... because life's too short to do anything ALL the time . Creativity and positivity are my "hiraeth"

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Surfacing for air

Happy Friday! Well it is for me anyway.

Having done a mammoth first real set of shifts, I feel rather pleased and quite excited about having some time off. Of course, I have already planned enough activities to keep me going for a month of down-time.

I found a special secret dress pattern online a few days ago. It's a very special, very versatile, and really rather simple; just the way I like it. So I'm going to make two of them. This is one pattern that I won't be sharing - somethings are just SO for keeping to yourself! Sorry!

I really need to think about some Easter gifts for the children off the family. I know, I know, not much time. But I'm thinking jelly mold, lots of bars of chocolate, melted, tin foil and yellow ribbon. I had planned to make solid chocolate eggs, but I don't anticipate getting an egg shape mold at this short notice.

Watched some inspirational telly last night too. The "how to grow your own drugs" man made some homemade oat based dry skin ointment. It was really simple, and, might well make it into my Christmas hamper list. The wonders of the Internet, eh, I can find the bees wax etc required for making it. Might be nice with some of Sara Soap's wares. I thoroughly recommend all of you, that haven't already, take a little look at www.morethanbubbles.co.uk for some sheer gorgeousness!

So the vines are budding, the window sill is getting greener as my seedlings develop. The goat house is read for his lordship, the decking is finished, so the useless patch of waste ground has, in part, become useful again. Everything Hubby's used has come from the reclamation yard, other than the fence posts, and has been put to use in addition to the existing materials we had. So some more photos will be available soon.

You'll be pleased (?) to know that, mammoth shift over, normal service will be resumed!

Monday, 29 March 2010


Nearly a week's passed since my last blog and I just don't know where it's gone. Well, I do, actually, gruelling twelve hour shifts Saturday and Sunday, add in a couple of late nights, two sets of visitors, a state funeral and mid week wake, my community work and a sprinkling of disorganization is enough to consume a week.

I haven't even made the promised Jamaican Spice Cake yet for Hubby's birthday, but he did get a banana cake, so he's not too hard done by.

So I have Easter to look forward to this weekend, and as usual I've not done a thing. I really need to get some Easter things sorted out for our family and friends children - I guess it'll be another last minute rush. No one could ever say that leading an ethical life is easy.

So, I was thinking the other day about supermarkets. Whether we like it or not, there are some things that we all have to use supermarkets for as there is no where else to buy it from. Also, more people work these days, longer hours, so they don't have the luxury of being able to nip to a fruit and veg shop.

So when we have to buy from supermarkets, it's cost effective to be a bit clever. Think outside the box. Some products are available in multiple departments and by not using the most obvious department, we can save money.

For example, everyone knows I like a home made cake. If I was going to make a chocolate cake, I would need the wondrous brown stuff for topping if not for the cake itself. I could go to the baking isle and pick up some cooking chocolate, or, I could go to the sweets section and pick up some supermarket own brand actual chocolate, which is really pretty nice, (I, of course, would rather we all purchased a bit of Green and Black's Organic, but, let's be realistic - not many of us are going to cook with organic chocolate) and it's an awful lot cheaper, usually around 27p for 250g bar.

We all use cotton wool and cotton wool pads. You buy them from the cosmetic section you're going to be paying adult prices, but them in the Baby section, you're paying less. AND sometimes you get the option of organic cotton too.

So, the big ethical debate. Supermarkets are bad, we all know that. Profit does not stay locally, they destroy high streets the country wide. However, you sometimes get options to buy organic and Fairtrade products you wouldn't be able to pick up on the high street. So which it the right thing to do? In the long term, my thinking is that if you support your local producer/seller enough, he'll be able to stock Fairtrade oranges in his high street shop. But would that really happen? And how long would it take? The debate goes on, but I think as long as we make ethical choices of some description, that's the main thing.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

We have a birthday in our house this weekend which always leaves me in a bit of a quandary. What do you get a man who has everything lets face it, they all do! Not being able to "buy" gifts has actually helped in this case because there's nothing him indoors loves more than a homemade cake. I happen to know that he has a penchant for Jamaican spice cake. I may have to invest in a new cake tin though as I remember not having one big enough last time I made it.

It's an extravagant recipe with black treacle, rum, ginger, nutmeg and loads of other spices which fills the kitchen with the most gorgeous of smells, so every one's happy with this cake. Perhaps I'll decorate it for him too - I've been inspired. We had a cake icing demonstration at my craft group today so I might well be getting a little creative. We've planned to buy lots of native trees for our land too, so I'll take a trip to the local independent garden centre and get a nice bit of growing wood, although he was talking about growing grapevines over the sleepers on the land, so I may look at getting one of those. Birthday sorted. Then we just have to await the arrival of best mate who has recently returned to this country from New Zealand - they're both as excited as kids at being able to go out to play together again. That's REALLY what birthdays are all about.

With the weight loss seeming to have notched up a gear, I've had to start pinning my clothes on. I'm finding now that existing garments no longer suit my shape. But I like them all, so I'm planning on completely transforming them. I've got a gorgeous satin duck egg skirt with massive Lilly print on it, I'm going to make that into a top - maybe even a dress as there's that much fabric there. I've got a denim day dress that just looks really dowdy now, so that's getting turned into the fitted denim shirt I've been craving for months, so I'm well excited about that.

Now I just need some time to actually do the alterations. I did, however, complete on simple and uninteresting project today. I needed a new bath mat so I crocheted one out of packing string, because it's so absorbent. See I told you it was uninteresting. But I'm quite pleased with it. Simple things, eh, simple things.

