A-Z activities

A-Z countries

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.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Cold Christmas

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell keep on exploring Britain. As we go we watch our carbon footprints... This post is by Nicola

Staying in the gorgeous country town of Buntingford over Christmas, we couldn't resist a detour (in the car club car) to a well-named, nearby hamlet. It may have been minus 2C at times over the Christmas holiday, but my mum's new cottage is lovely and snug. She has a new condensing boiler - and barely uses her electric oven - which may well make her house's energy requirements more efficient than mine.
On Boxing Day I was given a tour of an astonishing wood boiler (provided by Rural Energy)which is fed with wood chips. The plan is for it to provide all the hot water and heat a house, office and swimming pool, saving around #4-5,000 a year in bills. It's big - you need a large barn to house it in - but this is a real energy pioneer's gadget. The big switch on is due in February 2009.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Treasure island


All adventurers yearn to have a successful trip to Treasure Island. This post is from Nicola.

Lola and Nell figured taking on the landlubbers (Swabs!) on the tube would be the quickest way to collect treasure. I think they only resisted because Lola (aka Long John Silver) was using an umbrella as a crutch, and it just doesn't make as lethal a weapon. The photo shows Lola with her friend Freya dressed up ready to thrill at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket's, newest Stevenson adaptation of Treasure Island. You can book tickets here.

If you don't read the book carefully you'd assume Captain Flint - the evilest pirate of them all, easily outranking Blackbeard and the modern pirate ransom-takers in Sudan - hid his treasure in the Carribean.

But my family thinks this is wrong. Yes there are swamps and it's steamy hot. But there's also pine trees and such a tall tree (from which the skeleton points the way)that it couldn't be anything but a Giant Redwood. In other words is Treasure Island along Vancouver's carefuly mapped Candian coastline?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

It never snows around Halloween



You know how the weather is getting stranger? This post is from Nicola Baird.

Last week we went to Edinburgh on the night train - very exciting. But it was even more exciting wheeling the suitcases from our door to the tube station thanks to giant-sized snowflakes. Everyone was grinning (well we knew it would melt soon) and taking pix on their phones. We all did too.

And then we got to Edinburgh and it was a bit chillier than London. But the skies were utterly blue. And then we met the witches...

Athens of the north: battlefields and poppies


We've been to Edinburgh before, but never up Calton Hill with it's fantastic views of the Castle, Arthur's Seat - and the Firth of Forth. And once you've had a picnic there's the memorials. The Parthenon copy (still with scaffolding!) was a war memorial to fallen soldiers at Waterloo and the construction that led to the city being dubbed "the Athens of the North". This post is from Nicola Baird

Scotland is proud of its war contribution (even if colonisation has been air brushed out of history up at its national museum), with memorials of generals and "the fallen" in all the best places.


Up at Edinburgh Castle there's Ensign Ewart's marble block which marks the "lucky" solider who grabbed the French eagle for our forces. Impressive as this was the memorial didn't go up until 1938. But it did spawn 1,000 demands for large golden mirrors encircled by a cowed eagle - something still very on trend. There were two in the appartment we borrowed!

War still seems very distant even if there's never yet been a whole day of peace in the world I've lived in. See more about how to resolve this at War Child here. Meanwhile Lola is learning about the second World War and perhaps understanding how the first World War carnage (from 1914-1918) helped lead nations into another six years of war in 1939.

<<>Mervyn James Hamilton, a soldier who died in November 1914 from his wounds. Phoebe (we know her as Gebe and Lola was old enough to have several Christmases with her and also went to her funeral) never knew her dad. She was yet another generation raised by single mothers.

<< href="http://www.gordonhighlanders.com/">Gordon Highlanders at Scotland's National War Memorial, within the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, see more here. I don't think we were meant to take pictures, so many apologies.




Nell had a good word for war memorabilia: on a sunny day the cannons provide the best seat for views across to the Firth of Forth and beyond...

And then Lola <<>I believe in Yesterday (Jonathan Cape) and look for the battle scenes.
My conclusion is that we all left our attempt at remembrance a little confused.

All change



Trams may be admired in Amsterdam but at the installation stage it’s just chaos. This post is from Nicola Baird.

Edinburgh’s transport chief, Neil Renilson, is to take early retirement at the end of this year (2008). At just 52 you could see this as an exciting move for a bearded man who’s worked on the buses for a lifetime. Here’s his chance to do other things close to his heart: golf? Walking? Time with his family? Etcetera.

But like Renilson’s decision to back the tram, his news has not been met with enthusiasm. People are furious that Edinburgh is currently a miasma of alternative routes, traffic cones and white-hatted, drill-wielding workers digging up all the grand streets.

“I’m sorry you’re seeing Edinburgh looking such a mess,” was the first thing our taxi driver said to us as we got off the sleeper train at a distinctly chilly Waverley Station.

In London someone’s always digging up the roads – usually to sort out Victorian drains or water pipes. Or to lay cables. Or just for the end of the budget year hell of it. So diversions seem normal. But it is true that Edinburgh is not looking herself. The imposing grey stone parades are cluttered with orange and white cones, ticker tape and steel cage fencing that looks like it ought to be in use down at the zoo.

"It's a disaster. I never go in town now," was Maureen's opinion as she served us fudge from HMY Britannia down at Ocean Terminal.

I’m all for trams. I enjoyed watching the progress at Nottingham, have long admired the Amsterdam routes and think Edinburgh a real leader. They had the first car club (see pic above of one of the vehicles parked in a bank of four just off the Royal Mile. And now they’re using the tram to future proof the city against the oil price shocks that will rock all conurbations once peak oil passes. Trams are powered by electricity which can be generated from renewable sources.

