Thursday, 31 December 2009

Thursday 31st December 09

I enjoyed lots of time outside in the garden today, turned a compost heap, tried to mend my large Compostumbler which has rusted through in a couple of places, tidied up a raised bed and assorted other bits in the back.

I did a load of chainsawing too, in the front. And built a bit of logpile on the right of the front door. And let a neighbour have a wheelbarrow full of logs for their chimenea or whatever.

A difficult evening. Went to bed early. I read NewScientist and got up again at 11 when all was peaceful again. I filled two 700g peanut butter jars with dried apple rings and one with pear slices, plus a smaller jar with pear slices. I jarred up all the quartered and dried kiwi fruit, one 700r peanut butter jar managed to get 29 kiwi fruit in, that is 116 quarter portions! Then I re-arranged the bananas I'd done in the last day or two onto the bottom rack (36 of them) and peeled and prepared and placed very carefully another 48 bananas on racks for drying over the next 24/36 hours. By then, the older ones will be ready for their jars, and I'll move the current fresh ones down onto the lower rack. It's a slow production line, keeping fruit out of landfill and out of my compost heaps... and into my muesli and into the tummies of quite a few of my friends and relatives!

The whole family were together on the stroke of midnight but I wasn't in a celebratory mood. It was civil and sober. In fact, this must be one of the first New Years for some while when I haven't had anything to drink.

Happy New Year all! Let's hope it's one where the majority take on board the importance of conserving resources, polluting less, living more simply and being nice to each other. In particular, I'd like ordinary people to get the 10:10 message. I see this as a crucial year. Certainly a crucial decade.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Wednesday 30th December 09

A lovely day, back to my usual bouncy self. A late start... due to my going to bed after 3am.

Boys and Gill also up late and we all had a lazy morning.

Gill popped into town and I got a message from my friend Caroline inviting me to let her have some of my compost... I was only too happy to oblige! I loaded my trailer up and went to the allotments where she was planting an apple tree. I'm giving up my allotment as I just haven't had a chance to keep it properly, and it needs to go to someone who has more time and more of a need for it. But our garden should be a bit more usable next year as the raised bed area has now got the big nearby hedge removed and this will mean more stuff can be grown in the raised beds... hopefully!

I then visited Country Fresh and chatted with Richard and came home with 2 sacks of compostables, including a whole load of sad Primula plants in pots which might be rescuable.

Had a use it all up evening meal and a reasonably peaceful evening. I watched the Channel 4 programme with stories and videos from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which was both fascinating and disturbing.

Later, I jarred up a load of dried pears and put yet more bananas to dry.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tuesday 29th December 09

A better day, mood wise, and after lunch was able to get out and visit Country Fresh for two sacks of compostables and then to Freshways who also had done a clear out and had frost-damaged cucumbers for me (two boxes) and 2 sacks of mixed stuff. They also invited me to take two boxes of bananas which are darkened by the cold, but the fruit itself is perfect within. I hadn't got room on my trailer.

Then to the Co-op to do general shopping and had a nice chat with Maria. They had no soya milk in the fresh milk section. (We're just out of it; need to do another SUMA order) Came home and Gill asked me if they'd got any long life soya milk, so I cycled back and yes, they did have, so I bought three different types to see which one (if any) we like!

Then on to Freshways again and they gave me the frost-tinged bananas... so many! What am I going to do with them? I haven't space to dry them all, and the racks are full of kiwis! I put a message on facebook and considered freecycle. I cycled round to Bob's but he wasn't there, although one of his housemates was, and he took two bunches. Deb took two as well, but I'm still left with two big boxes worth, probably 100 hands between them. I ought to rig up some racks hanging off the crockery shelf which goes all around the room.

The Facebook message got several results... I'll be able to offload quite a few and I got literally dozens of recipes and ideas about how to use them.

A lovely evening... had a real game of Scrabble with Gill and listened to Sting on the telly playing some nice tunes from Newcastle and the North East, peeled bananas to dry on the stove and shelled pumpkin seeds, these still from 2008! I wish I could find a little 'kitchen sized' hand-operated pumpkin seed cleaner, which removes the crunchy outer shell and leaves the succulent seed in the middle. I'm currently doing them by hand. I looked on Google for these machines and all of them are kitchen sized... literally, as big as a room!

So, a good day. Thankfully!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Monday 28th December 09

A far from easy day. I needed to find the Christmas Day Fiddlesticks paperwork and that took ages and then I had a phone call with my agent which was difficult.

I got outside after lunch and finished the logpile to the left of the front door, and sorted out some other woody stuff. Later in the day I had an important email to do and that was difficult too.

I spent lots of time playing Scrabble on facebook and doing thing around the house but felt not 100% today. Hope tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sunday 27th December 09

Another late morning but a peaceful one.

I spent time on LinkedIn, replying to a topic posted on '' by a guy who's developed a technology which converts 'waste' (his terminology) to 'SynGas', a type of pyrolysis or gasification, a way of heating materials and getting a fuel off them. I am a proponent of materials recycling, keeping plastic as plastic, agricultural wastes as solid carbon (and sequestering it in soil as compost), rather than converting it to something which will power cars or electricity generation... and releasing that carbon into the air. I also feel that having a constant market for these materials, to feed incinerators, will skew the economics for recyclable materials. For instance, (purely hypothetically) if it costs £100 per tonne to take plastic bottles to a recycling plant and render them into a new product, and a 'waste to energy' plant pays £10 a tonne for the same material, which is the local authority more likely to do? I don't have a problem with renewable materials (like agricultural wastes) being used for power generation, and I'm particularly interested in anaerobic digestion, which gives methane or natural gas, plus a digestate which can be composted and added to soils. BUT this can only replace our fossil fuel addiction if we rapidly cut the amount of energy and resources we are consuming. The 'Energy from Waste' proponents just want to replace coal power stations with rubbish powered ones. They are not in the game of radical reduction in energy use, per se. However, many of the people involved are in fact keen greens and support concepts such as permaculture and low carbon technologies.

Interesting discussions and hopefully some mutual awareness raising.

During the afternoon I finally got outside to bring logs from the back up to the front to rebuild the logpile on the left of the door... and we've nearly used all the pile on the right, so hardly any really dry logs left. We've plenty of old dry wood, but it's been outside on pallets and has had a wet winter's worth of rain and snow on it. It will burn, but best if it has a few weeks in the dry first. I'm stacking some round the stoves to flash-dry them... although this process reduces the warmth coming into the room somewhat, as the heat on the damp logs is used to evaporate moisture, not left as 'free' heat.

I had rescued a tray of slightly shriveled kiwi fruit from one of the shops before Christmas and today I managed to peel and slice quite a few of them to dry. I did 5 for a fruit salad and about 20 on racks on the stove. I helped Gill prepare the meal... rice and assorted veg, roast Turk's turban squash, and some felafel.

I watched a very interesting programme about how people who were affected by the tsunami felt about their faith. Despite my being an agnostic, I'm really interested in what people believe and why. This programme was good as some had come through the event without questioning God, some had questioned their faith, one person who had lost their entire family said she hated God for doing it. There were some who blamed 'Karma' for the loss of innocent lives... it was fascinating.

I got a phone call from my sister which was most welcome. I am so lucky to have the support of my siblings. They both have very different qualities and attributes, and I'm grateful for them both being in my life, and supportive and loving.

I had a long facebook instant messaging chat with a friend in Germany who is going through some difficult times. It feels good to be able to offer some support there.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Saturday 26th December 09

We both woke late, which wasn't good as we were expecting visitors and had to tidy up one of the rooms to make it presentable... I whizzed the soup and chopped up a Turk's Turban squash and microwaved it before roasting it in the oven.

Then at midday, my younger brother Tom, his wife Kate, her mum Jenny and three children arrived; we were a bit flustered but soon calmed down and made coffees and chatted, then warmed the soup and rolls, and served the with slices of roast squash. This seemed to be reasonably received.

We had a bit more chat and then Tom wanted to visit York centre, as Jenny hasn't seen it for 10 years and that was her first visit... so the visitors piled into the car and I went with them, we drove to the Monkgate car park and I took them to the Minster, where we looked at the roof bosses designed by Blue Peter viewers and tried to find the oldest tomb... then out to Stonegate where were entertained by my friend who's name might be Michael Mime, or purpleman, who was doing his cyclist 'statue' and for a donation in the tin, offers to paint the donor's hair purple.

From there we looked briefly into Barley Hall, walked down The Shambles and into Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate and then to the Anti Gravity shop, where Martin was only too happy to shop the children some of his awesome 'Yoyo Monster' tricks. Then back to Monkgate and Tom gave me a lift back to Hull Road as he was going this way back to Sheffield anyway... A lovely visit, I really enjoyed seeing them.

A large pile of washing up faced me when I got back home but I ploughed through it bit by bit whilst playing Scrabble on facebook, blogging, persuading the children to go to bed and encouraging Gill with her lovely arty doodles!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Friday 25th December 09

Both the children slept downstairs because of the coldness of the house, so I don't know what time they woke up as it didn't disturb me! I woke slowly at 9.30 and came down and both were happily ensconced on the computer, and didn't open their presents til after 10am. I was pleased to get a NewScientist book 'How to Fossilise Your Hamster' and a relative had given me a bottle of red wine... as usual... and I don't drink red wine, hardly ever. I do use it in cooking though...

