Bag a bag

In the spirit of my last post, I’ve decided to spread a little more happiness by having a give-away. I’m offering you the opportunity to be the proud owner of one of the items that I made for our craftivism exhibition. The embroidery is for sale in my etsy shop, but I’ve decided to give away the “Ditch the plastic bag” bag:

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the bag on display

 

It is made from a repurposed t-shirt, with the message appliqued in felt. Bags like this are, unsurprisingly, quite stretchy, so are not ideal for lugging pounds of spuds home from the greengrocers, but are great for lighter items, such as yarn, tea and biscuits!

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it could be yours

 

I am happy to send this anywhere in the world. If you would like to be entered into the draw to win it, simply comment below, or in the post on the Snail of Happiness Facebook page, or on Twitter (@thesnailofhappy), and tell me what you’d like to put in the bag if you win it. I will include any comments left before midnight on Tuesday 13 June (BST) in the draw.

Good luck!

The Heart of Manchester

“Are you still going to Manchester?” I was asked several times last week. The answer, of course, was “yes”. Our Crafting a Kinder World event had been arranged months ago, but its timing, following the bombing earlier on in the week made it particularly appropriate and especially important for me to be there.

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Ready to craft

So, on Saturday, The Make It Shop opened to welcome anyone who wanted to join us for a spot of crafting. Originally we had intended to make random gifts to hang in the community garden, round the corner from the shop and next to Chorlton library, for anyone to take. But in the end we decided to do our little bit to fill Manchester with love and so we made hearts – lots of hearts – fabric hearts, paper hearts, crochet hearts, knitted hearts, foam hearts, felt hearts, cardboard hearts, sparkly hearts. We’d also received a parcel of hearts from Solidarity in Crafting  of Leicester and these were added to our collection. Still, the intention was that they would be taken from the garden by anyone who wanted one… spreading the love even further.

We had a stream of lovely people during the day; all of them made at least one heart and some of them came with us to the garden to help with the decorating.

To begin with, there were just a few garlands on the railings:

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The start of the day

But by the end of Saturday, we had a community garden filled with all sorts of hearts and flowers, just ready for anyone in need of some love to take away:

Not only that, but we also had our Kindness Tree in the shop, covered with little gifts:

So, if you are in Manchester, nip over to Chorlton and take a heart or a flower or another little gift, with love from us.

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Ear-ear

Things wear out, It’s only to be expected – our belongings won’t last forever. Many things can be repaired, but sometimes you need a replacement. However, before I reach for my laptop to order an new ‘thingumy’, I try to decide whether we already have an alternative or whether I can make a replacement using something in the house.

IMGP2901So, when the foam covers on Mr Snail’s headphones started to disintegrate, rather than ordering new ones or, even worse, new headphones, I decided to have a go at making some replacements. I have plenty of cotton yarn, even having used loads in my charity blankets, and this seemed like it might be the best fibre to have pressed against ears. It’s easy to make circles in crochet, or even ovals, as I discovered this was the shape of the ear pieces. One side has a wire coming out, so the cover for that need to incorporate a hole for the cable to pass through. In the end, it took me about an hour to fashion these replacement covers.

Unlike commercial foam covers, these are fully biodegradable, so when they wear out, they can just be composted. The verdict so far is that they are comfortable and do not reduce the sound. Well, that’s a result.

Coffee break

Over the years I’ve written a lot about tea – mainly about the hidden plastic in tea bags and my quest for plastic-free tea. I don’t often, however, write about coffee. This is, perhaps, because we’ve been buying coffee beans and making coffee in a cone with a washable cotton filter for many years now (long before we gave up tea bags… in fact since before I started blogging I think). However, I’m always looking for good coffee and any changes that can make it a little bit more eco-friendly. Recently we have been buying our coffee in the 1kg wholesale bags the roasted beans arrive in at the shop. This prevents the use of any extra packing, but still there’s a paper/plastic pack involved.

I was interested, therefore, to read about an experiment examining the best way to pack roast coffee. Once roasted, coffee beans release gases and ‘mature’ for a few days, allowing the flavour to develop. If roasted beans are put straight into a bag and sealed, the gasses are trapped and the coffee develops a stale flavour. To address this, many good quality coffee brands are packed in bags with a plastic valve, but these valves are generally not recyclable.

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sustainable production, compostable/recyclable packaging

Interestingly, it turns out, after roasting, placing the beans in paper bags allows them to develop a good flavour. From an environmental perspective, this is good, as paper can be readily recycled or composted. So, this week I ordered coffee from Roasting House, who roast the beans to order and then pack them in paper bags. Of course, they do use a plastic pack to send them through the post, but they use biodegradable and recyclable plastic and I will reuse this anyway (I never buy new postal packaging and always keep a stash for re-use). It’s single material, which is far better than the plastic-bonded-to-paper packaging of the wholesale bags we were getting previously.

The company take their environmental impact seriously, aiming for zero waste to landfill, buying 100% renewable electricity and making local deliveries by bicycle. In addition, they source their coffee from farms that operate under sustainable practices. It’s possible that I am much closer to waste-free coffee now.

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.

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