Task Oriented Autumn

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had started going to a Mental Fitness For Men group under the auspices of Talk Club.  Our local pub landlord has arranged weekly Talk Club sessions and I have made it to most of them since they started a few months ago.  The sessions are of fixed format but the people who turn up each week vary so there is always something new to listen to as well as, usually, something new to say. 

I’ve found the meetings useful in that they help me frame what I am grateful for and what I’m going to do in the next week to make things feel better for myself.  However, I do often feel daunted by the lucidity with which most others in the weekly groups talk about the way they feel.  In comparison I tend to fall back into talking about things I have done and things I’m going to do.  I have explained to the group (and myself) that I tend to feel happiest when I am ticking off tasks on my to-do list but I suspect that I need to get deeper into how I feel about life rather than describing tasks.

Having said that, I have felt a certain contentment that, by and large, I have done what I said I would do over the last few weeks.  The tasks have varied from raking up the scythed and strimmed grass in the meadow (into piles I don’t quite know what to do with), to harvesting the last summer crops and gathering seed for next year, to production of a string of documents I promised for the local Climate Action Network group that I belong to. 

Not Quite A Crown Prince Squash. Grown From Gathered 2021 Seed And Reverted From F1 Hybrid – Tasty Though!

Today, post-Foodbank duties, I am even finally managing to get around to making crab apple jelly which is a task that has been on my to-do list for a few weeks.  Overall, October and early November has been a good month for tiny achievements amongst my retirement routine!

Making Crab Apple Jelly – Tree -> Apples -> Straining -> Jelly! (First Of Two Batches)

There have been a few other high points recently.  Middle Son (MS) and his partner have moved from London to Bristol – just 45 minutes away.  That means that we will see them more often.  For example, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were delighted when they popped over for an impromptu dinner a couple of Fridays ago.  It was lovely to have a normalised drop-in-type arrangement with one of our sons rather than have to think about days packing, travelling and staying away from home. 

Not that those sorts of visits are not welcome.  We are off to Edinburgh again later this week and can’t wait to see First Grandchild (FG) again (and his parents!) for the first time in over two months.  It’s going to be a special visit this time to celebrate not only FG’s first birthday, but also Eldest Son (ES) and his partner’s marriage.  I’m so glad they have chosen a relatively low key way of getting married and celebrating that with a few close relatives.  However, the event is momentous nonetheless and it will be lovely to have all our boys, their partners, my Dad and my sister all together with FG in one place at the same time. 

We have also had some old friends come to visit us for a weekend.  We have been rather poor at inviting people over for almost anything since the Covid pandemic; we seem to have just got out of that pattern of being.  But it was great to see these long standing and close friends again.  We had an active but relaxed time with them that culminated in a delightful walk in the Slad Valley and then an excellent lunch at The Woolpack (of Laurie Lee fame).

The Slad Valley Near Stroud Between Autumn Showers

Much of the rest of the time in the last few weeks has been more routine.  However, I helped to advertise a talk that our village Climate Action Network group arranged with the Parish Council on rewilding and the impact of climate change on our local trees.  The theme of this talk, and a continuing series we have planned for next year, is ‘hope’.  This is to counteract the inevitable descent into gloom if we consider and talk too much about the climate and biodiversity emergencies alongside other current preoccupations such as the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The first talk in the ‘Hope Talks’ series was almost wildly successful.  We have a hard act to follow as we go into next year.  The talks themselves bring the village together and just the fact they happen adds to the resilience of the community and its cohesiveness.  I edit a quarterly newsletter (another task done this week!) and submit articles to the monthly village magazine but these ‘Hope Talks’ hold out greater promise for conveying useful information while being a great relationship building mechanism.

Our Learned ‘Hope Talk’ Speaker – Local Resident, Dr David Bullock (With Props)

Of course, other continuing elements of my recent retirement routine have been steadfast support of local football teams (Forest Green Rovers but also Shortwood United and Horsley United) and more of the Autumnal walks I talked about in my last post. 

Local Team Shortwood United In The Process Of Winning 5-0

The Autumn weather has been so mild and, until recently, so dry that the walks have been particularly pleasant.  The colours in the trees have been changing quite variably from species to species.  That has meant that while the reds and yellows have perhaps not been as spectacular as in some past years, the blending of different colours across the valley slopes has been very attractive.

Local Walk Lined With Lime And Hazel Trees

I plan to keep up the local walks even as the winter weather closes in.  However, I do also plan to reduce the number of discretionary, extraneous things I commit to in the next few months.  At least that way I may be able to think more about abstract feelings rather than worrying about the state of my to-do list and the rate of knocking items off it.  I may even resort to that old trick of adding things to the to-do list that I have already done…..

Lovely Valley, Lovely Weather, Long Shadows

In Praise Of A Clear Head

I have been monitoring the number of my alcohol-free days since 2005.  Over a decade ago I was drinking alcohol almost every day, and often drinking a beer alone in my flat after work in London.  Now I have a target of 50% drink-free days each month and I have achieved that for the last three years.

When I retired 5 years ago, I realised that although I was starting to achieve the target number of drink-free days, I was way off the target for units of alcohol recommended by doctors.  To galvanise myself for change, I set a monthly target for alcohol units consumed too.  That target is 100 units of alcohol per month.  That is still almost twice the recommended level but 50% less than where I was in my first two years of retirement. 

I have achieved this personal target for the last two years but it’s been a struggle, especially this year (for reasons I’m yet to quite fathom).  On days when I drink, I find that I average 6-7 units; that’s two thirds of a bottle of wine or three pints of beer (not, I think, an unreasonable amount of pleasure to have on a sunny evening in the garden, at a celebration, or in the pub garden on a lazy Sunday).  But multiply that by 14-15 days and I’m closer to the 100 unit target than I would like. 

Alcohol Units/Month Consumption Since 2019 (I’m More Consistent Now But Consistently Only Just Below Target (100 Units)!

