Saturday, 6 December 2008

Let's Localise

The interaction between ‘Westerners’ and the rest of the world is making me increasingly uncomfortable.

I’m not primarily talking about politics (although we elect the politicians we deserve) but about the ‘man in the street’.

Despite the fact that we westerners have invaded, colonised, emigrated to and otherwise populated more countries than you can shake a stick at, we seem to be passionately against immigrants to our own countries. We resent them, victimise them, generally put them down and seek ways to exclude or banish them without a second thought. Not only that, when we travel to other countries, whether for commerce or holiday, we expect other populations to fall in with our plans, speak our language, adopt our ways and philosophies (George Bush’s “freedom’n’democracy” being a case in point) and allow us to plunder their resources at will.

The results of our attitude are there for all of us to see – although very often we don’t connect the results to the attitude.

This was brought home to me when I listened to the voices of western tourists marooned at Bangkok airport. Such phrases as ‘cockamamie dispute’ and ‘irresponsible youth’ were being bandied about, with no thoughts about the reasons for the demonstration. Thailand has many problems, with the Government being one of them and religious conflict being another. We in the west pride ourselves on being allowed to demonstrate for or against things we feel strongly about – such as bad government. Imagine how we would have felt if, say, Japanese tourists, caught up in the massive demonstration in London against the war in Iraq, simply complained at the disruption, without considering the cause. (As a matter of fact, I can’t imagine Japanese being so impolite!)

This western approach to other nations has clearly been the cause of many unfortunate consequences over the decades, whether it be terrorism, high oil prices, bad cooking or simply the ‘MacDonaldisation’ of attractive holiday destinations.

So I believe that we in the west will be doing the world a favour if we spend a lot less time travelling abroad, and a lot more time appreciating our own homelands. One thing our current financial grief is doing is forcing us all to become less self-indulgent and materialistic, and this can only be good. In three or four years time, when we start feeling the effects of Peak Oil, we are likely to have a permanently shrinking economy, and we are going to have to find a way of living with that.

Perhaps that will result in a welcome diminution of our desire to influence the way that other people live, and a broadening interest in how to live a more stress-free, economical and satisfying life ourselves.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Risk-Free Potato Preparation

I went shopping in Sainsbury’s today.

There is a section amongst the vegetables which I have walked past with a snigger several times now, but this time I thought I would look more carefully – in fact I happened to have a pen in my pocket, so I wrote on the back of my shopping list a list of the items in the section. The items are pre-packed in plastic trays, with film covering and a label. Here is the list:

Carrots and Swede Potato Mash
Baby Potatoes with Herbs and Mint Butter
Mini Baked Potatoes with Herb and Mint Butter
Roast Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
Ready to Roast Potatoes with Thyme
Crispy Potato Slices
Mini Baked Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Butter
Peeled Maris Piper Potatoes

Now I have to admit that they looked pretty appetising.

But if you think about their star celeb advertiser, Jamie Oliver, and his superhuman efforts to get the nation cooking and eating proper food (which I very much applaud, by the way, as in the words of Mr Tesco, ‘Every little helps...’) you can hardly miss the irony of Mr Sainsbury doing everything but eat the potatoes for you, whilst piling on the packaging and at the same time demotivating their customers from doing anything but flicking the buttons on a microwave!

If I turned out a tray of homemade carrot and swede potato mash, wrapped it in cling-film and left it in their veg. section, I wonder how long it would be before it turned brown or went mouldy? What do they put into it to stop theirs going the same way? I am deeply suspicious of that classic ingredient found in most products in supermarkets, ‘preservative’; and I didn’t read the label on these products; but I expect that ‘preservative’ is there!

Many of us worry about the side effects of eating GM crops, but how many of us think about what ‘preservatives’ might be doing to us?

But then, if you peel and cook your own potatoes in your own kitchen, Health and Safety might have some unnerving things to say in a risk assessment!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Thoughts at Christmas

This is a copy of an e-mail I have sent to all my friends and family. It is not my intention to be a kill-joy, or a grumpy old man, but I just can't escape the thought that our commercialism has taken us too far down the wrong road...


In UK, we send about 1 billion Christmas cards each year, equating to more than 300,000 trees.

