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.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Paper chase

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:

On the way up to Norfolk I want to get a newspaper, at the train station but Nell stops me. "Don't do that," she advises, "just pick up the ones everyone will leave on their seats when they get off at Cambridge or King's Lynn."

Verdict: It's a good idea and as a result we take home to enjoy Paris Match, the Times, the Daily Mail (!), the Independent and a trashy gossip magazine, New!.

One week's waste total

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:

Here is a pic of this week's waste - everything else we've been able to compost. I'm trying to avoid recycling, but Pete won't do that so the recycling bins are filling (albeit slower) with newspapers and bottles. Our waste shame includes:
4x magazine wrappers - possibly recyclable via Friends of the Earth's amazing office recycling facilities.
1x heavy plastic book promo quarter sleeve - pointless really but came from a free book Lola was given
1x cheese and onion hula hoops - yet to be turned into car boot sale treasure by the girls
1x drinking straw - from Nell's picnic lunch (a left over tetra-pak box in the cupboard)
1x polystyrene plate - from the riding school cafe eating failue - will be turned into a mask and then I think has to go
2x small plastic packets which had Easter eggs in (given by my mum to Pete)
1x starburst sweet detritus - possibly this is compostable, we'll give it a go.
The bin however is currently out of action, covered with a big homemade pic to try and stop us forgetting!

Smell coffee

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:


Another panic: this time we are short of coffee. Normally there are loads of shops nearby where we can buy fair trade coffee, but this time I wanted to be packaging free. The solution was to go to the cafe, Good for Food, and ask the Portugese owner is she'd sell me some beans that I could take away in my own bag - just like I do with her delicious bread. The pic is of the b eans wrapped up in an old pak choi bag taken from my veg delivery.

She agreed, so Pete and I are set up for another 100g of the hard stuff. I think that will produce 20 cups, about four days of coffee.

There are several specialist coffee shops around including the Monmouth Coffee Shop at 27 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden and Camden where finding fair trade beans should be easy. I think most of the Italian delis are likely to be able to sell me ground or bean coffee without a plactic wrapper as well, so it's more a case of learning to stock up so I can be assured of the perfect pre-breakfast wake up...

Verdict: I'm learning to think in new sizes - scoops, grammes and tupperware boxes.

Friday, 28 March 2008

My book in shop shock

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:

My friend Rita was cruising the second hand shops in Barnet when she saw in the window the book I co-wrote for Friends of the Earth. She couldn’t resist sending me this snap.

Save Cash & Save the Planet, published by Collins, came out in 2005, with an intended publishing life of five years. It’s still selling in the bookshops, but I guess as 19,000 have been bought there’s going to be a few heading for new life and new homes in the charity shops.

Verdict: I love this display! Humbling, but also hugely exciting to see Save Cash & Save the Planet picked out to decorate the shopwindow.

Letter knife

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:

I’m a bad ripper of envelopes, and ruin many. The picture of the house letter opener is to remind me to make use of it.

Verdict: This is one new habit I better not break. Neat envelopes equals reusable envelopes and a lot less need for cellulose tape to hold them together when next used.

Neighbourhood swap

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:

I’ve been sent such a huge cheese in the post that it has to be shared.

My neighbour, Nick Clee, is a food writer, so he and family are likely to want a chunk.

I send it over (cunningly getting rid of one of the plastic easter egg shells at the same time) and back comes a huge plant pot made from magazines and newspapers in the Philippine style. My new gift is shaped like a swan and is really rather lovely. My basil plant gets a new home.

Verdict: sharing seems to lead to spontaneous exchanges, which is delightful for both giver and receiver. I must do more.

In the bathroom

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:

Crisis: there is only one roll of loo paper left at home. After some heated discussion with Pete I’ve agreed that we do not have to abandon the modern world of soft, perforated toilet tissue. In fact this was a simple decision as Pete said we’d have to divorce if Family Baird May switches to torn up newspaper.

We are now faced with the dilemma of what to buy: A) unbranded and loose? B) non FSC-certified but paper wrapped? C) recycled but tightly packed in plastic?

Pete favours A but doesn’t know where to find it. As a result he’s decided we’ll be getting B.

In contrast having a period doesn’t seem such a problem as I’ve been using a Mooncup for a while. This means there isn’t any waste to block pipes or clog up the oceans. Admittedly it took a little while getting used to it, and the potential for embarrassment if dropped is huge. That said the Mooncup is the best thing I’ve used which is why I’ve forced myself to write about it on this blog.

