From consumer society to maker society

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20139988_1539078376130193_5453055660688507791_nThere was a time when people made and grew almost all of the things they needed; the majority of them at least. They did not – and could not – simply go to the stores or order on-line for home delivery. The latter option did not exist until even a few years ago and the other was not an option because there were no stores (in the very old days) or they could not afford to buy what they wanted.

Money was tight for many, especially the working class, farm laborers and such. So the only option they had was to make what they needed and wanted from materials that were available for free or cheap.

The raw materials for many of the things people needed and wanted was wood, but also other natural and man-made materials, such as scrap and trash. Children used their imagination to fashion all manner of toys from natural materials and from trash, and this is, on all counts, still true today in many a Third World country but also in what some would call backwards areas in the Western world.

The majority today, however, cannot even think how to get something that they need or want aside from checking their wallets or bank accounts and the nearest store or website. The very thought of making something seems alien to many today.

We have been brainwashed into the consumer mentality believing that whatever we need and want has to be coming from some shop of sorts, whether in bricks and mortar or in the virtual realm, and that making things that we need and want to ourselves from natural materials or, God forbid, waste materials, is something only for the very poor in other countries.

And also to use things that are more that a year or so old is also something that is only for the very poor. We must have new manufactured goods all the time, preferably cheap from some offshore manufacturing site.

Sometimes I wonder how this kind of brainwashing was ever possible to happen to the majority but happen it did and it is scary.

We have to find back to reality and that pronto. The time is going to come, and it is not all that far away, for sure, that those products that the majority run after today will no longer be dirt cheap and therefore we must change our ways and do things differently again. I say purposely again as it once was the way things were done and they must be done that way again.

We must return from a consumer and consumption orientated society return to, or transition and develop, however one may wish to put it, into a maker society where, once again, people are prepared to make things and enjoy making things rather than just consuming things. But it is a learning curve and I will not deny that, especially for those that never did such things before. Many young people today, as children, never made their own toys and entertainment the way some of the somewhat older generation did. They often were not allowed to do that as they could get hurt using a knife for whittling of such and as a knife, in the hands of a child or young person (and not just in the hands of a young person), in places such as the UK, is immediately considered an offensive weapon.

Not only is it just a question of being prepared to make our own things – and to repair the things that we have – but a society where everyone makes things or grows things, and is involved in making and growing things or maintaining those things.

In the main, however, all people are doing today is to consumer, bar the few that produce and grow things, and after the things are used they get thrown away. That is the mentality that is prevalent today and it is that mentality that also is causing other ills in society for a consumer, a user, society also uses people and animals in the same way as things and discards them when they are no longer productive.

The entire world needs to change to a new society but it will only do so if we, the people, actually change. The consumer is but a passive user of products and living things and often has no idea as to the true cost of his or her mentality to the Planet.

While it is true that the consumer him- or herself does not do the actual exploitation of environment, of people and of animals, and that is being done by the capitalists, the corporations and such, it is he or she who, by the act of consuming in the way he or she does, being not prepared to turn to being a maker, participates, passively in this exploitation, whether they want this to be true or not.

Edward Abbey is quoted to have said, with reference to the United States of America: “If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor rule. That was the American dream.” And this also applies to all other nations as well.

The move from a consumer society to a maker society – even if the making part is but a small one with each and every one, to start with – already would go a long way towards this, such as removing the power from the corporations, and thus the rich and “powerful” to dominate others, as in us as the people.

However, a maker society does not just mean making just things for oneself from scratch and even scrap but a society of people who make things rather than having things made for them in some factory in some far way third world country.

On the other hand making things ourselves, for ourselves and for others, and even for sale, liberates. It sets us free from the constant consumption and consumerism and allows us to think what we really need and want (out of life). And it not just liberates the individual, but the entire society.

As far as society goes, we cannot just be consumers, as the majority seems to be today, permanently buying something and tossing out the things – often the very same things we have just bought new, but which are newer than the old ones – that we only bought a couple of months ago. We all must become makers again, on a small and on a larger scale, but always on a human scale.

© 2017

Grab a great read AND support Anti-Slavery Day on 18th October 2017


x-defaultFormer football club Chair, actor and author Michael Bearcroft has announced an exciting new partnership with the charity HopeforJustice, whereby £1 from every sale of his re-released novel Dangerous Score (£9.99, New Generation Publishing) will go directly to helping combat modern slavery.

Estimates suggest that over 21 million people are living in modern slavery today, with over 10,000 of those living in the UK. It is also the third largest source of illegal income, only exceeded by drugs and arms trafficking. As Anti-Slavery Day approaches on the 18th October, author Michael Bearcroft has re-released his successful novel Dangerous Score which explores the world of corruption, organised crime and human trafficking, pledging that £1 from every book sale will go directly to Hope for Justice.

Following an early career as a junior footballer for Sheffield United, Michael continued to be involved in the football industry for many years, as the Chairman of Corby Town F.C and sponsor of both Rothwell Town F.C and Kettering F.C. It therefore seemed logical that the sport he knows so much about would feature as the backdrop for Dangerous Score.

In the book, Michael brings together the worlds of football and organised crime as they collide and become entwined in a bloodthirsty, bitter tale of love, lust and murder. When successful footballer Jason Clooney’s wife unexpectedly leaves him in Australia, he returns home to the UK to start a new life in Sheffield. A winning goal catapults his home team- Kettering Town Football Club- into the national spotlight. However, a brief encounter with a mysterious woman called Jess, propels him into the underworld of international organised crime and human trafficking, changing his life forever.

Michael began researching human trafficking whilst writing his novel and was astounded at the sheer scale of the problem. He decided that he wanted to do whatever he could to help support those forced into modern slavery which led to his new partnership with Hope For Justice, a global charity founded in the UK in 2008 with the aim of working to end modern slavery and human trafficking.

In the past three years, Hope for Justice has rescued 350 people from human trafficking in the UK and is actively working to help many more.

‘Human trafficking is a hidden crime and it’s happening all around us. The main character in Dangerous Score stumbles into this secret world and finds himself submerged in the underbelly of organised crime. I’ve partnered with Hope for Justice because I want to support and bring more light to the desperate plight of people around the world and in the UK. This charity is doing truly amazing things that are transforming people’s lives and I want to help let more people know about them so that collectively, we can do more to eradicate this truly heinous crime,” explains Michael.

Dangerous Score (£9.99, New Generation Publishing) is available from Amazon and all good bookshops. £1 from every sale goes to Hope For Justice.
For more information visit:

Brits fall short of smiles

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

800px-A_Smiling_boy_from_BangladeshAccording to some research only about 28% of Brits attempt to smile at someone at least once a day, despite 63% admitting that being smiled at brightens their day.

Further still, over half (52%) smile most when they make others smile, with nearly 20% (18.75%) worrying that they don’t smile enough.

Personally, knowing the way the majority of Brits – at least today – act whatever they told researchers appears to be what they thought the researchers would want to hear.

A great many in the UK look away when someone smiles at them, often embarrassed which, in turn, makes those that do smile when they meet another person's eyes become reluctant to do so.

A smile cannot only brighten someone's life; it could actually save someone's life. No, I am not exaggerating. A number of years ago me smiling at a complete stranger on a tube train in London did just that.

There was this young man sitting opposite me on an Underground train with a very sad face and every time that our eyes met I smiled. It took some time before he reciprocated and his face brightened up.

Reaching my destination I got up and he also was leaving the train. On the platform he shook my hand and said “I would like to thank you” to which I said, “for what?”

His reply was that really hit the message home which was “for acknowledging my existence”. Cutting a long story short he was very depressed and had been heading to the stop that I also too in order to take his own life by jumping of a bridge that was near there.

Instead of heading to the HQ I was meant to head for at that time I took the young man for a drink and a chat, duty at the HQ could wait a couple of hours. This was more important.

I don't know how many other lives have been saved or, at least, changed by smiling at someone, and I don't just mean by just my smiles. Also I am certainly not averse to striking up a conversation with complete strangers. Many a stranger becomes an acquaintance in such a way and, maybe, even a friend.

