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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, 24 September 2017

Climate Change: HRH, scientist & fashion voices in London

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. So how do you get people to do something about their impact on the planet? Compare and contrast methods by HRH Prince Charles, climate scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh and Pacific Islanders from Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
PNG style, model with London Pacific Fashion
Collective designer (r) Sarah Haoda-Todd
thinking clothes and climate change.
(c) LPFC
Give Dr Emily Shuckburgh a TV show.

That’s my verdict after hearing the British Antarctic Survey scientist, who measures trapped bubbles of carbon dioxide in million-year-old ice cores, describe the thinking behind the Ladybird Expert Book For All Ages – ClimateChange which she co-wrote with Prince Charles and former director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper. The 24-page booklet, which crams in 200 words per page, was published in January this year (2017) and has become a best seller.

“We wrote the book to appeal to normal people. People think there is much less scientific agreement about climate change than there actually is,” says Emily who is an unusually plain-speaking professional climate scientist. “This is fuelled by the media and the way the BBC insists on [reporting it with for and against so climate change deniers are given airtime] and Daily Mail headlines.” 

She’s also able to make the science simple to follow. It’s not just the Ladybird book, which condenses many 3000-page reports, it’s also her ability to tell it as it is. She tells the Archway with Words audience that scientists are in agreement that the climate is changing, and that it is man-made.  She then explains that there are three major risks from the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  1. Coral reefs are dying (she is very negative about this, “coral reefs are dead”)
  2. Extreme weather
  3. The collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“If the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed it would be irreversible. The sea would rise by two metres and change coast lines. This would bring the sea into London and up to Cambridge. Ely might be an island again,” says Emily. She has a way of speaking that talks truth, but without hammering it home with an explosion of facts. The risk is high – there’s a 1:10 chance. To make her point she explains that “When I was pregnant a 1:20 chance was high risk medically. You could say the world is in a high risk category of disaster.”

Scientists calculate that the maximum amount of carbon dioxide our atmosphere can hold is 3,000 billion tonnes. Two-thirds of that budget has already been used.

She’s willing to speak out because she’s also a mother. “It’s precisely because I’m fully aware it’s going to impact on my children’s future [they are 2 and 4 years old]. I don’t want in 20 years time for my children to say ‘You knew! Why didn’t you do more to communicate that risk?’. It’s a sense of duty.”

Emily Shuckburgh talks climate change at the Archway Methodist Church
(c) around Britain no plane
So who’s turned up to the Archway with Words Festival to hear this talk? The wrong generation, that’s who. Most of the audience are grey headed. Admittedly it’s a Saturday talk, kicking off at 6.30pm when families with young children are busy making dinner and those 20- and 30-somethings with jobs are Whats Apping their evening out plans. My teenage daughters have also found something better to do – one has just moved into new uni halls, the other is on a sleepover to Netflix binge. 

Behavioural psychologists might draw other conclusions, as George Marshall makes clear in his book Don't Even Think About It: why our brains are wired to ignore climate change.

“It’s quite demotivating,” admits Emily adding that "Martin Luther King didn't give an 'I have a nightmare' speech. “So in the book we wanted to emphasise that it’s not necessarily doom and gloom. Responding to the climate change challenge can bring huge opportunities. A low energy lifestyle could be an improvement. It could improve air quality which is good for people’s health and it could drive new technologies, for example electric vehicles.”

I’ve worked at Friends of the Earth in the past and know that stuff. But so do we all. What I hadn’t realised is that people measure the increases in climate change from 300 million years ago because that was the time of “the greatest mass extinction ever.”

Winnie Kiap, PNG High Commissioner. (c) LPFC
Despite the warnings from Emily Shuckburgh too many of us do too little. But that’s not the case for Pacific island countries.  “For us it is a matter of life and death,” says Winnie Kiap, the Papua New Guinea High Commissioner when I met her at the first fashion show I've attended.  “We already have climate refugees in the outlying islands of Bougainville, the Carteret Islands [1.5m above sea level see here ] . In PNG we use funds for building early warning systems and infrastructure to build resilience,” said the high commissioner.

Pacific art and fashion both include hashtag climate change.
Winnie was speaking at the London Pacific Fashion Collective which used their London Fashion Week runway to highlight #ClimateChangeInThePacific . At the far end was artist Rusiate Lali’s absorbing picture, Shark Attack (metaphor!) and against this fabulous outfits by designers Pania Greenaway (New Zealand), Robert Kennedy (Fiji), Warlukurlangu artists (Australia), Sarah Haoda-Todd (Papua New Guinea/PNG) and Lucie from Samoa displayed their work.

