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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.

Monday, 30 October 2017

How Fog Everywhere could clean up London's air

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. London's air quality is just not good enough - but how is the science shared with residents? Could a new play by teenagers at the Camden People's Theatre make an impact on decision makers? Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The famous quote from Bleak House.
I'm used to hearing about London's air quality being bad. Scrap that. I'm used to hearing about London's illegal air quality. But I still try to put a positive spin on conversations I have with my teenage daughters. Turns out that Brian Logan, the artistic director at Camden's People Theatre is doing the same. Between rehearsals Brian, who grew up in St Andrew's, talked to me over the phone about how he teamed up with King's College air quality analysts to create a new theatre show, Fog Everywhere.

"We're partnering with Westminster Kingsway sixth form college. In this play the 17 and 18 year olds can articulate their response to growing up in a city with air pollution. It's a grim subject matter but we don't want to depress anyone. A lot comes from the fact that teenagers have an indomitable spirit. They don't want a big boo hoo about their lungs. So there's a spirit of resistance and it feels to me that the pollution agenda has a critical mass accruing behind a significant point for change," says Brian. who helped organise the collaboration and now hopes that "people in positions of power will come along" (he's thinking Mayor's Office, Department of the Environment and MPs), but it will also bring in a new audience of teenagers. One of them will be my 16-year-old daughter, Nell.

FOG EVERYWHERE review by Nell May
My first memories are of doing to climate change marches with my Mum in London. I even made a YouTube video when I was about seven about air pollution. So I already knew a lot about the topic, but I found Fog Everywhere interesting. The best bit was the grime battle. I also really loved the cows. I'd heard about that incident (the Great Smog of 1952 when thousands of people were made ill and died from air pollution) watching The Crown (series 1, episode 4).

I've grown up in London too, and I liked the way the students had the opportunity to promote a serious issue. This city has a bad reputation for vehicle fumes and air pollution. My family don't have a car - I'm 17 soon and I'm not planning to learn to drive. I think more young people should go and see the play to learn about what it takes to reduce London's air pollution.

I'm going to recommend my friends go and see it!


Fog Everywhere is at CPT. (c) Joe Twigg Photography
For those of us who follow the news, discovering that Brixton Road was so polluted by traffic fumes (diesel is the big problem) that it beat its annual pollution target in the first week of January 2017 was an unpleasant shock. But for Brian it was personal. "I've got small kids growing up in Brixton. My seven year old daughter's school is 50 yards from Brixton Road. You know that if you blow your nose it comes out black - it's hard not to be aware of air pollution. I'm sure parents of small children in London wonder if they might be doing harm to their child as they bring them up here."

That's why Fog Everywhere aims to help Londoners rethink the way they live. "The programme will have lots of links, further info and basic ways you can change your behaviour," says Brian. Ideas include taking routes away from main roads, not standing on the kerb, and avoiding cars especially idling by school gates. "I have an app my phone called City Air," adds Brian who gets around London by tube and walking.  But this isn't an instructional play, it's definitely theatre explains Brian, adding, "One of the things that is hard to resist in a play called Fog Everywhere - it's a quote from Charles Dickens' Bleak House - is using a smoke machine all the time. It makes it so easy to be dramatic, but it's a temptation you must resist."

Fog Everywhere (c) Joe Twigg
Fellow Scot, Andrew Grieve, ran workshops to help Brian and the teenage cast create the play. Andrew is senior air quality analyst at King's College London. His bike commute from Archway to a Waterloo campus involves crossing the Thames. On the day I spoke with him air quality wasn't impressive. "I came over the Blackfriars Bridge and it was weird the Shard not being there, it looked like someone had rubbed it out," he said.

But however much foggy days can echo Charles Dickens' original "fog everywhere" quote, it is Andrew's research measuring the growth of children's lungs that offers a shocking modern take on air pollution. "We spent six years testing the lung health of children in Tower Hamlets and Hackney. We found that kids in that area are growing up with smaller lungs than they should have because there is so much pollution," says Andrew. "I never imagine our research would end up as a play. But as a way of getting kids to think about pollution it is fantastic. They are so immersed in it, and they are speaking to their friends and family about it. It's generally more powerful for people to hear a message from people they know rather than academics writing papers."

Andrew studied environmental science at Sterling University.

Back in 1989 his dissertation was measuring nitrogen concentrations inside and outside cars - even back then it was higher inside than out. But one of his motivations is that feeling you get when you struggle to breathe. "I had really bad asthma as a child," he says. "Some of my earliest memories are of waking up in the night and grabbing my ventolin."

Nell and Nicola campaigning for clean air in London back in 2012.
Fresh insight
Here's hoping that Fog Everywhere plus:

  • January's record breaking air pollution figures, see here
  • The huge increase in stories and headlines about air pollution in newspapers, including the London Evening Standard, and 
  • The science from King's College which has found that children - who do not drive - now have smaller lungs than they should... 

will help focus decision makers minds to prioritise action on air pollution. Moves like the congestion charge, ultra low emission zone and the new T charge (brought in to target the most polluting older diesel HGV lorries and vans on 23 October 2017) are a good start. But clearly more needs to be done and perhaps Fog Everywhere which combines a teen perspective with King's College facts will take those decision makers closer to being able to make effective changes to sort air pollution.

Astonishingly scientist Andrew Grieve is just as positive as Camden People's Theatre's artistic director. Andrew adds: "I see such enthusiasm to deal with air pollution. London is like a petri dish; it has 1,000 ideas  - green corridors, green spaces, green benches to sit on, freight consolidation to there aren't so many individual Amazon (or supermarket) deliveries, nice streets to walk down and encouraging people to keep away from busy roads."

Do book the show - and take the kids.

  • Fog Everywhere is being performed from 31 October - 11 November at the Camden People's Theatre as part of the fortnight-long Shoot The Breeze festival on climate change and the environment see here to buy tickets and find to about talks/events.
  • Camden People's Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, NW1

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Sugar & slavery at Penrhyn Castle

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. No one likes being told they're hurting the planet through their holidays, school run or woodturner but a trip to a National Trust castle, just outside Bangor in Wales, made us talk about the 19th century elephant in the room - slavery. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Wish you were here: Lily, Nell, Nicola, Pete at Penrhyn Castle
The driveway is about a mile but it’s worth the long walk, especially when you reach what seems like a Medieval castle. In the right light the turrets glow like burnt caramel and from the windows the views are across the lawns to the estuary. Magical, except this is a mock castle completed in 1838 for an English lord who made his money from sugar, slavery and slate mining.  Actually the story is worse than that. In 1833 slavery was abolished and British slave owners – like Pennant– were compensated. He received more than a million pounds for freeing 764 people from the sugar plantations in Jamaica that he’d never even visited. The ex-slaves got nothing. Nothing!

Touring the castle it’s obvious what Pennant spent his ill-gotten gains on – fixtures, fittings and a knockout art collection.

In 1949 Penrhyn Castle was passed to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. It opened to tourists a few years later.  These days the slavery isn’t a dirty secret – it’s made clear from the moment you go into the entrance hall. But even now the Welsh locals aren’t big fans. I'm told they don’t like to volunteer, and on the bus ride back to Bangor we were shown a neat terrace of mining cottages still called Traitors’ Row, because that’s where the sell-outs who worked for Lord Pennant lived. 

Who knew a day out at a National Trust home, just for the cream tea and a garden stroll, would turn out to be a lesson in keeping uncomfortable situations under wraps?

  • If you want to visit the castle - and it's certainly a good place to visit with spectacular views - then look at the National Trust website here.