We use ½ billion drink cans, 3000 tonnes of aluminium foil, 83 of wrapping paper, 8 million Christmas trees which generate 12,000 tonnes of rubbish, 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging....

I am conscious that most of this high volume of consumption is brought about by commercial interests and associated advertising, and increasingly I have the feeling that I am a statistic being manipulated by marketing organisations which, if we are honest, are responsible for our current economical stress.

I hope therefore that you will all understand my decision to jump off this particular merry-go-round. I propose to send no cards or presents to any adults this year (and probably subsequent years as well!). Children may well get a token offering, because I certainly don’t want to hurt tender feelings.

Anyone who chooses to send me a card (which I would discourage) can be assured that it will be recycled, and the good wishes implied will be gratefully received and treasured. Presents are definitely not expected!

Everyone to whom I might have sent Christmas cards will of course be in my thoughts – as they are for the rest of the year. My good wishes go to everyone, because I value family and friendship above everything, and this doesn’t alter even if you don’t hear from me in December!

So have a great Christmas, everyone, and may your life be good!!


PS It seems I am not alone in this line of thinking!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Time To Reconnect

I’m not an economist.

I’m not a scientist.

I’m not an industrialist.

Maybe that means that I can take a more detached view of things....

I have been reading articles about biodiversity and cultural diversity, and the links between the two. I don’t need to explain that – if you’re interested you can read about it yourself. Suffice it to say that it has been very clearly established, by the UN amongst others, that there is a very clear connection between the two things. Areas on the globe which have strong cultural diversity, evidenced for instance by the variety of languages, also have strong biodiversity, as indicated by the number of species of animals and plants.

Similarly, where cultural diversity has been eclipsed by the shadow of globalisation, biodiversity has also suffered.

The survival of life on this planet depends upon the maintenance of biodiversity, and this depends upon the maintenance of cultural diversity. Take a look at (for instance) some of the indigenous peoples in South America. They are by and large content (except when their homelands are being destroyed by globalisation), and have developed a way of life which is in harmony with their environment. They are not interested in ‘growth’, and exist in a steady state economy. They maintain their own culture, and live in a sustainable way.

What a lesson for the rest of us.

I recently travelled from Cornwall to London by coach. You can see a lot through the window of a coach, and I admit that as we left Heathrow to head for the centre of London I was bewildered by the sheer volume of traffic. I found myself wondering how on earth we, the ‘civilised’ society, arrived in this horrendous situation, in which we are too busy chasing meaningless goals to enjoy life.

Can the driver for all of this be greed?

People have ambitions, fuelled by advertising, by ‘competitive materialism’, by dreams of what their perfect life might be, and yet it has been well established that having more money doesn’t automatically enhance happiness. George Soros, financier of note, counts his annual income in the billions of dollars. For an individual, that obscene quantity of cash is meaningless – what can he, personally, achieve with a billion that he couldn’t achieve with a million? And would he really suffer if he only had $100,000 a year?

I listened to an interview with Peter (now Lord) Mandelson this morning. I happen to think that he is one of the best brains in politics, but I was depressed to hear him state that the global economy would double over the next twenty years. Our leaders are convinced that healthy economies are growing economies - but I know what happens when you keep on blowing up a balloon!

Perhaps in the present crisis he needs to say such things, but he seems to have glossed over our impending double whammy of Climate Change and Peak Oil: these two little gremlins are likely to scotch any ideas of a growing economy – indeed even a ‘steady state’ economy will be very difficult to achieve under the pressures of peak oil and energy descent. And the general consensus (leaving out 10 Downing Street) is that peak oil will be with us at some point between now and 2012. Unfortunately Downing Street thinks peak oil will not be with us before 2030.

But in any event, some time soon we are all going to be forced to accept the conclusion that globalisation no longer works and that growth is no longer possible.

We in the Western World have become so disconnected from our natural surroundings that we no longer appreciate what our environment has to offer. I took a young friend of mine (age 10) out for a drive earlier this year and discovered that she didn’t know what a foxglove was – and we live in the country. How can this be?

I sat in my parked car this morning and watched a minute insect scurrying around on my windscreen: I became fascinated by the miracle of such a small creature containing enough energy to allow it to move so quickly over such long distances without recharging. Later I watched a couple of ravens lazily going about their business above, in no great hurry, and quietly gossiping with each other. We miss so much in our perpetual frenetic rush towards ‘more’ and ‘better’. Even in these economically uncertain times, I saw on the Freecycle website that someone is giving away a 21” CRT TV, presumably because they have upgraded to an up-to-date slim line model. And yet I am certain that the older model works perfectly well.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that the secret of a happy life is to be content with what you have. We need to relearn respect for our environment. This way we may just learn to deal with our climate and energy crises before it’s too late. But this needs to be a ‘bottom-up’ exercise, not top down.

No individual can do it alone, but many individuals, over time, by setting an example, working within their own communities, and talking about what they do, can – indeed, must.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

A Tale of Modern Farming

This morning I happened to listen to ‘Farming Today’ on BBC Radio 4. I was fascinated to hear a farmer explaining how he is managing to stay in profit even in our current and increasing recession.

Clearly the first point to be made is that he and his family work extremely hard, with no expectation of such soft options as weekends off.

Secondly, he sells all his produce through farmers’ markets. He started with one, but now sells through 25, and employs a full-time butcher.

The third thing he is doing, to help offset the increasing cost of fertiliser (currently £300 per tonne), is to extend the grazing area for his cattle, so that with less input he produces more meat, but from a greater area.

But this gentleman made it very clear that he doesn’t believe in organic farming, preferring, as he puts it, ‘traditional’ methods.

In the same programme we heard about a new report by Professor Dick Godwin, commissioned by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, which suggests that our soil is barely fit for purpose, and no longer able to sustain the increasing demands of intensive food production.

He puts this down mostly to bad drainage and bad soil condition. There is evidently extensive rainwater run-off and resultant soil erosion because the soil in its present condition cannot absorb the water, while too much rain leaves the fields unworkable for farm machinery. He recommends good soil management and better drainage as being the solutions, but made it clear that there is nowhere for farmers to go for expert advice.

Now I am not an expert. All I have to help me is a little common sense. But it seems to me that our successful farmer mentioned above is, despite his protestations to the contrary, leaning ever so slightly in the direction of organic farming, by reducing the amount of oil-based fertiliser per acre on his land.

He is unconsciously following the recommendation of Prof. Godwin and starting to improve the condition of his soil. He may even find in a few years time that, assuming these trends continue, organic farming is the only way to remain profitable.

Am I imagining the contradiction; that by going organic he thinks he would be abandoning ‘traditional’ methods of farming? He must be a lot younger than me – or else he has a very different take on the word ‘tradition’!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Dumbing Down

I have a bus pass (by reason of my age). So I have started using the bus instead of my car. The savings I make by leaving the car at home are essential, as I have joined the army of those euphemistically referred to as being on ‘limited income’, or, sometimes, ‘fixed income’; or even, not to put too fine a point on it, ‘low income’. That last description could be considered by some to be tactless, or even politically incorrect – but that’s because it is the most accurate. To be described as ‘poor’ is of course unacceptable!

It’s all relative of course – the fact that I have a car to leave at home puts me a cut above many in this country, and makes me unbelievably rich compared to millions in the world.

In this country, particularly in the media, we seem to have arrived at a point where we decline to face certain truths (in case we offend) while at the same time over-clarifying other truths to the point of imbecility.

It is both fascinating and irritating to listen to certain broadcast interviewers, mostly those with enlarged egos, who constantly interrupt their interviewees to clarify that which needs no clarification for the benefit of an audience who (they assume) have not been keeping up with events for at least a year! I get particularly frustrated when listening to ‘Any Questions’ chaired by (or should I say ‘hosted’ by) Jonathon Dimbleby, son of a broadcasting genius, friend of the heir to the British throne, and patroniser par excellence. The amount of air time he spends interrupting the panel to over-elaborate, or over explain, for the sake of listeners who may have no idea what the context of the question is, must be a significant percentage of available air time – and yet his listening audience are likely to be well informed, or they wouldn’t be listening in the first place!

Another truth which could do with being addressed with greater clarity and fewer euphemisms is the fact that many of us are too fat! Yes, I dared to use the F word...

