Urban gardening: The real green revolution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

urban gardening1Urban gardening, the gardening in the towns and suburbs, is highly political. Anyone who belittles this movement blocks his own view of this societal change.

If one would want to measure the success of a movement on the number of those that claim that it cannot possible be any good then the Urban Gardening Movement has during the few years that it has been in existence come a long way already.

Unfortunately there are some writers in newspapers and other media who belittle this to the extent that the state that those who long for the countryside and for gardening and farming should move to the countryside because towns and cities have been sealed, poisoned, and so on. They find it laughable that people are planting Marigolds in front of their doors or tomatoes on their balconies.

But many of those writers have actually no idea, it would seem, what this urban gardening and urban farming is all about. It is not about just growing food for oneself but to actually grow food for the people in the city, and in some cases those urban gardens are created in such a way that everyone can have the food for free (or almost for free) and the movement is growing regardless.

Urban gardening does not mean annexing of ground for private use but free access for all to grow food. It is a fact that the almost 500 urban community garden in Germany, for example, are some of the few places in the gentrified towns where people from different social strata meet in the public realm and interact by creating such gardens and working them.

Those urban community gardens are an innovative contribution to the restructuring of the living together in towns and cities where there is an increasing delineation between the different classes (and I do use the word class/classes here deliberately) which produces a great many risks for our living together in those spaces.

While growing produce for use by all, in community gardens “managed” and worked by all, by people from different strata and classes in the city, is one part of it such gardens also and especially aim to overcome the borders that have been created between people of different groups in society, in our increasingly gentrified towns and especially cities.

Through gardening together in reclaimed public spaces collective forms are created that can be seen as part of an ever strengthening commons movement even and especially in our towns and cities. Those forms could be the basis for new political framework to change society and all for the better.

Though not everyone may be realizing the potential that the urban gardening movement has to change the political structure and through it society as a whole. The powers-that-be, however, are well aware of its potential and thus use the media to belittle those that participate in this, whether in the form of community urban gardens or simply by trying to be somewhat more autark by turning their front and back yards and their balconies, etc., into spaces in which to grow at least some of their food.

People who are independent – to some extent – from the markets and people who join in community of whatever kind are perceived as a threat by the powers-that-be and thus every attempt possible is being made to discredit them in they eyes of the majority not as yet involved.

© 2017

Smallholder farmers need seat at climate table

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

DachaShort-term, reactive solutions are not enough to help smallholder farmers cope with climate change, according to a 2015 report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“If we are going to sustainably improve the livelihoods of the developing world’s smallholder farmers in the context of a changing climate, we need to ensure that their priorities are understood and reflected in policies,” says IFAD’s Vice President Michel Mordasini.

The report, prepared by IFAD, suggests that practical technical interventions, such as enhanced seeds and accurate weather forecasts, are not enough and that ultimately national policies, a legal framework, strategies and budgets will shape the opportunities for large numbers of rural women and men to adapt to a changing environment.

The report points out that smallholder farmers know best the realities they face, and if they are not adequately involved in policy processes, they risk losing out and being sidelined in decisions that directly determine their ability to cope and adapt. The report highlights IFAD’s support for policy dialogue between governments and farmers, including special provisions to ensure that the adaptation priorities of women, young people and indigenous peoples are also heard.

The report presents five country case studies of how IFAD is strengthening the enabling environment for farmers trying to cope with climate change. One of the featured case studies is from Sudan.

“In Sudan, IFAD is supporting the development of 300 community adaptation plans that enhance resilience of women and men,” says Khalida Bouzar, Director of IFAD’s North Africa, Near East and Europe Division. “IFAD is building capacities of technical staff at local and state levels and strengthening their understanding of climate change adaptation and natural resource management, promoting arrangements that help reduce resource-based conflicts, as well as supporting policy through the development of a Sectorial Adaptation Strategy relevant to the livestock sector. This strategy will in turn be implemented through the community adaptation plans, as we believe that while climate change is a global problem, climate action is a local solution.''

IFAD is also working to support governments in embedding smallholder adaptation priorities in national policies. In Mozambique, for example, IFAD is working with the Centre for the Promotion of Agriculture to support the mainstreaming of gender and climate change adaptation into national policies on horticulture, cassava and red meat production.

“IFAD stresses the importance of reinforcing national institutions in dealing with climate impacts on smallholder farmers,” says Margarita Astralaga, Director of IFAD’s Environment and Climate Division. “In the Gambia we support policy makers learn from the experience of countries facing similar challenges.”

The report highlights the importance of global processes, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), as opportunities to keep smallholder adaptation priorities in the limelight.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided nearly US$17 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 453 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN's food and agriculture hub.

But what IFAD actually does is concentrating on small farmers in the Third World – no, I am not playing the pc game by calling those countries “developing countries” – but seem to have little if any time for smallholders in the so-called developed world. They have to fend for themselves without anyone carrying the flame for them.

All the smallholders and small farmers the world over must be given a place at the climate table, so to speak, for it is, in fact they, and not industrialized agriculture, that will mitigate climate change and feed the world.

We need more small farmers and smallholders rather than large farms to feed the world and to capture carbon and prevent agricultural pollution reaching air and water courses, especially when the farming is done on a more or less organic level.

A look needs to be taken at how the small farms in Russia are working as to feeding the country and how more of such farms everywhere could really change food security. To get more such farms, however, would mean a serious land reform where those that truly are prepared to farm in a sustainable way to create food security for the nation (and the world) will be given land. This land can only come about, though, by expropriation of the large farms and also, such in the UK, the large, often unproductive, feudal estates, and the sooner this is being done the better.

© 2017

Are we living in a fake democracy?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

14883678_1319724531373984_2297869749991571431_oPlease see that question as a rhetorical one as the answer is not only yes, yes, and yes, but that we have nowhere, and I repeat and mean nowhere, democracy. Not in a single country of the world at this present moment.

Being permitted to vote every four or five years for the next captain and crew of the ship only to have it continue on the same course towards the abyss is not democracy. The truth of the matter is that we are not even living in a fake democracy; we do not live in any democracy at all.

As Mark Twain said, if voting would make any difference they would make it illegal. And as they have not made it illegal in all those years it must mean that it does not make an iota of a difference.

The fact is that not a single country that claims to be democratic and have democracy is and has nothing of the kind. They who claim that and they who believe that have no idea what democracy actually means in reality.

With every year that passes, another corrupt politician or political scheme is exposed. With increasingly right-wing political parties serving the interests of capitalism over the basic humanitarian needs of the people, is it possible that our system, for democratic it is not, is rigged against the majority in favor of an elite minority? I think the answer here is also a very loud and definite yes.

We only need to look at the European Union and especially with regards to the way they are dealing with Greece. Predominately the reason for having made it is difficult as possible for the Greek government under Syriza is that the great majority of Euro-Zone member states wish to remove the radical left Syriza from power in Athens.

Other methods of the EU are also more than undemocratic, even in the way democracy is seem by most at the present time, in that they, if there has to be, in a country, a referendum will, should it be a negative outcome, as in Ireland with regards to the Lisbon Treaty, force the member state to keep holding a referendum until the outcome is a positive one. If people still believe that we have democracy anywhere then they must be rather daft.

Now, let us look what democracy actually means. It means “the people govern themselves” as the word democracy comes from the Greek “demos” which has two meanings, in the same way that the second part of which the word is made up, “kratos”, has a second meaning. “Demos” means either “the people” or “the village” and “kratos” means either “govern themselves” or “pulls the cart itself”. So it is either “the people govern themselves” or “the village pulls the cart itself”. In both cases it is the people who do the governing, if you get the meaning.

And now someone show me any country where such democracy exists, where the people actually govern themselves. Such a self-government of the people also means that there is not state. The state and its apparatus are diametrically opposed to true democracy and it is this that we need to understand before we can even look at establishing democracy.

