Thursday, February 28, 2008

Energy saving day

Nothing to Dream by Rodney White
Nothing to Dream

Sadly. the information about eday must have been really well hidden as human beings with an interest in saving energy may have wanted to know about it. The principle is an excellent one yet with sad results so far.

So what is eday?

The bishop of Liverpool has urged people to give up a light bulb and turn off lights as an act of giving up something for lent. Usually people will choose chocolate or something else they feel they cannot usually do without. Giving up something is hard as any dieter will know and can put us in rebelling mode. Just like children stamp their feet when you take their favourite toy away, so too will we stamp our feet at giving up light, energy and peak oil.

On a personal level, I can observe changes in the conversations of my children. They are acutely aware of the situation. My oldest son had homework which demanded that the children work out their carbon footprint ( a difficult thing to do without asking your parents for exact figures on energy usage, car mileage). It gave us an opportunity to discuss why we do the things we do. Today he reported that although his footprint was lower than the average person, there were people in his class with double the average which was mainly caused by long haul flights.

My youngest son, remarked on the price of a gallon of diesel and wondered why it kept going up. Again, an opportunity to talk about energy and its use. We debated about gameboys, WII gamestations and how as children they found them very attractive and addictive to how wonderfully useful energy can be when you go for an MRI scan and have pictures taken of your brain.

For me it is not that we are giving up things but that we are creating differences with the choices we make ; yes they have an impact if you deprive yourself from them immediately such as crash dieting would do or giving up smoking immediately. If however you start to make different lighter choices, you suddenly find that you no longer crave electricity or whatever it is that is your energy addiction and you can find other pleasurable alternatives.

My youngest son realised that he could choose a game of cricket in the fields against a game about cricket and that in that way he would be saving energy and using a different sort of energy; a physical energy that would revive him and challenge him in a different way.

....will it make a difference? See for yourself

Monday, February 25, 2008

Life as we know it

Milk for You and Me
Milk for You and Me

Sadly today we had half our milk supply stolen. No idea why anyone would need about 40 litres of milk, but very little we can do about it. Guess it is a sad reflection of life as we know it. In relative safety, in a small village that mimics life as it used to be 25 years ago, we have not reached crime statistics and we do not intend to have security cameras installed. We decided to report the incident not because it will get us the milk back, or its value, but mainly because such acts do no always happen in isolation.
I am not angry with the person, I guess they had a need for it in one way or another. What interests me is the timing; I had literally finished entering all the accounting data in the fab accounting programme supplied by the accountant and realised that maybe, just maybe we should be able to take a small wage each month for the many hours put in. I have not yet managed to find a way to write off stock so that will be explored next.

Three months have passed since we moved in and started life in the village shop. I have mixed feelings about the intense changes that have happened but I know that this is a way of life for us that reflects our values and beliefs and that will be sustainable in the future.

Working for yourself is a leap of faith : you take the idea and run with it into the unknown. You have a backpack with skills, ideas and expectations and no idea how the journey will pan out. Last year, we had plenty of time and very stretched monetary resources; now we are in danger of tipping that balance by living, breathing and using every minute of the day and thought on the business. Being employed leaves someone else that worry. What you gain is being at the helm of your life and taking it in both hands and steering it the way you want to go, instead of being a passenger on someone else's business journey.

Gladly we have a pub 2 doors down and when we end the day, we go and check reality with the community, raising a glass to life as we know it.

DH reckons I must be anticipating a plague as the stock room is full to the ceiling with toilet paper and kitchen roll ; life's essentials you would not wish to be without. Not perishable though like cheese!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Drivers in the passenger seat

Buddy the Little Taxi
Buddy the Little Taxi

Life in the shop is getting busier and my DH is working 11 hours a day, 7 days per week which is a challenge to the conventional way we think about work. February is a good time to take stock of what is in the shop, on the shelves and in the stock room. The decluttering process that happens in a household is ongoing in a shop environment. There are however items with a short lifespan that need to be sold or wasted and there is paperwork that cannot be destroyed for a period of 7 years.

Saying that, the shelves are still groaning with stuff that either does not sell, or is not ours.

We now have an idea of the space the shop provides and the clients that frequent our business and thus trying to find variety to keep them interested is an additional task.

We have staggered delivery days . Most stock gets carried through to the stock room where it is unpacked, priced and stored away. The packaging also gets packed away : plastic in a bag to be sent away, cardboard boxes for local businesses or recycling. Wooden boxed get used in the garden or broken up for kindling. Our aim is still to have only 2 bags going to landfill each week. I am pleased with that bearing in mind that my shopping list each week is for about 800 people.....

