Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Future is in Our Pockets

Photo from the Guardian

So, today a lot of public sector workers went on strike, and quite a few didn't. Public sector workers are doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, teachers, library assistants, dustmen, civil servants, dinner ladies, school caretakers, social workers etc.  They are the people that provide so many services that we rely on. If we want reliable public servants they need to be paid a reasonable wage. After all, you get what you pay for.

Some of those public sector workers don't earn enough to be able to buy a house, some are quite comfortably off and others, the bosses, earn very high sums indeed. This is a reflection of the private sector. Some private sector workers are not paid enough to live on, some are OK and others earn more than I would know how to spend.

This is a wider reflection of our society in general, which is not a fair society, in fact the inequalities are growing more than in most developed countries.  Some people are paid much more than they are worth and some people's work is not given it's proper value.  I'm not suggesting that we should all be paid the same, but we need to start to realise as a society that it is not good for anyone when some people get paid obscene amounts while others aren't even given a living wage.

Photo from the Telegraph
The unfairness continues when we retire, and the main reason for the strike was that the government is asking public sector workers to pay more towards their pension, which for many earning around the national average means about £100 a month extra.  At the same time as paying more towards their pension it seems the pensions will be smaller and people will have to work longer before they are entitled to them.

It does not seem that the extra money these people will pay for their pensions will go into a pension fund to secure the future of their pensions, but directly into government coffers, which could make it seem like a tax on people who work as public servants, historically at least, at a lower wage than they could expect in the private sector because helping others was more important to them than earning high sums.

Once, it seemed like a good idea for government to be an example of best practice when it came to valuing their workers, ensuring them a decent pension and treating them fairly.  Instead of leading the way, this government seems to be trying to make it easier for businesses to treat their employees unfairly and without respect.


We are in a recession, it is true, but the language used about public sector workers has at times made them sound like they are sponging off 'hard-working tax-payers' rather than being 'hard-working tax-payers' themselves in most cases, many of who are willing to go the extra mile because they care about their patients, pupils or the others they serve in the course of a day's work.

Yes, I do work in the public sector myself, but only part-time, and I didn't work while my children were young, so I can't expect much of a work pension.  I work because I enjoy helping people and because it's nice to have some money I can call my own.


 

The other side of all this is how we spend our money.  Do we try to buy as much as possible with our hard-earned cash, or do we try to balance our needs with the amount of good we can do with that cash?  Do we try to support the local economy, organic farmers or buy Fairtrade?  Do we think about the impact our purchases have on the environment and on those who helped to produce what we buy?  Do we think carefully about the impact our purchases have on us and our loved ones?

Are we more concerned with our entitlement than with others' needs?  If we have enough, can we give something to help those less well off than ourselves?


Photo from BBC
 I heard Sir Alan Sugar tried to return his Winter fuel allowance because he does not need it.  It seems this was not possible, but he and anyone else wealthy enough not to worry about paying their heating bills could give the money to Age UK or Shelter or similar charities.




We may have a government which doesn't seem to care about struggling individuals, fairness or the environment, but we can use each pound in our pocket to vote for a better world.  Money has a voice of its own, which seems to be the only one the Tories understand, indeed it is the voice governments of all persuasions seem to listen to most.  It is no use saying we want a fairer society and a more sustainable way of doing things if we don't act and spend our money in a way that bears that out.  Governments are led by what we do, not what we say, as are businesses: if we buy it, they will continue to make it.  Let us use the money we have, wisely, it is more powerful than we may realise.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent Preparations


Today is the first day of Advent, which is the beginning of the Church year and traditionally a time of preparation for Christmas.

Originally I think it was about spiritual preparation, not unlike Lent.  It was a time of prayer and fasting, reflecting on the state of one's morals, doing penance and resolving to do better.

More recently it had become a time for many housewives to clean their houses; a Winter clean rather than a Spring clean. Now many people consider that it is a time to write cards, buy presents and plan the Christmas feasting.

I like to write cards, often accompanied by a letter, to keep in touch with people and wish them well for the coming year.  Older people and people living on their own particularly seem to appreciate this.  I'm thinking I might make a few of my own cards this year and the rest I have bought from charities.

I shall also buy some presents and food otherwise my family will be disappointed, but I hope I shall have some time to reflect, now the evenings are drawing in. However with an elderly relative in hospital who needs visiting and a regular visit to my elderly parents planned I might not have all that much time to do so this week.

If you want to support charities when you buy your Christmas cards either order them direct from the charity or look out for Cards for Good Causes they may well have a shop near you, often in a church or an empty shop in or near your high street.  According to this article, this is the way to make sure the charity benefits the most.  If they are printed on recycled card all the better.

While we write our cards we may resolve to keep in touch more with certain individuals next year, or give regularly to a particular charity.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Developing an Attitude of Peace


"If we ourselves remain angry and then sing world peace, it has little meaning. First our individual self must learn peace. This we can practise. Then we can teach the rest of the world" - His Holiness the Dalai Lama


"True peace is always possible, yet it requires strength and practice, particularly in times of great difficulty. To some peace and non-violence are synonymous with passivity and weakness. In truth, practising peace and non-violence is far from passive. To practise peace, to make peace alive in us, is to actively cultivate understanding, love and compassion, even in the face of misperception and conflict. Practising peace, especially in times of war, requires courage.

All of us can practise non-violence.  We begin by recognising that, in our depths of consciousness, we have both the seeds of compassion and the seeds of violence.  We become aware that our mind is like a garden that contains all kinds of seeds: seeds of understanding, seeds of forgiveness, seeds of mindfulness and also seeds of ignorance, fear and hatred.  We realise that, at any given moment, we can behave with either violence or compassion, depending on the strength of these seeds within us.

When the seeds of anger, violence and fear are watered in us several times a day they will grow stronger.  Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept ourselves; we suffer and we make those around us suffer.  Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, compassion and understanding in us every day, those sees will become stronger and the seeds of violence and hatred will become weaker and weaker."   - Thich Nhat Hanh, Creating True Peace

Friday, 11 November 2011

Remembrance

Remembering the war dead of the last 100 years; soldiers and civilians.

So many families torn apart, such a waste of human potential.

Hoping we'll find a better way of settling our differences the 21st century.

“'Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Thursday, 22 September 2011

What an injustice!


"Oh Lord, what an injustice!" - the last words of Dic Penderyn, unjustly hung in 1831

I'm saddened that these words are so applicable today.

My condolences to Troy Davis' family.

"20 years after being put on death row in Georgia, USA, Troy Davis was injected with lethal injection in the early hours of this morning – needlessly, outrageously, unjustifiably."
This man was executed although he was not guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.  He insisted he was innocent and many believed him to be so.  The evidence of his guilt was very shaky.

More about Troy Davis here

Friday, 12 August 2011

Generous Britain

A fund set up for mugged Malaysian student has raised £22,314.00 by the time it closed. Donations came from the people of Britain who wanted to make amends for the looters' actions as well as people from other parts of the world who wanted to show that human kindness still exists.