Tram building is disruptive, easy to criticise and the schedule is slipping. It was due to open in Feb 2011 but is more likely to start in July 2011 (just before the festival) which looks set to add to the £512 million bill. My hunch is that Renilson expected to be the fall guy. So when we come back in three years time to be whizzed around by a tram that could finally sort out gridlock and make a Georgian city a carbon neutral place to travel around again I’ll be raising my whisky glass to him. Cheers.

Edinburgh food miles


When I’m at home there’s chard (well, mostly just chard) less than two metres from our kitchen table. So how can cities that seem even less green than London shorten the distances food is transported from farm to plate? This post is from Nicola Baird.

Around Edinburgh the food is good. We’ve had pumpkin broth, baked potato with chickpea salad, local beers and the promise of fair trade or locally sourced ingredients at many cafes. But I can’t help noticing that there aren’t many places to grow for the people living in the big apartments that make up the New Town (even if grass rooves have been spotted, see pic above, in the Old Town area). As a result every grassy square (or more usually circle) we stroll past I imagine being turned into allotments.

It turns out I’m not dreaming alone. Energetic MA art student, Helen Johnson, has transformed the quadrangle at Edinburgh College of Art into an 18ft diameter veg plot between work on her final, weaving sea kelp. The plot has three raised beds, is already producing spinach and leeks and has a contract to supply the college canteen. Helen says it was inspired by the work of Joseph Beuys – the famous German sculptor with a colourful past, including a lucky escape from his crashed plane and the birth of the Green party.

And in early October the Scottish Government ordered public bodies to search for extra land that could be made available for public allotments. Already 3,000 people are on the waiting list – half of them in Edinburgh where there are 1,268 plots (rented for around £48 a year). Apparently it takes seven years to get to the top of the list…

Here’s my tip for Scotland’s rural affairs secretary, Richard Lochead, turn a blind eye to gardening on the green swathes that pepper Edinburgh. The Museum of Modern Art would be a good place to start, then the grassy makeover opposite Harvey Nichols and finally bulk buy a load of containers so people can try growing food up front.

If the Congo was in Hertfordshire

Dr Livingstone I presume?
The journalist Henry Stanley became obsessed with the Congo after he won the race to track down “missing” explorer, Dr Livingstone. This was back in the 1870s but it turned his life around – he then went on to explore the heart of Africa’s longest river.

Although the Congo has inspired some great fiction, such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, replicating Livingstone or H M Stanley’s adventures has been all but impossible. It’s not just the size of the rainforest or the lack of roads, it’s the numerous rebels that take refuge there – and the conflict over the countries’ mineral wealth (eg, copper, cobalt and gold). There’s some good facts about this in Tim Butcher’s book, Blood River (Vintage), where he shows clearly that Congo exploration is always a no go trip.

More recently we have had the western corner of the Congo being sanctuary for rebels and besieged during the Rwandan conflict. And now the TV pictures show that the area’s exploding again as rebels push displaced people - 200,000? - towards Goma, where the UN is no doubt sweating buckets after the debacle it (and tens of thousands of innocent people) experienced only a decade ago in nearby Rwanda.

Which is why Nell, now 7, and I went on a trip to the Congo via an overhung stream that snakes through the flood meadows of the River Ash behind the pretty (and mostly safe) Hertfordshire village of Much Hadham. Nell’s been studying rainforests at school and become impressively obsessed. So we borrowed a fallen tree to make our dug out canoe and then chillily paddled down Africa’s longest river watching out for okapi and other shy beasties.

We could hear the chainsaw in the distance, imagine the humidity and had the realistic pleasure of swatting fat mosquitoes. And then we drove home in the car club car, stopping only to buy an ice cream and wave hello at a man I presume is my mum’s former GP.

That’s how a journey to the Congo should be I guess.

If you want to help support the humanitarian appeal, check out Oxfam or Christian Aid here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Our power station

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Today - 19 August - is an historic day for our family: we've turned our home into a power station.

Thanks to a grant (not yet collected) we've just installed solar PV panels generating electricity whenever there's light. That means even a teeny weeny bit is generated when there's bright moonlight. Because we are not off grid we can't see the meter going backwards. But we can watch as the sun generates electricity for us and clocks up the kilo watt (kWh) hours.

Last year we looked at all sorts of power sources including hydro and wind turbines. Interesting as these trips were the sun is the no brainer when it comes to turning your home into a power station. Even in our dodgy British summers - and the effects of climate change - there's enough light to make these solar electric panels charge up theoretically slashing #350 from our bill each year.

Five days later: we've used 14kWh of electricity - and generated (despite overcastness and rain) 13kWh of our own electricity. This may not pay off our investment (ie, we won't make a mint - hence the photo), but it's certainly going to bring daily running costs down. Having sun power is a fantastic feeling.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Chicks on film

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

This pic ought to be of Pete and Xuesong Yu during a break in filming a three minute short for you tube. Instead it's just piles of Pete's new book at Waterstones. Xuesong (aka Emily) is from Beijing. She’s also one of my communications students, and currently on a placement at Friends of the Earth, but she kindly offered to help do a bit of filming. The camera was borrowed too.

The film of Pete reading from There’s A Hippo In My Cistern – with background noise of our hens cheaping – is on you tube here. It's already had 81 people watching it (amazing!). But as it stars fowl, foxes and flapping dressing gowns – and is very funny - maybe you should too. Let us know what you think.

