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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 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.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

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, 20 December 2009

Coping with Copenhagen failure

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11 and Nell, 8, spent the summer of 2007 travelling around Britain with an eye on their carbon footprint. Now they're home and trying to find ways to get out and about in a carbon lite way. This entry is from Nicola. (pic of girls looking at the UK's only polar bear who lives in Scotland)

My watch has stopped at one minute to midnight on the day I finally realise that the Copenhagen climate talks - in Denmark - have failed.

It takes the Guardian's hope-o-metre of one polar bear (the highest is five) for me to get this, read all about it in 19 December 2009 pieces here. With the world now set to warm up by at least 2 degrees low lying Pacific islands (as in the picture) and the super-flat Maldives, and anywhere with coastal homes/cities is going to be in serious trouble. As a result more than a third of species look set to become extinct.

The next day I wake (after a crap night of borderline sleep) feeling furiously low. The sky may be a beautiful, bright winter blue but it's obvious to me that it's just a picturesque tease. Everything I've loved is at an end: Borders is being sold off, ergo book writing is doomed (or at least the weekend free reading in a warm room with real coffee percolating out of the cafe). My list of complaints include cash crisis (mine, world), lack of paid work (mine, world), worries about food/inadequate stockpiling (me, world)... Pantomime doom and gloom really.

But after a cup of hot black coffee, I pick up a useful sort of a book called 52 ways to change it by life coach Annabel Sutton (website here), flip the pages to allow the text to choose what I read today and the perfect pick me up appears. Here's the quote: "There's no such thing as a wrong decision", which is backed up with calm balm... quoted here from p 17.

"No matter what happens, whichever decision you make it won't be wrong - it will simply result in a different outcome. Either way, there will be new things to learn, new people to meet, new opportunities will open up, and so on."

I'm going to hang on to that, because it makes the idea of the world learning to be more energy efficient, matching climate refugees with their hosts and taking advantage of any new opps a great deal more attractive.

And as Pete points out if the climate deniers turn out to be right (!) all we'll have to put up with is insufferable crowing. We could all live with that.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Gin and wink

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11 and Nell, 8 spent the summer of 2007 holidaying in the UK to perfect low carbon travel. Now they are back home still keen to share their carbon lite travel tips.
It's all about gin today.

Just presented Nell's teachers with an end of year gift - the sloe gin that she and I made together. We will miss ritually shaking it in the cellar each week to make it change from boringly clear alcohol to a shocking red-pink (claret?) sloe-flavoured gin.

I always think of gin as quintessentially English, but years ago before we counted carbon footprints Pete was invited to the juniper berry harvest for Gordon's Gin in Italy. Here he watched old ladies on the Umbrian hills of Italy picking the berries, drank samples heartily and then wrote about it. And if juniper berries give Italy the ownership of gin, linguistically it's closer to home. The word gin is a corruption of the French word for juniper berry (a very Wikipedia fact).

Plus very excited to see JJ and his business partner James use gin (although Lady Arran may have gone for vodka) to win Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant on 17 Dec 2009. Success came after yet another lucky contest where JJ's cocktail-thinking got him out of another culinary scrape by serving up a blackberry flavoured gin mix instead of chocolate souffle in the final task. Masterful! Find out more here.

I've become an adoring JJ fan - recently Pete had a party at JJ's atmospheric London Cocktail Club, 6-7 Great Newport Street below the Arts Theatre. And as result of those cocktail-fuelled conversations generous JJ (then hanging in at the 3rd of the TV shows) came to the London College of Communication (LCC) to let my class of Year 1 media students interview him. His reward? Another jam jar portion of that famous sloe gin... The picture above shows some of the LCC students with him. And no one winked, remembering perhaps JJ's discomfort when Raymond Blanc caught him doing this.
So the plan for this Friday night is to celebrate the girls' end of term and JJ's spectacular win with my own mix of gin and silly (aka tonic and ice), and all because the sloe gin is taboo until after Christmas. FYI this is an ancient Baird tradition which if broken would set my dad's ghost on me shouting "gutless worm" and other well remembered phrases.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Waving not drowning

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, went travelling around Britain in 2008. Now they're back but still trying to make trips with the lightest possible carbon footprint. Here's how ...

Can you see the blue noses and clotheses (from right to left: Lola and Nell. Ellen, 14, and Andy seen here back home after a day of citizen protest)? There's 20,000 others on the Wave - a march across central London organised by Stop Climate Chaos to highlight the need for politicians to do something about climate change.