This is the other side of the story, which we must not forget.  Some people have gone on a wanton spree of destruction and theft, but even some of them are feeling shame and remorse.  Some other people are reaching out to help the victims and helping to rebuild the damaged communities.  The overall picture is not so bad. While we also need to remember that some lives were lost, some families are feeling shock and grief, and some people have sustained injuries or have had some very frightening experiences, which may take them some time to recover from, the majority of British people are not looters and do not condone the looting.  Many people want to help those who suffered at the hands of the looters.

Other funds have been set up to help some of the other victims of the senseless destruction.

There is one for 89 year-old barber, Aaron Biber

Another for convenience shop-keeper Siva Kandiah

A Pledge Bank page has also been set up for the Reeves' family-run furniture store

People are being asked to bring some items to Tottenham Leisure Centre if they are in the area.

A number of people have been getting stuck in with clearing up the mess via riotcleanup.  It sounds like there is still plenty of work to be done.

The largest distribution centre for the great independent record labels in the UK was decimated by fire.  A fund has been set up to help with the distribution.

Perhaps you know of others, especially outside the London area.  I'll update this page if necessary.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Three R's in Response to the Riots

This frightening picture of a Polish woman jumping
from a burning building in Croydon during
recent rioting was in many newspapers.
If you live in the UK you have probably heard about the riots.  If you live outside the UK you may have done so, too.  It's pretty scary and all the more so because there is no real reason for them.  However, the reality is that the looting has not been all that widespread, so far.  A lot of fear has been spread by rumours of looting and possibly by some parts of the media exaggerating what is actually happening.  The unexplained nature of the looting and the fact that it hasn't all happened in the obvious inner city areas makes the rumours more plausible.

Commentators have come up with a mixture reasons for the looting and the cause is far from clear. For some while we have been told that Britain is broken. Attempts at diagnosing the problem and finding a solution seem to have failed so far. If British society really is broken then I think it is high time we had a national debate about how to mend our society, so I would like to suggest that rather than tinkering with superficial things we need to go back to the fundamentals, and I don't mean insisting that single mothers should be frowned upon or that corporal punishment should be re-introduced in schools.

My suggestion is that we need to put much more emphasis on the three R's: Respect, Relationship and Responsibility.

Respect is a two way process and has to be earned. We cannot insist that younger people respect us if we show them no respect. We cannot insist that people should respect us because of the relationship we wear or the position we hold if we treat them with contempt or act in ways that don't earn respect.

Self-respect is important, too. People with self-respect are much less likely to go looting or behave in other anti-social ways. People with self-respect are much more likely to respect other people. Therefore it would greatly benefit our society if we learn to foster each other's self-respect and to avoid damaging it.

Working for a living wage and being able to support yourself and your family helps restore self-respect. While I believe in the importance of the welfare state and supporting those who have the misfortune of being unemployed and unable to support themselves, perhaps we do need to consider ways to help those people for whom the world of work is unfamiliar.

Single mothers need moral as well as financial support and should not be given a bad name, but rather helped to gain self-respect. In fact we need to find ways to help young women develop enough self-respect to say 'no' to sex when they don't really want it and not to feel so dependent on men for their sense of self-worth.

At the same time some men need help to find ways of feeling good about themselves that don't involve exerting power over women or anyone else.

Relationship is the basis for society. We cannot respect people we don't know. We don't feel responsible for strangers and we feel little compassion for people who seem remote from us. It is fundamental for parents to have a good relationship with their children, but it is also important for employers to have good relationships with their employees, the police to have a good working relationship with the local community and neighbours to foster good relationships with each other.

Responsibility is the other side of rights. All rights have corresponding responsibilities.

Employees have certain rights but they also have the responsibility to work to the best of their ability.

Employers have to accept responsibility for poor family relations if they don't pay a living wage or expect their employees to work long hours. People who are worn out by working long hours to make a living wage or who are hardly home long enough to see their children won't make good parents. I suggest that parents who choose to work long hours when they can be comfortably off working less hours are not showing proper responsibility for their duty of care to their children, but I appreciate such parents are the minority. Many people have no choice of job if they want to keep their family well looked after. People who are treated badly and paid poorly by employers will not feel valued and their self-respect will be lowered as a result.

The unemployed, while being entitled to benefits have a responsibility to look for work and to take any employment they are offered if they are capable of doing it and it is legal. I understand that the process of looking for work can be demoralising, I was unemployed for six months myself, once, and I have spoken with many long-term unemployed people in the past. I think government schemes to encourage people back into employment should offer practical help and not too many reprisals. However, it appears some people are so used to living on benefits that they lack the motivation to find work, but I would have thought they are very much the majority.  Perhaps benefits should be earned by work in and for the local community doing things that wouldn't be done otherwise, in a way that increases unemployed people's self-worth and sense of purpose.

Parents have responsibilities towards their children.  While I agree it is a good thing that women are now treated on a more equal footing in the workplace, this means that parents need to decide how the children will be properly cared for, which one of them will stay at home in their early years and who will be there at the school gate, not too exhausted to listen to them and give guidance and discipline when it's needed.

Equally we need to get across the message that it is the responsibility of young men and women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and the spread of disease if they decide to have sex.  Sex education in school is not entirely successful, so we need to explore other ways to get the message across and helping people take more responsibility in this area of their lives.

There has been much talk recently of the British police force policing with consent, but we have also heard of recent incidents of a heavy handed approach by some individual police officers. Policemen and women have to take responsibility for their actions. Consistently treating certain groups of people with a lack of respect and exercising undue force will mean that relationships between you and that group of people will deteriorate and it won't just be you, but also your colleagues who will be seen as behaving in this way. Just as some police officers may see all black youths as possible criminals, some black youths may well see all police personnel as heaving handed and therefore consider them “the enemy”. It is important that people in authority are not judgmental and learn to reduce rather than increase conflict and violence by the ways they act and speak.

Politicians and the media also have to take responsibility for the way they talk about certain groups in society. Calling anyone “scum” shows a definite lack of respect. Whipping up hatred, anger, fear and resentment shows a great deal of irresponsibility and suggests a certain amount of immaturity.

Our government has to remember its responsibilities at home rather than rushing out to get involved in other people's wars.  I'm not advocating that either we or our government ignore the starving and the destitute in other part's of the world, but getting involved in other people's wars rarely, if ever, has a positive outcome for us or the other people and it's so easy to back the wrong people who turn out to be worse than the last regime.

What can we do, as individual members of our society, to get the message across to our government that we want better job prospects for all, better education, policing and healthcare rather than bombs being dropped and bullets being fired in our name?

Advertisers also need to be more responsible and stop making outlandish claims for their products that cause suggestible people to believe that their self-worth lies not in themselves but in a pair of designer trainers or the latest technology.

Rebuilding Britain one piece at a time!
We can't rely on politicians to make the necessary changes, it has to come from each of us.  You and I must take responsibility for starting the process; to improve relationships in our families, in our neighbourhoods, in our towns,  in our country and, where necessary, change ourselves.  We must each of us learn to be more compassionate, more respectful, more responsible and to improve our relationships by getting to know the people around us better and being more considerate of their needs (always balanced by our own needs, of course).