Spanish fiesta

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Here’s Lola dressed up for her school’s Spanish fiesta in a dress that she reckoned she could swish her skirts, and stamp her feet. she even tried to look menacing as if she was dancing the flamenco.

Yet again this Spanish journey required no effort on our part – the kids get regular Spanish lessons at the school and as part of that the teachers decided to organise a bit of a party. Muy bien as the stickers on Nell's sweatshirt say on the days she's had her bit of Spanish.

Plum taste

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Xuesong Yu, one of my communications students and currently working as an intern at Friends of the Earth, brought in dried plums, her favourite treat from China, for us to share. They are astonishingly good – part sweet, part salt, part toffee. Unfortunately they aren’t sold in the UK!

New start


Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

I’ve worked at Friends of the Earth for nine years (this is my desk after a serious clean up) and it seems like a blink. Working to magazine deadlines for Earthmatters (and all the others) is rather like being in the tropics – you just don’t feel time passing because of the lack of seasons.

When I lived in Solomon Islands (working as a magazine trainer at a development education NGO) I tried to notice time by noting when the mangoes were ripe or the flame trees blooming but it didn’t work. When I think back to Solo now, 16 years on, I just remember blue skies, blue sea, sweat, dust, magazine deadlines and friends.

Maybe I'll compress the whole Friends of the Earth experience similarly: stormy deadlines, sweat, paper, shut windows and friends.

But right now I'm remembering a really enjoyable goodbye pub drink plus some of the most perfect presents from my team, and ex-colleagues. These included a Baird poem; inventive vouchers from colleagues to cut my hair, photograph my pets and create a poster; and a Eurostar voucher for a great escape. An incredible, and lovely haul!
So here's a big thank you to Friends of the Earth - t h a n k y o u.

Hen on a bike

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

This is the way my hens travel – on the back of the bike. This contraption carried nine of them yesterday for their summer break at Freightliners Farm.

We need transport too as we are invited to a wedding in a pear orchard in Kent and finding it hard to get to. As a result Pete has developed a new green radicalism. “There aren’t even instructions on how to get there by public transport,” he keeps moaning unable to find the nearest station (or a taxi rank) without ringing the long-suffering groom for instructions.

I explain that most people have cars, remembering my book The Estate We’re In: who’s driving car culture (Indigo, 1998). Pete says they don’t.

So we try counting the people we know with primary school aged children who don’t have cars. There are just five of us out of an acquaintanceship of more than 500 in this area (that’s thanks to school networks not enormous friendship powers). Normally Pete loves creating lists, but this time he seems a bit depressed.

For me it is a lesson to book the car club car in better time. Then we’d have the moral high ground and the wheels to make it to Kent with tent, food, spade and really wedding heavy gifts. For Pete it is an attempt to stop me getting more pets. “OK, we can do it by train this time,” he growls, “but if you got a dog then we’d have to have a car. And you don’t want that, do you?”

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Do you speak another language?

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

At the school summer fair we had a storytelling tent for families to tell stories, or read stories or sing songs in their home language. A place to be proud of your mother tongue.

It would have been a runaway success if it had been too hot or too wet.

As it was the tent was host to nine different languages – Arabic, French, Hebrew, Nigerian (Hausa and Yaruba), Solomon Islands Pijin , Spanish (Castilian and Latin American) and Turkish - all enjoyed by children who wanted to chill out or simply listen. Watching the faces of the children hearing a home language in a public place was amazing. One little girl's grin was wider than the Cheshire cat's.
This pic is of our Yaruba reader sharing Heads, shoulders, knees and toes with her audience.

Tortoises and hares

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola (pic of Darwin's house)

Suddenly we keep going to Kent. One week it’s for Lapland, the next Dickens’ world and now to tour Charles Darwin’s house. But what a trip – train just 18 minutes from London Bridge to Orpington (or start at Charing Cross), then jump on the R8 bus (which meets the train and is even platform signposted from the station) to be dropped directly at Darwin’s former home, Down House, near Downe Village.

Darwin is probably the world’s best known scientist. But he also loved his children (very unusual apparently for a Victorian pater) and his Mrs, Emma (also his cousin). And then there’s the Origin of Species, still incredibly readable and the debt we owe him for demystifying how all of us got here.

The English Nature exhibit shows his first passion was barnacles, explains that he once tipped worms on to the grand piano in the drawing room to try and work out if they could hear and he also seemed to be over-fond of carnivorous plants.


The girls wanted to live in his lovely house. Pete and I just had a storming fit of jealousy about how you could follow your desire to write, or think, or dream with zero interruptions (except from crowds of children) while the staff prepared meals, dusted, washed clothes and polished rooms. The visit was a great success – go now before the rush to mark the 150th centenary of the writing of the Origin of Species.


Other pluses include seeing Darwin’s writing desk, pacing the sand walk where he worked up his ideas, the shop, the tea rooms and all that stuff about finches and giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands.

You can get it if you really want

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Loud music, picnics and sunshine is what makes a party in most places. We’ve been lucky enough to live on the doorstep of Finsbury Park where the anti-racism festival (until Boris Johnson scrapped that bit of it) is held each year with fabulous acts and all for free (see pic from 2008).
This year’s star was Jimmy Cliff. He’s a legend everywhere that values Reggae, and of course that includes Jamaica - and for a bit longer, London's West End where they are showing The Harder They Come as a stage play at the Playhouse.