I have been helped in recent years by the advent of decent no, or low, alcohol beer; I like those from BrewDog especially.  But now I have a new helper: ‘Clear Head’, a low alcohol beer served on tap at our village pub.   It’s quite a refreshing, hoppy and nice tasting pint.  Its recent availability on draft means that I can visit the pub more often and feel as though I’m having a proper pub drink (not the soft sugary stuff that I generally avoid, or mineral water that I can get out of the tap at home), while keeping my alcohol unit consumption down. 

One of the Best Low-Alcohol Beers I’ve Had

The net effect has been that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have visited the local pub more often during this summer, especially during the recent heat waves, but I have still stayed within my alcohol unit target.  That’s good because the pub is so central to the community and our visits create opportunities for us to have impromptu meetings with other villagers and we just enjoy hanging out in the relaxed atmosphere there.  The only downside is that LSW is probably drinking a bit more alcohol because she usually goes for a can of the relatively strong craft beer rather than the low alcohol variety, but then she drinks slowly and so is well below the recommended unit levels.

Another bonus is that 5% of Bristol Beer Factory’s revenue on sales of Clear Head go to Talk Club which is the valuable charity organisation that helps establish and organise Men’s Mental Fitness chat groups such as that I have been attending in recent weeks in our village.  The sessions that I mentioned in my last post have continued to be fulfilling and have had the side effect of making me feel even more a part of the community.  The pub landlord, who helps run the sessions, even gives participants a pint of ‘Clear Head’ to accompany us through the meetings; really nice!

On Draft At Our Local Pub But It Comes In Cans Too

So, the heat waves are over for another year it seems.  The cost of living crisis seems to be drowning out concerns about the climate and related biodiversity crises.  However, the recent weeks of intense heat have underlined the need for us all to think about reducing our carbon footprint and adapting to the new climate that is inevitably going to envelop us. 

Local Lake Dried Up In The Recent Heat And The Same Lake Two Years Ago (With Cow)

LSW has planted most of our flower beds and terraces with relatively drought resistant plants so the garden has looked great throughout the summer with just minimal watering.  However, during the greatest heat, we had to have the blinds down all day in our kitchen/diner extension with all its glass.  Rather than be able to look out over the garden from the extension, we spent much of the heat wave sheltered in the cool of the old part of the house. 

Dry Garden And Sun Through Meadow Grass

We are thinking about ways to further adapt to persistent high temperatures in the future at the same time as trying to work out how we can isolate rooms we want to heat in winter so that we reduce overall energy demand and so save money in the face of escalating electricity and gas bills.  We won’t be alone in that.

Later this week we are off north to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents again.  The relative cool of Edinburgh may look an increasingly attractive medium/long term location as the south of the UK feels the impact of our changing summers.  Short term, though, I’m sticking to home in our village and an occasional pint or two of ‘Clear Head’ on draft.

Village Climate Action

The last few weeks seem to have been busy.  It’s funny how retirement has changed my feeling of what a busy life is.  I can dawdle through breakfast, stroll around the local area while ‘getting my steps in’ most of the morning, browse the newspaper for an hour, snooze a bit after lunch, and cook and watch box set episodes in the evenings.  Compared with a 45-50 hour week in a helter-skelter office, it’s a breeze.  And yet, working in our local, village climate action group, which generates the pressure of a few extra meetings, the need to manage a few peoples’ surprisingly acute sensitivities, a commitment to arrange and attend a couple of public events, the responsibility for our newsletter and the imperative of responding to a score of emails, my days can suddenly feel very full. 

Dawn This Morning On The Way To Town – Just To Prove I Do Get Up Early Some Days In Retirement!

I have enjoyed being part of our local village climate action group since I retired.  It has been a good way to become better known in the village, to meet villagers I didn’t know when I was commuting to London each week, and to feel part of the local community.  Our main objective is to keep the climate and ecological crises high on village residents’ radar.

To that end I have helped prepare for and then man a couple of stalls advertising our existence and interests in the last couple of weeks.  The first was in our local market town at the annual Nailsworth Town Meeting where we helped out our (big) sister climate action group.

The Nailsworth Climate Action Network Stall At The ‘Town Meeting’

The second was at our local village fete.  Given the size of our village, this fete (especially the ever-expanding dog show) punches well above its weight.  It also has the benefit of always having nice, sunny weather – I don’t know how the organisers manage that!

Horsley Village Fete Morris Dancers In Full Swing

While Long-Suffering Wife crowned days of organisation and food preparation by slaving away managing the teas and cakes service in the Village Hall, I stood in blazing September sun in front of or climate action group stall trying to catch the eye of passers-by that I could have a chat with.  Speaking to strangers is something I am not comfortable with but I now know enough village people well enough to intrude on their fun by saying a few words about the climate emergency before moving on to other village news. 

Our Climate Action Network Stall At The Horsley Village Fete

It’s more tiring than expected though – or again is this just because I’m getting soft in retirement?  I was glad that I had the excuse of a football game to see and could slope off well before the end (especially as my team, Forest Green Rovers, won to go top of their league).  I offset my feebleness and lack of stamina on our fete stall by spending a few hours afterwards collating the results of some informal surveys we conducted.  So I feel I did ‘my bit’.

A highlight in the activities of our climate action group in the last few weeks has been a visit to a local farm where the farmer is trying to farm sustainably.  It was a fascinating visit even though the weather was at the other end of the scale from that we had at the fete – cold, wet and windy.

The farmer is what he called a ‘generational farmer’; that is someone who is part of a family tree that has farmed the land for generations and who hopes to pass it on to his kids.  That is important since he therefore has a vested interest in thinking about the long term health of the farmland he owns and has a sense of stewardship for. 

