Friday, 28 October 2011

Thursday 29th September 11

Not too bad a a day.  Had some time with Gill... good that the boys are being more independent and giving us some time together again.  Most welcome.

Got a phone call from Robin Harford, who's in York to run his foraging course.  He wanted to visit, so an hour or so later, he turned up, on his friend Atul's bike, and I gave him a tour of the garden and we had lunch together.

I did some work in the garden during the afternoon... mainly compost stuff, but also preparation for tomorrow when I'm off to The Pizza Farm to do a series of talks on compost to some schoolkids.  I also worked out where I was going using Googlemaps.

After 5pm I got ready to go to work; got to David's just before 6pm and took him to City Screen to meet up with Lotte, also met Esther Lilley (whom I know from when she worked at Lord Deramore's school) and her husband to be, Daniel, and we all had really good chats... I got on very well with Daniel, with a shared interest in architecture and sustainable buildings.

I took David back to have his tea at about 8, with Lotte who left her bike in David's yard, and David and I worked out my hours and monthly payment.  Home via Country Fresh, where I picked up some waste furniture.

I did quite a bit of washing up and fruit preparation, played Scrabble and other laptop-based stuff.

Wednesday 28th September 11

A fun day with good social interaction.  I got up fairly early but spent quite a time on the computer.  Gill went round to Maria's and I had an early lunch before heading off into town to meet a new friend Antonella, whom I'd offered to show the Millennium Bridge.  She's not from York and didn't know the walk from the centre down to the bridge and up through Rowntree Park, and it was really nice to be able to show her.

We parted in the Clifford's Tower car park and I foraged a few sweet chestnuts.

Came home via Richard at Country Fresh.  I then had a final session picking walnuts off the tree.  Those I couldn't quite reach from the stepladders, I whacked with a stick to make them fall.  Later, I laid out most of them on trays to dry... and there were over 300.

Robbie came round, with a bottle of home made cider, as last year I'd given him a load of brewing equipment, and this was a thank you!

Philip came round at 8pm and we had 3 happy hours chatting, me shelling hazelnuts, and catching up as we haven't spent an evening together for a very long time.

Tuesday 27th September 11

Well a low mood day for some reason, despite getting quite a bit done.  Got up late and had a normal morning doing stuff inside.

Mid afternoon I did some chainsawing and stacking, trying to get the front garden clear, although it'll take a while.

In the evening I went to the 'Powering York; Our Sustainable Future' meeting at Priory Street.  This was a joint meeting between the Open Planning Forum and the York Environment Forum.  There were 3 speakers, Professor John Whitelegg, from the Stockholm Environment Institute, Jacqui Warren the Sustainability Officer from the City of York Council, and Amanda Botterill, from the Yorkshire and Humberside Microgeneration Partnership and it was chaired by Julia Booth, from BBC Radio York.

When I arrived, I was startled to see someone I thought I recognised, my friend Lorna.... but it was actually her identical twin Clare, whom I haven't seen for a couple of years.  We had a good chat before and after the meeting.

Monday 26th September 11

Gill got the boys off to their schools in a taxi, to the Steiner School, and our eldest walked from there.  She stayed at home, and that enabled us to spend some child-free time together, a very rare thing these days. 

But we had a busy morning, Gill made a fruit cake for David, using home made dried fruit and then icing it with a pretend 'Waterlilies by Monet' picture on the top.  It is David's 78th birthday tomorrow.

I carefully took the cake in a bag dangling from my handlebars down to town when I went in for 6pm.  He was thrilled.  We went to City Screen for a coffee and chat, and we met up with Susan, who came back with us to have a slice of cake.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Sunday 25th September 11

Got up soon after 9am and had a slow start to the day.  The boys had a friend round, but our youngest had a homework task to do, to draw a river (I think) so I walked down with my bike to the River Foss with all three boys and Gill, via Hull Road Park, St Nicks, Hazel Court and James Street, and over Foss Islands Road to see the new bridge between Navigation Road and Hungate.  I left them here and cycled back home, via Country Fresh, to pick up several bags of goodies.