So I talked today, by text, to the lovely Liz Buckland that's doing my skin art for me. Her website is now up and running, and a jolly good job of it she's done too. I promised her a link, so a link she shall have. You want a custom piece? Liz is your woman. Art is her bag, man. And they don't get better. You can meet her at the Newport Tattoo Convention, if you like! In the meantime, take a sneaky peek: http://tattoosbylizbuckland.co.uk/liz-buckland

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Brand Power?

Thursday September 1 2005

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What do Nike, Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Nestlé have in common? Apart from being among the world's most well-known brands, they happen to be the most boycotted brands on the planet.

That finding came from this week's global GMIPoll, an online opinion poll that surveyed 15,500 consumers in 17 countries.

Nestlé emerges as the most the most boycotted brand in the UK because of what respondents consider its "unethical use and promotion of formula feed for babies in third world countries."

On its website, Nestlé said it managed to put an end to the controversy over its marketing of infant formula in the developing world in the 1980s. It acknowledges that the issue remains alive in some quarters, "but there is no longer any significant boycott activity".

Nevertheless, it is quite remarkable how the Nestlé boycott, keeps ongoing, like the Energizer Bunny, more than two decades after it was launched and how in some people's minds, the company remains inextricably linked to the promotion of infant formula in poor countries.

GMIPoll found that Nestlé was boycotted by almost twice as many UK consumers than McDonalds, the second most boycotted brand in the UK. According to the poll, 36% of UK consumers say they boycott one or more brands.

However, the keenest boycotters are the Chinese, with more than half of the respondents saying they refused to buy products from certain manufacturers. Denmark(49%) and France(46%) came a close second and third.

Mexican and Japanese consumers seemed to be most tolerant with only 15% of Mexican respondents and one fifth of Japanese respondents avoiding particular brands.

The Chinese cite bad publicity (negative media coverage of brands) as their reason for boycotting brands. Chinese consumers said they avoided mainly Sony and local brands.

The dislike for Sony is understandable given the feeling of antagonism the Chinese harbour towards Japan, related to the history of conflict between the two countries. The dislike of local brands is more intriguing and more ironic given the way Chinese goods are snapped up in the west. As Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, is finding out, western consumers can't get enough of Chinese-made bras and T-shirts.

In other findings, more than a third of consumers worldwide boycott at least one brand, while a fourth of all consumers worldwide also claimed they were "environmentally responsible" or "socially responsible" when they shop.

"These findings will be very concerning to these adept marketing companies, as it demonstrates the risk to the value of their brands. Clearly they are not connecting with their local marketplaces as well as they could," said Allyson Stewart-Allen, director of marketing consulting firm International Marketing Partners.

But let's not overestimate the power of consumer boycotts. Nestle, in the first six months of this year, made a profit of 3.7bn Swiss francs (£1.63bn), up 32% from a year ago. Nike, Coke and McDonald’s are also highly profitable companies, despite their less than stellar public image. And let's not forget Exxon, the environmentalists' nemesis, is the world's most profitable company.

The guilty secrets of palm oil. Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests?

The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests?

Does your shopping basket contain KitKat, Hovis, Persil or Flora? If so, you may be contributing to the devastation of the wildlife-rich forests of Indonesia and Malaysia, where orangutans and other species face extinction as their habitat disappears.

Report by Martin Hickman

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A fisherman surveys the scene as he steers his boat alongside a recently cleared area of forest


A fisherman surveys the scene as he steers his boat alongside a recently cleared area of forest


It's an invisible ingredient, really, palm oil. You won't find it listed on your margarine, your bread, your biscuits or your KitKat. It's there though, under "vegetable oil". And its impact, 7,000 miles away, is very visible indeed.

The wildlife-rich forests of Indonesia and Malaysia are being chain-sawed to make way for palm-oil plantations. Thirty square miles are felled daily in a burst of habitat destruction that is taking place on a scale and speed almost unimaginable in the West.

When the rainforests disappear almost all of the wildlife – including the orangutans, tigers, sun bears, bearded pigs and other endangered species – and indigenous people go. In their place come palm-oil plantations stretching for mile after mile, producing cheap oil – the cheapest cooking oil in the world – for everyday food.

It's not that people haven't noticed what is going on. The United Nations has documented this rampage. Environmental groups have warned that what we buy affects what is happening in these jungles. Three years ago, Britain's biggest supermarket, Tesco, was persuaded to join the only organisation that just might halt the chopping, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

In his globe-trotting Tribe series two years ago, the TV explorer Bruce Parry was visibly moved by the sad fate of the Penan, a forest-dwelling tribe in Borneo. Most recently, the BBC's prime-time Orangutan Diary showed the battle to create fresh habitats for "red apes" orphaned by deforestation, principally for palm oil.

But if there's plenty of evidence of the devastating environmental effects of palm-oil, little of it can be seen on the products in Britain's biggest supermarkets.

Until now, the best estimate of the number of leading supermarket products containing palm oil (Elaeis guineensis) has been one in 10, the figure quoted by Friends of the Earth in its 2005 report, "The Oil for Apes Scandal". After a two-month investigation, The Independent has established that palm oil is used in far greater quantities. We can reveal for the first time that it is confirmed or suspected in 43 of Britain's 100 bestselling grocery brands (see box, right), representing £6bn of the UK's £16bn annual shopping basket for top brands. If you strip out drinks, pet food and household goods, the picture is starker still: 32 out of 62 of Britain's top foods contain this tree-felling, wildlife-wrecking ingredient.