An hour later I was getting ready to go to work down at the Novotel, just an hour or two of Professor Fiddlesticks, no Father Christmas this year, due to a mistake by the hotel, it seems.

I cycled down in costume, and was immediately surrounded by people gathering for their Xmas lunch, happy to be entertained. I did some circus workshops and balloon modelling... and met the 'impostor', a nice young chap called Andrew who did some close-up magic. He told me he'd never done Father Christmas before; I wished him the best of luck!

So I did a continuous stint from 11.45 til 2pm... had a lovely, fun but full-on time. I came back via Freshways, who open every day... as they are Muslim, they open on Christmas day too, as it's not a holiday for them. I bought batteries for our youngest who has had a K-NEX present which has a motor... but no batteries. They gave me a box of unsold mini-aubergines, which look very much like they'll make a good meal tomorrow, a moussaka probably.

I got changed and watched The Queen's Speech before going into the garden and sorting some of the accumulated compostables into several of my 'dalek' bins. I got very cold, and when it got too dark to do more compost heap building, I took some dry logs to the front of the house so I can start to rebuild the severely depleted front-door logpile tomorrow.

So, warmed up, helped Gill in the kitchen, watched a few minutes of Happy Feet which our youngest was enjoying, and then 'The Gruffalo' which is a book I don't know but I enjoyed the TV version!

We got a phone call from my little brother who is coming over from Sheffield tomorrow with his family, and we had to decide whether to meet up in town and eat out, or to come here and have food at home. Neither of our boys fancied going into town so we rang back and said to come here. So then Gill and I got busy making chunky vegetable soup...

I also sorted out a large pile of pears, definitely in a state where they couldn't be sold, but I tidied them up and got them drying on the stove!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Thursday 24th December 09

Gill woke me at 9.30 and asked me if I'd switched off the boiler last night as it wasn't working this morning. I told her that I'd put the thermostat down to 20 degrees last thing, but the central heating was still working when I came to bed. The pilot light had gone out and I couldn't work out how to relight it; there were no instructions or obvious places where to put a match or to press an ignition knob...

Anyway, we had to leave today so we stripped the beds, packed our bags, emptied the fridge, repacked our bags, worried about the time and whether the bus was going to get through today, worried about whether the pipes would freeze if the heating remained off, but got out of the house for 11.20, as Gill had looked at the bus timetable and told me that the buses were at 22 minutes past the hour. But the bus timetable at the bus stop said 52 minutes past the hour... so we waited. And waited... and the bus came on time! We got to Scarborough at the right time, 12.30, and were on the 12.47 train home and enjoyed sandwiches for lunch.

Back in York there wasn't more than 15 minutes to wait for the number 10 bus back to very close to our front door. The house was freezing! I lit both stoves and Gill went back into town to try to find some bits and bobs for the boys' Christmas presents.

I left the boys in the house, happy to be back on the computer, and went to Country Fresh to get some veg for Christmas meals and pick up the compostables before the three-day-weekend-closure. I decided to pop in to the Novotel, where I've worked for the past 5 or so Christmases, to check that all was OK for tomorrow. My agent had booked me for this in early spring, and as it was a repeat booking, I had expected it to go very smoothly. BUT... I'm so glad I went to say hello. The new manager told me that I wasn't booked and they had got another entertainer. But I knew that I had a contract with my agent. So I said that I would ring him and get back to the hotel... the manager said would I like to ring from the hotel. My agent wasn't at home, so I rang his mobile. He had just arrived at his son's house and was settling down to a glass of sherry. I explained the situation to him and he asked to speak to the manager. Ten minutes later, the manager appeared again and passed me a mobile phone and said that my agent wanted to speak to me. He asked if I could remember how much I was due to get paid for the gig tomorrow... and of course I remembered as it's one of the best paying gigs of the year. I passed the phone back to the manager, and a few minutes later, the phone came back to me and my agent asked me if I would be prepared to do a reduced gig tomorrow for reduced money? I felt that if I tried to hold out for my full employ, that might cause difficulties and might jeopardise future work at this hotel. So I agreed a short Fiddlesticks slot with no Father Christmas appearance for a very average fee, less than half of what I had agreed to for doing the full entertainment. The other entertainer would do some magic and do the Father Christmas stuff.

So, not very happy, despite not having to do Father Christmas which I don't enjoy doing. In retrospect, I wonder if I should have said that I wanted to do the work I was contracted to do and demanded my full fee? Not an easy decision to make.

I cycled back via Freshways who were glad to see me and were generous with their unsold limp herbs and over-ripe bananas.

The boys hadn't noticed I'd been away for an hour (!) and when Gill rang from town, she asked if I'd go to the Co-op to get some basics like cereal, milk, pasta and the like. I had put my bike away so I walked down, got a good pile of stuff and on the way back, the bus drew up and Gill got off, gave me a lovely kiss and we walked back together. We are just a great team!

We had a shop pizza for tea, with broccoli, and continued to keep the stoves going to try to warm the place up. A relatively calm evening.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Wednesday 23rd December 09

A quite lazy day... tried to get a bus to Whitby at 12.18 but it didn't come, so we went back to the house and had our sandwich picnic there, and went to wait for the 1.18. This didn't come either. We found out that the road to Hawsker is covered in snowdrifts, apparently, and the bus was dropping people off at the main road and people were walking down...

So we walked into Robin Hood's Bay and mooched around, making snowballs, playing in the kids park, watching people sledging etc etc.

Then walked back and bought some tea (pasties) and food for our journey home tomorrow, and had more lazy time in the house. I lit the stove and watched some of the iPlayer programme about Scrabble (Alan Yentob presenting Imagine, 'A Night On The Tiles') and played some on facebook, slowly as the connection speed was slow and the programme kept crashing.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Tuesday 22nd December 09

A good day with a late start and a walk to Robin Hood's Bay, a meal at Swell and fun in the snow.

I had a sleep when we came back to the house.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Monday 21st December 09 Winter Solstice

Happy Solstice everyone!

An early start to prepare for a day when who knows what might happen?

I don't expect to write a blog for a few days. But I might surprise you!


Gill went into town on the bus first thing as she needed to get assorted presents, put a cheque in for me, post letters and I don't know what else... She got a Family Day Rover ticket as this would work out cheaper for us all when we went into town later.

I kept the stove going as it was bitterly cold outside and there are still lots of slices of pears drying, and I did absolutely loads of washing up so there's none hanging around whilst we're away.

I also got some packing done and Gill got back at 11, she packed and I made sandwiches for everybody, and we went to wait for the just-after-1pm bus... which was late as it was trapped in a huge traffic jam of mostly single occupancy cars heading into town.

But the bus came and we crawled into town and got to the station at 1.45, just after the hourly train had gone. So we waited for the 2.38, had our lunch and were soon on our way to Scarborough... a very pretty train journey. We were due to get in to Scar at 3.30 and the x93 to leave Northbound at 3.40, but that bus was late too, and we got very cold but eventually it came, and we were in Fylingthorpe by about 4.35, and easily found the house, called 'Burnside', that we've rented off our neighbour for a couple of days.

The heating was on, as our neighbours spent last night here, and the place is cosy and spacious, uncluttered and lovely. It'll be good to see it in the morning, in the daylight.

We had a simple pasta tea and I lit the 'Burnside' stove, which is a large Town and Country, I think. It had been cleaned out which makes it more difficult to light as woodstoves work best with a bed of ash under the logs. But I did get it to go, and we had a fun evening. We enjoyed the first Royal Institution Lecture, which was on how plants dealt with their animal 'opponents'. Later, when the children were in bed, I watched some of the Michael Jackson TV coverage.
I found that Robin Hood's Bay has an internet 'mesh' but I'll have to wait til tomorrow to see if I can connect...

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sunday 20th December 09

A very interesting day... working in the deepest snowy Dales at my favourite brewery!

So, up at a civilised 9am to get out of the house by 10.15 to get the 10.45 up to Northallerton. I got to the station by 10.35, in time to go to the ticket office... but when trying to lock up my bike, my lock wouldn't work... I couldn't take the key out or do the lock up! Oh no... time ticking away, train arrived on Platform 10. I decided to 'lock' my bike up with my helmet strap, and took the part of the lock with my key embedded in it with me. The D part of the lock I left in my pannier with my gloves. I just hoped that the CCTV and the fact that there are loads of bikes there would mean that my bike would still be there when I got back...

So, I arrived at the train with a minute to spare, with no ticket, but a conductor on the train who would sell me one. When he got to me, I apologised for not having a ticket and explained why, and asked for a day return to Northallerton. He said that as I could have got a £9.20 Cheap Day Return at the station, he was supposed to sell me a Standard Return for £13 or £14, or an Open Return for £19. But he said he would do me a special deal, and give me a Cheap Day Return for £10. So I said, that sounds reasonable and gave him a ten pound note and asked for a receipt. He gave me the ticket and receipt, which said £9.20. In the next few minutes, I realised what had happened. He had sold me a cheaper ticket than I should have had, which was to my financial advantage, and he'd made 80 pence. I could not quite believe this so I asked him, when he next walked by, about my change. He looked surprised and said that he thought we had agreed that I would get a special deal... so I explained that I hadn't fully understood and could he explain again? He looked embarrassed and shifty, but when I said that I thought that he was getting a tip for letting me have a cheaper ticket, he agreed. We spoke for a few minutes and I left him with the illegally acquired £0.80. But I was quite gobsmacked as this was the first time I'd met a rail employee 'on the make'.

