I was recently introduced to this site, New Baby Company, which occurred to me would be of interest to Mimimyne readers: it’s a great company which aims to give information to new parents in addition to what you get through your local antenatal programmes and the health visitor after your baby is born. I was impressed that it offers a very reasonably priced First Aid Course for £55 (I attended one at my local library for not much less) and that it has a package aimed at helping adoptive parents of a newborn. I was also impressed that it offers classes for new parents over the whole first year: I found my GP and health visitors often seemed a bit on the impatient side and I think that this service would be a real boon to new mothers in particular who want a bit of extra reassurance.
With the credit crunch, we are all feeling a little cash-strapped and so I have asked Jocasta Innes, the doyenne of thrifty living (she is the author of classic cooking on the cheap bible, The Pauper’s Cookbook) to allow me to publish some DIY Christmas tips from her book of the same name as my present to Mimimyne fans! I’m her daughter, and as this book was published in 1975 I can remember a lot of these tips being researched in the family home. I am choosing excerpts and adding links and materials that are as green as possible, although my mother always reused and recycled a lot more eco friendly craft and art materials are available nowadays!
“The Tree and Tree Decorations (from DIY Christmas by Jocasta Innes)
Spray walnuts gold. When dry, cut a wire loop, insert both ends into the hole at one end of the nut, twist round, then bring the loop round the nut and twist again to make a small loop to hang it on. Gilded nuts are traditional, and always look charming.
Brass Curtain Rings
If you have any large brass curtain rings, or gilt bangles, use these to frame a shiny bauble, or even a sparkling brooch or earring. Hang the centrepiece from a thread or wire loop, and finish off with a red ribbon bow.”
Mimimyne says it’s very difficult sourcing eco friendly metallic gold paints on the web. So far what I’ve found is a water-based metallic craft paint from decorating direct – it says it is non-toxic and water based paints are more eco friendly. More suggestions welcome! Compostable ribbon is available from Little Cherry at 4.99
I was only able to take an hour or two to wander around Tent, as unwisely perhaps I had taken the ‘with kids’ option and after they had scrambled into the Nobody and Co Bibliochaise and been asked to keep their feet off the furniture (quite rightly, I hasten to add) we all felt it was time to go. I have to say the Bibiochaise is a winner: very comfortable, it can take loads of books (clearing those shelves for your well-chosen objets d’art, perhaps) and you will always have a book to hand.
I was also rather taken with the murals made by Surface View which I thought would be fun for a child’s room, particularly if you happened to have a space with a lot of bare brickwork: they have a new product which adheres to the bricks and looks as though it was painted on. There are vintage and retro designs for kids as well as images from the Natural History Museum and the Maritime Museum which you can view online as room sets or customise for blinds and walls.
There weren’t a huge amount of eco-friendly products aimed at kids, but I loved the ‘Pop-Out Wardrobe’ by Christopher Ridley (it saves on manufacturing waste by reusing cut-outs as hangers) and the beautiful sustainably produced furniture by Blue Green and Co. In terms of sustainable design, the Meltdown Chairs by Tom Price were a striking re-use of plastic piping and other materials – he’s even used discarded polyester clothing and rope. PVC and polypropylene won’t biodegrade for many years so he is one of the designers who have taken up the challenge of trying to find ways to save them from landfill. In the case of the Meltdown chairs a seating area is melted into the objects. My kids liked these as well, and spent quite a lot of time trying them out.
Finally, Product of Your Environment, whose “I Love My poNY” T Shirt is available at Mimimyne, had some wonderful new products, mostly for grown-ups, including pillow cases with television screens (“Eight Hours of Fame”) and picture frames (“Sleeping Beauty”) printed on them – so if you’ve ever wanted to be an artist’s model or appear on TV, now you can…
Feelgood Fashion at the British Library was a great event. I attended in order to find out a bit more about ethical fashion and was very interested to hear the talk by Safia Minney of People Tree – the facts and figures about the amount of pollution caused by non-organic cotton as well as the suffering involved to workers in the industry were eye-opening. She is an inspiring speaker. It was particularly revealing to hear her talking about the financial commitment she has made to create People Tree: ten years without paying herself a salary, she remortgaged her house countless times and her UK business took seven years to break even…. Jen Ruppert of Revamp (she produces designs made from recycled clothes and fabrics) also spoke interestingly about whether green products were ‘ghettoised’ in green concession or areas in department stores. ‘I don’t want to be with the mainstream products, because I’m not like them’, she said. Essentially, if you have put in the effort and financial commitment involved in making your products eco-friendly, you want to have that recognised. Safia talked about her successful collaboration with Topshop, and said that she felt in order to change the ethical approach of big brands, you have to work with them. Remaining aloof is not the answer.
Ed Gillespie of Futerra, a communications agency and the founder of the intriguingly titled Swishing site where you can swap clothes, was upbeat about the future for ethical fashion: it wasn’t just a trend, he said, because people were shopping for ‘values not value’ and ethical fashion – that makes you feel good about yourself – is here to stay. Hurrah to that!