It's in the top three loaves – Warburtons, Hovis, and Kingsmill – and the bestselling margarines Flora and Clover. It's in Special K, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, Mr Kipling Cakes, McVitie's Digestives and Goodfella's pizza. It's in KitKat, Galaxy, Dairy Milk and Wrigley's chewing gum. It's in Persil washing powder, Comfort fabric softener and Dove soap. It's also in plenty of famous brands that aren't in the top 100, such as Milkybar, Jordan's Country Crisp and Utterly Butterly. And it's almost certainly in thousands of supermarket own brands. Yet none of these manufacturers can prove their supply is "sustainable".

What, then, is "unsustainable" palm oil? Step one: log a forest and remove the most valuable species for furniture. Step two: chainsaw or burn the remaining wood releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gas. Step three: plant a palm-oil plantation. Step four: make oil from the fruit and kernels. Step five: add it to biscuits, chocolate, margarine, soaps, moisturisers and washing powder. At breakfast, when millions of us are munching toast, we're eating a small slice of the rainforest.

From outer space, borneo and sumatra resemble giant emerald stepping stones between Thailand and Australia. Reaching the heart of their still-massive jungles takes days of boat trips and trekking. Gibbons hoot and long-tailed macaques squawk. Mongooses and pangolins scamper through the undergrowth. Large-beaked rhinoceros hornbills soar above the forest. The huge green and black Rajah Brooke's butterfly flutters by.

These rainforests are honeypots for flora and fauna, among the most biodiverse places on Earth. Consider the figures. Sumatra – the size of Spain, owned by Indonesia – has 465 species of bird, 194 species of mammal, 217 species of reptile, 272 species of freshwater fish, and an estimated 10,000 species of plant. Borneo – the size of Turkey and shared between Indonesia and Malaysia – is even richer: 420 birds, 210 mammals, 254 reptiles, 368 freshwater fish and around 15,000 plants.

All these species evolved to live in this unique forest environment. The Sumatran rhino is the smallest, hairiest and most endangered in the world; the Sumatran tiger is the smallest tiger. The black sun bear, with its U-shaped patch of white fur under its chin, is the smallest bear. Some of them are curious in the extreme: the bug-eyed western tarsier; the striped rabbit; the marled cat; and the tree-jumping clouded leopard, which feasts on pygmy squirrels and long-tailed porcupines.

Of all the animals, though, the most famous by far is the orangutan (or "man of the jungle"). With its orange hair and long arms, the orangutan is one of our planet's most unusual creatures. And one of the smartest, too. The Dutch anthropologist Carel van Schaik found that orangutans could perform tasks which were well beyond chimpanzees, such as making rain hats and leakproof roofs for their nests.

The primatologist Dr Willie Smits estimates that orangutans can distinguish between 1,000 different plants, knowing which ones are edible, which are poisonous, and which cure headaches. In her book Thinkers of the Jungle, the psychology professor Anne Russon recalled that one orangutan keeper took three days to solve the mystery of who'd been stealing from the fridge. It turned out that an orangutan had been using a paperclip to pick the lock of its cage, then hiding the paperclip under its tongue.

Along with chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos, orangutans are great apes, sharing 97 per cent of their DNA with humans, having split from us a mere 13 million years ago. They exist only in these forests of Borneo and Sumatra, and it is their arboreal nature that leaves them so vulnerable to deforestation. Between 2004 and 2008, according to the US Great Ape Trust, the orangutan population fell by 10 per cent (to 49,600) on Borneo and by 14 per cent (to 6,600) on Sumatra. As the author Serge Wich warned: "Unless extraordinary efforts are made soon, it could become the first great-ape species to go extinct."

Native people too, known in Borneo as Dayaks, are under threat. About 10,000 members of the semi-nomadic Penan tribe survive but their traditional lifestyle – which includes harvesting the starchy sago tree – is being felled.

A researcher with Survival International, the London-based human-rights organisation, returned to the UK last month with transcripts of interviews with the Penan conducted deep in the jungle. According to one headman, called Matu, hunters were increasingly returning empty-handed. "When the logging started in the Nineties, we thought we had a big problem," he complained. "But when oil palm arrived [in 2005], logging was relegated to problem No 2. Our land and our forests have been taken by force.

"Our fruit trees are gone, our hunting grounds are very limited, and the rivers are polluted, so the fish are dying. Before, there were lots of wild boar around here. Now, we only find one every two or three months. In the documents, all of our land has been given to the company."

"There were no discussions," said another Penan. "The company just put up signs saying the government had given them permission to plant oil palm on our land."

Indonesia is trying to crack down on illegal foresting, but corruption is rife hundreds of miles from Jakarta. Satellite pictures show logging has encroached on 90 per cent of Borneo's national parks – and according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): "New estimates suggest 98 per cent of [Indonesia's] forest may be destroyed by 2022, the lowland forest much sooner."

In its 2007 report, "The Last Stand of the Orangutan", UNEP warned that forest rangers were outnumbered and outgunned by logging guards with military training and automatic weapons – and faced "high and sometimes lethal risks" in confronting them. The programme's executive director Achim Steiner wrote: "The driving forces are not impoverished farmers, but what appears to be well-organised companies with heavy machinery and strong international links to the global markets."

In its own way, palm oil is a wonder plant. Astonishingly productive, its annual yield is 3.6 tonnes a hectare compared with half a tonne for soy or rapeseed. Originally found in West Africa, palm oil is uniquely "fractionable" when cooked, meaning its properties can be easily separated for different products. Although high in artery-clogging saturated fat, it is healthier than hydrogenated fats. For manufacturers, there is another significant benefit. At £400 a tonne, it is cheaper than soy, rapeseed or sunflower.