Can we make Britain a responsible and respectful nation built on compassion and good relationships? What do you think? Is this the way forward? If so, how can we spread the word? Do you have a better suggestion?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Norway's tragedy, a tragedy for us all

I've only recently come back from holiday, but the bomb and shootings in Norway and the reaction to them seem to require some comment.

It seems that the headline 'Al-Qaeda' Massacre: Norway's 9/11 appeared in yesterday's Sun newspaper referring to the tragedy.  On Facebook Billy Bragg suggested that this was a good reason not to buy the Sun.  It certainly strikes me as irresponsible reporting.

The dreadful tragedy could perhaps be compared with 9/11 as it was so unexpected and so unimaginably horrific, but only in that respect.  I can see absolutely no reason to justify calling it an 'Al-Qaeda' massacre as it had nothing to do with this group.

The massacre was carried out by a lone 'Christian' fundamentalist with extreme right wing political views.

I presume, and certainly hope, that others who hold his religious and political views would not see any justification for killing so many people.  However, extremists have a tendency to use extreme language and extreme language can cause susceptible people to commit acts others only imagine and talk about.

'Christian' fundamentalists and people with extreme political views can use violent language and talk as if some people are less than human, not deserving their respect and perhaps begrudging them the soil they stand on and the air that they breath.  Religious extremists can believe that God is so displeased with some people he will punish them severely.  When such religious and political views mix they can result in a very dangerous cocktail of ideas.

This is why we all need to think carefully of the messages we are sending, of our attitudes to other people and the words that we use.  Christians talk of sin and Buddhists talk of the seeds of violence and other undesirable traits that lie within us.

Perhaps now is a good time to reflect on the seeds of hate and violence within us and consider what might cause them and at the same time to water the seeds of love, compassion and peace within us and the people around us.

Logo designed by Elena Jacobs, University of Alberta student.
The world is superimposed on an apple, the traditional 

symbol of education, where seeds of peace are cultivated
and hopefully come to fruition.

We cannot be held responsible for the deaths in Norway, but it is the attitudes in society in general that can lead to such acts.  Religious fundamentalist and those with extreme views of any sort need to think very carefully about how their words and attitudes could be construed by others.

This tragic incident also shows us that it isn't only Islamic fundamentalists who can carry out such horrific acts.  It also gives us reason to consider, if all Muslims are potential terrorists, does that make all Christians potential mass murders?  If not, could it be that we need to realise that among the Muslims of the world there are many decent people just like us who would never dream of carrying out such an atrocious act.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Update on Ugandan Anti-gay Bill

This has not been passed in the current session of parliament. 

The Guardian reports that
"Uganda's reviled anti-gay bill, which mandates the death penalty in some cases, remains in limbo after parliament adjourned without a debate."

Go here for the full article.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

How Shall I Vote?



The only issue in this local election is whether to change the voting system from one where someone can be elected to represent us even though they had less than 50% of the vote, to a system where our votes will still count even if our first choice candidate doesn't make it, so that the winner will have the approval of at least 50% of those who bothered to vote, even if he or she wasn't their first choice.

So, how should I vote?  I believe in fairness and I would like my vote to count even though I don't share the majority view.  Chances are that our incumbent attracts a good 50% of the vote, but there may be times when he doesn't and then my vote would really make a difference.

Besides there are plenty of people in less safe seats who would be able to know that their vote actually counts if AV is voted in.

There has been a lot of disinformation by those who are worried AV could scupper their chances of winning if they need 50% of the vote.

We won't need to keep going back to the polling station.  All we shall have to do is put a number next to each candidate to say who our first choice is, who our second choice is and so on.  What could be simpler? We shan't need to choose them all if we don't want to, but it would be sensible to choose more than one in case our first choice isn't popular with our neighbours.

Changing to an AV system won't incur any extra costs.  We can still use a pencil to list our preferences rather than just put a cross on our ballot paper.  I suppose the extra writing means a few more pencils will be used, but that shouldn't break the bank.   Counting the votes by hand will still be possible.

Extremist parties won't benefit unless 50% of the constituents share their views.  On the other hand with first the past the post system the BNP have managed to scrape wins in local elections with less than a third of the vote.

The AV system is used in Australia and Marian Van Eyk McCain was very pleased with it during the 35 years she lived there.

For more information correcting the scare stories put out by the anti-av suppoters go here.

Friday, 29 April 2011

A Tale of Two Wedding Dresses



Royal weddings full of pomp and splendour are all very well for the royal family; it is what is expected of them and presumably they can afford it, but should the rest of us aspire to anything like these weddings?  Is a wedding about the bride being a princess for a day, or is that a myth that helps to sell expensive wedding dresses and the accompanying paraphernalia?

A wedding is an important day, but it is the start of something even more important, which is married life.  Married life will have a better start if the married couple are not in debt and a simple wedding with less to worry about will be more enjoyable than one where the bride and her mother, and quite possibly everyone else, are worn to a frazzle worrying that every last extravagant detail is perfect.

To my mind planning a wedding you will both enjoy but that is realistic and affordable is the best recipe for a happy wedding day and quite possibly for the start to a good marriage, too.  My husband and I had a church wedding and then had our reception in the village hall.  We didn't have too many guests, either, as it was too far for half my family to come and several of hubby's cousins couldn't make it.  Yet we both remember it as a happy occasion.

My mum made my dress, too, and I was very happy with it and even now I wouldn't have changed it.  I may not have been a princess, but I was happy being me and felt special enough.

Is it Time to Redefine our Royal Family?

My feelings towards the newly wed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are somewhat ambivalent.  I wish them well as I would any other young couple setting out on the great adventure of married life.  However, there were aspects of the ceremony I was uncomfortable with, such as the military uniforms worn by the groom and others.  Do these have any place in a church, where we are supposed to be worshipping the Prince of Peace?

Why was it necessary to have bombers, machines of death, flying over the happy couple as they stood on the balcony? Is this how the royal family define themselves, as members of the military, aka killers, albeit in the defence of the realm?

Isn't it time we moved forward as a nation, away from glorifying war, just or otherwise?  Surely all war is destructive and should be avoided wherever possible.  I think in the 21st century an enlightened royal family should redefine itself as peacemakers and bridge builders, not as supporters of death and destruction, even if only in name.

The bombers flying over the bride reminded me of this song by Sydney Carter.