Smiling at others does not only benefit the recipient but also the “giver” as it releases, in the same way as some other activities, that I shall not digress to right now, do. So, let's turn our smiles on and not just on World Smile Day.

© 2017

When the oil runs out, people will need horses again

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

when-the-oil-runs-out1When the oil runs out, we will need horses again and also oxen, donkeys and other draft animals and what is often called “beasts of burden”.

“Oh, but we will have electric vehicles instead of the gas powered cars, vans and trucks, etc.” I hear almost everyone say now. Really? I do not think so as the feasibility of this is zero without the power to make them and to charge them and, in addition to that, EVs will never have the power to carry the 35 tons or more of freight on the road, not even 3.5 tons, and as to farm works, electric tractors pulling the plow is not going to happen.

And, even if we could create electric motors capable of doing such jobs there is and remains the problem of the rare earths – and there is good reason why they are called rare earths – that are required for the making of such vehicles, motors and especially the batteries. On top of that comes the problem that those batteries have a lifespan of about 3-5 years at the most, if that long, and then need replacing at costs that are almost have the cost of the vehicles themselves. Does anyone still see this to be the way? I can't. And the same goes for hydrogen fuel cells and all that jazz. Methane, from sewage and such, could work but it all depends on whether manufacturing capacity will still exist to make tractors and other vehicles.

Personally, I cannot see that with lack of fossil fuels (and we all know that nuclear is not an option) the factories will continue to be able to make those cars, trucks and tractors, etc. Either manufacture of those will be done again more or less by hand, thus pushing the prices to such heights that they will become unaffordable, or it just is no longer happening.

If the latter is the case – and even if some will still be made with high prices which will be affordable but too a large minority, if at all – then the horse for transportation and farming will be, once again, the only option. Plus some of the other animals that have, through the ages, been used as draft animals and for carrying goods (and people).

For personal transportation the horse will not be possible for a great many people, especially those that live in towns and cities, but then neither will be the car; at least not in the way that we know them today. The great majority will have to, for their personal transportation, revert back to what we used before the advent of the motor car, namely human power, in the form of walking and cycling.

Even if the electric car and truck will ever make it – though due to lack of power for manufacturing them and their batteries, as well as the rare earths mentioned earlier, I cannot see it happening – the prices will become out of the reach of the majority of those that use a car today.

Farming, as it is being carried out in the main in the so-called developed nations today with the huge machines and the large acreages will also end up being a thing of the past. There is simply no way, with the exception, maybe of using methane, that is to say poo-power, to power tractors, trucks and combines.

So, it will be a return to more people on the land working the land by hand and by use of draft animals, which will, predominately, no doubt, be the horse, who has been our loyal servant in this field (pardon the pun) for centuries and more before the advent of the machines, and this is not all that long ago.

Not so long ago our countryside was a lot more populated than it is today because people worked the land to feed the nation although the more and more mechanization came into agricultural and other rural trades the more people headed for the cities to try their luck there, though many of those were not just agricultural laborers that had lost their jobs due to mechanization but they were smallholders and small farmers who had lost their land, and land to which they had common rights, in the various land grabs of the previous centuries; land grabs by the feudal lords to enlarge their estates.

© 2017

#GreenLiving #oil #horses #endofoil

Consumerism – do we need prohibitions?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

consumerism1We are living well above our means, in more than one way. Thus the question as to whether we need prohibitions that will halt our over-consumption? Maybe we do need someone who raps us over the knuckles when we go too far? That maybe the only way that the Planet can be saved. But this is not going to happen, not from the side of those that think they are in charge as economic growth is what they are on about and growth – according to them – can only be achieved in that people consume more and then still more. Only growth on a finite Planet does not compute.

But do we really need some higher authority to tell us. Should we not be able to restrict ourselves?

On the other hand most people, even many who think of themselves as as having a high degree of eco-consciousness, are into consuming. Fair enough, we all have to eat, need clothes, etc., and thus we consume and are consumers, obviously, but with consuming in this context I mean the many, often unnecessary, things that we buy, thus consume, just because we are lazy, we believe we need them, and because our friends have them.

Coffee to go, obviously in the one-way cup, because it is so convenient. Coffee from the pod, the most wasteful and expensive way to make and consume coffee. Another new cellphone or even smartphone though the old one that we have is still perfectly good and does what we need it for. But, hey, there is a new version out that has more bells and whistles, not that we will ever use any of those bells and whistles.

Using the car to go to the shops – even though you only live a few minutes away from them on foot or by bike – because it looks like rain. Take out pizza or whatever simple because we can't be bothered to cook. OK, there are people who are so busy and work so many hours just to sustain a lifestyle nowadays who really do not have the time to cook at home, I know, but. And so on and so forth.

But would prohibitions really make a difference. OK, with prohibitions people could not do this or that but is it really so hard for us as individuals, as people, to understand that we must change for the good of the Planet and also for the good of our own finances.

Unnecessary driving costs fuel and unnecessary purchases cost money, but at the same time both have an impact on the Planet in many ways. The prepackaged salads and all the rest generates a great deal of packaging waste, more often than not in the form of plastic, some of which is, while others is not, recyclable and it then ends up in landfill or, via the not so environmentally-minded, in the countryside and eventually in rivers and the sea.

For a change to come about industry, especially, will have to play its part and reduce the amount of packaging, and that includes food producers and supermarkets as much as online retailers like Amazon. Legislation could come into play there in that packaging could be regulated and a reduction demanded by government because we, as consumers, can do little there except shop where we do not have everything prepackaged – and that is not all that easy – and sending a message to industry and supermarkets that way.

Waste or squander is no peccadillo, no trivial offense. Nobody has the right to take more than what he/she needs.

I can hardly see, however, government legislating against consumption per se. That is definitely not going to happen. A change in that department will only come about when the mindset of people changes and you cannot do that by degree and prohibitions. Most people will rebel against any kind of prohibition and unless and until industry actually changes its manufacturing processes which are designed that products break down after a relatively short time or, in the case of PCs, for instance, that software (updates) is no longer compatible with old sets (and that also applies to smartphones, for instance) we have little choice to buy new products every year or every couple of years or so. If products would, like they used to, last for a long time and can be repaired, ideally by the user or in small shops, then we would not have this waste that is generated by having to continually buy new.

On the other front, that of packaging, we don't need to look much further back than half a century or so and we can see that things were not over-packaged in the way they are today. Fair enough, that was also the time when the so-called convenience foods were not about. There were no ready-made salads in plastic bowls and such to be found in the isles of the supermarkets. Produce was sold predominately loose, and was packed in brown paper bags, other things came in simple cardboard boxes, tin cans or glass jars, and almost nothing was double or triple packaged, as today.

There was also once a time when packaging, such as glass jars, and others, had an obvious – obvious to all but the very dense – second use and some manufacturers still do so today. Let's get back to that and maybe, just maybe, we have less of packaging waste. We can hope, can't we?

But when one sees that even people who think of themselves as green and environmentally-minded throw away glass produce jars into the recycling and then go and buy recycled glass jars, in the believe that they do good for the Planet doing that, rather than using the glass produce jars as storage jars then one has to wonder where we have gone wrong.

I think no one can deny that we have to stop this malarkey but can we be made to stop with and by government intervention and should that be done?

Most of us know that much of what we buy and consumer is not good. With that I do not mean that it makes us fat or gives us all manner of diseases. Our consumer behavior does hurt us, but mostly it hurts others. Others who also live with us on this Earth and who we do not see because the live far away, those that still would like to live on Earth after we have long gone, and also the Planet as a whole.

While no one can deny that we have stop (with) this madness of consumption – for the sake of it and the economy, as our respective governments keep telling us – the question is how many of us, of our contemporaries, are prepared, voluntarily, to give up this mad pursuit. But, if we want to sustain ourselves and the Planet we will have to do just that for, as I have said above, our governments are not going to do all that much in that department as it would interfere, as they see it, with economic growth. However, perpetual growth – economic or otherwise – is not feasible on a finite Planet with finite non-renewable resources. And, no, the good Lord is not going to put more oil and whatever into the ground for us, as some, including some American lawmakers, believe and declare from the “pulpits”.

