Every Little Helps – August 2011

Every Little HelpsThe point about shopping locally is that it’s got “green” all over it: if only it was easier to do. Sometimes I think I’d get better prices at a large supermarket, which seems a good idea in these difficult times. Sometimes, when I’m walking in the rain, pulling a heavy trolley between shops, I think about driving to a mall. Then I think about the huge amounts of unnecessary packaging there, on everything from apples to ham. I think about the “Buy One (more than you really need) And Get One (which goes off before you can eat it) Free” and I reconsider.

While we tend to walk to the shops on the High Road or Fortis Green for the nicest meat, fish and veg, we also use Ocado deliveries (amongst others) for some of the really bulky or heavy stuff. Apparently their vans use half of the fuel that the equivalent households would use picking up their shopping. Other interesting delivery services include organic veg “group shopping” drop-offs, outside schools and community centres.

Farmers’ markets are still – just – viable, bringing locally produced food to a suburban market. We’ve had occasional French ones (lovely but pricey deli food and cakes) and the Alexander Palace market every Sunday. Local food means reduced transportation, so reduced CO2 , which is all to the good. Local also means seasonal food (which as I’ve mentioned before, doesn’t really limit your food variety if you’re OK with traditional foods).

Of course, seasonal fruit is popping out all over the place from now to the end of the autumn. Fruit trees in our road include greengages and plums, apples and pears (several varieties), cherries and even apricots. We’ve got quince and grapes, figs and blackberries in abundance. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could leave some of the excess out the front of our house, or somewhere locally, for others to help themselves? Seems a shame for them to go to waste. Pickling&Jam club anyone?

Farmers’ Market site –


Every Little Helps – June 2011

Every Little HelpsI’ve been writing these articles in The Archer for a year, so lets see how little changes have helped. I started out thinking that if everyone tried to do less harm, overall some big changes could take place – amazingly it seems to work.

I’ve had many comments about these articles, where something stuck in someone’s mind as being both practical and a positive effect. People shave tried some ideas, been inspired to look into others, overall been more thoughtful and prepared to consider changing what they do.

However, there have been big changes in government-level thinking about “climate change”: it’s become clearer how difficult fixing the world’s climate will be. If anything, there’s less support for “big projects” and more attention on changing people’s lifestyles. We’re all re-defining what basic, normal and luxury mean, but brought about more through reactions to financial crises than from worried scientists.

So my articles – in that context – will update progress on how “every little helps” and cast wider for what can be done by us, as individuals.

One idea that’s loud and clear is: reduce, re-use, recycle. A snappy summary of an approach to doing less harm day-to-day. Measure and cut down on use of materials, packaging, food, water and energy. Make stuff last longer by re-using it (or letting other people re-use it). Minimise real waste (land-fill) by recycling as much as possible into raw materials for new stuff, through buying stuff that can more easily be recycled.

Re-use and recycling are on the increase, apparently, with more people passing stuff on through Freecycle or Gumtree web sites (and local charity chops). Recycling of Haringey municipal waste has doubled to 25% in the last 10 years – but needs to reach 50% in the next ten. Apparently recycling leads to more jobs than waste disposal (much of the stuff needs sorting by hand) so there’s even more positive benefits.

As to re-use, anecdotally it seems it’s more acceptable now to pass things on and more acceptable to receive stuff too. It’s always in my mind to ask friends first, try Freecycle or DontDumpThat or take advantage of Haringey’s white-goods pickup service.

Let’s see how much we can reduce, re-use and recycle this year.

2 New ideas for Memory-related art work …

I’ve been thinking about different ways of incorporating Memory into my art work.
First off, I was struck by an article in The Archer about a young girl who lost her favoutite doll on the tube (note: she did get it back again). I remember when I lost my first bike – a Claude Butler 531 butless-joint frame which I’d looked after and tricked out for years. I was gutted when I lost it because it meant a gap in reminders of my experience which it would be impossible to fill. I think I’ll do a series of Visual Poems on “lost favourite objects” and the stories behind them …
Second, I was trying to recall when I first heard about Sama bin Laden (can’t think why) and realised that my memory of that was very confused: part info from a documentary, part recalling the twin towers falling, part watching arab terrorist videos on the news … In any case, it’s neither consistent nor comprehensive – just a vague grey image and generally high concern … sometimes. So I thought: maybe I should write a series of brief recollections about events and stuff. It’s no more “true” to me than what other people tell me is “true”, so I think it’s just as valid (but as art).
Thoughts anyone?

Every Little Helps – May 2011

Every Little HelpsApril’s over and summer’s starting. Our garden’s in all-out growth but our trees are thirsty, so it’s always too dry.

