Lacking imagination

If you’ve come to read about craft projects, you might want to look away now as I’m going to have a bit of a rant…

In recent years the UK has been faced with a great deal of change. When, for example, the decision was taken for the country to leave the European Union, it was possible (not likely, given our politicians, but nevertheless, possible) to use the break to make some radical changes to our social and economic structure and improve our country. Similarly, the current threats to our environment, from pollution of all kinds and over-use of resources, call for a change to our way of thinking and could be considered to offer opportunities for change that would improve the lot of everybody whilst also protecting the earth.

I’m not surprised, however, that those in power have not seized the moment, but have chosen to hand grimly onto old paradigms that are, quite frankly, outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Just because the country has functioned on the basis of an economic model that values finance over social care, manufacturing over repair, construction over health provision, social class over skill and where you were educated over intelligence does not mean that we have to continue to do so. The book Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner* highlights the fact that much of our economic thinking is based on financially valuing what, in the 18th century, were considered (privileged) male activities and simply expecting the activities of 18th century females to simply happen with no financial recompense. In our modern world, it’s quite clear that such economics lead to all sorts of problems with supply of the people (nurses, carers, repairers, growers, nurturers) and things (nutritious food, clean air and water, soil, biodiversity) we actually need, whilst we are taught to value bankers, billionaires and acquisitiveness.

What is worse, we are brainwashed into thinking that happiness comes from things, and that if we can just own the latest technology, clothes, car or whatever, we will feel fulfilled. Modern economics demands that we buy into this (literally) otherwise the whole system will collapse. Now, I am not advocating system collapse, because when that happens the most vulnerable suffer most. But I do think that , with creative thinking and an appreciation that values other than those embedded into our economics could be our focus, perhaps we can move forward in a more equitable and sustainable way.

There is ample research, for example, on the idea of a circular economy. Currently, we have a linear economy, with extraction of resources being followed by manufacturing, consumption and, all too soon, disposal. A circular economy, in contrast, decouples economic activities from resource extraction, focusing on maintenance, reuse, refurbishment whilst minimising any materials/energy leaving the system. There is a need for skilled individuals within this system, so workers have special value too and are nurtured.

You can find out more here and here or simply search for the term online and you’ll find all sorts of examples and ideas.

Another change that we need to make is to value social care. Our local newspaper today highlighted the pressures in the area on domiciliary care staff, and this seems to be an issue country-wide. Carers have been under especial pressure during the pandemic and it is time that their role was re-evaluated. The Women’s Equality Party has been vocal on this issue, with their leader, Manu Reid highlighting the fact that “care is seen as an expense rather than a valuable investment”, going on to note that “like all forms of care – our government still relies on the fact that women will do it for little or no pay”. Continuing to regard care as a burden and not a key part of the effective functioning of the country harks back to old Adam Smith. Remember, that economics is a fiction… money only has value because we all pretend that it does; intrinsically, it doesn’t, it’s just a way of keeping score. And if we accept this, we can allocate different “scores” to different things. It’s hard to get your head around the concept, but it really is possible to have a different economic model.

Of course the problem is that our current government and politicians are so invested (literally and metaphorically) in the way things are that they are unable to see beyond it. What we need are leaders with vision, with creativity, and with the ability to educate the populace to see that the current way is not the only way. I understand that a major paradigm shift like this is difficult, but on our finite earth is is essential if we are to care for the planet and the people on it. We can all make a little difference and work towards some of the ideas introduced here, but it is those in power who have the potential to drive big changes forward. So, next time you have a chance (or make a chance) to interact with any of our elected leaders, I encourage you to raise some of these issues and see if you can’t open their eyes and spark their imagination.


* His mother (what a surprise)

Three Things Thursday: 30 March 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

First, grass roots action. All sorts of things have happened in the world of politics over the past year, and one result seems to have been that ordinary people have been galvanised into action. In the US, for example, there’s The Town Hall Project, which “empowers constituents across the country to have face-to-face conversations with their elected representatives”; there’s also Run for Something, an organisation that “will recruit and support talented, passionate youngsters who will advocate for progressive values now and for the next 30 years… We’ll help people run for offices like state legislatures, mayorships, city council seats, and more. We’ll do whatever it takes to get more under-35 year-olds on the ballot.”

Here in the UK, there’s More United, who “raise money to support political candidates who stand by our values, regardless of their party. Our support helps those candidates get elected and influences the makeup of Parliament, changing Britain for the better…. With a name inspired by the words of the late Jo Cox MP, More United stands for unity and inclusion, and rejects hatred and division.” I am an original member of this organisation, meaning I donated some money to help them get off the ground. I’m happy to be part of this organisation and to support its aims… and to show off my support these arrived this week:

getting political

Second, I passed! A couple of weeks ago I attended a Food Safety course at The Food Centre Wales in preparation for scaling up my cheese-making. There was an exam at the end and I’m happy to say that I found out that I passed when my certificate arrived in the post yesterday :


officially certified!