As I have said while legislation might be a way to go I don't see it happening. For one the powers-that-be (but really should not be) won't do it because it fuels economic growth and that is all that they seem to be able to think about and on the other hand legislation often does not work because the mind of the people per se rebels as soon as they are not allowed to do something. Persuasion towards a voluntary reduction appears to me the only way. Though disallowing the use of plastic bags or taxing the use of them might just do something.

© 2017

Macron wants EU Army and German Interior Ministers want European FBI

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

French President MacronWhile the French President has called for a European Army and a European defense budget, amongst other things, Interior Ministers of several German federal states are calling for the establishment of a EU-wide version of the FBI.

Those who could foresee all those things coming already years ago, because they have been muted for years among EU circles, have been called conspiracy theorists and worse.

It was as clear as spring-water already from the very beginning when both EUROFOR and EUROPOL were founded what the end outcome and aim was meant to be for both. The former to become a European Army and the latter a European Federal Police. Anyone who believed the story that EUROPOL was supposed to be a European version of INTERPOL also, I assume, believe that the Easter-bunny lays eggs.

At present those are both, some would say, suggestions by, in one instance the French president of the day, and in the other by a number of interior ministers of German federal states, the latter who also would like this European FBI to be run by German “experts” and under German control. Surprise, not.

When EU-officials, whether directly EU people or politicians of the member states, talk of things like this publicly, as “suggestions”, we can, almost, bet our bottom Dollar that they are ready to put those things into operation in the not too distant future.

Macron also wants a “European attorney general” and a “European asylum department”, as well as a “European civil defense authority”, in other words an EU FEMA. Anyone still doubting and wondering as to where this all is headed?

Where this is leading to is to a full-fledged neoliberal fascist European superstate, primarily led by Germany and France. Something that many have foreseen years ago, including and especially myself, and have warned against. But, hey, we were all conspiracy theorists.

When it all started, as the European Economic Community (EEC), it all looked very good on paper but even then the writing was on the wall to where this might be headed, at least for those capable to read between the lines.

When the EEC was turned into the European Union the warning bells should have gone off everywhere but they did not and everyone wanted us to believe that it was all a really great and wonderful thing. Now, slowly but surely, the covers are coming off and the true face of this monster is beginning to show.

Again those that warned against what was happening and could see what was might happen – and which appear to be happening now – were being laughed at, called stupid and worse, and were regarded as conspiracy theorists.

We see more and more cases such as this now where, it appears, those that were foul-mouthed as conspiracy theorists were right all along. Maybe it is time that we listened a little more to people who seem to be able to see the writing on the wall even if we, ourselves, do not wish this writing to be true.

© 2017

Plastic, plastic use, and plastic pollution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

plastic_waste1Plastic is pervasive nowadays and there is almost no place where you can look and plastic will not be staring you in the face in some for or the other. The computer keyboard, the case of the laptop, of the cellphone; all plastic, and that just for starters.

Since the real commercial production of plastic begun in the 1950s the world has produced more than eight billion tons of plastic which is about as much in weight as a billion elephants. Now let that sink in for a moment. That's an awful lot of the stuff. And that which has not been recycled or burned is in landfills and much of it, in fact, is floating around in the sea, causing problems to marine life, and in the end to us, who eat some of that marine life.

In 1950 the world produced around two million tons of plastic per year, while 65 years later, in 2015, it was 380 million tons in that year alone. Half of the so far produced plastic has been has been made in the last 13 years. Until 2015 only nine percent of this plastic has been recycled while twelve percent has been burned. The rest, alas, is still with us, predominately in landfills.

In some cases, let's face it, there, probably, is no real substitute for plastic and there is plastic and then there is plastic, as I keep saying. Instead of making it from petroleum there are other ways plastic materials could and can be made but even if the plastic is from a plant-based source it remains plastic and compostability is in most cases nothing more than greenwash.

On the other hand plastic can be extremely durable – aside from being light – and I say the can be because some of it is not made to be durable and that is due again to industry's design of needing things to break in order to sell more of the things to us.

It is the single use plastic that really is the greatest of problems, whether it comes in the form of the all present and all pervasive PET-bottle or the other plastic packaging such as fruit punnets, salad bowls, etc. ad infinitum.

What bugs me is that many of those things can be given an extended life if we but put our thinking cap on when we encounter them. Only recently I rescued the bases of some Sainsbury's sandwich trays (the kind you but ready-made sandwiches in for parties) which will become the trays for plant pots when raising seedlings.

I have found that the plastic that is used for those salad bowls with ready-made made salads from supermarkets, for instance, is a fairly flexible and also strong kind in that there is nothing preventing us from reusing those small and not so small bowls for a variety of uses in the kitchen, at table and otherwise in the home (and garden).

Those single-use plastic beer beakers (1pt), often made of a strong and flexible plastic, that are used at festivals and such like, instead of glasses, and then, obviously, being tossed thoughtless into the countryside, make for great propagators put upside down over a small plant pot for raising seedlings.

While, obviously, it would be good if we could get rid off all single-use plastic I, personally, doubt that that is going to happen soon and thus we ensure that we dispose of the stuff responsibly (for recycling ideally though we can but wonder how much recycling actually truly happens) or, maybe better still, must find a way of making use of those things by reusing, repurposing and upcycling them in other ways, stretching their lifespans for as far as possible.

In the case of plastic drinks bottles, be it water or other, I would advocate the introduction of a deposit, as it is done in some countries already, and the use of reverse vending machines where such bottles can be returned to and the deposit given to whoever returns them.

Bottled water is a scam anyway as most of the water is not “spring water” or “mineral water” but simply ordinary, often tap, water filled into bottles and sold at a huge profit. In most places in Europe, bar a couple of countries, the local tap water is better than any bottled water. The US still has a problem despite considering itself to be such a great advanced nation. In some places the municipal water supply there is as bad, sometimes even worse, than that in many a city in the Third World.

The problem nowadays though is also that other drinks and products that used to be packaged in glass come now in plastic bottles and jars, such as wine, spirits, peanut butter, etc. The claim is that this is being done to reduce the impact on the environment as glass is heavier than plastic and thus transportation requires more fuel. Come on, let's be honest dearest people. It is cheaper and the environmental claim is but hogwash or should we better call it greenwash. Fact is that plastic bottles and jars are cheaper than glass and that they are cheaper to transport than glass. Hence the move to more and more plastic.

As consumer we are facing a dilemma when it comes to the above, that is to say drinks and produce in plastic jars, let's not even talk about fruit and vegetables packages in unnecessary plastic (wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry the other day when I saw at ALDI apples packaged in the kind of tube in which tennis balls are sold) as in the great majority of cases we do not have an alternative. It was Sainsbury's a couple of years ago that started the trend of peanut butter in plastic jars and now almost every producer of peanut butter has followed suit.

Wines and spirits, at least those at the lower end of the price scale, now also come in plastic, rather than glass, in our supermarkets and the letters WTF very much come to mind with regards to that.

So, instead of working to reduce the problem industry and supermarkets actually perpetuate the problem by introducing more and more plastic packaging. Get rid off the plastic carrier bag, to some degree, and they just get some more plastic in that you can't avoid, more or less. Sometimes I do wonder whether they actually want to help or not, and it looks more like that they do not want to help at all. Plastic is cheaper to use than glass and much cheaper to ship as it is lighter and there are no breakages. It's all down to money yet again. But where does that leave us, as consumer, who are left without an alternative and choice often?

© 2017

Everybody is not a lawyer or a doctor

...and not everybody can be a lawyer or a doctor

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Handwerk1In the school system in far too many countries children are being pushed towards academic careers and towards college and university degrees. Manual trades are being discouraged, often even with derogatory statements from teaching staff that they at those schools are “better” that those who do those trades, and other manual work.

We need to, once again, teach children that it is not just OK to work with your hands but that you can learn to build some real cool stuff and make a good career out of just that.