We have not yet ventured into the stockroom behind the stockroom which is the equivalent in the shop to your garage or loft ; a dumping ground for anything else you can think of that you do not know how to dispose off or display units that are no longer contemporary. Its a dark room, a bit damp, so anything that stays there is not likely to be in good condition either.

We have plenty of space. Our next job is to clear the stockroom behind the stockroom to make it into a better stockroom; that will release some space in the shop to extend the products we carry.

Starting a business is a huge investment in time, energy and commitment as well as the occasional pep talk to keep going. At times it is a tough existence but the plus points are that you really are able to make your own decisions and no one tells you when you can have a tea break.

What is the impact with regards to downshifting and carbon lighter living?

  • no commuting
  • we are not supporting supermarkets as consumers; no 20 mile round trip and no plastic bags
  • encouraging people to shop locally and use their car less
  • Buying locally means people get to meet people and this may reduce loneliness.
  • supporting local food producers

After 3 months, we realise that 2 cars are no longer a necessity and we are finally committing to having just one car. Our mileage has reduced from 20,000 miles per year to 8000 . Having one car will cut the cost of repairs and maintenance, road tax and insurance. Selling a car may also release some capital invested in it to spend on the house.

I have to add that I am the one giving up my car : my DH is quite partial to keeping his. I have no longer a need to own a car; I am quite happy to share ownership and just top it up with fuel when I need to and be a passenger.

I am amazed at the change in my attitude : I loved my little car, polished it when I could and treasured the speed it could work up when required. I have debated about giving up the car before but it seemed just like depriving myself of local transport. When I started to live really locally, I realised that it is not a car I need to own but I need to look at my transport requirements and the way these can be fulfilled. I am happy to share and let someone else do all the polishing, car tax paying, road tax costs etc. I am going to become the driver in the passenger seat.

After all, would you spend £ 10,000 on transport over 3 years......

Sunday, February 17, 2008


The Sun Sets Over Flooded Coastal Wetlands
The Sun Sets Over Flooded Coastal Wetlands

To be protected from the elements we seek shelter. Over the years we have created elaborate shelters but how do we view our shelter in preparation for changes created by global warming and unpredictable weatherpatterns. The 2 factors presented in many cases are flooding caused by flashfloods and higher temperatures which may cause drought.

Berry Cottage was situated on a bank protected from one side by a cliff of sandstone. 20 yards below, a small brook runs alongside the road and although very pretty has the ability to flood when heavy downpours occurred. Berry Cottage was in no danger of flooding, but 50% of the cottages in the hamlet were and are. The risks of flooding are not simply the flooding of your shelter, but also being cut off from the main road. The speed of flood waters is also a consideration.

Moving to higher ground is an answer and easier to do currently than when and if waterlevels rise in your area.

To find out where you are positioned with regards to possible flooding, the environment agency provides a searchfacility called what is in your backyard; this will give you a small map showing areas that will flood when sea or river levels rise. Such knowledge will enable you to decide whether you want to live with that risk factor or whether you do not and you can act accordingly.

The position of the shop and our house does not pose a risk on the floodlevel scale neither by rising sea levels or river beds but within 2 miles there are hamlets and farmland that will be affected. At worst these would be cut off, have powercuts etc and if a garden were created which provided a large proportion of food supply, that too would be lost.

It is for those reasons that deciding where you live will have an impact on your ability to work with the uncertainty that climate change may present.

The opportunities here are to try and capture rainfall so that it is available during drought seasons and also to prevent damage caused by flooding.

The second opportunity is to look at how you can stay cool when temperatures rise above levels that are comfortable.

I am making an assumption that temperatures will be more extreme at times and to find ways to respond to that.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Energy - heating the house

Log Burning in Fireplace by Chris Rogers
Log Burning in Fireplace

Its been a bit chaotic over the last 3 months. Moving house, taking on a business venture and uprooting the whole comfortable existence. At times, I pined after the old house, the old ways of doing things until now.

The vision may appear chaotic but there is planning in this madness. The aim is to engage with the certainty that global warning is changing the weather and growing conditions and to make local changes that reduce our carbon footprint as well as finding new ways of living.

We have now installed the woodstove which is multifuel as we do not preclude using other fuels than wood to keep warm. Wood is still a renewable resource and the woodstove can be independently operated.

Woodburners are easy to fit in existing fireplaces. It took 3 days. The fireplace we have in the house is originally an inglenook fireplace and would have been the hearth of the home. The way these were set up was based on the principle that when you warm the chimney and the bricks in the chimney, the heat rises and in parts warms the rest of the house. That is difficult to maintain with central heating as it heats the air and not the walls which in places are 2 m thick.