Democracy came from the village and to the village it must return, I wrote a while back, and this because true democracy can only work in small groups, in the village or the city block, which must become the village in the city. You can read my articles on this subject of democracy needing to return to the village here and here.

© 2017

Sloyd spoon carving

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

smal_spoon_paper_birch1_webLet's first quickly look at the meaning or etymology of the word “sloyd”. It comes from the Swedish “slöjd which is translated to mean sleight of hand, skilled or crafty, in other words, handcrafts or made by hand. Often it is put together with green woodworking but just means handcrafts and no more. Nowhere does it actually mean that the wood has to be so-called greenwood, that is to say wood that is freshly cut or laid up for no longer than 18 months.

Many a tutor in spoon carving will teach methods and often quite elaborate ways. But do we really need that? Personally I do not think so. It actually often gets in the way. The piece of wood will tell you what it wants to become and, within reason, it is much better to follow this rather than to work against it.

Often many things are made to appear so much more complicated than they actually should be and you can look at all the complicated ways that some people do things and how they, more or less, try to achieve what I would call “production runs” with everything looking almost the same. You only get that when you force your will upon the piece of wood, and I would always advise against that.

I always suggest the KISS system; keep it simple stupid. The most important thing is (1) to develop your own way and (2) to allow the piece of wood, as I said, with in reason, to be your guide via the grain structure as to what it wants to be and now it wants to look when done.

This requires, as so often in forestry and working with wood, the development of “the eye”, the skill to see what a piece of wood is destined to become by the way it is shaped, and then by the way the grain runs.

Yes, you can impose your will onto the piece of wood but often that means, possibly, weakening the grain structure at times. Best to follow the grain as much as possible and by doing so producing entirely unique pieces. This goes as much for carving spoons as for other treen goods.

© 2017

The photo above shows a spoon made from Paper Birch which fought me all the way but is an indication for letting the wood guide you as to shape, etc.

Matching neighborhood skills

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20139988_1539078376130193_5453055660688507791_nThere was a time when everyone knew their neighbors and that not only in a village and they all knew who did what for a trade or who was good in this or that and, even more important, everyone was prepared to help one another.

Today, however, we barely acknowledge our neighbors let alone know them or know who in our community – what community? – we can go to for help in this or that matter.

There was a time when everyone knew that “Uncle” Erik just down the road was a barber, though he may be working in some other job now, and would be prepared, at his place or at your home, to cut the hair of the family. Or there was Old Bill (no, not the police) who did all manner of woodworking, or James, the mechanic, who would be prepared to fix this or that, including a car, on the weekend.

The community that government so often speaks of no longer exists and in many cases the very destruction of it, such as in the working class areas and the villages, was aided and abetted by the very government that keeps harping on about it and, more often than not, throws every conceivable spanner in the works when people want to bring community back into their areas. Obviously people that do things for themselves are a threat to the powers-that-be (but should not be, the powers I mean) on a local as much as on a central level.

If we, the people, want really and truly resurrect the community in our areas where we live then it is up to us to do it. Government is not going to do it. It will more than likely do its damnedest to prevent it, although in a clandestine and subtle manner.

Get to know your neighbors. Most of them are not going to bite. Start by acknowledging their existence. Smile, say “good morning”, “good day”, or whatever. Some may blank you initially but do persist. The day will come when they don't just reply but may actually engage in conversation. And then the ball starts rolling.

There is no community and can be no community if and when we do not know our neighbors and engage and interact with them.

When I was a youngster we had real community in our villages and even in especially the working class districts in the towns and cities. The drawback of that was though that when you got home of an evening your parents already knew what you had been up to during the day, good or bad. Everyone popped in and out of each others' homes, even if only for a natter, a cup of tea, to borrow some sugar, or whatever and everyone looked out for everyone else's children as if they were their very own.

You knew who had this tool or that you could borrow, who could fix your bicycle if you could not do it yourself, or who had a long ladder. You knew which skills everyone had in the community and also how prepared they were to help out, either for a fee or on a barter trade basis. People swapped garden produce and seeds, books, you name it and all the children called the adults uncle or aunt.

In the working class areas of the towns and cities it was, as already mentioned, equally the same and they were like little villages in that respect. Then again, those districts arose from villages and many still had that feel, to a degree, and definitely as far as community was concerned. That many of the men (and later also the women) working in the same factories and workshops probably also helped to cement this community and community spirit. And then, in Britain and elsewhere, came the redevelopments to improve the areas which was, more often than not in fact, social cleansing, and in London it is really in full swing more today than ever. Communities have been and are being broken up and people dispersed far and wide, as nuclear families and not as a whole community.

But it is up to us to build and rebuild our communities into real living and thriving ones, whether or not the powers-that-be like it or not. Attempts of this building and rebuilding of community are growing in many places, such as via the Transition (Town) Movement or their German equivalent, the Kietzwandler. But those are but a few of many. This aside from those that create alternative communities and even entire towns and villages on a new model, or new models.

As far as Transition Towns in the UK are concerned, aside from its small town of Totnes in Devon, where the movement sort of, started, it would appear that the greatest successes are had, for some strange reason, in the more urban areas, including and especially in inner London, such as Transition Town Brixton. In the more affluent areas, such as rural and semi-rural Surrey, etc., this ideas, and others of this nature) seem to be getting nowhere and are falling on deaf ears.

So what do I mean by matching neighborhood skills and why it is a good idea?

It means matching the skills, trades and what-have-you to the needs, so to speak, that members of the community may have. Need a plumber? Joe at No.10 is a professional plumber, so give him the job instead of calling in an outsider. Thus the money stays in the community. Need you PC fixed? Call on young Richard just a round the corner who knows how to do it and who builds his own systems. And this goes for every job – well, almost – that someone in the neighborhood may need doing and even the almost is with a great caveat for there may be more skilled people out there in our neighborhood, or people with skills, than we may be able to guess until we actually find out.

If we all use local skilled people to do the jobs that we may need doing the money stays in our community or it may even be done on a barter trade and thus does not go into the pockets of some boss somewhere. It is the same if you get your vegetables, eggs, etc. from local farms rather than the supermarkets or purchase other things from local makers.

Not only do those who perform the tasks benefit but we may actually get the job done cheaper and better that if we would go to an “outside” firm and at the same time we get to know those in our neighborhood and create some form of community cohesion (which can serve as the foundation for a real community).

One of the biggest problems today is that people have become very insular and shut themselves off from those around them. We hardly, if at all, know our neighbors and often do not even acknowledge them when we see them, out an about. But we can all change that in that we act differently. A smile, a “good day”, and such cost you nothing and if the other person does not reply still keep doing it. There will come the day when – suddenly – they will respond and the first steps to getting to know one another and to building some neighborliness and community are taken. That is the first step to Community Building. But, as said, it is just the first step. The rest really follows on from that. A blueprint for building community to give I do not think to be possible but a Community skills database for the purpose of sharing and caring but also allowing people to make some income is a great step in this direction also.

Such a database would match skills with needs and vice versa and can go a long way to bringing people together through mutual beneficial actions and thus can lead – and we should surely hope so – to real community where we go to our neighbors, close or not so close, to get things done or to learn skills rather than calling in outsiders.

But, in order to set up such a database and to match neighborhood skills with possible neighborhood needs requires that we get to know our neighbors first of all, at least the organizer(s) of such a database and matching service. So, let's go and do some matching and through this build communities in our neighborhoods.

© 2017

Nation wakes up to coffee cup recycling on-the-go-go

Veolia’s coffee cup recycling bins brew up a solution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

NoPapercupUnderpinned by insight into coffee cup disposal habits and with trials supported by partners such as Costa and Starbucks, Veolia, the UK’s leading resource management company, is rolling out a national coffee cup recycling solution.