                          

Crow on the Cradle by Sidney Carter

The sheep`s in the meadow
The cow`s in the corn
Now is the time for a child to be born
He`ll laugh at the moon
And cry for the sun
And if it`s a boy he`ll carry a gun
Sang the crow on the cradle

And if it should be that this baby`s a girl
Never you mind if her hair doesn`t curl
With rings on her fingers
And bells on her toes
And a bomber above her wherever she goes
Sang the crow on the cradle

The crow on the cradle
The black and the white
Somebody`s baby is born for a fight
The crow on the cradle
The white and the black
Somebody`s baby is not coming back
Sang the crow on the cradle

Your mother and father will sweat and they`ll slave
To build you a coffin and dig you a grave
Hush-a-bye little one, never you weep
For we`ve got a toy that can put you to sleep
Sang the crow on the cradle

Bring me my gun, and I`ll shoot that bird dead
That`s what your mother and father once said
The crow on the cradle, what can we do
Ah, this is a thing that I`ll leave up to you
Sang the crow on the cradle
Sang the crow on the cradle

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Switzerland

Lake Geneva

I've just had a lovely few days away visiting my husband in Lausanne, which is on Lake Geneva, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.  We were surrounded by some lovely scenery and the weather was wonderfully warm and summer-like.

The old town of Gruyeres


There were some wonderful market stalls selling all manner of edible leaves and toadstools as well as more normal produce.

Vegetable stall selling dandelion and wild garlic leaves as well as normal salads leaves and other vegetables.


Stall selling a wide variety of edible funghi

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Save Another Mother's Life on Mothers' Day

As Mothers' Day approaches Save the Children are campaigning for more mid-wives and health workers in poor countries.

Apparently the UK government has promised to make sure babies are born safely and to save the lives of 50,000 mums and 250,000 babies by 2015 as part of Every Woman, Every Child, the global maternal and child health strategy,

1,000 women and 2,000 babies die every day in the world’s poorest countries from birth complications which could be easily prevented because the women give birth alone, or without a midwife.

Midwives save lives but there aren't enough.

Around the world, many more children's lives could be saved if there were more midwives, doctors and nurses to treat simple diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea, and help these children grow up healthy and well.

Read more here

As part of their No Child Born To Die campaign Save the Children are calling for world leaders to help recruit and train 3.5 million vital midwives and healthworkers and they are asking each of us to call on International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell to support the campaign to ensure that no woman gives birth alone.

All you have to do is go here,  fill in your details and press send.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Grow Your Own Veg etc

Apart from thinking about faith and spirituality and reading a couple of books recently I have been spending some time in the garden.  I love getting out into the garden in the Spring sunshine.  If you've been meaning to grow a bit of your own veg or a few flowers to attract bees and butterflies now is a really good time to start.  You don't even need much of a garden, you can grow quite a few things in pots, although you don't want to put too much in any one pot.   Clay pots are best for plants that don't like being waterlogged and plastic is better for plants that aren't happy drying out.  Most plants benefit from a bit of drainage at the bottom, though.  Very few plants enjoy being waterlogged.   On the other hand it's not a great idea to grow really thirsty plants in pots as you will probably have trouble watering them enough.

I've grown quite a few veg in pots and bags from onions and potatoes to lettuce and tomatoes.  Last year I grew a courgette in a grow bag, which was reasonably successful but not as good as previous courgette plants I've grown in the ground.



This year I'm growing a few first early potatoes in bags as we don't have a massive vegetable garden.



Sunday, 20 March 2011

Spiritual Reflections and Explorations

I've decided this is probably not the place for my reflections on spirituality and my faith, but I am feeling a greater need to explore my beliefs so I have decided to set up a new blog, which I'm calling Spirituality and Sustainability.  Please visit if you are interested in such matters.

My first proper blog was entitled Living Faith, but I have moved on since then.  Doing a google search I found there is a Catholic website with that name and I didn't want my new blog to be mistaken for that.  I also came across a website called Spirituality for Life, which was my second idea for a title.  It looks like it could be interesting and the author may think a bit like me, but I haven't checked it out properly yet.

As my faith or spirituality or whatever I have these days has encouraged me to try to live more sustainably and that seems to be an important way that I can express what I believe, Spirituality and Sustainability seemed appropriate, if slightly clunky.  Hope you don't find it too much of a mouthful.

I look forward to walking with you on the journey.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Making Marmalade

Hubby and I made marmalade with Seville oranges on Sunday.

You may think that Seville oranges are out of season now, and you would be right, but realising I wouldn't have time when they were in season and having ordered a batch including a couple of lemons from Riverford I decided to freeze the fruit until I had the time.


I used the recipe from Riverford  for quantities, but used a recipe from school days for the method.

Not having a pressure cooker we cut the fruit in quarters and simmered in the water for half an hour instead of 10 minutes. Hubby carefully extracted most of the pips. However, once the fruit was cooked we separated the pulp and remaining few pips from the rind and cut the rind into fine slices. Hubby’s were a bit shorter and chunkier than mine.

Then it was time to go and see mother-in-law and do some shopping. After that we did a spot of gardening. Then (after washing our hands well) we put all the pips and pulp in a large muslin cloth, which I'd bought a while back, and tied the ends to make a bag, simmered the contents for a half an hour in the fluid left over from the morning. We then removed the muslin bag and squeezed as much juice as we could out of the bag. Hubby later found somewhere to hang it up and let more juice drip out.

Next we added the sliced peel and sugar so that our saucepan was very full. You don’t want a saucepan full of sugar solution to boil, so we ladled some into another large saucepan so that both were half full and could bubble away happily without too much spillage.

I used Waitrose Fairtrade sugar, which came in paper bags.

When I thought the marmalade was nearly done hubby tipped the marmalade back into one saucepan and mixed it together well.

From school days I knew to have a saucer or two in the fridge, so that I could put a few drops of marmalade on one when I thought it might be ready. At that stage you pop the saucer back in the fridge for just a few minutes, then touch it to see if it has set and wrinkles when you push it.

We added a knob of butter at the end to disperse the froth. Then we poured it into clean jars we’d sterilised in the oven and sealed each jar with a wax disc before covering with a plastic film lid. I'd been saving the jars for a couple of years, but had to buy the jam pot coverings on Sunday as I couldn't find any where I expected them to be.

It tasted good on the spoon and the next morning we could see it had set. So, it seems it's all right to leave it half way through.  The crucial bit is cooking it for just the right time.  We just need to finish our last jar of bought marmalade and then we can try it.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Experiences of Pollack and Nursing Homes

Where does the time go?  I don't seem to have much for blogging lately.  I've been reading books instead, I guess.  Yesterday I went to see my parents and took my mum to look around a couple of nursing homes that take people with dementia who shout.  My aunt has been keeping her fellow residents awake at night and has to move homes.  She did not have a confirmed diagnosis of dementia when she moved in and she was a lot less noisy.  It is a sad situation, but we were relieved that the first home we looked at was very calm when we looked around and the residents appeared well cared for.  The second home was a different story and we hope she won't end up there.   There are places in the first home, so we just have to wait for the assessment to take place to learn if they will take her.

I'm hoping to take advantage of this sunny day and more energy than I've had of late to get a few things done in the garden, so I shan't say much more.