Third, new fabric. Although my heart lies with yarn, I have recently been enjoying a bit of sewing and so I was very happy this morning when a parcel arrived containing various pieces of organic cotton for two of my 17 for 17 projects arrived.


jersey, chambray and poplin


So, those are three things making me smile and for which I am grateful this week – what about you?


Drilling Holes in Palletgate - that'll teach it!

A manly activity?

As you probably know, I’m a woman… I have a gender-neutral title (Dr) and first name (Jan) and this does quite often lead to people being surprised about my gender, but I really am female. I like the fact that I’m ambiguous in this way – although it can be annoying when people assume that the ‘Dr’ in our house is Mr Snail and so I must be Mrs Snail. I know that more than half of my readers here are female and that is probably because of some of the subjects I write about (more women than men knit and crochet) but not all… I suspect that gardening is practiced by the two genders equally and all my posts about reducing consumption and leading a ‘greener’ life are intended to be applicable to anyone.

When it comes to gender, we are often exposed to stereotypes, especially in the media, who would have you believe that only men like engines and all women are avid followers of fashion… despite all evidence to the contrary. A shining example of the perpetuation of such nonsense was the ‘make-up free selfie’ craze on social media last year – where women were encouraged (by whom? I ask myself) to post a picture of themselves without make-up, when the real fact is that many women, like me, simply never wear make-up or only wear it very occasionally. So every picture you can find of me (and many of my friends) on social media shows a person without make-up… what you see is what you get. But we are led to believe that this is not true. By whom and to what end I cannot say for sure, but you have to guess that marketing is implicated somewhere.

I was inspired to write this post because of an article I read yesterday about images of women in social media. The author’s contention was that “The broader message to women couldn’t be clearer: SeXXXy images are appropriate, but images of women’s bodies doing normal women body things are not”. Up to a point, this is true, but it was the following statement that really got me thinking:

It’s men that social media giants are “protecting” – men who have grown up on sanitized and sexualized images of female bodies. Men who have been taught to believe by pop culture, advertising and beyond that women’s bodies are there for them. And if they have to see a woman that is anything other than thin, hairless and ready for sex – well, bring out the smelling salts. (Jessica Valenti, The Guardian 30 March 2015)

And what I thought was… men are not all that stupid. At least the men I hang out with aren’t. OK, hormone-fueled adolescents may fit into this model and heterosexual men may well enjoy this imagery, but that is not the way that women should perceive men. In fact, this sort of imagery plays to commercial interests much more than to “men”… encouraging all of us to fit into specific stereotypes that can only be achieved by spending money on clothes, gadgets, make-up or whatever.

But men are a diverse bunch, you know*? There are men who are power-hungry and domineering, but there are also men who are kind and gentle. There are men who use their greater physical strength to intimidate and subjugate, but there are also men who use this to dig the garden, carry the heavy sacks of bird seed and lift the washing machine when the anti-vibration feet need repositioning. Men account for about half the world’s population, so there is bound to be a bit of diversity and it seems unfair to place them all in the same category. Don’t get me wrong, I accept that there are traits that are more likely to be exhibited by men than by women, but that does not mean that all men are the same.

It certainly concerns me that the political system in the UK is so adversarial and this is the result of it having been designed by power-hungry men at a time when women had no input, but you can’t blame a whole gender for that. The individuals who were aggressive and sought power through might were the ones who came to dominate in the past and so the political and social structures that suit them that have become embedded in our country. We shouldn’t stand for it – democracy means it shouldn’t be the case any more, but the system is designed to be self-perpetuating. Women and men who are not comfortable with the adversarial nature of politics tend not to engage actively, because they are forced to operate in a system that is alien to them. And thus, the bullies and domineering individuals come to the fore and succeed in gaining power. It’s not about gender per se, it’s about whether you can work within the system.

So, let us not be duped by the media into regarding all men as potential rapists and all women as potential victims. Let us celebrate the diversity and strengths of all individuals, irrespective of gender. And let us find a way forward, collectively, in which all of us can contribute and have an equal voice and representation (in the media and in politics) without having those who want to make money out of us or gain power defining the right way to look and act.


* You may even be one yourself!

Honestly, I have felt better

Sometimes it just feels like everything is falling apart

Sometimes it just feels like everything is falling apart

Today I am really quite depressed. Usually I do not let politics impinge much on my life… I know that what happens in my country and the rest of the world is important, but I prefer to focus on things that I can have a direct impact on: my garden, my community, my local economy, my buying choices and so on. Today, however, I am very upset by the results of our recent elections – those to select our representatives in the European Parliament. I’s not so much the fact that he highest number of votes cast went to UKIP – a bunch of racist, homophobic, climate-change deniers – although that is bad enough. My real issue is that so few people actually voted – only about a third of the population were bothered enough to turn out.

Now, I accept that you might now want to vote for any of the parties or people on offer, and that it would be great to have a box to tick for ‘none of the above’, but failing that, just go and spoil your ballot paper – that way at least you have registered your involvement. Many commentators much more eloquent than me have described why it is important to vote, so I don’t plan to go into the arguments here. I do, however, wish to highlight the fact that the right of ordinary people to vote in Britain was hard-won and it’s a privilege that many people in the world still don’t have. Let’s not give a mandate to dictators just because we can’t be bothered to participate.



