi/Powaqqatsi trilogy, Naqoyqatsi, with music by Philip Glass. Koyaanisqatsi is one of my favourite films, it's fabulous.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Friday 30th March 07

Last day of term before the Easter Holidays... and Gill took the boys into school, and came back to inform me that as our youngest arrived into school, he got a puncture. So during the morning I cycled down, asked at the office, and unlocked his little bike and popped it on my trailer so the puncture could be repaired.

At midday, I had a visitor, Christina, who is organising the York Green Carnival on May 6th. There's to be a carnival procession with samba bands and choirs and jugglers, around the streets of the centre of York, followed by stals and live music in Parliament Street. I'm working on that day between 2 and 4, but am willing to be involved before and after work. I showed Christina the garden, shiitake mushrooms on logs, compost bins, compost toilet and the logpiles. She came in for a hot drink from the stove top, and asked lots of questions and told us all about the plans for her event. I shared my plans for the Green Festival on 29th July, I feel we will probably work together. She's studying Politics and Economics at the University, and is very keen to see how sustainability fits in (or doesn't, at the moment) with these subjects.

I had lunch towards the end of our meeting, and so she didn't feel left out, she had some stove-dried fruit. I then shot-off to the emergency York Rotters meeting. We have been offered another year's funding from City of York Council, but our wonderful worker, Keely, has had to resign and so we, the management group, have to advertise the job post, shortlist down to half-a dozen applicants or so, interview and choose our new project manager. We had to work out our timetable and some of the details of this process. York Rotters is a partnership between CoYC and Friends of St Nicks, so the selection team is one of the St Nicks trustees Pat, John the St Nicks manager, me and one of the CoYC wast minimisation team, recycling to most people.

So exciting times ahead, but sad to be losing Keely, although we're not losing her as she has said that she'll continue as a volunteer on a regular basis. This is good.

I cycled swiftly off to town to go to the bank to deal with our Suma Food Co-op account, as we're having a delivery next week. Then onto my friend Jean, in her care home on Poppleton Road. I gave her watch back, with replaced battery. She wasn't in her room as it was being cleaned after 'an accident', she was settling down to have some soup and sandwiches in the canteen. She was more confused than before, but very pleased to see me. So were two of the other ladies (they're mostly women) and I was attempting to have several conversations at once, with several deaf and not-always-making-sense women. It was quite distressing, seeing how they were. I really don't want to get old and end up like that, it's not the way anyone should live their life, it's not really living, it's waiting to die. I felt quite sad and contemplative cycling away, but happy that I'd visited and lifted their spirits for a while.

Then I collected the two remaining water-butts that were advertised in the back of the Press last week for a fiver each. One on the trailer, one on the bike rack. Popped in on my friend Y and had a good chat and a cup of nettle tea, my first I think. Then onto Out Of This World to pick up the compostables, and home with a heavy and bulky load, arriving about 7pm.

I had a 'use it up' tea, cooked on the woodstove, and watched some gardening telly with the family. My boys like watching Gardener's World but by the end of it their eyes were drooping and they needed help getting to bed. Gill was very tired after two trips to school, mending the puncture and cooking the boys' tea, so I did emails including a person researching LETS and Green issues in York.

Excellent programme about the amazing life of John Lennon late on at night. What a pity he's not around now. He is sorely missed. I'm too young to have been an original fan, but I recognise he was a really great man with his ethical, uncompromising attitude regarding the evils of war. I wish war was over. It is the least sustainable of all human activities.

Thursday 29th March 07

Well, another busy day. Even though it was a bit damp out, I had a pile of Green Party leaflets to deliver in Fishergate Ward, where we have two Councillors already and want to retain them. Cllr Mark Hill is standing down but Cllr Andy D'Agorne is standing again. Standing with him is Dave Taylor, an experienced activist and a very committed Green and already doing good work representing various interests. I think he'll be a very good Councillor if he gets in. And these leaflets should help him get in. I popped round to my friend Debbie who had offered before to help deliver leaflets and asked if she would be willing to do so this morning.

As she was we set off on foot at about 10.15 and did the 300 leaflets in 40 minutes. We had a cuppa together afterwards, and she offered to do another round when we have one.

After lunch I visited a skip I'd spotted on the delivery round, and asked the builders if I could have some of the contents to reuse. Of course they were happy for me to do this, and I came back with a well loaded cycle trailer, with some building-quality wood, some stove-destined wood and some aluminium cans which I collect and sell to a metal merchant from time to time.

I also visited Alligator for some vegan ice-cream and some emergency peanut butter, as we're out pending our next food co-op delivery, which should be next week.

Our youngest child had come off his bike on the way to school this morning as the chain came off. So before collecting them from school I sorted his bike and then took it to school on the trailer so he could cycle home. On the way back from school there was another skip, again I asked if I could have some of the contents. I got some new turf offcuts, which I stack into a low wall for a year or two and then use for loam in my containers, mixed with garden compost and leafmold.

I did some logging whilst Gill cooked tea, a good cauliflower and broccoli thing with mushroom sauce and mashed potato on top. The boys enjoyed it too, and we all ate together, with French stick warmed on top of the stove wrapped in aluminium foil to prevent it burning.

Then I had to go out as I had a CrUST/ Green Festival meeting. A pleasent guy called Rob turned up, a DJ known as Green Renegade, and keen on having a DJ area within the York Green Festival. He's offered to help co-ordinate this side of things, which is good.

Then went for a rare meeting with my best friend in York, probably my best friend on the planet. When I lived in Emerald Street he was just round the corner and we saw each other often, but now it's only every few months. He works as a nurse, doing 3 nights a week, but loves his work as the artist 'Dexter'. He does text-based pieces, his first was called Dexter's World of the 60s and it has hundreds of words from his experience of the 1960s. He's also done one on the 70s and several private commissions. He used to do something called 'Retro Graffiti', recreating graffiti from the past, but in biodegradable flour and water paint. A very creative chap, and we supped Innocent blueberry and blackberry juice and chatted about our current projects.

And guess what, on the way home I cycled past another skip, wasn't able to ask this time but the planks found their way home for re-use. Down with landfill!

Enjoyed the second offering from the second series of It's Not Easy Being Green which Gill had been good enough to record.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Weds 28th March 07

A good day, as I was able to do some essential compost management and have a good meeting after lunch.

I got up at a reasonable time, as Gill got back from taking the kids to school and after spending some time with her, went down to a 'New Zealand Bin' pallet-based composter in the corner of the garden, constructed last autumn as a 'sit and wait' compost heap. I had been given a broken cane and wicker chair to recycle so I put it in this container and put biodegradables all around it. Today I dug this out and put the mostly rotted materials in the octagonal composter put up a few days ago. The chair had rotted apart and was now more manageable, all the wickerwork had rotted off and the legs and framework was easy to pull apart. I'll dry these off and use them to heat bathwater on the stove.

Some of the sit and wait fruit and cardboard had 'mummified' in the bottom of the pile, and was still recognisable as oranges, pineapples and grapes. This is because of its acidity and the fact that it had become rapidly anaerobic under the other materials piled on top. However this is why the compost pile must be turned at least once, as the mixing with other materials, addition of air and breaking apart of compressed layers results in a complete composting. The heap had lots of worms in some of the materials, and the turning and mixing will allow them to work the rest of the heap. Digging out a compost heap is a bit like archaeology, as items can still be recognisable. This one also had an old wooly jumper not yet gone, and of course I remove the inevitable non-biodegradable items, mainly plastic milk bottle tops, which had got in with coffee grounds from Starbucks who give me sacks full of spent grounds and tissue paper towels... with some plastic lids.

All the time I was doing this (about 90 minutes) I had the company of robins, who love the little beasties that I uncover. I expect they have young in the nest somewhere.

I also did some riddling of finished compost, using a sheet of chicken wire mounted on a wooden frame. This seperates the fine crumb from the larger sticks and materials for recomposting. This fine material is used as part of my container compost, mixed with loam and leafmold, and the larger materials are a good mulch for putting on top of soil that Im going to plant vegetables in, or for around permanent plantings like raspberries and fruit trees.

When I wash my hands back at the house, I run perhaps a litre of tap water and use a scrubbing brush to get off most of the garden soil/compost. This composty water I scoop up with a pair of tin cans I keep for this purpose and I water the houseplants with it. This means I don't need to purchase pot-plant feed as this water is nutrient-rich.

Lunch was the usual pile of sandwiches and then a zoom down to the centre of York to meet up with Tim Waudby from the Council's children's services department, regarding the Green Festival and the provision of activities for children and families. He was so helpful, and offered to let all the Out Of School Clubs know about the event, invite them to provide activities and co-ordinate that side of the event. This is excellent news. They also have a marquee, and he is fully up to date with police checks, risk assessments and public liability needs. I'm very happy about this. He seemed to be too as he has to provide childrens activities and he was keen to tie these into the green/sustainability agenda of the day. So we were both happy.

I collected my usual 'ethical supermarket' recyclables and also two sacks worth from the Heslington Road shop, more fuel for my hot heaps!

Home in good time to go and pick up the kids. There was some bad behaviour when they got home, so I stayed around to provide a back-up for Gill. CENSORED His behaviour at school isn't bad. This doesn't make it any easier, but if Gill calls me for help, their behaviour often cools down without need for actual intervention. My presence is enough. They know that I will wade in and make the wrong-doer go to their room and give them a talking to.

A sad email this evening from one of my CrUST colleagues Mark, who says he wants to concentrate on his volunteering for York Credit Union and leave CrUST. This is a blow as he has been good to work with.

My good buddy Simon popped in during the evening and helped me uninstall some unwanted software which he said was slowing my laptop down, stuff I'd never used but was running. Nice one Simon!

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Tuesday 27th March

I got my onions in this morning! Onion sets, on the allotment. 8 short rows, made straight with string and sticks, with the sets put in zig-zag style either side of the string. I broke the ground a bit before putting them in, just covered them with loose soil, and marked the spot with a short stick so I know where each one is. Then removed the string. I've some over, so I'll put some in the raised beds in the garden too.