I am sure that the fires they lit in 1800 were great, and that they were a lot less sissi about the temperature they could survive with than I am.

To maintain an even temperature in the downstairs kitchen and living space ( which houses a table and chairs and a desk to work on), requires about a load of logs every 6 weeks. At this moment in time, I am burning a type of coal to keep the fire going through the night even though I am up at 6 am. That only takes place when the temperature outside drops to below freezing so is not a necessity all winter long. Using the woodburner will reduce my carbon footprint but I am not quite there with the smokeless fuel used at night. I had initially hoped to keep Mildred the rayburn going but she would not heat sufficiently to cook on and heat the house and released bellows of smoke as she would only heat up sufficiently when you used coal to do so.The firebox was small which precluded larger logs being burned too.

Changing from electric to gas is the first step if that is possible, backed up with wood. The woodburner will not only burn wood that is brought in from neighbouring farms but also burns garden prunings that will be stored in the shed as we go along. Similar to what we did at Berrycottage. After heavy weather it is easy to gather small sticks that have fallen from the trees and keep them in a dry place to provide small sticks to start a fire. Next is kindling. Some pieces of furniture that are discarded can be taken apart to provide raw materials for fuel instead of taking it all to landfill. Next come the larger branches from tree prunings, then logs and as a last resort coal to keep it going through the night.

That is the logic of it all. Wood is plenty in these parts and as it burns it releases carbon dioxide ( thanks for the correction comment !) ( which is the same we breathe out). We continue to obtain our logs from treesurgeons and other local sources. When I have worked out how much we need to keep warm over the next few weeks I will be able to plan the amount of logs I need for next winter and find a place to store them in. The amount will then give an indication as to what I can store, and rotate the fuel storage.

My thinking is that if the climate here warms up, some native trees will die down, and in order to make full use of the resources then on offer, I need to have the ability to store the wood and have some idea of how long it will provide me with warmth for years to come. Where these trees may not survive, other species used to warmer climates will take their place. If the climate gets warmer in winter, the need to keep the stove going will reduce and maybe other vegetation can take the place the trees have stood on. I do not know the answers but I am engaging with a thought process of adaptation that makes change possible.

Ultimately, my basic needs for food warmth and shelter are being considered here. I have shelter( although it is in need of repair), I have been cold lately and my food could still be improved upon. Priorities will change over time but warmth is the key in winter, right now.

I am off into the garden to do some work, more tidying, more pruning and planting a few bushes. The cherry tree is in, the gooseberry and rhubarb are ion as are some currant bushes.
Its cold, sunny and beatifully clear which is likely to create a frost later on.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crunch time

There are changes afoot in a variety of producing areas which will have an impact on the foodchain.

Our supplier of petfoods has advised us that the cost of peanuts has trebled due to peanuts being in demand as a fuel source and has passed the price onto us. The impact of that is that the kind ladies in our village who have been putting out peanuts for the birds during the winter months are thinking twice about how they will continue to do that and keep warm themselves. Pressure on everyone in that transaction. I was not aware that peanuts were a source of fuel and an ingredient of biofuel.

I understand that there is pressure in the world with sources of oil reducing and demand staying the same or increasing to find an alternative.

The second piece of news that disconcerns me personally is that our local beekeeper, who provides us with local honey is concerned that he has lost some hives and that the bees are reducing the amount of honey they are producing. Thus, honey is going to be a luxury soon. I touched on bees being an indicator of global change previously, and frankly most people would not pay much attention to the loss of pollinators because they may not be aware of its significance.

We continue to offer a local service. A customer amazed me this week; he had made a trip into the nearest town to buy some meat. The cost of petrol was £ 1.00 and then he had had to pay 50 p to park his car. He understood the equation that if he had shopped locally he would have saved money, time and hassle. It makes sense for suppliers to do the travelling once on the country lane instead of 10 cars doing the journey. Hopefully the word will spread......

Generally, the trend of food prices is up, because the cost of raw materials and transport is up. I expect that soon, suppliers will expect a larger minimum order to minimise their transport costs which will have an effect on small shop keepers like us.

Reducing your carbon footprint is exactly about that, reducing it, changing the way we do things, the way we use the resources we have available. If we do not reduce consumption, and resources reduce, then the prices will go up and obtaining basic foods will become more difficult.

Every day we get bombarded with bad news about global warming, or some other strange phenomenon. When the financial markets are volatile, food prices go up, your bank increases its rates, the credit card company stops you from purchasing any more items on credit; there has to be a message in there that things are going wrong somewhere.