Water’s an important in sustainable thinking – moving water around and making it clean takes lots of energy. Most (60%) of water used in the UK is for domestic purposes, including garden watering. We normally use around 140 litres each day. The average family’s annual water use releases as much CO2 as two transatlantic flights – so we can have an impact on water (and energy and CO2) use.

Metering water can prompt a 4% reduction in use since, with a meter, you can see water usage directly: a shower costs around 9p and uses 35-40 litres; a bath is 18p using 80 litres; flushing is 2p for around 8 litres and a dishwasher cycle costs 5p for 20 litres.

However, watering the garden with a hose for one hour costs £1.23 and uses 540 litres. Most hose-water runs off the surface – not good for plants or soil.

How to reduce garden watering? Well, big butts, mulching and micro-watering make sense. Muswell Hill was named after a Mossy Well and there are many underground streams locally. Unfortunately, well are very costly and can lead to long-term problems if the underlying clay dries out. Big butts, collecting rainwater running off roofs, is relatively cheap and viable, though the water soon runs out if you connect a hose.

Mulching – covering soil with something that lets water through but slows evaporation – means any watering you (or the heavens) do lasts longer. Mulches include bark chips, old leaves, well-rotted manure, crushed shells and gravels – each with their pros and cons.

Once mulched, try micro-watering. Basically, you can deliver the right amount of water for a shrub, tree or pot, reducing waste and over-watering. A starter kit’s around £100 but can be extended. It’s fit and forget (but watch out for frosts). Get a timer – watering in the dark is best for plants. Works with butts but only if they are raised well above the ground.

Dripping of summer lawns anyone?

NoSpaceNeeded – Online Exhibition

I’m taking part in (and helping organise) the first ever East Finchley Open Online Exhibition: NoSpaceNeeded 2011.

Fifteen artists from the EFO have collaborated on making digital images from each other’s photos.

I had the idea to use “found” images, but with the copyright issues involved, decided we should each take a roll of film (using “recyclable” cameras) and then swap films randomly.

The film I got was shot by Sheila Seepersaud-Jones. Her main line of art work is ceramics, but she has also taken wonderful photos as well.

I decided I’d look at her film and try to piece together the spaces she was in when she took the photos. It turned out that the spaces were reminiscent of places I’d been to when looking after my kids. So then I thought of the sorts of people or activities that might have gone on there … leading me to include some parts of my own photos from the past in there.

There are four images: Light, Texture, Roofs and Diagonals. Each has many layers of meaning and association within them. Some are more restful than others and some more colourful than others. Each is evocative of my own experiences.

Hope you like them!

NoSpaceNeeded 2011 Show

Every Little Helps – April 2011

Every Little HelpsWe had a bicycle stolen from outside the house (not the first time). Locked up and everything, just too tempting. Then a friend said they were looking for a second-hand bike and it got me thinking.

Cycling is part of our family life: commuting, fun in the park, popping round to friends, shopping, touring and on holiday. I’ve taught cycling, from beginners to would-be commuters. What stops people cycling more?

Weather, traffic, hills and practicalities.

My least favourite weather is freezing fog, though drizzle at dusk is a close second (I wear glasses). Happiest purchases are waterproof “socks” and CatsEye LED lights. London traffic can be terrifying, so knowing how to cycle with confidence on real roads is a must. Cycling your prospective commuting route with an instructor, identifying easy paths and danger points, will really help. Hills are always in front of you, but good gears (and knowing how to use them) will make them pass eventually.

Practicalities, like “where would I shower”, “how to carry shopping safely” and “how the whole family can go on bikes” are worth discussing with other cyclists doing the same thing. We’re a friendly bunch on the whole and there’s plenty on-line as well. Bike locks are just deterrents: the only safe bikes are ugly bikes and hidden bikes (the more bits you leave on it, the less chance you get it back).

Haringey subsidises cycling training for people over 12 through their “Cycle With Confidence” scheme: children in Haringey education or anyone who lives or works in Haringey. TFL subsidise cycle training for everyone in Greater London, including free cycle-route maps, tube&bike options and advice on cycling safety & security. Sustrans have cycle route maps across the UK.

As we’ve grown up (or the bikes have become un-trendy), we’ve sometimes had more bikes than people. Most old bikes get dumped, but bikes are easy to maintain, cheap to keep on the road and fun to decorate: why not pass them on, even if they’re beat up? They make a great fix-up project for a would-be young cyclist. Re-cycling anyone?

Every Little Helps – March 2011

Every Little HelpsMad March, with everything in the garden springing up, clocks springing forward and fuel prices climbing skywards: how to keep those bills down?

It always takes me a couple of days to re-adjust to the new time: the last clocks I do are the central heating and the car clock.