Later in the afternoon, I picked all the remaining walnuts from our little tree... I say little, it's about 8 or 9 metres tall.  I used my big ladders and got most of the nuts, it's a good crop, I'm very pleased. The chilli powder and vaseline trick must have deterred the squirrels.

I worked for David in the evening, went to City Screen as usual.

Saturday 24th September 11

I had a fairly slow and relaxed morning, but towards midday, started getting my stuff together to cycle up to Snowball Plantation, where the Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides have their camp.  I'd been invited to help with the Strensall Brownies weekend camp, with the theme of circus, by performing my show and workshop, and running a free-play workshop.

I took about half an hour to get there, it's less than 6 miles via Heworth and Stockton on Forest.  The girls were just finishing of their post-lunchtime clean up and when the room had been hoovered, I took my bike and trailer in, and got myself unpacked and changed.

The next two and a half hours went very smoothly... lots of fun, excitement and skill sharing. I got everybody doing things, including the three adults and three helpers.  I finished off by showing them a few balloon animals; they'd made some basic ones this morning with one of the adults, but only made dogs.  I showed them a rabbit, bird, giraffe, elephant and dogs dinner.

So, it all went to plan, and by 5pm I was cycling back home... I decided to go via Warthill and Holtby.  When I arrived at the roundabout at the junction of the A1079 and the A64 I noticed a cyclist on the grassy verge, obviously having difficulties with their bike.  I always offer help to other cyclists... and then I realised it was Councillor Dave Merrett, whom I've known for almost the whole time I've lived in York.  I helped him get his chain back on.... and then cycled down the Hull Road with him.  We had some nice chats on the way into York, but he stopped off at Badger Hill and I was glad to get home and relax.

Friday 23rd September 11 York Food Festival

A really busy day, with two Food Festival events.  My friend Steve had said he might be able to move the fruit press, as his cycle can carry heavier loads than mine, so I called him and asked if he'd be able to come in half an hour.  He said 45 minutes.

I got it ready, in the drive, and collected some apples from down the garden, and some plastic sacks for the pressed apple pulp, and a few other bits and bobs.

I took the crusher on my trailer and we managed to fit the press into Steve's Danish load-carrying Nihola tricycle. We cycled slowly in to the City Centre, and unloaded in St Sampson's Square, next to all the 'Edible Schools' stalls.

I had a stall with several trays of apples and pears, delivered by an Abundance volunteer, along with a chopping board, some plastic cups, jugs and bottles and a bucket for washing the apples, as some were windfalls.  I'd brought a couple of bottles too, and a knife for cutting the apples in half.

I got busy and prepared a load of apples before the first group arrived; my job was to show small groups of York school children that apple juice came from apples.  This might seem obvious to some readers, but many kids are so completely separated from nature that if you ask them where apple juice comes from they'll say 'a carton' or the name of a supermarket.  So a project has been set up called Edible Schools, to help educate children about food.

I did a series of crushing and pressings, going all day, one group after another... getting the children to operate the crusher quite a bit and then dishing out apple juice to anyone who wanted it.  It went down really well!  Lots of people came to see what was happening and had a bit of juice.  I really enjoyed myself, but was glad when the last group had gone, and I cleaned up the equipment with a hose which was in St Sampson's Square, near my stall.

Steve came to pick it up again and I zoomed home, only to come back in again for a York Rotters stall in the evening.  This was fairly quiet, but I had a nice time with Pat, and some free food.

A long day, but really worth while.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Thursday 22nd September 11 World Carfree Day

Got up at 8 so I could cycle with our eldest over to Bishopthorpe Road.  On the way there, his mudguard got very loose and then fell off.  I put it in my pannier and pocketed the bolt... but the nut was no-where to be seen.  From his school, I went to the bank to see how much money was in our account as we have bills to pay.  I took £250 to the Council to pay another installment of Council Tax, and then popped in to see Dylan who had a box of mostly mouldy oranges for me to dispose of.... I cycled them over to St Nicks, and sorted out about 20 good ones for the volunteers there, and washed them, put them on some plates for people to take.