Actually the police say 20,000 and the organisers (including Belfast and Glasgow) tell us it is 50,000. Whichever number is correct it is a lot.

Lola, Nell and I have done something similar together enough times to feel that marching for climate justice is one of the tasks in the run up to Christmas. It's our form of spiritual preparation, but this time there are many more people involved. We meet a man who'd come up from Gloucester on his own, see buses from Wales and Dorset, get surrounded by church groups and admire the crowds on TV that set off from Hyde Park after a rousing set of talks. We even have friends staying who have travelled down from Hexham, Northumberland (see pic). Sorting out climate change is one thing, but it is also fantastic to be walking along a traffic free route from (roughly) Green Park tube to Lambeth Bridge.

Next week we will find out if the big turn out does impress politicians at the Cophenhagen meeting who have to seal somekind of carbon dioxide emissions deal.

Pre-march preparation takes Lola, Nell and I to the Royal Academy's pop-up expo on art and climate. It's called Earth: a changing world and was stunning. there's a man futilely making an island in the sea; there's a barbcued polar bear bone turned into a diamond, there's epitaphs and landscape pix and wit. There's Tracey Emin, obviously. And a video of black rain. And performance art with a rapping conculsion. Find it around the back of the Royal Academy (at the old Museum of Mankind, 6 Burlington Gardens). If you're an RA member it's free - and there are no queues. Even if Anish Kapoor, the main attraction is worth seeing, I really don't think I'd be willing to queue when I could enjoy Earth with no crowds at all.

The art show helps us focus. It's clear what's going on worldwide isn't good, and it's clear that we don't know the half of it. Why do factory workers dressed in pink pack pinky chicken? Why do rich Israeli men try to offroad dunes in vast 4x4s? Why are the rubbish piles in China covered in nets and shaped to look like romantic Chinese landscape - or have shrines on them? We also owe a great debt to the educational programe Cape Farewell that takes artists to the Arctic for a look-see (aka cultural response) that seems to inspire astonishing creativity about climate change and the state of our world now.

After the art we join the crowds with our friends Andrew and his daughter Ella, 9. The kids daub blue face paint on nose and cheeks and then get a chant going which peps up our bit of the march. They only stop when we reach Lambeth Bridge. And then at 3pm with Parliament encircled via two bridges (and the climate camp activists apparently camping out or avoiding arrest under Oliver Cromwell's toes) everyone waves their blue hands. And waves, and waves again because we're rioting for austerity measures that will give everyone in the world a better chance.

Meanwhile the news focuses on the 20 million Bangladeshi people who may have to leave their country within 50 years because of sea level rise. David Cameron lashes out at the climate sceptics (particularly David Davis in his own party) and Barak Obama finally agrees to pop into Copenhagen on the first day. See here.

This Saturday we've done something big, and the signs that it may have helped are good. But perhaps that's because we so want them to be. As for Pete, he insisted on going to the West Ham v Man U game (result a shameful home loss of 0:4) but sort of redeemed himself for a no march show by getting climate change mentioned in his fan's view in the Observer, see here.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

It's time to party

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, spent three happy months during summer 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.

In the run up to the Copenhagen meeting next week there seems to be a sense of great sadness. See here at the Guardian. We did all this to the world. We made October the hottest, November the wettest, Sydney the dustiest, etc. And at night I am conscious that my bedtime reading, Notes from Walnut Farm - a collection of Roger Deakin's writing during the six years before he died - is imbued with sadness. Even the frothy spring cow parsley is berated for replacing rarer, and arguably more lovely, violets. See the cover here.

Which is why it is lovely to sometime crash a party and cheer the hell up. December is the best time to do this, but last month the highlight near home was when Algeria qualified for the World Cup. The guys in Little Algeria (an area around Finsbury Park) were able to celebrate qualifying for the first time in 21 years. They bounced up and down, they drove around the block hooting horns. They marched back and forth the zebra crossing. And they waved flags, smiled and gathered together (yes,blocking the buses) conscious of just how far their team had come in order to make the slot for South Africa in July 2010.

It was like a flashmob, but less contrived. You could smell the happiness.

Having fun doesn't make me forget climate change, but it does remind me how important it is to avoid the tendency for humans to look on the dark side. Yes the world is in a bad, bad place. But without hope it really is hard to summon creativity. And creativity is what we all need, and especially the journalists writing up the story and those world leaders whose job it is to get a deal.