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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Big up for Growing Communities

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home, but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Every week my family tucks into a bulging bag of organic, seasonal, tasty veg from Growing Communities - a unique Hackney box scheme which prioritises local produce, runs the certified Stoke Newington Farmers' Market which attracts around 1,500 people a week and supports small-scale farmers growing as near to possible to London.

Although 680 bags are sent out each week to Growing Communities members (nearly 66 tonnes of organic produce a year) sometimes I try and encourage strangers, neighbours and friends in Islington to join up to the scheme because it is a brilliant way of reducing your carbon footprint and getting predominantly UK-grown veg delivered to your doorstep. And it's good value.

Reading Growing Communities most recent annual report I realise that the director, Julie Brown, is one of our neighbourhood's super green stars. As her welcome in the annual report makes clear (even when she's not quoting from Terminator 2) she's not just a worthy woman, she has a great sense of fun. "We are creating an interconnected web of local people, farmers, land, businesses, projects and food which together have the potential to sustain us: a vibrant, community based system which enriches our lives, providing us with good food, good friends and increasing numbers of us with good work.... I know it may not feel like that when you are staggering around in the yard in the dark trying to remember the combination to the shed, trying to think what to do with your backlog of curly kale, or standing in the rain at the market waiting to be served. And while there is always more we can do, for now we can feel good that are actions are part of something that is making a real difference... tackling climate change, making our community more resilient and creating something that is better in so many ways."

The only hitch is that with all this tasty fruit and veg I'm less inclined to attempt to grow much on my own plot...

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Wildflowers on the roof

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home, but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola.

Green roofs may be the new trend – a wildlife haven, light on materials and a boon to the city – but it turns out that not all are equal. At the same time as the Guardian’s new King’s Cross office is being criticized for having a green carpet of sedums with low wildlife value I’m sowing a cornflower mix on to the roof of our hen shed.

When it comes to sedum versus native wildflowers then the wildflowers win because they will attract such a variety of insects including pollinators like bees and butterflies. In fact I choose wildlflowers for aesthetics as sedums are generally quite low growing so on my new 3m high shed it wouldn’t have been possible to admire any rooftop greenery. What’s more the cornflower mix was much cheaper at #7.50 for a 100g bag from Norfolk’s Emorsgate Seeds. In contrast I’d need either nine sedum plugs per metre at 1.50 each (and I’ve got three metres square to cover) or to order a ready-made sedum carpet which offered little change from #90.

Instant gratification is another advantage: it’s November but I can still go ahead and sow the cornfield mix of pheasant’s eye, corn cockles, corn chamomile, thorow-wax, cornflower, corn marigold, common forget-me-not, common poppy, corn buttercup and night-flowering catchfly. To go ahead with the sedums I’d have needed to keep the rooftop soil weed free and then planted in the spring… such a long time away.

Like a volcanic tropical island most of the green roof is out of sight – around 80 per cent of the box is hardcore and gravel, most of this rescued or pounded up from bits that I’ve found in skips over the years and then left lying around our garden. To see if it is a success I’ll have to wait, but it is definitely keeping the rain off our hens which is after all its real raison d’etre.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Cold comforts

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home, but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola.

For the past few weeks I've been run down by a coldy virus but at last I've found the perfect repair food - Racalet, as served at Borough Market. Racalet is a Swiss cheese but in this dish the stall holders scrape melted lashings from a huge wheel of cheese on top of a heap of hot, roughly mashed potatoes and then add some baby gherkins (presumably as a sop to five-a-day demands). On a Saturday at Borough Market you have to queue to pay for this gorgeous concoction and then queue to watch it being cooked. Despite the grey weather I felt happily revived after a sit down with my plate of Racalet. Then I found a loaf of still warm organic walnut bread and carried it home warming my side as if it was a hot water bottle.

Farmers' markets may be popular but Borough Market is a foodie beacon noteworthy not just for being the oldest food market site in London and a huge draw to weekend strollers, tourists and hungry food afficianados but also because it is a charity run by a board of trustees who all live in Southwark. If you haven't been, you must. Though if you go on Saturday (rather than Thursday or Friday) don't expect to get tranced into a mountains and Heidi mood even with a dish of Racalet as the market is just too crowded to let your soul yodel off to Switzerland.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Pacific pleasures

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola (with pic of Lola and Nell strictly come dancing the Pacific way)

Aloha! It’s not all dancing in the Pacific, but at this year’s Pacific Island Society we were treated to a taste of Oceania with dancing from Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Cook Islands. There was a particularly energetic and expert show from Kiribati which has set up the Beats of the Pacific group to delight the UK. It’s a big group which has drummers, MC, mothers, single women and children as young as three swirling their grass skirts and lavalavas (hips left to right and round and round) in the most astonishing displays of dexterity. There were three blokes dancing who stole the show with their warrior poses, paddle action and proud Polynesian energy. They tried to get some of the crowd to join in, but with the average age of the audience at over 60 I think some people’s hips may need replacing sooner than anticipated. Not mine though as I was too chicken (and coldy) to go for it. In contrast Lola and Nell took to the dance floor happily.

Despite such a happy event it is not easy to forget that the people of Tuvalu – 11,000 of them – are facing enormous change in the next few years thanks to climate change which is causing sea levels to rise. Because their homeland islands just don’t have hills the Tuvaluans are likely to be the first climate change environmental refugees of an anticipated 1-3 million. New Zealand has agreed to take 75 per cent of all Tuvaluan migrants each year, which may be generous but switching from island life to Kiwi consumerism is hardly to be looked forward to – unless there’s no other alternative.

Eid Murabak

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

Eid was over long before British Summer Time ended this year but our school didn’t celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr until November 2. It was worth the wait for a chance to enjoy tasty traditional food (eg, coconut pasties), dressing up and a party mood. Both my girls enjoyed getting their hands decorated with gorgeous Bangladeshi swirls from a tube of henna expertly commanded by various mums, big sisters and friends. The henna comes out like chocolate cake icing but to get the best mendi hand painting you mustn’t knock or brush it for at least half an hour. Once the half hour (or more) is up you then rub off the excess henna as if you are picking a scab. It is one of the best exercises in patience I know, and also an excellent excuse for a child intent on avoiding the horror of carrying their book bag down to the swimming pool.

Trick or treat

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

Mexico does All Souls Day (1 November) the best with its sugar skeleton sweeties, picnics by the graveside and general communing with absent friends and family. For Halloween (31 October) this year Lola, Nell and their friend Izzy tried to outdo the Mexicans by dressing up in the most eccentric ghost costumes (props included a cuddly otter, decorative masks and a Dr Who scarf) and then trawling around their home patch hoping to get handfuls of sweets. Wherever we saw a pumpkin we stopped but the best decorated house went to a family in Aubert Park who decided they’d rather children came to them, than their children went trick or treating. Their show included spooky music on the loudspeaker, silly cobweb string all over the hedge, bits of bleeding corpse (stuffed jeans if you must), mock gravestones and moving skeletons - a fantastically horrible Halloween success.

Everyone was so friendly this Halloween, reminding me again what a great area this is to live. But a few days later I watched The End of Suburbia with four members of the Highbury Community Association and began wondering just how ready any of us are for living without using so much fossil fuel. The film reveals that peak oil – from then on oil prices go up and quantities go down – has either happened worldwide or is just a few years away. The consequence of switching to renewable energy, living and working locally could be heaven or hell… not unlike the neighbourhood’s opinion of Halloween then.

For a more positive spin on the likelihood of a resurgence of local life than The End of Suburbia offers see www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk.