Running Hot and Cold

We have just had to replace our 17-year-old washing machine. I won’t go into the details of its demise, but it has gone to be recycled – a service that we decided to pay for to ensure that it actually happened. So, we have had to buy a new one…

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hot and cold

After some research, we chose to buy an Ebac, the only company whose washing machines are made in the UK. The choice was relatively straightforward as they seemed to have the best ethical rating that we could find and we are trying very hard to buy British whenever we can. However, the big choice was between ‘single fill’ and ‘dual fill’. (“Oh,” I hear you saying “what an exciting life you do lead, dear Snail.”) For those of you not au fait with washing machines, the difference is whether all the water comes into the machine cold (single fill) or whether you connect to both your hot and cold supplies so that not all the water heating is done in the machine (dual fill). For us, it initially seemed like a no-brainer: our water is heated overnight using cheap electricity (known as Economy 7), so let’s use the cheap hot water to do our washing. Yes?

 

And then we started reading up on the subject and it appeared that it may not be worth it. Modern washing machines, you see, use relatively little water and tend to wash at relatively low temperatures. So, most of the limited amount of water that is required by the machine from the hot source is supplied by the water already sitting in the pipe (i.e. cool). So the argument goes that you mostly fill the machine with cooled water whilst replacing it with hot water in your pipes, which then cools down and wastes energy. Hmmm.

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the new machine

However, we needed to think about our own domestic situation. Because we live in a bungalow, and because of the way that our plumbing is arranged, our hot water tank is actually less than 1m away from our washing machine… ok, there’s a bit more pipe than that because it goes down and then up, but there’s no more than 2.5m of pipe, including the connector pipes. So, the water runs hot very quickly through to the washing machine. And, therefore, our final decision was to buy a dual fill machine. So far, it seems to have been the right choice- the machine is taking in a significant proportion of hot water, based on the temperature of the pipe, and this means that the machine itself should be using less energy than with single fill. Combining this, when possible, with only washing on days when it’s sunny and the solar panels are working, should be the best option both financially and environmentally.

 

It’s all too easy to read advice on the web and make what appears to be an informed decision. However, a bit of thinking is also good too… the internet cannot replace common sense!

Meating up

We are very committed to supporting local producers. We buy hardly anything from supermarkets anymore,  choosing instead to frequent local shops or buy directly from farmers and growers. It makes sense in terms of sustainability and supports the community – socially and economically. When it comes to meat, however, there is another major reason for buying direct from producers – we can be sure that there is good animal welfare.

Over the years, we gradually moved to buying mainly organic meat, but more recently we have started trying to source as much as possible direct from small producers who are happy to allow their customers to visit and see their production methods directly. Many such producers are not registered organic, but are low-input and high welfare and, unlike larger producers, happy to answer questions about their systems and pleased to have engaged customers.

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good to find a decent producer

And so yesterday we found ourselves on a hillside up above Abergavenny with Martha Roberts and The Decent Company pigs. We met Martha at a smallholders’ gathering last year and decided that her approach was just what we wanted from a meat-producer. So, when she announced that her latest pork was available, I asked if we could come and collect some in person and see the pigs. What a joy it was to meet Nancy, Winnie, Minnie, Dora, Madge, Margot, Wilbur and the growers, plus Polly and her (unplanned) piglets and see them enjoying a free-ranging life amongst the trees and grass… not to mention mud.

We learnt a great deal about pig behaviour and it was a delight to witness them exhibiting it – rooting, rolling, nesting, squabbling, snuggling up together. Most of Martha’s pigs are Gloucester Old Spots (or crosses thereof), but the wonderful Madge is a Mangalitza. Part of me balks at cooing over piglets that I know are destined for the table, but they have a good life and would not exist at all were it not for their meat value. It feels right, to me, to meet my meat and accept the implications of eating it.

So, we had sausages for breakfast this morning and we felt very grateful to Martha for her hard work, high standards and allowing us to learn what goes in to producing the food on our plates.

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the end-product

By the way, I highly recommend Twitter for getting to know small local producers – many of them have accounts and post often about their animals, crops and products. Martha Tweets from @martharoberts and this link should take you to her account even if you are not a registered Twitter user.

Mendiferous

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All soles

I had a dilemma this week – my crochet slippers developed some holes and I had the choice of finally giving up on them or mending them. A while back, Kate sent me some sheepskin slipper soles that are no use to her in tropical Australia and I plan to use these to make myself some brand new spiffy slippers at some point, but looking at my old slippers, I decided that there was still a bit of life in them and mending would be worthwhile. I did briefly toy with the idea of using the new soles to mend the old slippers, but actually the new pieces do not coincide entirely where the old ones are worn and, anyway, I have some ideas for the new ones… when I eventually get round to them.

This is the third mend of my old faithfuls and each time I have used a different colour to make the repair obvious. First they had new crochet soles, then I added some crochet reinforcement to the sides, and now finally I’ve done some darning:

The original yarn was a mix of sock wool and some 100% wool chunky, but all the blue mends, including the latest three patches of darning, have been made using Axminster rug wool. The original company that I got the Axminster wool from went out of business, but I’m delighted to say that a new supplier, Airedale Yarns, has popped up. I haven’t ordered from them yet, but I can highly recommend Axminster wool for making slippers – it lasts so much longer than any other yarn I’ve tried for the job.

So, my slippers live to be worn another day. I’m pondering whether there will come a point when there is nothing left visible of the original slippers… or , indeed, whether they will eventually become unsalvageable.

Do you have items that are mended repeatedly? And when do you decide to give up on them?

From squares to stripes

Last week I finished my sixty million trebles projects with a little yarn-bombing in London to publicise the cause. I printed and laminated tags and attached a heart or flower to each one. London is full of railings, so it didn’t take me too long to find somewhere to hang them in the hope that they would be taken by the curious and that one or two people might get involved.yarnbomb-2I will eventually make some more square blankets for 60MT, but I need a change, so I have returned to some sock-knitting. Last year I subscribed to a sock yarn club, with colours inspired by the Discworld. Somehow, I only got round to knitting up the first ball, so I had five balls of beautiful stripy British sock wool from The Knitting Goddess, just waiting for my needles. I’ve written previously about my disappointment with a previous sock yarn club from which, whilst beautifully dyed, almost none of the wool was hardy enough for socks and I think it was intended for shawls (a bit of mis-selling, sadly). The Knitting Goddess yarn is very different – you choose that base yarn that you want, so it is only the hand-dyed colourway that comes as a surprise when it arrives. The pair of socks that I did knit using this yarn last year are lovely and robust, so I had no hesitation starting another pair. The colourway is called Salamander Flash.

I think I’m going to have the brightest feet in west Wales!

Memorials, museums and memories

London – it’s a very strange place to me. There are some amazing things, there are some bizarre things, there are anachronisms and there is just so much that you can choose to do.

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The Albert Memorial

On Thursday morning Mr Snail and I decided to have a stroll up to Hyde Park, through Kensington Gardens, past the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert memorial to the Serpentine. The parks were full of people walking dogs, cycling, rollerskiing, visiting the cafes, playing with their kids in the playgrounds, and generally having a good time outdoors. There was much to see, from wildfowl, to The Household Cavalry out and about with their horses (one troop complete with plumes and shiny metal breastplates) and we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around just enjoying being there. There’s no charge for entry into the parks and they add some welcome green amongst all those buildings.

 

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In the courtyard at the V&A

The previous day, Mummy Snail and I spent the day at the V&A and Mr Snail went to The Science Museum. We did visit a special exhibition for which there was a fee, but general entry to both these museums costs nothing (likewise The Natural History Museum and The British Museum) and they are huge. Such a variety of exhibits in each of them, and such amazing architecture. We don’t visit London very often, but we do try to go to at least one museum when we do, and we are never disappointed with what we get to see. In fact, the main purpose of our trip this week as to see the exhibition at the V&A, although we also fitted in afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason plus a West End Show.

And as we packed to come home on Friday morning, we realised that we hadn’t bought a single ‘thing’ to bring home – we had spent money (food, taxis, theatre tickets, hotel), but Mr Snail and I had not bought any ‘stuff’. Instead, we brought home memories. We seem to do this naturally now – we don’t look for gifts or souvenirs, apart from the occasional picture to go on the wall, and not even that this time. Life is about so much more than things, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to spend time like this with my mum… may we have many more such trips… in fact that there’s another exhibition that we have our eyes on starting in December…

 

Coming around again

It has recently been announced that there is a plan to relaunch the old Nokia 3310 mobile phone. Back in the noughties these were one of the most common types of phone to see around… and they were good. They were small, the call quality was good and the battery lasted ages. In those days mobile access to the internet was not even a distant dream.

I wonder what happened to all those old 3310s – are they lurking in drawers? Are they in landfill? Were they recycled?

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Still in use after all these years

I never owned one myself, but my dad did pass on a 3410 that he got free, but couldn’t use because it was too small… and I can tell you what happened to that: I still use it. It has never had its battery replaced and it is still going strong. I don’t need a smart phone – I work from home where I have perfectly good internet access and I have a mobile phone to make phone calls when I’m away from home. I also have a laptop that is fine for longer trips away.

 

The constant demand for ever more complex gadgets means that we regard much technology as disposable, and this encourages the production of goods that are not made to last… after all, what’s the point?  I am reminded of this from The Restart Project:

2017-02-25-1Worth remembering next time you are tempted by the latest new bit of technology.

Mending

I’ve just got back from a weekend away, meeting up with a whole bunch of people involved in permaculture. In the whole of the event, the only pictures I took were these:

Before and after shots of a mend I managed on a poncho belonging to one of the other attendees. Perhaps the metaphor is enough… let’s all try to mend the world one little hole at a time.

A little bit of toast

I like toast; I eat it regularly… with eggs, with beans, with jam, with cheese and just with butter. It’s great for lunch and it’s something that I crave when I have been deprived of it for a while. I like it made out of 3-day-old homemade bread and I don’t like it burnt. Making it, however, has been rather energy inefficient recently. Our old toaster was rubbish – very small and unreliable in terms of the amount of toasting achieved – so I’ve been using the grill. This is ok when I’m making lots of toast, but is highly inefficient for a single piece when I’m home alone.

So, I decided we needed a new toaster and my heart sank when I thought about all the research and trying to make the most ethical decision. BUT I very quickly came across Dualit, who make toasters in the UK that are designed to last and for which you can easily buy spares, and that come in a variety of different sizes and which allow you to select how many pieces of toast you are making so that only the necessary elements are heated each time. And I thought to myself… why isn’t it always this  straightforward to find a company who do not subscribe to designed obsolescence?

And today, when it arrived, it was packed in cardboard and paper… the only tiny bits of plastic present enclosed the delivery note and took the form of the small seals to keep the box closed. So, hurrah for Dualit and here’s to many years of happy toasting.

Finish as you mean to go on

So, here we are on the last day of the year…

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, I believe that when you want to make a change in your life you should do it when it’s right for you. Making resolutions because someone has told you that you ought to means you are much more likely to fail. However, it’s good to take stock sometimes and today is as good a time as any to do so. For me, 2016 has  involved lots more little steps to have a smaller negative impact on the planet and make life a little better for the people who live on it: from trying to be responsible for less plastic packaging (using soap and shampoo bars, taking our own bags and containers to the shops, seeking out products packaged in paper/cardboard/not at all), to growing lots of food; from undertaking lots of mending, to trying to cut out palm oil.

Today has been no exception: I started with a little pile of garments to mend:

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a variety of mends needed

I started by repairing a pocket of a pair of Mr Snail’s jeans. It had been repaired once before, but a new split had appeared so I used mending tape and a little piece of scrap cotton. The previous mend was spotty and the new one is checks, but only you and I know because they are hidden inside the pocket.

Next I replaced the toggles on my hand-knitted hoodie. The previous ones were glass and two of the three had broken. Before that it had wooden toggles and Sam ate them. This time I’ve used plastic, which I hope will be more durable.

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fingers crossed these never need replacing

Then I darned two pairs of hand-knitted socks. Mr Snail is very hard on his socks, so this is something of an ongoing chore.

My next job was to salvage the usable parts of the underwear that I made with my old sewing machine. Most of the pieces will be reused and stitched together using my new overlocker.

And finally, in my ongoing biscuit quest I made Granny Boyd’s Biscuits… a Nigella recipe that came my way via my friend Sue. The verdict: delicious and really easy to make, plus no palm oil. Thank you Sue, these are going to be a regular bake from now on.