With 84% of takeaway hot drink consumers still using disposable cups, Veolia’s coffee cup solution aims to collect takeaway cups as soon as the consumer has finished their drink to reduce cup contamination and increase recycling rates.

The solution is now available to existing customers nationwide and to potential new customers, as part of a packaged service, and offers multiple service options. These include a specialist designed in-house recycling bin, a bulk collection option and a post back service – which is available to all business types nationally.

By capturing cups before they enter the general waste stream Veolia’s solution aims to get a higher quality of material that can be reprocessed into a new product. And the public is onboard.

The latest YouGov research shows a staggering 88% of the public would use a purpose-built bin to ensure their disposable paper cups is recycled. Almost half (47%) would even be willing to hold onto their cup for longer if they knew they would pass a purpose-built bin, and nearly a quarter (24%) would go out of their way to use one. As a result, Veolia is calling for more disposal locations, such as train stations, university campuses and offices, to step-up and help solve the coffee cup conundrum with them.

For regular takeaway hot drink consumers, those that buy at least four drinks a week or more, the most popular location for cup disposal is at work. In fact, over half (52%) cite the office as a disposal location, with ‘on-the-go’ locations such as train stations, service stations and on trains, the second most popular (40%) and then in coffee shops third (31%).

Estelle Brachlianoff, Senior Executive Vice-President at Veolia UK & Ireland, comments: “Over the last six months a lot of activities have been taking place with our customers, such as Costa and Starbucks to overcome our biggest challenge – contamination in the cups. As a result, we’ve worked on a solution that will separate the cup from the general waste stream as soon as the customer has enjoyed their drink – and we’re thrilled to see so much public support for cup recycling.

“Coffee cup recycling is now happening across the country but I’d like to take this opportunity to further encourage a mass collaboration between designers, manufacturers, vendors and consumers as we all have a part to play in making all of our packaging more environmentally friendly and ensuring our resources are kept in the loop for longer.”

Once the consumer has ‘Tipped-it, flipped-it and stacked-it’ – a process to ensure any remaining liquid is drained and the lid, sleeve and cup are separated – Veolia undertakes a further separation process to guarantee all rogue items have been removed. This is key because it will help to ensure a higher quality of material that can be reprocessed into a new product.

After the cups have been debagged, separated, checked for quality and contamination, and baled up they go on to further treatment at paper pulping facilities, which recover the fibers and separate the polymer plastic lining. Working with a number of outlets, the fiber could potentially be used to make a multitude of products such as egg boxes or cup holders given back out in stores or alternatively used in the manufacturing of cellulose-based insulation for homes.

OK, so much for what Violia UK says and now let's looks at the way the world really works, at least according to what I am being told by other experts in the waste management industry.

Violia UK is claiming to have a facility that can separate cardboard from the polymer liner of those cups. If that is the case than this is the only such plant and no one else in the waste industry heard of it being possible.

I know that I am a skeptic and rather sarcastic with regards to this but when 99.9% experts in the industry tell me that those “paper” cups with their polymer linings cannot be recycled and that separation of the two components is not possible I find the claims of one or two companies questionable in the extreme.

As I have said it is either the case that Violia UK has a facility that is capable of doing the things that the vast majority, bar one or two, claim cannot be done or somewhere along the line someone is rather economical with the truth.

It would be better by far if the beverage industry would get away from those cups and people would carry their own. There are enough alternatives available.

© 2017

Paper Saver – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Paper Saver is – probably – the most eco-friendly notebook ever

Paper_Saver_notebook.jpg.662x0_q70_crop-scaleThe Paper Saver comes without paper inside, because it's meant to be stuffed with old, discarded printouts from your home office.

Having received my review sample I have to say that it is – in my opinion – a brilliant idea and probably beats any recycling of single-side printed paper and so many pages come as just that. They are used once, such as press releases, and then, generally, though not at yours truly's place, discarded.

The idea is so simple and effective that one can but wonder that it has not been done before. Along the lines of this principle, I have, for years, made A6 pocket notebooks, though with card covers and staples in the center.

The market for eco-friendly notebooks has become, over the years, a large and hot one. Mostly it is a case of beautiful covers enclosing thick piles of 100% recycled paper. No company, however, has taken its eco-minded ethos quite so far as Paper Saver.

Paper_Saver.jpg.650x0_q70_crop-smartAustralian startup, Paper Saver, uses no new paper at all, not even recycled, having figured out an ingenious way to put unwanted, surplus paper to good use – and we all have plenty of that lying around; I know that I have all the time, but I also reuse all of that anyway and always have.

The Paper Saver Notebook is a basic imitation leather cover with a stainless steel binding, nylon bookmark, and elastic, akin to the one used with Moleskine or Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks, and “derivatives”. The basics of this is a folder similar to magazine files – the so-called string binders – with the difference that there is only one metal “rod” instead of several in the case of those files.

Unlike “normal” notebooks the Paper Saver comes with no paper inside – because that is where you are meant to put your own sheets. Just grab a stack of accidentally printed paper, or paper that has already served its purpose in your office (40-50 sheets of either Letter size in the US/Canada or A$ in the rest of the world), and push it into the binding. Fold the other half over and you have got a half-blank notebook of 80-100 pages, ready for scribbling and sketching. Once you fill up those pages, pull out the whole wad of paper, flip it around, and start over again. Personally I would fold the pages in half first to have a fold before inserting the stack through the binding.

Once you have finished your first notebook you pull the wad out again and then you can, if you so desire, send the lot for recycling though most of us, more than likely, would wish to hold on to those notes. I know I would and will. Then add a “new” stack of one-side printed “waste” paper and ready is another notebook.

The idea for the Paper Saver grew out of architect founder Jon Yong's frustration with the sheer quantity of draft designs that were printed and discarded as soon as changes were made. He created a homemade Paper Saver nearly a decade ago before realizing that others might enjoy such a device.

While the Paper Saver, in itself, may not be made of recycled materials and components it will, however, if used correctly, keep paper being dumped in landfill. As the cover of the Paper Saver is faux leather it is also vegan-friendly; another positive.

This is a clever concept with potential to make us all feel slightly less guilty about the fact that 50% of paper used in North American offices, for example, ends up as garbage, and that a about 27% of waste in landfills is paper products. Rather than using yet more resources on recycling and shipping, it makes sense to extend the lifespan of paper that has already been made.

In addition we may also have to ask how much so-called 100% recycled paper really is post-consumer waste and how much of such a claim is actually greenwash.

At present the Paper Saver is in stores only available in Australia but can be purchased via the Internet. Two sizes are available; one for the US-Canada in the letter format and the other, for the rest of the world, in A4. In Canada or the United States, the Paper Saver is only available in black. In Australia and the rest of the world, cover colors include teal, brown, and red.

Very well designed and well made. Really looks the business for business – no pun intended – and at AUS$ 22 (around £14 or €15) is not going to break the bank either considering that this will – probably – be the last notebook you will ever (have to) buy, saving you money and also saving paper.

If you do not like writing on blank sheets of paper Paper Saver offers free downloads of printable lines and grid patterns.

Rating: 5 out of 5 plus an extra 1 point for ingenuity.

© 2017

The repair, reuse and upcycling economy

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bike repair tools1_webTaking possessions to be repaired, be it bicycles, clothes, shoes, or anything else, instead of throwing them out and replacing them is green gold. But reuse and upcycling should and must also be and become part of this economy. For it is not “just” repair that we must be looking at.

In the reuse sector we would have the secondhand stores, charity shops and even flea markets and car boot sales. While in the upcycling sector all those that rework – upcycle – items of waste of all kinds.

The little unassuming repair shop on the high street may not look like a major disruptive force. However, being able to extend the lifespan of your possessions by getting them fixed is one of the most effective green direct actions that are available. The problem is though that often neither the shops nor the repairability of the products are available.

