Thursday 27 December 2007

Wasting Time

I'm back at work today and it's all very quiet, so I'm adding to my "Fun and Pointless" links and playing Cat Tetris. It's either that or catching up on data entry...

I've just re-read "Tim is a Homosexual" and correctly guessed eight out of ten programming language inventors or serial killers. These are all linked from Bristling Badger's blog, which has an extensive daft links list and a poll in which you can vote that Chris De Burgh "is the conniving minion of totalitarian shapeshifting lizards".

Now I can't get past level 41 in the Free Rice vocabulary game, and Friendbot just told me "You are not the boss of me, Internet Friend." Charming!

If I had speakers I'd listen again to the "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" xmas special, "Humph in Wonderland", but since I can't do that I'm actually now going to enter 85 names into a database and then bugger off early. Ho hum.

Sunday 16 December 2007

The Cat's Halo

Sorry, yes, I am still alive! Trying to do too much in too little time...

Here's a quick cat post to keep you all entertained until I get around to telling you about the library book I've nearly finished reading.

Last week a friend gave me this very sweet knitted xmas fairy to put on my tree, which I'm dead chuffed with. The tree isn't up yet so she's been sitting on my sofa, and soon after I first got her home her pink fluffy halo fell off and had to be stitched back on.

The SECOND time I found her halo had come off I started to get a bit suspicious, and sure enough every time I moved it off the floor and turned my back again I'd mysteriously find it back on the bean bag that the cat likes to sit on.

It seems she has adopted it and plans to raise it as her own, and I'm going to have to find another halo for the fairy to stop my tree being toppled by a love-struck cat.

I can't even tell where the halo ends and the cat begins in this one...

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Humbug. Already.

Courtesy of
(This hasn't come out very well, click on the image for a clearer version...)

Saturday 17 November 2007

Wiggly Leek

Oh yuck. I've been really ill this weekend with a very nasty tummy bug thing which I'll spare you the gory details of. Suffice to say that my entire digestive system now contains only half a packet of bread sticks and five cups of chamomile tea.

I haven't been able to see any friends or go anywhere for fear of infecting people or falling over with dizzy weirdness, but I did manage to take a bag of fallen leaves to the allotment this afternoon to get myself a change of scenery. The last couple of years my plot has been pretty bare by November, but I've got quite a few things still growing this year which cheered me up a bit.

Although all my pumpkin plants died months ago in sheer disgust at the state of the weather and the slug population, all the onion sets that did nothing all summer are now visible under the frost bitten nasturtiums and have suddenly grown into proper onions, so they might just get me through the winter after all. The rainbow chard is bolting and I'm hoping to collect the seed, and I've got loads of huge purple sprouting broccoli that I'm already eating leaves from here and there.

I've also got my first really good crop of enormous leeks, and I brought a nice fat one home with me this afternoon. For some reason it turned out to be all wiggly on the inside:

I wonder why?

Hoping that by the time I've made leek and potato soup I'll actually be able to eat it...

Sunday 11 November 2007

Some More Thoughts on Armistice

Rather than parading around in uniform and firing cannons (why do they always miss Nicholas bloody Witchell?), remembrance day makes me want to find ways to resist war and support others who resist. Remembrance is hypocritical if we do it while perpetuating the very conditions which cause the loss of life we mourn.
"When an ex-serviceman broke the Armistice Silence at the Cenotaph in 1937, with his loud cry of protest against the hypocrisy of praying for peace while preparing for war, he had made clear what everyone was beginning to realise: the people who shared the Silence were not of one mind about what Remembrance meant." Tales of Two Poppies
Via the very same politicians and officials who laid wreaths at the Cenotaph today, our taxes are used to actively market and sell arms to Indonesia, to Saudi Arabia, to countless despotic regimes which quite openly use them to oppress whole populations, as well as to more "respectable" democracies which might only use them for things like invading Iraq or preventing Palestinians from picking olives.

War cannot happen without funding, and a staggering amount of our money goes to funding the manufacture and distribution of weapons of war. As well as your taxes, if you have a pension then the likelihood is that you personally have your own money invested in war-related industries. Any other investments you have are also likely to be used in this way too, unless you make a personal effort to ensure your money is ethically invested. Last year my housing co-op added a requirement for ethical investment to our financial policy, so that our current account, contingency funds and high-interest account savings are not busy putting guns in people's hands while we're not looking.

There is a campaign for a peace tax to enable taxpayers to conscientiously object to having their taxes spent on war, and in the meantime I know many people who live simply and cheaply, deliberately falling below the tax threshold altogether as the only legal way to avoid paying for bullets.

This form of financial conscientious objection is easy. Far more courageous are those who resist conscription or leave the armed forces, especially as doing so can often be extremely dangerous. Franz Jagerstatter, for example, was beheaded for refusing to fight in Hitler's army, and in many places today objection carries a straightforward prison or death sentence, conscientious or otherwise. Still some people have the courage to choose this rather than participate in war.

Provision still exists in UK law for members of the armed forces to gain the status of conscientious objectors, i.e. to declare that they are unable to carry out their duties because they have ethical objections to doing so. However, they are not told about this provision and it is made very difficult - if you know anyone currently serving then please make sure they know about At Ease. Even if they are never likely to use these services, they have a fundamental right to the information and will not be given it by their employer.

CCCO is a bigger American organisation along the same lines, which I first encountered resisting the presence of the armed forces in American schools. British schools are also targeted by military recruiters, as are colleges, universities and youth clubs. I tear up and throw away any recruitment materials I find, and often have interesting conversations with young people considering joining up. They are recruited before the kind of age at which people often begin to take any real interest in current affairs, and although they may have considered the possibility of dying in action, the idea of giving their lives for the government or for oil rather than for "the country" sometimes sheds a different light on matters.