Some 38m tonnes of palm oil are produced globally, about 75 per cent in Malaysia and Indonesia. Borneo's 11,000 square miles of plantations produce 10m tonnes a year while Sumatra's 14,000 square miles yield 13m tonnes.

Since 1990, the amount of land used for palm-oil production has increased by 43 per cent. Demand is rising at between six and 10 per cent a year. China's billion-plus population is the biggest consumer, importing 18 per cent of global supply. About 16 per cent arrives in the EU.

In the UK, almost every major food manufacturer uses palm oil, among them Kellogg's, Cadbury, Mars, Kraft, Unilever, Premier Foods, Northern Foods and Associated British Foods (ABF). Companies typically say they are working to source sustainable supplies – and insist their use is "small", "very small" or "minute".

The US household giant Procter & Gamble, which uses palm oil in detergents, shampoos and soaps, says: "P&G uses very little palm oil – about 1 per cent of a worldwide production of palm and its derivatives." One per cent of global production is 380,000 tonnes a year. P&G says it hopes to source a sustainable supply by 2015 – six years' time.

Right now no multinational can vouch that its supply is sustainable. The Anglo-Dutch household giant Unilever, the world's biggest user of palm oil, is swallowing up 1.6m tonnes a year, 4 per cent of global supply. It admits the product causes huge damage, but believes it has a solution. Together with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Unilever set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. For its first four years – to the frustration of green groups – the RSPO talked, devising eight principles and 39 practical criteria designed to protect native peoples, plantation workers, small farmers and wildlife.

Forty per cent of palm-oil suppliers are now members of the RSPO and it hopes all of them will eventually join. Members promise not to chainsaw any virgin forest; but they are still allowed to chop down "degraded forest" – where some trees have been felled – preventing other trees from re-growing and animals from returning.

Palm-oil plantations are barren places. When vast blocks of palms are planted in straight lines, stretching for mile after mile, 90 per cent of the wildlife disappears. In the words of Junaida Payne, of WWF Malaysia's Sabah office, they are "biological deserts".

Jan Kees Vis, Unilever's director of sustainable agriculture and chairman of the RSPO, says it is "not realistic" to halt palm-oil expansion, but believes much growth can be achieved by raising yields. The best plantations currently yield 10 tonnes per hectare, but in the future this could hit 18 or even 50 tonnes, he says.

The best plantations can obtain RSPO certification for sustainability – but only 4 per cent of global supply (1.5m tonnes) is currently certified sustainable. The first shipment arrived in Rotterdam last November and costs about 35 per cent more than normal supplies. Another scheme, Green Palm, is already bringing prices for RSPO supplies down further, adding just 5 per cent to the cost.

Unilever has publicly committed to sourcing only certified palm oil by 2015. Premier Foods has a date of 2011, United Biscuits 2012. Most companies, however, including Cadbury, Kellogg's, Nestlé, Mars and Heinz, have given no commitment to switch to an RSPO-certified supply. They merely say that their suppliers are members.

As Vis puts it bluntly: "The volume of certified palm oil traded is disappointingly low so far; the reason for this being that many companies are not prepared to pay a premium for certified oil."

Environmentalists fear that the RSPO is itself greenwash, cover for a programme of vicious and unrelenting deforestation. Even the RSPO concedes that its members have subsidiaries who plant palm oil, and who are not bound by – and do not abide by – its rules.

As if this were not enough, in the rush to replace diminishing fossil fuel, palm oil is being mixed into petrol. The EU Biofuels Directive aims to put biofuels in 5 per cent of all fuel pumps. Destroying peat forests for palm oil is especially bad for the climate, as these semi-saturated soils are dense "carbon stores" which release colossal quantities of C02 when they are burnt to make way for palm oil.

In its "Cooking the Climate" report, Greenpeace calculated that the burning of South-east Asia's peat forests – largely for palm-oil plantations – spewed 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere: 4 per cent of global climate-change emissions from 0.1 per cent of Earth's land. According to Greenpeace forest campaigner James Turner, "The destruction of these forests is a really serious cause of climate change, but some companies are still trying to look the other way. It's time for them to cancel contracts with the worst suppliers, because purchasing power is a highly effective tool in changing this industry."

Conservationists are increasingly wondering whether the wholesale destruction of rainforests to make margarine is the most striking of all examples of environmental lunacy. It isn't just destroying one of the last great wildernesses, its rare animals and some of the remaining people whose ways are at odds with modern living. It also threatens to damage our own lives in the West.

Deforestation causes 18 per cent of Co2 emissions, according to British government figures – a key element in the rising temperatures that in coming decades will alter our world for ever. No one can be exactly sure what climate change will bring but, in Britain, we can expect more flooding and winter gales, drier summers, water shortages, and more food poisoning and skin cancer. The sea will not just sweep over Bangladesh and the Maldives, but possibly threaten low-lying parts of Britain, such as London, too. Meanwhile, millions of people in developing countries with failing agriculture could migrate to northern Europe.

The wealthy Western countries who have already felled their own forests (woods once covered Britain from Cornwall to Caithness) may have to pay more and more to protect those that remain in other parts of the world. At the Copenhagen summit in December, Britain and other countries will press for REDD (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation) – essentially a scheme for funding jungles in developing countries.

