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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.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Street grazing

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel. Here are ways they keep their carbon footprint light simply by exploring as they stay put. Post by Nicola

Years ago in Zanzibar Town when I was new to travel, I went to the famous Stone Town night market where loads of stalls serve supper - or bitings - with the most basic of equipment. Fingers for forks, stars for parafin lights.

It was magic picking the best things to eat in the blue-black, super-scented dark. Perhaps because night markets lead to sensory overload - try the salt tang of the Indian ocean, bright Southern Hemisphere stars, crash of surf on reef, charcoal fires, the spit of grilling chilli fish, sweet taint of rubbish piles, ladies' perfume, sweat, mosquito buzz - the food at the original spice island tasted delicious. Just remembering has got my mouth watering.

Fast forward 23 years and I've just raided my own neighbourhood for food. Near my home the street trees that produce fruit (eg, rowans, crab apple, plums, elderberry, pear, sweet chestnut) are dropping their load. Inspired by Finsbury Park Transition Town's fair/fete (where I bought a jar of N4 crab apple and greengage jelly for £2), I decided to harvest what was left of the non-stomped on crab apples in my nearest street.

My first attempt - a half pound of mushy mini apples mixed with my homegrown redcurrants - produced two delicious jars of jelly. Later in the day I zipped around on my bike to pick up the very last of the edible fruit starting to rot along the pavement. Whilst doing this - bike parked by the side of the road, fruit popped into my upturned bike helmet - I had the strangest sensation of what it's like to know food poverty. Two guys in shalwar kameez walked past, oblivious to the rubbish picker (me). One woman plugged into an i-pod attempted to turn off my flashing back bike light (to save money she said!), a dog walker crossed the road. And then a friendly man, Rex, came out with his young son to hand me an orange plastic bag.

"It's alright, " I said quickly, "I know there's a shop just round the corner, but I want to pick these apples to make some really local jam." Rex did his best to humour the mad woman outside his house, promising me empty jam jars next time he saw me...

Really it's me who should feel smug. I now have five lovely pots of old-fashioned crab apple jam sourced spitting distance from my home.

But I'm still disturbed by that out of 21st century experience. It feels very rural - even in a city - to sort through and reject fallen fruit. Secondly I had a taste of what it is like to be absolutely invisible, how I guess a refugee might feel. People tried as hard as they could to ignore a street gleaner. Most looked faintly disgusted as if my parsimony might force them to drop to their knees and fill their own Tesco bags with unpackaged food.

The obvious third thought was how lucky we all are here in the UK with this profligate glut of food that no one fights over. If this was the flooded parts of Pakistan how different our approach to food would be.

The shocking media quiet about how our climate is changing - as highlighted by Bill McKibben who set up http://www.350.org/ - makes chilling reading about the speed our planet is warming, see here. For example Russia, Iraq, Saudia Arabia, Sudan and Pakistan have all set their all-time temperature records during 2010. Big changes like this change how things grow.

I won't be setting up a food stall outside my house yet. Which is lucky as goodness knows what health and safety would make of run over, chewing gum flecked, dog poo avoided fruit jams? But I still think these experiences are going to inspire me to make more produce I can store. What I hope this means is that if climate changes mean I actually have to do foraging for real I won't be an absolute beginner...


Karin said...

I'm lucky, I've got apples in my back garden. You're making me feel guilty about letting my quinces rot every year, though. I used to love my mum's quince jelly/cheese/whatever it was meant to be. I think it was sometimes quite firm and other years fairly runny. She added cinammon and it was delicious, but it sounded like a lot of work.

Karin said...

Just read the Bill McKibben article and agree, but how do we mobilise the general public into a movement? Living in 'the stock broker belt' I feel people are too busy with their careers and keeping up appearances - I hope I'm wrong, though. Some of the people I know are a bit concerned but not enough to take a plastic bottle out of the staff room and into the plastic bin in a public area as they return to work, for example.

There are a couple local environmental groups but one has been little more than a talk shop as far as I can tell and they both seem to be running out of steam. There is a national group I can join, but my point is about the lack of interest or time and energy people have.

I hope it's not really as bleak as it seems, but I fear it may be.

Also, won't spelling out the dangers of climate change and what we need to stop doing/give up to stop making it worse turn people right off?

kokorako said...

Hello Karin, let's start with the quinces! Would any of your neighbours want to turn them into something - that way you might get a few jars of your own. I also love poaching them (just boil until softer and hot, about 10mins) and then eating with yoghurt. You could always pick a few and put out by your gate/driveway telling people to help themselves (or leave a jar/honesty box for donations - ever optimistic!). Nicola

kokorako said...

Now Bill McKibben. He's angry and fearful - two emotions designed to turn off people to green action. I still think that leading by example, enjoying your life and where it is possible making changes (eg, curriculum, policy,shopping lists whatever you have influence over)is a start. It's better to do something than nothing - my book Homemade Kids (vermilion) tackles the possibility of green turn off by approaching the problem in thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways. It's a small start. I would like to talk more about record breaking to people though and how having better air conditioning in, say, Moscow or Saudi Arabian flats is diametrically the wrong answer. We all feel powerless doing nothing, but we shouldn't feel angry just because we do something. Good luck in the staff room with those plastic bottles...

Karin said...

Thank you for your replies, Nicola and your words of common sense.

I hadn't thought of putting any out for passersby to take, not that I have many as I just have the one bush. That could be the answer, but first I'll try poaching one as you suggest. They are quinces from a japonica bush, so I don't know if they are tougher than usual. My mum's comments about how hard their skins are has put me off ever trying to do anything with them.

As to Bill McKibben, he certainly seems frustrated that governments aren't taking the threat of climate change as seriously as he would like, but he seems to be one of those who thinks we don't have much time to change our ways before it is too late and if he's right, shouldn't we all be doing more?

On the other hand I agree it's easy to make people feel overwhelmed by the problems we might face or just turn them off by our attitude and a positive attitude is always best. I haven't seen your book 'Homemade Kids' as my kids are just off to uni so it didn't seem appropriate for my family. I thought 'Save Cash and Save the Planet' was a good way of approaching the problem.

I do think that marching on government buildings is unlikely to achieve much, but that if enough people were living as if they though they really wanted to stop climate change governments would be much more likely to take the matter seriously because they would then know they weren't going to lose too many votes by doing so. So, I agree we need to lead by example. As to the staff room, I shall have to try to be a bit creative about motivating people to recycle their plastic bottles.