Winnie Kiap, PNG High Commissioner introducing the
London Pacific Fashion Collective designers with
Fiji's Robert Kennedy on the left. (c) LPFC
“Was it just lavalavas (sarongs)?” asked my eldest daughter imagining a collection suitable for humidity and the beach. The answer was absolutely no. London Pacific Fashion Collective – in particular the designers from Samoa and PNG – used their love of their country to create striking designs. The repetition of PNG’s national emblem, a bird of paradise, and patterns borrowed from weaving and cultural tattoos was a winning collection from Sarah Haoda-Todd.  Given the endless criticism of fashion shows that it’s a monoculture of anorexic white beanpoles, an added bonus was that almost all the models were women of colour and several were plus size.

London Pacific Fashion show focusing on #climatechangeinthepacific
 at the Lloyd George Room, National Liberal Club.
(c) LPFC
So who was at the London Pacific Fashion Collective show? All sorts – men and women of all ages, hopefully with some purse power. In contrast to the dour, worthiness of the audience at the Ladybird books (it’s ok I’m only thinking of me) the Polynesian and Melanesian islanders have played an excellent trick. Take the people what they want – beautiful clothes – add national pride and a dose of cultural chic, and then add on the awareness raising about #climatechangeinthepacific. 

“The most important thing you can do is vote. Environmental issues are not high up the political agenda so they don’t get addressed,” says Emily. And of course we all need to inspire people to get involved in the solutions. Bludgeoning us with facts hasn’t been a game-changer. But like the Pacific island nations Britain is an island – and one that has been increasingly blighted by flood damage - and that ought to make us all pay a great deal more attention to tackling climate change.  

In Prince Charles, Tony Juniper and Emily Shuckburgh's Ladybird Book the simple wins include turning down the thermostat (or using the timer effectively), using public transport or low-energy transport more often, take less flights (just one transnational flight uses all of your annual carbon 'budget') and eating less red meat. All of these changes also save money… and go a small way towards saving the world. 

And not just your world, but people living on the coastline like so many people in Pacific nations.

The public scepticism about whether climate scientists are in agreement or not has to be resolved, fast. So perhaps the take home message should be read and share the book. Or get it ordered for your library. And yes, several people have sent a copy to President Trump, and, just as importantly, ordered a copy for sceptical friends and family.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

How the Sun Rain Room beats Falling Water

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post looks at inspiring new ways architects are making city buildings lessen their environmental footprint and creating spaces you just want to be in. and yes, I admit my knowledge of architecture is low so this is inspired as much as by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright as an Open House 2017 tour to the Rain Sun Room in Islington. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The Sun Rain Room roof from the staircase window.

 How beautiful houses can be if you can add water. The Sun Rain Room is just a room, and it may not be over a waterfall, like Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water (1935 Pennsylvania), but this unusual indoor/outdoor space at Wilmington Square, WC1 is a magical extension to a Georgian town house making maximum use of light, shade and the local weather. 

Look up and you see the back of the Georgian house with
a curving grass roof above.
In the Sun Rain Room the modest courtyard space has been transformed into three multi-purpose spaces, a glass indoor room; a covered wall-less outdoor spot with BBQ and a paved area. Indoors has a distinctly meditative feel that would be a happy place whatever the weather, or season. And architects Tonkin Liu already use it for relaxing, reading, to display cuttings, for meetings and to reinvigorate the spirit. Clever use of sun tubes through the sedum roof turns the indoor space into a dappled wonderland when it’s sunny. Equally imaginative use of the Georgian butterfly roof (sometimes known as a valley roof) siphons off the rain water into an elegant tank which runs along the side of a brick wall festooned with ivy. Press a button and the tank releases a small flow of water to create a reflection pool that covers the dark granite slabs the Sun Rain Room looks over. It’s only millimetres deep but it’s clearly a pleasure to sit cosy inside, lost in the reflection of the Georgian building ruffled by ripples. At night the effect must be an even bigger show-stopper when the twinkling lights power up. Or when you want to surprise and pad across it as if walking on water.

Greg Storarr talks Open House visitors through
the thinking behind the Sun Rain Room. The
trees have deeper root ball pots tucked ut of sight.
Guide Greg Storarr, who works at Tonkin Liu, took groups around the Sun Rain Room during Open House 2017. He explained that the house had been subdivided into flats but was now used both as offices by the practice and a place to live.

Creating the Sun Rain Room gave an opportunity to transform the basement. Work took a year and the result is transfixing. It was also very hard to photograph (blame the mirrors, the group, and my own inability to find the spot!).