Repair shops are often few and far between and those that there are, such as some of the so-called “shoe & boot menders” are not very capable in that department when it comes to things that cannot be done by the machines that they have, such as sewing back a midsole to leather uppers, for instance.

In addition to that there is the problem that many goods cannot be repaired as they have actually be designed in such a way and furthermore that for those that may, possibly, be repaired the costs of repair is several times that of buying the same product new. Here we are faced and confronted with a dilemma that needs to be overcome.

Making all the stuff that we buy requires raw materials and energy. Across the European Union now, recycling and recovering energy from waste when it is burned, only captures around 5% of the value of the original raw material used to make all the products in the first place. But consumption in 2030 is predicted to be twice that of 2010. A very troubling prospect given that it is already responsible for between 50% and 80% of total land, material, and water use.

The cycling community is at the forefront of the repair economy. An increase in people using their bikes and an abundance of independent bike retailers offering repair services (there are 2,500 retailers across the UK) means repair is booming. The reason for that is, though, that bicycles can be repaired and that, theoretically, quite easily.

When it comes to the bicycle much of the repairs and more can be done by the user with a little knowledge, including rebuilding “new” from old. But again here often the cost of spares is astronomical. And properly adjusting, say, Shimano gears, can, even at a repair shop, take several hours and thus the labor charges here can make getting a new (cheap) bike almost cheaper than the repair. I have been quoted more than once – I was just checking really – around £75 for that job. That is one of the reasons that I have converted all my bikes (yes, plural, but most are rebuilds from abandoned bicycles that have been found in parks and open spaces) to single speed by simply removing the gears and setting the chain onto one of the cogs in the back cluster.

What is missing sadly, is proper repair services for clothing and also for shoes and other goods. The few small attempts by certain sectors do not make up for the lack of the repairers we once used to have, in both clothing, shoes, boots, and leather goods.

Neuroscience research claims to have shown that our consumption of low-cost consumables, including fashion, activates dopamine receptors in the pleasure region of the brain and it is difficult to compete with our hard-wiring. Repair needs to not only make environmental and moral sense, it needs to make us feel good, too. But that is just what it should do, anyway.

Personally, unless I am hard-wired in a different way, and that is why I do not buy into the neuroscience research, find it much more pleasurable to be able to extend the life of something that I have rather than buying new. But then, I am strange.

In addition to repair, as said, we need to also accommodate the other parts, that is to say reuse and upcycling, into the economy and also, maybe, the teaching of repair, reuse and upcycling as part of that economy.

Repair, in some way, is also reuse as you continue to use the item repaired, while reuse can be secondhand, and that's where the particular stores and shops come in, but also reusing things found and items of what generally might be considered waste directly by us as individuals and households.

Upcycling is going a step above simple reuse, as far as items of “waste” are concerned, as it may come in a couple of forms. The first one is the simple reuse of something for a higher purpose, such as, say as glass jar becoming a drinking vessel. The next level is the transforming an item into something new, without, necessarily, destroying the shape and such while the third, which still is not recycling (though that word is always, erroneously, used there) but is close to it, is taking the material and reworking it into something new, combining elements from more than one items, and such.

The simple reuse, as mentioned earlier, like reusing a glass jar that had some produce in in as a storage jar, and that of the upcycling such as glass jar into drinking vessel (and those are just examples) is something to that most can do at home in the way that our parents, grandparents and their parents did. While it is not part of the economy – so to speak – it is a way for us to save money that we can circulate into the economy in another way.

The other upcycling, reworking, etc., again is part and must be part of the economy. This is what is done my craftspeople, artisans and such who make things from waste and material that others have declared to be waste.

But, as far as repair is concerned, the first thing that needs to happen is that industry actually starts producing again goods that can be repaired and for which spare parts (and repair) do not cost more than a new product.

Just by way of an example allow me to tell you this true story: Some years ago I was using an Epsom PC printer that cost then £35 to buy. It lasted about six months (well within the warranty period of a year). When I contacted Epsom I was told: “The waste ink reservoir is full. You are printing too much with it, Sir.” They were not going to honor any warranty because of that claim from them and as to repair I was told: “Yes, can be done. Part will be £70 and labor, not counting sending it back and forth, £75”. When I told the person from Epsom that I could buy more than four new printers of that make for that money I was told: “Well, I would suggest anyway that you buy a new one.”

That kind of attitude from manufacturers has to change first of all and products, all products, must become repairable, at a reasonable cost, again, though ideally they should also be repairable by a user who likes tinkering around. It once was that way with most things, today though it is exactly the opposite. Often goods cannot be opened even without specialist tools, if even then.

Only when that happens again and when repair is actually economically will we also see the return of the repair shops of all kinds to the High Street, and the not so high one, and the true repair economy, that we once had, will return.

In addition to that a change of mindset amongst the people is required and it has nothing to do, in my view, with any hard-wiring the neuroscience research claims, but with the fact that people have been brainwashed into a perpetual consumption mode, to buy everything new. Then again, as long as repair is not possible or simply not economical what else is one to do when something breaks?

But the mindset is a problem. We can see that every time a new iPhone, or whatever, hits the market. People will queue for hours and hours to be the first to get this new model even though they still have the previous one – in some cases less than a year old and still working perfectly – simple because they have to have it.

Well, that shall be all in the food for thought department on this subject for this time. I have talked enough, I think.

© 2017

Mokuru – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This new toy is expected to overtake fidget spinners to become the next big craze – a fidget stick.

x-defaultMokuru is a (weighted) wooden stick, about the same size as a cricket bail, and is being touted as the biggest toy to hit Britain since loom bands - because it's easy to play with but fiendishly difficult to master.

Millions of children and adults in Japan and China are already addicted to playing with the Mokuru, but it has only now gone on sale in the UK.

The £9.99 toy allows users to flip and spin on any flat surface - just like the bottle-flipping craze.

This simple hand-held wooden toy was originally designed to test an individual's balance and focus – but now it is testing the dexterity of fast fingered flippers everywhere.

Designer Masakazu Node spent years creating the satisfying beech wood toy, which has rubber stoppers on the end to help it stand up.

The Japanese inventor said: "Beginners can simply tip over the toy, let it flip and catch it with their fingers or flip it to draw a triangle or square.

"Mokuru masters can use five of them at once with one hand.

"Claimed to help focus and concentration, imagination and alleviate stress, Mokuru fits into your pocket."

The UK Distributor for Mokuru is Leicester based company Peterkin, and it will be in sale in Smyths toy stores.

The only thing that worries me is that the rubber pads may come adrift and get lost. It would, therefore, be good to know whether someone has considered spares though, I guess, certain stick-on pads of that size that can be bought elsewhere could be used as replacements should the original ones ever do come off.

This “fidget toy” requires a health warning though not like the so-called fidget spinner because it could cause injury, at least the very cheap ones apparently have to be known to do this, or because it could become stuck on some part of the male anatomy – as apparently has happened to one boy – but because it is seriously addictive.

There are some great plus points to this “toy”, as far as I am concerned, and they are that there are no moving parts, and, aside from the “rubber pads” on either end, no plastic. The Mokuru is entirely, bar for the aforementioned rubber pads, made of beech wood. Being “Made in China” ascertaining as to certification, e.g. FSC, or sustainability of wood is another story. But, then again, the FSC certification is not – generally – worth the paper it is printed on. The Mokuru requires no batteries, but then neither does the fidget spinner thus the no plastic (bar the rubber pads) is the great point.

I started playing with it after receiving the sample and even though I am almost 60 but growing up I did not do – I was told was optional and I don't do optional – and got hooked within minutes. That is why I said it needs a health warning about being addictive, in a positive sense though. Also, having it next to me on the desk I am using it with my left hand which, to all intents and purposes, never had much of a coordination in the hope to change that and I think it is beginning to work.