However, I realise I have not reported on our experiences with pollack.  I bought some a couple of weeks ago to make a fish curry and it was a firm white fish with a pinkish tinge that tasted absolutely fine in the curry.  Friday night we had it again, this time just coated in flour and fried and it was as good as cod and possibly slightly moister.
Not my photo, but it looks very much as our pollack looked

Thursday, 24 February 2011

A Good Day for Drying Washing

Wasn't it a lovely day today.  I was lucky to be home to enjoy the sunshine.  I spent several hours gardening and enjoying being serenaded by the birds.   I also managed to get some washing dry, but I was a bit late taking it in.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Weight of Rubbish

I had the same bag (made from recycled plastic) in my kitchen bin for a fortnight and with the rubbish from other bins in the house inside it, it weighed about 3 pounds, or around 1 kilo for those of you who use 21st century weights.

As I can't see any great merit in weighing my rubbish weekly and doubt it is a terribly interesting subject for readers of this blog I shall consider that my average rubbish output is 1-2 lbs a week when I am on my own most of the time - hubby was here for a few days last week.

I shall continue to look at reasonable ways in which I might be able to cut down on my own personal rubbish output, but feel that it is not an unreasonable amount.  Of course if the whole family were here producing the same amount of rubbish each that could put our average weekly rubbish output up to 8 pounds a week, but that would not be excessive.

However the amount of rubbish other members of my family produce is beyond my control, but I can continue to keep an eye on what I send to landfill and perhaps some of that will rub off on them in time.

Karen Cannard's Rubbish Diet has reminded me that I need to deal with my junk mail, so I'll tell you more about that soon . . . -ish.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

What Price, an Old Person's Life?

Old age is a state of mind

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately at the appalling neglect and general bad treatment many old people suffer when in hospital.  I was particularly interested to hear a Southampton hospital mentioned.  I could be wrong, but I assume it was the Southampton General where my aunt spent 5 weeks last Autumn, it doesn't have a good reputation locally.  It was a very distressing time for all her friends and family as we didn't really know why she needed to be there and she didn't seem to be getting treated very well.  Her essential medication, which keeps her Parkinson's under control was not given to her for two or three days after she was moved onto a ward after being discharged from A&E, so she was shaking violently for several days until she was given her medicine and it had time to take affect.

She only needed to be in hospital because the manager of the Care Home she had just moved into felt she couldn't cope with her and refused to have her back after my aunt's broken wrist had been dealt with.  She told the hospital that her medication needed adjusting as my aunt was falling over several times a day and this was the second time in three or four days that she'd been taken to A&E.

The hospital did nothing until we rang up after about a week to find out what was happening.  Then we had to telephone the Parkinson's Nurse ourselves as they didn't have the gumption to find out her number - she is the only one in their area.  A week or so later we found out that someone had contradicted her instructions and cancelled the visit from the Psychiatrist.  I think it was my sister who discovered this and pleaded with them to re-book the visit.

The long and the short of it was that although promptly sorting out the correct dose and type of medication my aunt needed and assessing her mental state could have resulted in her being discharged from hospital several weeks earlier, it all seemed to much trouble and without us continually phoning or seeking out staff to speak to when visiting her we felt she would quite possibly have been left in a corner and forgotten. Friends and family members also helped her to drink and also gave her food as she always seemed ravenous. She was unable to eat or drink without assistance.

She was on several different orthopaedic wards during her stay, because she had broken her wrist, but that was not the reason she was in hospital.  The wards with mostly older patients was where she was treated the worst.  When she was moved to a ward with a wider age range we noticed an improvement in the attitudes of the nurses.

This seems to reflect other people's experiences.  It seems that for some reason the staff on wards for the elderly seem to lack the motivation or basic human compassion to give basic care to these vulnerable patients, many of whom are able to do little for themselves and cannot even speak up for themselves.

I wonder why this is.  Is this simply a reflection of the general attitude of our society?  I read in my mother-in-laws' paper that some women over 50 find that men don't seem to see them any more and tend to ignore them, yet 50 isn't very old these days, it is merely middle aged.

There is also a tendency in our society to only value anything for it's monetary value.  The biodiversity and great benefits our woodlands and forests bring to us seem to have been forgotten by our government eager to raise money.  People who don't earn a wage and pay taxes such as stay at home mums and many elderly folk don't seem to be found as interesting as high-flying executives earning big bucks.

Another problem raised during discussions about how we treat our old people in hospital was that there seems to be too much emphasis on the medical treatment and technical side of thing to the extent that the humanity and human needs of the people undergoing the treatment becomes lost from view.

I wonder also if the staff at some of these hospitals are overly stressed and perhaps undervalued, demoralised and even demeaned by there over-stressed, target-driven superiors?

Whatever the cause, we cannot consider ourselves to be truly civilised if we continue to allow our old people to be treated in this way.

Do you see all old people the same, or do you appreciate that people age differently and there are many active and capable people in their 70's and even 80's.

How do you view those old people who are frail and vulnerable?   How would you like your parents to be treated when they reach that great age, if your parents are still alive?  How would you like to be treated yourself when you reach that stage in life?  Could that change the way you treat the elderly?

Fish Fact-Finding Foray

The other day I looked at the Waitrose website and decided that the range of fish they sold was disappointingly limited when it came to the sustainable variety, although I know they do make efforts to source sustainable fish. 

pollack
However, when I passed the fish counter in my local branch I was pleased to see pollack fillets on display.  Not wanting them this week, I asked how often they had them and was told that they ask for them every day and get a box most days, but do tend to sell out fairly early. 

The availability of unsmoked mackerel seems to be a bit less sporadic, but again it tends to sell out fairly early.

So, in this area at least, it seems the 'less popular fish' are proving to be very much in demand and you have to be early if you want to be sure of procuring some.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Hugh's Fish Fight: view the programmes

a shoal of herring

 Channel 4 have put all 3 of the Hugh's Fish Fight programmes on 4oD, which means they are available to view over the next 3 months, if you missed them on TV or want to see them again.

I did fancy a bit of salmon on Friday, so I went for the organic option from Waitrose's fish counter. It was a lot paler than the salmon I am used to, and I am glad to say, less fatty, so definitely a pleasant experience. However, this does not seem to have been a particularly sustainable or healthy choice according to this article in the Guardian.

After watching the Hugh's Fish Fight programmes I shall see if I can purchase some mackerel or herring fillets.  I agree these fish tastes good, but I am one of those people who is put off by the bones.  Growing up in North Germany my dad ate a lot of herring in his younger day and pickled herring for New Year's Eve was a delicacy either as Rollmops or as a herring and beetroot salad.  I've not been one for carrying on that tradition, I'm afraid.

For more information on the sustainability of fish see The End of the Line.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Week One of the Rubbish Diet Challenge (Part Two)

I'm afraid I've been quite tired this week and fairly busy, so blogging has taken a back seat.  The good news is that I think that I have nearly finished my NVQ in Information and Library Services.  I'm not sure how much good it will do me, but I shall be very glad not to have to spend any more time on it.

I noticed that the first week of the Rubbish Diet Challenge has several aspects, which is why I've divided it into several parts.  If I were starting this challenge from scratch, having never before given any thought to the rubbish I created, I suspect that I would need at least a week for each aspect.