I have come across a number of young people who had to fight with the schools to allow them to follow a chosen path, in the cases I am referring to, one of horticulture and forestry, via vocational college rather than university. The schools were refusing to allow the youngsters to make their own choice and from what I learned it was a real battle.

The kids were bright and, yes, university material, but had no intention to go to such institutions, rather wishing to pursue a career where they were working with their hands and outdoors even. It was – and is – all about the schools wanting to be looking good in the league tables and not having all those that have the “right grades” go to university apparently sets the school back the league table.

In other cases when schools have been visited and someone commented on the great pieces of woodwork, for instance, such as scale models of period furniture head teachers have been known to say that those pieces were the work of one or the other of their less able students.

It would appear that learning a useful skill and trade, in the eyes of teaching staff and whatever else of those schools just not as important as getting a liberal arts degree or media studies one; degrees that often quite will not bring about any useful employment in the first place. Already far too many young graduates a flipping burgers because there are no openings for them elsewhere.

Many years ago the West German state, more than just the universities, operated a numerus clausus (limited number) system which restricted the numbers of students for at least particular subjects such as law, medicine, and even forestry (forest officer career path), to make sure that, basically, for everyone passing out with the degree a job was available in the profession. Certain sections of the liberal (neoliberal, more like) spectrum ranted and raved against it claiming it those measures to be unfair, and a change was in the air.

We need to get vocational training back into our schools – homeschoolers are better off in that department as they can do that – where youngsters, and not just the boys, learn wood and metal work, etc. In addition to that all schools should – and it should be feasible – have a school garden where horticulture can be taught hand-on.

We really need more people working with their hands again making cool things and growing stuff, working the woods, and so on. There are too many people around today with degrees that are worth very little to nothing and not enough people with the skills that really make a difference.

In many countries of mainland Europe, where the proper system of apprenticeships still exist, the certificates of journeyman and of master craftsman (also applies to women before anyone screams and shouts) are as well regarded as university diplomas and in many places you cannot, for instance, operate a business as an electrician, carpenter, etc., without having attended trade school and done the master certificate. That, by the way, takes at least six years. No wonder the Eastern-European plumbers, carpenters, and other craftsmen are so in demand in Britain. Time we grew our own again, but properly. And this may not just apply to Britain alone.

© 2017

Forked branch boot jack

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A boot jack is a device that allows a person to pull off muddy or tight fitting boots without having to sit down and fight a wrestling match with them.

forked-branch boot pullerThere was a time when no farm yard, let alone stables, did not have at least one boot jack of sorts. Some were made simply of wood while others were of wrought or cast iron.

They also came in different designs as to the boot removal “slot”. Some where simple V-shape notches cut into a board, while others were much more cut out and such. The V-shape notch, in my view, however, is probably the best version as it allows for more than just one size of boot to be removed.

Today those handy devices are seldom seen and found, with the exception at riding equipment stores and in catalogs of Amish-type mail-order companies and the odd general hardware store in the boonies.

But if you happen to work in muddy conditions, or mucking out stables or, generally wear boots such as Wellingtons, aka rubber boots, then having one of those boot puller conveniently sited by your back door (or the door that you would generally come in via with such boots) might be one of the best things that you ever do.

In lieu of going to the stores and spending good money on such a device or even spending some time in the workshop making some from board wood we shall be knocking up a fully serviceable boot jack from a bit of a branch.

First, find a stout green hardwood branch with a fork that's just a little bigger than one you would use to make a slingshot. Try the notch out for size by fitting it around the heel of your boot; the "V" should grab the back of the foot gear snugly.

After you have found the correct tree limb, cut the two prongs of the "wishbone", by means of a saw, to a length of about seven inches each.

Then make a diagonal cut across the other end of the stick, at a point nine or so inches from the crotch.

Now, find a scrap block of 2 X 2 hardwood (a short, sturdy piece of another branch would work, too) to use as a brace, which will be attached underneath the Y-shaped piece of tree limb.

Fasten the "step" to the tail of the limb slightly below the fork, using a screw or a nail (it's best to make a pilot hole to avoid splitting the wood) or by lashing the components securely together. The riser should elevate the device just enough so that when the boot jack is placed on the floor you can get a boot heel into it easily.

Voila, one totally serviceable boot jack for virtually no money and made in little time.

In order to use your natural boot jack, stand with one foot on the tail of the jack, insert the other foot into the fork, lean back, and ease off that boot, without getting your hands dirty.

© 2017

Want to double world food production? Return the land to small farmers!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dachas1_webIf we want to double world food production and be able to feed a growing population we will have to return the land to small farmers and also establish more small farms.

All over the world, small farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture and it is being justified by the need to 'feed the world'.

But it is the small farmers that are the most productive, and the more their land is grabbed, the more global hunger increases. We must give them their land back!

The agricultural industry, the huge farms with large heavy machines are not the answer and neither are genetically-modified (engineered) seeds and such. In the same way that the so-called “green revolution” is and was a disaster so is this playing with genetics.

The large farms with the heavy machines also do serious damage to the environment in that they compact the soil, destroy in this compacted soil mycelia, and other organisms, vital to soil and plant health, and then we wonder why our soil washes away, gets blown away, and why it is getting more and more infertile.

The same goes for forestry operations. Here the powers-that-be also seem to be entirely ignorant as to why we are short of all that important small wildlife and fungi in the soil that it once used to teem with. The answer is the use of heavy machinery, including and especially the so-called timber harversters that run to ten tonnes or more in weight and with their wheels, which often have large cleats on them, which compact the soil to a depth of a foot. No fungi or invertebrate can live in soil of that kind.

As far as farming for food production, especially as regards to vegetables and fruit, the small farm is more efficient than the huge industrial farms. While the former may be somewhat more labor intensive the latter are polluting the environment from machinery exhaust fumes to chemicals used for all manner of things, often massively overused.

Many of the “officials” in the farming industry, in the the ministries, especially in the industrialized countries, claim that only large farms have a future and can feed the nation and the world. This is utter baloney as most of those farms can only exist by means of massive subsidies from the tax payer.

The system of the small farms that have returned to Russia, the former USSR, and the fact that those small farms, the Dachas (and no, the dachas are not – in the main – holiday homes) produce the majority of all fruit and vegetables sold and consumed in Russia.

In most industrialized countries we are dealing with Nature, in our factory farming and -forestry operations, as if She were a factory floor. But She is not. She is a living organism that requires a completely different approach and handling than the one that we have, over the years, been using.

We throw chemicals at the soil trying to have it yield more and more and still more, without ever properly caring for the soil. In addition to that we spray this pesticide and that against this or that pest and against weeds, which are now also classified as pests, it would seem, and many of those chemicals in turn appear to be killing our bees in a direct or indirect way. It really does not matter in which way it happens; without bees we will have no crops, with a few exceptions.

All those chemicals, aside from damaging the soil and our pollinators also leach into the water courses and into the air causing still further damage. And that is aside from the pollution from the heavy machines that drink diesel like sponges take up water.

Most smallholdings and small farms, on the other hand, whether in the Third World or elsewhere, such as in Russia, and other places, often are from the start working the organic method, which we could also call “the way farming was done before agrochemicals”, and thus have a much smaller environmental footprint and are far less polluting (if at all), and it is that that we need.

© 2017

Why upcycling must become an economic sector

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sinnlos sammeln und sortieren - recycling bins1Upcycling is, in general, the process where (at least) some of the shape and properties of the original waste product are retained – though not always, and we will come to that later – and where another useful product is produced from it. Though at times it might also (just) be a decorative item or a piece of art.

Ideally, however, upcycling should be about turning an item of waste into a useful item and product rather than a work of “art”. Although there are times when making artworks out of such waste is the only answer to throwing it and that is still better then than not doing that.

So why should upcycling become an economic sector then, you may ask, and part, the first part, probably, of the waste management economy.

Because recycling, as it is being done at this the present time, simply does not cut it. So-called recycling, and I am talking here about commercial recycling, mostly recycles nothing really but only downcycles. The problem with our current way of recycling is that it, actually, destroys the “waste” product and more often than not this product is not recycled but downcycled.