Website: www.mokuru.com

Buy from Amazon and Smyths Toys

See it in action here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMPl4XyDBQw

So, what do I think of the Mokuru toy? Short and simple answer: I love it, especially for its simplicity though mastering it will be another story altogether.

© 2017

Reuse ideas for plastic frozen food bags

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Frozen food bag as hanging basket liner_webI am one of those people who take reuse and all what is related to that to another dimension at times, as regular readers will know, and I do, yes, tend to keep those bags from frozen food.

Being a vegetarian, single, and not being able to shop for fresh vegetables daily or such, I tend to buy them frozen. Alas, they then come in those bags. But waste not want not they are, after being rinsed out, used for all manner of things.

  1. Sandwich bags: Now this is, more or less, a use that should stare everyone straight in the face. They are fairly strong, can be washed out again and again, and thus can be used for much longer than most sandwich bags that you might buy.

  2. Freezer bags: Well, yes, you could even use them for the original purpose, using twist ties to close them before popping them into the freezer.

  3. Durable hanging basket liner: Especially suitable for small to medium size baskets but even then you may need two or three. But, hey, that, they are free and would otherwise end up in the waste stream.

  4. Basically anything you would use a small plastic bag for.

I am sure that the readers, themselves, can come up with a lot more ideas. They are, after all, quite strong “little” plastic bags and have great reuse potential and reusing them can keep them out of the waste stream for longer.

© 2017

You found WHAT in your washing machine?!

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

washing-machineFrom dummies (pacifiers to our American cousins) to rashers of bacon, new research by appliance repair specialists discovered a large selection of strange and interesting things found in the bottom of washing machines and hidden within the filters.

Tissues are the number one shared experience by Brits, with 56% of people surveyed saying they have found Kleenex confetti sprinkled on their wet clean clothes.

In contrast to the devastating disappointment felt upon finding the remains of tissues, the second most found item is cash, bringing much happiness and joy, assuming that it is still in good condition.

Jewelery has also been found in washing machine, including several expensive wedding rings while other small items spotted in the machine’s depths include drill parts, lighters, a spoon, pens and pencils, Lego pieces and nail clippers. The strangest items found in washing machines include, apparently, bacon, clothes hangers and a bowl.

There are some people who have, in this survey, claimed to have put their electronics through a spin cycle, often not surviving the ordeal. These include mobile phones, a bluetooth headset and even an Xbox controller. Why someone would do that beats me but...

More than likely in most cases when stuff like that ends up in your washing machine, especially in the filters, you end up having to get the repairman in. this can be avoided by being a lot more careful and checking clothing for anything left in them. That should be standard procedure.

I also know of people who have, accidentally, laundered their cellphone and that is not a good idea, especially not for the cellphone. They don't like baths for some reason.

I am sure that not only costly damage to the machine can occur – and repair services are not cheap – but also damage to other things that are left in the laundry. Having your wallet in there with cash in it which may get damaged beyond use and exchange then that is another loss on top of that all.

Before clothes go into the laundry hamper – or whatever you use – and another time before they actually get put into the machine they should be thoroughly checked so that nothing is left in pockets, etc. It can save damage, expense and loss.

© 2017

The great recycling scam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

And, yes, it is indeed a scam!

Sinnlos sammeln und sortieren - recycling bins1We are encouraged, nay pressured even, to clean and nicely separate all our recyclables – glass, plastic, paper, etc. – into bins for the different ones. But what really happens to those “recyclables” that our municipal refuse services pick up from the kerbside? Often, actually, nothing more that being dumped in the same place where all the other refuse, all the other “waste”, goes; the landfill.

Most municipalities do not have the expensive sorting facilities and in more than half of all cases – if not at times in 90% of them – the collections are all but for show, more or less.

Reuse is much better but most people just cannot think what to do with this or that item of “waste” (waste as a resource) as our mindset, at least that of the great majority, is to buy rather than to make.

This thing about recycling is that it is a crutch to those not wishing to think about the above and as far as our governments are concerned it is a means to blind people into believing that the government and industry care about the Planet. Capitalism never will. The main reasons that many recyclables – aside from the financial costs of sorting centers – are landfilled are at least two-fold.

One is market related and has to do with the over saturation of recyclables meaning that the price ends up so low that separation, even if collected through kerbside collections where we have done much of the sorting already for them, and shipping the stuff out just is not cost effective.

The other is that households and businesses still do not understand that the recyclables have to be clean. Just one wrong item of cardboard, for instance, say one that is greasy or whatever, in an entire container means that all of it gets tossed. Again due to the processing centers not being there and it being expensive to actually do the separation, especially manually.

So municipalities go through the motions of collecting our recyclables – for it looks good to be seen to do it – but then due to low prices on the world market, or whatever, nevertheless, landfill them.

Many of the recyclables – most of them in fact – if they don't get landfilled are not processed “at home” but are shipped to China, or, in the case of appliances, computers and such, to some third world country to be processed, and in the latter case under very polluting conditions and even in China the environmental protection standards are much lower than in Europe or in the USA. So we also export not only our recyclables but also the pollution and poisons that go with the processing of them.

Recycling is also very energy intensive and while, if recycling is done properly, it still saves raw materials and some energy in the processing, the kerbside collections, the shipping to port, the transportation across the oceans, etc., uses lots of energy and creates emissions and pollution.

We must get away from this fig leaf and have products made that, one, last, two, that can be easily repaired and, three, that at the final end of their lives can be reprocessed “at home”.

What can we do?

Use less stuff

The first step to waste reduction and avoiding the recycling scam is to use less stuff, to try, when buying things to buy with less packaging or zero packaging, and to reduce our waste. It also means buying less (new) stuff especially when there is actually no need for it and whatever you have got is still working perfectly well and doing the job that it is meant to do.

Use what you have got

Instead of running off to the stores to get the next generation iPhone or whatever else stick with what you have got (as long as it works, obviously). The latest is not, necessarily, better than the old one that you have already got and the “bells and whistles” that the new version may have are, more often than not, something that you will never, ever use.

Reuse, repair, repurpose

Reuse falls into two categories really. One of them is the continuous use by ourselves, or someone else who we have passed this or that on to, and the other is reusing what are often referred to as items of “waste”, as did our grandparents and their parents or in some cases even our parents still, or making use of what some other person has thrown out.

Repair is, obviously, simple as to what it means. The problem today, though, is that many products are designed in such a way that they cannot be opened and repaired. This is called built-in obsolescence. However, it is possible to “hack” a fair number of products that are believed, even by repair shops, if they still exist, to be non-repairable. In a time not so long ago everything was repairable and if it could not be done by the user then there were shops that could do it for a fee. But today it is getting more and more difficult to find repairers even for those things that can be fixed.

Passing it on

Now that recommendation, I think, is so simple that it needs no explanation. If you, yourself, no longer have use for anything then pass it on to someone who will (be able to) make use of it. If you don't know someone to pass it on to then donate it to a charity shop so that it will find a new home and may even benefit on other ways too.

© 2017

The pathological consumption of the majority

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

13876526_1045327358850366_8227695636228548239_nThe pathological consumption of the majority, for I do know that not all participate in it, has become so normalized that we scarcely notice it.

The way the majority buys things that is, aside from the essentials, with which we are not concerned really when it comes to consumption for we all have to eat, have at least some clothes to wear, need toilet paper and other things.

What I do mean here with pathological consumption is buying the things that really they don't need and only buy because the latest version is on the market or whatever. It is killing our Planet, other people and ourselves in the end.

There is nothing really that they need, nothing that they don't own already, and still they keep on buying. The new smartphone that has more bells and whistles than the one they only got six months ago and which they still have not used to its full potential, and so on and so forth. And then there are all those things that really are of little use, such those unitaskers for kitchen and elsewhere that will never, actually, be used but be just white elephants. And yes, alas, I have also managed to buy one or two proverbial white elephants for the kitchen at times. Some people work just so they can afford the next new gadget, etc..