If you want to try this yourself as a complete beginner where reducing waste is concerned, I would suggest you see each part as a stage to complete and don't worry if it takes you a few weeks or even a couple of months to make the suggestions part of your life.

So, I thought I'd look at 'eking things out' or, in other words, not using more than you really need, which is another sensible way to reduce rubbish.  Karen issues a further set of 10 mini challenges to encouraged us to be less wasteful.

1. The first is a reminder to only use a pea sized amount of toothpaste when we brush our teeth.  It is good economical sense, too, as toothpaste is not cheap.   If you are concerned that your plastic toothpaste tube will end up in landfill, Weleda do sell toothpaste in metal tubes, and other companies may do, too.  Try your local health food shop or search the Internet to see what is available.

2.  Karen suggests using less shower gel by applying a smaller amount on a sponge or flannel.  Last year I decided I didn't need to use shower gel at all.  We are able to recycle the plastic containers, but I know it takes a fair bit of energy and resources to recycle plastic and as a rule the pots are made from brand new plastic.  Also, I think I heard that plastic can't be recycled continuously as it tends to degrade.   So I now use wonderfully scented soap, which is as natural as I can find, instead of shower gel.  There are some lovely natural soaps on the market, so who needs shower gel really?

3. Reduce the sugar in your tea or coffee by a little each time, if you use it.  This  will be healthier and reduce your sugar bill.  I'm not sure how much impact it will have on the environment.  I rarely have sugar in my tea but then I don't drink tea or coffee as a rule.

4. Karen recommends making fruit juice go further by diluting it with water: ¾ parts fruit juice to ¼ part water.  I tend to dilute my fruit juice with half to a third water.  Recently I've started buying juice in glass bottles rather than tetrapak cartons as glass takes less energy and resources to recycle.

Equally Karen suggests that if you use squash regularly use less concentrate each time to gradually reduce the strength. It’s kinder on your teeth and if you’ve got kids, you’ll save stacks of cash.

5. Karen reminds us to try to avoid food waste, which is good for our purses as well as the planet. Her tip is to start saving leftovers and stretching out the portion sizes of each meal.

This can be difficult with young children, but don't feel you must feed them up.  Be wise to what they eat and if they have small appetites, give them small portions.  Make sure they don't fill up with junk food between coming home and eating dinner.  Have healthy snacks like fresh and or dried fruit available.  If they don't want them they probably aren't very hungry.

As Karen also says, there are lots more ideas for avoiding food waste @ Love Food: Hate Waste

6.  On the subject of cheese Karen says,
"Grate onto sandwiches instead of using slices. It’s a great way of making a popular product last longer and fewer plastic wrappers to throw in your bin. You can also freeze grated cheese for later use, so don’t just throw away any lumps that look like they are past it. Grate it and pop it in the freezer."

I'm trying not to eat much cheese or other dairy products as I seem to have less earache as a result.  I am eating more hummus, which comes in small, recyclable plastic pots.  I'm hoping to make a batch myself at some point, so as to have less plastic to send to recycling.

7. Filter Coffee.  I don't drink coffee at all, but if you do you might like Karen's suggestion, which is that
"instead of filling a cafetière or coffee machine for just one person, use a one-cup filter instead. You’ll use less coffee each time and fewer granules will go to waste – if you’ve got a garden, don’t forget to save your coffee grounds to put to good use elsewhere, either in the compost or as a slug and snail repellant around plants."

8. With regard to meat Karen says,
"Don’t feel you have to use the meat you buy to cook up just one dish. Put half the amount aside into a sealed container and store in the fridge\freezer for the next meal. Bulk out recipes with carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes and rice and a healthy selection of vegetables or pulses. Not only will you save on hard-to-recycle meat containers, but with the rise in meat prices you’ll be able to enjoy more healthy meals on less money. Also with their farts and belches, cows have managed to get a reputation for producing a lot of methane that is damaging to the environment, so cutting back on your beef could help in more ways than one."

I agree that it's a good idea to eat less meat, however, eating grass fed beef and organic meat is better for the environment than meat fed on soya and high concentrations of grain.   If you are concerned about the ethics of eating meat you will probably find Simon Fairlie's book Meat: A Benign Extravagance of interest.  I believe he argues that good farming practices when raising animals for meat can be good for the environment as well as giving the animals themselves a good life. The book seems to have changed George Monbiot's thinking on the matter quite substantially.

9. About flowers Karen says
"if your cut flowers are looking droopy, don’t just bung them in the rubbish bin or even the compost. Instead, cut their stems, give them some fresh water and mix in a teaspoon of sugar to perk them up. Remove dead flowers and replace them with fresh foliage from the garden. They’ll brighten up your house for a while longer and will save you buying more on your next shopping trip. The plastic wrapper will be one less thing to throw away."

I don't tend to throw flowers away until they are no longer presentable.  I hadn't thought of adding anything from the garden to bulk them out when I've had to remove a few dead ones, though.  I'll try to remember that a bit later in the year when there might be something suitable.

10. Lastly, Karen has lots of good advice on the subject of paper:
Reduce the amount of print-outs and if you really do need to print something, use both sides. And if you find that you’re always getting through notebooks at the speed of light, why not make your own from old print-outs, letters you get in the post or even greetings cards.

Now is the time to think about how you can make better use of the rest of the paper that comes into your house and reduce it wherever possible. If your household is pretty average like mine, you’ll be getting through about 250 kilograms per person each year, in the form of toilet roll, magazines, greetings cards, books and mail alone.

That’s one tonne of paper for just one family of four, which equates to 17 trees. In the UK only 42% of this is recycled. The rest goes to landfill. I can’t help but think that’s one heck of a lot of trees to bury in the ground.

So you can do your bit by simply reusing envelopes, using greetings cards as note-cards or for craft activities, sharing magazines with your friends and buying recycled products whenever you can. This way, you’ll save money as well as reducing the amount of paper that ends up in your bins. Given that 70% of paper still comes from unsustainable sources, by reducing your dependency on paper and reusing or recycling what you do use, you’ll be helping the environment too.

I must admit I have a problem with paper.  I do try to use both sides as much as possible and am trying not to bring too much into the house, but it still feels like I'm drowning in the stuff at times.  This is partly because I was in the habit of printing off all sorts of 'useful' information at one time.  As most of it isn't useful any more I have got rid of a lot of it into the recycling box, but there is still quite a bit left to work through as well as the paper that still manages to find it's way into the house.

Recycling paper is good and using recycled paper is better, but using less paper is best of all as recycling still uses energy and resources.  I believe a lot of water is used in the recycling of paper for a start.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Week One of the Rubbish Diet Challenge

After the preliminary weigh-in I was ready to embark on Week One of the Rubbish Diet Challenge and the process of slimming my bin.