View Towards Horsley Village From The Farm

He emphasised the need for corridors (such as overgrown hedges) for wildlife through what he called a ‘mosaic’ of different habitats and productive fields.  He strives for a balance between his responsibility to produce food for the nation (and make enough profit) and the need to maintain biodiversity and soil health (so there is longevity to that profitability).  Some of what he is doing is experimental.  In most cases, the sustainable agricultural activity has a clear, short term cost but an unclear, long term benefit.  It is an act of faith that is only justifiable to the farmer personally because he and his family hope to farm the land for decades.

Some Of This Year’s Milling Wheat Crop (Awaiting An HGV Driver!)

His 80 cows have so much space and are so semi-wild that we didn’t see them at any time during our 90 minute trudge through the drizzle.  Among the stretches of arable fields were re-wilded areas, copses, overgrown hedges, fields of colourful mixes of plants that encourage field birds, and of legumes that replenish the soil.  Some areas of poor soil have been turned over to natural grassland which has reduced erosion and allowed flora and fauna diversity to prosper.  Some harvested fields have been left to regenerate with spilled seed that protects the surface from the elements and provides a habitat for voles which are predated by barn owls and short-eared owls. 

Part of the Farm ‘Mosaic’: Untended Grassland, Legumes, And Field Bird Crops

It was a life affirming and uplifting visit.  Clearly there are many challenges in farming in this sustainable way – not least the uncertainty in bureaucracy and payments as we move from EU to UK farming policies, protocols and subsidy administration following Brexit.  Indeed, farming sounded like a lot of hard work.  Not like retirement!

To e-Car or Not to e-Car?

About six weeks ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited Eldest Son (ES) and his partner in their new home in Edinburgh.  We could have flown or travelled by train but wanted to take the opportunity to visit my Mum and Dad in Nottingham on the way, and decided to drive using our electric car (e-Car).  We have used it several times to visit London but this trip to Edinburgh and back via Nottingham (and York) was by far the longest journey we have undertaken in the e-Car. 

On the back of that journey I wrote an article for our local village Climate Action Network Newsletter on the experience of driving an e-Car.  I thought it would be worth setting out the main points I made here in case any readers are thinking of helping to save the planet by getting an e-Car themselves.

E-Car technology is going to play a large part in the achievement of the climate change control targets set by governments across the world.  Much has been written about the pressure this is going to place on extraction of the minerals required for current battery technology and, in turn, on the environments in which those minerals are found.  The balance between managing global temperatures by reducing carbon emissions and preserving water supplies and biodiversity is a complex one.  On balance, from what I have read, electric cars are better for the environment, in the round, than petrol, diesel or even hybrid cars.  I’m not going to address that balance in this post but instead I focus on the practicalities of using an electric car in modern day Britain.

We bought an electric VW Golf two years ago.  We sold my lovely but aging petrol Saab and then wrote off (eek!) a diesel Golf during a frantic trip to bring ES and Middle Son home for Christmas ahead of the Christmas coronavirus lockdown.  We now have just a single e-Car.

Our e-Car Getting Charged Up From Our Home Pod-Point

We keep the e-Car up charged up at home and use it primarily for short journeys around our local district.  Here, I should admit that my experience is primarily as a passenger – I don’t like driving, am not very good at it, and LSW takes the majority of the driving burden. 

My conclusion as passenger and occasional driver is that, if you have off street parking that allows charging off the mains and only use a car for local journeys like the majority of ours, I recommend moving to an e-Car as soon as your existing car becomes aged. 

However, using the car for longer journeys away from home is more of a challenge.  I set out in the rest of this post, a personal view of some of those challenges (and the upsides) that mean moving to an all-electric car is not a trivial decision.

Positives

Ongoing cost.  Fuel costs are between 4-5 times less.  To charge up our car for an incremental 100 miles costs about £5.  Charging at home enables maintenance of a range of 140-180 miles (for our car model and depending on the outside temperature) and seems to be a negligible cost.

Smooth driving.  It’s a nice, comfortable, quiet car to drive.  This seems to be a general characteristic of e-Cars regardless of size etc.  However, having the air-con on does use battery power and has to be used judiciously on a very hot or very cold day on long journeys.

Gentle driving.  The battery works optimally at less than top speed.  To preserve battery range we tend to drive at about 60mph on motorways.  That takes getting used to but is actually a pro because it’s relaxing provided you have the time and especially if the car has cruise control.

Charging time.  The fast charge time at service stations of around 25-30 minutes is fine for a brief stop for the toilet and a coffee; frankly, it’s a welcome break.  However, this can be longer if there is a (usually short) charger queue.  You need to have and allow time for this.  Increasingly, town car parks provide slow chargers to enable top ups while we are doing something else.

An Example Of A New Charge-While-You-Shop/Work Charger In A York Car Park

Challenges

Capital cost.  E-Cars are more expensive.  The technology is advancing quickly so we went for a 3-year Personal Contract Purchase scheme.  We can buy the car after 3 years if the technology and the battery are still decent.  The relative cost of a new e-Car is gradually coming down and the second-hand market is developing.

Range anxiety.  This is real while charging infrastructures are being expanded to match increasing demand and until that infrastructure is more reliable.  The Zap Map App is excellent in showing which charging systems are where but they are not always available or working!  Battery range varies by model, age and outside temperature.

Zap Map: Showing Charging Sites – All Clickable To Show Availability/Type Etc.

Variable infrastructure.  There are a lot of different charging systems and several different business models behind them.  The best just require a credit card but some require membership.  Some are easy to use but some are more difficult.  Some are more reliable than others.  Ultra-fast charges are the minority and there aren’t enough non-Tesla fast chargers yet.

Part Of The Panoply Of Charger Machine Types We Came Across

Service Stations Charger Location.  Ecotricity and Tesla (usually several unused chargers) provide fast chargers at most motorway service stations.  However, even at the newest service stations (e.g. Rugby) where there are many chargers, they are located well away from the main building and never have rain cover.  That can be very annoying when one sees petrol users under canopies in their petrol station and comfortably out of the rain!

A New Service Station Near Rugby; No Shortage Of Ecotricity (or Tesla) Fast Chargers Here!