Glass is a prime example here where in the majority of instances, aside from being broken into fragments anyway in the first case, it is ground down to make road aggregate, a glass sand, rather than new glass. In other words they are turning it almost into the material that glass is made from in the first place, namely sand. But, as all the colors are being mixed together it is not possible to make new glass products from them, or so they say. Why not make multicolored glass tumblers and such?

Many other “waste” products in commercial recycling also are downcycled rather than properly recycled into what they originally were, hence recycling should always be the very last resort to turn to when everything else has failed. But, for some unexplainable reason, there is no infrastructure there for a proper reuse and upcycling economy, so to speak, and everyone concentrates in commercial recycling on what actually is downcycling.

Post-consumer waste paper, in most cases, is not made into new paper for writing, printing and books, but rather into packaging materials, and also paper insulation for buildings. Unlike in the German Democratic Republic where post-consumer waste paper became new paper for school exercise books, for books and for newspapers, elsewhere it is generally not post-consumer waste paper, or only between thirty to fifty percent. The rest is made up of pre-consumer waste, that is to say waste from the paper manufacturing industry and even virgin pulp. True 100% recycled paper from post-consumer waste paper is very rare and then only used for printing books, predominately paperbacks.

100% recycled sounds very good but in many cases it just is not true. This also goes for many “100% recycled” plastic products. Some beverage brands claim to have 100% recycled plastic (or 100% plant-based plastic) but when one reads the small print then one finds that the contents of the recycled (or the plant-based) is less that 40%. That does not equate 100%.

The problem is that post-consumer plastic, when remade, is not of a good enough quality for many new products, with the exception of the likes of garden furniture, and products such as benches, and others, that are made from so-called “plastic wood”. But that is a different story.

That is why upcycling has to become a main part of the equation also and especially on a commercial level, from small independent craftspeople to SMEs as recycling does recycle very little and mostly downcycles the materials. This may be good, to some extent, for the large operators and their shareholders but not for the Planet.

Some of us may have already seen the little gadget and “trick” about turning PET bottles into string that makes for an extremely strong rope. There is potential in small and larger scale recycling or upcycling of such bottles (yes, in this instance the original shape is not retained) and using the material thus garnered to make ropes, but also woven products such as mats, and others. And that is just via one simple method.

Making furniture and other things from pallet and pallet wood, as well as other “waste” wood, one could call recycling but, even this, as with the PET bottle being turned into a string, is more of an upcycling process as a product of a higher use value is being made. We are cycling the product up rather than re or down. Each and every time that we are making something better out of an item of waste rather than the same or a lower product we are upcycling.

While recycling, if it were done “properly”, is, no doubt, important upcycling is by far better and reuse, and the rest of the Rs that were discussed in a precious piece, also. That is because recycling simply, on a commercial level at least, is not done the right way, and only leads to products of a lower value and grade. It is for that reason that upcycling must become an economic activity and sector. There is a great deal of scope for it and as those products, in the main, will be made by hand they will also be made to last – or so, at least, one should hope, so as to break the cycle.

An example for an upcycling company is US-based TerraCycle, though the making of the products is outsourced to places such as Mexico, China, etc. TerraCycle “makes” a large range of different products from pre- and post-consumer waste. Another example would be Feuerwear, based in Germany, who upcycle old fire hoses into a variety of bags and such. Aside from those two there are others from very small to larger businesses in other countries, including (and especially) Third World countries, that are upcyclers, who upcycle things like bicycle inner-tubes, etc., but even combined all of those together they are but a drop in the ocean. That is to say we need more of them, many more, and upcycling must become a serious economic activity.

© 2017

Regrowing vegetables from kitchen scraps

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Leaf cabbage regrown from root_webYes, it does work. At least with some vegetables. Potatoes are the most prolific ones in that department and they seem to be able to grow from even the smallest parts left, for instance, in compost. That is how I end up with potatoes growing in many of the containers in which I grow other vegetables – I only garden in containers, at home, basically – where I never planted them. Even after two to three years in the composter those scraps are still viable.

Other vegetables, however, can (also) be grown from scraps in different ways. Though I have to add a caveat and that is that some will regrow and others won't and that of the same type even.

Celery: The bottoms of stalk celery often will regrow and will then keep producing new celery stalks. I have done it more than once but also managed to kill them more than once. How I killed them? I have no idea.

Cabbage: I have tried this successfully with the bottom of a shop-bought leaf cabbage (a savoy kind of cabbage) and while it took some while (a couple of weeks) it works to regrow new leaves in head formation though they will never set proper heads again, and even multiple “heads” may appear.

Theoretically, more than likely, all cabbages will regrow from such scraps though I cannot entirely vouch for that not having tried and done it. Proper heads, however, even if it was a “head” cabbage will not form again. Or so the theory goes.

Spring Onion: Put the bottoms of those, the bulbs, for you really, theoretically and practically only use the green bits (just like large chives), into a pot and they will regrow. Keep cutting and using the green regrowth.

I have also been running a trial to regrow radishes, for the leaves though as they can be eaten, for new radishes will not happen, by having planted the tops in pots. A couple, unfortunately, died but while others did grow and that quite well. The leaves can be used in stews and such, though they also could be used in salads but they are quite peppery in taste.

Lettuces, of all different kinds, apparently, can also be regrown from the bottom bits but I have not, as yet, experimented in that department as I am not the greatest lettuce fan, even though being vegetarian.

Apparently there are also several others that can be regrown, such as turnips (from their bottoms), as well fennel (also from the base), as well as onions (from root base, though it more often than not does not work), garlic, and apparently even mushrooms can be regrown from the stalk. Will have to give that a try some day.

Maybe it is just a case of experimenting with what can be regrown from scraps (not seeds) – or from cuttings, such as in the case of basil. There may be more there than we are aware of. Most herbs can be regrown from cuttings, but then again those cuttings are not really kitchen scraps.

Then there are others that can be regrown from the seeds that we discard as scraps in the kitchen, such as bell peppers, and as well as others. Getting bell peppers to grow properly in the British or similar climes is not too easy though.

Come on, give it a try. I sure will try more.

© 2017

Plastic packaging – the bane of the modern world

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Platic_Tub_Waste1_webAlmost everything that we buy today is packaged in plastic and sometimes double and treble. And the greatest bane, at least in my opinion, is the plastic that is hollow formed into different shapes, whether as dishes, trays, or the shape of an apple or orange and then they are stuck into them individually. Aside from the fact that many of those packages have no secondary use in any way they also take up a lot of space in the bin.

There are some of those though that can be reused and repurposed but very few seem to see the potential. I am thinking here specifically of the bowls and such for prepacked ready-made salads, the apple and other fruit snacks, and such like. Those are bowls that could easily be given a second life by being reused. The plastic often enough is not a bad strength at all and food grade and thus those items could serve in the kitchen and/or elsewhere. (The one in the picture has now got a second life).

While it would be good if we could get away from plastic packaging altogether – which is not all that likely to happen – making use of as much of it as possible is the way to go, I think. Packaging designers too could help here somewhat more in that they could create plastic packaging (and packaging in general, including glass) that would automatically and obviously have a second use. This was the case once, for glass, and should be again and also for such plastic containers. It is not rocket science. But, I assume, that even then the majority would still treat it in the same way as they do now, as disposables. But then they even treat plastic products that they have bought as disposables when they take them on picnics. Somewhere along the line some people definitely have lost the plot, and they didn’t even have an allotment.

© 2017

A warmer world may bring more local, less global, temperature variability

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20424118_10209854490866312_555979097128336310_oMany tropical or subtropical regions could see sharp increases in natural temperature variability as Earth’s climate warms over coming decades, a new Duke University-led study suggests.

These local changes could occur even though Earth’s global mean surface air temperature (GMST) is likely to become less variable, the study shows.

“This new finding runs counter to the popular notion that as the climate warms, temperature variability will increase and weather will get more volatile everywhere,” said Patrick T. Brown, a postdoctoral research scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the study while he was a doctoral student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“Our research suggests a different scenario: Global unforced temperature variability will actually decrease, not increase, as Earth warms, but local decade-to-decade variability could increase by as much as 50 percent in some places,” Brown said.