Verdict: ladies go try the Mooncup, it has to be the best reusable item ever. But here’s a note for employer, school and public toilet designers - please think about putting sinks into cubicles, rather than in rows. Privacy is all.

Soft centres

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:

I’ve been given a box of Green & Black chocolates (which are v nice, thank you). Although all the wrapping is recyclable, some might even be reusable (the box for instance), chocolate boxes deserve to be singled out as the most excessively over-wrapped items.

This is a mystery to me as when I make truffles (using Fleur’s recipe for 12) all I need is 125g of dark chocolate (ie, a bar) and then two spoonfuls of double cream and liquer. Once the truffles have set they don’t seem to stick, especially if they have been rolled in cocoa powder, which means you can pile them up in or on anything without having to worry about turning a dozen delicious treats turn into one blobby goo.

Verdict: it’s easy to reject over-wrapped food products, even delicious chocolates. And if you’re doing the giving, then maybe it is worth thinking about packaging as much as the rest of the product. After all the manufacturers do.

Plastic Pacific

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:

When I first arrived as a VSO to work in Solomon Islands the main town, Honiara, was a mess. That was 1990, but I doubt it is much cleaner now.

Solomon Islanders used empty oil and DDT drums to put out their rubbish, but whatever precautions you took these were knocked over and sifted through by the town’s many stray dogs.

Even when the rubbish was collected it was taken less than a mile up the road to Ranandi to the large dump. For those looking for humour it is sort of ironic that when families got fed up with aging dogs (eg, the ones with mange) they’d abandon them at the dump – making the place even less attractive/safe to visit. Ranandi was also the site of the Solomon Brew factory and the business park. I used to go up there to the printers and was constantly amazed by the assault of wind, heat, dust, flies and smell.

In the villages stuff was a lot more precious, so there was much less thrown away.

This week’s evening BBC news reports are currently focusing on another Pacific island, Midway, which has the bad luck to wash up much of the plastic waste us humans dump. The reports by XXXX have shown that all the albatroses there have ingested plastic. Big bits – easily mistaken as a jellyfish – can kill. But now it turns out that when plastic eventually disintegrates into miniscule pieces it leaves toxic pillules that are ingested by those crusteaceans, krill and other animals at the bottom of the food chain. The result is that plastic has managed to get itself into our diet which is likely to have a seriously toxic impact.

We may have done it vocariously, but as The Ancient Mariner found out, killing albatrosses is a way of storing up plenty bad karma.

Verdict: as all the plastic bag free town campaigners keep trying to remind shoppers, there is no such thing as away. Not if you know about Midway.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Trouble with horses

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:

Lola and I had planned how to eat at the riding school cafe - I'd take my portable tea thermos for a nice hot cuppa - and she'd ask for no plate. But then Lola got distracted by the sight of pretty, grey Taboo cantering around the arena and her friends piles of cheese and tomato toasties.

As a result she got a toastie with plastic plate and napkin which we then had to take home puzzling what to do with it. It was a shame as Lola was not just trying, she was also generous enough to order a cookie (with no wrapping) instead of her preferred Mars Bar (with wrapping).

The other children, Freya and Izzy, clearly think Lola is impressive to be trying to live life without the need to even recycle.

Verdict: when it comes to waste watching sometimes there's just too much to explain.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Blunt razors

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:


Pete (snapped on a snowy Easter walkabout) is not keen on the beardy look and so today purchased more razors. What can be done with the blunt ones?


Suggestion from artistic neighbours, Lucy and Jack, is to place them into a cork and then use them to sharpen crayons and pencils. It's a good idea but first we'd have to lose the 10 million sharpeners that Nell's collected.


Verdict: it feels as if we need a new life guide book. Where should old razors go? It's not something I've ever thought about before. Perhaps it's time for a return to the barbour shop. Then again there's the fear that Sweeney Todd might still be lurking near the knives.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Say no to paper bags

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:

Pete has been shopping too bringing home successfully an avocado and bananas (items the local shops stock without encasing them in plastic). Although he refused a plastic bag at the Bagel Bakery he found it impossible to reject the paper bag with a dozen bagels in. It's not a proper disaster as we are sure to re-use this bag (probably at the bottom of our compost bin’s mini caddy).

