Every Little Helps – June 2012

Every Little HelpsAfter predicting that drought would turn to flood (see my previous article), I’m certain that making little changes really can make a difference. Butt installed, we’ve enough free water to keep plants and fish happy. Unfortunately, its going to be a record hay-fever season as a result …

I read in 2009 that 15 of the world’s largest cargo ships made as much sulphur dioxide (a source of acid rain) as all the world’s 760 million cars … but the same statistic was applied this week to cruise ships. Who writes this stuff and do they check it? Deciding how to make a difference is hard enough, without misinformation and “greenwashing”.

With all the hype of the Olympics it was good to hear – on our school trip to the London site – that environmental concerns for the development had been carefully thought out and measured. A report from says that although there were many really good intentions, there will be mixed success at achieving their sustainability goals. I particularly appreciated their disappointment the Olympic torch couldn’t be made “low carbon”.

Let’s concentrate on their achievements – after all, nobody’s perfect. Lots of the materials used in construction, much of the energy to run the games, loads of the water in and on the stadia will meet sustainability targets. Perhaps most of all, though, was the extent that sustainability was considered important: more than for any other large-scale development in the UK, if not the world.

Finally, once the excitement is over, the legacy considerations kick in: re-using as much as possible of the buildings (the basketball building is moving to the next Games), waste (70% re-cycled) and even people (outplacement of the contractors). Perhaps this could become a realistic model of how to plan such developments in future.

In contrast, it saddened me to hear that suggested strengthening of planning requirements for insulation of existing properties (which will save householders money even in the medium term) was greeted as a “planning tax” by the media. It’s about investing in our future, not about paying to “be green”. We don’t fully recognise the costs of clean water, cheap power and “acceptable levels” of pollution: if we did, we’d all be clamouring to do more to help.

Good information and foresight are essential parts of making the right choices. Choose your sources with care.

guardian/shipping-pollution – pdf

Every Little Helps – April 2012

Every Little HelpsOnce again this year, there’s been another very dry winter (rainfall has been below average for 19 out of the past 24 months), with the likelihood of local hosepipe bans. Last year I wrote about water use from a gardener’s perspective: micro-watering and collecting in butts. I checked the drought provision: micro-watering is OK (but re-filling our fish pond by hosepipe isn’t).

What about saving water in the house? In the Thames Water area, a household with 4 people uses over 600 litres a day. Their online water usage calculator says we use around 590 litres a day … that’s all fresh drinking water by the way. Our family’s main aim is to reduce the amount we use in showering from 400 litres to the average 100 litres (teenagers take note).

Thames Water offer free water-saving devices: bags for the loo cistern (flush with less water), tap inserts and so on. My favourite is a shower timer (like for eggs, but this one sticks on the shower wall and tells you when to get out).

Secondary schools use on average 1,000 litres of water per pupil per year. The government’s “wise up to water” web site helps schools to reduce their costs by educating students, staff and parents about saving water. On average, a school could save £1,500 per year with simple water saving actions (and 7,000 m3 of water too).

I’ll bet as you’re reading this it’s raining cats and dogs … if not, perhaps we should all think ahead. We will be collecting rainwater in dustbins whenever we can from now on and eventually get a butt installed. Thames Water say it’s not possible to predict when the hosepipe ban will be lifted, so it could be a long, dry summer for our pond fish.

Thames Water

Saving Water at School

Every Little helps – February 2012

Every Little HelpsSo, depth of winter, hunkered down against the cold, possibly the gloomiest time of year in the UK – maybe that’s why I’ve got disenchanted with sustainability recently. It all makes me want to turn up the heating and eat too much.

Of course, it could be the continued ineffectiveness of governments (local, national, international) to keep the sustainability ball rolling … up in the air … whatever. I mean: reducing local recycling, cutting the renewable energy tariff, forgetting to agree CO2 levels … who’s in charge here?