At 2.45, walked to school with Gill to collect the boys and had ordered a taxi to go to Huntington, where our 9yr old was playing in a 'Tag Rugby' tournament. We took a picnic and made an event of it, as this is his first sporting outing. His team played three games and won them all, and were picked to go on further into the tournament. Joy oh joy, so glad as it will boost his self image, even though he didn't touch the ball or get a tag... he was part of the team, and that's important!

Got a lift back from a yummy mummy with a half-empty car, Gill came back with a ditto dad.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Monday 26th March 07

Another busy day. Gilly wasn't feeling well enough to go on the school trip she'd agreed to go on as a parent helper, so I took the boys into school and let the school know about the change of plan. I had agreed to see Pauline, and help her with some things that a big strong bloke can help a petite-ish older lady with... chopping some waste wood for her Clearview smokefree woodstove, clearing up some weeds from the house next door's garden, which she currently manages but it's going to be sold so it's being tidied, and shifting a folding bed and some chairs.

In return, I was given first option on some stuff from the house which was going on Freecycle...and I found a book on antiques for my youngest son, who likes the old cars and toys, a chess set for my eldest and a book about byegone York for my wife, who likes that type of thing. I got a pair of newish shears, and my usual cup of coffee and pleasent chat with Pauline. A fair deal, I'd say. I popped into another couple of friends and then back into town to collect the Out Of This World recyclables, includung a slightly out of date cake which will be enjoyed, I know!

Home via a circuitous route to find Gill had got up for lunch but was still feeling poorly. I collected the kids, the school trip to Tropical World had gone well, although one of the other mums had missed Gill. During the evening I had a lot of e-paperwork to do, re CrUST and the Green Festival.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Sunday 25th March 07

Well I got my lie-in, although it looked better on the clocks than it really was, as last night I put the clocks forward to BST. So a lie-in til 9 was officially 10am. Great!

Gill needed to have more rest as feeling ropey and I spent the morning with the boys, including a cycle to the Co-op shop for some provisions and a 'training cycle ride'. Made lunch and welcomed Gill down to the land of the living, she was determined to take the washing out of the machine and hang it on the line outside but I made her take it easy and I did it. She doesn't trust me not to drop stuff... rightly so as I did drop one bit of underwear, but it was OK as she didn't see!

During the afternoon my eldest son agreed to help me put up an octagonal composter which I was given over in Blackpool at a 'Master Composter' event last year, and has been on loan to St Nicks for a while. It is made of 16 green plastic panels which interlock and fit together and are held by 8 rods which thread down the joints. Having two people to make it is a lot easier. We placed it on top of a wooden pallet with added slats to (hopefully) make it less easy for rats to get into it. They shouldn't be able to get in through the plastic sides but they will use the gaps in the base pallet to find shelter. I'm on the lookout for solid wood pallets and will replace the slatted ones gradually, to reduce the access. I didn't have a rat until this winter, but now there's some evidence of activity. What they don't like is disturbance, so I need to dig out the one they're in and make life uncomfortable before they breed. I co-exist with mice in the garden but have a different attitude to rats.

Then I put up the trampoline as the boys were wanting to do soething active. We leave the frame up permanently but take the fabric off sometime befor bonfire night so that a firework doesn't damage it, and over winter it gets less use anyway. But now the weather is getting better for outside stuff the trampoline is now in operation again.

Gill had got better enough to make pizza dough, and as is traditional in our house, the boys made their own pizzas. Gill used some of the tomato/onion/pepper stew I made yesterday as the base part of the pizza toppings, and we opened a jar of olives as a treat. Whilst Gill did this, I planted some tomato seeds in a seed tray, perhaps a bit late but I've done it in March before and got crops. The pepper seedlings are looking good, the cotyledons (seed leaves) are all open and I hope they won't 'damp off', so I'm watering from below, not overwatering, and using tapwater as it will have fewer fungus spores in it.

I got some Fiddlesticks enquiries, one for a gig in Hull on a Sunday morning. I will be unable to get to it using public transport, so I'm considering going through on the Saturday night in order to do the work. I got a phone call from a friend Linda, who has given me logs on several occasions and I've lent her some gardening books and given her beans. She'd got some willow logs for me, and some laurel branches. I went round and picked them up in the cycle trailer and her husband Duncan brought the rest round in his wheelbarrow.

By now bathwater was hot on the stove and our youngest was the recipient of a hot bath, whilst I washed up. Ah, domestic bliss!

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Sat 24th March 07

I'd hoped for a lie in but my dad put paid to that as he rang at 8.20, as he'd heard 'Thought For The Day' on BBC Radio 4, which echoed a conversation that I'd had with him the previous evening. I'd wondered if our family's ancestors, who lived in Bristol, had been actively involved in the slave trade, as there is currently much discussion about whether we today should apologise for the actions of our forefathers. I reckon that we cannot apologise as we have no control over what they did in the past, but what we can do, and what I try to do, is to behave in such a way that recognises that injustices were done in the past and to ensure that we treat others with respect and equality. One of the reasons I'm a Green is that I recognise that bad things have happened and are happening, and I do not wish to be part of this. Racism still exists, here in York, as witnessed in a BNP leaflet put through our door recently. Greens oppose this bigotry and hatred, and try to extend love and respect to all.

Anyway, none of our ancestors were known to be directly involved, although one was an accountant and probably did the books for Bristol traders, so may have been indirectly involved. My Dad related the story of Noah, from Genesis in the Bible, who got drunk and became naked, and two of his sons covered him up. The other son, Ham, opposed this and let him be seen, and was therefore cursed by God, who said that his decendents would be enslaved. This story is what the Christians used to argue that slavery was just and right.

So I was now awake and soon was wondering what to do. Last night's Gardener's World on BBC2 reminded me that onion sets have to go in so I planned to go to the allotment and get the ground ready. Persuaded the boys to come too. However Gill wanted to take them to town as they have book tokens to spend and this morning would be better than this afternoon. So they got on the bus and I got on the bike and cycled round to get the last of my nominations, and ended up having a lovely coffee and chat with Debra and Adrian, who are good friends but we hardly ever spend any time with them, we're all so busy.

I got bread and came back in time for lunch, Gill and boys came back too and then we were able to go to the allotment. Gill feeling not too brilliant so she went to bed. I took a range of tools and some paper sacks for sticks and/or produce, and cycled to the veg shop for some items for tea plus sacks of compostables, and then back up to the allotment, which is up over a hill called Lamel Hill, and down a slope on Walmgate Stray. I persuaded the boys to do some weeding in an area which I had sown with 'green manure' last autumn, a mixture of grazing rye, vetch and field beans. The boys weeded out chickweed, already flowering and some seeding. I weeded the asparagus bed and restocked a compost heap. When the boys got bored they went for some explorations, and found great joy in pushing their bikes up Lamel Hill and cycling speedily down, time after time. I hoed the green manures off, one of the boys dug up some leeks and I dug up a generous load of Jerusalem artechokes, I've three varieties, some are huge, nearly a kilo each tuber.

The boys were getting a bit restless after 2 hours so came home with leeks, artechokes, broccoli, some sticks, and the onion sets that didn't get planted. I'll have to do them tomorrow or early next week. I did tea ... baked potatoes, broccoli, grated carrot, grated cheese. We all enjoyed it and watched some entertaining telly. I had been invited to a book launch at 7pm, my friend Rakesh Aggarwal's novel 'Reposessed'. He wrote a little book 'Thoughts, quotes and Poems on Happiness' and published it himself last year. Then at a writers event he spoke to 4oo or so publishers, and one asked him if he'd written anything else. He had, more than 10 years previously. They were interested and now it's been published by Sorelli. I'm really pleased for him, so went to the launch as did over 40 other people. It was a good event, mostly as I knew quite a few people (York is so small!) and Rakesh makes good food, as this is how he earns his living, catering at festivals. I meet up with him at the Big Green Gathering every year, with his vegetarian chips and curry van. I enjoyed the excerpts of the novel he read out, and I bought a copy for £5 and 4 Yorkys, as he's a YorkLETS member and accepts local currency. Lovely chats with several friends in common and some new folks, including a nice woman from Hull who's standing in the election for the first time, for the Greens. They haven't stood much there before, but the Greens are growing!

Speedy cycle home along the cycle path to a warm house and a wife who has lost her voice. Blogged and went on the Community Care website, looked at some other blogs for the first time properly, and enjoyed Peter Beresford's.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Friday 23rd March 07

Gill wasn't feeling brilliant last night so I offered to take the boys to school if she wasn't feeling up to it, so at 8 she woke me gingerly and asked gently.... so at 8.30, post muesli, I cycled in with them. Well now I was up and it was a lovely day so I got going... and as keeping the house warm is a priority, I continued building the woodpile on the side of the door. Then came in and wrote some letters... on the back of previously used paper, as usual. I haven't used a new piece of paper for years and years, I always use a 'printed on one side' bit. I've only ever had one complaint, an old fella who thought it was disrespectful. Well I think it's disrespectful to use a new piece when a reused one would do, disrespectful to the planet!

I wrote a covering note to Roger at and put my cheque in with it. Also wrote a letter of complaint to Abbey re the lost passbook. In today's post there was some very good news, York Rotters (the home composting education group I started) has recieved another years funding, the third from City of York Council. Our work reduces the weight of biodegradables that are collected by the council for landfilling by several hundreds of tonnes per year, and reduces peat extraction and use as householders won't need it as they can produce their own growing media. So I went to congratulate Keely our employee, as she negotiated the funding and she keeps her job for another year. I met the new Rotters volunteer Inge, who has revamped the compost bin demonstration area and is helping Keely in the office.

Then on to Abbey where I gave in my complaint letter and on to Out Of This World to pick up 2 sacks of compostables. Then to the Co-op Bank to pay the phone bill, and admired the new layout and decor, as the office is now an eco-office, ie recycled content furniture, organic paint with low VOC emissions, low energy lighting, electricity from renewable sources and very happy and friendly staff. Nice! I also got enough money out to pay half our annual council tax, and went and paid that.