The taxi I booked yesterday was waiting at Northallerton, Coopers Cabs on 01677 424252 and the friendly driver took me all the way to the Black Sheep Brewery, for £25. I gave him £50 and asked to be picked up at 3.30 to 3.45, as agreed yesterday. I showed him the bike lock and miraculously it released the key. Very odd!

I had just 10 minutes to get myself ready before the punters started to arrive at midday. I was immediately surrounded by children wanting to 'do things' so I did an impromptu juggling workshop, which used all 10 of the conventional juggling balls I carry around, and some 'weird' ones; one which is full of eyeballs and can be squished, a couple which light up and one which is made of 12 rubbery fingers sticking out... plenty of yuk-factor there, and squeals of excitement.

I did a bit of devilsticking walkabout once every one had sat down, and then spent at least an hour going from table to table doing balloon animals for mostly the children but also some of the adults. I got 15 minutes to eat my sandwiches for lunch and then a bit more ballooning whilst children queued for Father Christmas, who was in a little grotto which looked suspiciously like a garden shed... and then it was my turn to do my show, which I did more quickly than usual as I knew the time was getting on. I finished at 3.40 and rushed to get the stuff in the taxi, and came back to collect my payment. I got into Northallerton in good time for the 4.35 train back home... and my bike was still there, fortunately!

Gill was chatting with Ros, one of our neighbours and friends, and her son was playing with our two. I filled the woodbaskets and did some washing up, our guest went and then half an hour later I took our young guest home so he could have his tea. Gilly had made a veg stew with 'Cobbler' on top... this is becoming a favourite in our household.

A bit later, our other neighbour from down the road popped in to collect the money for our short break in Robin Hood's Bay and I cycled a very late York Green Festival cheque down to the mother of one of our comperes, whom we promised a small fee but forgot to pay....

Then settled down to doing a bit more fruit and sorting out a few bits and bobs for the next few days. What a day!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Saturday 19th December 09

A quiet day in the house, I was feeling subdued and I think the rest of the family were too. But we were expecting a visit from Gill's sister Jane, and husband Mike, at 2pm, so we were reasonably busy tidying and making our front room presentable. I also worked out train times and booked taxis for tomorrow, as I'm going to Northallerton and then on to Masham for the Black Sheep Brewery's usual Christmas 'do' where I'm a regular entertainer.

It was good to see Jane and Mike and chat, see some recent photos of new family members, and I showed them their son's facebook page with a funny photo of him messing around at work, which amused them. At about the same time that they went, I cycled down to Country Fresh as I won't be able to do so tomorrow as I'm working all day.

During the early evening I put together Ben and Jill's Christmas request; that I should find 5 big jars and 7 small ones and fill each one with a mixture of dried fruit... and they will then give them as Christmas presents to assorted family members. I walked them round, and Jill was really pleased. I'll be paid Yorkys later.

Enjoyed a lengthy session of Scrabble on facebook, whilst listening to Jango which gives me assorted music, most of which I like, and that which I don't, I can instruct it not to play me again.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Friday 18th December 09

Quite a relaxing day... and pretty too, as it was still snowing and I spent most of the day inside, dealing with assorted phone calls and paperwork. Gill went into town and got the final cheque for Harris Builders to pay for the solar panels, defunct chimney removal and new barge boards. I got a phone call from the Yorkshire Post to canvass my opinion as to whether I thought that the recession had been good for the environment, or something like that. The article will be published between Christmas and the New Year, and they've asked a handful of people, not just me.

So, a relatively quiet day, until just after 2.30 when our eldest came back, early as it's the last day of term, so he agreed to walk down to Lord Deramore's with me to pick up his little brother. I took the sledge as it was still very snowy and icy, and we had some fun. In the playground a couple of people greeted me as I haven't been down to school recently, and so I explained that I was very upset that the school wasn't taking it's obligations seriously with regards to being a 'beacon of sustainability in the community', and he agreed. He has connections with the school and someone he knows has heard some of the things that have been said about me, and he thinks this is scandalous and very wrong. Although it's not nice to know that people in the school have been bad-mouthing me for my eco-approach to life, it is reassuring to know there's some people out there who agree that this school's attitude is disgraceful. I just hope that soon they will decide that sustainability is worth imparting to the children, although it is just about too late in some ways. What they should be teaching is adaptation to a more chaotic and difficult world, with fuel shortages, high food prices, social unrest and an influx of displaced people angry that our high carbon lifestyles have left them with nowhere to live. I am feeling pessimistic at the moment as the Copenhagen talks look like a complete fudge and flop. In fact I'm angry that the World's leaders have done such a bad job, and they won't be looked kindly upon in the future. Not many of then will be regarded as 'responsible ancestors'.

Anyway, all three of us came home, some of it with one of the boys on the sledge, so that both got a go... and when we came to the bit of pavement heading down to our house, I requested to have a go... and it was ace, being pulled along by them!

Some of the evening wasn't as fun and easy, not sure how it deteriorated, but it did and I was left feeling quite low.

I did do some last-minute grocery shopping for Gill at 9pm and had a good long wind-down playing facebook Scrabble til the early hours.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Thursday 17th December 09

A very enjoyable day... I did a good gig which was well appreciated and then went to a party and had several good chats, and plenty to drink!

So, up fairly early to help Gill with morning stuff and then more bits and bobs around the house, spoke to Rachel who is a parent who home educates and is driving from Pocklington to Great Ouseburn, where I was booked to do the Christmas Party. She agreed to come by and pick me up at 12.15, so we could get to the party for about 1pm. She arrived, driven by her partner Tommy and travelling with 3 of her young sons, a bit late, and heavy traffic meant that we didn't get there til 1.20... but still plenty of time to do my circus show, have party tea and then do the balloon activities. I had a great time and several of the children also told me it had been lots of fun. One of the organisers wants to book me again for a science day... although these children are home educated, they regularly get together for group activities and special events, and they often use Great Ouseburn Village Hall as it is equidistant to Harrogate, York, Pocklington and Easingwold, where the different families come from.

The children were very excited as during the 1-4pm event, it started to snow heavily, and some of them hadn't seen much or any snow... Getting home again was very slow, as the traffic was mega heavy and I don't think the snow helped either. But I was back by 5.30.

And at 7pm, it was the St. Nicks Christmas Party. I took a bottle of the Blackberry and Elderberry 1994 which is uncannily like Port, and had a lovely time, including about 4 glasses of the 'Port'. A good day.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wednesday 16th December 09

I got up reasonably early and spent quite a bit of time catching up with my blog, writing out my notes and memories from my day in Sandwell last Friday, and then at midday helped Ali a bit with her film... she wanted someone to recite a poem whilst she recorded it, to use as part of the soundtrack. We got it on the 10th take... it was perfect, but for some reason her Dictaphone didn't record more than 4 seconds on that attempt. The 11th was successful!

At 2.40 we set off to pick up her daughter from school, and then went to Sainsbury's for some of her Xmas shopping and we had tea there, in the cafe. We got home just in time to gather all her University work up and she went off to there and I got the 6.21 back to York. I met an interesting Russian molecular biologist heading back to Edinburgh, after she'd had a PhD interview in Nottingham. So we talked about stem cells amongst other things. The journey flew by!

And back home by 7.30... and Will and David arrived at 8 to have a game of 'Co-operative Scrabble' where the individual players' scores are not recorded, just the running sum total. Between us we got 624 which Will said was good. A friendly evening.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Tuesday 15th December 09

A good day because the two plumbers came back and got the solar hot water system's tank, which has an integral immersion heater, up to 60 Celsius with the electric immersion, which they had to wire up specially as it is not actually needed for our system... and after a couple of hours, one of them came back and sorted out the valves below the boiler, so that it all works correctly.

I asked to be shown how it works. The water comes in from the 120 litre tank in the loft, which is fed by the solar panel on the roof (south-facing) at anywhere between ambient temperature and 70 or more Celsius. If it is above 60, the valve senses this and sends the water to the mixing valve (and onto the taps) which is set to about 47 degrees, which is nice and hot for baths and washing up the dishes. So, it would blend the 60 or more degree water with cold to get 47. However, this incoming water can be below 60, in which case it is sent to another mixing valve which if it is above 24 Celsius, mixes it with cold so it enters the boiler at no more than 24 degrees, which is the official maximum temperature the boiler can take it at. The boiler is then set to warm the water up to 47 degrees and it goes to the taps. If we'd have had the money and the boiler that was newly installed when we bought the house in 2001 was older and less efficient, we'd have put in a boiler which could cope with warmer incoming water, so whatever the temperature the panel got the water to, there would be no diluting it to reduce the temperature before heating it up again. Despite this being a bit of a fudge, the solar system will save us gas and logs, as putting water into the boiler at 20 degrees is better than at 10 (as it uses less gas to get it up to the preferred shower temperature) and in the summer, there will be ample hot water for evening washing up, and I won't have to light the stove just to get some dish washing water.