In the meantime, forest campaigners hope that big companies will come under increasing scrutiny over palm oil. The Unilever-backed RSPO wants them to commit to a sustainable supply. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace say palm-oil use should be reduced or phased out altogether. A few have already done so – PepsiCo, for instance, is phasing out palm oil from its remaining two products. United Biscuits says it has reduced palm oil in Digestives by 65 per cent and in McCoys by 76 per cent since 2005.

So far, companies have managed to avoid much scrutiny over the havoc palm oil is wreaking. For now, it is "only" the native peoples, the orangutans and the other animals of the rainforest who have experienced the most profound changes. They are losing the habitat that they thought would be around for ever.

"When I was a young girl I used to be so happy walking in the forest," one Penan woman told Bruce Parry after trekking overnight to pass on her message. "I used to sing while I was looking for sago. I loved to hear the sound of the wild peacocks, the hornbills and the gibbons, and when I looked at the forest it was lovely."

Palm oil facts

90 per cent of Sumatra's orangutan population has disappeared since 1900. They now face extinction

90 per cent of wildlife disappears when the forest is replaced by palm, creating a biological desert

98 per cent of Indonesia's forests may be destroyed by 2022 according to the United Nations

43 of Britain's 100 top grocery brands contain or are thought to contain palm oil

Diamond in the Rough

I've got some gorgeous vintage fabrics here that aren't suitable for Sarongs, and a great idea for a dress. I think I need a mannequin, though. I can't see how I can ensure that Meg stands completely still for wearing sufficient wobbly bit add-ons to allow me to do what I want. I don't know anything about mannequins, what's the best type, what to look for etc before I go looking for a good second hand one. I'm going to have to get brave and attempt a trouser tailoring attempt as I'm using good trousers for work and ever they're too big. I have a lesser pair I'd rather use as they have to be washed every day with disinfectant and I don't want my good ones to fade. And anyway, I'm barely able to keep those up! I think that's the last thing that my service users need is to see me and my "substantial undercrackers" while I'm trying to get them up and dressed for the day!

So my first shift out on my own has been completed and I'm glad I worked where I did as I knew a lot of them. Everyone was in fine talking spirit today too and I had some lovely chats with some people who don't speak for days hardly. It was well lush, actually. Apart from the part where I did actually gag. I won't tell you more as I may not finish ...

So I put that out of my mind and went for a little lunch with Hubby, to an ACTUAL restaurant. Not a chain pub, but an actual locally owned, free house restaurant we've been meaning to go to for ages. And it's a great restaurant - I can't believe we haven't been there before. We can't wait now for people to come visit so we can show off our little gem in the rough!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

We Have a Man Down ...

The busy-ness is exhausting!

I spent a few hours out on the land yesterday and, just from my veg patch area I cleared a whole box of glass shards. That's the white box you can see here.

Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of utter rubbish in the purest sense of the word, our English Springer was down there with us and did himself a REAL mischief. He's gashed his paw from one end to the other. And it's wide. A real nasty one. Having dressed it twice before we set off for the gig last night (which was amazing, by the way!), I was alarmed to see the amount of blood through the second bandage overnight so we did a joint investigation which was when we realised that it was so bad. I knew it was clean as he'd been in the shower with me after coming in, and to see just how bad it was was a bit of a shock.

£55, two metal staples, a huge amount of dressing and an empty saline drip bag later and we're all back from the vets. A bit brutal, certainly wouldn't fancy it myself, but much better for them than having to have an anaesthetic. Re-dressing on Tuesday. So when I came back I set about acquiring myself some protective footwear for woofers.

As usual, you really can spend as much as you want on them, but I managed to pick up a set of 4 boots for about £15, and some lightweight disposable ones for all of them to use. They're multi use ones but they're just a thin coat of durable rubber. I wish I'd had those for the Cocker in the snow as he'd get toe burn from clogged ice all the time. As you can see from the photos, the Springer is clearly bothered by the dressing on him - NOT!

So I'm ready not to order the topsoil for the planting area. Once I dig in some manure to the existing soil, it'll be ready to go. Planting is looming!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Having started work at 07.45 this morning after a 35 minute drive, I'm shattered tonight, but, given that A - I've enjoyed every bit of it and B - I didn't get as much done last night as I wanted to, I was determined to do some bits today I left off yesterday.

I've neglected my seedlings a bit over the last week or so, and I was determined to redeem myself to them. So I've re-potted them nicely,fed them all with those ball things wot Lou gave me and given them a good watering. Oh, and a full blown heartfelt apology which they seemed to appreciate.

Talking of rewards, I made a lovely old gent with end stages of motor-neurone disease smile today. It doesn't get more rewarding than that.

My disorganisation has made me pay a price today too. Determined to start beading my heartagram, I have searched high and low for my white pencil. Can I find it? Can I heck as like. After 30 minutes of hunting, I find my alternative scribe, my gold gel pen. Not my first choice because, although it's nicer and easier to use, it's also harder to wash off, but never the less I found it. So I've started out mapping the beading. Please see attached.

It won't be long until I'll be in bed though now. The Co-op in the morning (fruit and veg not supermarket), then a couple of hours of house work, a coffee with a friend and out working again. I accepted my first solo job today also which was pretty cool as they obviously don't think that I'm a total waste of space. I like that.

