We stayed in this eco-cottage for our Easter break and I promised the owners, Trev and Sue Wheeler, I’d blog about it. It’s a rather amazing place, a cottage in Shropshire that is run on wind-generated electricity. The water comes from a spring and the cottage is heated by a wood-burning stove. The conversion has been done beautifully with local wood and stone and lime plaster was used on the walls, which is the best thing to use for these old buildings. There were only two or three other buildings visible from where we were, the cottage is on an organic farm so the kids got to see lambs, feed the sheep and cattle and fetch eggs from the henhouse and the Clun valley itself is spectacularly beautiful. It’s a fairly long and arduous drive from London but it is worth it to be somewhere so remote and far away from it all. The morning before I woke up to the sound of police trying to arrest one of my neighbours and chasing him around the street (cue much excitement and curtain-twitching), so this was a welcome break from city life.
Wrap, which has been in the news recently for helping to coordinate the movement against unnecessary plastic bag use, is a great organisation fighting waste through influencing businesses as well as consumers to recycle more often and avoid sending so much to landfill. After all, consumers have some choice and influence through their spending decisions, but it’s the big retailers like the supermarkets who have the power to make large-scale changes. The site has a lot of good resources for SME’s (small to medium enterprises) to encourage recycling at work as well.
Another site I thought was really helpful is a site that has been created by WRAP, the Love Food Hate Waste site. It’s got recipes for using up leftovers, as well as storage advice and portion size tips (great for impatient cooks like me who hate following recipe books and measuring).
I was depressed this weekend to pick up a copy of the Times and read (in the Money section) an article, “Can you really go green and stay out of the red?” claiming that the cost of choosing ‘green’ options was £2500 a year for the average family. Shopping for organic food, choosing an ethical current account and savings account and an ethical mortgage etc can cost you more compared to going for the ‘best buy’ options, and the article urges you to choose the cheapest options and donate your extra money instead.
I found this rather defeatist and annoying. Perhaps if your only concern is the bottom line for yourself and your family, you might restrict your ‘green’ spending to the best value options. But making even a few ethical choices does help. We re-mortgaged recently through a green mortgage broker who planted 50 trees in our name – it was a simple process, saved us time and hassle and didn’t cost anything at all!
Also, a lot of ‘green’ choices aren’t about chucking money at the problem but trying to live a less wasteful existence. Growing your own vegetables and herbs (which we do, admittedly in a rather desultory fashion), taking holidays in the UK or Europe (I haven’t flown for two years), not using the car for short journeys and switching off lights all help conserve energy and save money. So does insulating your house better, although I have to admit I haven’t got round to sticking foil behind the radiators, draught-proofing etc as I hate DIY of any kind. Perhaps living without hot water or central heating, as my parents did for years when I was a child, is a little extreme ….
But the most startling statistic I came across recently was that 40% or more of the fresh food that people buy gets thrown away. It’s a rather horrific idea: landfill sites full of decomposing food that could have been eaten. People in every council should be given help to compost vegetable and fruit waste, so that it won’t go into landfill: our council doesn’t offer recycling bins for this purpose although it does make compost bins available cheaply if you’re motivated enough to go and get them (and they’re only useful if you have a garden to put them in of course!). And people should have more help learning to cook and shop properly so they don’t waste food unnecessarily; I learned all this from my mother ( it does help that she is the author of the Pauper’s Cookbook, of course!) who never throws anything away if she can help it but I think cookery lessons at school should be compulsory. Most cuisines are based around the idea of economy (a roast chicken makes stock and soup, for example) and part of the fun of cooking is coming up with new dishes when you have a few ingredients you want to use up.
I didn’t know how fascinating (no, really) the to-do list is as a topic until I started digging around for a nice application to put my to do lists on. I use Google for pretty much everything (I share my calendar with my husband, which gives us a vague chance of remembering important dates such as the end of term) and I put my To-do lists on Google docs, where I can find them easily. This is a popular choice with many people according to Lifehacker, the strangely compelling geek self-help site.
However, one person on Lifehacker recommended Google Mashups and I’ve decided to give it a whirl. It works with your Google account (don’t ask me how) but it has a nice, simple interface, with boxes you can tick when you’ve finished a task and various little labels you can use. Rather like using an old fashioned paper list in fact.
Meanwhile, I won a copy of something called The Pocket Life Book Diary when I entered a competition recently (an occupational hazard for anyone spending a lot of time online). This is produced by a company called Organised Mum (there appear to be no options for dads, organised or otherwise) and just looking at it gave me the reassuring feeling that I, too, could take control of my life by having enough tear-out shopping lists, ‘daily routine planners’ and so on. It’s got a nice cover (important) and you can fit it in your handbag (also important). As someone who was almost incapable of turning up to anything on the right day, let alone at the right time, a decade ago, I’ve had to learn fast since having kids. The first time I was fined five pounds for being five minutes late to pick up my eldest son from nursery was the first time I really understood that once you have children, being forgetful is no longer an option. And if you are the main carer, the number of appointments you have to turn up on time for is astonishing, let alone the amount of stuff you have to remember. Hence my obsession with To-do lists, virtual or otherwise…
A Facebook friend recently posted this interesting piece by Tom Hodgkinson (of the Idler fame) about the evils of Facebook on my page. Tom Hodgkinson, who I believe is a classic downshifter living the low-consumption, vegetable-patch cultivating lifestyle we all aspire to nowadays, says that the Facebook founders are baddies because of their neo-con philosophies and the capitalist nature of their businesses.