War is an odd concept. Murder, torture, rape - all kinds of horrors, seen in the context of war, become submerged in the bigger identity of a wider struggle on which people have opinions based on other elements of that identity. Fundamentally, war is simply a series of human rights abuses, and each murder, each incidence of rape or torture is no less significant for being part of a bigger picture. Amnesty International supports conscientious objectors as well as many other prisoners of conscience. As small a thing as writing a letter can give brave people the support and help they deserve. They too make sacrifices for us, they too guard our freedom. So let ritual not become a substitute for action.

Lest we choose to forget.


Saturday 10 November 2007

Remembrance Day

I'll be wearing a white poppy tomorrow, in remembrance of the bravery of war-resisters and conscientious objectors as well as civilians, children and soldiers killed in the name of war. Such a small word to stand for so much murder.

A prize for the first person shown on TV wearing one, and although I'll be keeping the two minutes silence I'll be doing it without uniforms, flags, marching or royalty. Glorifying militarism seems an inappropriate thing to do on such a day.

Sunday 28 October 2007

"I Was a Rat!" by Philip Pullman

Another Philip Pullman book, this time aimed at kids but just as entertaining as an adult as it would be for a child. Little Roger was turned into a boy, and despite his best efforts to integrate, the whole mad adult world is turned against him by their own ignorance and the gutter press. It's hilariously literal and doesn't condescend at all, and the whole concept of tabloid newspapers is explained entirely accurately for children in just a few very funny pages.

Any fluent child reader should be able to manage this on their own since most of the difficult words are easily deduced by their context, although many like "malevolent", "furtive" and "squalor" would be worth the effort of looking them up, and you're obviously not really expected to know what "anthropoid" means anyway.

I remember in third year that my primary school ran out of books that I would read, since their libraries were arranged according to reading level, and could only get a purple sticker if they consistently avoided big words but contained the requisite number of purple-level words. Someone must have had to count them. This resulted in shelf upon shelf of books with consistent vocabulary, rather than anything with a plot and a sense of humour which might have motivated any of us to pick them up in the first place.

"I Was a Rat" probably wouldn't get a purple sticker because "malevolent" almost certainly wasn't on the purple list, but even an "orange" reader would get enough of the plot to get hooked, and if it's too much work it'd be just as much fun for an adult as a child to read aloud, although make sure you're sitting close enough to see the illustrations.

Saturday 27 October 2007

"The Shadow in the North" and "The Tiger in the Well" by Philip Pullman

Damn, damn, DAMN!!

I've finished another Philip Pullman book. He shouldn't be allowed to put back covers on them, it's such agony to get to the end. There should be a helpline number in the back before the ads for other books.

I didn't realise until I got to the end of "The Tiger in the Well" that it's the third part of a trilogy, which I'm reading backwards now because a friend has lent me the second book "The Shadow in the North". I've just finished that too, so I'm going to have to go out tomorrow like some desperate junky to find a bookshop selling "The Ruby in the Smoke" before the withdrawal gets too bad and I start burgling houses that might have a copy. I cannot get enough Philip Pullman.

It didn't spoil much to have read the third book before the second because I'd forgotten until a few pages beforehand about the untimely death of one of the characters, although knowing it was coming those few pages earlier did then mean spending a little longer in the grip of unbelievable nail-biting stomach-churning bloody tension. People who think of reading as a relaxing activity are not reading the right books.

The plots have me skipping compulsively down the pages, but I have to read every line properly to catch all the subtle expressions, tiny clues, and the beautiful, horrible, detailed and often smelly descriptions of Victorian London streets and houses which give as much character to the places as the people. I found when I was reading"His Dark Materials" that I constantly felt cold, and for the last few days I've been unusually sensitive to bad smells after reading descriptions, for instance, of a forgotten river flowing under London carrying effluent from the pits full of bodies of plague victims.

It's intelligent, riveting and utterly vivid. If you've never read this then go out and get it right now. You might want to fill a Thermos flask so you don't have to stop for tea breaks.

Saturday 20 October 2007

Farting Fish

When I was eleven I desperately wanted a dog for christmas, but since my mum didn’t want to spend the next fifteen years traipsing around the park with it every few hours she said no. I offered to settle for a cat instead – a good few years had elapsed since our last cat had run away and I thought my mum had probably forgotten by then. She hadn’t. I tried for a hamster or something, but my mum also remembered the gerbils that had died just because we’d gone away on holiday and left them, so a few weeks before christmas I’d downgraded again to goldfish, which I also wasn’t going to get. We went to some kind of grown-up house party, and as well as being told I’d grown and being forced to say something about what I’d been doing at school (hiding, mostly), I was asked what I wanted for christmas. Before my mum had time to roll her eyes, the other grown-ups realised they’d found something to talk about with a shy eleven-year-old, and whisked me outside to see the goldfish in their garden pond which had just had little baby goldfish… We went home with six of them flapping around in a bag of pond water, and I kept goldfish for the next seventeen years.

They’re not the same ones now, although goldfish can live much longer than they’re usually allowed to – they have their reputation for dying only because so many people stick them in a stupid bowl, feed them too much, and say within their hearing that they’re probably going to die in a couple of days. They actually need oxygen and friendly bacteria too, but once that’s sorted out they’re happy and hassle-free for months on end, and don’t even leave hair on the carpet.

Just occasionally they need some help though. Today one of mine has been hanging uncomfortably from the surface of the water most of the time, and after watching it for a while I saw it fart, which I can’t imagine the other fish were very impressed by. It looks a bit bloated too, and has probably eaten far too much of the new plants I’ve just put in, the greedy little blighter.