On the road near the council tax office a motorcyclist was in the green coloured bicycle box at the front of the queue of traffic behind the traffic lights. As I cannot help myself as a radical cyclist and anti motor person, I said excuse me, if a policeman stops you for disobeying the road markings, you could get points on your licence. He was polite enough to thank me. About one in ten motor vehicle drivers thank me, about 3 tell me to fuck off or worse, about 4 make an excuse for being in the cycle box and two ignore me or don't respond. I will continue telling drivers this, even though I risk being run over or aggressed by the small percentage who take it personally. Fortunately I'm a very fast cyclist and have been able to outcycle an irate (young male) car driver on several occasions. What I have to try to control is my anger at their attitude, as several times I have spat at their metal monster and this doesn't really help the situation. I wish I was a bit more laid-back about it all....

Then delivered the SUMA catalogue to one of the participants in our food co-op, as we'll do an order next week. Then to Sainsbury's where I get a few groceries, including cheese. On many previous occasions I have bought cheese off the deli counter and asked for no extra packaging, and this has been possible. Then a fortnight ago I was told that the film-wrapped block of cheese had to have a bag put on it before the sticky label was applied. I complained. A week ago the same thing happened and I kicked up a big fuss, explaining that I would unwrap it at home and put it in my cheese box, so the extra bag was a waste. They said the film plastic might tear and allow the cheese to become contaminated or to contaminate the belt. I said I wasn't too worried about 'contaminating my cheese' (after all I'm a composter and my fingernails are never completely clean!) and if the film was intact it wouldn't harm the conveyor. Anyway when I went in today, the deli counter staff told me that they'd had a meeting with the management, and they'd agreed with me. HOORAY, a victory for common sense and waste minimisation. I went to the info counte and the lady I'd complained to twice before looked alarmed to see me... but I just wanted her to pass on thanks to the management for allowing me to buy cheese in one layer of wrapping.... the customer is always right!

Home for lunch. Did some logging and compost management in the afternoon, before collecting the boys. Then visited the Hes Rd Greengrocers who now have a good system for separating their heavy biodegradables and I came away with 3 sacks, about 60 kg.

These sacks contained tea... some tomatoes which had two mouldy ones (on average) per punnett, and four good ones. I sorted through and made a lovely tomato sauce on the woodstove which I had with pasta. Delicious and satisfying and cheap. I feel lucky.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Thursday 22 March 07

A pretty mega day.... lots of activity. When I awoke I got up immediately as I knew I had some preparation still to do... So before breakfast I built o logpile on the side of the porch which ran out last night. The wood I stack there has 'air dried' in the open, uncovered, and needs to spend a short while finishing off in a covered position before coming into the house and drying some more before being converted into heat, or use for bathwater, or fried pumpkin slices. So it's a type of rotation, we're now on the carefully stacked pile on the right of the door as we look out of the front, and I'm rebuilding the left. It's quite tricky, as I have to leave air spaces AND ensure it stands up. I have to interlock and leave gaps... an art. And they still fall down occasionally!

Breakfast, hurried the childern to get ready, another fine art as too much chivvying results in the eldest one shouting back at me and having a paddy, and our youngest also doesn't like being told again and again. But why do we have to tell them several times? Because they seem not to listen, ignore us and carry on doing what they were doing rather than getting dressed, washing face, brushing teeth, shoes on, go and get bikes etc etc. If we didn't push them they wouldn't get to school on time, and that is a parental responsibility. They will sometimes question why they have to go to school at all, or refuse to go, and so the morning routine is rarely easy and chilled. It is most often rushed and bad tempered. However once on their bikes they cycle like the wind and appear to want to get to school. Weird, I don't understand.

So when I came back from delivering them, Gill was just leaving with Jane and Mike, her sister and brother in law's car to go to Scarborough to help her Uncle Tom move out of his sheltered accommodation and into a care home, as he's been in hospital after a fall and cannot go back to where he was before. A sad day for him, it must be difficult realising that you are going downhill, always towards death. He has to sell some of his furniture as it isn't fire resistant, and to raise money for a new armchair. Gill's going to empty a dresser of crockery and catalogue it, ready for sale.

I got on with preparing for the Ethical Man team to come and invade the garden and use me to do a tiny segment of their programme. I took straw and sacks of fruit and veg down to the coffin-like composter I've prepared. Got a phone call from Sara the producer, they were on the train, four of them... two cameramen as they've a boom and tripod this time. I put my huge ladder (6 metres unsupported, or 9 metres propped up against something solid) down the garden in case it would be useful, and waited til midday when the taxi arrived. During the wait I created another load of banana and lime leather, as the first lot seems to be a success, and warmed the soup Gill made last night for their lunch. They enjoyed the soup, and we got to working out what was going to happen. The first take was Justin and I walking towards the Compostumbler and then, in turn, rotating it (no pun intended!) and then with Matt the cameraman off the ladder and at ground level, opening the composter and witnessing the water vapour (it's not steam as steam isn't visible...) and Justin over-reacting to the smell, which was rather strong. Matt was brave and filmed the fruit-fly larvae in close up, he admitted to having a phobia of maggots. Then several takes with Justin trying to get me to explain the difference between aerobic composting and anaerobic rotting, with mentions of methane and the fact that anaerobic decomposition (in absence of oxygen) is more polluting re global warming, whereas composting releases only carbon dioxide and water, and results in a usable material great for gardens.

The next take was walking towards the coffin-composter and Justin getting in and discussing the legalities of this disposal method, and then the fun bit, pouring chopped-up and decomposing fruit and veg all over him, and then layers of shredded twigs and woody materials, with me explaining why the mix is needed. Then the gross bit, at J's request, putting composting worms on his face. This is going to be an image that some people never forget, and I don't think Justin will forget it either. It was so weird a thing to see I couldn't help laughing, especially when the worms tried to go in his mouth and ears.

Finally, when he'd got out and got changed, he brought his suit back down and it was laid out on the coffin, sorry, composter, and a 'fruit-face' was created for him... a humerous 'end of Ethical Man'.

Gill arrived back just as Justin was coping with worms doing lots of takes on his face, and was disgusted. Matt also disgusted as he has a worm phobia too! I'm suprised he was willing to come up here again.

Gill went to school as our eldest was in his class assembly, on The Amazon, and he was a sloth. He had lost his script and was the only child to not read his lines, he did them from memory, good lad!

They came back just as the team were preparing to go, which was nice as they met Justin (famous!) and Sara (sweet).

When the Press came Iread it then scanned the small ads in the back, and someone was offering 4 waterbutts for £20, a bargain. I rang and was pleased to find I was the first person to contact them, ring back at 5.30 when husband home. I popped out and got some signatures for the election, and got back in time to ring the waterbutt man. He was insistant that it would be 'first come, first served' so if I wanted them, I had to visit soon as other people had rung up. They live the other side of York, a good 25 minutes cycle away, but I reckoned I'd have time so at 5.40 I set out. The waterbutts were good, I paid and suprised the chap by fitting two on my bike... one lengthways on the trailer and the other accross the rack on the bike. Home by 6.45!

Wolfed the last of yesterday's nutloaf and by 7.10 set off for the CrUST/ Green Festival meeting in Stonegate. A very nice welcome from Tom in The Evil Eye, and a good meeting with Mark and Tracey. Agreed future dates and several ways forward. Work to do, but it's coming on nicely. I like being an organiser, and I feel that they like working with me.

Home at 915 with a load of nice dry St Nick's logs (St Nicked logs?) (No, John said I could!)
Gill had recorded the first of the new 'It's Not Easy Being Green' with the Strawbridge chaps, but I didn't watch it as I was too engrossed with emails. Several finalising ones with Community Care, Graham being very welcoming and explaining about my blog for them. They have a website, I'll have to visit it! Nice email from my friend K in the US (yes the one who asked about composting in a comment on this blog... I asked her to post a comment to see how it worked, and so far she's the only one to read AND post... this may change!) Good to know there's a CRAG group being started in York, Carbon Rationing Action Group..something I'm keen on. Lots of Green Party stuff too, as elections approach there's always lots of activity.

On computer til well after midnight.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Weds 21st March 07

A busy day as we're having the BBC round tomorrow, so Gill spent lots of time and energy sorting out the house, and I got the garden ready... digging out the bay-window radiator raised bed which will be a composter tomorrow and will be an Ethical Coffin...

I got the children from school and as soon as I got home had recieved a call from the Abbey National. So rang back the pleasant woman from the complaints department, and had to wait ANOTHER 20 minutes to speak to her. The simple but infuriating message was that she'd been in contact with the York office and they couldn't find any record of our account. They've lost it. She suggested going in to the shop and giving them my date of birth as this might help them trace the passbook which they've supposed to have sent back to me. Without it, YorkLETS cannot open its new Co-op Bank account, so it's really important I get it back. I will write to them and hand deliver the letter, as I don't want to wait in the shop for 15 minutes like last time. I may also send a copy to the Financial Services Authority as I'm really annoyed by Abbey's cock-up, and I don't want other organisations to be inconvenienced like we are being. I might email BBC Watchdog too, watch this space....

I then cycled to Out Of This World for my midweek compostables pick-up, via my reliable Building Society, Nationwide, who have my Fiddlesticks account, and got a cheque made out to Unicycle .com for the repair. Mustn't forget to send it off!

Worked in the garden until about 7pm, then had a large slice of Gill's nutloaf.

Emails this evening included confirmation from Community Care Magazine that they'd like me to be their new green columnist. The Editor had done a fab job of editing my long column into a shorter one to fit the available space. The mag has 64000 subscribers and is a weekly. I have been offered a column every 3rd week plus a weekly blog, so I had a few questions for the Editor, Graham. I'm not getting too excited but I am very pleased.