Talking of Co-op, I cooked paprika lemon chicken for tea tonight. The meat was from the Co-op as my Hubby had picked it up, but it was Freedom Food certified. I don't think I can ever eat cheap chicken again the taste was so incredible. This creates a quandary, though, doesn't it? What is the ethical thing to do? Support your local butcher with standard raised meat or buy Freedom Food from the Co-op? I can't achieve both. I have the same issue with oranges. I can either buy Fairtrade oranges from a supermarket, or I can buy them from a local small business.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

His Infernal Majesty

I didn't have to work today as the lady I'm shadowing is off. It's a good job actually as my car sprang a leak and has had to go tot the car hospital for a tank replacement. I'm gutted, I lost half a tank of fuel overnight last night. Apart from the monetary cost, that's litres of fuel seeping into the soil and I hate the thought of that. But, I don't think I'd have found out the leak was that bad until I did fill it up. Still gutting though. SO I'm out in Hubby's car tomorrow, leaving him stranded. Don't worry, he won't be bored. I've compiled a"to-do" list :)

As usual, so it seems, the girls in work are correct. I got more done housework wise on the day that I work than on the day that I'm off. I really haven't achieved a great deal today at home, but in my craft group this morning I taught 5 ladies how to crochet. They got cracking on it, learned really well and then I was stuck with nothing to do as I'd rushed getting out in the morning and went out without half the things I needed.

I'm going to a gig on Friday with Meg, and I need a heartagram top (it's a band thing) so, obviously, I need to make one. I've copied it on to paper and now, I need to transfer it onto my top, which is black, so I've got to find my white pencil and draw it on first, bead it, then hope to god that the pencil comes off in the wash. I'm sure it will, but I can see me sat in the services on the M5 at half past six on Friday night listening to HIM and beading. I bloomin' hope not. For some reason I appear to give the impression I'm organised but I'm so not.

I need to sort out my "play room". It's a state, but given that I have to be in Newport by 7.45 tomorrow morning, I don't know how much of it I'll get done. I have a good few hours of work to look forward to tomorrow and I don't want to be shattered.

Anything good on the telly tonight?

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Biggest Change By Far

So today was a rather big day for me. I started my new job.

If I thought I had an appreciation for what Care Workers do before today, they've gone up in my estimations a hundredfold.

What a service. What a job. What strength of character the Carers display. I really hope I can live up to a quarter of what they do. They are an inspiration. The two ladies I went out with this morning and am about to go back out with are a credit to the human race.

I can't pretend that I chose this line of work to go along with my year or my blog, but they do fit in perfectly with each other. Previously, I've earned really good money doing soul destroying jobs with the only motivation being limiting the stress damage. I've done this full time, 40, 50, 60, 70 hours per week. Instead of that, I'm now training to be a care worker, helping service users to retain as much of their independence and dignity as they can. I've swapped the big salary for the big rewards, and I already know that I've made the best decision of my life.

Never again will I be welded to my office chair, sit at a board room table, have to submit reports or work to "targets".The thought of those things makes me feel sick.

Yes, I've got a whole lot of challenges in front of me that not every one can deal with, but I'm confident that I can master these challenges with the care and respect that they deserve and command. It is not for everyone, granted, but we may all use the service at some point or other in our lives. That makes the difference.

I do believe I have arrived.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Happy Mumatron's Day!

I had to nip out for a hair cut on Friday. I was very pleased indeed when the very experienced stylist asked me about my hair colour, she said it was fantastic. And my hair in such good condition, despite damage inflicted last year. I told her about my "sick" hair mask and she was VERY impressed. She told me about a client who swears by some king of garlic conditioning cream thing for her hair. Apparently it stimulates follicular growth too. Might have to Google that.

Well, just about to throw a full on strop for not getting a card or owt for Mother's day when Meg managed to pull something marvelous out of the bag, literally!

I got some lovely skincare cream but, in complete conjunction with my consumerism liberation, it was the card that I was bowled over by. A simple note card (she'd forgotten to buy one!) but it was what was written in it that mattered to me.

Thanks Meg, the feeling's mutual. I adore you for that card. I adore you anyway, not just for that card. Even if you did call me a "ho"!

I cooked a batch of coconut slices last night to give to my Nana as a Mother's Day present. Unfortunately, (for everyone except my Husband) because I didn't have the correct tin for it and I had to improvise, they were too gooey to slice up, so him indoors has got a rather tasty pudding. Instead, I got up early-ish this morning and made some digestive biscuits which I cooled then half coated in Dairy Milk. They went down a storm.

The apple tree seedlings looked lovely and were very well received, as were the covered note books. The Mother in law received hers up North yesterday and was thrilled by it! Sometimes, having principles doesn't mix with time efficiency or even financial efficiency. In this case, two clashed resulting in the third. What am I on about? I'll explain ...

Making the Mum in law's embroidered note book took time. A good lot of hours. Because it took so long, it didn't get done as quickly as I'd like it to. Because it didn't get made so quickly, I couldn't post it through regular mail to get there in time (regular first class mail would've cost 90p, by the way) so I had to send it special delivery. Disregarding the hours of fabrication time and materials already available, the present cost me 45p to make and £7.85 to post! Note to self - get EVEN MORE ORGANISED!

I'd just like to tip my hat, if you don't mind to someone very important that sadly passed away last night. John Sicolo, legendary owner of TJ's, Newport. A very sad and untimely loss.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Well my hair is nice and soft but I did have to rush home and shower because my hair all of a sudden went INCREDIBLY greasy.

And I did give myself a little shock as I forgot to put the remainder of the hair mask in the fridge and I wondered who'd hurled in a small bowl in the kitchen while I'd been asleep.

But it looks great now!

I may have to resort to plan B for Mother's day as I've not been very good with the presents I've been making. I should really be doing them now but I just can't seem to get started. I'm really not very good with deadlines, and all I seem to want to do at the moment is mess about on the water.