Verdict: it’s surprisingly difficult to stop the Bagel shop girls dishing out bags. Clearly we’re all going to need clean material bags tucked about our person just in case we are drawn into the shops.

Beunpackaged.com

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:

From 10am-7pm at 42 Amwell Street in Mrs Lloyd’s old dairy shop – all brown wood and gleaming mirrors Catherine runs the unpackaged empire. It’s here that I expect to find myself visiting and revisiting this month (and hopefully for much longer) thanks to it being one of the few places that sells food stuff without packaging. In fact it’s better than that: you get 50p off your bill for every container you bring in to fill up with ingredients. That compares well with the 5p docked off your total bill when you provide your own bag at Fresh & Wild (Whole Earth).

Unpackaged is a shop that clearly suits the islington locals - loads of cheery people with and without kids came in. It’s also a shop that you need to plan to use. For my first visit I’d had to hunt down eight Tupperware containers, but you can also buy small and big clear, zip-lock bags (that can be reused 20 times) to pop oats, risotto rice, lentils, dried apricots or whatever it is you need (see pic for my haul which included fudge, cheese and mixed nuts). I notice that Unpackaged also refills Ecover products (v useful) and stocks Mooncups – one of the few shops in Islington to do so.

Verdict: delicious bread and as another draw – at last I’ve found a place to buy fresh apple juice, wash out the bottle and get a refill.

Darn it

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:

Fan as I am of sewing this A-Z No Waste project obliges the needlewoman in me to make an appearance. As this photo shows I am now obliged to darn the darns. It's OK, possibly even relaxing though I am unlikely to tell Nell, Lola or Pete that.

Verdict: this month is also a chance to sort out the clothes that don't fit and either give them away or mend them. Not sure if I know what worn out looks like though.

Is that Emily?

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:

Emily, it’s Nicola here, you know from school. Yes, that Nicola, your one time best friend, from 6th form. Got a bit of a confession. No it’s not that bad. And yes I’m fine.

You remember that we did English A level together? Well I’ve just been sorting stuff out in mum’s attic and it seems that I took all your notes home at the end of the term. There are three lever arch folders - lots of essays about Prufrock coming and going..

Yes, TS Eliot, that’s a poet we’ll never forget!

…and a nice zebra decorated A4 folder (see pic).

So the question is shall I post them to you in Oxfordshire?

Oh, you’re clearing up a bit too. All right I’ll recycle them here. Nice talking to you. How long’s it been? Yes that’s right. 26 years. Well, speak soon. No I really mean it this time, I’m doing a lot of tidying up this month…

Verdict: don't sweat the small stuff is a useful mantra for the A-Z No Waste project. So is staying in touch without gaps of 26 years.

To the dump

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:

For the past year we’ve been collecting Tetra-pak cartons (see pic of my crammed cycle panniers) so that we can take them to Islington’s grand dump – which promises that it can even deal with Tetra-pak. As I cycled towards the waste centre (which spreads between Holloway and Caledonia Roads and is boxed in by a railway edged by social housing) a security guard waved me over and explained that even with my hard hat and hi-vis jacket it wasn’t OK for me to go into the main collecting chamber. Health and safety you understand.

Tetra-pak is a complex mix of aluminum and plastics, which in theory can be melted down and re-used. However most people dump it now that you are no longer able to print out labels and send back to the factory. A few boroughs have arranged to collect it but the sites are extremely limited, hence today’s mission to the Islington Recycling Centre.

Reluctantly I put six yellow pages/phone directories and two bike pannier bags of Tetra-paks into the temporary recycling skip by his hut, hoping that Islington really does sort through the stray pedestrian and cyclists’ bin.

I’d have been more bad tempered about this if the security guard hadn’t mistaken me for a student (it’s easy to please me!) or there wasn’t such a steep ramp up to the recycling area which I’d been obliged to avoid.

Verdict: cyclists have it easy. Car drivers have to do their own sorting.

China crisis

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:

This picture is of a very old plate, the pattern is Indian tree, and my mum says her family used this sort before the Second World War in Ireland. My mum’s memories are of playing with pieces of this crockery which she now realizes were broken during the washing up; chucked over the Ferry Quarter sea wall into Strangford Lough (that’s how all the families dealt with rubbish in the 1940s. In fact I visited as a little child in the 1970s and still remember with some shock seeing my step grandmother tipping the contents of her kitchen bin into the sea). The tide then took the china around the corner where it beached ready for the neighbourhood children to pick up and play swaps and shops with.