There is so much talk of ‘clinical obesity’, Body Mass Index and the rest that most of us who are too fat (yes, that includes me!) are not made to face up to the truth – I like my food and I like my wine, and physically, I am reluctant to over indulge in exercise.

Back to the bus-ride.

I have noticed that small children on the bus are almost always eating, crisps, or chocolate, or biscuits or some other comforting snack produced by a loving parent in order to quieten the child while the parent concentrates on ‘texting’!

So it follows that a substantial number of teenagers on the same bus have not kicked the habit instigated by their parents, and are chewing on something.

And when the bus slows at the pedestrian traffic lights, to allow a stream of students to cross to or from the Pizza Hut or MacDonalds which have been thoughtfully built near the college, I am tempted so much to leap up and shout, “You are all eating far too much junk and it is going to kill you!!”

Of course, it wouldn’t make any difference – the explanation would be too simple to be taken seriously.

So perhaps I should just go home and concentrate on eating and drinking less, and taking more exercise!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Odd Behaviour Of Governments

There seems to be no limit to the bizarre behaviour of nations and their governments.

Recent news from the Arctic Ocean makes me think of a hungry wild animal fighting off others so that it can eat its own leg.

The expanse of Arctic ice has shrunk in both area and thickness to an unprecedented degree, so that it is now possible to circumnavigate the ice. The reduction in the ice area is caused by global warming which itself is caused largely by our profligate burning of various types of fossil fuel. As the area of light-reflecting ice reduces, the area of heat-absorbing water increases. The extra heat absorbed from the sun causes more ice-melt.... and so on.

I am a mere private citizen, and what seems obvious to me may not be as simple as I think it is – but logic suggests to me that the way forward is to burn less fossil fuel.

But logic suggests to national governments that we should take full advantage of this dramatic ice melt to tap into hitherto inaccessible oil fields to produce more fossil fuels so that we can melt the ice even faster!

Not only that – the nations concerned have already started squabbling over boundaries, borders, mineral rights and the like.

One good thing though – if we melt all the ice there won’t be a shortage of water (although it will mostly be in the wrong place)!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Now there's a funny thing....

I was invited by some close friends to accompany them on the Gay Pride Parade in Truro, Cornwall, UK.

I remember that my immediate response at the time was ‘what date is it on?’, and when I found I was not busy on the day, of course I accepted the invitation – I don’t deny I was flattered to be asked.

I suppose that I never really realised the extent to which the gay community is not accepted; the extent to which the presence of straight people on the parade might be symbolically important.

I took my camera, and after a bit I started looking out for disapproving faces in the crowd to photograph – and there were a few! There were also a few spectacular extroverts to shoot; but by and large what was the most revealing aspect of the parade was that most of the participants were, very obviously, ‘just plain folk’. There were many colourful and explicit T-shirts, numerous rainbow-coloured neckerchiefs, bandanas, wrist-bands and the like, and the behaviour of the whole parade was responsible, good-humoured and positive. So why, I found myself wondering, is so much fuss made? Why do some people find this particular minority so hard to take? Because when you get up close and personal, they are all so blasted normal!

I admit to having a very entrenched prejudice, and it is against bigotry. I am afraid that in Cornwall we are guilty of being a little slow to accept that members of minority groups, whether by race or by sexual orientation, are in all important respects equal to the rest of us and deserving of an equal amount of respect.

But today in Truro I believe we may have moved a little further down that road towards civilisation!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Unconsidered Opinions

I read somewhere that for the first time, more than half the world’s population now lives in an urban environment. Only just.

When we see TV programmes about famine and war in Africa, the cameras are usually focussed on rural communities – or refugee camps which have been set up in rural areas but have now become tent towns. And that is of course as it should be: we need to be aware of the suffering of those desperately poor and mistreated people, so that we can all help in any way we can to improve their quality of life.

But that aside, I have been getting a little irritated by market research companies in the UK, or rather, I suppose, by the mono-vision of their clients.