Unforced, or natural, temperature variability can be caused by interactions between the atmosphere, ocean currents and sea ice. These fluctuations can either mask or exacerbate human-caused climate change for a decade or two at a time, he noted.

Because billions of people live in tropical or subtropical regions that may experience increased temperature variability, and because these regions are critical for biodiversity, food production and climate regulation, “it’s vital that we understand the magnitude of unforced decade-to-decade variability that could occur there, and the mechanisms that drive it,” he said.

Brown and his colleagues published their peer-reviewed paper Sept. 4 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To conduct the study, they first inspected a climate model run under pre-industrial conditions. The model, which was developed at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, simulates climate under perpetual atmospheric conditions similar to those experienced on Earth before the widespread emission of industrial greenhouse gasses. This allows scientists to get a clearer picture of the forces that cause variability in the absence of human drivers.

“To isolate unforced variability, we looked at the model’s output without changing any of its environment parameters, such as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, solar radiation or volcanic activity, over a theoretical 900-year timespan,” Brown explained.

On the second run, the scientists doubled the model’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to simulate projected future conditions.

“In the doubled-CO2 run, we saw a 43 percent decrease in global temperature variability, but with local increases of up to 50 percent in many land regions of the tropics and subtropics,” Brown said.

Consistent results were obtained using similar experiments on other climate models.

What’s happening, Brown said, is as Earth warms because of increasing CO2, there is less ice at high latitudes, which means less albedo – the less reflection of solar energy back into space.

“Albedo feedback is a large contributor to decade-to-decade unforced variability. When Earth’s atmosphere naturally gets a bit warmer, more of the reflective sea ice at high latitudes melts. This exposes more water, which absorbs solar energy and amplifies the initial warming, enhancing the GMST variability,” he explained. “But we found that when you double the CO2 levels in a climate model to mimic future conditions, the sea ice melts so much that this albedo feedback can no longer play a large role in amplifying natural temperature variability.”

The end result is less variability globally – especially in the high latitudes – but more variability in the tropics.

“This suggests that the pre-industrial control runs we have been using are not ideal for studying what unforced variability will look like in the future,” said Wenhong Li, associate professor of climate at Duke’s Nicholas School. “But it might inspire more modeling groups to run models under perpetual conditions that reflect what we expect in the future.”

Yi Ming of Princeton University and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and Spencer A. Hill of UCLA and the California Institute of Technology co-authored the new paper with Brown and Li.

Funding for the research came from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense the National Science Foundation.

However, there are, more than likely, also other events and happenings that can and must be blamed for what is happening. The tilt of the axis of the Earth, which occurred somewhere around two years or so ago and which also the Inuit in Alaska have observed and reported, from celestial observations, and the change in the Earth's magnetic field, also play a part here.

Furthermore the Earth has, through the ages, gone through natural changes in climate or why does anyone think that the Danes, aka Vikings, called Greenland Greenland? No, they were not colorblind. When they arrived there the place was covered in forests and meadows.

When the Romans were in the British Isles they grew grapes for wine all the way to Hadrian's Wall but when they left – finally – around the 6th century they did so not just because the Empire was falling apart but also and especially because the climate was getting rather cold and damp. But not half a century later Leif Eriksson landed in Newfoundland and was, according to Viking Sagas, presented with sweet lack grapes by the Natives there. Sweet black grapes in Newfoundland? Well, apparently so.

Whatever the reason, the climate of our Planet is in flux – not that it has not always been – and undergoing changes at the present which will, more than likely, lead to serious weather extremes the pinpointing and predicting of which will be almost impossible.

Instead of huffing and puffing we must, aside from seeing as to whether we can mitigate and even reverse it, though if at least some part of it is natural then that we won't be able to change, prepare for any event. But preparing for a possible – or even inevitable – change no one seems to want to do.

The Earth, has trough time, gone through cataclysmic climate events and changes and it could just be that the Great Flood, of which is talk in the Bible and the Scriptures of other religions, which befell the Earth more than likely is one of those.

While such events were catastrophic then it would and will be more so today with the amount of people on the Planet and our dependence of infrastructure and all. But, as said, it would appear that no one, especially no one in government, will want to admit this possibility and that we need to make preparations. Noah's Ark, more than likely, tough, is out of the question.

© 2017

Crude oil prices continue to fall drastically

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dachas1_webCrude Oil Prices continue to fall drastically and some investment banks predict the recent stockpile drops with continue after the summer season ends. As growing US output could reverse the inventory trend later this year.

Despite this, however, energy companies have and are increasing their prices claiming high the wholesale price of oil and gas being the reason for the price hike. We must, therefore, come to the conclusion that either the prices for oil (and gas) are falling and the companies are lying to us or that the analysts are wrong; take your prick. Nor, I am sure, has the motorist noticed any reduction in the price at the pumps. It always amazes me that when the costs go up the prices immediately do too but when they go down, the costs that is, there is barely a downward movement, at least not a significant one in line with the drop in costs.

The Bank of England voted to keep their Interest Rates low and cut it's forecast for growth and wages as it warned that Brexit was weighing on the country and previous speculation was over-estimated. This gloomier outlook has impacted on the strength of the Pound, with Sterling hitting a nine month low against the Euro shortly after the announcement.

Prices in UK shops fell slightly faster in July, say the statisticians, though not that most shoppers would have noticed, than a month before but are likely to pick up again later this year. As a result of the increased cost of imports after Brexit, food prices were pushed up, however, contrasting to the deflationary trend of the last 4 years due to supermarket price wars, say the “experts”.

So, the food prices were pushed up with the increased costs after Brexit, even though we actually have not left the EU and the customs unions as yet. So who is trying to make a quick buck out of something that has not, as yet, happened?

While it may be true that import costs for food (and other things) have somewhat increased due to the Pound having fallen in value in comparison to the Euro there seem to be some things that do not completely add up.

On the other hand it shows, yet again, that our dependence on food imports is not a sustainable position and that we must produce more food for home consumption. But farmers seem to be, often, more concerned out exporting their produce and animals rather than with the home market. Each and every time we hear them on the radio, for instance, they are worried that Brexit will impact on their exports. What they seem to all forget is what the job of the farmer is, namely to produce food for the people in the country. Export should only be a secondary thought, as to exporting surplus that cannot be sold at home.

© 2017

Growing Self-Sufficiency – Book Review

Enjoy chicken, eggs, fruit, veg? A simple way to grow your own

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Growing Self-Sufficiency
Realize your dream and enjoy producing your own fruit, vegetables, egg and meat.
By Sally Nex
Published by Green Books September 2017
240 pages, paperback, 255mm x 205mm
ISBN: 9780857843173

Growing-Self-suffiencyGrowing Self-Sufficiency is a practical and inspirational guide for both the beginner and the experienced gardener. It explains how you can enjoy the satisfaction and pride of providing food for yourself and your family, whether you have just a small balcony or back yard, a large garden, or a homestead or smallholding.

Learn how to:

  • Enjoy fresh and tasty vegetables in season
  • Grow delicious fruit for eating all year round
  • Produce your own chicken, eggs and lamb, guaranteed free from harmful chemicals and additives
  • Preserve your produce – from freezing and drying to making jams, chutneys and pickles
  • Make your own drinks: juices, cordials, cider, wine and liqueurs
  • Grow medicinal herbs and make your own herbal remedies
  • Provide more food from your plot than you ever thought possible!

If you ever feel a pang of guilt as you look at the label on your food, realizing that it has traveled thousands of miles to get to your dinner table, then Sally Nex’s Growing Self-Sufficiency will inspire you to make the change and shrug off of the type of 'salad crisis' we had this winter when shop shelves were bare and produce was rationed.

But not only have your fruit and vegetables from abroad traveled long distances. Even the “fresh” fruit and vegetables that you buy at the greengrocers and which do come from the UK have first been heading from the farm to the large wholesale markets and then, via some other buyers, to the greengrocers in your city, town or village, even if the fruit and veg have been grown virtually next door. That is the way the market operated, unfortunately.