In Karen Cannard's guide to reducing our rubbish she tells us that the best way to reduce the amount of rubbish we put in our bins is to bring less rubbish home.  This may seem obvious, but it does require a state of continued vigilance to realise that yummy cream cake is packaged in a non-recyclable plastic bubble before you have it home with the contents eaten and now the only place for it is the dustbin, destined for landfill.  There are many other tempting products sitting on supermarket shelves waiting for you to pick them up without realising how much rubbish you will be left with.

Don't be in any doubt about it you are paying for all that fancy packaging rubbish, which will then clog up your bin and put up your council tax to pay those nice people with their big lorry to cart all that rubbish off to the landfill site.

I won't say I'm never caught out by the over-packaged tempting item, but it doesn't happen too often these days.  It took me a few years,  rather than a few weeks to get into the habit of seeing how much un-recyclable rubbish I was buying, so don't give up if it takes you a while to adapt.  I tended to buy things like that as treats anyway, so if you depend largely on ready made meals and desserts it could take you even longer, but you will get there in the end, if you want to.

Karen issued this mini challenge for the week, so I thought I'd see how I'd done so far:

MINI CHALLENGE: 10 easy ways to avoid creating rubbish and save money

1. Take a reusable bag or two when you go shopping. If you haven’t got one already, go and treat yourself or make a few home-made bags with friends. If you do end up with a few plastic bags, try reusing them first before you have to recycle them.

This is something I'm pleased to say I do nearly all the time now.  I have one or two lightweight fold up bags in my handbag and keep a couple of sets of Hessian bags plus a few strong plastic carrier bags that must all be a few years old now, in my boot (trunk).  One set is plenty if you are well-organised and put them straight back in the boot of the car once they are unpacked, but if you aren't as we weren't too begin with, have two sets to increase your chances of having some to hand when you go shopping.

2. Hide the Clingfilm and aluminium foil and use reusable containers instead. You’ll save money in the long-run because it’s cheaper to buy containers that can be reused than rely on single use products. If you do use disposable products such as foil, depending on what you use if for you could wash and reuse it.

I haven't used clingfilm for years, but I do use aluminium foil occasionally, and with a fairly clear conscience.  I buy recycled aluminium foil and I try to wash it and recycle it when I've used it, but if it's very dirty hubby sometimes puts it in the bin because he doesn't want to wash it.

3. Start making packed lunches for work lunches or days out. It’s much cheaper than buying pre-packed lunches and you can say goodbye to those fiddly plastic sandwich containers.

I often make a packed lunch when I have the time, although I'm beginning to think a pasta or rice salad keeps better overnight if I don't have time to make my sandwiches fresh in the morning.

4. Ditch bottled water in favour of tap water and take refillable bottles whenever you go out. You won’t just save money, you’ll save on the amount of plastic bottles that may not be recycled properly when you are out -and-about. These days you can even buy insulated bottles that keep drinks chilled. When at work, use a glass instead of a plastic cup when filling up at a drinks machine.

I do this as much as possible now.

5. If you love take-away coffees buy a trendy refillable coffee cup for when you’re on the go. Fill it up with fresh coffee at home so you can drink en-route to work and do the same at the end of the day to help you cope with the rush-hour home. Not only will you save cash, but if you normally buy one coffee a day, you’ll be saving at least 200 paper cups per year.

I don't drink coffee or regular tea, so that's another temptation removed.

6. Takeaways may taste great, but it can be tempting to order too much. Save money by reducing the amount you order and share with someone else. If you haven’t got a partner, ring up a friend and make it a social occasion. Just order one main dish and cook the rice at home. That’s two meals for the price of one and fewer containers too.

I'm not a fan of takeaways.

7. Dig out your old printer cartridges and save pounds by refilling them instead of buying new ones ( If you are in the UK telephone 0800 18 33 800 to find your nearest Cartridge World store or visit www.cartridgeworld.org), No longer will you have to worry about struggling to open the hard plastic packaging that often comes with printer cartridges.

We have a laser printer, but we can send our cartridges off to be recycled and do so.

8. Start saying no to free samples, especially toiletries in little plastic containers that will just gather dust in your bathroom. They may be free but could be tricky to recycle further down the line, and do you really want them anyway?

I don't remember when I was last offered any of these.

9. If you love salad, plant some lettuce seedlings now. They should be fully grown in time for your zero waste week challenge and will save you heaps in bagged salads and fewer plastic bags to worry about.

Lettuce doesn't grow well in Winter, but if you can start them off in frost free conditions you could sow some seed towards the end of this month.  I'm hoping to do so nice and early this year and keep a succession of lettuces growing by sowing fresh seed every 2 weeks.

10. If you’re a chocoholic, switch your regular snack bar in a flimsy wrapper for one of the larger bars in a paper and foil wrap. Savour small helpings and make it last, knowing that you can recycle the packaging.

I do succumb to a couple of nut bars in plastic wrappers and or packets of  crisps most weeks.  I mean to back some healthy flapjacks with seeds and raisins, but I haven't got round to it yet. On the other hand, if I fancy a packet of crisps when I'm at home I often make popcorn instead.

What about you, how would you do with the above challenge?


Well, I weighed my week's rubbish again yesterday, and this week it was definitely 3 pounds rather than not quite 2 and I'd removed all the plastic bags that said they were made of recyclable plastic no. 4 aka Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE).  Looks like I'll need to try a little harder this week.

Monday, 31 January 2011

A Tasty, Sustainable Fish Dish?

Having found out about Hugh's Fish Fight I wanted to buy something other than cod or haddock to make our Red Thai Fish Curry with. It is a tried and tested recipe, I found in an Ainsley Harriott cookery book I bought years ago.  It's a good recipe to make if you are feeding a lot of people, too, and we hadn't made it since our silver wedding party nearly 18 months ago. It's not something we can make for our kids as one doesn't eat fish and the other doesn't like spicy food.

Anyway, I went to Waitrose looking for coley or pollack as it now seems to be called, which is a perfectly good fish for this recipe.  We used to buy it fairly often some while back when money was tighter than it is now.  Unfortunately Waitrose didn't have any, but it did have some hake with a label saying it was from an Marine Conservation Society approved fishery or something like that.

However, when I got home I took a look at the MCS list of sustainable fish, hake wasn't on there, only a warning against hake from Spain and Portugal.  I think the hake I bought was probably OK to buy and it certainly tasted nicer than coley, but I think I shall see what fish the fish shop in our local farm shop sells.  I haven't looked at Sainsbury's fish counter lately, either.

If you want to take a look at the MCs list of sustainable fish you can download it from here
Marine Conservation Society's sustainable fish guide

The curry was very nice, not least because hubby made it.  I made the celeriac soup we had as a starter.  We served the curry with flat green beans from Riverford and organic brown rice mixed with wild rice grown by indigenous North Americans.

Rubbish Diet Challenge: One Week's Rubbish

I weighed the rubbish bag again yesterday afternoon, so a week after last emptying my bin, and it was still barely 2 pounds, and less than a kilo.

We'll have to see what the coming weeks bring.  I haven't made any special efforts, yet last Autumn I felt it would be far too much trouble to try the challenge.  As I said before, what I have done is gradually change my attitude to rubbish and waste in general over the last few years.