But Hubby's been working very hard on the decking area. Far too hard. He feels a desperate need to push himself far too hard far too often and pays the price every day. I don't understand the male psyche one bit.

The stage has been set for the recycled brick barbecue, the steep steep steps are in place, I believe, so the access is improving. Hubby's made some lovely knotted rope for the handrails. I actually don't know how he's made them and I'm trying to work it out so that I don't have to ask him!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

God Gave Rock'n'Roll To Yoooooooooo...

Well, my Organic hair colourant has arrived today finally and it's currently "on-bonce". The only problem is the packaging says that it contains no Heavy Metals. Now that's not very rock'n'roll, is it?!

I remember the days when you had a choice of a whole 4 shades of Henna dye. Now there's, like, ten - maybe more. A paper packet containing brown weird smelling dust that had to be mixed into a cold paste and applied liberally to one's barnett with a paint brush, covered in foil and left for ever, it felt like.

It now comes in a very similar box, if I'm honest, but, what's inside that's changed. No messy dust, no mixing, no nasty niffs. It's ready to rock'n'roll as soon as you can say "orange ears", and the really great thing is that you can put the top back on and reuse at a convenient time. There's no chemical reaction induced by the mixing of two chemicals, and you can put your veggie colour on every day, if it so suits you.

Reading through the leaflet on the box was a bit of an eye opener, I must be honest. I had no idea, naive maybe, that conventional hair colour contained soooooo much bad ju ju. I won't be using another off the shelf conventional hair colour having read that. Even if I have to Henna every couple of weeks.

I think it's the botanics advert or something that has the logo "the power of plants" which always makes me laugh as I can't help but imagine a celery bunch in a superhero costume stood proudly, cape billowing, on the top of a sky scraper, but when you can get a product SO good and SO powerful completely naturally and predominantly organic, it makes me wonder why more people don't.

I've just mad home made product. A conditioning hair mask for after the colour. It looks and smells like sick sick, especially when it plopped in the sink, in fairness to Meg, who did actually retch, my stomach wobbled too!

An egg, a mashed banana, 3 tablespoons milk, 5 tablespoons Olive oil, mixed up and plopped on for as long as you can be bothered to keep it on. I've only used half too, so I'll put it in the fridge for another go in a day or two. God knows my hair needs it after all the messing with it last summer. Funnily enough, Meg turned down the offer of the other half.

I'm sure it'll be great. It contains Olive oil. I love the stuff. Been putting it on my hands every night when I go to bed, and then my hands in cotton socks. Hubby is now even more convinced that I'm barking but my hands are starting to improve. I swear that put Olive oil on my abdominal area stopped me from getting stretchmarks when I carried Meg. I just have a few little ones on my sides which didn't get as much oil as other areas.

The power of plants indeed! If I go blow dry my hair now will I get scrambled egg?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

There's coal in them there hills!

All this rubbish came out of the hole you can see. There's no need for it, is there?

Well, this mountain of ours is certainly keeping us busy.

Yesterday I filled 3 more black bags with rubble, and between yesterday afternoon and this morning's work, I have collected a plastic stacker box and a half of glass.

I've uncovered yet more shoes, tights, carpets, clothes and general junk, not to mention feet and feet and feet of coke. And coal. It's a real shame we don't know anyone with a coal fire. it's an even bigger shame that we don't have one.

My finger nails are black, I'm scratched from head to toe again with brambles, and thoroughly enjoying it.

The railway sleepers are in place, we've made a big dent in levelling the one area, and it's coming along nicely.

Last night, I made a really good head start on the Mother's Day presents too - and I'm knocking up another couple for some very deserving friends, but that's a secret(ish!); there'll be photos to follow!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Back to Basics

Talking this morning on the Jamie and Louise show http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007y9mt (dahling) made me think about the initial aims of my year and the blog. I guess the last few months has given me a little clarity and a fresh perspective on consumerism and the process of rejecting it.

Some people have only grasped the fringes of what it's all about, some have said "what are you doing out in the pub? You must be expecting people to buy you drinks". I've had to bite my tongue a few times. Rejecting consumerism does not mean not spending any money. I think that supporting the British pub trade is an excellent way to spend your money and it helps to boost local economies. But what I won't do is go clubbing in your nationwide chain of "Oceana"s. First and foremost because it's my idea of hell. Instead of going to Wetherspoons for a beer or some dinner, I try to go to a little independent. The British pub industry should be supported.

I have not gone shopping for 3 months now, and it has generated me considerable extra time and, as I said, perspective. I have spent money, of course, on outings with the family, necessities - shampoo, soap, that sort of thing. What consumerism rejection about is spending your consciously and deliberately. I try to go to the greengrocer instead of the supermarket, but sometimes I fail to do that. If I have to go to the supermarket, I try to use Sainsbury's (they are a little more ethical) or Lidl/Aldi because they don't indulge in subtle mind control techniques to encourage you to overspend. Marketing is kept at a minimum.

This is a quite good example. I have to colour my hair these days, and it's needed doing for a little while. I could just nip up to Tesco, I need some bread and vegetables anyway, and pick up a box of colour, whatever happens to be on offer. Or, I could take a little trip to my local high street, visit the baker and the grocer and then take a little detour to the health food shop and pick up an organic henna dye from a Fairtrade source. That's what rejecting consumerism is about. Conscious choices, conscious spending.

The world of media, magazines, TV, society as a whole demands that we "keep up" with current fashion, indulge in the pastimes they say we should (health spas, shopping, nail bars) and that we all try to live up to the cult of celebrity. We could all look like Kylie if it was our job to be Kylie, but we're not. We're thinking feeling, choosing individuals with the power to govern our own destinies. Make conscious choices.