There will be a small white bottle called “Fartozine” or “Aquafart” at the back of Pet City (fantastic shop) which cures gastro-intestinal bloating in freshwater fish but kills invertebrates and all the friendly bacteria in the tank. It probably costs five or six quid, has a 50% success rate, is made by some big pharmaceutical company or other and is flown around the world a couple of times just for fun before it reaches me. I’ve used stuff like that before because if a fish is seriously ill then I just want it to get better, but if I had wind myself I’d just eat something else to sort it out, and I don’t see why a goldfish can’t do the same.

I’ve been growing tee tree plants in my flat, and the last couple of times a goldfish has had a fungal infection or scratched itself on a rock I’ve put a couple of leaves in the water and it healed up in no time – curiously without killing off all the filtration bacteria, even though tee tree is anti-bacterial. My books say that mint and chamomile both help digestion and wind colic, so I’ve made the fish a nice cup of chamomile tea and chucked it in the tank with a mint leaf. The sick one actually looks better after about three hours, and now none of them should suffer from insomnia or painful menstruation either, according to the book.

So now it’s feeling better it’s started munching all the plants again. I can HEAR you all remarking on their three second memory span, stoppit! It’s not even true. Their short-term memory is supposed to be about SEVEN seconds, but they have a long-term memory too, and very good eyesight. They can recognise the person who feeds them, and can even be taught to do simple tricks, you just have to repeat things often enough to get it into their long-term memory.

I wonder if I could teach this one to make itself a cup of chamomile tea?

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Number 1 Green Blogger!

Oh wow, look - I’m apparently Number One Green UK Blogger!

Jim Jay of The Daily (Maybe)
has done the chapter on "The State of Green Blogging" for the Guide to Political Blogging by Ian Dale. He’s included a list of the top 20 green blogs, and there at the top of that list with a number 1 next to it is THIS BLOG!

I’m a bit stunned really, I didn’t realise that anyone actually read it apart from people searching for “Are tea bags compostable?” on Google. Lots of people are obsessed with compost. Anyway, now you can vote for the "people's choice" blog out of the top 20 list, so if you'd like to further boost both my ego and my astonishment then you can vote here.

Saturday 13 October 2007

New Things

Not many actual posts here recently, but I have been adding links so maybe now is a good time to point you at some cool and groovy things I’ve found.

Melanie’s Bean Sprouts blog is the latest addition to my blogroll since it’s more or less what my own blog would be like if it were better. Stephen Fry has also started a blog, with very long essays that I find a bit hard to read on a computer screen but which are so far typically chatty and intelligent.

I haven’t done many posts about my penchant for sick/weird stuff here, but at the risk of freaking some people out a bit I really like the Deviant’s Dictionary for its frank and informative explanations of unusual sexual practices. If that doesn’t give you any new ideas then try How Can I Recycle This? For some further interesting alternative uses for household objects…

A new addition to my “Fun and Pointless” links is Clones and Posessed Children, a sick and weird online cartoon book by an artist I wish I could find more from. If you like children more philosophical and with less blood then Calvin and Hobbes is subversive and cute at the same time, and I totally identify with the way Calvin’s imagined and real worlds overlap so seamlessly. Talking tigers rather than talking rabbits, but much the same “only child” thing going on there I think.

Feel free to suggest more, there’s plenty of room in the side bar yet and I’ll add any I particularly like to help you all kick your terrible Facebook addictions.

Kirsty is “looking forward to going out tomorrow night!” apparently.

Sunday 7 October 2007


We’ve been vandalised again.

All my neighbour’s apples were taken, from two three-year-old trees that had their first good crop this year which was almost ready to harvest. Her pumpkins were all taken, her peppers and chillis were thrown around the place, my pond was trampled and a couple of apples and a pumpkin thrown in it.

But what’s really weird and disturbing this time is that our bathroom sink has been un-plumbed and removed, as has the toilet cistern and one of the taps a couple of plots away. We hear there are gangs going around nicking stuff like that for the value of the copper in the pipes, which is apparently worth more than all the tools which were left in the shed and the bolt cutter that they left at the scene. Bizzare.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Burma Solidarity Action

From Leeds-Bradford Indymedia:

Around 30 activists blockaded a Total petrol station to protest against the company's heavy involvement with the military junta in Burma which is responsible for the deaths of several protesters in just the last few days.

Total is in a joint venture with the Burmese dictatorship in the Yadana gas project, which earns the regime hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of the Burmese government under house arrest, says: “Total has become the main supporter of the military regime”. Read more here.

Saturday 15 September 2007

Recycling a Fish Tank

I’ve had a four foot fish tank lurking in my kitchen for a couple of years now. There must be a lot of energy involved in making a fish tank, from the manufacture of the glass and the glue to the transport involved in getting it all from source to manufacturer to retailer to my flat, so I didn’t want to just throw it away without first applying “The Four Rs” as best I could.

The Four Rs are principles to put into practice as often as possible to avoid creating unnecessary waste, and they stand (depending on who you ask) for Reduce, Repair, Reuse and Recycle. Applying these principles to a large fish tank is proving pretty difficult, especially as I try to organise its final transport to fish tank heaven in a responsible way.

The tank was first given to me when I moved house a few years ago, and had been hanging around in the garden of someone else with an obsessive reluctance to throw away this kind of junk. It was already leaky when it came into my possession, but such a great new home for my goldfish was well worth the price of some tank glue and a couple of hours work learning to seal it. Its first year or so spent with me involved three of the “Rs”; reducing the need for a new one, repairing it and re-using it, and it was just the job both for housing the fish and for impressing friends and visitors with the “fixed it myself” factor.

And then…

At 3am one day my downstairs neighbour woke me up to alert me to several gallons of water coming through his ceiling from my flat above. My sealing job had lasted about a year and a half, but one corner had eventually given out and created a huge lake where my living room had been. Not about to either fix it at 3am or risk it flooding my very-nice-about-it neighbours a second time, I gave up and bought a brand new replacement as soon as the pet shop opened in the morning.