The tour started in a basement kitchen done with great simplicity and a lot of bleached wooden panels. There’s an internal office lit from above and then a stunning curved 2nd bedroom, with walls and door made from plywood, echoing the curving Sun Rain Room above.  This bedroom is well-thought out. It has a neat mirrored area behind the double bed for storing belongings, as well as a bathroom. Everything is small – because it’s London – but done with such rectangular abandonment and strategic mirror siting that the place expands and expands. And of course it’s not that small because Greg was showing around at least 15 people, many with bags, and we all fitted in fine.

Architect Anna Liu in red and white. The
mirrors make the space confusing to photograph.
Architect Anna Liu, resplendent in an amazing red outfit topped with white lace, shadowed the group. She lives in the house with business/life partner Mike Tonkin and laughingly explained she was: “the madness behind the brains.” But this is an architect’s dream, altering a house so it becomes a place she, (and definitely me) really want to live. Her pride is obvious and it was good hearing how much she “loves the light you get from the reflection and the ripple effect.”

A courtyard space transformed.
So could you do this at home? Some of the materials are very affordable, eg, plywood (albeit with a beautiful grain). There was also an external spiral staircase linking the basement floor to the Sun Rain Room – its only drawback being the usual for spiral staircases, they are very narrow. But there is also some amazing technology to keep the Sun Rain Room roof floating over a long stretch of what used to be courtyard. And there’s a super expensive and very skilled creation, a glass staircase that floatingly links the Sun Rain Room with the main house kitchen high above the basement courtyard.

Apparently the work cost around £2,000m2. Social housing is around £1,300m2 and high end projects around £3-4,000m2.

One of the Open House visitors reckons this was where Aubrey Beardsley – the illustrator famous for his “bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the taboo” worked. If correct, then clearly the house keeps inspiring.

Energy reading metre - get yours from your energy supplier so
you know how much power your gadgets are drawing.
Turns out it’s been rentable on Airbnb for lets over the summer. I’m gutted I never thought to nose around looking for starchitect mini breaks. Now it’s going to be used by a more permanent tenant, who I hope adores the place. Maybe they  can occasionally visit Exmouth Market, but mostly I’d like to think the new tenant is drawn back to the Sun Rain Room basement and courtyard for inspiration, fulfilment and a chance to feel properly in touch with the weather. This may be its first winter, but it’s clear Anna and her colleagues are looking forward to new reflections because this the Sun Rain Room is truly a living space for all seasons.


Monday, 11 September 2017

Neighbours bring the taste of Bangladesh

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post looks at ways neighbourhood swaps bring the taste of other places into your kitchen - perhaps this will give you inspiration about what to plant or how to deal with the gluts? What feasts could you share with your neighbours? Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

My windfall apples went to one family; bantam eggs to another couple. While the snake
bean and cucumber were very pleasing gifts received by my family.
This was originally written in May 2016 about autumn 2015. It's now September 2017 and I've just had a knock on the door with a lovely neighbour presenting me with a bag of green and purple runner beans. Not long after another came with some books to share at the secondary school... and a few days earlier another offered to take anything I wanted to the dump (recycling centre). Thank you so much to all of you.

Where I live, and like so many London streets, there are many people who are now Londoners but who were born elsewhere - Essex, Yorkshire, Bangladesh. So when it's harvest time (September)  there's a real buzz in our street as people share things that remind them of home recipes often using things they've grown over the summer.
For Essex this could be jam from the street tree pears - an echo of Tiptree jam perhaps? For Yorkshire it's the size of your marrows that counts. And in Bangladesh many families are expert gourd and bean growers.
While giving away a few of my windfall apples I met a Bangladeshi lady and her daughter coming back from their allotment with the most amazingly long fat beans. I know them as snake beans (or serpent gourds) that are hard to get fresh in London - unless you know a skilled gardener. I probably admired too much because the pair then gave me a chunk of their bean which had broken on the way back from the veg plot.  In return I gave them a couple of bantam eggs as my lovely new bantams are doing some great egg production at the moment (ie, one a day, so not very prolific).

This is the blackbird that pecks a hole into most of my apples. However his
lady friend is a fine snail eater and he is the best singer in town...
Snake bean in breadcrumbs for four.
I lightly peeled the snake bean and was able to use it in two meals. First lightly coated in bantam egg and breadcrumbs, which I then fried and added to the top of a noodle dish I was reheating (see photo). This turned out to be a really successful meal, partly because it was something different. The following day I made a spicy ratatouille using the last portion of snake bean instead of courgettes.

The snake bean peel was also enjoyed by my two bantams. No surprise, except that they can be ridiculously fussy thanks to being in such a small flock.

How lovely it is to share things you've grown with green-fingered neighbours who share their garden deliciousness too.

Places to find snake gourd and Asian veg seeds, as quoted in the Guardian newspaper are:

Over to you?
What goodies have you been swapping or sharing with neighbours?