Winds of change


Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola


If only the winds of change could speed through Zimbabwe in a safe and peaceful way. Here’s a stunning beaded wind turbine (really looks better on your table than in this shot), created by one of Zimbabwe’s versatile and talented craftspeople, which I hope to sell to raise funds for one community group there at the Gillespie Park Festival, London, N4 on Sunday 14 September from 1-6pm. Come use your change to buy a beaded beast or turbine and help a beleaguered country.

This blog is in The Guardian newspaper

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola ( in the pic for once, this time with Nell and Pete, photo taken by Lola)

THIS BLOG HAS MADE IT TO THE GUARDIAN (admittedly I wrote it). The story is at If I had the time... Things to do with your family on Saturday June 14, 2008The Guardian. I think it is OK to reproduce here (will delete if it's not):

A world tour in the UK
When we told the lollipop lady we were going to climb Everest in the summer holidays she let the traffic pile up to check she had heard right. Only the day before, the children had been boasting about their planned fishing trip to New Zealand, and on Tuesday they had told her no one should fly because it speeds up climate change.
One year on, we've managed to visit more than 40 countries without taking a single flight, travelling around Britain looking for experiences that remind us of somewhere else. This sort of grand tour relies more on imagination than brochures. In London, there are noodles to be eaten in Chinatown, the Bangladeshi mela to be enjoyed in Brick Lane, boating at Little Venice, and Thai rickshaws in Covent Garden.


Trying to find the world out of town was even better. We made it to Nepal by climbing Skiddaw in the Lake District. And we ate refried beans camping Chilean-style by Ullswater. Best of all, we've got a lot left to see - there are 194 countries (195 including the Vatican), so at 40 stop-offs a year, this plane-free adventure should keep my family busy for another five years.

Camels

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Even in Camden there are hints that camels could be round the corner. For the imaginative that means we can tick off Arabia (and Whipsnade zoo). After a quick whiz around the web I found out that camels are known in Bedouin as God's gift. Maybe Camden is trying to cheer people up?

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

China's green tea eggs

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Four of my MA students at Middlesex University – who have also done a short internship with the publications team at Friends of the Earth – came round to dinner recently. We had a lot of fun trying to guess what age each person was – and how many people lived in China (1.25 billion), Egypt (80 million) and Turkey (71 million).

The world total is now more than 6 billion which is why these are numbers are so huge.

The only people who were shocked that the UK is so tiddly, with just 60 million people (!) were Lola, Nell and me. It is astonishing how much impact our little home has had on the world, and how many people still want to spend a long time in cities like London.

Perhaps because the Olympics are in Beijing this year, and because one out of every five people in the world live in China the girls are enjoying a special China Week at school. There’s even noodles and dim sum planned one lunch time for the kids – so it was very good that Xu-Song (who prefers to call herself Emily in the UK as we are so rubbish at pronouncing her Chinese name) brought around green tea eggs (see pic above). I liked them – tea and eggs can’t be a bad mix – but Lola and Nell were very nervous. I do wonder how they’ve ended up with such unadventurous tastes despite the many food choices they see, or are even offered, every single day.

It also made me puzzle over the dish I'd take if I was doing international food - I suspect a tooth-rotting, super sweet batch of flapjacks.

Egyptian salad

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

And here’s an Egyptian salad (see pic and story above and below), made by Alia.
Mix pasta, peas, tomatoes, lettuce and garlic together. Then add a dressing – oil, vinegar plus a dab of mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Alia (which means Princess in Arabic) recommends a favourite breakfast - rice, meat, tomato salad and flat bread.

Travel hub

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Here’s a pic of some of my MA students from the University of Middlesex who have also worked on internships at Friends of the Earth – Papatya, Muge, Emily and Alia pose with Lola and Nell. They are respectively from Turkey x 2, China and Egypt.

I know getting on planes is bad for climate change (though better if you stay for months like these students) but I do love meeting people from other countries and the genuine surprises one gets from finding more out about them.

Here's an example: in Turkey you call sleepyheads chicken, because hens go to bed so early...

Recently we’ve started video conferencing at my Friends of the Earth job for our Monday team meetings (so London staff can see the boss in Leeds) and it works really well. Now if someone could just organise video conferencing parties I think we could crack our restless need to travel the world and tick off all those places that must be seen...

Solar grants

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

It’s hot outside and our solar panels are blazing. This morning the water was so hot from yesterday's sunshine boost – over 50 degrees – that I had to add cold water in order to have a shower. We’ve had solar thermal panels on our roof now since May 2008, and as a result have only needed to use the gas for 20 minutes since then. For once I’m looking forward to a power bill.

The Green Living Centre offers advice to Islington residents about energy efficiency, climate change grants and energy efficiency tips such as loft insulation. It also has info about subsidised water butts and even wormeries. http://www.islington.gov.uk/environment/GettingGreener/Green_Living_Centre/
222 Upper Street, tel 0800 953 1221

Non Islington residents can contact the Energy Saving Trust's ACT ON CO2 advice line - 0800 512 012 (Mon-Fri 9am - 5pm) or visit www.est.org.uk

There are also grants available for a range of renewables (once they’ve been installed) from www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk/

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Get me Florence Nightingale

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Izzy is too ill to go to school, but that means her mum can’t go to work. So she’s ended up staying the day at our house – with classmate Lola who is also ill. Izzy arrived in the sort of red PJs that reminded me of George Macdonald-Fraser’s invented anti-hero, Flashman, who joined the Light Brigade entirely for outfits. Though I’m not sure he would have stooped to balaclavas.

The PJs made me want to turn the girls’ bedroom into a Crimean field hospital – before the lady with the lamp got there.