Less pleased with my email package 'Outlook Express' which keeps on going dead on me and 'not responding'. Not sure what to do as 'Windows Defender' I downnloaded hasn't seemed to sort the problem. I'll have to ask my friend Simon, he can fix any computer problem! Thank goodness I know an expert I can bribe to come and help me.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Tuesday 20th March 07

Gill took the boys to school in the snow and wind, I lit both stoves and as Gill's got a dental appointment, got on with some housework. My big 'DM' Unicycle was delivered back from my friend Roger who runs, and it has new cranks, pedals and saddle. An upgrade for fifty quid... the first time I've spent money on it in about 10 years. Listened to Womens Hour on Radio 4 and washed up.

Spent much of the day inside as so cold and loads to do, although loads to do outside too! During the afternoon I got a phonecall from Justin, BBC's Ethical Man, saying he had been contacted by a magazine who wanted him to do a column. As he didn't want to do it, he rang me and asked if I'd be interested.... well, a second chance of a column to promote sustainable lifestyles would be great. So he contacted the mag and I soon got a call from the Editor, I think. It is a weekly with 64, 000 subscriptions and they wondered if I would write 400 words once every 3 weeks. I offered to send my original column, unchanged from the 600+ words that the Yorks Post had asked me for. I did this in the evening.

I did go out... to pick up the boys and later, to try and get some signatures for my nomination form, and Andy's. Only one person was in, so several more folks to visit to get this sorted.

I did have one very irritating experience during the afternoon. I am waiting for the Abbey National to send the YorkLETS account book back to me as we have changed our bank to the Co-op as it's more ethical and, since I've been a customer, over 22 years, they've never made a mistake or done anything bad. So I rang the national complaints number for the Abbey and waited over 20 minutes for it to be answered. When they did bother to answer they couldn't help, and promised to ring back at 3.45 with the answer. They didn't. What a wunch of bankers!

Monday, 19 March 2007

Monday 19th March 07

Another chilly day but I got up early to help my friend Pauline stay warm.... she's the only person I regularly supply with logs for her Clearview Stove. She has a 4kw smokefree and sometimes runs out of fuel, and during this cold snap she has had to resort to coal, which burns clean on these stoves but is a fossil fuel, and as a Green she doesn't enjoy using this.

So I took the kiddies to school and cycled on to Pauline's to deliver two sacks full. Then onto Out Of This World to pick up quite a lot of compostables and bombed home, as I've a gig at lunchtime. However I got back before 10 so I utilised a load of organic but unloved/unsold bananas and ditto limes to make an experimental fruit-leather. I halved and squeezed about 10 limes and peeled and popped into the blender about 15 bananas with the lime juice and some of the pulp. When it was well liquidised I poured it into my finest seive and pushed it through with the back of a 'last lick' rubber spoon, and poured the liquid into a non-stick swiss-roll tin, and placed this onto a wok stand on top of the stove. To prevent it burning I use a fan which uses the hot stove surface to make electricity and this makes the fan blades spin round, blowing air over the drying fruit. This 'Caframo ecofan' is sold as a method of helping to circulate air round the room but the hot stove creates it's own powerful convection currents, so it's really just a gimmick.... unless you use it to speed-dry fruit!

At 11.30 I set off for Manor School to do my Professor Fiddlesticks circus training, today diabolo and unicycle. The session went very well and the children enjoyed themselves, as did the teacher! After this I visited my old friend Jean who is always pleased to see me, as life in an old people's nursing home isn't good. I'd only been there 5 minutes when some staff came in and told her that her room was going to be cleaned so she was moved into the common room and we sat together there. It's not a pleasant place as one of the incumbents shouts and another, sitting next to Jean, repeated everything I said, well the last few words of it, as if in a trance. One lady looked like 'The Scream' and another rocked and shook continuously, mouth open and eyes shut. Not a good advert for old age. Jean gets one other regular visitor, a brilliant old lady called Joyce, who cycles around with an anti-war notice on her bike. So Joyce turned up, as promised in Jean's appointment diary, and I left them to chat.

I cycled home with the wind mainly behind me blowing snowflakes, and got in just as Gill was setting off to pick up the boys. I did some emails and blog and ate tea which Gilly had created, a lovely and filling bulgar wheat and veg mix.

Then some more work outside, despite the cold wind and snow flurries, and back in to get ready for the talk I had agreed to give to York Co-operative Members Group about YorkLETS. I picked up some LETS info and membership forms on the way into York from Stephen our Membership person, and got to CVS in good time. i think the 10 or so people enjoyed the talk and two took membership application forms.

Back home in time to watch an interesting programme on farming, selective breeding, genetic modification and cloning. Interesting.

Whilst Gill watched ER, which is too graphic for me, I went on the computer again and was pleased to find an email from a ?cousin Jenny Cossham who I found during a Google search, and I was able to leave her a short message which she replied to. She's into various aspects of sustainability too, which is great!

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Sunday 18th March 07

A cold day outside and lovely and cosy in.... that's the beauty of woodstoves!

At 11 had two Green Party visitors, as the local elections are rapidly approaching and I'm standing in Hull Road Ward, alongside Andrew Collingwood, as there are two councillors in this ward and therefore two votes. Andrew Collingwood came to start the extensive paperwork and Andy Chase our agent brought the packs with him. He is a past-master at local elections. The paperwork has to be done before we're official candidates, and I have to find Proposer, Seconder and a pile of nominees who are happy for me to stand. I'm getting Andrew's paperwork sorted too, as I've stood several times before and he's a novice, and doesn't know many people in the ward. It's an interesting and exciting process, local democracy, if that's what it is!

During the afternoon I started to deal with the preparation for 'The Death Of Ethical Man' and dig out my 'radiator raised bed' which is made of two old bay-window radiators put back to back, and filled with loam and compost. Last year we grew pototoes, beans and pumpkins in it. This week it will be converted into a coffin-like composter and featured on telly. In the meantime I have to remove at least 25 sacks of soil... and this afternoon I found some suprise potatoes which I hadn't dug out last autumn. That's tea sorted then!

Saturday 17th March 07

Well another good day apart from this is the second time I've tried to type and publish my blog, as I had some major problems with it the first time!

At about 9.30 my boys and I cycled off towards St John's Universtiy (difficult to write it this way because for the entire time I've been in York, I've known it as a College) where the Science Week events are culminating. In a large hall there were a wide range of stalls from different organisations with many aspects of science on display, many of them 'hands-on'. The first thing we saw was from Askham Bryan, a selection of animals including two tortoises, leopard geckoes, a weird flattened hamster and a hermit crab. There were other stalls with animals, including one with jars of grain weevils which you could identify using a computer programme, and the Central Science Laboratory with various pests like aphids and cockroaches. CSL also had some non-food crops including oils from rape and flax (linseed) and biodiesel also soap from calendula. There was insulation made from flax and sheep fleece and plastic made from hemp, maize and sugar beet.

The boys had a go with some circuit boards, making a light go on and a hooter sound, whilst I chatted with a chap involved with a science festival, and I wondered whether he'd be interested in my Professor Fiddlesticks Fun Physics Show. He'll be in touch, I hope. We all had our ears looked into using an endoscope with a camera, and the image put on a monitor for all to see our eardrums and earwax. Lovely! The boys watched a minature railway which demonstrated various dangers (such as playing on the track and I rode a static bicycle and generated enough electricity to light four lightbulbs. Our friend Maria was demonstrating a battery using a piece of fruit. She's about to do a PGCE so she can teach at secondary school.

We cycled back after over two hours, using the cycle track again. However the track is only accessable via roads, so we all cycled on the road from and to the off-road track. I know this is a bit of a risk but I am very keen to teach the kids to use the road and there's only one way to do that, and that's to use the road. They're both gaining confidence quickly and I hope they won't ever be 'pavement cyclists'.

Home for 1pm and I spent bits of the afternoon splitting the logs I cut up recently, some by using the electric hydraulic logsplitter and others with the splitting axe or 'maul' as some call it.

At about 4, we had a visit from a lovely young couple Christiana and Riccardo, who are from Brazil. She takes and collects a child at the school our lads go to, and I often chat to her as she always smiles at me. The child belongs to someone she works for, I think. He is doing a Masters or PHd in a parasitic disease, he's half Italian and she's Oriental. They've been married a year and they are lovely. I invited them round as she had asked what all the logs were and why I delved into the school bins, so I thought a tour would be a good idea as it's difficult to explain, easier to show. I'm sad they're going back in May.

After tea and just after the boys were posted off to bed, our Scrabble-playing friend Will came, with his friend Fiona, who is a Scrabble whizz, apparently. Soon after we got going my new friend Taj came round, bearing the promised bottle of wine. We had a good game of SuperScrabble, with Taj looking on, this time, and contributing to the conversation. I won the game but only just. Fiona is a good player and hopefully we'll see her again. They left on the 11.09 bus as they were all heading to the same area of town.

I spent quite a time after this trying to get my laptop to behave but failed. So the blog I wrote didn't publish and just dissappeared. Got to bed after 1.30 am.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Friday 16th March 07

Just a normal day really, a bit of gardening, getting ready for the spring crops, and some compost heap management, woodpile management, cooking, spending time with Wife and friends, and several bike trips.

So, as usual, Gill got up early and got the boys ready for school, which today involved spraying their hair red for Red Nose Day, when the school encourages them to have a 'bad hair day' and contribute a pound to raise money for charity. I got up just in time to help Gill spray some of her hair red too, she looked either really groovy or really silly! She took them in and cycled back to join me upstairs again. We are so very lucky to have found each other, we complement each other, and, keeping the relationship vibrant, compliment each other regularly too!

At 10ish we got a phone call from a friend who participates in our food coop, asking if we'd like to have some spare flour which she over-ordered and hasn't used and needs to get rid of as she's having a clearout. I offered to pick it up on the way back from my usual Friday compost collection, so I set off within minutes and went straight to Out Of This World to pick up about 20kg of unsold veg and peelings and stalks leftover from soup making, as they have a little cafe.

When I arrived at my friend's, her father was there as he's been unwell and is staying with his daughter whilst the medics find out what's wrong. He and I got into a good conversation, and it seems he approves of my ethical approach to life and we rather left his daughter out of the conversation, but she was busy with various things and didn't seem to mind. He declared he was bereft of stimulating company at the moment, and did I drink wine?