The most important thing, though, is that he signed the Commissioning Certificate! So we now have a fully functional Solartwin hot water system, which uses the energy in daylight to warm water so that less gas or no gas is used to give us hot water. Fantastic!

A good day too because at 10am, I had a visitor, Barry, who had advertised on Freecycle for some composting worms. I'd replied saying yes of course. He came round with his prototype wormery container, and told me his life story, and I then showed him all of my compost bins, tumblers and wormeries. He went away very happy, having taken in a lot of composting information and a tub full of worms.

In the evening I got the 5.30 train to Doncaster and then the next train to Conisbrough, where The Earth Centre is, and attended the first meeting of 'We Love The Earth Centre', a community group which aims to get this fantastic resource used, after all, it has been mostly unused for five years. I was able to contribute positively to this meeting, and there's another meeting in January.

The Earth Centre was once a coal mine, but when it closed it was just left as wasteland, but in the late 1980s, following a UN meeting which exhorted people to follow sustainable development, a group of local people had the idea of developing the site as a community resource, and John Letts and Jonathan Smales worked up the idea to have it as a demonstration of lots of sustainable design and technologies. It then got a massive amount of funding, many tens of millions, and the architects had a ball. (some photos and info here) However, the locals felt excluded, and the entry fees were set too high for the locals to be able to use it much.

By 2004 it had closed, and it's not been used for it's intended purpose of education, or by local people since then. It has been used by a war-games company, and for training soldiers and the police, and the locals generally don't like this. A couple of TV programmes have used it as a set.

So, We Love The Earth Centre started, as a reaction to the place being left to rot and be vandalised for 5 years. The site is owned by Doncaster Council who have been approached by at least one group already but their plans for a cycling theme park were not deemed good enough. About 30 people came to this first meeting, a wide range from under 30s with dreadlocks wanting to use it as a live-in eco-village, through to three of the original staff, a current caretaker, a local councillor, some assorted greens and local political activists. One person suggested it could be an open air art gallery, another wanted the adventure playground to be made accessible for local children, and another suggestion was to make some of the area between the site and Conisbrough station into a skate and BMX ramp-park. A vineyard was suggested a few years ago but rejected as it didn't create enough jobs. The cafe is apparently still in working order, and that is seen as a source of income. One person suggested building an Earthship. Someone else liked the idea of fishponds, for recreation (angling) and I mentioned the Able Project where horse bedding is put in worm-beds and the resultant worms are fed to farmed fish for human consumption, which I see as slightly more valuable than fishing and throwing them back with damaged mouths. One person reminded us that the canalised River Don is navigable, and a marina could be built. So no lack of ideas or enthusiasm!

When the meeting wound down, I walked back to Conisbrough station to get the train to Sheffield. At one of the stations near Sheffield, a young woman tried to get off the train but was pressing the button on the wrong side of the train, the door away from the platform. As the door wouldn't open, she panicked a bit and shouted into the carriage 'How do I get the door open?' I told her to try the door on the platform side, but the train had already got ready to go, and the door wouldn't open. As the train started to move off, she ran down the carriage to the drivers cab and banged on the door and shouted for the train to stop, which it did. She was able to get off after a minute... very lucky. This caused a bit of a ripple within the carriage and one chap said that there would be an enquiry as every minute's delay cost the network £1000.. he worked for Network Rail and knew these things. We got chatting and I told him about my taking my circus show around the country by train, and he was intrigued. Turns out he has a son who's got a birthday party soon, and he made a provisional booking with me to come to Doncaster and do the party. I'll be amazed if this happens, but I hope so!

I got to Sheffield without a hitch, and the tram, and got to Ali's at about 11pm. I'd agreed to go over on Wednesday some while ago, and the co-incidental nearby meeting on the Tuesday night fitted well with this plan.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Monday 14th December 09

Quite a late start, as hoped, but got myself together to do some more writing, catching up after a very busy weekend.

A quiet day... the scaffolding was removed, our boiler still isn't working, the lady on Freecycle came to collect the plastic sheeting which arrived wrapped around the solar panel, and I did quite a bit of paperwork... and went to town to pay in my cheque from yesterday and get out a cheque to pay Stuart ('John Broken Willow') for his book x 7 'Yoghurt Weaving in a Nutshell' which he tells me is going to be reviewed or even quoted in chunks by The Oldie. I think it's a potential best seller really, despite Amazon selling out (maybe that's why?)!

I picked up a very large donation from Freshways which I'll have to sort out tomorrow, and a smaller one from Country Fresh, which included some bags of pears, each of which had one or two bad ones and several really delicious ones, just right for drying!

After a bit of a hurried tea, i cycled in the rain down to Priory St to the North Yorkshire Humanists meeting, where there was a talk by Ariene Sherine, who thought up the 'Atheist Bus Campaign'. Her talk was full of humour... she is a comedy writer as well as a 'straight' journalist. I really enjoyed her account of how she started the movement, after seeing bus adverts saying that some of the passengers were going to burn in Hell. The Advertising Standards Authority told her that they were unable to do anything about these adverts as they were the advertiser's opinion, and this was beyond their remit. So she wrote an article in the Guardian about these adverts, and suggested that she'd like to see an atheist advert, something like 'There's probably no God, so stop worrying and get on with your life'. She was very surprised to have a lot of comments saying that this was such a good idea, and offering money to sponsor a bus advert.

So she started a 'Pledgebank' page, and with no advertising, got about 800 pledges... falling far short of the number needed to pay for an advert. The Telegraph seized upon this 'failed campaign' and published an article. Ariene wrote another Guardian article about this (I think to say that it wasn't a campaign) and started a facebook page, and the campaign took off. Pledges started rolling in, she contacted Richard Dawkins who offered to match anything raised up to the value of one advert, £5500. She got a friend to design an advert, changed the wording slightly and 'THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD, NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE' was about to go global! This went on 800 buses around the UK, and has been taken up around the world. Some states have banned it. Other places have made their own adverts.

A few Christians have been most un-Christian in their language and imagery towards Ariene, she showed us some of the emails and other things she's been sent. Some people obviously feel very threatened, even with the inclusion of the word 'probably'!

I joined the North Yorkshire Humanist Group as they've put on some good talks this year and I've had some good conversations with members.

I scooted home quickly as I'd said that I would take the bathwater up for one of the boys.

Then at 10pm I watched The Age of Stupid on BBC4. Good to see it on TV. Hope it goes onto BBC2 next. I'll be contacting the BBC with that suggestion...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sunday 13th December 09

Another early start... this time taking a train to Leeds and then Bradford where I was picked up by Jason in a HUGE vehicle and then on to the 'Abundant Life Church' who had me a year ago and although it was a successful gig for me and the children, I really didn't expect them to have me again! It is the highest compliment possible for an entertainer to be rebooked.

So I got changed and did a 45 minute show for the 5 to 11 year-olds, then a 15 minute performance with the 3 to 4 year olds, and then 10 minutes with the 0 to 2 year olds! It was a very fast-moving set of sessions, and well paid, and friendly, with thousands of people there. I got taken back to the station by a nice Fijian Rugby player in a much more sensible sized car... and met up with my friend Jess. We went for lunch, just a bowl of soup, and then walked back to the station where we chatted for another 20 minutes before the York train came in, and I was back in York before 3pm.

I got in and went to bed for a short time as I had fallen asleep on the train on the way back to York, but a nap restored my compost mentis-ness and I came down and spent time with the family and had tea. A fairly pleasant evening, though still tired and looking forward to a lie-in, I hope!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Satrday 12th December 09 Community Composting Network AGM

Today was a very full day at the Birmingham and Midland Institute for the Community Composting Network AGM. I will post a report of this early next week!

(Or maybe I won't!)

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Friday 11th December 09

Up early! Too early for my liking, but it enabled me to get the 6.30 train down to Birmingham and then up to Smethwick Galton station for 9.30am, and to Ideal For All for the beginning of the 'Growing for Well-Being' event.

This was excellent! The event wasn't that well attended but those who did got a lot from it, especially the delegate from Better Tomorrows, which is starting a brand new project in West Sussex which will have similarities to the community garden we visited during the afternoon.

Our first speaker was Laura Davis, who had been an organic farmer for years and is one of the people behind the Sandwell Food Network. She gave us a good overview about Sandwell, it's history of easy-to-get coal and subsequent early metalworking activities, which grew into heavy industry, and resulted in vast tracts of contaminated land and some of the most deprived communities in the UK. The story really started in 1989 when the Primary Care Trust (Health Service) published a study of the area, which contained one paragraph suggesting that the people of Sandwell could benefit by growing some of their own food. This document resulted in the area receiving Single Regeneration Budget money in 1995 and a Feasibility Study for Community Agriculture in Sandwell was published in 1996.

Laura then did her Masters degree about Community Agriculture in Sandwell and this put her in a good position to apply for the job of developing a project, when it came up in 1998. There were two applicants so they decided to apply together and do a job share, as they were both bringing up families at the time. So Laura and Veronica Barry set about looking for suitable sites for an agriculture project. The first three sites offered by the local authority were all badly contaminated (basically toxic waste dumps) so were rejected. A further 10 sites were investigated, of which 8 were toxic. But two were potentially suitable and one, a mostly overgrown and disused allotment site, was chosen. A good business plan was written and this enabled the support and funding to come in and work to start. The site was cleared and a big consultative process with local people started, and in 2001, site work started, with services going in (sewerage, drainage, pressurised water, a loop roadway) and then prefab buildings, polytunnels and soil improvement using council greenwaste compost and vetch, a legume which adds nitrogen to the soil and renders it more fertile when dug back in as a green manure. A 20 year lease on the site was agreed, and links with the newly built Ideal for All were cemented. Thus the Salop Drive Market Garden was born.

By 2003, the site was in full production. Helen Sneyd told us about the workings of the Market Garden. They grow 64 types of fruit and veg which are mainly used in a veggie bag-box scheme, costing £4 for 12 items, sometimes including herbs growing in a pot. These are collected from site, although a few are taken by 'agents', who deliver to half a dozen others and get a free bag themselves. Some of the original allotment holders are still on site, and the local school also has a plot.

But alongside the core activities of growing edible plants, there are lots of activities such as therapeutic gardening, self referrals and through the NHS, work experience for people at schools and colleges, a 'Ready Steady Grow!' project for year 4 schoolchildren (750 of them last year!), connections with 'Sure Start' (450 children), after school clubs, random volunteering opportunities, workshops on various subjects, advice and help to the allotment holders and anybody else who enquires, and 'Health Walks' to encourage physical activity and social bonds.
Members of the project participate in the Sandwell Show, and at the stall this year, they gave away 1200 herb plants in paper pots!

Most of their funding is through the local NHS under a 'public health' banner, through a service level agreement.

The future holds another 'Community Supported Agriculture' project, as another site has been identified which is twice the size and has just as many 'issues' to deal with!

The next speaker was Rosie Edwards who is the local Anti-Poverty Strategy Manager. One of their main jobs is to help people maximise their income by helping them take up benefits that they are eligible to claim. But they also have a good relationship with the 6 Towns Credit Union, who I was delighted to hear are enabling their members to pay for gas and electricity by direct debit, which makes it cheaper, and payments to landlords. There's also a scheme to help local businesses and individuals source services and supplies locally called Find It In Sandwell, which I think is an excellent scheme for keeping it local!

Then we had lunch. After which we got on a bus which was far too big for our little group, which took us to Salop Drive Market Garden. It was good to see 'in real life' what we'd just been learning about and seeing a few photos of. We were given a tour and had a coffee and chat; I gave the chap some yam bulbils and pea beans.

Then, with only just a bit of difficulty, back to Ideal for All, and saw their 'Malthouse Garden' which is, like the rest of the building, designed with access in mind. So, mostly raised beds, some at standing height, others at wheelchair height. All the raised beds had a place at their base where wheelchair foot-rests could easily fit, to make using the beds from a wheelchair somewhat easier. Great design feature!

Finally, we had a presentation form Vicky and Maxine, who administer the Direct Payments scheme for people with disabilities, and Yvonne and her helper dog Noddy, who demonstrated some of the useful things he's been taught to do. Amazing. We were told about the new Individual Budgets scheme, which gives the user more freedom to what they spend their budget on. Really interesting.

What a day... and I still had to get back to Birmingham and to the Paragon Hotel.

Thursday 10th December 09

Well yet another day of the plumbers trying to get the Solartwin panel and other connected equipment to work. The two plumbers had quite a bit of difficulty... including finding a small leak from the cylinder which they had to sort out, and then when it came to testing the system, 'commissioning' it, they needed a tank temperature of 60 Celsius... and the sunshine today got it up to just over 30. So, in the spring or early summer, they'll come back and set the valves to the right temperature, and it'll be commissioned (done... finished... ready to use). Finally, they decided to test the boiler... and guess what, a valve didn't work and so just cold water went through the boiler (which wouldn't fire up either!) and the warm water from the tank and panel didn't go through.

SO tomorrow morning, the (faulty?) valve is going to be taken off, sent back to Solartwin, and replaced or repaired or something. In the meantime, we have no instant hot water for smelly boys to shower in. Just hot water off the top of the stove.

Despite this, I had a fairly quiet day, spent some of it in the garden, some in the kitchen, some dealing with forthcoming Fiddlesticks bookings, and later on, cycled down to the station to buy my train tickets for tomorrow (early start... train leaves at 6.30am)

But I am looking forward to tomorrow, as I'm attending an event organised by the Community Composting Network called Growing for Well Being, which is about 'Community Supported Agriculture', a hot topic in sustainability and Transition circles right now, and links with health. There are a couple of visits to a market garden and an accessible garden too. Then on Saturday, there's the Community Composting Network Annual General Meeting... with the all important 'compost competition'. The categories are Leaf Mould, Soil Conditioner (that's garden compost to you and me!) Worm Compost, Mulch, and a new category for innovation... any other product which is environmentally friendly and socially beneficial. I've got to be careful to not take the competition too seriously or I risk disqualification. But I do want to win the 'innovation' category with my partly-composted-sawdust compost-toilet cover material. We'll see.

But due to my being away tomorrow, I don't expect to post a blog.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wednesday 9th December 09

Up early, not sure why, but felt the need to get moving and busy.

So I did a load of work in the garden and washed up and then at midday, my visitor Hannah arrived. She found me through a freegan website and is doing her dissertation on reducing consumption as part of her Geography degree in Leeds. She hasn't actually got a title for her dissertation yet, but that will probably crystallise soon, after talking to lots of people about their opinions.

She recorded our conversation and then we had lunch, and a walk down the garden to see the fruit trees and composting.

Then we cycled down to St Nicks... she'd brought her bike over on the train, and we spent a bit of time there and then on to town along the cycle path. I stopped at Oxfam and bought a big can of Fair Trade coffee, and then popped into my GP as I had decided to have the Swine Flu jab I was offered a few weeks ago. I only had to wait about 15 minutes and I had it.

And home, along the cycle track again, picked up some good sized willow logs and came home.

I checked the temperature on the gauge on the solar panel tank, and it was 16.1 degrees Celsius. This is quite a bit warmer than the outside temperature and the incoming water, although I don't actually know the external temperature; I'll have to sort that out. So, with limited winter sunshine, the water in the tank was warmer, and would take less gas to warm it up to a useful temperature coming out of the tap.

Gill used the last of the tomato soup to make a stew thing and it was good. I went out to Green Drinks at the Black Swan at about 7.45 and met up with Neil, then Guy, then Dave, and just as I was leaving, Ivana.

A quiet evening back at home... I took off one of the wheels of my trailer and fixed a puncture.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Tuesday 8th December 09

Up early again as we've a second day of plumbing going on, to get the solar panel sorted.

Today as it was better weather they hoisted the panel up a pair of ladders, one chap pulling it up with a rope and one on each ladder pushing it.

We kept them well supplied with cups of tea, and coped with the water being off for parts of the day.

I spent a lot of the time inside, not sure exactly what I achieved... I did do some stacking outside the front door and also visited Country Fresh and the usual round of housework... but nothing particularly notable.

The solar panel was put on the roof and plumbed in, and the little photovoltaic panel fixed on which drives the pump, one of the selling points of this system for us... no plugged-in pump whirring away using I don't know how much electricity every day, rather defeating the object of the exercise.

I went to the Hull Road Ward Planning Panel at 6.30... there were four of us there but just one planning application which took no more than 20 minutes to do so I was soon back and had a bowl of delicious soup, as well as a weird omlette thing made mostly with vegetables left over from a day or two ago. Very odd... but filling.
A quiet evening, spent mostly on the computer.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Monday 7th December 09

Up before 8.30 in case the builders came whilst Gill was taking our youngest to school... and they walked down as he's achy and bruised from falling over at the ice rink last night.

The plumber, Lee, working with Harris Builders arrived at 8.30 and started checking through the various boxes and packages which have arrived from Solartwin. He found that the large box which contained the cylinder part of the system had been bashed and had a damaged corner. However, this is, I hope, cosmetic damage and is the result of inadequate packaging and mishandling. Although I'm not a fan of excess packaging, it has a purpose... protection... and in this case, some extra polystyrene or thick card on each corner would have protected the contents better. I wonder if we'll get any money back for this?

Fortunately the huge panel was in perfect condition, and all the other bits and bobs seemed to have arrived. Lee's brother Andy arrived and they worked harmoniously til after 5, but they just did the internal work. Tomorrow morning the panel will be hoisted up to the roof and fixed in. I don't think they fancied it in the rain.

I spent the whole day at the house, making sure the chaps were well dosed with tea and anything else they needed. I chopped up another load of apples for drying and did a wash up and made another batch of tomato soup on the woodstove, this time with a slice of pumpkin whizzed up into it. I also started building the logpile on the right hand side of the front door, looking out. With both stoves going now, we are getting through the logs really quickly.

So, pasties and soup for tea... the soup was delicious.

At 7pm I got myself ready to go down to the Seahorse to attend the last LETS core group meeting of the year, and the social and trading afterwards. The meeting was very well attended, probably because of the social. The funniest thing was that Rakesh brought loads of goodies to trade and this generated quite a bit of excitement and more trading than the core group meetings have seen over the whole year... I think anyhow! We did have a short meeting and I took minutes and will write them up. I was pleased to chat with Jini, whom I've not got to know before now. So, an enjoyable meeting and I brought back some interesting edibles.