Mum, please don’t make me a bed of straw or feed my friend raw horse meat,” rasped Lola who clearly knows me too well. Izzy, with an equally sore throat, stayed quiet, hoping I’d go back to my office.

In the end I had to be satisfied with digging out books about the Eastern Question and provide updates about Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. I think I've also convinced the sick children to learn Alfred, Lord Tennyson's 1854 poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and get them to measure the distance from bed to bathroom in half leagues...

We also had a quick debate about where the Crimea happened – Russia or Turkey. As I remember, that was the crux of the problem, everyone else thought that bit of land around the Black Sea ought to belong to them.

Exhausted by this surprise educational attack Izzy clearly thought she'd blundered into a house of crazies and thus took the only possible exit strategy - flopping weakly back on to the pillows to wait for her mum to come and pick her up.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Hippo in the picture

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

This pic is of Nell and Lola over-excitedly finding a model toilet at Camden Green Fair covered in tips to fill it with a Hippo. It says: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." It also says that a Hippo can save 5,000 litres of water per person each year.

I love this pic because it reveals Nell's true feelings about our rarely flush policy.

Tea for Zimbabwe

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

My friend Claire showed me a picture of a typical Zimbabwean shop a while ago. It had nothing in it except two packets of monkey nuts. Compare that to a Sainsbury's or Tesco "corner" store. Another Zimbabwe contact told me that he was so excited to see milk in a store that he bought the whole stock – then had to drink the lot in one go (sick making rather than exciting) because the days of power cuts wrecked his fridge.

People tell me that anything helps the communities in Zimbabwe, even at this tense time in the count down to the election run-off. This same contact told me that communities are being ordered to take their satellite dishes down and obliged to hand in their identity cards to buy essentials. These are not returned, which means they will not be able to vote. What did I do? Well I bought this pretty teapot painted by one of the many talented Zimbabwean craftspeople.

I do not need a teapot, and I probably kid myself that buying a teapot for #30 (a lot!) is of any use. But as a donation it comes under generous, and that makes me feel a bit better.

We are so very lucky in the UK to be allowed to vote for who we like without fear.

Locating Shangri-La

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

The Lake District is many things to our family. We’ve played there pretending we are in Chile wild camping by Ullswater and even used it to scene set for a conquering journey up Everest (aka Skiddaw). We’ve followed Wainwright until we’ve got lost, cooed over Beatrix Potter’s manor and desperately wanted to be Hunter Davis. Back in London we keep our easy to recharge torch bright by reading Arthur Ransome’s books. Current favourite is Swallowdale when the children – John, Susan, Titty and Roger – are forced to stop talking about jibes and booms (things none of us can relate to) and go camping in the perfect valley.

There’s as much speculation among Swallows & Amazon’s fans about whether Ransome was a spy as the whereabouts of Swallowdale and the knickerbockerbreaker waterfall slide.

Back in 1984 Christina Hardyment managed to locate many of the sites around Coniston and Windermere in her fascinating book Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint’s Trunk (Jonathan Cape). She didn’t find it, but later in the all-things Ransome journal, Mixed Moss, Hardyment had another go – claiming that the ultimate, child-safe utopia is probably in Miterdale, on the route to Scafell near the end of the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway.

Wherever Ransome really used for his Shangri-La it is a long, long way from the hilltops of despair William Golding found for the child gang in the Lord of the Flies.

Romana is a mum

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Romana, our handsome Aracuna hen – a Chilean breed that lays blue eggs – has successfully sat for 21 days on a dozen fertilized eggs and managed to hatch seven chicks. Three are Scots Dumpies (a rare UK breed) and four white trouser-feathered Silkies. The chicks are three weeks old now and we feel incredibly lucky that they’ve survived for so long given our previous experiences with foxes and hens (see the Clucking hell chapter in Pete’s book There’s A Hippo In My Cistern/Collins, #7.99).

We didn’t do this with an incubator: the eggs were bought off e-Bay, sat at Freightliners Farm, Sheringham Road, N7 for a while and even managed to avoid mishap when cycled home once Romana went broody.

Romana is a mum 2

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Here’s a snap of the seven chicks Romana hatched (three Scots Dumpies and four Silkies) at two days old.

There's a Hippo launch party

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Brilliant party at Islington's Green Living Centre (easy to reach by bus, tube, foot and bike - all very low carbon methods of getting around). This entry is just to show-off the party cake.

Three for two moment

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

There’s A Hippo In My Cistern (Collins) is on the three for two table at Waterstones. We got so over-excited that I took a photo. At a more recent book reading in Wanstead, at the lovely Newham Library, Pete read a section from the Clucking Hell chapter to non-stop laughter from the audience. I hope he gets a chance to do more of these readings.

Festival land

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Current travel supplements are awash with places to go, things to do, etc, over the summer. I’m not a big festival-goer but in a bid to make it to Brazil we went to Camden Green Fair for dancing (tea dancing in fact!), partying – and some green info. Apart from the obvious, the only way you could tell it wasn’t really Brazil was the serious over-dressing by festival goers. A brave few were in T-shirts but most had raincoats somewhere nearby.

This pic is during the carbon footprint game run by Camden Friends of the Earth. Most people use 10 tonnes of carbon (much more if they fly) during a year. With our various improvements to our house (eg, insulation, solar hot water, Good Energy's renewable electricity supplier) our family gobbles up about 6 tonnes of carbon per year. The problem is that everyone in the UK needs to be using just 2 tonnes - that's either a lot of giving up, or a lot of energy-efficiency innovation.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Hippo is in the bookshops

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Pete's book, There's a Hippo In My Cistern (Pete May, Collins, #7.99) is out on Monday.