Once empty the old tank looked remarkably unbroken, so I promptly filled it with chives, basil, coriander and a few tender garden casualties to make a nice warm greenhouse in my kitchen, ingeniously re-using it to pamper tender plants for years to come. The plants hated it.

I spoke to someone at a hydroponics shop who concluded that a lack of light – despite the aquarium bulb I’d fitted – was probably causing the problems. Running more lighting would have been a complete waste of energy given the huge amount of natural light elsewhere in my flat, and the tank also grew mould all over the place because of the lack of airflow. The use I had found for my redundant tank appeared to be far better served by something I had already, i.e. a windowsill which came free of charge with the flat.

After a few more ideas failed to make it off the drawing board (Outdoor greenhouse – would crack with frost. Storage potential limited by shape and fragility. Model of Orac from Blake’s 7 – too long, etc.) I advertised it on Freecycle, a website where people give away unwanted things to other people who do want them. The first time no-one wanted it at all, and the second time although someone did reply, they then changed their mind about making it into a mini-greenhouse, possibly having foreseen some of the problems I’d had and probably also already in possession of their own windowsill.

Stockpiling onions, potatoes, jam and dried herbs this autumn I’m clearing space to put up shelves in the kitchen and have at last decided to try applying the final “R”. I dragged the tank down the stairs into the front garden by means impossible to describe without the aid of a cartoon sketch or two, and although by some miracle it didn’t slide down the staircase and shatter, it did get a very nasty crack through one side and now looks all dejected and out of place on the lawn.

Glass can of course be recycled, and the nearest bottle bank is all of a three minute walk downhill from here. It may take me a little longer than three minutes though, given that the tank is too heavy to lift and I can only drag it along a foot or so at a time. In Holland they probably just phone the council and ask them to take it for recycling from their doorstep, but since Leeds hasn’t quite caught up on this front yet my best plan so far is to take a hammer to it in the garden and break it up into pieces small enough to fit through the opening of the bottle bank.

I assume that the recycling process will remove the blood.


Friday 14 September 2007

Very Scary Slug Incident

Stop reading this for a minute and go and look at Hedgewizard's blog right now - quick! It's very much funnier than anything here.

Wednesday 12 September 2007

September 11th 1973

Lots of people put 9/11 remembrance posts on their blogs yesterday, and although I've missed the 11th, I wanted to do my own here.

What happened to the twin towers was horrific, and by posting this I don't mean to justify it in any way. But 11th September is the anniversary of other atrocities too, including one that's less well known and more personally relevant to me.

This is a short documentary about the significance of September 11th 1973.

Que no nos olvidemos.

Thursday 6 September 2007

Talking Rabbits

Thanks Mousie for pointing me at the Book Quiz, which somehow picked up on my troublesome talking rabbit problem. How on earth did it know about that? Quite uncanny.

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Wednesday 5 September 2007


This is my mate Dave getting himself de-arrested in Ireland - nice one Dave!

And this is why - nice one again Dave! Love to everyone trying to send Shell to sea.

Thursday 30 August 2007

Housing Co-Operatives

I haven’t talked about my housing co-op here yet, and I’d meant to. Partly it’s complicated to explain to outsiders and partly I’m too busy doing it to talk about it, but it deserves a mention because living here shapes so much of the rest of my life.

The idea is something like this. The co-operative is a bit like a housing association, a company which owns houses and flats and rents them out to people who need them. Everyone who lives in a co-op property buys a share for £1 when they move in, which gives them an equal share of the business that owns the properties. We all help to do the work involved in owning and managing the properties, and we make decisions democratically between all the tenant-shareholders.

There are much better and more detailed explanations of this structure elsewhere, so if this doesn’t make sense then try the Confederation of Co-operative Housing info. The most important aspects of living in one, for me, are that my rent is cheap enough to allow me to only work part-time, and that because my neighbours all regularly meet up to do the work and socialise I’m part of this amazing little community – how many people in cheap urban housing can still say they know almost everyone on their street? Not to mention actually liking most of them.

Real communities are complicated though, and so is running a business. My contribution to the workload for the last few weeks has been re-writing our primary rules, which lay out the basic structure of our co-op and explain procedure for things like conducting meetings, getting ourselves audited and getting the work done.

Because we all contribute to decision-making here, we all need to understand the rules so we’re clear about what we can and can’t do. They also need to be legally watertight, and the version we’ve been working with up to now is virtually unreadable and unfit for either purpose:

“Rule 29

The instrument appointing a proxy shall be in writing under the hand of the appointer or of his/her attourney duly authorised in writing and shall be deposited at the registered office of the Association not less than two clear days before the day fixed for holding the meeting at which the person named in such instrument is authorised to vote, and in default the instrument of proxy shall not be treated as valid.”

It goes on. There are EIGHTY separate rules, some with not only a)s and b)s but also i)s and ii)s. I keep having to turn the Grammar-checker off because whole pages are underlined in green and marked “Long sentence”, and over the years we’ve spent a considerable amount of money asking solicitors to tell us what some of the longest sentences actually refer to. So, it’s going in the bin.

This weekend we all meet up to discuss the new rules and see if anyone can spot any problems with what I’ve come up with so far. Next week we’ll send it all off to the Housing Corporation for approval, and the weekend after that we’re having a big party to celebrate thirty years since this place first began.

It’s been a slog going through pages of legal-speak, trying to think of every possible future scenario that we need to cover and explaining it in English so everyone can decide what they think of it. The regulators have been breathing down our necks for a long time and can’t work out how we’ve kept things going for thirty years without everyone losing interest altogether. But a day catching up with everyone around a big bonfire, sharing the history of the place and the people and having a good old gossip is motivation enough. The only instruments around next weekend will be musical ones, and that’s the bit the regulators don’t understand.