The way things seemed to fall into place is changing; if we are all connected and our actions have an effect then, all these vibrations and shifts have to have an impact somewhere. Its a shaky foundation for the moment, a delicate balance.

And yet, the consumer is making different choices. There is support for organic which has evolved into ethical resulting in every high street company now offering a green alternative to make you feel better when you shop.

If you consider being on a carbon reducing diet; if the shops offered you a slimming bar that tastes as good as the real thing, but would not cause you to gain weight, you would buy it right?
If they can produce biofuel and it means that you do not have to stop driving then ofcourse you would go for that. That means no change for the individual and just a change of resources. The thought of giving transport up completely is too hard to contemplate and yet that is the shift that is required in the long term just as giving up sugar would be the direction to go into if you found out you were diabetic.

That sort of shift is unpleasant, probably not for the fainthearted. I want to ask you to take that step with me. This is the toughest thing we will be asked to do.

Moving from Berry Cottage was a wrench for me. I loved the house, the garden; but it was no longer manageable with a lack of resources. Yes I traded a comfortable cottage with all mod cons for an old house that leaks, that is hard to keep warm but that provides an opportunity to not travel, to work from home and to grow a large proportion of our food on the premises.

I find myself wanting a new bathroom, a new kitchen, a warm room and occasionally I also want to just run away, usually when the power cuts out. I am no different, I want all my stuff, I just choose to not want it so much and to start reducing my carbon consumption. I expect it is no different than dieting. Hard, very very hard to do but it can be done.

Anyone want to be my carbondiet buddy?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Garden structure

More and more pruning is being done to the bushes in the garden and the space is opening up. The paved area, where the sun should be shining full blast in summer has rampant climbing plants on the wall. Honeysuckle, clematis and lots of ivy. From talking to people in the village the garden used to boast 1 trained peach tree and greengage tree as well. At some time, previous owners did keep 2 goats in the garden.
In order to get the most edible plants in the garden we are working on bringing the fruit trees in good shape and introducing soft fruits where possible. Underneath the fruit bushes and trees, strawberry plants will nestle so that they can flourish in a woodland habitat.
It still looks bare at the moment with the odd daffodil and primrose bringing colour into the garden.

What seemed an overwhelming space now has some structure to it. I thought I would be starting completely with a blank canvas but a discovering that once, not so long ago, this garden was loved by its owners and tended by a man called Bob Tuckfield who was the gardener. The Tuckfield family go back to 1733 in this area, family history tells us and obviously Bob was a gardener and had a connection with our garden as little ago as in the last 20 years.

Where I garden, so did Bob Tuckfield ( and others), and I wonder what he made from it, and what his plans were for the space, its priorities etc. The garden used to be larger as the house we live in is only a part of a large house, and there was a vegetable garden and space for a horse.

When the woodburner was installed, the men excavated the chimney and told me that the structure was one of an inglenook fireplace. All that remains now is the seats either side on which we have laid slabs of slate. The woodburner gives off some heat and when I look out to the garden I realise that I am the latest of tenants and gardeners in this house. I will leave my mark on it for sure and as there are no plans or stories about the past, I may well discover more.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The power to vote for change

This post is a reflection on the comment left on yesterdays post. The question as to why is it that the elections in the USA and the impact globally on the environment and the economy are not mentioned.

What I would like to do is to reflect on what it means to vote, and what the effects of that are personally and globally.

As a child, accompanying my parents to vote, to the polling station I would always ask them who they were going to vote for. The answer was always. I do not know yet. When they left the building in which we were not allowed to enter I would ask my parents, so who did you vote for and was told, I cannot remember? As a child I felt this was an odd response, thinking they must have a strange sort of memory loss, but it was not until later in life that I realised that your political orientation can in many countries be the death of you.

What would I tell my children about elections? Voting is your ability as an adult to make a choice. Remember that what counts for the candidates is that you vote and vote for them. What happens after the election when they are in office, matters little at the time of campaigning. Such it is when companies want you to buy a new car, a holiday, something that you may or may not want. A picture is created that you buy into and so when you have bought it, you may discover that either it is exactly what they told you it was going to be, or it was a lie and you have been sold something that turns out to be completely different.

How would you choose how to vote? That depends on your values and beliefs and eventually each person who votes is making a choice by matching the things they have been told about the candidate, whether it matches with their values and beliefs and whether in the future they think the person is going to carry these election promises through.