It's funny and it's on the two for three table at some Waterstones bookshops so every finger in the house is crossed (and a few chicken claws too) that readers will like finding out about: "Pete's gradual move towards an eco-friendly existence in a laid back, witty and engaging way as he grapples with the good life from cojmpost loos and rearing chickens to wearing multiple jumpers and using Hippos - devices that pete found himself dunking into his cistern to save water when flushing...set against the back drop of Cool Britannia, Blair's Britain and the rise of the green movement..."

I just hope Pete's belief that humour will win more people over to the green cause is going to work as I'd like a lot more of us into energy efficiency than seem to be around at the moment.

Oh yes, and I'll be careful what I wish for in the future as it's very strange having a kiss and tell book written about yourself...

Georgian hair

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Granny Fiona wants to know why Lola's hair has been chopped off and not used to make wigs. Apparently when Posh Spice had hair extensions these came from Georgia, and my mum knows lots of women who've appreciated wigs as their own hair recovers after chemotherapy blasts.

I'm ashamed to admit that my eldest daughter's hair had become so knotted from living the wild child life that we needed four hairdressers, a bottle of conditioner and chewing gum (to help take the pain away) to sort it out. She also needed the knots to be razored out.

The pic shows Lola with straight hair (a temporary measure) but I've been told to condition the ends three times or so a week; brush it twice a day and try getting Lola to sleep on a silk pillow to keep it tangle-free inbetween six weekly trims. With such instructions it's a wonder anyone wants to keep their hair, but for now Lola is thrilled by the sleek feel of knot-free strands.

Get outside more

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Canadian cousin Stacy, who lives in Japan, has emailed to tell me to read Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods. It sounds superb - and has spawned another childrearing trend (the child and nature network) in a bid to save kids from "nature defecit disorder". It still doesn't appear to be in the UK bookshops, nor even the American owned Whole Earth flagship store down at Ken High Street in the old Barkers.

I spent most of my holiday time outside as a child and I do my best to let the kids do that now, mostly by providing waterproof clothes, sunblock and incentives. Our chicks and garden mess help; so does not having a car. However on a recent visit to Granny in Hertfordshire our picnic had to be taken indoors thanks to an afternoon downpour.

If only we'd taken the wellies the children could have spent a happy hour splashing around in the river chasing raindrops and ducks. Instead we ate biscuits in the conservatory listening to the rain on the roof. I don't think Richad Louv would have approved.

We walked from home to Hamleys

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

I love going on big walks but recently (in Norfolk) this meant driving to the start of our route. In a bid to remind myself that this is a crazy way to behave, and to help teach the girls over half term exactly where they live in London we walked from home to Hamleys.

It took us nearly four hours to cover the five miles but our adventure included stop offs at shops, cafes, parks and a bagel break at Brill Cafe in Exmouth market. We were accompanied by a model dog (christened Pizza by Nell) and a ball which Lola uses to practise basketball. It was tiring hammering along the pavements - the children kept suggesting we should get two dogs and call them Footsore and Blister, but just as I thought they were about to give in (on a side street in Covent Garden) Nell spotted a dead rat, and interest revived.

Hamleys was picked by the girls as a place they really wanted to go too. It also gave them a chance to spend the tiny amount of pocket money they'd saved up since January (this is because I rarely hand it out, not because they spend it).

My next plan is to walk with Pete to West Ham's Boleyn ground. Unlike the rest of the family I don't need a destination temptation as I'm just as happy walking around the city as I am in the country. Meanwhile my neighbour suggests looking up a walking website...

Chinatown coconut

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 travelling 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

Packaging is creeping back into our lives - we recently bought a clingfilm wrapped green coconut in London's Chinatown for #1.25. The coconut was husked (though I still had to ask for help from a man with a cleaver to open up the eye) but without the wrapping I'd never have known it had been grown then flown all the way from Thailand.

Lola, Nell and I lapped up the milk (very sweet and delicious but it is an acquired taste so I keep practising my kids) through a bendy straw and then the old man split the coconut so we could guzzle the meat (a floppy grey jelly). It was delicious and made us feel as if we were on holiday.

Chinatown is an amazing place still, lots of back streets and an atmosphere so different to the theatre land of Shaftesbury Avenue or the mix of trendy/seedy in Soho. Unfortunately it's all at risk claims Paul Kingsnorth in his latest book, Real England, because Chinatown is under threat from a new kind of development - businesses that buy up streets in a pretence of cleaning up the area.

People used to worry about not being able to walk across farmers' land; imagine how you'll feel not being allowed to use streets?

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Wild flowers are what we want

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

Much of north west Norfolk is an agricultural desert for most birds and insects which struggle to cope in the over-pesticide drenched fields, under the plastic-forced veg or the bare soil, so it was a delight to go for a walk over the permissive paths at Courtyard Farm, near Ringstead. Courtyard Farm is run by Greenpeace's former boss, Lord Melchett on organic principles.

We took a two mile loop over Ringstead common (which is almost hilly and smelt intoxicatingly of hawthorn blossom, aka May) and then across several stunning hay meadows awash with flowers. Supposing we'd strayed from the path it would be impossible not to crush the many flowers - cowslips, ox-eye daisies, vetches, scabius. The fields aren't just eye candy for visitors, we enjoyed hearing larks and learning from the useful free leaflet provided at the car park.