So I invited him around to tomorrow's evening of Scrabble with Will and his friend Fiona, who is apparently quite a Scrabble fiend. The gentleman's name is Taj and he is a mathematician and economist and engineer. Should be interesting, as Will is a maths person so stimulating conversations should ensue.

Home for lunch and some garden activities afterwards, including emptying a 'New Zealand Bin' of partly composted material into another (known as 'turning the heap' in composting circles) and continuing to fill the Compostumbler with chopped materials and chainsawdust. Also some weeding, as the Ground Elder and Nettles are beginning to grow. Some people say not to put these types of weeds in compost, but there are 3 ways that they can be added. Put them in a hot heap, and as I have several, that's what I do. The heat, generated by the large volumes of rotting materials, quickly destroys any living plant material, including pernicious roots. However, letting them dry out before composting also works, as does putting them in a bucket of water for a few weeks and then tipping the resultant smelly gunge onto the heap. This latter method also kills weed seeds, whereas drying doesn't.

Half an hour before having to go to school to pick up the boys, I made a nutloaf for tea. This is something I make quite often and it's a really easy recipe.

Here it is:
Ingredients: Breadcrumbs, chopped veg, peanut butter, chopped nuts, optional cooked rice/bulgar wheat/other cooked food, optional egg/s, optional moisteners such as red wine, yesterday's soup, etc.
Method: I make breadcrumbs in a blender from old crusts or bread not eaten and not yet mouldy! Put a generous spoonful of peanut butter into the breadcrumbs and wipe this in so it is well mixed up and no PB is left recognisable. Then add other 'dry' ingredients such as leftover grain, chopped onions, grated carrot, chopped nuts, seeds etc. Then add the 'wet' ingredients such as chopped tomatoes, yesterday's soup or curry sauce, and egg if you want to help the mix bind together. Mix very well and season with herbs and bouillon powder or soy sauce (for saltyness).
Grease a pyrex dish or baking tray and I often sprinkle some sesame seeds onto the margerined surface before putting the mix into the bowl. I press it in hard with the back of a fork, and microwave to cook, or put in an oven. I use the micro as it uses far less energy than conventional ovens, but today I turned it out when partly cooked and it went in the gas oven as Gill was already using it to make scones. In the conventional oven it gets crispy around the edge which is nice.
This recipe is infinitely adaptable as it uses up leftovers and can be flavoured with whatever you fancy. Sometimes I do two mixes, one with spinach or chard out of the garden, and another with baked beans, and make a layered nutloaf, or 'terrine' type invention. I've been making these for over 20 years and love them. Great with a sauce!

So the boys had some of this for tea, with new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn and a cabbage salad. After I finished off some outside jobs we had carrot soup and nutloaf for tea. Later in the evening my good buddy Simon came round and as my computer was on, he showed me how to 'cut and paste' which several software programmes have asked me to do and I've been too much of a computer novice to be able to do. Cheers Simon!

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Thursday 15th March 07

Another good day. Got into the garden to enjoy the good weather and did some tidying, composting, shredding and weeding. Retrieved some carrots from the throwouts which seemed fine, and prepared some carrot soup. At 1pm had a Freecycle visitor, Jules, who I've had an email chat with re stoves and logs. he came to see the stove in action (cooking carrot soup) and had a tour of the garden. If I'm lucky I'll recieve a load of logs from him on Saturday, as the place he works at had several trees fall in the high winds earlier this year. After lunch I got going with the electric chainsawing and processed a large pile of logs into splittable lumps.

Continued this after picking up kidos from school. However had a rather interesting interruption, a phone call from Sara, the producer of 'Ethical Man' who wanted to talk to me about her plans for the 'Death of Ethical Man'. Justin Rowlatt wants to kill off Ethical Man and recycle the cadaver (pretend, honest!) and I'm sure you know how he wants to do it! Anyway there are plans to film this in our garden next week. This blog will reveal all as and when it happens, and then the Great British Public will see the result on Newsnight the following week. How exciting!

Tea was the most delicious carrot soup, flavoured with corriander leaf, and a chunky sandwich. Soon after tea I had to go to town to attend the CrUST/Green Festival meeting at the Evil Eye on Stonegate. We got moved from the top room as it had been booked, and then rather aggressively moved from where we were put after that, as we were allegedly blocking a fire exit. However a good meeting and we are getting closer to being able to have a well organised Green Festival.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Wednesday 14th March 07

Woke feeling just a little sad at last night's email from the Yorkshire Post, but glad I'd responded politely as I like to keep options open and not burn boats.

When I was offered my column I contacted my friend Kate who writes a column for the York Press and asked her if she'd give me some tips and advice. In return, she asked me to help her with her compost bin which she's had for just over a year, and needs some management. Of course I was happy to help with her composter, and even if she now no longer needs to give advice to this non-columnist. I dug out the bottom of the dalek, the material was mostly well rotted and will need a short while maturing before it is used in her garden. The plastic and unrotted bits were taken out and put in their respective places (dustbin and top of compost pile) and the semi mature stuff put in a polybag for revisiting soon, when I'll Rotaseive it, a hand-powered mechanical riddle which separates small particles from larger sticks, etc.

I didn't have time to sit and have a coffee or a chat about the gutter press, as I was due at Askham Bryan Agricultural College for a short course about trees, evaluating the amenity value of trees and evaluating the different calorific value and burning quality of different types of wood. This latter issue is close to my heart, as all these blogs are written in front of my 4.5kw Clearview smokefree woodstove, which heats the front room and the bedroom above. So I learnt less from the second worksshop, apart from some numerical stuff such as how many BTUs (British Thermal Units) are in different species of tree's wood, fresh cut, air dried and kiln dried. The amenity value evaluation was completely new to me, a rather complicated and not very precise set of calculations called the Helliwell Method. However we were novices and if done by someone who knew what they were doing, it is a reasonable way to calculate an objective value of a tree from factors which are mostly subjective. Different people value trees for different things... an artist will see the shape and form, a biologist will see the ecological value, a timber merchant or woodburner will see something else. The method also enables a value in pounds sterling to be made, for compensation claims perhaps. We went into the grounds and attempted some amenity evaluations, then retired to the classroom to ccompare notes and discuss. Very interesting.

Then bombed back into York and filled up the cycle trailer with compostables and got home in time to meet up with a zoologist/entomologist from the Yorkshire Museum, who had been very interested in my find of some Minor Stag Beetles in a partially rotten log which I'd split. Often I put obviously rotten logs under a hedge in the garden so that beasties get a chance to live and breed, but this log didn't appear that bad, as it was mostly sound and would be good for burning. However when it split, a load of juicy woodboring beetle larvae fell out, plus a couple of adults, easily identifiable and in my book, rare and not found north of Nottingham. Pip the bug lady told me that they had actually been found as far north as Edinburgh and were found in the York area. Still a nice record for them, and Pip enjoyed the stroll down the garden and was pleased to see our Goldcrests which love the trees above my fruit-fly infested composters, and feast on the little blighters. How nice it feels to take materials which would otherwise be landfilled and lost for ever, and turn them into Britain's smallest bird plus a material which traps carbon into the soil and helps us grow delicious squashes and sweetcorn.

Our garden also has good populations of blackbirds which enjoy turning over mulches and flicking them around, also pecking at unsold apples which I often deliberately throw onto the lawn for them, and robins which love it when I move bags of compost around and reveal worms and other invertebrates which they hop down and eat. When working in the garden I always have their company. I'm not good at identifying other birds, but Gill has identified Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, House Sparrows and Dunnocks, Blue/Great/Long Tailed/Coal Tits, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Starlings, Collared Dove and Wood Pigeons, Magpies, Wren, Treecreeper, Redwing, Blackcap Warbler, Fieldfare, a Kestrel (swooping towards the bird table) and Mallard Ducks visiting next door's pond.

It is very satisfying to have so much life enjoying our land, of which we are temporary stewards. The garden looks messy to people but is a haven for animals, plenty of nesting areas and ecological niches.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Tuesday 13th March 07

Such a lot has happened today. I woke very early, with my new column racing round my head and I obviously couldn't get back to sleep so I slipped downstairs and started writing. Within an hour I had the bones of my introductory column for the Yorkshire Post, and by 9am I'd typed it out and sent it in.

Went back to bed and read NewScientist, and fell asleep, only to be woken by an annoying phonecall from a company offering cheap foreign holidays for my employees....

So made best use of the unseasonably warm and sunny weather and loaded more stuff into the Compostumbler, and spent a little while managing a logpile. I split open a large treestump which had some old, rotten wood within and several quite large beetles and their even larger larvae fell out. I looked in my old Oxford Book Of Insects and found they were (probably) Lesser Stag Beetles. The book suggested that they were uncommon and found south of Nottingham. I contacted the Yorkshire Museum and the entomologist I spoke to sounded quite excited, as they may be a new record for this far north. They'll be looked at tomorrow afternoon, so I put two adults and a selection of different sized larvae into a tub with some wood frass and bark bits and look forward to meeting a fellow insect enthusiast.

Lunch was nice as usual, especially as I'd been up so early. And before long it was 3pm and time to cycle to school and pick up my boyos, who cycled back really fast, to look at the beetles and watch Shaun the Sheep on TV.

Had a visitor at 4.50, a Freecycle member who was wanting houseplants. Gill knew her from years ago when they both worked with 'Accessible Arts', and it was lovely to meet up again. She took a small Papyrus and 4 types of succulent, all of which propagate easily.

Tea was yesterday's pumpkin soup and a veg stirfry and tomato/feta salad, with home-grown chard, standing well through the winter, and chives, growing fast now.

Before the boys went to bed, our friend Claire came to pick up a Freecycled portable CD player she wants to take to France for a 4 day walk, and a sack of potato sacks, used but folded flat and she doesn't know what she'll use them for. Doesn't matter, as long as they are reused, as I've got loads and loads. I don't compost them as they might contain copper as when I burn them, they have green flames.