In contrast Pete’s mum’s family, who lived in Stoke on Trent and worked in the potteries, clearly treated china in a more respectful way. As a result this broken plate has been stapled and glued together (see pic). It’s quite amazing, especially as you can’t see the staples on the top side.

I haven’t dared use this plate for everyday meals (though I'm sure it would be fine) but I love to look at the skilful way it was mended.

Verdict: in sad contrast my broken china usually ends up as pot crocks if it can't be glued back into use. Maybe I need to be a bit cleverer about breakages? Some artistic friends have created wonderful mosaics around raised herb beds, which allows them to enjoy those precious pieces in a very different setting.

Scrap attack

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’ve been visiting Norfolk a lot recently and are appalled by how much we end up chucking out. It’s so easy to deal with waste in your own home (well, easier), but here in Norfolk Granny Sheila and Grandad didn’t even have a compost bin.

Fortunately the county council is obliged to tackle this (and offer at least two types of material to be recycled by 2010 thanks to a law introduced with the help of Friends of the Earth (the Waste Reduction Act).

Because this collection takes a lot of potential rubbish that could be dumped into landfill (or burnt at one of those dodgy heat and power incinerators) many councils are offering far better recycling opportunities each year. After a tiny bit of fretting I found that for just #10, I could order a big compost bin over the phone that would be delivered to the Norfolk garden.

The compost bin arrived within a fortnight, and after just four days of use I was amazed by how much stuff can be turned into something as useful as gardeners’ gold. Into the bin (now firmly fixed because it’s windy in Norfolk, see pic) has gone all the stuff that would have had to be chucked out - the painted egg shells we decorated for Easter Sunday; all our veggie tops and tails; coffee grinds; trimmed plants; some screwed up bits of greasy newspaper (used to draw out damp from the kids’ soggy wellies) and a handful of leaves that were lurking by the back door.

Then I splashed out on a 50p bag of horse manure, bought from a nearby pony owner, to use as an accelarator.

Compost isn’t that easy to make in a plastic bin. Pete and I got into huge muddles in 2001 when we put the bin too close to our kitchen window forgetting that this would make us intimately acquainted with fruit flies. He details our various dastardly methods of catching fruit flies with real ale, etc, in his latest kiss and tell book, There’s a Hippo In My Cistern (Collins, out June 2008).

Not surprisingly when we moved home in 2004 we were determined to regain control of our composting. We now have two heaps (if we had a bit more land we’d have three), both sited in sunnyish spots to keep the temperatures up. We mix browns and greens (a technical term apparently) and I stir with a fork when I feel cabin-fever coming on. The result is that the compost has rotted into a fabulous soil conditioner, it's so good I even feel proud enough to show people the contents of my bin.

Verdict: when will it be that successful compost making skills are rated as highly as a GSOH?

Crisp dilemma

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 all love crisps so there’s been mild panic that we can’t eat them this month because no one could think what to do with the packaging – except bin it. As that’s ruled out we thought crisps had to be off menu, unless we made them ourselves. And I’d ruled that off menu as I’m already having to explore new places to shop where they don’t wrap everything in plastic etc.

Luckily Lola was inspired by a combination of Stig from Stig of the Dump (by Clive King, 1963) and a picture in the newspaper of a model wearing a flash long dress made from vast grey and red plastic laundry bags. The dress looks amazing and it immediately made Lola think up a crisp solution – she would turn the empty Kettle crisp packets into a series of items. Weaving into a lattice pattern should create a new wardrobe for her collection of Sylvanians, but to start with she decided we needed a dish for the scissors and sellotape (see pic).

The crisp package conversion has been so successful that Lola and Nell are now campaigning for us to eat more packets this month so they can set up a mini business selling wrapper dishes and crisp-woven clothes at the car boot sale.

Verdict: who knows if this could be the entrepreneurship opportunity I’ve been waiting for, and all because the family has given up waste for a month.

Inspirational reading

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:

During the long Easter weekend our bedtime reading was Stig of the Dump, by Clive King. I hadn’t enjoyed it much when I was little but this time around the girls and I thought it was great.