From here, via Freshways and back home.  Gill was just getting ready to go out and I got a phone call from St Nicks, who'd been contacted by a BBC Autumnwatch researcher, who wanted to know what sorts of animals could be found in, or connected with, compost heaps.  Well there was no-one at St Nicks who could go through the range of wondrous beasties, so I rang the researcher and spent 40 minutes chatting, and describing springtails, worms, staphylinid beetles, several sorts of fly, slugs, ants, and vertebrates like newts, frogs, toads, slow worms (my favourite reptile), grass snakes, mice, hedgehogs, rats, magpies.

Later, by email, I told her about woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, mites and pseudoscorpions.  It's unlikely that they'll want me to go onto the programme but it was nice to be able to help!

I was able to do a bit of work outside... not much, and then at 3 I was off again on my bike to go and pick up our son.  I found the nut which had fallen off his mudguard on the way into school, which was lucky, I think.  Once I'd collected him, we popped into Cycle Heaven and one of the kind guys there tightened up his mudguard by inserting a sliver of rubber before re-tightening the fixing.

We came home along the roads, rather than go all the way to the Millennium Bridge... an interesting experience, especially when a large lorry decided it wanted to share the bike lane (Sorry Mate, Didn't See You - SMIDSY syndrome) but my lad was impressed how I dealt with this.  Actually, I was impressed too.  And glad that he didn't witness his Dad being knocked off or squashed.

I got a Fiddlesticks booking for a 5 year old's party in Wakefield, and then later in the evening, the chap from Poppleton brought my apple press back to me, in time to take (somehow!) down to town tomorrow for the Edible York stall at the Food Festival.  I spent several hours peeling a huge load of pears for drying, and played bits of Scrabble on facebook between times.

Wednesday 21st September 11

Up earlyish again and quite a good day... cold receding, cut getting better.

I did assorted admin, including chasing up the whereabouts of my fruit press (should be arriving back on Thursday eve, to be used again on Friday) and ordering £80 worth of modeling balloons. 

Took delivery of 5 sacks of apple bits from the people who borrowed my crusher and press over the weekend, and they gave me a bottle of apple wine from last year as a thank you.

I did some compost heap loading, mainly the apple pulp, and guinea pig bedding. I love being outside, really good for my mental health!

At 4pm I went to the Ecodepot and took part in the first Snow Warden training. The Council wants to help volunteers all over the city deal with snow on footpaths this winter, if we have snow... and gave us training and a snow shovel, hat, gloves and hi-viz jacket.  The training was hilarious, with a very over the top health and safety risk assessment and dead-pan humour from the officer delivering the training.

At 10pm I went to Priory St as my friend Jackie said she was coming out of 5 rhythms dance then, but her train was at 11.15, so would have time to chat.  But when she came out she was deep in conversation with her friend Vicky, and they went for something to eat, so I came home again, via some thrown out wooden chairs, two of which are broken, so are for firewood, and one is in good nick so it will get used.... or put on Freecycle.

Tuesday 20th September 11

Up surprisingly early, thought I'd had a lie-in and came down at 8.30.  Weird. Maybe something to do wih my cold?

However, I made reasonable use of the time, today doing loads of apples for drying, making up my muesli, dealing with correspondence and phone calls, washing up, writing.

One thing which was quite exciting was I made a charcoal retort, and successfully made several batches of 'biochar', and next year I'm going to experiment with adding this to my potting mixes to see if it increases productivity.  The retort is a metal container or tin made of steel, with a close fitting lid which slides on and off.  In this I've punctured a pin-hole.  When any organic material (in the chemistry sense, ie anything which has come from living things, and is composed mainly of carbon) is subjected to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, the water is driven off, then the volatile materials are driven off (and burn in a jet coming out of the hole) and that leaves a matrix of almost pure carbon, or charcoal, or biochar, which has a variety of uses.  I'm interested in its use to add carbon to soil, and its supposed ability to increase soil fertility and crop productivity.  I made a batch of willow twigs, which made really good drawing sticks, like are used at the Steiner School.  I will probably make a big batch of willow stick charcoal to give to the school later this year.