Later in the evening I did my emails again, and I got a very disappointing email from the Yorkshire Post saying that they'd decided to keep green issues in the main paper, not in the Life and Style, so my column was off. What a let down. I emailed back asking them to reconsider, stating that Green issues were very much part of current Life and Style, and that many people were wanting to do something to make a difference. I also asked them to consider using my ability and knowledge in the main paper. I also suggested that if the fee they'd offered was too high that I'd be happy to negotiate less as the message was so important that I didn't need to make lots of money, just some would be nice.

I don't hold up much hope. But one day my writing ability may bring me some profit or acknowledgement, even if it isn't in the mainstream media.

Hey what a day. I look forward to tomorrow's workshop about trees at Askham Bryan Agricultural College.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Monday 12th March 07

A good day, although woke early, too early for my liking, and as is usual, I cannot go back to sleep, so I got up and breakfasted and helped my wife get the children ready for school.

The good day really started when I rang the Yorkshire Post, re their offer made provisionally last week offering me a regular column. Yes it's amazing, but my 'low impact lifestyle' and ethical approach is of interest to readers of the Yorks Post, according to the Associate Features Editor. She rang me back and confirmed that they'd like me to do a fortnightly 500 - 600 words for their Wednesday 'Life and Style' supplement. I asked a lot of questions and am satisfied with the arrangement. As well as a fee, I'll get a subscription to the YP so I can see what's in the paper and make my column current and topical. I read out the 30 or so subjects I could write about and she seemed pleased I'd already thought about it. I suggested an introductory column, setting out my stall, and then emailing a 'bank' of a few pieces for them to choose from.

It will be a lot of work initially, and my blog might be a bit thin for a while, as I'll be concentrating on work!!!

However, nothing should stop me doing my regular compostables collections and today was no exception. After picking up the boys I went to visit my Bishophill friend to drink her coffee and chop her woody bits she gleans from neighbours and skips for her small Clearview Stove. Then my usual Out Of This World pick up, and then the Hes Rd pick up, lots of lovely sad veg and unloved fruit to put in the Compostumbler.

I made pumpkin soup earlier in the day and I had this along with a potato and veg pie with a cheesy scone top that Gill had invented. Great. Vegan ice cream and banana and home-made chocolate cake for pud. We're well-fed here!

Hopefully an early night to compensate for the over-early morning.

Plenty of writing to do.... exciting times ahead. I'll do ANYTHING to promote sustainability!

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Sunday 11th March 07

A lovely day working in the garden, mostly. Did a load of compost management and some weeding, worked with the boys on their plot to prepare it for some crops. In the evening watched some TV and did a load of deleting of old emails and creating others. As the stove had heated up two pans of bathwater, took these up for the boys who'd got mucky, school tomorrow. A relaxed and 'normal' day.

Lovely. I'm a lucky fella, and happy with my lot.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Saturday 10th March 07

A weekend without paid work... but plenty to do. When I got up the boys were continuing their game of Superscrabble which they started a couple of days ago. To help them hurry up (we couldn't play it last night as their tiles were on the board) both Gill and I joined in and helped them. When everything seemed peaceful and good tempered we were able to slip away and spend 20 minutes upstairs, with no shouting or fighting downstairs. Bliss...

Later, I continued digging out a compost heap and putting most of the material in a builders bag, so I can reinstate the heap in a way which discourages rodents from making it home. After lunch, my usual pile of sandwiches, I cycled down to Cycle Heaven on the Filibus to collect my repaired Dawes.... the new front wheel feels fine, and will hopefully last as long as the frame will. The frame has already broken once, when I was transporting a huge load of logs and the bike fell over, fracturing the frame near the back wheel. I got it welded together by a lovely chap in Bishopthorpe, and I've been more careful since, especially as I think he's not trading anymore. I went on to a Freecycle contact who had offered me an ex-skip compost bin, minus bottom door and lid, but I'm sure I can resolve that problem. I spent quite a long time chatting and discussing gardening and other important issues over a coffee, a new friend I think.

A speedy cycle home via the veg shop and back rather later than planned. Gill had hoped that I'd be in earlier as we all could have visited a chap up Osbaldwick Lane, offering a second-hand computer which will enable my eldest son to catch up on his keyboard skills and speed, as he must be the only child in the class without a computer... and he's very slow in the ITC suite at school. I collected the Freecycled computer in the trailer, monitor, printer, scanner and keyboard, and we'll put it in the loft and let him have 40 minute sessions max at any one time. Our good friend Simon has offered to help set it up and show him how to get started, as well as provide some software for him.

I made my own tea, rice with pumpkin and sesame seeds and bits of other veg, all cooked up on the woodstove. Very wholesome and filling. Vegan too. Andy my Green Party friend called and came round, re paperwork for the forthcoming elections. Then Simon popped in as he was in the vicinity, and told us he'd help with our Freecycled computer.

A quiet evening doing various paperwork and 'office' tasks. Should be early to bed ttonight.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Friday 9th March 07

One of my big 'sit and wait' compost heaps has for a while looked as if it needed turning and making less hospitable for it's rodent inhabitants, and I'll replace it with one built on top of a couple of pallets which are less rodent friendly to burrow into. So I got a 'duppy bag', the builders materials woven nylon one cubic metre sack and started forking the heap into it, as a first turn. I have to take out lots of contrairies and either bin them or chuck them in a container of rainwater which washes the composty nutrients off so I can pour the 'fertiliser water' on various garden plants. I then bin the plastic bits, as they're not recyclable. Also I can at this stage take out any unrotted sticks, fabrics, rubber bands etc, and pop them on the next heap, as they'll rot down in time.

After this I stacked some recently chopped and split logs and had an early lunch and cycled into town to give my bike to Cycle Heaven for a front-wheel rebuild, as my heavy loads plus heavy braking has worn away the rim. I get wheels built as an 'off the shelf' one wouldn't last long with the use (abuse?) I give it. I borrowed the lovely Filibus load carrying bike and went to Out Of This World to pick up a load, and to the Nationwide Building Society to bank a tax refund, always a nice thing to be able to do, will pay for the wheel rebuild!

Met a friend in Parliament St, Daphne who I met through AVP, who was pleased to see me and asked if I'd watched the Channel 4 programme last night on 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' which Gill recorded as I was out. She said I must watch it as it refuted many of the current percieved certainties that CO2 is responsible for climate change. I like scientific debate and will always listen to well-put arguments, as I do my best to keep an open mind. I look forward to watching it on video. Collected another 2 sacks of grot from Heslington Rd and brought them home for my favourite recycling methodology, the hot tumbler.

I picked up the boys, the Filibus bike again causing a bit of a stir as it looks different to a normal bike, and my youngest had a ride on the front load-carrying platform as a treat, just around the playground for a minute.

I did some more outdoor stuff before tea, and then at 7pm went out again, to the Yorkshire Museum to hear/see Dick Strawbridge doing a talk on 'How Green Can You Be?' He is a really good speaker, and really committed to living as sustainable life as he can, within his desire to 'be normal' and have motor vehicles, eat meat, etc etc. His house move and refit, and how his family coped was the subject of a BBC programme last year called 'It's Not Easy Being Green' which we watched and really enjoyed. I met his wife Bridget at the Big Green Gathering, and for Chrismas was given the book of the series. After the talk I asked Dick to sign the book, and he said he'd worked out who I was, as I'd emailed B saying that I planned to see D do his presentation.

Came home quickly so I could watch 'Castaway' with my wife, a pleasant, relaxing evening in, followed by washing up in scalding stove water and a good session with my laptop... hence another day's blog, my new addiction!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Thursday 8th March 07

I did the school run today as I had arranged to cycle on to Bishopthorpe to collect a computer which was offered on Freecycle, and I asked for it on behalf of a friend who really needs to improve her skills and break out of the rut she's in. She has started a computer course but hasn't got one.... until today! I wasn't expecting to transport such a lot of stuff... not just a computer and monitor, but printer, scanner, speakers, mouse and paperwork instructions AND a bag of electric flex to make it all work. The donor had upgraded their system and was happy that the old one was going to a deserving person, rather than going to landfill. Do people really put 6 year old computers in the bin? Even in these days of the WEEE Regulations, I expect that they do.

My friend was amazed and very grateful, and just a bit flummoxed as to what was what and how it all fitted together. I told her that I expected her daughter would be able to help with that. The system needs an 'external modem' so when it's working, I'll find out what it needs and try and get one on Freecycle. Hopefully I'll be able to get my boys a computer soon, as my wife has sugested that one would be helpful with their homework.

Before lunch spent some quality time with Gill who was happy to have a day off from taking the children to school. I also fitted in some time managing some of my compost systems, emptying the huge 'Compostumbler' and immediatley starting to refill it with shedded twigs and chopped fruit and veg materials, and bagging up some finished stuff, well, unriddled but ready to use as a mulch. Really it still needs riddling to remove unrotted sticks and the inevitable 'comtrairies' such as plastic tape, plastic fruit stickers and glue-strips from cardboard boxes.

Picked up the kids at 3.15 and did some more pruning of spralling mallow, brought it home for a sit-and-wait pile. I do wish I could compost it at school. Maybe oneday? I live in hope, eternally optomistic that school will start to embrace sustainability and take responsibility for recycling their own waste materials.

Did some deliveries of the 'Green Light' pamphlet, announcing the forthcoming ne Green Party candidate for Fishergate Ward, Dave Taylor, who is standing as Mark Hill is standing down. Dave would make a great City Councillor, I hope he gets in.

Before tea did some bowsawing of planed timber rescued from a skip recently, and was ready for the spaghetti and veg that Gill had put together. Shortly after this I shot off down to town again, for the second meeting of CrUST, to firm-up the Green Gala, which we renamed York Green Festival as the word Gala was percieved to be a bit Morris Dancers and Cream Teas. The word Festival implies fun, music, excitement, interest, creativity, which is what we want the gig to be. The different chunks of the event were divvied up and we meet in a week to feed back the info.