The piece reminded me of the fascinating time I had in San Francisco during the dot-com boom and the way that people’s politics and their (typically, entrepreneurial) spirit would occasionally seem to be at odds. For example, Craig of craigslist, a droll individual who took to referring to himself in the third person as “the Craig” was a real geek god, having started up a global swapping, dating and chatting bulletin board single handed with very little investment. Craigslist was a non-profit, but eventually it made “the Craig” personally very successful – and I for one would certainly say ‘why not’? I met enough Burning-man attending, blue-haired Internet start-up squillionaires to realise that the Internet was making a lot of people with quite radical politics unexpectedly rich. In California, political activists on the Left were as wired as their opponents. I spent some time working for a media pressure group called Media Alliance which campaigned on such arcane topics as “free access to ISP’s”. In San Francisco, if you rang people up to try and get their opinion about this, they’d frequently know what you meant (much to my astonishment). I’m sure there were plenty of people in California who rejected all the marvels of technology for political reasons, but I only met one, and he lived at the top of a sequoia tree.
The Facebook founders are clearly a lot more straightforward than the 90’s Internet entrepreneurs, being from a second or probably (by now) third wave, and are just trying to make money. They came up with a great free social networking site (it’s so annoyingly simple, but it works) and are now trying to work out how to make it a bit less free, hence the annoying adverts and really dreadful ideas like Beacon (which they didn’t try over here, thankfully) which told all your friends what you’d been buying on the Internet (puh-lease!!!). But I really don’t know if spurning Facebook a la Tom Hodgkinson is the way to protest about it, should you wish to.
a) all your friends are probably on it, so unless you can force them all to migrate to Bebo or Ning or Myspace or something, you will have to communicate with them in old-fashioned ways such as the telephone. And that is so.. last century. b) you can use Facebook to communicate your disdain! “Facebook, stop invading my privacy” or “Facebook applications know more about me than my family does” are two groups I found for Facebook haters c) you could join with a false identity and subvert the system from within, as an imposter a friend of mine got landed with recently did d) it’s all a fad, it’ll die out in ten minutes anyway. Won’t it?
Last year I was organised enough to get my little boys to write their letters to Santa and post them thanks to a special service offered in Canada – there’s something about sending a real letter and getting one back from the North Pole that is rather wonderful. There isn’t time for the letter now but there is still time to email so you can do it through the Canada Post or through Northpole.com which I like because it offers lots of Christmas games and a way to track Santa. The email is very nicely formatted and personalised so it looks as good as a letter! But be quick, he needs two days to write the return letter….
Goths are middle class according to a Sussex University study and are likely to end up as lawyers, doctors or architects. They are also likely to carry on dressing in a Gothic fashion and retain an interest in literature and art in adult life. Despite my teenage foray into Gothdom (the land that fashion forgot) I am neither a lawyer, doctor nor an architect; what happened? Perhaps it’s because I was never brave enough to get tattoos or piercings, or dye my hair.
Now our caring government has inadvertently shared the names, addresses, birth dates and bank account details of all the 25 million people in this country who have children with potential fraudsters and criminals (aren’t you amazed they could fit all that on two CD-Roms?), we are going to have to be a bit more vigilant about our security online. Eek.
First of all, there’s Facebook, which I like but gives potential fraudsters access to our birthdates, phone numbers, addresses and anything else we are trusting enough to post online: especially if we don’t take care with our privacy settings. Check out this link for a quick Facebook detox.
Hmm. Makes you think twice about ID cards, doesn’t it?
I was feeling quite smug, having been reasonably cautious about Facebook, but then read a scary blog post about Tagged. I signed up for this because a friend sent me an invite, but got nervous at the bit where it asked me for my gmail and hotmail account passwords (I’d already given those to Facebook … oops. I won’t do that again. Not really worth it to contact people you already know). This turned out to be lucky because it apparently then spams people on your email contacts list.. forever. So my own friends have had a lucky escape, but it hasn’t stopped Tagged from spamming me with friend requests from teenage boys. I’ve now cancelled my account and unsubscribed, so am hoping that will be it.
My online bank account is so hard to get into that I’ve now given up, and returned to the unopened envelope system (stick it on the pile, and hope it goes away!), so here’s hoping any potential thieves feel the same way. But the best way to find out about fraud is to read your bank statements. So ignorance is no longer bliss.
This struck a chord with me, as my life is governed by undone To-Do Lists, which have been annoying me now since I did my first To-Do List probably aged about sixteen. Mine are exceptionally dull, however, compared to some of the To-Do Lists on here. Only in America, I have to say, would they have a To Do List Slam. The mind boggles.