So I have finished the year in the spirit that I intend to live in 2017. How about you? Do you make resolutions? Do you have plans?

Just one thing

The other day, someone on a discussion group that I’m a member of asked what one thing they should do to start leading a more sustainable life. I have to confess that I didn’t respond, but it is a question that I’ve been pondering ever since. Of course there’s lots of things you could do, from saying no to plastic bags to catching the bus rather than driving the car, but on reflection, I think my advice would be to consider your eating habits.

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In control of your own potatoes!

If you start thinking more about the food you eat, you will begin to wonder what’s actually in it and where it came from. The more your food has been prepared or processed before it gets to you, the more difficult it is to unpick its history, so you become less and less sure of what you are actually swallowing. Let’s consider two extremes, in the form of mashed potato:

  •  If you eat a potato that you have grown yourself, then you can be sure how far it has travelled, what chemicals have been applied to it, exactly what variety it is and when it was harvested. In addition, it’s pretty certain that it won’t have had any packaging, except when it’s parent seed potato arrived for planting. You can boil it and eat it without any additional ingredients, but any that you do add – salt, butter, milk, oil – will be under your control in terms of source and amount.
  • If you buy pre-prepared mashed potato, you’ll have to look at the ingredients to know what’s in it (for example, Tesco Fresh Mashed Potato contains: Potato, Skimmed Milk, Whole Milk (9%), Butter (Milk) (3%), Salt, White Pepper). You won’t know how the potatoes were grown, and you may only have the vaguest indication of where they were grown and/or processed (the Tesco version states “Produced in the UK” and nothing else). There’s bound to be packaging (plastic and cardboard in this example) and there’s going to have been lots of food miles, because of transporting the potato to the processing plant, transporting the product to a central distribution centre and from there to the shop, before you can finally transport it home to eat.
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Buying in bulk can mean less packaging

Of course, we can’t all grow our own food, and many people can’t grow any of their own food, but if you can (even a little bit), you can be completely in control of that part of your diet. The next best option is to buy direct from the producer – if you buy from the person who grows or makes your food, you can ask them questions about it. In addition, in my experience, small producers of non-luxury foods generally minimise their packaging as it costs them money: many small-scale sellers will aim simply for freshness and protection. Buying direct also reduces food miles because the supply chain is so short. The popularity of farmers’ and producers’ markets has given many more people the opportunity to buy direct, plus more and more small producers are selling online. This is encouraging, but still you’d be very lucky to be able to source all your food direct – almost all of us have to rely, at least to some extent, on third party suppliers, and then there is an element of trust in the relationship.

Over the years I’ve read so many labels on packets containing food. Sometimes, I just can’t face the disappointment of discovering that my favourite biscuits contain palm oil, so I don’t read the ingredients, but sooner or later I get round to it and often it results in me making changes to my diet. There are some products that I’ve given up not because of the ingredients, but because of the packaging (teabags, for example). As a result there are now only a few things that we eat that I haven’t made myself, and increasingly I find that I no longer enjoy the flavour of pre-prepared/processed things that I used to eat or drink often . This, however, has been a very gradual process. Twenty years ago we did almost all our food shopping in a supermarket and I didn’t think twice about buying a pizza or a bag of frozen chips. And this is one of the joys of focusing on food – small changes accumulate over time and because we eat every day, a little change can have a big impact over a whole year.

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Some home-made food is fancier than others

I wish I’d kept better track of the way our food has changed – it would be interesting. I’m sure that stopping going out to work made a big difference. Since I now do all my paid work from home, it’s much easier to fit in cooking from scratch. My commitment to cooking has also meant that I have bought kitchen equipment that I would otherwise not have bothered with – for example, my Kenwood Chef sure does get a lot of use, and we like it especially because a single motor can run the coffee grinder, blender, ice cream maker and mincer as well as the basic mixer; it’s also possible to buy spares if there’s a problem. Having the right equipment makes a huge impact on the speed I can make things, although very few items are essential.

 

So, if you want to make a start on saving the planet, think about your food and make a few changes that fit your lifestyle. You may be surprised how your shopping and diet are gradually transformed without a huge traumatic shift in your habits.

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