I got an exciting email from the Yorkshire Post today, but it would be inappropriate to discuss it here and now as nothing is decided yet. However I will reveal all when I know more myself...

Wednesday 7th March 07

Another very full day. Got up at 8.30 as I heard the kids getting ready to go, and said goodbye to them and Gill, and thanked her for taking them as she'll be picking them up too. Got a phone call from Keely at York Rotters advising me that at 10ish this morning she was expecting a delegation from Hull (a visit I'd organised, because of my attending a Recycling Action Yorkshire event in Leeds in Jan where Id asked around if any local authorities might be interested in setting up a Rotters type scheme). She apologised for this being short notice, but she's been unwell and busy on some funding courses. Fortunately I was able to attend, and I'm very glad I could.

The Hullites were the Council's Waste Minimisation Officer, the head of Parks, the organiser of the Environment Forum and a new volunteer from Friends of the Earth, all keen to hear about York Rotters. I was able to give them a mini-tour of St Nicks, explaining about the site history, the passive solar design of the building and its photovolteic panels, hot water panels, sedum roof with drinking water harvesting, compost toilets, waterless urinal for both sexes, kerbside recycling collections, employment of various groups to help sort recyclables and the composting demonstration site, as well as the straw-bale urinal and hibernaculum for overwintering beasties. The mating frogs in the pond were also pretty spectacular!

Keely and I provided lots of useful info about how York Rotters was set up, funded and what it does and has achieved. I have been invited to give a presentation in Hull at the end of this month by Hull Organic Gardeners, and this may be a perfect opportunity to start the process of launching a Hull Master Composter project. I hope so.

That meeting was nearly 2 hours, so I shot home (via the St Nicks communal logpile, always a good place to find a few kilos of free fuel!) and had lunch before my scheduled meeting with Liz Topi at the City of York Council. This went well, she's happy to say yes to the Green Gala on July 29th, and she gave me some very helpful pointers and ideas. Then a quick visit to Out Of This World, to pick up a small volume of compostables.

Then I went to the Merchant Taylor's Hall to give blood as it's been over a year since I did so. This always entails a lot of waiting, but they always have some good magazines, I read Men's Health and Psychologies Magazine, the latter being very good. Actually giving blood only took 5 and a half minutes, the waiting and tests, nearly 2 hours. Worth it, though.

Zoom home via Richard and the veg shop, where I disobeyed instructions to not lift anything and loaded up my trailer and bike rack with about 6 sacks of biodegradables, including loads of grapes destined for raisinhood. Gill had cooked some potatoes and I made a yellow pepper and cheese omlette to go with them, and a simple coleslaw salad and some dead baked beans left over from the boys tea.

Believe it or not, I then went out again, to the Cafe Scientifique meeting at City Screen, which was an interesting talk about English Partnerships work on their (allegedly) zero carbon housing projects. Should be low carbon housing, as they are not counting the embodied energy in the building materials, just the energy used in the use of the house. Good work, though.

A long day, but finished the game of superscrabble I started yesterday with Gill, and then did my blog, finishing at 1.30am....

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Tuesday 6th March 07

A houseworky morning, with a rude awakening at 8am by my sister Anna on the phone saying can she visit this afternoon? Gill took the boys to school and I got on with lighting the stove, having breakfast, doing the washing up, attending to various post including the lovely Student Loan Company and sending Justin the Ethical Man the Yorkshire Post article.

I had a Green Party election paperwork thing to give in by today, so after an early lunch I bombed over to Bishophill to deliver that and popped into Cycle Heaven to ask about rebuilding my front wheel, which is wearing through at the rim, like the rear was. My personal assistant responsible for my bike wasn't in, so they said could I go in tomorrow. I also popped into Abbey National, who are not YorkLETS bankers anymore, and they're being very slow to send the account book back to me and the closing cheque. We have started the process of opening an account with the Co-operative Bank who have an ethical investment policy, but they need the details of our last account. We left the Abbey because they were inept and made several silly and annoying mistakes. I got home in time to cycle to school and pick up the kids, and whilst there, I pruned some sprawling mallow shrubs that I'd been given permission to do. The alternative is the school (or Education Authority?) employs a company based in Leeds, who come and do grounds work, and take prunings away in a lorry back to Leeds. Ridiculous! All the grounds management waste could be composted on site, helping to compost the volumes of fruit and veg stuff which STILL gets put in the playground bins. I am past angry about this, so I take the fruit, veg and paper out of the bins on a daily basis and pop it in the plastic box provided for compostables (only some of the kids use it, and the kitchen staff, fortunately) and put it all in one of the 3 'dalek' bins I've installed and manage. I'd prefer a larger 'New Zealand Box' system which would take more of the cardboard which clogs up the landfill-destined bins, as well as grounds materials. I cannot get the school to move on this, and the Director of Education at City of York Council hasn't replied to me either. I feel another letter coming, it's one way to release my anger about unsustainable stick-in-the-muds. It sometimes helps get things changed, too.

I cycled back with all the Mallow, and will compost it at home. I soon found it doesn't shred well, as it's mucilaginous and stringy, clogging my favourite 'quiet shredder'. I'll do the rest on a 'sit and wait heap' rather than a fast shred and tumble and turn hot heap. Whilst unclogging the shredder Anna (my younger sister) and her hubby Douglas arrived, by car from Sheffield. They haven't been 'up North' for long and one reason the moved was to be nearer family. It is lovely to see them and the boys are very fond of them. A nice tea-time, easy baked spuds and salad with a Gilly rice and bean loaf. We finished the Butternut soup too. They stayed til about 8, perhaps next time they'll be able to stay over. I've been to their new house in Sheffers but the rest of the family hasn't, so we ought to visit them next. They are conveniently close to the end of the tram line.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Monday 5th March

Today I'm in the Yorkshire Post, as Justin the Ethical Man had given them my details and suggested that they do a feature on me. Gill took the boys to school and then went to buy the paper. I am always amazed how much of a forehead I have, receeding hairline, shiny and large. The Post had published a photo of the untidiest part of the garden and the best view of my forehead. Never mind, it was a good story with only a few mistakes. I'll write in to them with a letter with the factual corrections.

Soon after getting the paper, Justin rang and asked if it had been published and if I was happy with it. He asked me to buy a second copy and send it to him. Then a media company rang up, saying that they'd be interested in doing a feature about our family in a women's magazine, and were we interested? What they'd do is to send a short synopsis of the article to a number of magazines, and if any were interested they'd agree a deal, as we'd recieve a fee if we respected the contract of exclusivity, ie not giving interviews to any other people/papers/media organisations. I said we'd consider it.

I needed to do some photocopying in town and buy a Yorkshire Post and collect compostables, so I biked it in and did all that, getting back at 1pm hungry for lunch. However, before eating I prepared some seconds butternut squash for soup tonight, chopping out deteriorated bits and steaming the remaining chunks in a pan on the woodstove. Then did some unloading of compostables onto the heap and suddenly it was time for me to pick up the kids.

I had recieved an offer of two bags of logs from a Freecycler the other day, so I cycled over to Heworth and collected them, and elivered a Green Party leaflet requested by the nice lady who gave us the CD player for my son. She seemed very pleased to see me, and I expect we'll meet again.

I enjoyed the squash soup but Gill says that soup is always better a day after it was made, as the texture is smoother and flavour more developed. So perhaps she'll enjoy it more tomorrow!

I cycled off to my monthly LETS meeting, York Local Exchange Trading System has a core group meeting at the Seahorse Hotel near the Barbican on the first Monday of the month, and as I'm on the core group, I had to go.... it's always nice to see my LETSy friends but tonight I had to leave within the hour as I wanted to watch Panorama, as I was on it. The programme was good, and my little bit came accross well. My best buddy Jonathan rang up after, congratulating me! How lovely of him.

Later in the evening I got a good Freecycle message. I had replied to an offer of an old computer that someone was offering, on behalf of a friend of mine who wants to learn computer skills but is jobless, skint, and doesn't have many social contacts. The offerer had had loads of replies but had chosen my message as the deserving one. I rang her number and spoke to her husband, and I'll be able to pick it up on Thursday, and I emailed her with a big thank-you. I popped round to tell my friend, she was very moved and happy.

Sunday 4th March 07

No lie-in today either, as I had a visit from the Yorkshire Post photographer booked and then a Fiddlesticks gig after lunch. So to look good for both of these I got up early and stoked the big stove which had had both the 6 gallon pans on overnight, so they were already warm but for a bath I needed them hotter.

I know showers are greener, using less water and energy to heat that water, but I don't really like showers, and our shower uses gas to heat the water. I find that a soak in a bath of very hot woodstove-heated water is much more satisfying and relaxing, and I usually only have one a week, and wash my hair. So after watching Ski Sunday (vicarious thrills with a lower carbon footprint than flying to somewhere with snow, and then almost certainly having an accident which would stop me doing all the Fiddlesticksing and composting I so much enjoy!) I lugged the pans of hot water up to the bath, trimmed my beard with the rechargable trimmer, and had my low-carbon soak n wash.

But not very relaxing as I couldn't stay in long as the photographer was coming. So a functional bath..... And then Jim the photo rang from his mobile not far away and arrived within a minute.
I'd have given him a £60 fine and 3 points if I could!

Anyway, as an experienced photographed green, I gave him a quick tour of the garden to show him the sorts of activity he could get photos of me doing. I then loaded the trailer with some of yesterdays bags and boxes so he could record my means of transport, and unloaded them into the wheelbarrow. He wanted one of me bowsawing a log and a portrait next to the logpile. Then down to the current heap, where he got snaps of lots of knife-action and pouring gubbins from bags. And another portrait with me wedged into an apple tree. We were finished within 40 minutes, a pair of professionals!

After he went I did some washing up (more woodstove water) and packed my bags with assorted Fiddlesticks equipment whilst I recorded Countryfile, which I watched later in the evening. I cycled to the station and got the 12.18 to Starbeck, eating sandwiches on the train, and was met by the birthday boy's dad who drove me to their house before another short drive to the venue. The party went like clockwork, the usual one-hour circus skills show and workshop followed by balloon modelling, with all the balloons inflated during tea. The 7 year old celebrant enjoyed himself, one little girl guest told me I was the 'best person ever' and the dad was delighted, paying me in the car on the way back to Starbeck station. Another fun day's work, lucky me!