Does voting matter? Yes it does. If the party you would have voted for misses 51 votes to get a majority and 52 people out there did not vote because they felt their vote would not make a difference, then I would say, they made a choice not to vote and therefore the result is one they have contributed to by their action of not voting.

Does voting matter in the USA and its global impact? Yes primarily and foremost to the citizens of the USA and depending on the outcome, it will affect us globally based on the decisions made by the successful candidate on a global scale; for better and for worse.

Making changes globally also starts with me and you, at home and ripples out into our communities, our countries and eventually globally. Whatever small change you make at home will have an effect. There is no way that I can influence a change in the USA by making comments on the election process, candidates etc as it would not be my place to do so.But if you are an Amercian Citizen, then yes, you can make a choice that will influence the future.

What I am saying is that as human beings we are given an opportunity every once in a while to say whether we agree or disagree with this or that, and voting matters wherever you are; whether you choose to vote or not is a personal decision but whichever way you vote will have an effect on you, your community, your country and the world. We are lucky in that we can vote without fear of our lives and that we live in a country where voting is safe; there are other countries where expressing your opinions is not safe. In some countries people make the choice to vote whilst knowing that doing so could endanger their lives. These people are making a very difficult choice. That brings me back to the way my parents reacted to their vote being cast. I am not sure that they had a short memory, but with their actions they instilled a principle within me that voting was important, personal and a matter of choice. As an adult, I am therefore considered able to make my own choice and that may be different to theirs. If you are due to vote next week you are given an opportunity to make a choice. and that is a privilege that many do not have.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Stove II by Lisa Audit
Stove II

Mildred the Rayburn is suffering from a blockage and has had to be turned off until further investigation. Such it is with older appliances,they need care, love and attention to keep them going.
As a result the house is cooling down dramatically, the walls are getting colder and we have had to speed up the building of a fireplace on the other side of the chimney.
The fireplace was covered up with a Victorian fire surround which will be taken out, the chimney breast explored and within that a woodburning stove will be fitted. The Victorian fire surround will be recycled as an ornament in one of the bedrooms that boast a hole in the wall where previously a fireplace must have been. The aim will be to have an independent, safe source of heat that uses renewable materials as well as recreating the hearth of the home.
We sourced a local company not only for the woodburner but also for the work. As the building is old and listed, we wanted to do the work in keeping with the age and materials used locally. The woodburner will sit on a sheet of local slate and the fireplace will remain exposed stone.
In the middle of the Brendons is a farm where you can visit a woodstove showroom and it requires a small expedition and patience to get there. The people there are very knowledgeable and listened very carefully to my questions : a woodburning stove with ability to heat a pot or kettle, needs to be able to stay on overnight as heatsource, locally made if possible.
The result is that we had to compromise on the type stove as it depends on the chimney you have.
The men doing the work assure me that by Saturday I will be cosy without smoking the house out. I have every confidence in them. They are very polite, hardworking and only ask for coffee when they really want it.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The two notes

Money Tree
Money Tree

Once upon a time, in a country far away, close to you, two small notes were printed. Their currency was good, the pictures were great and they set off on a journey of discovery.

The first note was taken from a cashmachine near the supermarket and taken inside. It was exchanged for goods and felt very important, crisp and new. In the till, at night it was collected, counted with other notes and bagged up back to a large building, where it was reissued to a bank and found itself back again in a cashmachine.

The second note, was taken from a cashmachine in town and travelled by bus to a countryside location. It was accompanied by other notes and coins and put in a small real leather purse. The notes felt important and our little note was carefully laid next to others.
Nothing much happened for a day or two and the notes lived happily together in the purse.
Then one day, the owner of the purse went to the local shop, and exchanged the note for some bread, milk and a banana. The little note was glad to be of some use, and ended up in the village till. Not long after it was given out to another person who walked over to the post office and bought a book of stamps. The post office then gave it to someone who took it to the local pub to have a pint with. The pub owner gave it in change to another person who went to the village shop and bought some cheese. The village shop handed it out again as change to another person who took it home. By now, it was beginning to look a little weary.

The next day, it found itself folded up in 8 pieces in someone's back pocket while they walked the 2 miles to the nearest busstop and handed to the busdriver as fare for the journey. At night, it got put with other notes and taken to a bank.

The two little notes found themselves back together and explained their journeys into the world. One was looking a bit worn and thinner but said it had been worth its value tenfold and the other one, crisp and new still was telling every other note how boring it was to be a banknote.

If you have a banknote in your wallet, and that is a rare thing, go give it an outing, make it feel valuable and spend it locally. It might then have a tale to tell.

What goes around comes around and with banknotes, that is a priceless commodity in village life.