Then there is the thought of the additives that keep vegetables artificially fresh for so long. Now think how much healthier you will be and how much needless pollution you will prevent by eating the most local of food, namely that that you have grown yourself.

Sally’s unique three pot method will guarantee you a supply of tasty, inexpensive home-grown food throughout the year. Not just helping to save the planet, it will help to save money too and Sally has plenty of tips on how you can feed your family at only a fraction of the cost. She explains how you can:

  • start a vegetable plot on your balcony
  • create a herb garden on your windowsill
  • grow a mini orchard in pots

This book deals with about every aspect of growing and raising your own food, as well as preserving the harvest, collecting seeds, etc.

The 240 page are jam packed with information on every aspect of home grown and the advice about growing in containers should be of interest to all those that do not have much of garden space, by way of ground in which to grow things.

Personally I almost exclusively garden in containers though my containers are all kinds of things, from tree pots and tubs of various sizes, all the way up to shopping carts, and everything else in between, such as window boxes, hanging baskets, and any other kind of receptacle that can be repurposed into a growing container.

"Taking control of your own food is one of the easiest ways to tread lighter on the earth: as easy, in fact, as planting a seed." Sally Nex

Sally Nex has been feeding her family with home-grown fruit, vegetables and preserves for the last 20 years or so, as well as eggs from a motley gaggle of hens and more recently, lamb from her small flock of rare-breed sheep.

It all started with a few beans in a concrete handkerchief of city garden in London, but an allotment, job change, house move and several rented fields later, it's probably true to say the 'hobby' is well out of hand.

In 2006 she left 15 years as a journalist on BBC radio, television and World Service to devote her time to horticulture. She is qualified in horticulture to RHS Level 3, and has a planting design diploma from Capel Manor College. Sally now writes, teaches and gives talks about veg growing and self-sufficiency all over the country and is a regular writer and columnist for BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, the RHS journal The Garden, Grow Your Own, and The Guardian.

As far as self-sufficiency is concerned we all have to bear in mind though that, to all intents and purposes, no one can ever be truly self-sufficient in all things, and that includes growing food.

© 2017

Dead-simple pocketknife is the best

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

ndeg06_carbone_web (1)A dead-simple pocketknife is the best to carry, especially on a daily basis, and the Opinel fits that bill on all levels.

Over the years I have owned and used many different pocketknives, some of them not directly cheap, single and multi-bladed, but I have found none as good and reliable than the first kind that I ever owned (or one of the first ones, for my very first was a different one, if I remember, but I was given that as a rather small boy of five), the Opinel. The next one that I was given was an Opinel #6, about two years later, and an Opinel #6 or #8, the latter though rarely, has been a constant companion ever since.

Many of us, outdoorsmen, bushcrafters, and such, seem to be gadget lovers when it comes to knives and other things and many seem to believe that the bigger the blade(s) and the more of them the better. The bigger the better belief is also there as regards to size when it comes to fixed-bladed knives. I seem to be an exception as I don't run after all those gadgets and such and neither do I like knives that are too big, unless I want to use a machete.

However, the best blade is the one that is just big enough for the job and your knife, whether belt knife or pocketknife is not a hatchet or a machete; it is a knife; simple.

The Opinel #6 is my daily-carry-knife, and has been for very many years, and that for more reasons than one. The main one, nowadays, is that carrying any knife – even a folding one – with a cutting edge longer than 3-inches can get one into very hot water with the police. Another the fact that the knife is big enough for almost all jobs that require a knife; a bigger one is not, actually, needed on a day-to-day basis. Then there is the fact that is is light and handy and I just love the lock and the wooden handle.

I do have many other pocketknives as well – I have sort of got a few over the years – but when it comes to it my first choice is always the Opinel, but never bigger than the #8 to be very honest though. As indicated, the #6 is the one that is always with me.

And to make sure that I have one definitely with me at all times I have, because there was not one available to buy – made my own sheath for it (see picture) that enables me to carry it around the neck. Well, I guess even if I could have bought a sheath of this kind I would have still made it myself, as I do love working with leather, as well as with wood. Not only do I make such and other leather goods for myself. Nay, I also make those and others to order.

Neck holster for Opinel #6As far as performance of this dead-simple pocketknife goes the Opinel is, in my opinion, though not just in mine alone, I understand, second to none. All Opinel from #6 upwards come with the rotating ring lock and I have yet to be able to break that lock. I have managed to break the handle at the lock before through misuse and abuse but not the lock itself, unlike with some, even expensive lock-back knives. And in the latter case(s) with very little abuse, so to speak.

The design of the Opinel is timeless and has changed little since its inception, with the exception of the introduction, in the mid-1950s, of the Virobloc rotating lock, and then at the beginning of the 21st century the redesign of this lock so the blade can also be locked in the closed position. Otherwise, generally, it has not change since almost day one. But then why change something that works and works well.

The KISS system is always best, especially when the tool is to be used in the great outdoors, or even not not so great one. It is because of its simplicity and reliability, I am sure, that the German forest schools use the smaller lockable Opinel knives, that is to say the No.6 and the No.7 versions, and that in the standard blade and not the child's version, and we are talking here about those blades being used by children between 4 and 6 years of age. That speaks volumes for the knives' safety.

The Opinel pocketknife embodies the KISS system in its design, reliability and simplicity, to its fullest and makes it the ideal day-to-day companion, and not just in the outdoors. I don't think that it can be beat and definitely not as far as quality and value for money is concerned, considering the relatively low price that it is being sold for. Generations of French mountain people can't be wrong to having stuck with the Opinel knife.

© 2017

The Scent of Time – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Scent of Time cover_Blog

The scent of time
A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering
By Byung-Chul Han
Published 1st September 2017 by Polity Books (Part of Wiley)
Paperback 146 pages
Price: £9.99
ISBN 9781509516056

In his philosophical reflections on the art of lingering, acclaimed cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han argues that the value we attach to ceaseless activity is producing a crisis in our sense of time. The hyperactivity which characterizes our daily routines robs human beings of the capacity to linger and the faculty of contemplation. It therefore becomes impossible to experience time as fulfilling.

Han argues that we can overcome this temporal crisis only by relearning the art of lingering. For what distinguishes humans from other animals is the capacity for reflection and contemplation, and when life regains this capacity, this art of lingering, it gains in time and space, in duration and vastness.

Drawing on a range of thinkers including Heidegger, Nietzsche and Arendt, Han argues that we can overcome this temporal crisis only by relearning the art of lingering. For what distinguishes humans from other animals is the capacity for reflection and contemplation, and when life regains this capacity, this art of lingering, it gains in time and space, in duration and vastness.

Byung-Chul Han is a Korean-born Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies who teaches at the University of the Arts in Berlin. He is the author of more than 20 books. Polity has committed to translating his work into English, and The Scent of Time will shortly be followed by Saving Beauty, which also publishes in Fall 17, and other titles in 2018.

While the notion of this book about the need for deceleration of our lives is good and true the book itself is very much a serious philosophical work that is not something for the reader looking for a how-to approach. It is also rather heavy reading so not s book for anyone thinking to get a light read for bedtime.

Many of the points made are extremely valuable and important though it would have been good if G-d would have been left out of the discussion. Alas, time and again the author harps on about G-d in the book.

Notwithstanding the above our lives have become far too hectic and fast and we seem to want to go faster and faster still. In doing so we miss the entire point. More productivity say the capitalists, more growth, more experiences. But what for? For our own sake and for that of the Planet we need to slow down life and everything that goes with it.

© 2017

Needs and wants and being frugal

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

21034533_1455313397883264_6962462607872370993_nVery often wants are mistaken for needs and on other levels a want culture is being and has already been created where even the smallest child screams that he wants that because he needs it.

Parents must start here by putting a stop to such demands but instead of doing that they just give in to each and every demand of the child believing that the child would be disadvantaged if he does not get what he wants. By allowing this to happen they are responsible, and this has been going on for some decades already, of creating, and having created, the entitlement culture that we have today.