Adjusting central heating timers to when we’re actually in the house (and lowering the thermostat of course) make significant savings on heating bills.With care, we can dry laundry outside for the first time in ages, saving on tumble dryer costs (and electricity consumption and CO2). By April we might not need heating at all, most days.

We don’t use the car every day, so I usually get two shocks in March: I’m often an hour late for an appointment and filling the car up costs loads more than last time. I’m afraid our car is too old to be fuel efficient and too young for the scrappage scheme, so I need to be careful when I use it. I’ve started putting in a fixed quantity of fuel, which – as the cost goes up and up – makes me fill up more often, highlighting my fuel use. I’m also learning to drive to save – easy on the throttle and anticipate to reduce braking. I’m cycling to work again, so that helps too.

Some cars can convert to “green” fuel but I’m pretty sure bio-ethanol is going to be a long-term problem because of the water-to-grain-to ethanol issue. A quarter of the annual 400 million tonnes of grain from the US already goes on bio-fuel, so it’s not really sustainable. Electric cars might help – I’m looking into that.

As for spring itself, it’s a great time for gardens and this year we’ve got some plants from last year’s seeds coming up. Seed swaps are fun and excess seeds get used locally, where they’re likely to survive. I’ve been working with a group making a “forest garden” over the winter – more on that in a future article. For now, I’m watching my willow “fedge” sprouting and looking forward to foraging fun in summer.

ConnectToMe – Brains Writ Large

New Scientist magazine has published an article recently about the amazing capability of the human brain to connect stuff together. Our brain has 100 billion neurons, each with up  to 10,000 connections (synapses). That  means we can each make more connections each second than all the computers, smart-phones and calculators in the world can do.

I like the name that’s been given to the future “map” of these brain connections: the connectome (pronounced connect tome). I like to think of it as connect-to-me and feel it puts FaceBook to shame. We’re meant to be connected, inside our heads and to the rest of the world – we’ve each got a brain to do that.

Another article gets to some of the implications of this capability, and the implications of having a map of the brain’s connections. I’m just fascinated with the idea – often expressed in science fiction (see Iain M Banks Culture novels) of being able to store the brain’s state somehow.

One human brain can hold as much information as 300 times what the world has in store in digital, print or written form. Perhaps one day we’ll know how to unlock this memory store more reliably …

Every Little Helps – February 2011

Every Little HelpsAlmost time for spring clear-out. There’s a pile of stuff that – at one time – seemed essential to our lives. Now it’s past it’s use: kids grown up; girths have expanded; technology moves on. What to do with it?

Of course, there’s land-fill (actually this is deemed “last resort” – a rapidly dwindling resource, reckoned to run out in the UK on present usage by 2018). So “reduce, re-use, recycle” …

We’ve put stuff outside our house “for anyone that wants it” – but recently it got picked up by scrap metal dealers (leaving the non-metal bits). I prefer to think some could be re-used, preferably in a good cause.

“Freecycle” is a way to offer (or get) used stuff: for free! Log into, join a local group (eg Freecycle Barnet). Email a list of the stuff you have (with a contact number) and get loads of people offering to take it off your hands. They collect from your door and you give it to them for free. It works the other way round: send a “wanted” email or reply to someone else’s offer and pick it up from them for free. There are some sensible rules: no animals, personal services, explosives etc. and the goods are all offered “as seen”. We’ve handed over wardrobes, shelving, light fittings, packing cases, bicycles …

If you don’t like the idea of people coming round, East Finchley charity shops welcome donations they can sell, to raise money for their causes. They all like clean clothes and books, jewellery and knick-knacks; some will take toys; most won’t take electrical items or soft furnishings.

Tech stuff can be harder to shift and you should always check the hard drives are wiped properly or removed before handing them over (they’ve got your identity data all over them). Check out for ethical and established tech recycling organisations for phones, computers, TVs etc.

That pile of stuff is looking smaller and more beautiful already!

When they become adults overnight

My son recently turned 18 and that’s quite a milestone: for me as well as him. I’ve been asked “how many children do you have” and replied “only one … now”. I’m getting used to his being out until the early hours, getting his own credit card application letters, buying drinks in a bar … it’s the handover of responsibility that’s weird.

Like … will he take good care of his birth cert, NHS details, travel insurance? Will he know the implications of replying to a Reader’s Digest prize notification? Will he know how/whether to vote? Can he really be left in charge of his 17yo friend when her parents are away (and does he relise what that might mean)?

Letting go doesn’t come easily, I know. As far as i remember, I felt overprotected and stifled at his age by the continuation of the parental attention: after all, wasn’t I grown up now? I’m still wondering about that today – and I miss the unconditional regard.

With the other one reaching 18 this year, maybe we will be “free at last” to travel, experiment, risk different paths – if we still know how.

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