Friday 24 August 2007

What I Did On My Holidays

Thought I'd share my fondest memories of the fantastic Climate Camp at Heathrow last weekend, partly as an excuse to throw in loads of links which also help explain why I went. In no particular order...

Two kids amusing themselves on the
Rinky-Dink one afternoon at the camp by singing "Jingle Fucking Bells". With gusto.

People in the Yorkshire barrio* playing with a chess set they'd carved out of carrots.

Running from the campsite towards
BAA offices through a huge field of shoulder-high dead broad bean plants, being chased by screaming riot and mounted police and wearing a summary of the Tyndall Report strapped to my hand.

Blockading BAA with a big fluffy white rabbit called Eliot, who was very happy to be there and got fed carrots by the people in "Grow Your Own" vegetable costumes. Watching people spotting him for the first time who naturally assumed they were hallucinating due to lack of sleep.

A very straight-faced policeman attending the open meeting at the blockade, and answering his mobile phone by saying in a Very Important voice "I'LL HAVE TO CALL YOU BACK, I'M IN A MEETING!"

Theo from
Seize the Day singing the policeman song on the Rinky-Dink. It's about a policeman who decides to join the 365 blockade of the nuclear submarine base there, and as far as I can find out it hasn't been recorded yet. I promise you it's worth going to Faslane on October 1st just to hear him sing it to the police there.

Someone I think was called Cosmo doing Paul Allen's "The Mosh Song" on Monday night in the main marquee - much better than Paul Allen himself did it. Also Duncan, who I can't find a link for, singing "James Bond is an Upper Class Copper" and "Drugs vs Sport". Brilliant.

Going to the toilet, drunk, at about 2am on the last night and finding... a clean toilet seat and plenty of clean dry toilet roll! The whole thing was so well organised that I'm going to have to give up making cynical remarks about organising piss-ups in breweries
by consensus. Eventually.

* A barrio is a "neighbourhood", usually involving a marquee with a kitchen and space to meet and sit around. Camps are organised into barrios so that people from similar parts of the country can meet, eat and work together.

Sunday 19 August 2007

Climate Camp

So here I am at the lovely Climate Camp!

I put my stuff down in a marquee and walked straight into a tactics workshop consisting of several hundred people practicing dealing with police lines as Jedi Warriors and Storm Troopers. Very amusing, especially watching the pretend police get carried away with giving each other orders and shouting "BACK!", and the (for the time being) pretend protesters reacting almost primally to a line of hi-vis jackets, cheering when they managed to elbow and shove the pretend police around and break through their lines.

How useful any of it will be tomorrow I have my doubts, but it did give me a chance to look for familiar faces, of which there are plenty. I seem to have missed the party night yesterday and tonight is supposed to be a quiet night so
we can all get some rest, and concentrate properly on training about how to make quick decisions by consensus in affinity groups on actions tomorrow. Apparently.

Someone is gently strumming a guitar outside my tent, I'm in thermals in my sleeping bag and have my ear plugs in. If we get evicted in the middle of the night then hopefully I'll just sleep through it.

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Saturday 18 August 2007

Going to Climate Camp

The cat's got her legs on the wrong way round this morning. She is actually fast asleep in this position!

I'm off to the climate camp today, and I might try posting a blog or two from there. See you there if you're going...

Thursday 16 August 2007

"Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt

The story of Frankie McCourt's relentlessly awful childhood, told with both a lively, distinctively Irish sense of humour, and an authentic sounding child's voice and point of view. Both very dark and highly entertaining - read it in private so you can laugh out loud without caring about looking silly.

Cover photo etc

Don't go looking on Amazon - support independent booksellers!

Thursday 9 August 2007

Big Green Gathering

Just back from the Big Green which was actually sunny – hooray! Very hot, in fact. Much indulgence in such activities as sitting on the grass, wearing dresses, going barefoot all day and eating ice cream, and about time too. I’d almost forgotten how hard it is to sleep in a tent in the sun though - more tent adaptations on the way…

Tried to stay away from all the gadget shops in case I ended up buying a solar powered twirly thing, which is the non-green alternative to doing without a twirly thing altogether.

Topping all the gadgets by quite a long way though was the cycle-powered washing machine, which I can’t believe I’ve never seen before. Bike wheels go round, washing machine drums go round, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The water wasn’t heated, so if I made my own I’d probably put the water tank on one side with a mini-rocket stove under it made out of veg oil cans, but it did the trick with the small load I used it for.

I also got my very own gadget made in the crafts field. Loads of the food stalls give you wooden forks, but they’re pretty horrible to eat with so I got myself a small metal one for 40p at one of the tat shops. I kept finding myself trying to cut up potato skins etc with the edge of the fork, so I got someone with a cycle-powered grinding wheel to grind the edge down into a blade for me and I now have the ultimate bit of camping cutlery.

Also inspired by things I saw there, the next wacky structure to appear on my allotment will probably be a geodesic dome. I had a good look at one that had been put together with cable ties, and talked to the guy who made it about which were the long and the short pieces, which of course I can’t now remember. The trick is to have an 11% difference in length between them, apparently. I think I’ll make a model out of construction straws first.

So many projects, so little time…

Monday 30 July 2007


I just can’t get enough of muddy fields in Somerset, so I’m off to the Big Green Gathering tomorrow in a partly home-made tent.

What is it with tents? Folding poles and water resistant fabrics were invented quite a while ago now, surely it’s not that difficult to design something that basically works. It seems unlikely that people design tents who have never actually camped, but when I thought about getting a new one and saw the way some of them are made I started imagining them improvising budget versions of the product testing machines on those Ikea adverts. Everyone in the office stands in a row and blows on it at the same time: it’s windproof. Stick it under the water cooler: it’s waterproof.