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence, meaning that they are designed to break or fail quickly and cannot be fixed or perceived obsolescence, that is to say by becoming “unfashionable”. When the new iPhone comes out it is obvious that an old one is unfashionable; or at least so we seem to have been programed.

Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing often a load of rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator. An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features. The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you, and we, the majority at least, have been brainwashed enough to believe that we need those things for our enjoyment of life. Things have gone so far that people go for hikes in the woods, along trails, etc., either glued to the screens of their smartphones and/or having earphones on or in and listening to some music, or podcast, or whatever. Pray, what's the point?

The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats, not that it ever really did. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population. The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash and the trickle down economy does not work and it is a load of hogwash.

So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics. Well, let's be lunatics then and swim, like living fish, against the current of this madness.

The problem is that the system is not broken but that it was designed in this way. So, what are we to do? May I suggest we break the system and make a new one, one that benefits all of the Planet; people, animals, and the biosphere as a whole.

To some extent some of us are already doing it by moving away from the consumer culture and -society, by reusing, upcycling and by making do and mending. By growing some of our own food and by making things that we want and need ourselves, even, as I love to do, from items that others regard as waste.

However, those that are doing this not only encounter ridicule at times, as said above, but are even seen and proclaimed – by governments even – as a threat to the economy and the nation. Thriftiness was declared by some politicians (in the UK) not so long ago as akin to domestic terrorism.

© 2017

Older people teach young ones traditional skills at GrandFest

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

GrandFest2017Older people led masterclasses in skills such as dressmaking and bread-making at GrandFest, a one-day festival in east London.

Thousands of people came together for GrandFest on June 18, 2017 to celebrate the knowledge held by older people and to learn skills that organizers say are becoming less common.

Now in its third year, the event hosted more than twenty classes at restaurants, pubs and shops around Spitalfields Market. Each class was run by a festival GrandMaker – all of whom are over 70 – and skills included quilting, wood turning and cider making.

It is very important to pass on the older traditional skills that are disappearing and there are so many old and traditional skills that are going that way and which also may be needed more than ever in the future, in the post-carbon world.

Even cooking from scratch, let alone brad making, including and especially sour dough bread, are skills that are fast disappearing. Others have almost gone entirely and many are going if they are not being passed on. That is why festivals such as this one are so very important.

Often such events are held in rural locales and while they need to be held and taught there as well for even in the countryside the old countryside skills are being slowly lost they also must be held in towns and cities and that also more often.

It is extremely important to pass on the older skills to a younger generation, and especially the young generation, as most are rapidly disappearing (the skills, not the younger generation) and many are already lost or almost lost.

In a time not so long ago those skills would have been, automatically almost, passed on from father and grandfather to son and grandson, and from mother and grandmother to daughter and granddaughter. But this has all but disappeared. Not because the young people are not interested but because the older folks think that they are not interested, or that the skills are no longer of any (practical) use.

The festival was hosted by older people's charity the Royal Voluntary Service, which helps more than 100,000 people each month connect with others and keep active.

As I said already, however, we need more of those festivals, fairs or whatever we may wish to call them, and that everywhere, as much as in towns as in rural locales. Even in the countryside many of the old skills are diminishing and are becoming lost as the old practitioners die and have no one to pass the skills on to.

And, in addition to that, we need grandparents to pass skills on to their grandchildren. Young children are generally very receptive and willing to learn and it will be much better for them to learn such skills that may come in rather handy, especially in the post-carbon world into which we are headed, than to play around on their PC, tablet or smartphone, engaging in useless games and other activities.

Introduce them, for instance, to gardening and you will be surprised how eager they will be to do it and to learn. The same goes for cooking, for woodcarving, leather working, and many other old – and not so old, even – skills and crafts.

© 2017

The reuse economy or reuse sector

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

reuse_fabrics-940x400New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia thinks, as does the department, that the reuse sector, both the nonprofit and the for-profit sector, are key to moving forward with regards to a New York City's “zero-waste” drive.

Compared to the heavy duty world of urban waste collection in New York, the reuse sector can seem quite esoteric. Now, the city is looking to make it a mainstream operation.

Because reusable items are generated more sporadically than the steady streams of refuse, recyclables and organics, the systems to handle them can be less organized. Due to a lack of awareness or access, it’s often easier for many residents to just put their old couches and dusty guitars out on the curb. In many places, one has to add, such systems are not – at least not on an official level – even existent.

So, let's look at what this “new” or “newish” sector of the economy, this reuse thing, actually is. Well, to have said new or even newish is rather incorrect for it is neither of it; it is quite old, only it was not called reuse or even an economy back then.

It was what the rag and bone man and others did, namely pick up things that could either be sold for scrap, refurbished, reworked or whatever, and secondhand shops, once upon a time, were very common. Now they have gone upmarket and are called charity shops. Often the same difference. And those charity shops are, obviously, the nonprofit part of the sector, although, considering that the items are donated to them, and even bought to them, they do make quite a bit of profit from the sale of them.

To bring about a more or less zero waste situation the reuse economy must also include and incorporate the repair, rework and upcycling economy, like those artisans and and other workers who will make goods, ideally usable goods and not just art, for sale, as a business, out of items of waste.

It it made to appear as if the reuse and remake economy is something new, recently invented by the green movement, but it has existed for ages. And even upcycling is not a new thing at all. It too has existed for almost ever and a day. Only it was not called upcycling. It was just what one did, and especially what those that did not have the financial resources to buy did. But it also was an economy in that people repaired, restored and upcycled for sale.

Fact is though that over the last number of decades it fell out of fashion and that was as much due to the fact that people just wanted to appear affluent pretending that they could buy new all the time as with the fact that products became, almost all, non-repairable.

The latter especially led to the demise of the repair economy and repair businesses, large and small, fell by the wayside and died a death. Yes, we still have the so-called shoe repairers, for instance, who often also operate the dry-cleaners and key cutting, but you try to get those franchisees to sew back leather upper to a leather midsole. They can't do it “because they haven't got the machine for it”, as I was told when wanting it done. They are not cobblers, the are just machine operators and if there is not a machine with which to do it they cannot do it. Anything that would involve sewing by hand, where a machine cannot be used, they cannot do. Basically all they can do it put a new heel or sole onto a shoe or boot and that is about it. And the latter obviously only if the shoe or boot has a sole that can be removed and a new one put on and with many shoes and boots today that no longer can be done today.

Before every manufacturer – or almost every one – jumped on the bandwagon of built-in obsolescence, following the likes of Osram in the mid-twentieth century and other US firms after World War II, the repair economy was everywhere because everything could be fixed, at least almost everything.

In countries such as the GDR – often referred to as (communist) East Germany – there were entire small enterprises as well as state combines dedicated to repair. The combines were like a department store where you could bring anything to be fixed, even bed sheets and such, though many things people just fixed themselves.

When the built-in obsolescence “hit the shelves”, so to speak, it was the death knell for the repair businesses, large and small, under capitalism, as almost nothing could be fixed anymore or was and still is too expensive to fix with repairs costing many times that of a new one. And we are surprised that our landfills are overflowing and that we have a waste problem.

That is not to say that people are not a problem here either as many seem to treat everything as disposable even if it is not. It begins with cutlery and other reusable things at picnics in parks where those items are, once soiled having been used for eating with, are tossed out just like disposable items. It carries on with clothes where a button has come off, even though they still have the button in their possession, and so on and so forth.

The reuse sector could really have its work cut out nowadays with people's waste alone to clean, rework and all that, and then bring it back into circulation. And if we add to that upcycling then we would really be motoring and a good thing it would be too.