At 4pm I got ready to go to work at David's.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Monday 19th September 11

I got up early in order to take my eldest into The Stables but in the end he went on a bus with Gill.  So I had a quiet day, feeling a bit low... not just the unnecessary early start but also a cold which got steadily more annoying, with successive sneezes and an increasingly drippy nose.  The downside of being very social!

I did a variety of admin stuff, phone calls and the like, plus relaxing with 'Eat Static Radio' on Last FM, which raised my spirits considerably.

I prepared several racks of sliced apples for drying, and at 3 put our lad's bike onto my trailer and cycled down to The Stables, where he'd fortunately had a good day.

At 4.30pm a chap from Everest came round to check our front and back doors, fitted in 2008 I think, and I had a very amusing conversation with him... nice chap!

I really wasn't feeling like having tea but Gill made something irresistible and I had a small bowl full.

I was looking forward to the evening's meeting of the Co-operative Members Group, which tonight was at Co-op FuneralCare on Cromwell Road in Bishophill. I got there at 6.55 and over a dozen other people turned up.

I took notes but didn't get around to writing these up until October, and I don't like to publish subsequent blog posts until I'm done for that day (hence a gap in publishing posts).

So, my write up of the Co-op Members visit to the Co-operative FuneralCare premises.  We were welcomed by Philip Taylor, the manager, and we were offered coffee and biscuits.  He told us that the Co-op is one of three funeral providers in York, all of whom have a more or less equal share in the market.  This means that the Co-op arranges just over 900 funerals a year in York, although this is dropping by about 2.5% a year as the current demographics change and people are increasingly living longer.

Funerals are an expensive business, the average one costs £2900. That's partly because the York Crematorium is one of the most expensive in the country, costing £665 plus £147 for the necessary documentation. York has mercury abatement technology too, which has added to the cost.  Some people opt to pay for their funeral before they die, and whatever is charged then is the full cost of the funeral, even if the person dies many years later and the cost has gone up.  So buying your funeral whilst you're young is quite a sensible thing to do, from the point of view of the client... but not the funeral provider!  Some funerals are paid for in installments beforehand, and others are paid for by insurance, after the death has occurred.

There's quite a bit of interest in 'green funerals', and most people think that this equates to a cardboard or willow coffin. These caskets are 'greener' than solid hardwood, but the biggest part of the carbon footprint of funerals isn't in the materials used for the casket.  And the figures for different sorts of funerals are interesting. In York, 87% are currently opting for cremations, the rest are burials, very few in churchyards and more in ordinary cemeteries.  The interest in 'green burial' or 'woodland burial'  is low, only about 10 a year, and only once has someone asked for a burial with just a shroud, which is one of the 'greenest' ways to be buried.  However, about 40 people a year are requesting bamboo, cardboard or willow coffins.

The Co-op has invested in Resomation, the 'alkaline hydrolysis' disposal method where the body is dissolved in chemicals and flushed into the sewer, and the bones ground up to make the 'ash' which is collected in an urn for burial or sprinkling.... Philip had never heard of Promession, which surprised me, and I hope the Co-op gets behind this technology.  It is lobbying for the legislation to change to allow these sorts of technology to be allowed in this country.

For more about my interest in this subject, please visit or contact me direct and I'll be happy to explain anything.

It was a fascinating visit... we did have a brief look at some of the rooms in the building, ones where coffins are put and family members or friends can say goodbye to their loved one, but for me, hearing a funeral director telling us about his job was the most interesting thing.  Thank you Philip and the Co-operative Members group for arranging the visit.