The fashion show afterwards was very inspiring. I loved the People Tree clothes, which tended towards the ruffled, dark and dramatic – I love that romantic look. Revamp’s creations were a little more ‘edgy’ to my eye, punky styling (slashes in fabric) married with delicate, pastel colours. There was also an exhibition of some gorgeous costume jewellery made with recycled necklaces, sadly my photo did not come out very well…
Sifting through our pile of Sainsbury’s coupons, as one does in these credit crunched times, I discovered that we were entitled to free entry at an intriguing sounding museum, the London Canal Museum and took the slightly mad decision to cycle there with the kids. We live just by Regent’s Canal in Stepney and the Museum claimed to be ‘easily accessibly’ by bike. We piled the kids into our boxbike (a Christania tricycle, popular with Danish drug dealers apparently), my husband got on his bike and we set off. Of course, it started to rain but morale was good until we got to Hackney (it’s a fantastic route, part graffiti-strewn wilderness and part parkland until you get to Victoria Park at which point it gets distinctly posher). I wanted to stop at Broadway Market for a morale-improving lunch but my other half wanted to press on. We were on the point of having a lunch-related argument in Shoreditch when I spotted a restaurant on the waterside with a sign saying Acorn House. I’d read about Acorn House as a fantastic environmentally friendly restaurant with organic food so insisted we try it out: in fact, when we got into the restaurant we realised it wasn’t Acorn House but its new relative, called
The staff didn’t raise an eyebrow as we traipsed muddily in – it’s a lovely, airy space with a great view of the canal. White Ant chairs, Bob and Roberta Smith artworks on the walls: it’s very stylish and presumably environmentally friendly to the nth degree like Acorn House, although it wasn’t obvious – the building just felt very state of the art. The waiter said there was no kids menu but was charming and offered the boys a plate of plain spaghetti with cheese which went down well. Meanwhile, we had some great antipasti (fish rillettes, beetroot salad and some cured ham) followed by bruschetta with mushrooms and mozzarella for me and speck for him. All very delicious, fresh-tasting and beautifully presented without being fussy. This all felt like a very self-indulgent and wonderful way to be eco-friendly, and although it was not cheap was definitely worth every penny.
Feeling a lot better we ventured out into the driving rain and found ourselves quite lost in Islington as we tried to follow the small blue dots that marked the “Regent’s Canal bypass” (basically the towpath becomes inaccessible by bike and you have to plunge back onto the roads). Cycle paths are infuriatingly badly marked in London and this was no exception, but eventually we found ourselves at our destination, the London Canal Museum. This is the only museum devoted to the history of London’s canals and also the only one that is also dedicated to the history of ice-cream, as it is housed in a nineteenth ice-cream factory (including ice wells in the floor). We’d passed lots of prettily painted narrowboats and some barges on our journey and the Museum’s great attraction is its canal boat which the kids were able to scramble about in and explore. I’ve always loved the interior of boats with their little fold down tables and this one had a fold-down cabin bed as well.
There was also a charming old bike which was used to deliver ice-creams before the days of the ubiquitious ice cream van. It’s a great little museum run by volunteers and lots of local community groups use and enjoy the Museum’s working (ie floating!) narrowboats – and it’s also won a Green Tourism London bronze award, so do visit it. All in all, we did a 12 mile round trip and had the weather been better, this would have been a perfect day out. Our son is keen on birds and we saw coot chicks, a heron and a cormorant as well as Canada geese on our journey: not something you can often say in London.
I just wanted to post a link to Etsy, which I tried out today. You can buy handmade and vintage (what used to be known as second-hand) clothes, cards and jewelery and even commission things from designer makers. I bought a 70’s sundress (floral, tiered, a tiny bit like that beautiful Luella dress only without the dip-dying and Lily Allen) so that I wouldn’t be tempted to buy a knock-off from Matalan instead. Now I’m going to try selling some stuff, too, so as to complete the virtuous circle. Who said recycling is boring?
This programme on C4 the other night was one of those great documentaries which have you not only gasping in outrage but squirming in recognition. It was mostly told from the kids perspective and featured several over-protective parents including one I dubbed “Microchip Mum” as she wanted to have her daughters micro-chipped and a dad who escorted his thirteen year old son wherever he went. The sections where the children talked matter-of-factly about their fears were the ones that gripped me: it was so obvious that the parents had transferred their anxieties to their children. These children weren’t so much cotton-wool swaddled as imprisoned by their parents’ fears.
I can be pretty anxious myself, especially when it comes to road safety ( I noticed that the fear these parents felt didn’t prevent them driving their children around constantly, despite the statistics on car safety) and things like vaccinations. But the parents didn’t seem to care that their children were constantly being kept ‘safe’ indoors playing on their computers and not having enough exercise (despite the attendant dangers of meeting paedophiles in chat rooms and obesity, which we hear of ad nauseam): one child was not even able to go to the gym. Why don’t they just take their children for a walk, or to the park, I wondered – perhaps selective editing was to blame here. Some of the parents seemed very controlling, like Microchip Mum who said she’d like the microchip to show where her daughter was at all times and set off an alarm if she went somewhere she’d forbidden her to go – “the little madam”. The high-pitched alarms that are being installed to deter teenagers in public places (only teenagers can hear them) could soon be joined by parent-controlled microchips in the list of sinister ways our society is becoming more and more surveillance based and less and less about community.
I used to walk my younger sister to school in our Dorset seaside town from the age of about 6 onwards, and I continued to walk with her and two younger children when I was nine or ten and living in London (the journey was about a mile long). At eleven, I was taking the tube to school alone, although my mother started coming with me when I switched to cycling. I don’t think I’d let my seven year old son walk to school, even though his school is only five minutes walk away, but I’d be happy to join a walking bus or take turns with other parents. It was a great moment in the documentary, however, when the thirteen year old boy convinced his parents he was trustworthy and took the bus to school for the first time.
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.