So, to cheer myself up I decided to be simultaneously destructive and creative. Some people break things when they are upset, but this just upsets me more. However, today felt like a day for transformation… and I have directed my attention to a cashmere cardigan. I loved this cardigan… it was very expensive… I wore it until it started to fall to pieces… then I mended it and wore it some more. Finally, however, it was beyond hope and I put it in a drawer because I simply could not bear to throw it away. But I decided that today was the day to transform it. I thought about cutting it into pieces to make a cushion cover, scarf or even a square for the masterpiece, but I knew that it was really too fragile for this and so, the only answer was washing-machine felting.



First I put it in the machine with a throw that I use on my work chair and that Sam had slobbered all over this morning (thank you Sam), but I was nervous and only risked a temperature of 50ºC. It came out a bit felted, but not very. So, since it’s a sunny day and the solar panels are doing their stuff, I then put it in with some towels at 90ºC… kill or cure! The result was a bit scrunchy, but definitely felt and usable for something… I just have to decide what now. It’s interesting that you can still see the knitted structure:

Knitting still visible

Knitting still visible

But that closer inspection reveals the felting:

Felted cashmere

Felted cashmere

Well, at least I’ve achieved something positive today.


Let’s work together

I heard a report on the radio this morning about childhood obesity in which some politician stated that he wanted to ensure that children got more physical exercise in schools by increasing the amount of competitive sport. And I just wanted to scream. At school I hated competitive sport – I was a skinny child with big glasses who was always picked last for teams in PE. I cringed at the idea of running up and down a hockey field in the rain; I detested volleyball, even going as far as pretending to be ill to avoid having to play. But this did not mean I wasn’t active: I loved trampolining, swimming, riding my bike, dog walking even a bit of friendly badminton. I loved physical activity, but I hated competition.

Cooperation on a felt-making course

Cooperation on a felt-making course

As I grew to adulthood, this outlook was reinforced. I continued to be active – aerobics, yoga, swimming, walking – but I avoided competition. I still do, although I don’t mind watching others competing sometimes (a bit of 6 Nations rugby whilst knitting is fine). And I wonder how many other people feel this way. I wonder how many children will avoid taking part in PE if they are forced to compete. I wonder how many people are turned off by politics because of its adversarial nature. I wonder how many people would campaign against injustice if it didn’t feel like a game of ‘us’ against ‘them’.

Personally, I like sharing, being supported, being part of a community and I like cooperation. And, you know what? I’m not the only one. According to the BBC, for example, the most popular participation sport in England is swimming… not football as you might assume if you ever watch the TV.

In addition, recent research is demonstrating that the natural world is not simply about competition. ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’, as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem In Memoriam, is not always true. Microbial systems have been found to act cooperatively, particularly when populations are expanding and there is evidence of the value of cooperation over competition in a range of species – including human beings. There are also many examples of successful cooperative behaviour in the world of insects, and this within stable and robust communities. Cooperation is not exceptional, it’s common and it works.

So, what do you think? As for me, I agree with Canned Heat: Let’s Work Together.

Positive action

All this recent talk of civil disobedience may be off-putting because it sounds like you are being ‘naughty’, but nothing could be further from the truth… it’s really about using peaceful actions to make a real difference.

You don’t have to break the law (compost those kitchen scraps rather than feed them to the hens!) to have a real impact on the world around you. I’m not talking about on-line petitions or lobbying your MP, I’m talking about hitting people/politicians/corporations where it really hurts: in the wallet. As Anna Lappé – an expert on food systems – says

Every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want*

Your money - your choice. Who do you really want to give it to?

Your money – your choice. Who do you really want to give it to?

We make choices every time that we hand over money for anything. The first question is whether we should make a purchase. We would conserve the earth’s resources much more effectively if, at least sometimes, we questioned our needs. Would it be better to pay to have a particular item mended rather than replacing it with a new one? Easier said than done in many cases, but let’s try.

And having decided to hand over our money, what do we buy? An item that will last a long time and is repairable is surely more sustainable than something we’re going to have to replace quickly. Anything that you’ll only want for a short time because it will go out of fashion is surely playing into the hands of the manufacturers and retailers.

We also have a choice about whether to buy something that is produced locally, or sold by a local retailer. We can think about how products are transported, and how far. We can consider what they are made of, and by whom. There are so many issues that we can take into account, and it can seem overwhelming, but you are making a statement with every single purchase.

Even when money is short, you have choices. It may be cheaper and more sustainable, for example, to buy fresh food direct from the producer than from a supermarket. Where we live, this is true for eggs. Fresh eggs sold at the gate, from free-range hens in small flocks, are cheaper than any supermarket eggs… even the ones from battery hens. We make assumptions that supermarkets will be cheapest, but they aren’t always – check out your local market and you are likely to find very reasonably priced fresh produce.

So before you hand over your hard-earned cash, ask yourself whether you’re giving it (ultimately) to someone who you’d really like to have it.


* Thanks to Linda for reminding me of this quote and thus inspiring me to write this post

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