A little while ago, I took part in a research project (it doesn’t matter what for) and was very happy to receive a modest fee for doing so. I was also more than happy to put myself on the research company’s mailing list to be informed of future projects in which I might take part. In fact I looked at a few other companies as well; and since then I have been getting frequent e-mails about forthcoming projects on all sorts of issues.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that I am always outside the age range that they are looking for (although I had thought that the ‘grey pound’ was quite an influential currency these days), but I am particularly irritated by the fact that these researchers are only ever interested in the opinions of people living in London, or such places as Reading or Swindon.

I can accept that users of Nokia phones between the ages of 20 and 30, or young mum’s using disposable nappies, are more interesting than keen gardeners between 65 and 80, but why should a young mum in Reading be more interesting to the marketeers than the same person in, say, Bovey Tracey?

The point I would highlight as an example is that the young mum in Bovey Tracey, as well as being just as important as the young mum in Reading, is subject to different day-to-day influences than her Reading counterpart, so her answers to questions would be different. The implication here is that the nearly 50% of the population (I’m guessing) who live outside the major towns are a completely unconsidered market by those companies who use the market research organisations. And it may be that the rural population doesn’t have as much money to spend as our urban cousins – but all the same, disposable nappies (or almost anything else) are used about as much by our rural young mum as by the city-dwelling equivalent.

Aren’t these companies interested in the fact that rural opinions may be different, but may also be just as important from a marketing point of view?

I suppose that I know the answer before I ask the question – it must be easier to find 30 young mums using disposable nappies who can take an hour out to come to a central location to answer questions about Huggies in London than in Bovey Tracey.

OK, so why not go a stage further and just do the research in the nearest branch of Tesco?

Well, obviously you couldn’t do that, because you would get an unbalanced response!


Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Politics Thing

People don’t vote. People don’t bother to turn up for meetings. People turn to the sports page first. The tabloids print biased headlines and very little else of substance.

On the subject of political matters, we are, as a race, pretty ignorant. How many people do you know who can name the Minister for the Environment for instance? And yet our environment is the biggest single issue people are talking about these days.

BUT if something goes wrong these same people complain like mad. They are very specific in their complaints too. Whose fault is it? Gordon’s of course!

Now, I don’t hold any strong feelings about Gordon Brown or anyone else in Westminster – how could I? I’ve never met them. But I hope that I can take a balanced view.

Can the PM do anything about world oil prices? No.
Can he do anything about the rising price of food or fuel? No. (It all goes back to the price of oil – and if he were to substantially cut the duty on fuel he would have to find the money from somewhere else, by raising a tax or two – and listen for the protests then!)

And would things have been any better if Mr Teflon Blair was still at No.10? Of course not. But he was smooth enough to get out of town. Am I wrong to suspect that he saw all this coming and that’s why he decided to go?

Would things be any better if David Cameron was in charge? Hardly! It wouldn’t change anything.

To misquote a certain US President – It’s the environment, stupid!

We have to be helped, by our politicians, to get used to higher fuel and food prices, because over time it can only get worse. Whoever is in charge is going to have to acknowledge that very drastic action is needed to cope with the triple-whammy of Peak-Oil, Climate Change and Credit Crunch.

My question is, which of our leaders, prospective or otherwise, is going to be prepared to make himself very unpopular by facing up to these challenges firmly and soon?

Whichever leader takes that option will have my vote!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

What about some Green Agriculture?

I am not sure who is losing touch with reality – is it me or is it them?

I read today that Defra is concentrating too much on the environment and not enough on agriculture!

That’s according to the National Farmers Union. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when I read that. In our present dire straits, how can we possibly think of agriculture and the environment as being separate – in conflict? If ever there was a time when we needed to start being in tune with our environment rather than destroying it in the name of higher productivity, this is it. Surely the NFU of all organisations should see that if we want to stand a chance of surviving the double whammy of Climate Change and Peak Oil, then they have to start working with nature rather than against it?

Our agriculture is totally dependent on the oil industry for its diesel and for its fertiliser. What will they do when they can’t afford either? Just say ‘OK we go out of business’?

If Defra spend money on supporting agriculture in its present form, then all they are doing is hastening the demise of the one industry which, if it adapts to the changing world, could be our salvation.

Already, an increasing number of families are finding ways to produce their own food, whether on allotments, in their gardens or on their window sills. Many people avoid buying ‘organic’ food because the premium is too high. This is the writing that is on the wall.