I got home soon after 10.30 and watched Newsnight which had reports from Copenhagen, and wrote up the YiT emails from last night.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Sunday 6th December 09

A quite lazy day despite getting enough done for it to not be a waste of a day!

In the morning I got a bit of help from my eldest moving some heavy metal shelving in the loft so it's out of the way of the workers tomorrow putting in the solar panels. I shifted the filing cabinet and swept the area... it's now ready, I hope! At the same time my youngest volunteered to help me clean out some demijohns in the bath... he used a demijohn bottle brush and did three of them. Nice to get some help!

I watched Country Tracks and then did a little bit of pootling round outside... went to the Co-op to get cereals and some iboprofen, and down to Country Fresh where I had the good news that someone I've recently spoken to, a student, is going to pick up tomorrow's waste and do a meal from it, and write about the experience (at least this is what I think is going to happen!). I also did a bit of work down the garden, which is always good. I love the fact that it seems a world away from the busy traffic.. despite my being able to hear the vehicles on Hull Road, just 70 or 80 metres away.

Our boys were invited to go to the Ice Rink which is built in York every winter, so Gill and I had a peaceful hour and a half... busy doing things around the house, but a rare and unexpected child-free moment. They came back having had a wonderful time... Thank you Eugene for taking them.

Eugene's youngster stayed here after the ice skating, and he had tea with us... baked potato, roast parsnips and pumpkin, vegetarian sausage and fried mushrooms, and I had some leftover cauliflower cheese on the side and almost the last of the curly kale. It goes a long way!

Soon after 8pm I set out to Anna's for a York in Transition 'events planning' meeting. Anna is mega active as an organiser, and we put together a good programme of activities, about one a month, until July 2010. These include a Christmas Present Swap, a showing of a couple of cycling films, a seed swap and a possible 'indoor' green festival and dance and more. I was able to discuss the forthcoming liasing and networking with other local green groups which I'm working on, and I raised the issues about paying for events and getting the money raised at fundraisers put into the YiT bank account. I met a young gardener called Nick which was good, as he wants to come and visit my composting ops. So a really good meeting.

I collected a log on the way home and got in soon after 10. I was pleased to see that on ITV there was a South Bank Show on Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, and a favourite of my friend Ali, who is also a poet and writer.

I've not really said anything about yesterday's 'The Wave' which lots of my friends went to, or the forthcoming Copenhagen talks which are probably the most important global talks that have ever happened, as the leaders from around the world have the chance to agree to set tough and binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions... or could fail to do this and so commit our planet to becoming much less comfortable for us, and many other species, to continue to live on.

I reproduce below a 'World first': a newspaper editorial which will be published tomorrow in 20 languages in 56 newspapers in 45 countries, with exactly the same wording which has been worked on by The Guardian and 20 of those newspapers over the past month. I endorse completely what it says.

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.
Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Saturday 5th December 09

Quite a late start and when I bumbled down stairs, Gill was talking to one of our neighbours on the sofa. This neighbour has a house near Robin Hood's Bay... and we are wanting to visit for a few days (to get our 'fix' of the place!) so we might be hiring their place.

I got dressed and did some tidying in the conservatory... there's still Cinnamon vine (Dioscorea batata or Chinese Yam) to be removed, and the hundreds of little aerial tubers needed collecting up so I can either replant, distribute or eat!

I found lots of one-year old tubers, just a little bigger than the originally planted aereal tubers:
I then dug up the big two- or three year old tubers from the pots, where they had headed to the bottom of the pot and in one case had circled half-way around, and in another had formed a big blob the the base and is most sculptural:
The tubers are very brittle and one broke as I tried to extract it. So I washed and scraped the roots off this and chopped it into little chunks and fried it in extra virgin olive oil on the woodstove, and it was delicious. The whole family agreed. Gill made a pizza too, which was nice.

In the afternoon, Gill went into town on the bus with the boys to go to Borders where the books are going cheap, as it is probably closing. I spent nearly the whole day inside but this was OK as I got a lot done. I was pleased to receive a phone call from Ben, who purchased two jars of mixed dried fruit yesterday and wanted to order another 6 big jars and 7 small jars, as he thinks these will make original Christmas presents for his family and friends. Sorry if any of them are reading this and the surprise is now not a surprise!

I researched my travel arrangements for the end of next week when I'm delighted that I'm available to go to the AGM of the Community Composting Network and an event the previous day called Growing for Well-Being. I've wanted to attend this for several years but always had work booked.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Friday 4th December 09

Our solar panels and water tank arrived today! They came by separate couriers, the panels (which the delivery person thought was a snooker table top!) and a mystery parcel came in the morning, then the tank, which is smaller than I expected, came just after lunch.

Hopefully, this will all be in place by Monday evening. Exciting!

We had a nondescript day apart from this... I did some washing up (yawn) and some composting work in the garden, and got 5 jars of mixed dried fruit ready for the LETS Christmas Fayre. I did do some internetty stuff and found out about a very interesting looking event on 16th December in London, called Feeding the 5000. This is to highlight food waste, something I feel very strongly about. All the food served on the day will be stuff which would ordinarily have been binned... wonky carrots, unsold bananas, imperfect baking potatoes... Their main partner, Fareshare, does a great job getting supermarket surplus, which would otherwise be wasted, out to needy people, such as hostels and day centres. Through Feeding5k I've discovered This Is Rubbish, another brilliant group.. I'll have to have a read through their website soon! They are my kinda people, methinks...

I set off to the LETS event soon after 3pm with the raffle prizes I'd blagged, sorry, politely asked for from local businesses on Bishopthorpe Road. Lynn was already setting up and there were several trading tables from LETS members' businesses. I put up our new banner outside and some little posters, and at 4pm when we opened, went to give out flyers on Bishy Road to invite people to the event.

Hugh Bayley the MP for York arrived... he'd been invited by Lynn and as he was interested in local trading, he accepted her invite and it was good to chat to him in a more relaxed environment. Most times I meet him, it's a bit confrontational. This was friendly though. And he bought some of my dried fruit! I wonder if he is aware it's stuff which has been thrown away and rescued by me and dried on the woodstove?

Lynn had organised a visit from Santa, who is occasionally Brian, a colleague of Jill Weaver's in Leeds. I had a good chat to him, and then asked his wife Kim what she did. We soon moved on to what she used to do... which was to work for Leeds City Credit Union, where she worked alongside Sue Davenport, and was the person who realised that there was something not quite right. She's writing a book about the experience. I was really shocked to hear about the fraud that Sue had committed, as she'd appeared to be so committed to the Credit Union. I met her on several occasions when I was setting up York Credit Union (now North Yorkshire CU). Sue Davenport has recently been declared bankrupt and is being investigated by the police. So that was an interesting conversation!

There was also a good magician, a four piece choir doing acapella stuff, Stephen doing some puppetry, the raffle and then David arrived to play his guitar just as we were packing up, so I STILL haven't heard him play and sing!

We didn't have many visitors, it was mostly LETS members, but it was really nice and relaxed, and I got to meet some new members and old ones too!

I cycled swiftly home as it was very cold. The family were at the School Xmas Fair. I stoked up the stove with several good logs to warm the place up and got the thing almost glowing red hot! Nice for them to come home to. More home-made soup (out of the reject bins again!) which I followed with a soft avocado (same provenance) and some macaroni (bought, shock-horror!).

So a toastie evening with another glass of the home-made blackberry and elderberry 1994, which is indistinguishable from Port. Delicious!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Thursday 3rd December 09

A good day.... I got up in time to make my muesli and have breakfast and take my damaged trailer to Cycle Heaven (I managed to break a couple of spokes with a badly aimed attempt at a narrow bridge... the wheel slipped off and I kept going, buckling the wheel). I delivered that and then went to see Pauline, to give her a few more logs and to get my regular bottle of Port, my annual present from her. Mind you, I haven't actually finished last year's bottle yet! That's how little I drink...

But lovely to see Pauline. She had some very good news for me, potentially very good news but I promised to keep it completely confidential, so oh, blog readers, you will just have to wait. But I am very happy.

I then went to the bank, was surprised how little money we have, went to the building society and took a wad of notes round to pump up our account. Then back to the bike shop... and the chap assigned to my wheel was still wrestling with it, so I said I'd collect by the end of the day.

Cycled home and sorted out a large pile of envelopes for composting and put some cheques in the post, assorted memberships (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Equity, Garden Organic).

I finished making the tomato soup in the afternoon, and washed up and did bits and bobs of housework, plus computery stuff.

Then at 4pm, back into town to pick up my trailer and popped into see Dylan at Millers Yard to pick up his unwanted orange halves and chat about York Green Festival. We had a lovely chat and I got a second piece of very good news... but again, this is embargoed until it is ready to be made public. I cycled away happy but with a very heavy load of compostables.