Watch out for pedestrians!  The quietness of e-Cars means that pedestrians often can’t hear them coming.  Pedestrians tend to rely on sound when crossing the road so extra care and anticipation is required when driving near pavements and crossings.

One Final Positive

It feels like it’s doing good.  Our investigations convinced us that, on balance, e-Cars are better for the environment than conventional/hybrid carsBatteries will get better, chargers will get faster, new and less intrusive ways of charging will be introduced, and even better technologies that require fewer mineral resources will be developed.  Ideally we would all buy and use fewer cars regardless of type since they all are heavy generators of carbon emissions and pollution (from tyre wear for example).  Until then, LSW and I have reduced our day to day carbon emissions; a warm feeling.

Charging At A Covid Test Centre Near Nottingham

In summary, journeys in an electric car take longer and need more planning.  The charging infrastructure away from home (where off-street charging is a big asset) is barely keeping pace with demand and is still too variable in the UK, but it is developing rapidly.  The driving experience is different but, in my view, better – provided you are not in a hurry (and I’m usually not now I’m retired!)  On balance, LSW and I think that the move to an e-Car is a decision that has worked for us so far.

We hope to journey to Northern Ireland to visit Youngest Son and his partner later this week – coronavirus tests permitting.  There is the Irish Sea in the way so, on this journey, we are flying and not using the e-Car.  We will help to save the planet this time just by offsetting the carbon from the flight with a SolarAid donation. 

Nearing Pub Normality

Yesterday, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to the village pub: The Hog.  Whether relieving the coronavirus lock down at this point in vaccination programme and while new coronavirus variants are swirling about is sensible or not, I’m not sure.  But after almost 6 months of missing out on going to the pub, it felt like progress.  It felt like near-normal fun!

The Big Red Bus Bar Parked In The Garden Of Our Local Pub

The pub was well organised in catering for an excited bunch of villagers amid the continuing social distancing guidelines.  The pub garden was very tidy, new table service app worked, the sun was shining and the beer tasted good. 

The pub management are a lovely village family who have been very resilient during they took over the pub lease just before the first lock down last Spring.  They have done a lot of work to make the place a pub with a traditional, drink-focused and village feel.  The improvements inside and out look judicious and practical and all we need now is good weather without onerous social distancing.

Hopefully lock down will continue to be relieved (with just cause) and we will soon be allowed use of the inside of the pub as well as the (still rather chilly) garden area.  That way, we customers can benefit from all the effort and investment the management have made and the pub can again become a full, vibrant focal point for the community and for impromptu gossip and discussion.

The only downside is that the re-opening of the local pub will put pressure on my alcohol consumption.  I’ve done so well in the last year to reduce my alcohol units consumption and to increase alcohol-free days as advised by doctors and the press.  Hopefully the restraint of the last three months, in particular, has left me a sufficient contingency as I strive to meet my New Year resolution targets for 2021.  I can certainly see those targets are going to come under pressure now the pub has reopened, and I am enticed by the long awaited pleasure of beer drinking after weekend walks and on days of celebration – like pub reopening day, yesterday!

Recent life has otherwise been fairly unremarkable, although we did go on a new (for me) and delightful walk last weekend around Sapperton and Edgeworth a few miles north east from where we live. 

Walk From Sapperton (Top Right) to Edgeworth; Lovely!

I have also continued to busy myself with local village activities.  The Neighbourhood Plan which I helped develop many months ago, is finally being presented to the village for a referendum for approval or rejection.  After so much effort by so many over several months (nay, years!), rejection cannot be contemplated so posters and leaflets have been prepared to encourage a ‘yes’ vote.  I’m discovering some previously unknown nooks and crannies in the village as I deliver some of the leaflets.

More From That Sapperton To Edgeworth Ramble

Work with our village climate action group has also rumbled on.  Somehow, involvement has crept up to, I estimate, an average of over an hour a day.  The focus in recent weeks has been on a phone around of people in the village who have expressed interest in the group and who receive our seasonal newsletter.  Now the focus is on the Spring edition of that newsletter and on following up the points raised during the phone around including discussion of how we embrace the Ecological Emergency as well as the Climate Emergency. 

None of this is exactly earth shattering but it all takes time and, despite the availability of almost infinite discretionary time in retirement, I do need to maintain boundaries around this stuff.  Otherwise, I can see I will get frustrated by lack of attention to other areas of pleasure such as walking, reading and gardening (nothing gets in the way of watching Forest Green Rovers!).

I have also, rather fleetingly, been involved in a proposal to establish a Community Land Trust in the village.  The idea was to find funding from the village, loans and other financial means to enable purchase of a house and its 13 acres of woods and fields, and then run the assets from a Community Land Trust that would provide affordable housing and preserve the excellent biodiversity in the fields and woods. 

The opportunity was precipitated by the death of an old and rather famous activist in the village who had been generous with both the house and the lands by providing young people with accommodation and allowing community cultivation of some of the surrounds.  Unfortunately, the scale of the financing for the purchase and the short timescales in which the funding needed to be raised proved to be insurmountable obstacles. 

Entrance Sign For the Horsley Orchard On The Site Of The Land Proposed Community Land Trust

The idea has therefore died for now.  However, the need for affordable housing in rural areas like ours and the desire to increase local biodiversity remains and finding out how Community Land Trusts work was engaging.  It was good, too, to make some completely new and interesting acquaintances during the ultimately aborted process.  Maybe there will be a chance to get involved in similar projects in the future.

The Horsley Orchard – Now At Risk Of Further Abandonment Following The Demise Of The Community Trust Idea

Meanwhile, another trip to the local pub needs to be scheduled…….

Resplendent Nature At Every Turn

Retirement has brought me closer to Nature and I seem to have had even more than my usual exposure to Nature in the last two weeks.  The local walks have been particularly good.  The rain in June and early July has made the pastures, hedgerows and trees a lush green and the recent sun has brought out the garden and wild flowers so they are now showing off their peak displays.