I enjoyed Gill's home-made pizza and spent much of the evening emailing and writing my blog in front of the front-room stove.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Saturday 3rd March 07

Ah, nice to have a day when I'm not expected to do anything in particular. My boys were up early and the noise meant no lie-in, so I got up too and as they had lots of energy I invited them to cycle down to school with me, so I could pick up the plum logs I chopped on Thursday night. Whilst down there, I did a bit of gardening, tidying up, pulling out a few nettles etc, whilst the boys played in the grounds.

I spent some time later in the day building a logpile, I put a pile either side of the front door to fully dry off before they come in and sit near the stoves. For me, logpile construction is a bit like an adult jigsaw puzzle, as it has to fit together and stand up, and cope with some shrinkage as it dries. It is common for the pile to shift and lean over, and it's quite an art to build a good one. I use a varity of logs in these 'final' woodpiles, taken from several 'single type' woodpiles of ready wood. Different wood has different burning qualities, some burns easily and very hot (ie hawthorn) and some burns quickly and with low heat output, such as poplar. Some pine and most dense wood like oak will stay in overnight, and enable the stove to be lit on the embers in the morning. Split logs dry better than whole ones, and burn better too. This knowledge is important if you cook on the stove, boil kettles, and choose not to use central heating (runs on gas). I love Clearview Stoves, but this week will ring Town and Country Stoves, in Pickering, to see if their model tested recently was deemed to be 'smokefree'. I had a good chat with the son of the MD recently, who told me lots about the testing process that enables a particular model to have a certificate enabling it to be labelled smokefree.

In the afternoon I prepared my seed compost, five parts riddled leafmold, four parts loam from upturned turves and one part garden compost. I then looked for my pepper seeds, and Gill told me that sometime over the past few months, during a clearup (I'm very untidy and chaotic!) she'd put all of the veg and flower seeds in a large airtight plastic box. Unfortunately she'd also put in some onion sets. The moisture from these had cause the whole box contents to rot, including the majority of the seeds. The only ones to remain dry were the ones in foil/plastic sachets, unopened. This was dreadful, as most of our seeds are now no good. However, in a way it was a good way to 'weed out' the old ones which would have had poor or no germination anyway. Fortunately, the most recent seed order from the allotment store was not in this box, it was sitting (untidily) in a bookshelf in an envelope next to envelopes of bean pods and last season's pumpkins. So they were OK, and they included some peppers. So they got planted.

In the evening my LETS friend David called, asking if I could cut a sheet of woody material to size for him, for an art project. I went for a walk with him, as I'd noticed a ripe skip with a holly tree (combustable logettes and compostable twiglets) and some unpainted planed wood and several pallets for building another compost bin, New Zealand type, to replace one which is itself turning into compost. I loaded up my bike trailer and again reduced our overburdened landfill.

Later, gazed at the lunar eclipse with binoculars, totally wow.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

2nd March 07... Day out in Burnley

A really early start, up at 6 to be at the station at 7. Met Ivana, one of the St Nicks staff, on the way to the station and as I take longer locking my bike up (I take the panniers off and lock them to the bike) she bought both our tickets, as St Nicks had offered to reimburse the cost of travel, so it made sense to get one receipt not two. And Ivana is the person who deals with that anyway, so it made even more sense!

However, we sat down on platform 3... the train was due to leave from platform 1, and we were so engrossed in talking that we missed it. Oh dear, we both felt silly and both felt responsible. Ivana said she'd thought we were sitting in the wrong place but hadn't said anything, I felt responsible because I was doing most of the talking (as usual!) and was engrossed in the conversation instead of concentrating on the job in hand, ie catching the 7.07 direct to Burnley.

So we got the 7.24 to Leeds and changed there, hoping to catch the original train, which left Leeds at 7.51, but ours got in at 7.52 so we missed it. There's only one train an hour to Burnley Manchester Road, so we had nearly an hour to kill. So we went for a walk round some bits of Leeds that Ivana hadn't seen, and as she arrived from the Czech Republic only 4 years ago, she hasn't seen much. She was impressed by the Dark Arches with the River Aire flowing under the railway station, and then I suggested looking at the Corn Exchange. However as it was only 8.15 in the morning, it was shut, so we walked around it. Amazingly, and luckily, a fire-door was open, so we were able to pop inside and have a quick look. I think it is most impressive when there's no-one in it, and the roof is fantastic. She was so pleased to be able to look inside, but we didn't spend long in there because we weren't supposed to be there! Walked under the railway to the canal which was photogenic enough for Ivana to get her camera out, getting a curious shot of a pair of pink shoes strangely hanging in a tree.

We got back to the station in good time to get the 8.51, supposedly arriving in Burnley an hour later. However it was delayed and we arrived after 10, so we eventually hailed a taxi and that took us to the front of Towneley Hall, where the Community Composting Network was holding a workshop on food waste composting... and they'd only just started the first session. This was on the Animal By-Products Regulations, which have given many composting projects huge problems. However, they have to be abided by and this is why CCN was holding this workshop.

The next session was on Waste Management Licencing and planning permission, and then onto the various system options available to food waste composters, and how to manage this process, which included an old friend 'HACCP' (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) which I have fond memories from my Environmental Health training days.

The buffet lunch was a good opportunity to meet the other composters and hear about their projects. Then we were given a tour of the Permaculture project hosting today's workshop, called 'Offshoots'. This is in the walled garden next to Towneley Hall, and is a garden with several buildings, and a food waste collection and composting operation. They have 3 'Rocket' composters which are horizontal boxes which have a hopper at one end to put compostable materials into, and a motorised axle and blades in an Archimedes screw shape, so that when the axle rotates, the materials are pushed along. The machine is insulated and can be heated, has temperature loggers, and each one can take a tonne of materials each week, spitting it out after 14 days in a 'raw young compost' form, which needs maturation before use. I really like these contraptions and this was the first time I'd seen one close up and working. But what I was most impressed with was the system which used maturing compost to heat up hand-washing water. Basically a pile of compost was placed around a plastic barrel of water, and within this closed barrel was a heat exchanger, a long coil of tubing with one end connected to a supply of rainwater off the roof, under a bit of pressure, and the other leading to the tap and wash basin. The barrel within the compost pile heated up, heating the hand-washing water. The compost had to be replaced every few weeks, to keep the temperature up. Ingenious.

After a cuppa, we went back to the lecture theatre and learnt about different sorts of collections, on-site composting needing no collections, and how to monitor the project and evaluate for the funders and partners.

Ivana and I decided to walk back into Burnley and catch the 5.25 train, so we had lots of time to wander and admire trees and a pond, and visit a little corner shop for a fruit snack. The train was on time and took the allotted 2 hours. As Out Of This World is close to the station, I let myself into the back and collected my compost feedstock (!) and cycled back home, getting in at 8. A full and fun, fascinating and unforgettable day out.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

1st March 07

Another packed day, starting, for me, with my wife waking me up and telling me it was 8am and time for me to arise and get ready to take the kids to school. Nice to do this as she will be bringing them back this afternoon AND doing both trips tomorrow as I'm in Burnley, leaving at 7am.

Spent some of the morning preparing soup for tea.... a large load of seconds tomatoes had come my way and only some were so bad they had to be composted. All done on the woodstove, of course! The post arrived and it was a good day as I got my quarterly dose of 'The Permaculture Magazine' and my weekly prescription of NewScientist. Both excellent reads, some familliar and easy to digest stuff and usually some challenging and thought-provoking items. I look forward to my next few nightly reads, as I always read for a half hour or so before sleeping, even if I retire at 1 or 2am.

Gill went to school to help with a school trip that our youngest was going on, they took the bendy bus which was apparently a lot of fun as it has CCTV and every time the youngsters saw themselves on it, they cheered and got over-excited. I cycled to Out Of This World and returned some plastic containers which had come home with me yesterday full of gubbins, and Marianne the boss gave me my month's 'honourarium' (is this how it is spelled? is this what it is?) I am a voluntary composter but the company values my services and gives me £25/month for recycling the majority of their biodegradables that can't be recycled in other ways, like cardboard which gets made into more cardboard.

Then onto the Credit Union to save this money, Mike the manager gave me some very good news which I hope to be able to share with Blog-readers in the future.

Then to Cycle Heaven where they swapped my mended and partly rebuilt bike for £165. Feels like new! Lovely, and a swift cycle to Jean out on Poppleton Rd, where I wrote a letter for her as she's too old to write by herself. She couldn't even sign it. I feel so sorry for her, old age and decrepitude isn't nice. She really wants to die, she doesn't see the point of still being alive. It's not a dignified way to spend the last months/years of her life. I really enjoy being with her, though, and was glad to help her keep in touch with an old couple she's fond of. They used to 'do' YHA trips together.

I spent an hour and a half with Jean and bombed home, it always seems downhill from Poppleton Road to Hull Road! Busy times at home as Justin Rowlatt, BBC Newsnight's Ethical Man phoned and suggested that the Yorkshire Post might be interested in my 'story', ie that I'm a keen composter with a low-impact-lifestyle. Then The Yorkshire Post phoned and I chatted/was interviewed for some time, also discussing how/when/where the YP photographer could get a shot of me/my compost bins. This will be on Sunday morning, the article will go out on Monday and Panorama, with Justin's challenge, goes out on Monday evening, so long as no huge story blows up and takes over. Exciting! I'll do anything to promote sustainability!

I went to school with a trailer-load of chainsaw and shredder at 5ish, to assist the school in disposing of a tree which blew over a couple of weeks ago. They're happy for me to have the logs and shredded twigs, as I can use/recycle both. Thank You School!

I sent 54 emails in the evening, telling people about my forthcoming Panorama appearance.
Bed was too late really, but I did get a bit of NewScientist in!