I had soup and an avocado sandwich for tea, and then looked at my emails to try to find out where this evening's York in Transition meeting was. No mention of the venue whatsoever! It could be St Nicks or it could be The Stables, or even someone's house... i cannot remember and it isn't in my diary nor is it in any of the email communications... So I stayed at home and watched an excellent programme on BBC1, called The Human Power Station, a Bang Goes The Theory Special. This is available on iPlayer for a week... it's a must watch! The experiment was to install an average family into a house wired up with cameras and all the normal mod cons... and to ask them to live normally for a day. However, they didn't know that the house was switched to being powered by a bank of 80 cyclists, each on a stationary bike with a dynamo, capable of producing 100 watts if going normally, or up to 200w if pedalling really hard. The cyclists could see a dial with how much was being used versus how much was being produced... and it is a very exciting and interesting result. I loved it anyway, and decided to start a facebook 'fan' page:

So, a happy and productive day, despite my foolishness in breaking a wheel and having a reasonable bill to have it repaired.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Wednesday 2nd December 09

Up quite early to get ready to have the solar panels in tomorrow, and go to the BBC studios this afternoon to appear on Look North after the little film comparing my low carbon footprint with Adam's higher one.

So Gill and I got busy in the loft.. I emptied the filing cabinet and moved other paperwork, Gill started dismantling a large metal framed shelving unit.

But then we got a phone call from the builders/installers. The stuff will be delivered tomorrow (or Friday?) and the builders will install it on Monday.

And then I did my emails and got an email from Anna Crossley who was the person in charge of filming me and interviewing me about the carbon footprint thing... I'm not needed in the studio this evening, as the presenters Harry and Krista are doing the carbon calculator instead.

This is a mixture of a disappointment and a relief. We continued sorting out rubbish. I made some tomato soup. I cycled down to Country Fresh to get a bit of veg and brought back that plus some rejects.... which included yet more tomatoes. I'll make a bigger soup... I might have surprise guests, who knows?

Gill did a stir fry with spring rolls... really good!

At 6.30 I watched Look North on Yorkshire and was pleased to see the little film about my cycle-based transport and Adam's car habit. Good stuff, it was well edited together and I'm happy with how I was portrayed.

A mellow evening, helped by a small glass of home made wine which didn't quite get into a bottle.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Tuesday 1st December 09

A very busy day in the loft. Moved all my bottles. Decanted another 3 demijohns into bottles, including an amazing blackberry and elderberry 1994 (!), a grape and apple 1999 and an unknown red from an unknown date which also tasted great. So who's inviting me to a Christmas party this year?

I sorted out a big pile of paperwork into keep, recyclable, compostable and 'used on one side only so reusable'...

I collected a cheque owed to me from St Nicks for Apple Day and saw Helen, and agreed to meet with her at 6pm and have a bit of a social. She came back here and had my home-made soup and a roll which was made by our son at school. Good chats.

In the evening I worked out my ActOnCO2 carbon footprint, updated to give our exact electricity usage (1674kwh/year, renewable tariff) and gas use (132 cubic metres/year) which gave a household footprint of 1.04 tonnes/year, or an individual footprint of 0.27 tonnes/year. Obviously this isn't the total as it doesn't take into account my public transport use, food and goods purchases, and the things that national and local Government does on my behalf.

I also took advantage of a fallen and logged tree to stock up on my woodpile...

Monday, 30 November 2009

Monday 30th November 09

Not too bad a start to the day, came down to ensure things didn't go too pear-shaped and therefore it was a smooth start, fortunately.

I made a start on the many demijohns in the loft which have sat there since we moved in 2001 and I've done nothing with the contents. This house doesn't lend itself to winemaking, somehow, and also I was aware of my drinking having a negative effect on my health, so I didn't resume my hobby. So, there were 30 or more demijohns of assorted wine, cider and unknown brews to basically get rid of. They are in the way of the work which will take place the day after tomorrow.

I took the bung out of each gallon jar and tasted it with a straw. Many were vinegary or bitter or yuk... but one, an elderberry and apple 1998 was wonderful, so I bottled it. Another, an experiment done by an old, now sadly deceased, friend called Lin, was orange tango and tea... I bottled this as it was interesting and drinkable... not excellent, but drinkable. There was also an interesting Metheglin... honey and herbs.

I bottled 3 gallons and poured 8 away. Only another 20 or so to go!

The day went far too quickly. Gill went to town to do the charity shops, and bought a dress from Age Concern for £3 and something else for £2... and was given a card as a thank you. When she came home, she discovered that it had a £10 voucher in it, as a thank you. Littlewoods will donate £2 of it to Age Concern. How good is that?

I got a call from Lynn asking if I would be willing to help out at a LETS members' parents house later today, moving some heavy furniture and pulling up some carpets. So of course, I said yes, and at a few minutes to 6, I zoomed over to Huntington Road to help, spent 45 minutes there and sped back, in time to eat a fantastic tea Gill had made... a stew made on the woodstove then topped with cheese scone mix and popped in the oven. This 'cobbler' thing is really delicious and very easy to make.

A quiet evening, washing up, stoking both stoves as it is cold tonight, and playing Scrabble on facebook. Oh, and promoting the good news that Age of Stupid will be shown on BBC4 on Monday 14th December at 10pm. Great!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Sunday 29th November 09

A really good day, despite the very wet weather.

Gill and I did a bit of tidying in the loft prior to the solar panels going in but it needs SO much more!!!

I didn't do very much outside apart from picking the last of the runner beans out of the apple tree and also cropping some late nasturtium seeds (and flower buds) which would have turned to mush in the forthcoming predicted frosts. I'll wash these, put them in a jar with salt, wait until they are completely dehydrated, wash off the salt and fill the jar with vinegar. Or I might do some pickled pumpkin and used the dehydrated and washed seeds in with that.

I did visit Richard at Country Fresh and brought back 3 sacks of wonderful goodies.

Peter rang during the afternoon and asked if he could come round and see our stoves, as I had offered to show him as he is considering getting one. He came round at 5ish and I gave him a 'guided tour' of both our Clearviews. Later he sent me an link to an excellent website, the 'What Stove Review' site, which I have added to.

So quiet, happy day, not a lot happened, but I enjoyed the day lots.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Saturday 28th November 09

Had a bit of a lie-in and then spent over an hour finishing off my blog from the FERA conference.

Then lunch!

Did some chainsawing and a bit more tidying up the bricks from the chimney... I now have a stack of 60 or so cleaned-up 'clamp bricks' which I'll re-use to plug a gap between the back of the house and a wall which is now part of the conservatory. Currently it is filled with some wooden battens with horizontal fence-type wooden planks (just one brick long) and this needs to be replaced. These bricks will do the job. But I won't. I need to find a brickie, and maybe one who has a brick-saw to cut the bricks down, as they fill the gap quite tightly, leaving no space for mortar.

Gill went out and the boys played in the garden, then read quietly. A very peaceful and low-key day. Gill and I had a game of Scrabble after tea, and I played lots of Scrabble on Facebook. Interspersed with peeling and slicing fruit for the drying racks...

Friday 27th November 09

A good day!

Did quite a bit in the garden and building a logpile on the left of the front door, looking out, visited Richard at Country Fresh and met a nice law student called Gita, who knew of me as 'Compost John' from discussions at the Students' allotment.

Spent quite a bit of time sorting out the stuff from there, loading up the big Compostumbler with shredded hedge and greengrocers' unsold goodies.

I had an early tea... an aubergine thrown out for no good reason, and some slices of 'nutolene' that Gill found in the loft, in tins from a Suma order years ago. They are dated best before sometime in 2008 but as far as I'm concerned, it's OK, and 5 hours later, I'm not dead. I sliced this and fried it on the stove, and made two 'burger' things with Foccacia rolls that Gilly bought, with broccoli, baked beans and some home-made coleslaw.

Then I went out to 'The Climate Connection' meeting organised by York and Ryedale Friends of the Earth at the Friends Meeting House in town. This was a meeting to give information about the path towards the vital Copenhagen talks next week, and a chance for York people to hear what some local decision makers think about it, and ask them questions.

My friend Kate Lock chaired, and the panel were Andreas Heinemeyer from the Stockholm Environment Institute, Andrew Waller who is the leader of the City of York Council, Hugh Bayley our MP, and Mike Childs from FoE. The format was that they each had a chance to say what they wanted and then faced a couple of questions before the next panellist came on. Then all four of them faced a 'Question Time' type situation.

Andreas presented his take on climate change, which as a scientist had plenty of facts and figures, but as a father, had a soft side too. I've seen him present this before and he's one of the best, very accessible and easy to listen to.

Andrew Waller had a slide show showing some of the ways which York is responding to the issues. He had just come back from the Leeds City Region Housing Strategy and learning that York is to have it's own 'Urban Eco Settlement' where the British Sugar site was. He had slides of the Eco Depot, built with straw and with an innovative automatic ventilation system, and the Clifton Moor Eco Business Centre built by The Helmsley Group. I didn't know that York has a Passivhaus, (here's a good pdf from Leeds Metropolitan University on the development) but I did know about Elm Tree Mews in New Earswick, six homes heated by one ground source heat pump and with other built-in innovations. He mentioned the Joseph Rowntree Housing Association's other eco-experiment (to-be) at Derwenthorpe, near Osbaldwick and a 1930's semi they've bought and are retrofitting to high ecological standards. Andrew then turned to the carbon emissions from Council activities and property, which they have promised to reduce by 25% by 2013 using a carbon management system. This includes a new school which is heated with wood pellets, and a campaign to get shops to keep their doors shut in cold weather, keeping the warmth in (but hopefully not the customers out!)