It’s perfectly obvious, for example, that having to construct the inner first is going to get everything very wet when it’s raining, so why does anyone still design them with poles on the inside? And why oh why does my current tent have an outer door flap that overhangs the bloody inside bit?

After opening the door and watching it direct the rain exactly onto the end of my sleeping bag for about the hundredth time at Glastonbury, I recently bought a whole new tent from, to more or less the same design but with a proper porch over the door.

“This tent is fully waterproof to 2000mm hydro static head (the recommended use for the UK is only 1500)” it said. “Abrasion, mildew and ultraviolet resistant it said. Fly sheet – 70 Denier Polyester (190T Threads per square inch)” . Very nice. Cut to me lying in said tent in a muddy field, a very long way from the nearest central heating, curled around the edge with a plastic bag in the middle to catch the steady drips running straight into the tent from the ventilation mesh right in the top.

So I’m back in the old tent again this week and will appreciate anew all the other things about it which are not shit. It doesn’t actually leak. It has loops for the pegs that can indeed be attached to the ground with pegs. The poles go in keepers that they fit in rather than on stupid pins that pull them too tight, and it now has a custom-built, rain-deflecting, transparent U.V. stabilised plastic porch. Oh yes.

No photos yet because I’ve neurotically packed it three times already, but if it works then I think I’ll patent it. If it doesn’t then sod it, I am definitely going to get a yurt and that’s that. With a wood burning stove and a horse to carry it for me.

Friday 20 July 2007

"Saturday" by Ian McEwan

The style and especially descriptions of music are good, but I'm still not sure what the point is supposed to be. What does any of it have to do with the anti-war march in the end? Why don't any of the characters actually go on the march? What's the purpose of having something so massive as a backdrop if you're not going to use it? Puzzling indeed.

Monday 9 July 2007

Bastards bastards bastards...

...bastards bastards bastards bastards.

My allotment has been vandalised. The greenhouse tipi that used to look like this

Now looks like this with several bricks and a saw bench inside it

The bender greenhouse now has ventilation

The shed has been relocated to the middle of a flower bed and repositioned on its side, leaving the green roof in a pile on top of some strawberries

And I will never again be able to safely stick my fingers into my soil because it’s all completely covered with tiny shards of glass. There is also a layer of large and medium sized shards of glass which I spent two hours today picking up without seeming to make much difference. There are at least three whole greenhouses in there in little bits, which at least might set the slugs back a bit.

This is quite pretty though

Thursday 5 July 2007

Sign a Petition!

Got a message today about allotments in Guilford which are about to be built on. The message is copied below, and at this stage a petition is likely to be actually, practically useful. It's a legit "10 Downing Street" petition which asks for your name, e-mail and address, but this is only to verify that you're a real person and the only mail you'll get is notification of a government response if they issue one. Doesn't even involve getting cold and wet!

"We have been campaigning for many months to get our local council (Guildford Borough Council) to cancel housing plans on our local Allotment Site.

2 acres of woodland (some of it really ancient) and wildlife habitat are threatened by housing and being concreted over.

Oue message is that the part of Guildford where we live is already over-developed with Housing and we badly need to keep areas of open space to prevent our area becoming a concrete jungle.

And there are vast areas of brownfield land elsewhere in the town to build houses .. support us by signing our online petition today.

When you sign it you have to give your name and address but this will be kept confidential, all that visitors to the Petitions website can see is your name.

The address is:

If you are keen on preserving the Environment, or saving Open Spaces, saving Wildflife habitats - or even Allotment Gardening - then take a look at our Allotment Self-Help Group's website and you'll see the site & read about the open space & everything we're fighting for. You can find it at:

Please do pass this message on to your friends and Allotment colleagues - we need all the help we can get.

Many thanks

David Bird
Allotment Buff & Petition Organiser"

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Dream Last Night

Young soldiers going home. They arrived months ago in a 52 seater coach, and I'm watching as they all get back into the same seats for the long trip back. 52 out, 52 home.

Most of them look shell shocked, many are being carried onto the coach, but it's not until I see someone carrying a man over his shoulder down the aisle that I realise they're putting the dead ones back into their seats too, still in full uniform and propped up as best they can in their seats next to the living.

I start staring through the coach windows trying to work out which expressions are frozen in death and which in horror.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Glastonbury 2007

Just got back from Glastonbury Festival. The lights, the mud, the music, the tipis, the mud, the fires, the drums, the freaky circus people, the mud...

If only real life were like that.

Will write some more when I'm cleaner.

Sunday 17 June 2007

"A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" by Marina Lewycka

Fun story about a completely mad family. The impressive thing was that I found all the characters and much of the dialogue believable. They're mad in a particularly Eastern European way, and if you have any mad and/or Eastern European family then you'll probably recognise them.

Don't go looking on Amazon - use independent booksellers!

Saturday 16 June 2007

Blake's 7

For a long time I've been telling highly skeptical friends that even if they don't like sci-fi they'll like Blake's 7. It's got complex characters, moral dilemmas, cunning plot twists and political themes, and although the fourth series is distinctly patchy (especially when they all start kissing - yuck!) it's well worth persevering with. I saw the final episode a few days ago and I'm still in shock.

Did Blake betray them all? Or did Avon betray Blake? Will the resistance continue or does the Federation win? I need to watch it again, and if you've never seen it then so do you. Even if you think you're too cool for science fiction.

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Pickled Slug Deli Bar

Someone or something has pulled all the beer traps out of the ground and emptied them. I've met quite a few dogs who like beer so I think I'm going to blame the fox, who is probably right now telling all its mates about the nice new pickled slug deli just opened round the corner. It's some consolation that four cans of Double Dutch must have given it a pretty bad hangover, but I am a bit stumped for fox-proof beer trap designs. Maybe I should just make a very big one to catch the fox in?