Realising that most of the bulk of my bin was made up of plastic bags, I've set aside some plastic packaging I acquired yesterday, which says it is recyclable and made with plastic no.4: low density polyethylene used for carrier bags and bin liners.  So that kind of plastic should be fine to put in the carrier bag recycling bins.  I'll try and watch out for it in future.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Taking the Rubbish Diet Challenge

In 2008, spurred on by a challenge from her local council Karen Cannard, aka Almost Mrs Average, decided to embark upon a rubbish diet and to set up a blog to chart her progress.  I heard her talking about it on Woman's Hour and decided to find out more.

Recycling: Cardboard, Tetrapasks and mixed plastics
Since then I have given my rubbish a bit more thought, recycled a bit more and tried to bring home less packaging.  However, I did not feel I could dictate what the rest of my family bought as they were either adults or very nearly adult, and my son was doing his own cooking, as well as spending his wages on various items that came with lots of packaging.

Now the kids are both at uni, I'm thinking it should be easier to control the amount of potential rubbish I bring into the house, so I thought I'd see what I can do to further reduce the amount of rubbish I create.

This week has been an ideal time to start as hubby has been away. Since I last emptied the kitchen bin on Sunday I have mostly thrown away the little plastic bags that dried goods come in as I can't buy everything from Suma.  I'm not really sure if I should be recycling them as I don't know what kind of plastic they are and I wouldn't want to contaminate the plastic bag collections at our local supermarkets.

As far as I can remember, I have also thrown away the skin from one cooked chicken breast, some bits of Parmesan cheese I cut off because it looked like it was starting to go a little mouldy, a few bits of burnt chips,  and today I emptied the contents of the vacuum cleaner in it.  I nearly put a piece of dry bread in there as it will attract rats in the compost, but as it isn't mouldy I decided I'd feed it to the birds.

Not very interesting or appetising stuff.

My sink-side bin for vegetable peelings etc.
We also have separate containers for raw, vegetable kitchen waste, cardboard, recyclable plastics not collected by our council, recyclable metal and plastics collected by our council, waste paper and also bottles for kerbside collection and tetrapaks. I put receipts and other personal papers in with the compost.

Now I know there are just two of us living here most of the time, but even when there were four of us being what I'd call extravagant in the amount of rubbish we created, one dustbin full a week was plenty, so I'm not sure why the Daily Mail think it is so terrible that some councils are only allowing residents 80 black bin bags a year.
 
Of course we always recycled our newspapers and glass, and more recently tins, but now nearly everyone has these and more collected from the kerb outside their house what excuse can they have for throwing that sort of thing in their bins?

So, all that remains is for me to weigh my kitchen bin bag.  The scales didn't move, so I emptied the other bins into it.  There wasn't much but the scales moved to near the two pound mark if I put the bag down firmly enough.  Mind you this is only 4 days' rubbish.  I'll try to weigh the bag again on Sunday.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fight for Fish

The other day Gai reminded me that Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall has launched another campaign.  Now that people are buying a lot less eggs from caged hens, he wants us to ask MEPs to change the Common Fisheries Policy to prevent half of all fish caught in the North Sea from being discarded because of the current quota system imposed by the CFP, which is what is happening at the moment.

If you believe this policy is madness and leading to an unsustainable fish population you might like to put your name to Hugh's letter to Commissioner Maria Damanaki, members of the Common Fisheries Policy Reform Group, and all MEPs.

If you want you next fish and chip supper to be made with a more plentiful fish like mackerel find out what is available in your area, here.

You can also test your knowledge on fish and their sustainability with Hugh's fish challenge quiz.  I was pleased that I did not come in last plaice, but apparently I could do batter.  Only 16% are a dab hand, it seems.

On the strength of that I shall see if I can buy some coley, or pollack as it seems to be called these days, this weekend to make a fish curry.  It looks a bit grey and might taste a little stronger than cod, but in a dish with other flavours such as a fish pie, it's absolutely fine.   I'm also wondering what I might be able to do with mackerel over the next week or two.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Reflection On Judging Others

 "Do not judge others and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you yourselves will be judged . . ."    (Matthew 7:1)
"Many of us have learned patterns of speaking that backfire. One of these is judging other people. Often, we do this to feel better about ourselves, and possibly to meet our own needs for acceptance and belonging, yet just the opposite happens. Whenever we judge anyone else in anyway, we create a barrier and distance between us and the other person. This occurs every time we judge another person as lazy, stupid, a bad dresser, egotistical, or uncaring. Every moralistic judgement separates us from other people and limits our ability to meet the very needs we set out to meet, such as feeling better about ourselves, acceptance and belonging.

"Instead of judging, then, notice how you feel about someone's actions, or how you feel when you see something. If you are skiing and someone cuts in front of you, rather than thinking [he or] she is a jerk or a maniac, consider that you are scared and you'd like the slopes to be safer.  This slight shift from judging other people to awareness of how their behaviour affects you can make a profound difference in your ability to live peacefully."

                                                 From 'Peacful Living' by Mary Mackenzie

The above seems particularly relevant with Holocaust Memorial Day being marked on Thursday of this coming week.

How much distrust and enmity between races and religions stems from people judging others?  We hear of people feeling afraid of young people when they gather in groups on street corners, yet sometimes these youngsters just want somewhere to meet and are merely chatting.  There seem to be more tall young men around, so shorter people may well feel intimidated by them, but that doesn't mean they are violent.

It only takes a few steps from turning our feelings of fear into an assertion that a particular group are violent and then that all people like that are violent, whether young men, or young men from a particular racial group. From there a general distrust of all people from that ethnic background may lead to us seeing them all with suspicion, perhaps even deciding to strike them before they strike us.

Sometimes religion can encourage people to judge others, such as when people from one religion believe that God is displeased with everyone who does not accept the teachings of their religion.  This might just make the adherents of this religion annoying as they try to point out to everyone 'the error of their ways', but it can cause one group of people to see another group of people as enemies of God whose lives have less value than their own. The attitude of the Crusaders towards the Muslims is an example of this, which has had dire repercussions for nearly a thousand years.

In Germany between the wars many people were keen to be judgemental and prejudiced where the Jews were concerned, partly due to religious teaching and partly due to resentment and jealousy towards wealthy Jews whose businesses continued to thrive while many Germans struggled to make ends meet during the Depression of the 1930's.  This attitude meant that some people felt the Jews were better out of the way, so they didn't ask too many questions when their Jewish neighbours disappeared.

Unfortunately the idea that life would be better without other people around, so much so that people are prepared to kill people from another ethnic group continues today, with the wars in Rwanda and what was once Yugoslavia, not to mention what is still happening in Israel-Palestine, as prime examples.

'When will they ever learn?'  'Wann wird man je verstehen?' as the song, 'Where Have all the Flowers Gone?' says.

Whether it is due to our own inclination or religious teaching it is always better to avoid the temptation to judge others if we want fulfilled, enriched lives and a peaceful world.