Our farmers need to move away from mass production and supermarkets, and think small and local. That way they may still have customers in ten years time. If they continue to look for the big industrial markets, then they will be left with egg on their faces – and it won’t be free range!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Charisma - an empty vessel?

I was particularly struck recently, while listening to a clip of Hillary Clinton addressing a rally, that the audience were not actually listening to what she was saying!

Whenever she started to speak, she would get out perhaps a dozen words before the cheering and whistling would start. The American audiences have this strange ability to emit falsetto yells of enthusiasm which effectively drown out everything the speaker is saying, so that the only people who could hear Hillary were those who were plugged into her microphone feed (i.e. the media).

I have noticed the same phenomenon when listening to live concerts being broadcast in the USA – the experience for the serious listener is all but spoiled!

Why then were the audience there?

Some were there, no doubt, for the prestige value amongst their friends, but many more must have been there because of Hillary’s CHARISMA; not her policies, not because of her effusive gratitude towards her supporters – no; because of her celebrity status, ‘personality’, and Charisma.

And Barak Obama has more!

I was similarly struck, in the UK, during the plummeting of Gordon Brown’s stature in the public opinion polls.

In the run up to the Crewe and Nantwich bye-election, there were many vox-pop interviews and more than one person gave the reason for voting against the Labour party was Gordon Brown’s lack of Charisma. Had these people been asked about Brown’s policies, or what he has achieved up to now, most would have had no idea.

Speaking for myself, I would rather have a dedicated, honest, intelligent, compassionate politician than one with Charisma any day of the week!

Certainly Mr Brown and his advisers have made some stupid mistakes and they have spent too much money, but they have also achieved a great deal. Compare their achievements in the Health Service with the 13 years under the Tories, when Ken Clarke amongst others completely messed it up!

But, God help us, David Cameron has more Charisma!

It may well be that we have had a Labour Government for too long – but I am sure as hell not ready for the Tories yet!

Maybe there is a Green Party member out there with some CHARISMA!

Friday, 11 April 2008

Pint of bitter, please, love

I went for a drink the other day at my son’s pub. During the course of a conversation, I heard about the new adjustments to the Sex Discrimination Act. I couldn’t believe it at first, but my understanding is that I could be prosecuted (or the landlord could) for calling a barmaid ‘love’ or ‘darling’.

I haven’t seen any clear guidelines.

What happens if I call a barman ‘love’? ... or ‘mate’?

What happens if a barmaid calls me ‘love’?

Harriet Harman appears to be blaming this move on European legislation – but can you imagine how this kind of legislation would go down in France.... ma petite chou-fleur?

I believe I started getting the same feelings last time we had a Labour government for too long – why can’t they let me look after myself?

If one of my son’s customers upset one of his staff, I should think she could handle it – and if she couldn’t, then he would!

Or maybe they should just call the police!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Great Recycling Myths

I went to a ‘conference’ about rubbish/recycling/composting in Cornwall last Friday.

The first thing to note was that there was an enthusiastically high level of apathy!

The second thing was that the County Council Officer who was running it was patronising, bland, anodyne and not very well informed!

The third thing was that the content of the seminar was aimed at encouraging all the people who were not there. The people who were there were already up to speed.

One thing that I did learn was that most of the waste collected in Cornwall for recycling is sent to a MRF (known as a ‘murf’ and short for Mechanical Recycling Facility), rather than being separated by the householder. And this is the bit I am very unhappy with.

Where MRF’s are used for separating the recyclables, the local authorities are inclined to say ‘send us all your plastics, glass and cans’, which means that the householder thinks they are doing a wonderful job with very little effort.

Recyclables which are separated by mechanical means do not generally get separated into different types of plastic. These plastics are baled up and sent to a specialist contractor (who may be in China or India) where a certain amount of hand separation may be carried out – often by children – and a percentage is recycled, while a percentage (often large) is sent to someone else’s landfill, where it decomposes over many years producing methane in the process; and methane is more damaging than CO2 by a factor of 20.

Mechanical separation is liable to produce a high level of contamination, for example, paper contaminated by bits of glass making it unusable, so it has to go to landfill.