I've also got a resident mouse which keeps making big holes in my no-dig bed and knocking all the onions over, but before I got too annoyed about that I noticed that the tadpoles are very fat now, they've all got big froggy eyes and a couple of them have even got tiny little back legs! First one to walk is going to be called Ralph. And is probably going to be eaten by a pissed fox.

Sunday 3 June 2007

Slug Blog

It’s not fair! I’m right at the top of the food chain, I’ve got a spine and opposable thumbs and everything, and yet I still have to compete for my food with bloody SLUGS! I’ve just lost a second lot of courgette plants and something has got to be done.

I saw a friend’s lovely new veg patch and beer traps last weekend. I think I’ve tried beer traps before, but I seem to remember going about it a bit half-heartedly because I didn’t really expect it to work. Nothing really seems to work against slugs. Still, I was in the mood to see at least a few of the little bastards die so I thought I’d try it again.

Burying the pots was a bit of a faff, but not quite as difficult as finding a non-Muslim shop that would sell me lager around here - I ended up going all the way to Sainsbury’s and then spent ages persuading them to give me some Carling for 50p because the cans were so badly dented. By this time I was really starting to resent having to get the beer in for the slugs when they’ve already had at least ten marigolds, eight courgette plants, three broad bean plants, a dozen sunflowers and quite a few strawberries. I think my previous attempt at making beer traps might have ended with me just drinking all the beer at about this point, which probably at least made me feel better about all the slug eaten plants for a while.


I persevered this time and I can’t believe it - they really do all obligingly drown themselves! Some of the pots were full to the brim with dead slugs the next day, and I actually had to empty them out to make room for any more.

I then started working out how much it would cost me to buy six cans of lager every time I went to the allotment and decided that it would be a good idea to sieve all the slugs out and re-use the beer instead. This bit is disgusting and if you’re eating then you shouldn’t scroll any further down the page…

Yuck. In a satisfying sort of way. I wonder whether they like elderflower champagne?

Saturday 2 June 2007

Technical Problems...

For some reason I can't load Blogger pages at the moment - after about an hour I managed to get as far as "Help", and after another hour I found a way of sending someone a message about it, but this is the first time in ages that I've been able to write a post.

Anyone got any suggestions?

Pictures won't load either. The picture I was going to use is here.

Accidental Art

Came home from work for lunch. Put an egg on to boil. Forgot about it and went back to work. Returned home four and a half hours later. Pretty, isn’t it?

Any idea how to get rid of the SMELL??

Friday 1 June 2007

"Vida" by Marge Piercy

Most fiction about activists makes me cringe, but Piercy's characters here are naive only because it's the 1970s, and she avoids reducing any of them to caricatures. The personal and the political are not just juxtaposed to prove a point but are completely interwoven, and give someone my age a much-needed insight into the roots of feminism and sexual politics. It also keeps you guessing until the end, which gives any book that essential compulsive quality. Seems to be out of print, but there are plenty of copies on Abebooks.

Saturday 26 May 2007

"Complicity" by Iain Banks

Truly disgusting, utterly sick, very scary - loved it! Banks describes it as "a bit like The Wasp Factory except without the happy ending and redeeming air of cheerfulness". Had to put it down a few times to breathe and uncurl my toes...

Don't go looking on Amazon - support independent booksellers!

Thursday 24 May 2007

Composting Tea Bags

I’m sure I’ve always composted tea bags, long before I ever composted anything else. In one house I used to just chuck them out in the garden straight from the kitchen window, since they don’t smell as they break down and apparently some plants like a bit of caffeine. I drink a lot of tea and I’ve never thought twice about composting the bags – it seems obvious, and I’ve been doing it so long I can’t remember where I first got the idea.

I’ve just used the last of this year’s compost on my seedlings, and emptying the bin this year I’ve had unpleasant surprises*. Pulling out odd pieces of plastic and woody bits I kept finding fluffy white fibrous stuff stuck in there, like duvet filling in small patches stuck fast to and tangled up with everything else. I pulled one out after another but they kept appearing, so I looked at different parts of the pile and found them spread out through the whole heap. Even the blackest, crumbliest parts had these stupid blobs in them, either solid little black lumps in stringy white** mesh bags, or stringy white mesh bags full of worms.

I’ve had several thousand cups of tea since I last emptied the compost bin and I’ve put every single used tea bag into the damned thing, and now every single one is sitting there waiting for me to take it out before I can use a year’s worth of compost. Since when are teabags not made of PAPER???

It’s dead fashionable to compost these days – even the Guardian is explaining how to do it – so there are millions of sites, books, factsheets and community projects out there to tell anyone who’ll listen how to put things in a pile and leave it alone for a while. After trawling through a few of them and rolling my eyes quite a lot (Q: My compost bin is full of pests! After only two weeks it’s all full of horrible woodlice and millipedes – what did I do wrong?) I finally submitted a question to WRAP.

After a long time, I got this back:

“The answer is that not enough companies specify their tea bag materials, which can be plastic or paper based. So, two batches of tea bags from the same tea company may have used different materials. You will need to contact the tea bag company I am afraid.”

Right. They get together a big organisation for “supporting compost producers and growing markets for compost products”, but encouraging tea bag producers to create something I can put IN my compost is left to me the individual. Thanks a lot.

I did give up at this point, but then another hour pulling all the little white mesh bags full of worms out of my compost spurred me on again to find a contact e-mail for “the tea bag company” and ask them. I got this reply:

“Thank you for your email and your comments. I would like to confirm to you that our Teadirect teabags are made from polyester which is fairly typical for all teabags as far as I am aware. Yes you are right, unfortunately they are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable.. The best method for disposal is to burn for heat recovery. I would be very grateful of any feedback you have with regards to any alternative teabags that you have come across which I would gladly pass onto our marketing department for their consideration as we are continually carry out research to find more environmentally friendly products. I look forward to hearing from you.”

