Friday, October 31, 2008

Warming around the stove

Captian Malcolm Campbell Motor Racing Driver at Home with His Wife, c.1930
Captian Malcolm Campbell Motor Racing Driver at Home with His Wife, c.1930

As soon as we set the heating challenge, the temperature dropped and we felt a slight chill walking around. No snow here but in other parts of the country there have been snowdrifts and flooding.

The wood burner works fine and keeps the room very cosy. When we leave the room, we feel the cold and do not hang around in the rooms that do not have any heating.

A small observation has been that we are not accustomed to being all in one room. There are small disagreements between people as to who controls what in the space and we are not yet pulling together as a team. Being together in a room for more than 30 mins at a time with 3 children is alien to them as well as us. We have become accustomed to each having our own space and each doing in that space what we want.

I am aware that the chair I use often in the room is now occupied by someone else and that the noise levels have increased. I am realising how much we each love our own individual space around us and yet being warm creates a need to be together. Escapes are planned : we could go to the pub and have a drink while we enjoy other's company and catch up on local news. Older children seem to wish to either stay cold in their room or visit friends who ' have heating' as they find the room stifling.

The chairs are not meant to be sat on for very long and I long to bring in a wing armchair, very much like a scene out of the 1930's, where someone will read a book, someone will knit, listen to the radio and others will quietly do an activity or go to bed.

We are not at that stage. We are currently trying to adjust to uneven temperatures around the house and uneven tempers within individuals.

I am investigating warm clothing.

Off to make a nice cup of hot chocolate for everyone and warm up the hot water bottles.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The heating challenge

Bundle Up by Jo Moulton
Bundle Up

This year we are taking a bold leap into the unknown with regards to keeping warm.

We have central heating in the house which uses bottled gas. Keeping the heating on every day morning and late evening uses three bottles every 10 days at a cost now of £ 150 every 10 days which is a bit extravagant.

This year, instead of heating the rooms and the air around us, we are changing back to warming ourselves first in an effort to make us a little more resilient, as well as cutting down on our dependency on fossil fuels. Every 10 days the heating does not go on, we have £ 150 in the kitty for other things. That means : thermal vests, woolly socks and woollen jumpers, hot drinks, super duvets, blankets, hot water bottles etc. I will be telling you how long we hold out. The house is of a construction that the living room downstairs and kitchen can be kept warm with the log burner and as heat travels up ,the lounge upstairs will also benefit from some heat. The bedrooms will be cold.

I am interested in what will happen to relationships when we are forced together around the fire instead of staying apart in individually heated rooms. If we do not manage this we can always put the heating on and we are not going to freeze but we just wonder whether it is possible to take that step. Last year we found it hard to come from a centrally heated home into a cold one but we hope that over the next weeks our bodies adjust to a gentle lowering of the temperatures around us. The shop remains unheated and we will soon be turning off the fridge that holds cold drinks. There seems little point in a cold drink when the shop will be cold. This also means that the fridges and freezers will need to work less to keep the food inside colder.

Many thanks for all your comments so far, it is lovely to hear your views.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

10 ways to prepare for winter

A polar bear snuggles up with her cubs by Paul Nicklen
A polar bear snuggles up with her cubs

For the last few weeks I have been preparing the house for winter so what follows is a general list :

  1. Sweep the Chimneys and clean out the grates fully, repairing any cracks with fire cement.
  2. Sort out the snuggly duvets - send to cleaner is necessary
  3. Check the winter wardrobes, who needs what in the way of coats, jumpers, boots, slippers, wooly socks etc. Make a list of woolly socks to knit over the next few months to keep the sock chest full.
  4. Make sure we have some nice heavy thick curtains for the windows and doors.
  5. Make sure we have enough wood stocked up for fireplace. Order any extra now before the prices go up and the rains make the logs wet.
  6. Make a checklist of seeds to prepare for spring planting
  7. Ensure we have enough cold and flu, cough mixes, Calpol, prescription meds in the house.
  8. Make sure we have some 5lt water containers in case of burst pipes or other emergencies
  9. Ensure we have a stock of candles, batteries etc (in case of power cuts)
  10. Replace the normal energy saver lightbulbs with daylight energy saver bulbs

If you have a car make sure it is full of fuel in case of emergency and get the sewing machine out to make draught excluders.

Yesterday we went for our monthly trip to the town and got a few supplies, in particular clothes for the youngest person in the household who was in need of some trousers without holes, some new wellington boots. He wears most of his clothes and shoes out as they are third hand and sometimes feels that he has a raw deal so a little trip to town makes his day as well as a visit to the library.

The weekend will be spent tidying up and getting the wood supply closer to the fire. A big freeze is expected next week and that will test our resolve regarding the heating challenge. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reality check

Do All The Good You Can
Do All The Good You Can

One of the great leaps we made in our downshifting journey was to examine our values and beliefs, our drivers and how they have shaped our lives.

As a child I cannot remember feeling poor or lacking in anything. My parents encouraged me to get well educated and with that grew expectations; that I would get a degree, that I would marry well. I envisaged a lovely house, a few children and a rosy future without lack. As the stories go, to live happily ever after.