Hugh Bayley was on good form and he too was pleased about the 'Eco-District' to be built on the brown-field British Sugar site. I didn't make any more notes about what Hugh said, nor any from Mike Childs apart from he was talking about leadership and the power that ordinary people have to lobby our leaders. The Climate Change Act only got through because of the thousands of us pushing the Government into it.

The Question Time bit of the meeting was excellent, with a first question on population and another on economic growth. I asked if any of the panel had measured their carbon footprint and which calculator they'd used. Mike said he had done his but had forgotten what the figure was, and that he 'was doing enough'; Andreas said he'd done lots of them and they all came up with different figures, but as he refused to fly, he was pleasantly surprised how low it was, Hugh admitted it was something he was going to have to do, to be able to say whether he manages his personal 10:10 pledge, and Andrew also didn't give a figure. Kate was the only one who knew her CO2e footprint had dropped from 16 tonnes to 12 over the 2 years she was writing her book. I suggested that people try The Carbon Account as it was so easy and visual. It actually doesn't matter which one you use... what's important is that people measure it now, make changes, and use the same calculator again to see the changes. Kate added some information about the Green Streets Challenge which she is involved with (door knocking!) and there were further questions about the Local Transport Plan and a complicated one about outcomes and policy.

All together it was a packed evening, with lots of information and I really enjoyed it.

I didn't hang around for too long, and was home by 10pm. I read Gill my notes and then typed up my blog whilst listening to music on BBC 2 and then Channel 4.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Thursday 26th November 09 FERA Conference

I got up as Gill was taking our youngest to school, and got ready to cycle out to Sand Hutton, North East of York, where there is a big complex of buildings which used to be called the Central Science Laboratory, and is now 'FERA', the Food and Environment Research Agency, part of DEFRA, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I got a phone call just before I was going to leave, from a company called The Power Collective, who are developing a product called Ridgeblade, which is a horizontal wind turbine mounted on the ridge of the roof... it's very discrete and you cannot see any moving parts, and the company are working closely with the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. I had contacted them offering my roof as a friendly place! They are about to go into 'pre production', as all of the models so far have been hand-made, proving they work, and they are about to do a load of trials. So the production models are a bit of a way away, but I'm on their list of interested parties.

Anyway, I got going at 9.40 and cycled up through Osbaldwick to Murton and then onto the A166 for a short while before turning off to Holtby and through to Warthill. I knew I was looking for a road off to the right soon after Warthill, but I didn't see one and arrived at the Snowball Plantation and I knew I'd overshot. I cycled back... and found it wasn't a road but a muddy track. I decided to do it anyway! It led to a farmyard and then to the road near to FERA and I arrived a bit mud-splashed but on time, before the 10.30 start.

The chair, Steve Willis, introduced the organisation and the event, called 'Wellies and White Coats: Science driving excellence in UK farming. FERA is dealing with some of the biggest issues we're facing... increasing population and moving populations, food security, water security, climate change, and is a major dealer in 'knowledge transfer'.

Next was the chief scientist, Professor Nicola Spence, who continued with an overview of what the four FERA centres do. Their roles can be split roughly into three areas:
Regulation , Policy and Risk - with regard to plant health, honeybee health, plant varieties and seeds;
Research and Assurance - scientific research plus analysis and evidence for our government, other governments and commercial customers;
Response and Recovery to emergencies.

The next speaker was Melvyn Askew, inspirational and good to listen to. He described the future as full of challenges and opportunities, and quoted Martin Bell MP 'Politics is far too important to be left to politicians'. He despaired at the lack of co-ordination that the free market has resulted in... he knows carrot producers who every year clamp (store) their crop in straw, but since Drax power station has recently been buying up all the straw to put in it's furnaces, the carrot producers cannot keep their crop.

Melvyn is very interested in biofuels, and talked about a newish crop, Miscanthus. This sells for £20 to £40 a tonne for fuel, but for horse bedding can fetch £45 to £70 a tonne. However, to 'add value' if it's sold as bagged-up horse bedding, it can go for £160 to £200 a tonne! Many other plants can be grown for their fibre... straw and hemp are used in composites (such as
this car), hemp to make hemcrete, nettles are being researched at FERA, and bracken, which grows naturally in many areas of Britain can be harvested and used as fuel (see this pdf). Even beech trees yield 'lyocell' which makes very soft luxurious fibres similar to silk, apparently! Another industrial use of agricultural products is the use of starch in car tyres, which may reduce the vehicle's fuel consumption.

He then brandished a bottle of what I thought was whiskey, but was actually locally grown 'cold pressed' rape seed oil. This is very similar to extra virgin olive oil, the extra virgin bit meaning the first oil which is cold pressed out. More oil can be made to come out of the crushed seeds if it's heated or mixed with hot water, but the first pressing is the highest quality. This is the best oil for health, and to my surprise, when I mentioned it to Gill, she said she'd been using it for a while. The taste is slightly fruity, so it's good for making pastry with for puddings, or in cakes.

But how can we tell it's rapeseed oil, or extra virgin oil? Well that's where the next speaker came in, Paul Brereton, who's an expert in food fraud. Fraud in food is done deliberately, and deceives the customer but also damages the producers, as people lose confidence in the product. When a country discovers food fraud, it is unlikely to shout about it... as this would damage its international reputation, so FERA does a lot of detective work in identifying whether food and drink is genuine or not. He told us about traceability using Terra Creta Olive Oil which has a lot number on each bottle which allows you to see where the olives were harvested, the temperature the oil was pressed at and all through it's processing and packaging through to the point of sale. I learned why the Melamine in Chinese milk fraud happened (and the 'justice', Chinese-style, which has been delivered), and about the Spar Vodka fraud, and others. FERA has developed a system called TRACE, with many European partners. This uses isotope mapping and DNA analysis and many other ways of ensuring 'Food Assurance'.

Dr. Theo Allnutt gave an overview of how GM crops can coexist with conventional crops, and the role of the GM Inspectorate. There's been a lot of research about how GM crops can get mixed with conventional crops, and it's not just through pollen transfer. The same machinery is used to harvest and process the GM and non-GM crops, so with Bishop Burton College, they've been assessing how much crop is left in the machine which might get transferred to the next harvest. The best way to prevent pollen transfer is to keep the crops separated distance-wise, as the transfer is heaviest if GM and non-GM are grown close to each other. FERA have developed a 'best practice' document and a GM calculator tool for farmers. There was some subsequent discussion about people's feelings about GM... after all, these crops have been growing and being consumed in the US and India (amongst other places) for many years. There are many ways of modifying crops... conventional breeding allows a whole bunch of genes to be transferred, whereas cysgenesis is where one gene from one species can be transferred into the same species. This is a long way from some of the Genetic Modification that many of my friends and associates don't like, which is where genes from one species may be put in another organism of a different species. GM is just one small part of the wider biotechnology which is more and more finding uses in agriculture and food production. A lot of what FERA does has biotech and molecular genetics at it's heart.

After lunch, during which I had some chats with other delegates, we had a presentation from Dr. Nigel Boatman on 'Integrating Environmental Management into Agriculture'; this was about 'ecosystem services' like soil fertility, pollination, biological pest control, pollutant breakdown and clean water. You can read about what this team does here.

This led nicely into Dr. Carmel Ramwell's talk on Resource Protection... water and nitrates, phosphates, pesticides, silt and sediment, and soil structure and organic matter content. She concentrated on water and how 'buffer strips' at the edge of fields and at the edges of watercourses could reduce nitrate run-off. She explained how the pathway from fertiliser application to watercourse could be disrupted, to reduce the likelihood of our waterways being polluted by nitrates, which is a big problem.

Then Dr Robbie McDonald, who researches bovine tuberculosis and badgers. The results of some very interesting work shows that where badgers are culled, the incidence of bovine TB goes down, but the surrounding area gets more badger movements and increased contact between cattle and badgers. He had some good videos of badgers in grain stores and nose-to-nose with cattle in barns, and the results of badger-proof buildings... if used correctly by farmers, which is not always the case! Badgers can now be vaccinated against TB, and there is a project just starting to see if this helps reduce the incidence of bovine TB, in six areas of 100km2 where bovine TB is a problem.

The last speaker was Dr. Tony Harrington, who told us about FERA's role in the national seed variety listing and plant breeders rights. More can be learned about this here, and a
gazette newsletter is available.

There was a question and answer session and then I got a tour of the buildings which was very interesting indeed. I'm really glad I attended as I've learned a lot, about what happens at FERA and about modern agriculture and food science generally. I' m glad too, that I'm going to be able to give something back. One of the stallholders on the foyer had lots of jars of stored foodstuffs with infestations of assorted insects... and I'm very interested in invertebrates so I chatted with the stallholder. I told her about my many compost heaps and my role as a compost 'expert'. She told me that when the culture was 'spent', they just threw away the grain or whatever contents were in the jar, and she wanted to know if it was compostable. So I promised to send her an email with an overview of what she could do with this material. I'm excited by this... my helping a Government Agency become more green! WooHoo!

I cycled home a shorter way, through Stockton on Forest, which was just 6 miles whereas my outward journey was 7.75 miles.

I spent most of the evening trying to record this fascinating day, but didn't get it finished, despite writing til past 2am.