How many tea bags would I have to burn to boil a kettle then?

Strangely enough, when they’re dry they do burn remarkably well, which leaves me with no way of telling which tea bags are still made from paper, since the usual test for man-made fibres is that they melt slightly (or a lot) when you burn them.

So, the question now is this; should I a) try to make WRAP or maybe the Guardian lifestyle and fashion department compile a list of compostable tea bags, b) ask all the tea bag companies myself which would be more hassle but quicker, or c) get a life, stop composting my tea bags and experiment with using loose-leaf tea, which would probably be more hassle in the end over the course of a lifetime.

Answers on a postcard if you wish, so long as it’s a bloody PAPER postcard.

* The first few were surprising anyway. The next 6000 were just unpleasant.

** Fellow gardeners will appreciate the meaning of “white” in the context of a compost bin compared to the meaning of “white” in, say, a Persil ad.


Sunday 20 May 2007

My Neighbour's Cat

Aaah, isn’t she sweet…

She couldn’t possibly have anything to do with this pot having been knocked over.
I expect the french beans suddenly attacked her, which would explain the big crash I heard and would have been why she was running away from it so fast. Poor thing must have been frightened.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Spencer is a Genius

A friend suggested that I cut a door flap in the bender greenhouse and then open and close it using laces like on a marquee. At last I can visualise a bender greenhouse door solution that might actually work. I've got loads of gaffa tape (never leave home without it) to reinforce the cut edges and could probably lace with the washing line I found with bits of concrete on it - I KNEW that would come in handy for something!

When I learned finger knitting as a child I had no idea that it would actually prove to be a useful skill later in life...

Monday 23 April 2007

Budget Bender Greenhouse Part 2

It looks a bit strange but not ugly, it certainly gets warm inside and it hasn't fallen down yet, but I am now having quite serious bender greenhouse problems.

The first thing I did after stretching plastic over the frame and burying it carefully around the edges was to go on holiday for two weeks, and in a fortnight of high winds the whole thing filled with air like a massive balloon and loosened itself so much that I've had to tie it down with string around the outside. It now looks as though I've netted a giant jellyfish. Trouble is, I can't think of a way of making a decent door for it, so opening and closing it currently still involves folding up the loose plastic around the doorframe and piling half a ton of rocks on it to weigh it down.

The recent hot weather has made me realise I'm going to have to put vent holes in it sooner rather than later, but I'm scared to cut the plastic in the wrong place because it was so expensive, and to top it all a couple of the willow branches I made the frame from have started to grow, which I'm worried will result in big spikey bits making holes exactly where I don't want them.

Sunday 22 April 2007


Listening to Radio 4 yesterday I realised that the reason for the huge traffic jam outside my window was that someone had been shot dead in a takeaway a few doors down the road from my house the night before. It seems he was killed at about the time I was watching Blake's 7 at a friend's flat next door.

Doesn't seem very long (although having looked it up it's about 18 months) since I last came home to find my house in the middle of a 1/2 mile police cordon, when a man held his former partner hostage in a house on Bayswater Grove and came out to shoot at police cars and put a few bullets through neighbour's windows.

I have decided that the next time I see some stupid film ad with guns in it on this street, which I frequently do, I'm going to vandalise it as thoroughly as I can and let them arrest me and listen to my reasons in court. It's just offensive.

Tuesday 17 April 2007

Removable Seedling Shelf

Casually put some very early seed trays on the windowsill. Fill the remaining space with the first tomatoes, and shove all your lovely ornaments out of the way to fit everything else in. Then knock everything over every five minutes, as the spring gets underway in ernest and there’s not a horizontal space left in the house that doesn’t have some tender seedlings growing on it. Sound familiar?

I have accidentally cooked seedlings that I’d left on the top of the grill, I have carried a six-foot ladder around my flat to water things growing on top of the wardrobes, I have been unable to reach my windows for months at a time because of the precarious arrangements of vegetable racks I’ve used to layer seed trays in front of my windows. I’ve had enough now.

This year I’ve been trying to make better use of the vertical space in my high-celinged flat, and with spring just around the corner I want to double the amount of windowsill space I can grow things on this year. I have a cunning plan.

This is what my living room windows look like

And this is my bedroom window

My plan is to construct a shelf half way up each window where the panes are split. I’m hoping that this won’t block out too much of the natural light coming into the rooms, but for my next trick I’m going to make the shelves completely removable, so that I’m not stuck with a huge window obstruction all year round.

To make the supports as unobtrusive as possible I’m putting in small batons on either side of the frames. Here is me measuring one against the inside of the window frame

I’ll be needing four, two for each set of windows, and a support shelf for the middle of the wider living room window. I sawed the wood for these to the right length in the middle of my living room, on a science lab stool I found behind Leeds University and took home on the bus, topped with an old chopping board that I rescued from a bonfire. Just in case you are having trouble visualising this:

It works a treat.

The next thing to do is to help the fittings (which will not be removable) to blend in, by painting them to match the windows. I used gloss spray paint, but would have used normal gloss paint if I’d had any. I reckon they will get fairly grubby with bits of soil etc spilling on them all the time, so I want to be able to wipe them clean when I take the shelves down.

A couple of thin layers of spray paint is the way to go, it just drips if you try to put too much on at once and thin layers are also less likely to chip off later.

To fix them to the frame I used 40mm screws straight into the wooden window frame. Then I cut the shelves to length on my homemade saw bench and put them in position resting on the batons. This bit actually took some time because after I’d found woodworm in the reclaimed floorboards I was going to use, neither local skips nor Homebase could provide me with suitable wood. Eventually a neighbour gave me some wood left over from her own shelves, thus saving the whole project just in time. Here is the finished product with all my little seedlings waiting for the sun to shine:

And I can of course use the time they take to grow to hoover all the soil and sawdust out of the carpet…