My Favourite Field

My Favourite Field – Filling With Maize This Year

One walk was especially spicy in underlining our closeness to Nature.  We were crossing a field with a neighbour during a walk that we hadn’t undertaken for a while, when we saw another figure crossing the field at right angles to us.  Thirty yards out, we could only see the man’s bare and bronze torso above the wheat.  As we crossed paths though, it became clear that we had met – and then briefly engaged in conversation with – the infamous ‘Naked Rambler’.  Our neighbour remarked that his naked rambling exploits are frequent since ‘he was brown all over with no tan lines’.  I could only mutter that I hoped he looked out for stinging nettles.  The encounter made our day.

The Naked Rambler

The Naked Rambler (Picture Courtesy The Evening Standard – I Didn’t Have The B*lls To Take My Own Picture Of Him)

We also completed a series of walks when my Best Man (BM) visited us last weekend. He has been working from home and in isolation throughout lockdown and needed a break.  Fortunately the weather was excellent and we were able to visit our now re-opened pub for our first sit down (outside) meal since lockdown started.

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

On A Local Walk: Strip Of Green Manure In Full Flower

A highlight during his stay was a long walk during which we saw a field sown with green manure coming extravagantly into flower.  Another marvellous natural phenomenon was the sighting of a crazily large number of small white butterflies fluttering together in the sun and drinking from wet mud on our path.  Both were uplifting sights.

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure - Antirhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin And Many More

Flowers In The Strip of Green Manure – Antirrhinums, Phacelia, Sainfoin, Bladder Campion And Many More

BM works for a large oil company which is trying to shift away from fuelling (literally) carbon emissions.  His job is changing and intense.  Even while he was with us, he had to prepare a short presentation that he was due to give on the following Monday.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I were sufficiently intrigued by this that we signed up for the public event he was a panel member for and run by the ‘World Business Council for Sustainable Development’ entitled ‘Nature Action for a Healthy and Resilient Future’; what a couple of mouthfuls!

As I listened in to the webinar, I was reminded of my own corporate work life by the business jargon being used by the numerous presenters including BM, and how it flows off the tongues of business professionals.  I was also left with a greater feeling of hope for Nature and the planet.

I suspect that the event was populated largely by the ‘green mouthpieces’ of the corporations that were represented.  However, several sounded convincing about their company ambitions and commitments and the scale of the opportunity to turn our destruction of the planet around while creating millions of worthwhile jobs in new green industries was clear.

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

Optimistic-Looking Daisies

I have just started reading Wilding by Isabella Tree.  She is so aptly named given that the book is the story of how a failing arable farm has been turned into a successful experiment for re-wilding a large tract of land in Sussex.  The timeline at the start of the book shows how allowing nature to reclaim intensively farmed land can bring back flora and fauna diversity very quickly.  Given the chance, Nature can recover surprisingly quickly and I’m enjoying Isabella’s account of her experience.

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

Butterflies Everywhere: Comma, Peacock, Small White, Ringlet And Skipper

I have continued to busy myself with some local climate action activities – my small push towards alleviating the pressure on Nature.  There is also much to do in the garden and on the allotment given that we are in peak growth season for vegetables and weeds.  We are thinking up creative ways to use the inevitable courgette mountain, we are eating chard with almost every meal and the runner bean avalanche is about to hit us.  In the next week too, I will need to brush up on my blackcurrant jam making skills since I have a bumper blackcurrant crop this year.

Flowers Among The Veg On The Allotments

Flowers Among The Vegetables On The Allotments

Nature is amazing.  Just last week, we saw a recurrence of another incredible phenomenon we have been lucky enough to spot a few times before: the inundation of our home valley by seagulls predating on flying ants.  It is almost unbelievable that the gulls will fly over 25 miles from the nearest coast on just the right day to catch the flying yellow meadow ants that rise from their nests in our neighbouring fields on just a couple of days a year; but there they were again.

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Garden Views: Panorama From Our New Gate, Hollyhocks and First Use Of The New Fire Pit

Nature can also do us damage.  Badgers rip up crops, deer eat the roses and strawberries, earwigs are eating the dahlias, blackfly are tormenting my beans and hay fever can be really annoying.  The climate emergency and the creation of new human diseases when we encroach too much on the wild are macro problems far greater than my local problems with wildlife.  The solutions to these are going to be challenging to find but my immersion in Nature this week underlines the importance of doing so, and gave me some more hope.

New Beginnings

Blowy Day In Our Field

Blowy Day In Our Field

Life in our home has become a little quieter since lockdown eased enough for Youngest Son (YS) to leave us for his new start in Northern Ireland.  The Monopoly Deal box has gone, the breakfast coffee isn’t quite so consistently good (YS is a qualified barista!) and there isn’t as much energy and enthusiasm in the house.  We miss him.

The upsides are that he is with his girlfriend again at last, is excited about a new career as videographer in Belfast, and my study is empty of all his stuff.  I have also taken on YS’s grocery lockdown delivery slot for the Village Shop which is making me feel more helpful and virtuous.

Otherwise, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I continue much as we have throughout the lockdown.  The main twist to our lockdown routine has been triggered by the gradual opening of the village pub, now, mercifully, under new management.  It has been great to re-integrate visits to our local pub into our activities once again.

We first tried the take-away arrangements, sipping beer on the kerbside from a bottle and glasses that we had brought.  Then, at the weekend, we paid our first proper visits, post-lockdown, to see the changes the new leaseholders have made to improve the pub and make appropriate social distancing possible.  Although the pub was busy, we felt safe and the changes that have been made to the interior – narrowing the bar and moving the kitchen – have made the pub look and feel like a local pub for the first time.

Approaching The Hog

Approaching The Hog Post-Lockdown

Critically too, the new leaseholders already know loads of people in the village and so I believe villagers will want it to succeed more than ever.  The pub has had a chequered history and now is a difficult time for anyone in the hospitality business, but, as we chatted to fellow villagers, it felt like a positive new beginning for The Hog at Horsley.