There was no understanding of peak oil; peer pressure and media encouraged us to have new things, to throw the old ones away in sharp contrast with my grandmother who made do and mended. I have to thank her for the skills she passed onto me. She taught me how to knit and most of all how to undo my knitting, my projects, wash the wool and make something else out of it. Jumpers I outgrew, were unravelled, then became another item with stripes combining colours. As I got older I did not really appreciate the stripey socks that came my way but the essential skill of recycling and making something unique and new out of available resources stayed with me.

As the world seemed to speed up and demand consumption of convenience goods and foods through lack of time, the skills seemed no longer necessary. To repair an item became more expensive than buying it new and little repair shops went out of business. Mending clothes was unnecessary as new ones saved time and made us feel better. 'Better and convenient foods' made our waistlines expand and with it a demand for a new set of clothes.

Owning a house was a must, renting seemed somehow second best. With every possession we acquired, came the need to finance it, maintain it and then replace it, fuelling consumption. The lifespan of a washing machine in our household seemed to be about 3 years as washing was a constant daily grind. Every corporate job I held demanded a ' look' a haircut, a car, a manicure, and I was definitely keeping up with whoever. With that increasing debts meant an increasing desire to earn more, to have less time, to spend more etc etc etc until one day.......I picked up a book by John Seymour and found out that it may not have to be that way.

It is probably unbelievable to you that after all this time downshifting I am still decluttering freecycling or simply giving it away. A few things have changed though. We now plan our purchases in line with our downshifting goals.

Our reality has changed and instead of being surrounded by debt, mortgages and a deep unhappiness that is satisfied by a shopping trip, we earn less, we spend less and we save. That in itself is a miracle.

Most of all I make do and mend in many ways. I know my needs and wants change regularly but as I get older and the longer I walk on the downshifting journey, the more likely I am to invest in seeds, bulbs and plants than to buy fresh flowers.

National growth may be down, recession may be looming but only if we view it through glasses of unrealistic growth and ever expanding consumption. If on the other hand, we look at what we need, how we can best use our resources, a natural contraction of consumption happens until it finds a balance, and aligns itself to a realistic level. What we lose in growth in convenience foods we are likely to see counterbalanced by an increased demand for allotments, seeds and plants.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A splash of pink

At the end of the summer season and heralding autumn, a strange and wonderful plant grows in the very small space next to the white painted wall.Nerines do things backwards. In spring they create leaves that die down in summer and in the autumn they send up one long tender stem which when opening reveals a fantastic blossom. Whereas the garden seems to want to go to sleep, the nerines's colour contrasts well with the red leaves and the autumn colours around. They love being sunbaked and appear in a few corners of the garden. A lovely single stem flower.

Plant nerines in spring in free-draining soil at the foot of a south-facing wall, where they can bake in the sun. If you have heavy garden soil or are growing the tender kinds, grow them in pots of John Innes No3, the soil-based compost, with some grit to improve drainage.

Plant three or four in an 18cm pot, with the shoulders of the bulbs just under the compost and the necks protruding. Finish with a 1cm layer of grit to prevent water sitting next to the bulb and causing it to rot.

Leave the pots in a sunny spot on the patio and bring them indoors when the first frost is forecast.

After the leaves die down in early summer, keep them dry. When the first signs of emerging flowers appear in autumn, give them a thorough watering. Don't overdo it or the bulbs will produce a huge crop of leaves and very few flowers.

The bulbs soon begin to multiply. Don't be too quick to divide and re-pot the clump as they like to be overcrowded.

Nerines look great against dark or evergreen backdrops, mixed with the primary blue Salvia patens, set against the smoky purple leaves of Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' or among other patio containers.

Use them to replace bedding plants that are past their best.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Plastic bags made into durable bags

If you find a variety of bags in the countryside, you could make them into durable college bags or collage bags.
The above video shows a neat way of making fabric out of plastic bags which could in essence be used for anything; tarpauling, liners, bags, hats, raincoats etc.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Traditional skills

Many of the houses in our area have roofs that are thatched and over the last weeks we have been able to observe at a distance the creation and repair of a thatched roof against a backdrop of a field being ploughed by a tractor, while birds circled around to catch a little grain.

The thatcher worked through rain, sunshine at a steady pace, arriving early in the morning, when the mists were clearing. There was a sense of clarity as well as peace in the way he worked with his apprentice and the result is very pleasing to the eye.

Some traditional skills have been lost over the years and yet, there is still time to learn and relearn some of them.

Popular mechanics made a list of 100 skills every man should know, or woman for that fact. Its a starting point.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Its a bag

Three months ago we ran a competition in the village by asking everyone to design a logo for the shop as we wanted to have our own shopping bags. Although we accept plastic bags for recycling, we felt that we wanted to reduce the uptake of plastic bags and thus the idea was born to have a bag for Central Stores.

There were quite a few entries and in the end we opted for 1 logo and 1 caption which is printed on the back of the bag.