© 2017

200 years on the bicycle is more needed than ever

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

bicycles_Amsterdam1Does it have to be a brand-spanking-new bicycle? No... The old one that you may still have standing around in your shed given a little TLC or some other secondhand one would be much better and ideally without the fancy gearing of today.

On June 12, 1817 the bicycle saw the light of the world, in the form of the Laufmaschine (Draisine), by making its maiden voyage under the captainship of its inventor, Karl Drais. It has come a long way since and today is more needed than ever.

It was born out of the need for a replacement – albeit temporary – of the horse as very few horses were left in Germany at that time due to a climate event which brought about “the year without a summer”.

Today not just a climate event but climate change makes the bicycle even more important, and in this case as a replacement for the modern horse, the motorcar.

While the climate event of 1817, “the year without summer”, went away, the climate and weather returned to normal. Horses came back into use as they could be fed again and there was food for people again too. The bicycle, therefore, descended into obscurity for some time. With climate change this is, more than likely, not going ever be a return to normal and we will have to look to the bicycle as a low-carbon alternative for travel.

Today's bicycles are about as far removed from the original concept of the running machine, the Draisine, as is the ox cart from the modern car, with the exception of the balancing bikes for children nowadays which are almost a Draisine, having no pedals.

Bicycles do not, that is true, do not achieve the speed of a car and neither can they travel the same distance in a day as can a motor vehicle. On the other hand though most cars are not used daily for long distances but mostly for short trips (with the exception of those that may use them indeed for long commutes) for which a bicycle would not only be more efficient and cheaper but also faster.

By the time you have the car ready to go on the road, especially if it is kept in a garage, have buckled up and all that, you would already be half way there with a bicycle. Then at your destination, say the high street, you have to find a place to park the car, and more than likely that will take some time and may even cost you money to boot. The bike, on the other hand, you can just “chain” to the nearest lamppost or such and you can do what you want and need to do.

The bicycle is also one of the most energy efficient vehicles for public transportation. Instead of burning fuel and money and making you fat it burns fat and keeps you fit. Though as a cyclist I do realize that in many countries the infrastructure is not there for cycling, at least for safe cycling, and drivers of motor vehicles, from cars to trucks, see the cyclists as someone, more often than not, who should not be on the road with them. That needs to change.

While we are seeing a year by year increase in bicycle use in Britain, including for commuting, no real serious change will come about until the political will is there to change the status of cycling infrastructure by creating safe paths for cyclists (and pedestrians) alongside every, or at least almost every, road, that are separate from the road itself. What can be done in other European countries can be done in the UK and no one can tell me different.

© 2017

Bring Your Own Cutlery needs to become a new trend

Bring Your Own Cutlery (BYOC) needs to become a new trend, no ifs or buts

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

BYOC1_webBring your own chopsticks has become a trend in Japan and Taiwan and this must extend to cutlery elsewhere. Bring Your Own Cutlery (BYOC) needs to become a new trend, no ifs or buts, but, oh, and here is a but, we then also have to take it home again to wash up when it is dirty. It is not difficult and not rocket science.

BYOC wherever you go, instead of using disposable plastic utensils that never biodegrade while littering the world's beaches. Even if plastic utensils are claimed to be biodegradable or worst still compostable they are neither, at least not under normal (composting) conditions.

As an “old” military man – and soldiers and officers always carry their own “mess kit”, at least “in the field” – it is a habit to have my own set of cutlery on me when I know I may be dining out on a take out that might require tools. I also have a set of chopsticks, in a leather sleeve, same as the stainless steel cutlery, for the same purpose. The chopsticks were found, thrown away, still sealed in their original package, after a picnic and the stainless steel cutlery is ex-airline. Those ex-airline knife, fork and spoon are smaller than standard cutlery but similar smaller cutlery can be bought in stores as well.

Plastic forks, knives, and spoons are one of those things that we tend to think are inevitable when eating on the go or feeding a crowd. Even though alternatives do exist, these are not widely known or accessible, which is a pity, considering the impact that plastic cutlery has on the environment. It does not biodegrade, and they are some of the most common trash that is found in parks and open spaces and also on the beaches. The majority of those never ever make it into the recycling stream either.

Along with shopping bags and straws, disposable plastic cutlery is yet another part of the pollution puzzle that is threatening the world's oceans and waterways. And, like bags and straws, it is a direct consequence of our societal obsession with convenience, something that would not need or have to exist if everyone took a few moments to plan ahead before leaving the house.

The strange phenomena that we, who work in parks and open spaces, now encounter is that people take real cutlery to a picnic and then, would anyone believe it, they leave them, once dirty, behind, either thrown into the trashcans or just left behind where they have been sitting.

So, what are the alternatives?

Most obviously, disposable plastic cutlery should be made illegal, which is precisely what France has done. All single-use plastic cutlery, along with plates and cups, will be banned soon: "Manufacturers and retailers have until 2020 to ensure that any disposable products they sell are made of biologically sourced materials and can be composted in a domestic composter." While that is a nice move I doubt that there will be any disposable products going to be coming on the market that are truly compostable in a domestic composter, though they may claim that, in the same way that they claimed that the plastic bags for the food waste caddies were compostable in that way and later industry had to row back saying that that was not what they meant but compostable in a commercial hot composting unit. But that was not what it said, at least not originally.

What we all really should start doing is carrying our own cutlery for eating in restaurants or on the go in the same way that many people travel with water bottles. So why not forks and knives, too?

China, and I understand also Japan, have recently pushed to get people to carry reusable chopsticks, in order to reduce the 20 million trees currently cut down each year to make disposable chopsticks. The campaign has been hugely successful, thanks to celebrity backing.

While we don't, as yet, have celebrity backing for bring your own cutlery it should, nevertheless, become something that we do as a routine. A small set of flatware can be easily carried; every soldier does so in the field, and more often than not in the pocket of the tunic or the shirt. Those military sets that clip together can be purchased as military sets (from many surplus stores) or also for the civilian realm as camping or trail cutlery (from camping and outdoors equipment stores). It was also common practice for Boy Scouts and Young Pioneers when going to camp to have your own clip-together set) or similar).

Many more restaurants should again be offering metal cutlery for eating in and that should also extend to ice cream parlors for spoons. It was the common practice not all that long ago. But washing real dishes and cutlery takes a little effort and that was – probably – the main reason that everything went over to plastic “garbage”.

Let's hear it for BYOC.

© 2017

Pen and pencil: for texting the old-fashioned way

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

pencil-clipart_640-480About 500 years ago or thereabouts a graphite deposit was discovered in England and sliced into the first pencils some time after that. Initially it was used in a holder.

Despite of the fact that the inner core of a pencil is called a lead there is no lead in it and lead was never used. The metallurgists who discovered this pure graphite in Britain thought that is was some kind of black lead and thus it was called plumbago.

In the 16th century, a large deposit of pure, solid graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, England. This was the first time in recorded history that high quality, solid graphite had been found. When metallurgists first encountered this substance, they thought it was some sort of black lead, rather than a form of carbon. Thus, they called it “plumbago”, which is derived from “plumbum”, which is Latin for “lead”.

It didn’t take people long to realize that solid sticks of high quality graphite were good for marking things. At that point, this newly discovered substance from the mines of Borrowdale became extremely valuable. So much so that guards were eventually posted at the entrance to the mine and laws were passed to stop people from stealing the solid graphite. In addition, once a sufficient stock of the graphite was mined, the mine itself would be flooded until more graphite was needed.

Of course, sticks of pure graphite are fairly brittle, so people started embedding them in various things such as hollowed out pieces of wood and also simply wrapped tightly in sheep skin. Thus, the pencil was officially born with a core of solid graphite, which was known then as black lead. The tradition of calling sticks of graphite “lead” has endured to this day, and in many countries the pencil is actually, in the vernacular, called, basically, a lead pen, such as the German “Bleistift”, which means precisely that.