The book is only just older than me – published in 1963 – and follows the adventures of eight-year-old Barney as he befriends a stone age man, Stig, who lives in a den on the landfill near Barney’s granny’s house. There’s some great descriptions of how to reuse things – Stig skins and strips a large car; turns jam jars into a window; cans into a chimney and after dissecting an umbrella ends up with a waterproof skirt, small spears and tripod legs to cook turnips over an open fire.

Verdict: Stig of the Dump has inspired us all to look at things a bit more quizzically before we write them off as one-use items.

You've got nail

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:

I know how easy it is to forget New Year’s resolutions, promises, new year/new you life changes etc, so decided the A-Z No waste month was in danger from the moment we woke up on 24 March 2008. As all we are trying to do this month is change a few ingrained habits my hunch is that the way to prevent anyone forgetting is to slap on make-up. Well, a dob of nail varnish on everyone’s little finger.

Nail varnish marks us out, perhaps, but acts as a good reminder for me; incentive for the girls who love having a painted nail each (in fact they want more!) and a menacing concern to Pete who fears if we get it wrong he’s going to acquire a few more painted nails as he sleeps

Verdict: at least this will give me the opportunity to use up leftover dregs of nail varnish (usually rejected because of their harmful environmental impact).

Friday, 21 March 2008

The dollshouse

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 loves playing with her dollshouse – a fine example of a detached Edwardian suburban 3-bed that I would loathe to live in because there's no where to store clutter! I bought it for her from a secondhand stall at an "antiques" yard by Sawbridgeworth station for Christmas 2005 and it’s been a big success. All the Sylvanians live here; sometimes the Bratz (acquired from the carboot sale) do the cleaning.

For some time Nell has been asking if she could redecorate (!) and so last weekend while Pete and Lola were at the football, Nell and I got painting.

Nell did all the work, choosing colours from half-full tins of Auro and Farrow & Ball paints that we used to decorate the real house. We were inspired to do this after Miranda, my Scottish-based cousin Dermot’s wife, told us she’d commissioned a miniature copy of one of the houses her children grew up in and then working with her daughter, Emily, had decorated every room as it was.

This was a bonding, skilful project for mum and daughter at the time; now that they’ve moved house it has ended up giving them the most gorgeous memory of their old place as it was circa 1995. It's a work of art now, and one which no doubt will be handed down to generations of little uns.

Verdict: there’s other ways of getting rid of old paint and wallpaper scraps, but this was really fun.

On the frame

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:

April is full of do-gooder events – join us at the Islington Ecology Centre on Sunday 6 April from 2-5pm to buy your own bit of Zimbabwean art done by 8-9 year old school students from Harare. All the money raised will go to support the Greystone Nature Reserve, a little pocket park around a dam in the suburb of Borrowdale. Since 2006 Greystone Nature Reserve has been twinned with Gillespie Park and the Friends of Gillespie are trying to raise around #250 a year to help cover the Zimbabwean park’s running costs.

Last night I was trying to frame the 12 sweet pictures my friend Nicky brought over from Zimbabwe in December. All were winners in the competition Greystone Nature Reserve holds every October for the schools that use the park. Although I’d rather use a second hand frame I just couldn’t find a dozen A4 frames and so turned to the Ikea solution. The Ram frame (incredibly cheap), made in China may make these pictures look lovely and sellable for the wanted tenner BUT it created a pile of plastic waste that I’ve no idea how to recycle.

Why every picture frame needed a thin envelope of plastic (only removable with scissors) and then two more bits of sticky plastic to be peeled off the cheap plastic facing that turns a page of A4 into a proper picture is mystifying.

Verdict: it’s harder than I thought to avoid non-recyclable plastics. If I get the energy I’m going to write to Ikea (which claims it is soon to charge customers for plastic bags) to ask if they can reduce their packaging. Or at least explain themselves...

Any old shoes?

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:

The A-Z no waste challenge has led to some frantic sorting during February and March. Not everything has found a home and there’s been mistakes. I thought my trainers (bought so I could walk a midnight half marathon across London in aid of breast cancer) were so destroyed at the heels that I needed a new pair. Tried various shoes on, hated them, so splashed out on an amazing pair of Worn Again trainers. The outside is made from old army camoflage jackets and military T shirts. The inside is from jeans and gingham off-cuts. The base is recycled rubber. In all they are 90 reused materials which is pretty impressive. My suggestion to the makers is they should provide without the shoe laces because I have plenty of these at home and the bright blue new look rather ruins the re-use ethos.

