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What's this blog all about?

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

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?