But who uses a pencil anymore?

Pencils are like fax machines and margarine: They do a job, sure, but other things do the same job better – pens, email and butter, respectively. You can write a letter in pencil, but it's more adult to write in pen. You can solve a crossword in pencil, but it's more courageous in pen.

As far as I am concerned there are some things that a pen cannot do compared to a pencil, or at least not at the low cost.

When the US went into Space they spent millions upon millions to have a pen developed that could work in zero gravity, etc., which is now the Fisher Space Pen, while the Soviet Union (USSR) spent nothing, zilch, nada. They used what was already there and could do the same job, and yes, it was and is the humble pencil.

To be honest, we were issued – let me rephrase that... they tried to issue us – with the first generation of Fisher Space Pens (Bullet Pens) but they were so useless that we refused. The ink was so shall we call it think, or whatever was wrong with it, that it just could not follow fast enough as far as our writing was concerned. It just was not flowing well enough. Today the pen is somewhat better but I will just stick with an ordinary ballpoint or a pencil; thank you. Or, and now you can call me a real old-fashioned guy, a fountain pen, and ideally one that gets filled from a pot of ink.

But back to the pencil for a moment and the question as to who uses a pencil anymore? When I am working with wood, be it carving spoons, etc. I will mark the bowl shape (nothing else though) in pencil. On green, wet, wood a pencil mark works better than does a ballpoint pen and when I mark dry wood for cutting and such I always use a pencil, at time a flat carpenter's pencil. Also, the marks of a pencil can be removed from the wood (or whatever else) while that of a pen may be not.

Also, a pencil works when the paper is slightly wet (where often a ballpoint pen and especially a fountain pen will not), it will work on walls, upside down and in low gravity or even zero gravity environments, and in low temperatures where, again, ballpoint and fountain pen often will not do so. Thus there is still a place for it for sure.

I could not think about working without pen and/or pencil as I am still very much a pen and paper merchant. I also still write letters, though most of them, nowadays on the PC's word processing program and then printed out. The envelope, however, more often than not is addressed by use of pen though at times the typewriter – yes, one of those antiques, and mine is one, in fact – is used for that.

How could I possibly write in my diary – oh, yes, one of those books with paper pages in it – or my notebook, if it were not for the humble pencil or the ballpoint pen? The only drawback – though at times it is an advantage – of the pencil is that it is not really and truly permanent. Anything written can be erased by use of an eraser. But that is also one of the advantages of the pencil. Horses for courses, as they say.

© 2017

Industrial agriculture and forestry

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

woods.jpgWe are dealing with Nature as if she were a factory floor and we even call agriculture and forestry nowadays industries.

Nature is not a factory floor, however, but a living intricate organism that cannot be (just) exploited, whether it is in the way that we farm today or the way that we deal with our woods and forests.

We are trying to get more and more out of our farmland and our woods and forests without considering that it just does not work that way. Oh, if the soil is depleted of nutrients we can just chuck some chemicals at it to feed the plants while at the same time further eroding the soil and the organism that live within it and that are needed for proper soil structure and soil health.

We use machinery that compacts the soil and destroys the organism that live there and that make the soil the life-sustaining stuff that it is. In forestry the huge harvesters, which are claimed to be so much more efficient than using loggers and tractors or better still horses to move the logs, with their weight and wheels destroy everything in their wake but then it is the fact that branches have not been left laying on the floor “for the wildlife”. So, lets create “habitat piles”, that will solve the problem, while we continue with bad practice.

But, we are told, it must be done this way so as to be expedient and profitable. Profit, in the world today, comes before anything and everything and that we are degrading and destroying the biosphere – let's get away from the term environment, for environment just, in actual fact means surroundings – to such an extent that it has difficulties supporting life.

Ever bigger and heavier machines are needed, we are told, for farming and forestry to be efficient and productive, which at the same time destroy the very soil that the entire operation depends upon. Then it is a call of chemical industry to the rescue in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc., in the hope that that might mitigate some of the infertility of the soil and so on. Fighting fire with fire might work with a forest fire to some extent but not in this case.

If we don't nurture Nature Nature will not nurture us. Simple as that. Time to understand that Nature is a living breathing organism and not some factory floor with production lines. But that is how we have come to behave in the last century or so and it is just not a way that we can go on. In fact, we should never, ever, have started down that road and we must make a one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn about and we must do that now, immediately, before it is too late.

We are reaching the point where the Earth, where Nature, will have to end the burden that we have placed upon Her, if we do not lift the burden ourselves. It is those practices of ours of treating Nature like a factory floor that have placed an enormous burden upon Her and unless we lift this burden She will change things Herself, no doubt. Nature has Her ways of keeping a balance and that way might very well go against us.

We need Nature but Nature does not need us. This is something that we did well to remember and began now, this very moment, to make and demand the changes that are required. Nature is not a factory nor is it a store of resources to be plundered for profit.

© 2017

Why do we have people going hungry?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

x-defaultPeople are not going hungry or are starving because we cannot produce enough food, though that is what governments and the media are trying to make us believe.

Instead, the real reason why people are starving is because capitalism says that it is better to throw away suboptimal vegetables, which means those that not conforming to the approved norm, instead of selling them (cheaper).

Cucumbers that are too small or too big, or have a bigger than permitted bend, apples that do not fit into the size and whatever criteria, and the same goes for potatoes, carrots and other fruit and vegetables that are not grown straight, and so on; they all are not allowed to be sold.

It is because of this kind of manic capitalist system there is hunger at home and abroad. It has nothing to do with an inability to produce enough food or the lack of suitable land and the amount of suitable land for growing produce. When we are told that we are being lied to. Already at present the amount of perfectly good edible food, though misformed, according to the standards, that is being thrown before it ever makes it to the shelves of the stores, or even the wholesalers, could feed the entire global population several times over.

Years back in Britain we had the so-called Agricultural Intervention Board which stepped in each and every time there was a glut, whether it was apples, potatoes, or whatever else, and ordered a proportion of the produce to be destroyed by being dumped in holes in the ground and having bleach poured over everything.

Today it is the wholesalers and supermarkets who make the decisions after having hammered into the heads of the consumers that vegetables should look a certain way and since then claim that they cannot sell the what we would lovingly call “ugly” fruit and vegetables, as no one would buy it as they are not esthetically right.

In addition to that, in Europe, there seem to be European Union regulations which specify ho much bend a cucumber, for instance, is allowed to have and any that fall outside that rule are to be destroyed. The same seems to go for the size and shape of apples, bell pepper, and so much more; potatoes even.

Anyone, however, who has ever grown fruit and vegetables in a garden, allotment, smallholding or farm will know that such engineering criteria almost cannot be applied to stuff that grown in the ground or on a tree and in the stages between. While we may be quite happy to eat the non-conform fruit and vegetables from our own garden – and those of us who would do that, I am sure, would also buy and eat such produce if it would come onto the market, especially when a little cheaper – such produce may not, legally, apparently, be sold on market stalls or in stores.

In times of glut have you ever notices that – generally – the prices do not fall in the store, at least not significantly. The reason for that is that only a certain amount of the produce is allowed to make it to the market so as to keep the prices artificially high. That is what was, in the older day, the task of the Agricultural Intervention Board in Britain and it would appear that the practice if still alive and well, only operated by different agencies; nowadays by the capitalist entities themselves.

It is not a lack of produce, of food, that is the cause of hunger in the world, especially not in the countries of the so-called West, but the capitalist system. And there is enough food being produced capable of also eliminating hunger in the Third World, especially if we would not force countries such as Kenya, and others, to grow food for the market in the West; food that the people there often would not, themselves, eat, as it is not part of their diet, such as green beans. Obviously the roses grown in Kenya for the market in Europe and elsewhere are not edible in the first place and take up valuable agricultural land and water.

© 2017