I am hoping for new beginnings and directions elsewhere too.  The coronavirus outbreak has forced massive re-thinking in government and in many families.  There is talk of building back the way we live and the economy in a better, greener way.  A recent YouGov poll suggested that only 6% of people want a return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic.  Hoo-ray!

Hopefully the re-build of the UK will involve increasing home working, walking and cycling and an improved electric car charging network to reduce carbon emissions and reduce air pollution.  Perhaps Treasury money will be found to create an enlarged skill pool (re-trained baristas perhaps) for the retrofit of homes through improving insulation and replacement of oil and gas boilers; that would create jobs and reduce our carbon footprint.

Maybe too, we will see promotion of renewable energy, more sustainable and diverse food production, and a continuation of the local community support groups that have taken off during the lock down.  I’m still hopeful that something positive will come out of the mess the virus outbreak got us into.

The Way To Go?

The Way To Go? Local Wind Turbines Near Forest Green Rovers’ Ground

In our small village climate action group we are looking at how, amid the virus disaster, we can help to perpetuate some of the positive side-effects of the lockdown on the village’s carbon footprint and its resilience to the climate emergency.  We are trying to promote our existing community assets such as the pub and shop, encouraging local and sustainable food production, and investigating community energy schemes and better, greener local transport solutions.  We have a plan – indeed, just last night, I presented it to the wider Stroud District Climate Action Network – and we just need more time and energy (probably a little more than we actually have) to implement it.

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

Our Horsley Climate Action Network Logo

My involvement has been focused on trying to help sustain the revenue growth the Community Shop has seen during lockdown.  I am reluctant to become a full blown volunteer (beyond my new weekly delivery duties) or Committee Member.  That is because I fear that, on top of other regular commitments LSW and I already have (and will have when the football season starts again!), signing up formally might be an obstacle to the sort of travelling we want to do – once that is unencumbered by the current coronavirus fears and constraints.

However, I am anyway getting increasingly involved in trying to understand how we sustain the popularity of the shop as lockdown continues to ease.  It’s interesting and more complex than I thought and I think that I can help – we’ll see how this participation develops.

Another recent new beginning is that LSW and I are re-starting outings away from the local vicinity.  The easing of the lockdown has allowed LSW to see more of her old workmates during tours of local, recently re-opened gardens.  Then, this week, we drove several miles south to Old Sodbury.  There, we took a break from the numerous local walks from our house to explore one of the many Cotswold Way circular walks.

It was a lovely blustery walk that took in big views and an impressive Iron Age fort, and it was fun simply because it was new to us.  We will try some of the other parts of the Cotswold Way – it is something I have long wanted to traverse – but we will have to get used to meeting more people on the way than we are used to in our equally attractive local walks.

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

Old Sodbury From The Cotswold Way

We are very spoilt for lovely, quiet walks where we live.  Amid all the current change – positive and negative – those remain consistently enjoyable.

Life Drifting Along

Our Hamlet

The Westernmost Part Of Our Hamlet

This picture of our hamlet in Gloucestershire is a picture of sunny tranquillity.  That is, until you realise this is taken by a tree feller, who for two days, seared the air with the noise of his chainsaw!

Despite that aural intrusion, the last couple of weeks of lockdown has been peaceful and, frankly, have felt like a very pleasant, seamless drift from one day to the next.  The only things that keep me aware of what day it is are the maintenance of our routine of sourdough bread at the weekends and the date labels on my Guardian newspaper subscription vouchers.  I do wonder when and how the lockdown will end but, in the meantime, no complaints here yet.

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintisential English Countryside

Blue, Vapour Trail Free Skies Above Quintessential English Countryside (And One Of The First Wind Turbines In The Country)

What might become boredom has been fended off by the recognition that there is always an endless number of jobs to do in the garden (and the good weather in which to do them) and some work to promote our village climate action group.  On the latter I have been interested in following up the themes that arose at out village meeting just before the lockdown that related to strengthening community cohesion, neighbourliness, sharing and mutual support.

Of course, a number of community based initiatives related to the virus outbreak are already underway in the village independent from our climate action group.  One group are making protective headgear for front line medical staff using 3-D printers.  Another, including Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), is sewing up gowns for nurses.  Our climate action group wants to build on that community spirit while focusing on things that reduce carbon emissions.

The WhatsApp Group that LSW set up in early April for sharing of services and things in our hamlet has been very successful.  Similar groups are already up and running in other hamlets around the parish.  Together with the village Facebook presence, they have served as useful support mechanisms during the lockdown.  A new group that our village climate action group established that is specifically focused on sharing seeds, seedlings, plants and surplus crops has also thrived.  Social media technology is really helping with social cohesion although we are also using old fashioned means of notice boards and local magazines to ‘spread the word’ to those who don’t use it.

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb - Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped and Shared By LSW's WhatsApp Group

Sourdogh Starter, Kombucha Scoby, Carpet Cleaner And Rhubarb – Just A Fraction Of The Things Swapped And Shared By LSW’s WhatsApp Group

It is almost distasteful to imagine that there are positives arising from the coronavirus outbreak.  So many have died, so many are worried about their jobs and incomes, and so many are suffering from just being cooped up in their flats and houses.

However it is also possible to recognise that the lockdown introduced to dampen the Covid-19 infection rate has had some beneficial impact on community spirit, carbon emissions and air quality.  We are spending more time communicating with our neighbours (albeit while socially distancing) and we are working, entertaining ourselves and shopping more locally, and are therefore driving and flying less.

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet - One Of Three A Joke-A-Day Boards

One Of The Innovations That Has Sprung Up In Our Hamlet – One Of Three ‘Joke-Of-The-Day’ Boards

Given that the ongoing climate emergency is going to eventually come back to be the headline risk to humanity, the question becomes: how do we sustain the effects of the lockdown that have had a positive impact on carbon emission levels and community resilience against the climate emergency, beyond the lockdown?