We chose ecobags as a company to print the bags because they are a family business and have an ethical trading policy. Their website is transparent about their business and their service has been great, especially when things go wrong, like delays in shipment and delivery. I guess when we knew the bags were coming we got a tad impatient simply because having announced their arrival in the village magazine for early October, many people came in and asked daily whether the bags were here.

But they are here now, and we are pleased as punch. Its a great feeling to see people walking about with a bag we have been instrumental in providing. The window display is about autumn, with pumpkins, wellington boots, firelighters, logs, tea, porridge, socks and scarves and......bags.

Making a difference can be scary but I am glad we took the step into the unknown.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

the eye of the storm

Eye of a Hurricane by Randy Berg
Eye of a Hurricane

If you are still strapped in in the roller coaster, my opinion is that we are about to strike the eye of the storm and need to stay calmer than ever. The pictures that loom currently are likely to take hold of our financial anxieties and could lead us to make decisions in a panic to save whatever is worth saving. If we can stay calm, we may notice that we have all we need.

As we celebrated harvest festival in our village, there was a toning down of the usual feast. Instead of a full village feast we had nibbles and drinks after the service. The main theme was using the words in Harvest and highlighting that we are a country that HAVE and that some others STARVE and that in order to have enough we need to learn to SHARE. It reminds me of what we learnt in kindergarten ; play nice, share and we all will have enough.

At the same time, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food highlighted that for many families, the basics of cooking and providing fresh, seasonal food is a skill that is sorely lacking and his efforts to cascade cooking lessons amongst the people in Rotherham is meeting with some resistance to say the least.

So far, the banks have been found lacking in the way they have dealt with ‘ virtual money’, our County Councils have invested surplus funds in Icelandic Banks and anyone with shares is selling them as fast as they can to save what can be saved. Next will be reverberations on pension and insurance funds, then small businesses will likely see their overdrafts being recalled adding to the chaos. It looks like a downward spiral but that too has its tipping point.

Historically a response would be to cut everything by 10% as 10% is an achievable measure. At the same time as the country will have more people unemployed in a variety of sectors, there is likely to be a cut too in benefits and welfare payments and an increase in taxation to redress the balance.

Instead of wasting the produce that is available to harvest, lets harvest what we can in the natural world and look to preserve the three basic needs we need to cover : food, shelter and warmth.

Shelter is the one most in danger if you have high borrowing on it and may need some tough rethinking.
Food : we can try and eat foods that are local , that produce a steady source of energy and essential elements for health.
Warmth : instead of warming the air around us, we could concentrate on warming ourselves to conserve energy around the house.

Life is a circle, when you harvest you also find time to sow. An alignment can take place when we look at different things to sow and reap in the future.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Here for a season....

Very little seems to have changed to the village square since this picture was taken in 1906. The front of the shop is still the same and it is a comfort to know that the same building has hosted shops in the past.
Part of the fun has been to recreate a picture today in the style of yesterday and a few photographers in the village have risen to the occasion. The results are pleasing and will continue to be displayed in the shop gallery. We are slowly building a picture of the heritage and importance of the shop in our community.

In an era where small shops keep closing, the credit crunch and reversal of mass consumption we concentrate not only on the service we provide but wonder what the social costs have been of closure of shops. There are days when Roger changes batteries in hearing aids, accepts any sort of parcel when people are out, makes deliveries to housebound residents, gives water to thirsty dogs and taps in the code on mobile phone top ups when customers cannot fathom the technology. We sell kindling wood, logs and firelighters now the weather is changing and if a resident is not there at their usual time, we phone them to make sure they are OK.
I wonder whether supermarkets taking over from village shops will be willing to do the same?
People matter to us as much as back in 1906 and we certainly get a lot of job satisfaction from knowing that our role is valued. The little boy in the picture is now an octogenarian and told us he hopes we are not about to leave....well no, we are here for the duration, good and bad times. We just love it when people empty their pockets of pennies, rustle up a small note out of a trouser pocket, leave their wellies covered in sheep dung at the entrance and walk in gingerly with socks, call in at seven in the morning on their way to work, or at six on their way home, even on horseback just to say hello and comment on the day. Being opposite the church gives us a perspective on life while we share in celebrations of births, marriages and deaths. Walking in the churchyard we are surrounded by people we have come to know albeit for a short time. Its a way of life then and now. It also shows us that we are and will be part of history in the future. Here for a season.........

Monday, October 06, 2008

Converting rubbish to pay for honeymoon

Todays' article brought a smile to my face when I read that John and Ann Till, from Petersfield, in Hampshire, took thousands of cans and bottles to a recycling centre at a nearby Tesco supermarket.
For every four recycled items, they earned a reward point which was then converted into BA air miles.
They amassed 36,000 miles, which they used to fly back in business class from their US honeymoon.
A splendid effort.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Limericks and plastic bags

This month in our local village magazine a little Limerick appeared :

Central Stores in now trying to go ' green'
To help the whole world get clean
So Roger and Anne
Both do what they can
to improve the Stogumber scene.

It is great how the village seems to embrace the changes we are introducing. Our canvas bags should he arriving next week and then we will see whether they really take on board the notion of turning shopping and the village into a plastic bag free environment.

This is an exciting time.