Chances are that your average "age defying" skin product is exactly the same as it was 6 months ago. Just in new packaging. So don't be fooled.

"90% of testers reported a marked increase in skin tone" something like that is the claim of some new Netrogena product. If you look VERY carefully at the small print at the bottom, the product was extensively tested on a whole 34 people. Wow. And who paid for that research? I think I could guess.

Your life will not be transformed by you purchasing this newly fragranced floor cleaner. Your family will not love you more, or less. Your life will not now be simpler, happier or more pretty. Your floor won't be any cleaner than if you used a less marketed product, and you won't notice the difference once the artificial pong has gone.

Be really aware of the subtle manipulation that goes on when you shop. Models aren't just to show you what the clothes look like on. They're to make you think that your life will be like that fake photo shoot if you buy that item. Celebrity styles - if you dress like "whoever" your life might become a bit like that person's. Some of the glamour will rub off.

Well, I have some news. IT WON'T

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Dear Superstar ...

Shattered again after just a few hours on the mountain clearing rubble and brick and stone hunting.

The reclaimed railway sleepers have arrived and it looks like I'm going to get my planting tier soon indeed. That is, when I get off my rump and order 5 tonne of topsoil, which, I'm told, we need.

Talking today to my very favorite artist Liz about my year and my blog, I said that self sufficiency is a big claim. I don't ever think we'll be self sufficient, but sustainable would be good. I need to put a bit more effort into my planting diary too, so I get things going in at the right time.

Mother's day is looming on the horizon and I'm kicking myself for not being more organised. 4 mother's day gifts need to be made, I have some ideas, but not yet ready to put into fabric. Thinking about my favorite artist too, I need to fashion a suitable gift for her by way of thanks for the effort and skill she's put into my artwork that I love more every day.

I think the gift may resemble those being made for mother's day, and involve some intricate bead work - but not tonight, I'm shattered after last night's rock and roll shenanigans. My new Dear Superstar halterneck top went down a treat and I also had an idea for a bespoke top for download comprising of an existing t-shirt/top turned halter neck, with the word EVIL beaded on the front in big bold letters.

Sums me up nicely, don't you think!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Mend and Make Do - The Return; well, the start actually.

Today was the first meeting of my "mend and make do" craft group at the local community hall and I'm thrilled to say that 10 people turned up despite the fact that as yet we have not put up one poster or advertisement anywhere!

It's going to be a really nice group. We're collecting patterns, knitting needles, anything really so that we have a lot of stuff to hand to be able to work on our individual projects, but we're collaborating with the community centre in making things to be sold at the family fun day in June. One of our ladies has already made a fabulous head start in making clothes for Barbies and she's come up with some belters.

Some of the ladies have really proficient skills, some want to develop their skills. We can all do things that the other ladies would like to learn, so skills we shall share! Most importantly though, it's bringing the community together, and we need as much of that as we can get. Older ladies are sat chatting with younger ladies; that's the way!

I have been promised dome wonderful supplies for the group, and we're still collecting, so don't forget! Keep your eyes pealed for things we can use!

I'm off out tonight with my daughter and I'm itching to put my new top on. I made it out of an old top that made me look, er, portly, so I'm looking forward to that. Let's just hope the stitching holds!

An email was received today from Radio Wales. Looks like I'm back on there on Friday! How exciting! Amongst other things, I'll have to mention the fact that we're just coming up to our 2,000th page view in 15 countries! I never for a second thought that I'd get here, so, to all you lovely peeps that keep coming back for more punishment - "me love you long tiiiime"!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Stepping Stones and Sarongs

The welcome break in the weather today gave us a chance to get out on the mountain.

I dug inn these steps with my own fair hands and I'm rather proud of it! Hopefully we'll get another good day tomorrow so that we can put in the last few, then, our job out there immediately becomes ten times easier. It's that steep first bit that's so difficult. I must be honest, I'm shattered now. 5 1/2 hours of grueling exercise can do that to a girl though. (Husband has already gone to bed!) It won't be long now until I'll be planting - although I'm told we have to buy some topsoil first.

Friday and Saturday I spent giving the house a good going through, I've neglected it a bit over the last few weeks. With a night out looming on Saturday night (just gone) I needed to decide what to wear.

Of course, my new artwork means that I have to not wear anything at all on my upper back. My good friend had very kindly sent me some gorgeous halterneck tops, and I had my heart set on wearing one of them for the night out, but, due to my "blessings", it needs some extra work doing to it to save me from getting arrested for indecent exposure.

So I went through my things. Somehow, through this process, my eyes are more open to the things I already have, which is wonderful,so there were loads of things I'd have liked to have worn. I have some beautiful sarongs, barely worn, sat in my wardrobe. So, I did some research online, decided upon the most effective way to wear my beautiful black and print GHD sarong that I've never, ever worn, and I thoroughly enjoyed wearing it! I wore it as a halterneck top with shiny black trousers and I was really happy with the look.

Of course, the amazing thing about it is that I could wear it another 50 ways without it looking like it did on Saturday, and that has to be a good thing. The other great thing is that as my weight comes off, I don't have to alter it or give it up!

So I got to thinking about the many benefits to sarongs. I have some of the gorgeous vintage fabric given to me by my stepmother that I can use in the same way. I just need to put a hem on either end of each of the 3 pieces and potentially, that's 150 new things to wear! Sarongs are DEFINITELY the way forward!