The area I am thinking about most at the moment is whether we can find ways of sustaining at least the majority of the extra revenue that has resulted from many more people in the using our Community Shop during the virus outbreak.  Revenues and footfall have more than doubled and so the shop is thriving relative to normal operation.  The shop has long been a great community asset but it is now even more of a hub around which neighbourliness, gossip and information can circulate.  It would be great to sustain some of those economics and the stronger social feel after the lockdown is eased, not least because local shopping will reduce carbon emissions in line with the objectives of our climate action group.

IMG_6020

Meanwhile, Zoom meetings are keeping LSW and I in touch with our sons in London and various friends – possibly more than usual in fact.  The ‘Clap for Carers’ session on Thursday evenings is becoming an ever more sophisticated event in our hamlet with a trumpet player now accompanying the saxophonist that started the musical dimension.  These events are ripples on a steady drift through a largely unchanging stream of locked down days.

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

Carpets Of Wild Garlic Amid Beech Trees

How fortunate it is for me that the weather is so warm and sunny and I have the means to enjoy it.  The local woods have been full of bluebells and now are strewn with carpets of wild garlic.  The trees and hedgerows have that brilliant green foliage that Spring brings.  The skies are blue and populated with attractive clouds rather than the vapour trails of aeroplanes.  The birds seem louder and happier this year and the lambs more numerous.  My phone is full of pictures of sweet little lambs; how many does one need?

Stay safe!

Climate Change, Wildlife and Cars

A lot of the last week or so has been taken up with preparation for, execution of and then follow up from a meeting held in our village hall to discuss, our village’s response to the climate emergency.  The Chair of the District Council’s Environment Committee presented to us the Council’s position on the climate emergency.  Then we held a workshop to share ideas on what we can do as individuals and collectively in our village to respond.  We finished up with a visioning and priority setting session.

The meeting was organised by the Carbon Neutral Horsley group, of which I am a part, with the Parish Council.  Coincidentally, but aptly, the meeting was scheduled as Storm Dennis was near its height.  The meeting exceeded our expectations both in terms of how many people turned up (despite the weather) and in terms of the quality of discussion and ideas that were put forward.

Our Village Vision For Resilience Against Climate Change In A Word Cloud

Our Village Vision For Resilience Against Climate Change Represented In A Word Cloud

It has now fallen to me to document and summarise these ideas.  Speed in doing so is important since we need sustain momentum and show that action is arising from the meeting.  This is quite interesting, worthwhile and almost exciting work.  Plus, it brings me closer to the heart of the village community.  That is something I am finding rewarding after so many years of working in London and being away from village activity except for weekends (when I just wanted to switch off from any demands and relax).

A wide range of topics cropped up at our village meeting on the response to the climate emergency.  Of course, cars (too many) and wildlife (not enough) were prominent themes.  These were also, again coincidentally, subject matter of two exhibitions I visited while I was in London in the days just prior to the meeting.

Views Of The Natural History Museum, Home of the Wildlife Photography Exhibition And Bringing Back Memories Of Taking The Kids Back In The 90s

Views Of The Natural History Museum, Home of the Wildlife Photography Exhibition And Bringing Back Memories Of Taking The Kids Back In The 90s

The first was the Natural History Museum exhibition showcasing the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.  I try to get to this every year and the quality of the competition this year was on a par with the best I have seen.  Once again, almost every photo is incredible either in terms of its composition, the amazing aspect of nature it captured, or the unimaginable patience that had been required to get just the right shot at just the right time – or all of these things.

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year: Winner Of The Birds Behaviour Section, Auden Rikardsen

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year: Winner Of The Birds Behaviour Section, Auden Rikardsen

The captions accompanying each photo contain some amazing wildlife facts too – weddell seals can stay underwater for 90 minutes, golden eagles reach a top speed of 320km/hour when hunting, and hummingbirds beat their wings 85 times a second.  It is mind-boggling stuff.

Overall Winner of Wildlife Photoprapher Of The Year 2019: The Moment By Yongqing Bao.  Incredible Photo!

Overall Winner of Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2019: ‘The Moment’ By Yongqing Bao. Incredible Photo!

Also eyebrow-raising was that so few female photographers are represented (though almost half of the competition judges were female).  I can’t imagine why that is but I have become sensitised to this sort of thing having been to so many exhibitions in recent years that explicitly underline female contribution.

Black And White Photo Winner: 'Snow Exposure' By Max Waugh

Black And White Photo Winner: ‘Snow Exposure’ By Max Waugh

The second exhibition I went to see (with Youngest Son, which made this visit extra-special) was a major one at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  This shows the depth and range of impact of cars on almost every aspect of human life: social life, geopolitics, gender politics, city building, ecology, tourism, economics, landscape, industry, design and more.

The First Automobile (Benz Patent Motorwagen) And The Firebird Concept Car Capable Of Going 20 Times Faster in 1953

‘Cars: Accelerating The Modern World’ Exhibition At The V&A – The First Automobile in 1888 (Benz Patent Motorwagen) And The Firebird Concept Car Capable Of Going 20 Times Faster in 1953

This is another excellent show.  It covers both the positive and negative aspects of the car as an innovation and possession.  For example, on the down side it portrays the impact on Ford’s assembly line manufacture on workers, the incidence and then response to car accidents, and the increasing awareness of the role of the car in accelerating climate change.

1959 Messerschmitt 'Bubble Car' - One Of The First Efforts to Address Fuel Scarcity

1959 Messerschmitt ‘Bubble Car’ – One Of The First Efforts To Address Fuel Scarcity After the 1956 Suez Crisis

Relating to the latter, most ironic was an advertisement from Humble/Esso Oil Company showing an Antarctic glacier and emblazoned with the caption: ‘Each Day Humble Supplies Enough Energy to Melt 7 Million Tons of Glacier’.  It showed how we have moved on a bit in our awareness of a climate challenge.