Also to blame are, obviously, but to some extent only for the power lies elsewhere, the advertisers whose commercials create in the viewer, child and adult alike, depending who it is target towards, the belief that they need this things shown to be happy or more fulfilled, or whatever. That it costs them dearly more than likely on more than one level the person in whom this desire is aroused rarely recognizes.

The true difference between needs and wants are that needs are, to an extent, but a few, wants, on the other hand, can be and are legion.

The child wants this or that, be it a toy, or whatever, the parent gives in and gets it for him and then, how long does the interest in whatever it was last? If it is a bicycle then, maybe, almost for ever, but when it comes to toys and such, often no more than a couple of days after which he gets “bored” with it and demands yet another one.

Oh, I was a child myself (obviously) and, although the “I want” better was not something that was said in a demanding voice or reinforced with a tantrum, and “I want” actually was better not said at all; more a “I'd like that?” or “Can I have one of those?” and it might happen. Though most of the time it didn't and I would be told to go and do some jobs and earn the money to get it. We didn't have much in the way of money coming in when I was a kid and I learned to appreciate the value of things.

I did just that in the case of roller-skates. Every kid on the block, almost, had a pair and I just needed to have a pair too. Oh yes, I needed a pair though a need it definitely was not but. Found some jobs to do for people against payment and I managed to get the money together and bought a pair. That was a bad move. Why? Because I just could not get on with them at all and after a few tries gave up, put them away, and they were never even looked at again. That also taught me a great lesson.

Over time I learned that what I really needed was different to that what I wanted and soon learned that the fancy stuff that everyone wanted to have I actually did not need – and also could not afford to have and want. That does not mean that over time I have not bought some (more) white elephants. Some of my kitchen gadgets speak for it, such as the deep fat fryer (used probably four or five times), the juicer (oh what a rigmarole cleaning it), and one or two others.

But there were those toys that I made for myself like my catapult, or that wooden tractor that an “uncle” had made for me and that got repaired so many times. How I loved that tractor and to this day I wish I had kept, just for the sake of it. Those really got used. Same as tin can stilt, wooden stilts, and so on. Well, and not to speak of the bicycle that I was given. It may have been a secondhand one but to me it might as well have been the most expensive one in the world. Those things I used day in and day out.

The catapult (slingshot) for instance was with me every day and I practiced with it every spare minute and hunted with it for the pot. We also made our own toys out of bits of wood, things from the forest and things found in the trash and we played more with those things than we ever did with store-bought toys. And I think we also looked after the things we made for ourselves or which someone had made for us much better than after those gotten from a store – with the few exception of expensive things that we bought ourselves from hard-earned money.

The same goes for fashion, aka clothing, whether the Nike (or whatever brand may be in fashion at the very moment) baseball cap. The gimme-hat from the country show, that often are given out for free, are just as good only that you are advertising a brand of tractor or something of that nature. OK, it might not have the right “street cred” but so what. It meets your need for a hat and that's what counts.

Saving money is the main part of being frugal and if you can’t make something yourself then look at getting it second-hand/used and this is the same with clothes as with other things such as a bicycle or whatever.

When I was a kid we all wore hand-me-downs that came from other peoples’ children and also many of our toys came that way too if we did not make them ourselves or got them made for us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with good second-hand clothes or other goods.

While clothes from the charity shop may not be the latest fashion they more often than not are good quality and that at a small fraction of the cost. With the exception of certain clothes, such as socks and undergarments, all my stuff comes from charity shops and my wardrobe is well stocked; overstocked in fact.

I take the greatest pleasure on the frugality front though in making things I need and want from things that otherwise might be thrown away or which have been thrown away and I do take that, probably, to the extreme. But so be it, as far as I am concerned.

Anything and everything that can be reused, reworked and upcycled is on that list. Reuse here applies to reusing an item of waste that can be used for this or that purpose, which would be more repurposing than reuse, as much as something that someone has thrown away and which still works well, such as in the case of a multi-tool that came into my possession in that way.

Reworking and upcycling is a somewhat different kettle of fish to reuse and it all depends of what comes my way here, be that items of waste at home or stuff found, but I look at everything with an eye for doing just that and see what I can make from it and out of it for my own use or even, hopefully, for sale.

So much of what the general population sees as “waste” is transformable into something useful or into art. Personally I prefer the useful side rather than that of artworks but, if all else fails, then artworks are still better than landfill, especially if it is something decorative that one might actually want to have in the home or office.

© 2017

#GreenLiving #greenlivingtips #needs #wants #frugality #makingdo #children #lifelessons

The Rs and the U

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Paper napkins are not recyclableWe have always told, and still are being told, that there are three Rs when it comes to “going green” and that those are “reduce, reuse, recycle” but, in fact, there are more than just those three, or at least there should be. And then there is also the U for upcycle. Recycle should come at the very bottom of the list, and that is why I have put it here.

Reduce: Just use and buy less. Also, obviously, reduce your waste, especially the stuff you send into the waste stream. When it comes to food and food waste use everything and leftovers are used the next day. That's the way our parents and their parents did things. It works, would you believe it. Oh, and guess what, reusable cutlery, plates, cups and such are meant to be washed after use and used again.

Return: Producers should take back what they sell. This is not going to happen very soon, of that we can be certain, even as far as packaging, and over-packaging goes.

Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon. Reuse also must include not just continued use of what we have but reusing and repurposing items of waste such as glass jars and much more. There often is another life for many of so-called waste products.

Repurpose: That is taking reuse to another level in that the product is used for another, often “higher” purpose.

Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.

Rework: Taking an item of waste and making something new, which could include changing the shape of the original waste product but does not have to be and is akin to upcycling.

Refurbish: This is a little like repair but may go a lot further than just simple repair, that is to say fix and mend.

Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled; just south of the border in the USA, the number drops to under 5%. In many countries of Europe beer bottles are also returned, washed, sterilized and refilled; alas not in the UK. Apparently, according to government, it was never done in Britain and thus could never work here despite the fact that until the end of the 1970s this was done, last with lemonade bottles and until not so long ago – and in some cases still – with milk bottles.

Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.

Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.

Reducing and reusing also saves money, as do many of the other Rs, aside from being good for the Planet they are good for your wallet and bank balance too. If that isn't an incentive I don't know what ever would be.

And now for the U, even though this one should come well before this stage and that is:

Upcycling: This is the process where (at least) some of the shape and properties of the original waste product are retained and where another useful product is produced from it. Though at times it might also be a decorative item or a piece of art.

Upcycling ideally, however, should be about turning an item of waste into a useful item and product rather than a work of “art”. Although there are times when making artworks out of such waste is the only answer to throwing it and that is still better than doing that.

Recycle: Yes, I have put recycling at the very bottom of the list, and not just of the Rs because of the way recycling, at least commercial recycling, generally, works. The problem with recycling is that it, actually, destroys the “waste” product and more often than not this product is not recycled but downcycled.

Glass is a prime example here where in the majority of instances, aside from being broken into fragments anyway in the first case, it is ground down to make road aggregate, a glass sand, rather than new glass. In other words they are turning it almost into the material that glass is made from in the first place, namely sand. But, as all the colors are being mixed together it is not possible to make new glass products from them, or so they say. Why not make multicolored glass tumblers and such?

Many other “waste” products in commercial recycling also are downcycled rather than properly recycled into what they originally were, hence recycling should always be the very last resort to turn to when everything else has failed. But, for some unexplainable reason, there is no infrastructure there for a proper reuse and upcycling economy, so to speak, and everyone concentrates in commercial recycling on what actually is downcycling.

That is why upcycling has to become a main part of the equation also and especially on a commercial level, from small independent craftspeople to SMEs as recycling does recycle very little and mostly downcycles the materials. This may be good, to some extent, for the large operators and their shareholders but not for the Planet.

Some of us may have already seen the little gadget and “trick” about turning PET bottles into string that makes for an extremely strong rope. There is potential in small and larger scale recycling or upcycling of such bottles (yes, in this instance the original shape is not retained) and using the material thus garnered to make ropes, but also woven products such as mats, and others. And that is just via one simple method.

Just some food for thought, maybe.

© 2017