Anyway, my enthusiasm was renewed (oops) by friends who have bought an eco house in Dorset – built with all the right technology and lovely views to boot – for their retirement. I like to think I’d be able to retire with a zero carbon footprint, at least when it comes to my home and travel arrangements. The house was a one-off, created by an engineer for himself. Maybe watching Grand Designs has affected me, but I’m thinking I’d like to build an eco house one day. Somewhere with good views, local shops (and good medical facilities). There are a few building companies aiming at the “Passivhaus” energy saving standard – 90% energy reduction compared to “standard” new houses. Perhaps I’ll have a chat with some of them.

So, back to here and now: I’m starting to prepare for the EFO Summer Open and wondering if I can use “found” materials in my work. I like the idea that the work could have renewable credentials. I’ve seen lovely work with driftwood; amazing African craft using plastic bags, drink cans, old nails; handbags made of old vinyl records; vintage clothes re-purposed. If anyone working likewise wants to show their work with me, let me know.

Meanwhile, on with another jumper, back on the bike and roll on summer!

Memory – interesting articles in New Scientist

I saw the New Scientist “Instant Expert” was on Memory recently. I like the way they introduce the topic and explain some of the complexities & incorrect assumptions about how it works.

Every Little Helps – November 2011

Every Little Helps“Just pedal and go!” As a keen cyclist, increasingly feeling the hills, it was great to feel the quiet green surge pick me up and take the strain.

Ace Cafe in Stonebridge, home of performance bikes and bikers, had their Green Day this May. I went with a neighbour with a Tazzari Zero electric car, to find out about owning electric vehicles.

Around 1912, there were more electric cars than other power sources but they couldn’t compete with later petrol engines … so what’s changed? Batteries much improved but still costly (around half the cost of the vehicle). Performance good – the Tesla and the Quantya off-road bike are astonishing (F1 are considering electric Grand Prix). Batteries work for vans and buses even better than family cars – but range is low: 60-100 miles per charge.

They are very low-cost (tax, insurance, parking, “fuel”) to run, very green and make a quiet statement about the future as they whisper by.

As to practicalities: charging (sometimes free, need to plan long journeys); lifetime cost (replacing batteries is a big deal); capacity (G-Wiz is tiny for someone over 5ft tall – ask Jeremy Clarkson – the Tazzari is fine and the Citroen C-Zero is a 4-seater). There was clearly huge affection for these cars – or perhaps the idea of these cars – with evangelical early adopters showing us the way. Perhaps they are a way forward, but if everyone got electric cars tomorrow, the UK grid couldn’t cope.

So back to bicycles. I tried a couple and was surprised how easy they were – different, particularly when cycling (driving?) slowly, but exhilarating feeling the kick when I wanted it. They are similar in price to un-assisted, high-spec bicycles: around £500 – £1,000 (hello Bike & Run). Security of the battery pack can be an issue – some can be removed almost as easily as bike lights. Range for pedal assisted bicycles – as opposed to electric scooters – can be 40-60 miles: plenty for most commutes.

Would I buy an electric car? Not yet, for a family car, but if I had to have a second (weatherproof) vehicle I’d consider it. I would buy an electric bicycle: love those hills!

Ace Cafe
Newride: recharge points
Info on Electric Cars
Info on Electric Bicycles

Every Little Helps – October 2011

Every Little HelpsOctober already (note to self: time to look out the thermal underwear for cycling) and the evenings are drawing in. A natural reaction is to turn on more lights and crank up the faithful old boiler thingy, trying to pretend it’s not happening (autumn that is).

On a trip to Rye recently, I was delighted to see the wind farm waving its arms at us as we struggled against the (admittedly warm) ocean breeze. Also delighted to see quite a collection of both domestic solar thermal and solar electrical (PV) installations making the most of the intermittent sunlight: maybe the councillors (and neighbours) there are a bit more tolerant or – dare I say it? – switched on to the idea of renewable energy.

I was also delighted to read the Archer article about local PV and to hear a work friend say how cheap it was to get her loft insulated. There’s more of it going on than we know, perhaps, but always room for more.