1937's Symbol Of French Pride: A Delahaye Type 145 Grand Prix Winner

1937’s Symbol Of French Pride: A Delahaye Type 145 And Grand Prix Winner

However, this irony and concern is in the midst of more upbeat messages about how the car has delivered freedom, design energy and socio-economic transformation.  For example, the car enabled easier access to the countryside and so, a better understanding and appreciation of it.  There’s a fascinating section on how car manufacturers had to both create and respond to demand from women drivers and so encouraged gender equality.

Epitome Of Luxury: 1922 Hispano-Suiza 'Skiff Torpedo'

Epitome Of Car Luxury In1922; A Hispano-Suiza ‘Skiff Torpedo’

Above all, there are some marvellous and very shiny cars on show.  Some show off car design in response to the need for speed, some are the ultimate in luxury, others are tiny and economic vehicles built as the car industry responded to the threat of oil shortages.  Some exhibits show the demand for mass production, whilst others are pimped up one-offs to reflect the individualism, fashion preferences or status of their owners.

1962 Chevrolet Impala

1962 Chevrolet Impala Customised By Tomas Velaquez Of The ‘Imperial’ Lowrider Car Club

The exhibition, predictably, ends with an item on the future car and the imperative to respond to the climate emergency while delivering more flexible transport.  The future progression imagined here includes the further development of the electric car to reduce pollution, the increased safety of an effective driverless car, the shift from car ownership to transport by car as an on-demand service and, finally, flying, electric, driverless cars available on demand.  Cars have never been something I have enjoyed driving but I watch these evolutions with interest.

'Cars: Accelerating the Modern World' Exhibition At The V&A Starts And Finishes With This Shiny E-Type Jaguar

‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’ Exhibition At The V&A Starts With This Shiny E-Type Jaguar

Climate Change in January

It seems incongruous thinking about climate change and the Climate Emergency on a day like today when there are clear skies and degrees of frost outside and I’ve just returned from a lengthy walk down icy lanes.  However, the recent fires in Australia – many close to areas that we visited during our two relatively recent trips there – and the floods that followed Storm Brendan here in the UK, have underlined that all is not well with the climate.  It is increasingly imperative that we act to, hopefully, avert permanent and very significant upheaval to global life as we know it.

Frosty Garden

Frosty Garden

As readers of this blog will know, for several months, I have been a member of a local group agitating for our Parish to declare a Climate Emergency, to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2030 and to help the establishment of plans to achieve that target.  The Parish Council have agreed to take climate change seriously and have committed to a number of measures including mass tree planting.  However, beyond this, in practice, we are making only slow progress; we are simply a too small and a too intermittently dedicated group.

Frosty View On The Way To Nailsworth

Frosty View On The Way To Nailsworth

I am now planning to align myself more with a much larger group of climate change responders in our nearby town, Nailsworth.  This group (Nailsworth Climate Action Network) seems to have more momentum as well as size.  I’m excited by some of their plans.

One of these plans is to hold an ‘envisioning session’ along the lines advocated by Rob Hopkins at which we will think about what we want Nailsworth to be like in a couple of decade’s time.  Rob Hopkins established the Transition Network movement many years ago.  Since then, he has developed his thinking to promote the harnessing of our imagination to envision a near future that has responded to the pressure of the Climate Emergency and to measures of well-being and societal health rather than Gross National Product.

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I saw Rob speak in Nailsworth in October last year and he was very inspiring.  LSW has read his latest book – ‘From What Is To What If’ – which encourages the reader to use hope and imagination to break out of the current systems and structures we find ourselves in to envision a different way of living.  He also provides examples of how others have done this in various parts of the world, and how these can inspire similar action in our own lives and towns.  I too must read this fully before our town ‘envisioning event’ planned for June.

Walking Near Our House Between Showers

Of course, all climate change activists encourage us to reduce our reliance on planes for travel.  Air travel is apparently the most carbon emitting of transport methods.  I have calculated my personal carbon footprint using a calculator provided by the World Wildlife Fund and, while I am just below the average for a UK citizen without flights, with the two flights I took last year, I am almost 50% higher.  As I reported in this blog a few posts ago, I did carbon offset one of these flights and plan repeat that process in future.  But the impact of flying on the climate is disproportionately high and LSW and I plan to cut down our few flights even more.

That means ‘staycations’ in the UK and train based holidays.  We plan to walk some of the north Somerset/Devon/Cornwall coast in June and try a train trip somewhere in Europe later in the year.  Holidays in India and Thailand, which we have also talked about, may be now on hold.

Perhaps we will adjust to one long haul flight a year and offset it through Solar Aid again.  Certainly we have a strong desire to revisit India and try South East Asia for the first time.  And not only do I want to visit these places; I also miss the opportunity to see the world from the window of a plane flying thousands of feet above the ground.  What better, often stunning way is there of appreciating both the planet as it is and that we have to act to prevent a climate disaster ruining it?

One Of Those Dreamy Views Out Of An Aeroplane Window - In This Case Over The Alps

One Of Those Dreamy Views Out Of An Aeroplane Window – In This Case Over The Alps.  I’d Miss These If I Wasn’t Able To Fly

Back on earth, the first signs of weather change and the onset of Spring are emerging amid the sodden ground and current frost.  I’ve seen my first lambs, bees, snowdrops and primroses of the year.  The dippers and kingfishers are active near the streams again.   Excitingly, a kestrel has been hovering over our garden and field looking for strays from a colony of voles or mice that have taken up residence there.

Early Snowdrops and Bee Activity

There is another uplifting development in the valley I walk through to Nailsworth every day.  A swan arrived on the lake there over three years ago.  She has occasionally disappeared for weeks but always returned alone and apparently lonely.  Last year she produced some eggs and they now lie abandoned on her nest.  This week, suddenly, a partner has arrived and so the chances are that they will mate and that new eggs will be fertilised this year.  I am so hoping for a clutch of cygnets; fingers crossed!

Early Lambs And Swans In Love?

Early Lambs And Swans In Love?