I cannot disagree with the principle that large quantities of waste will need some mechanical means of separation, but with the right machinery, and, importantly, the right level of co-operation from the householder, a much better and more honest conversion rate can be achieved.

My own local authority asks the householder to separate recyclables thus:
White paper (including newsprint etc.)
Coloured paper and cardboard (including yellow pages)
Glass jars and bottles (rinsed and with tops removed)
Cans, aluminium foil, plastic bottles (tops removed), aerosols (tops removed)

The fourth category is mechanically separated at the recycling centre (but not shredded). The amount of material collected for recycling, and then not recycled is no more than 2%.

My authority does not kid us that they can recycle products which they clearly cannot (such as yoghurt pots, plastic bottle tops, margarine tubs, tetrapaks etc.) so when we are told how many tonnes we have recycled in a month, we are being told the truth.

Although the percentages differ from one MRF to another, the amount of material eventually recycled can be as low as 20% of the total which the residents believe that they are recycling.

I fancy that the main problem to address in the recycling of domestic waste is to close the gap between what we are told is recycled and what is actually recycled (without, of course, adding to China’s pollution problem).

In other words, it’s time that both we and the local authorities stopped kidding ourselves and started accepting the truth!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

If In Doubt - Ask

We are all conditioned by our environment.

In the UK we are looked after by the welfare state ‘from the cradle to the grave’, and we have got used to it. In fact we get more used to it every year as new laws are brought in to protect us from ourselves. Probably when we think about it we resent it.... but then we just accept it as the new status quo.

I am not automatically against these new constraints, but I do worry that we don’t think beyond them. We learn to take them for granted, and we forget to ask questions... or we are just too lazy.

I have been increasingly interested in the way that our population and our politicians have adopted the recycling doctrine. The speed with which this country moved from cynical indifference to steadfast commitment has been breath-taking; and since I live in a county which has more or less run out of landfill sites, I am delighted.

But we are still falling into the same trap of allowing the State to look after us, and assuming that everything outside our own little box will be ‘taken care of’.

I have been reading a lot of stuff about recycling – different local authorities have different ways of dealing with the problem. Some collect all the recyclates in one bin, to be separated mechanically at a recycling centre. Others ask the householder to carry out the separation. Not all authorities offer the same recycling opportunities.

When I read that local authority ‘a’ asks you to put out paper and cardboard, and explains how it will be recycled, while local authority ‘b’ asks you to separate cardboard and coloured paper from white paper, so that the white paper can be used to make more white paper, then I guess one of the authorities is doing better than the other.

But the trouble is that we don’t know which, and we don’t know who to ask. And we don’t know for sure that the paper is being recycled, or whether it's being used to the best advantage, or how many miles it travels before being processed. (A lot of mechanically separated paper cannot be used because it's contaminated with glass.)

My local authority will not process yoghurt pots because there is nowhere within a sensible distance where this can be done – so it goes to landfill, because that's the greenest available option. Other local authorities say that they will take all plastics, all mixed in together, for recycling. Do I believe them? Not really, but I could be wrong, in which case, my local authority is under-performing.

So if your local authority says it can recycle, say, plastic mushroom cartons, do you just put them in the green bin and hope for the best? Or do you ask the local authority exactly what they do with them?

I really hate being a cynic...

Saturday, 22 March 2008

It's The Little Things....

As I have already said, I do like politicians to be human – a little human weakness brings a remote politician down to an accessible level.

Of course there are exceptions – I happen to believe that George W has taken this philosophy to an uncomfortable extreme. Condoleezza Rice, however, has until now appeared to me to be too perfect – hair, complexion, carefully crafted speeches – so I was so delighted to hear a clip of her apology to Barack Obama over the unauthorised access to his passport information, in which she earnestly promised that she would ‘stay on top of it and get to the bottom of it.’ I guess only a politician could do both....

In the Philippines, devoted Catholics re-enact the Crucifixion, even to the extent of participants flagellating themselves with whips or bamboos before being nailed to a cross.

Enter Francisco Duque, Health Secretary, who has been refreshingly down to earth with his sound health advice.

The six-inch nails must be thoroughly sterilised, and participants should make sure that their tetanus shots are up to date. Furthermore, he says that ‘the best penitents can do is ensure that their whips are well-maintained’.