However Worn Agains don’t come in half sizes so I had to buy some extra heel grips to get them to fit. And at the cobblers (that sounds old-fashioned, let’s call them shoe repairers/key cutters) I discovered they mend trainers – so long as they aren’t to destroyed. My old Moonwalk friends were suitable for some careful repair with cork, glue, patching and more glue. They smelt strongly of evil glues when I picked them up but perhaps this is a justifiable use of VOC-laced products as since the old trainers have come home repaired (see pic above) the new ones haven’t had the outings they might expect.

Verdict: too quick to replace those old shoes, but a neat discovery, a good spend of a tenner for repairs and a very indulgent, eco-friendly addition to my Imelda Marcos collection.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

A-Z no waste - starts here

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:

The two promises I made for 2008 - to do something about climate change every day and to drink English wine - are transforming family life.

Firstly I've got better at locating English wine, but in the process have realised it's a lot easier to find (and a lot cheaper to drink) English lagers and beer. Blame the bloke in the picture as he delivered six bottles of Eco Warrior at the same time as a case of Sedlescombe wine (from Sussex). Luckily I'm begining to really like this Kent-flavoured beer...

As for the other biggie, tackling climate change. Well, I realise you can try and buy your way out of the problem (as I am doing by installing solar panels to heat our water). But another way is to rethink how you live. I thought our family was pretty good at keeping our carbon footprint low but we always have stuff in the rubbish bin (mostly plastic wrappers from magazines and food); we haven't yet cracked recharging batteries and we fill two recycling bins with paper and bottles most weeks. In other words we are waste junkies.

So the family challenge - starting 24 March - is to give up waste. For Lola and Nell that means no sweets with wrappers (buying from a jar is OK though). For Pete it means reading newspapers in the library or on line. For me it means cold turkey on the butter front - unless I can locate butter sold without its wrapper.


With a fortnight to go before our A-Z No Waste project starts gets closer I reckon I'm going to be so anxious about the threat to my daily treat rations that I'll be sourcing wine in vats, beer in barrels and sweeties by the kilo...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Spring cleaning with Freecycle

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:

Recently we've had to find ways to squeeze more boxes and books (see heap in the pic edited by me) into our house which has forced me to do a bit of spring cleaning. I feel just as Mole in Wind in the Willows found - spring cleaning is fun until you can find something better to do. And that's where Freecycle comes in, a whole on line community that are willing to take all sorts of stuff from unwanted fish tanks to a bag of scrap material. We've used it to find pots, paint, plants etc but like it best for the ability to find a new home for objects we love but are on the transfer list.

In a few weeks time our family is going to try and give up waste for a month, but even without this as an incentive, Freecycle is the best way I know of making sure unwanted things don't end up as landfill where they remain for 100s of years (or more). Better still people come to your door to collect rather than you having to make one of those day-shrinking journeys to the municipal recycling centre/dump.

Solar, so good

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 7, 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

That rash promise I made to myself to do something to tackle climate change every day is making me work far too hard. Sometimes all I have to do is organise - the pic is of Howard Johns from http://www.southernsolar.co.uk/ visiting to see if our roof has enough room (and at the right angle) for solar panels. Today I did the work - possibly because I’ve only had to do an hour’s teaching, which gave me time to organize the important life stuff. As a result I’ve managed to get a promise of a grant from the Energy Saving Trust, see http://www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk/ for £400 towards the installation of solar hot water panels on our roof. In fact anyone can claim up to £2,500 towards the installation of a maximum of three different low carbon technologies until the end of March 2009.

The total cost for swanky solar thermal panels is more than £4,000 but Islington is offering a £2,100 grant as well which makes the bean counting that much easier. Cross fingers these clever tubes will be gracing our roof by the end of April just as the days get long enough to really heat our water up.

Thinking solar is the first techy thing that we’ve done.

Until now we’ve just focused on energy saving by adding insulation to our loft, double glazing windows, draft proofing everywhere and adding temperature controls to each radiator. These improvements have cost about £8,000. Upgrading windows is expensive so it’s taken us four years to be able to afford a nearly complete set of sash windows for our house (an no, it's not that big!). I try to console myself that people often pay this sort of money for a new kitchen (and some like MPs upgrading the kitchens in their second homes can budget £10,ooo).

We spent our money on saving energy but the result is that we’ve got a much more comfy, draft free home to live in. And then I head off to work to pay for it