"Artificial fertilisers actually kill life in the soil. English partridge chicks need to eat insects in the first weeks of their life, and chemical sprays kill insects. so baby partridges, tree sparrows, corn buntings, yellow hammers and skylarks starve to death. Weed killers kill the native plants that hares and turtledoves depend on."

"50 years ago, most crops were planted in the spring, and fields left over winter provided food for wildlife. Now most crops are planted in the autumn and the sprayed fields provide no food for wintering wildlife. So birds and other animals have declined because adults starve to death in winter, and their young starve to death in the spring."

"Over the last few years we've seen wildlife return as we changed to organic farming. We have stopped using artificial fertilisers, and sprays that kill insects and weeds. Life has returned to the soil... We have 4 times the number of skylarks and 3 times the number of hares since we started to go organic..." In 2002 there were 90 partridges (the low point was just 16 birds in the 1980s).

Melchett clearly loves his land, it must have been his vision of Courtyard that helped inspire his brave anti-GM crop campaigning. He also got a Bill through Parliament that prevented some birds, eg, curlews, being shot.

"Many do not accept that modern farming has done all this damage, and have put the blame elsewhere. People walking in the countryside are accused of disturbing wildlife. More popular villains are magpies, crows and foxes....

Melchett reckonsthat: "organic farming provides more jobs, far better welfare for farm animals, uses less energy and produces healthier, tastier food..."

If this is true (and I obviously think it is) why can't all farmers be like this one?

And why do shoppers think it is OK to buy so much cheap meat farmed horribly on land that was once rainforest, then flown in all the way from Argentina? It's enough to make me want to pick an annual meat budget (say #100 and then just enjoy tucking into a few tasty, well farmed UK-raised, memorable dishes over the year).

The only other meadows I've seen like this were in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, near Malham Tarn, owned and managed by the National Trust. As the springs pass I hope I'll see many more.

If you want to see the flowers, and don't like picnics, you can also treat yourself to a posh lunch, and local ale, at The Gin Trap, Ringstead. And if you don't happen to be in the area on a Wednesday afternoon when you can buy organic beef, pork and lamb from the farm, then purchase freezer packs at the superb General Stores at Ringstead (open seven days a week stocking basics, papers, Post Office stuff and affordable antiques). Price list from Robert Giles, 01485 525 251, couryardfarm.organic@virgin.net

Pony girl thinks Olympic

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 (pic is at fence 12 in front of Houghton Hall).

I played a wicked trick on my family to get them to go to two days of the three-day international event at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. It's the second year this has been held and rain is becoming a firm tradition. All I had to do was pretend I didn't want to go to see the show jumping on the final day in order for the others to launch a campaign persuading me that I did... eventually I let myself be talked into day two.

Luckily the first day (saturday) was gorgeous and we were able to all walk the cross country course watching some great horses and Olympic hopefuls for China 2008, including William Fox Pitt, Jeanette Brakewell, Oliver Townend and Sharon Hunt.

Equestrianism is the only discipline where men and women compete equally - thus a good one to share with your children.

On Saturday we plopped ourselves on a picnic rug by the water fence and enjoyed seeing the riders tackle three complicated fences, patting other spectators' dogs and cooing at the ducklings on the pond. On Sunday we ducked between the beer tent and umbrellas to watch damp horse and rider combos trying to make a clear show jumping round in a very tight time. Bliss for me; not sure if the family will fall for this horsy trick again though...

Out in the park

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

I Love Parks Too event is coming up soon (14 June, noon-4pm), designed to tempt people on to those big green scary spaces that many wrongly think are littered with dog poo, insects, fag ends and forgotten baby socks. At Highbury Fields, near me, on the Saturday of Love Parks week (14-22 June) there will be music, loads of free activities (eg, face and leg painting so you really can turn your tot into a wild tiger or a hairy monkey) and stalls run by community groups. More info from the ranger on 07825 098451.

My family mock me for prefering the parks when it's raining and they aren't so full, but fiesta style days are a great way of seeing just how many people value our fantastic urban breathing spaces and how much children enjoy the chance to be outside, playing. Best of all Londoners have got lots of choice about which park to stroll around - pity New York with just the one, Central Park (as seen in the latest Sex & The City movie).

The UK has all those other type of parks too; posh people's playgrounds surrounding a stately home. The pic of bracket fungus on a splendid old oak tree is from Houghton Hall (you say How-ton) built by Britain's first PM, Sir Robert Walpole in Norfolk. Walpole had to shift the villagers to keep his park public free (a bit worse than paying #10k for a new kitchen in your second home I feel).

Nowadays the Marquess of Cholmondeley (you say Chum-ley) positively touts for visitors over the summer to help pay for this Palladian mansion's upkeep. The house and gorgeous walled gardens are open on wednesdays, thursdays, sundays and Bank Holiday mondays.

Waiting rooms

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

I hate waiting normally, but it's different at Cambridge station waiting for a train in the mock (c1945) panelled room by AMT's 100 per cent fair traded cafe. There's ethical ice tea for starters, but better still an atmosphere (thanks to a few framed photos) that almost transport you to Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard's famously Brief Encounter at Carnforth station. There's the endless announcements for journeys half-remembered, never taken, anticipated.

Lola, Nell and I have to spend an hour here waiting for Pete to drop something off. By the time he's ready to catch our train home we reckon the AMT franchise needs to cordon off a floor sitting space for kids to flop on; add some shelves of books and open the windows. I'd also like an area to dress in glamorous tweeds, so I can take a snap of myself with lipstick and a big engine backdrop which can be emailed/texted off to friends. Or maybe these waiting rooms could be filled with manuals - how to change a tyre, how to stop stockings running, tips for using up leftover fruit and bread, or atlases so you can mug up on pub quiz questions/holiday geography?