It’s well worth considering early insulation of loft and windows as I’ve mentioned before. It’s also worth considering getting to grips with reducing usage of some things which might seem trivial but overall make a real difference: the lights you switch off in your workplace overnight; the charger you unplug when it’s not in use; the clever extension cable that switches off all the computer bits when you shut down; the TV switched off not on standby; the shower you take instead of a bath – it all adds up.

I’m going to have a “Dad Day” every week, where I’ll promise not to nag everyone about turning off lights etc … provided they do it themselves! Next time, I’ll (finally) be writing about electric cars and bikes … watch this space.

Light Painting

I’ve decided I’m going to explore my Memory drawing using light painting. Memory drawing is where I make a picture using a series of overlapping continuous lines, often in several colours, to represent a memory I have of a particular pose or relationship between people. I’m hoping I can use light painting to bring a “3D” feel to the drawing.

What’s Light Painting? Well, Wikipedia says: “Light painting, also known as light drawing or light graffiti is a photographic technique in which exposures are made usually at night or in a darkened room by moving a hand-held light source or by moving the camera.” There’s a great flickr site called lightjunkies which has many examples of this.

My take on it is that I’m going to be drawing with light on people in darkened spaces (ie no ambient light). Could be outside at night, could be a darkened room. Could use (soft) torch light or (hard-edge) LED/laser lights. What I’m interested in are the surfaces of people, not particularly their whole body.

So, I think I’ll be scribbling on their skin with light, rather than trying to outline them. Very experimental at this stage – watch this space.

Any volunteers for being a model?

Every Little Helps – September 2011

Every Little HelpsLast month saw the worst and best behaviour I’ve seen in London. It’s still with me as I write this. I dislike moralising: being “the first to cast a stone” would be hypocritical and rather ironic. However, rampant consumerism must have influenced decisions people made to steal what they wanted: electronic goods, designer clothes but not books or (much) food. Unthinking, uncaring of consequences, selfish, rapacious, devastating.

Then came the amazing heart-warming local community response to the aftermath: donating goods and services, voluntary clean ups, sharing homes, remonstrating and standing up for what’s right. Generous, mindful, creative, energising, cooperative.

In bringing people together with a common purpose, what permanent positive changes will this have? I can’t avoid thinking of parallels with how our day-to-day buying decisions can effect the local and global environment, directly or indirectly.

Last year I wrote about over-buying and waste management – this year there’s a real possibility of two-weekly rubbish collections, charging for household waste tipping and the collapse of the waste disposal market (for lack of commercial places to put it). This could lead to an increase in fly-tipping and littering, but it would be great if the community response to waste was as effective as that following the riots.

Clearly it takes a lot to get the majority of people even to voice opposition to wrong thinking, let alone change the ways of life they are used to. That’s why there are scare stories about climate change: people who want change to happen try to motivate us through visions of the apocalypse. That doesn’t really change what we do.

Small acts of random kindness; thoughtfully choosing what we actually need; returning unnecessary packaging to sender; disposing of all waste appropriately – we can all do that. When we do it together, it makes a real difference, locally and long-term.

Here’s a place to help in Haringey

Learning how to paint … how to links

Here are some links I’ve found useful when trying to learn how to paint.

I should stress, what I’m looking for are practical techniques and artistic motivations: I’m not really looking for “inspiration” or “follow me” guides.

So, if there’s a tutorial, I’m expecting it to give reasons why and some examples of what the outcomes of different approaches might be. If an artist says why they are using paint for expression, as opposed to (say) drawing in pastels, then I’m interested.

Ok, so here’s some I found earlier (more when I come across them):

Learning how to paint …

For 2011/2012 I think I’ll learn how to use paint to explore Memory. Since there are [add a number greater than 20] ways to paint, it could take me all year to come up with:

  • a set of ways I like to use paint
  • a method which incorporates memory in the process
  • a size of image I’m happy to tackle
  • a colour palette / set of paints I like to use … starting with oil paints

I’ve started exploring some “how to” sites so I can get a feel for what paint is like, what some of the processes and approaches are and why people use different types of paint&process in their work.

Here’s hoping that by the end of the year I’ll be happy in my painting.

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