This advice seems to me to serve two purposes: it reminds these Devoted Christians of the obvious health risks; but more importantly, it reminds them that they are, after all, mere humans like the rest of us!

Friday, 21 March 2008

How many standards have You got?

This double-standard thing is very tricky!

David Cameron has been caught out cycling across a red light, the wrong way down a one way street, and the wrong side of a mini-roundabout.

Naturally he had to apologise, and Boris Johnston declared that his London would be a zero-tolerance zone regarding traffic laws.

I saw the clips. There was no-one else around and there was not the slightest chance of anyone being injured. Anyone else of a normal disposition might well have done the same.

Clearly politicians have to adopt double standards in order to survive, and anyone who makes a fuss about this particular breach is nit-picking, or trying to make a story about not very much. I am not a Cameron supporter, but I like my politicians to be human.

Unfortunately, in this kind of situation, the tabloid press are inclined to become extremist: in other situations, the politicians become a little extreme. And when extreme thoughts creep in they are liable to appeal to emotion rather than rationality, and the concept of ‘balance’ evaporates.

Take the example of churchmen.

And consider the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and its implications.

In the surprisingly emotive rant by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the language he uses is worthy of the most extreme journalist or politician, and I have to assume that the rational argument supporting his view doesn’t stand up – if it did, surely he would use it, instead of phrases like:
Experiments of ‘Frankenstein proportion’
‘This Bill represents a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life’

As I understand it, this Bill will allow scientists to place minute clusters of human cells into animal eggs for a brief period in order to produce stem cells, which can then be used to research cures for some of our most insidious diseases. The alternative is to use human eggs instead, which are not readily available, and whose retrieval is invasive, uncomfortable and risky.

To use language which implies that we are set to create hybrids, monsters, or chimeras is clearly nonsense; to suggest that we are toying with human life is equally irrational.

Although I am not religious, I hold life to be sacrosanct – I won’t even kill a spider – but the proposed research doesn’t offend my sense of morality.

I would find it far more offensive if this research was to be forbidden.

Monday, 17 March 2008

That Divorce

While I’m here, I do have thoughts about this ‘acrimonious’ divorce....obviously I refer to Heather Mills and Paul McCartney.

(Why do they always describe these things as acrimonious?)

I am feeling very cynical about Ms Mills. She described her settlement of 24 million pounds as ‘incredible’, and then expressed her relief that this safeguarded the future of her and her daughter, taking care of such everyday expenses as school fees, nannies etc.

Come on!! One hundredth of that would secure my future, pay school fees for all my grandchildren, and allow me to set my home up so that I could live the way I want to for what remains of my life. And we might manage without a nanny!

I cannot get away from the idea that she was in it for the money. The rest of us have to work! I have been married more than once, and so have some knowledge on the subject of failing marriages. I am afraid that I believe that a marriage that lasts only four years was based in the first place on false premises – one or other or both didn’t know why they were doing it....or, worse, knew exactly why they were doing it!

I really hate being a cynic!!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

So, What's New With You?

Why haven’t I put anything on my blog for 15 months?

The more you do stuff, the more stuff comes back at you! I got to a point when I didn’t have time to keep up. The major problem with the internet is that you haven’t the time, energy or mental capacity to read it all, let alone respond.

I did a City and Guilds course, to become a Domestic Energy Assessor. Great idea except that it took them 6 months to send me my certificate, by which time I was at the back of the queue for work, and the housing market had gone flat!

So I got another job, as a ‘white van man’....

Well, I’ll try anything once!

Then I decided to dig up my garden (‘yard’ for American readers) and turn it into a vegetable plot – since when we have had rain, gales, floods etc. etc. so all I have planted is onions. But I have big plans (although the plot is only 3m square).

Also, my family has been getting bigger.

In September I gained a new Grandson, who is certainly the most advanced and intelligent member of the human race.

Just before Christmas I had an e-mail from a daughter I didn’t know I had – she has been trying to find me for 20 years, which has been complicated by the fact that she lives in New Zealand!

So, to all you pessimists – there is always something new and exciting around the corner; and if you don’t believe that – well, get out there and create it!

And to all you optimists - stop saying ‘I told you so’!