Our ideas were for simple stuff that doesn't involve eating... and enables the people who just can't relax to spend every waiting moment on a learning curve rather than an anxious gap between rush hours.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

I can fly this plane

Nicola and Pete, plus daughters Lola, now 9, and Nell, now 7, spent last summer exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Now we're home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing, plus tips onhow to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

At last here's a flight my family can take. Not only is it carbon zero, you also get to pick your seat - I'm sure Pete will want to be close to Time Team's Tony Robinson. Best of all it's a virtual trip, so no risk of irritating neighbours or turbulence terrors. This plane ride is captained by Friends of the Earth in a bid to get Government to include aviation emissions in their upcoming - and rather delayed - Climate Change Bill. Head for it now...

There's also three in-flight movies to enjoy at YouTube, find the Westminster jet crasher; the Cockney Queen and the naked flight. Aside from all those campaigners who fly around the world to the climate COPs (though they needn't December 2008 as the meeting is in Poland) how often do you get to book a flight with celebs - think Razorlight's Johnny Borrell, Radiohead's Thom Yorke - to help Government do the right thing?

This is carbon offsetting at its best.


Thursday, 24 April 2008

How it went


Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 (nervously testing the homemade oatcake) and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April (pic to the left shows what we were left with that had to be binned). Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is the final entry on how it’s going:

Successes
1 The #2.75 coffee seals have got our coffee volcano pot back into action – and my friend Debbie’s.
2 Unexpectedly over the past month we’ve probably halved our food bills (I wasn’t running a strict tally), simply by avoiding packaging. We’ve also eaten better quality food and I don’t think even one tin of baked beans has been used.
3 Finding enthusiastic homes for things we don't want, or just can't fit into our house. We lugged things to the charity shop (which doesn't guarantee a new home), but prefered to use Freecycle and we also put 15 pieces of furniture into an auction.
4 Finding new uses for things (ie, reusing) is very creative. We all loved the buzz that feeling of invention gives you. Lola started sewing clothes from material scraps for her Sylvanian dolls and Nell was regularly in the cupboard looking for sellotape to transform something or other.
5 Every now and again we broke our own rules & it’s surprising how liberating those moments of rebellion can be!

Failures
1 We love eating cheese and biscuits – but our homemade oat cakes (see pic), although delicious at first, went soft in less than 24 hours. I think crackers might sneak back on our shopping list.
2 A huge cardboard box was ruined by a child weeing in it (!), therefore unfit for storing stuff and I reckon a reason for recycling.
3 Friends came to dinner and I didn’t brief them enough – so the left over risotto scrapings were tipped into our (out of action) rubbish bin rather than saved for the hens. I can’t believe I still know people who don’t automatically look for a compost bin…
4 At the end of the month we had a mini bag for the dustman. It was very light (I plan to weigh and itemise it, but not right now).

Abject failures
1 Those newspapers – at least one is bought each day, often two. We’d started off saying we would be waste free and avoid buying newspapers, but no one was prepared to go to the library (or even online) to read them. This shows our age I reckon. People under 30 would rarely waste their money on buying a paper when there's so many free ones around...

Verdict: this was a month long experiment that has helped break some of our throwaway habits. I hope we’re going to stick to the principle of avoiding packaging (but not in such a neurotic way). All the family learnt how very easy it is to avoid the plastic bag giveaway in shops and how hard it is to avoid plastic around processed foods. And to think that this was a birthday present to me - thank you family!
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We'd love your comments about our month giving up waste. If you want to read all the entries click on the menu bar on the right that says A-Z No Waste.
Have you tried a family challenge? How do you cope with the mountain of stuff that comes into your home? What are your best ideas for ditching plastic wrapping? Let us know...

Toy story

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

Nell adores her little toys, but invariably some of them break. The red Spanish lady has just been reunited (thanks to a dab of Araldite) with the other bit of her torso, and so been able to retake the centre stage of our toy-strewn floor.

Verdict: if I was on a desert island I reckon glue (preferably Araldite) would be my luxury item. When you need glue, nothing else will do.

If the glove fits

Nicola & Pete plus daughters Lola, now 9 and Nell, now 7, spent last year exploring Britain in a carbon-light manner. Our spring 2008 challenge is to give up waste from 24 March to 24 April. Most posts are by Nicola (as it was her silly idea). This is how it’s going:

We wash up by hand. The research says that hand washing is more wasteful of power and water than an electric dishwasher. I guess it depends how you do the dishes, and whether you leave the tap running as a rinse aid. I defy any household to avoid all washing up (how do you do saucepans, coffee pots, wooden spoons etc?) but I do admit that a washing up machine guarantees a tidier look to your kitchen as it makes sure the dirty dishes are out of sight.

It also means you don't get dishwater hands - or the problem of what to do with rubber gloves when they develop holes at the ends. As you can see from the pic we had a go reusing this leaky left hander. The cuff has been cut into rubber bands (a tip I read in The Guardian) and helps me identify the plastic jar we use to decant coffee beans into so not all my containers are filled with coffee aroma. But my star invention has to be turning the fingers of the glove into a bit of Oud (you need to watch Dr Who to know about Ouds) and stick it into the kids' dressing up box.

Verdict: Creative - yes. Beautiful - no. Useful - only if you love Dr Who or dressing up.