Tuesday, 17 November 2009

What is Beauty?

One type of the 'cultural ecosystem services' we get from nature is 'aesthetics'. So I watched the 'What is Beauty?' programme this Saturday past (14 Nov 09 on BBC2) to see how the approach taken by the chap presenting it, Matt Collings, might apply to nature and ecosystems. He set out 10 principles that, for him, define what people find beautiful, and his number one was -- Nature.

His 10 principles, in order, are: 1 Nature; 2 Simplicity; 3 Unity; 4 Transformation; 5 Surroundings (I'd call this context); 6 Animation (vitality, energy, dynamism); 7 Surprise; 8 pattern; 9 Selection; 10 Spontaneity.

Quotes I scribbled down as particularly telling:
"Hunger for beauty is part of what makes us human";
"Nature is good" -- or possibly "Nature is Good"
"Abstract patterns and the realistic world [nature] -- they bounce off each other and feed each other"
"Art offers nature in a pattern or structure"

The first two put aesthetics (and nature) into an ethical frame -- beauty and nature are both intrinsically good things, important aspects of what human life is for

The last two help with something I've found tricky in the 'auto-ethnographic fieldwork' I'm working through -- attending to catalogue and analyse how 'cultural ecosystem services' crop up in what I do in the course of modern urban life. How connected or disconnected are we from nature? Lots of explicit natural imagery -- floral patterns, landscapes, little artifacts. But can abstract, geometrical patterns that -- when you think of it that way -- are reminiscent of some aspect the natural world, be counted as referring to natural aesthetics? Colling says yes, they are.

His final comment was: these principles are his personal set, not the only possible set -- feel free to come up with your own.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

What we see -- what we don't...

Ran plant stall for Wards Corner campaign on Saturday: raised err... Well, there was £64.55 in the tin at the end of the day, but I put in £10 change as a float at the start, and some of it was from the campaign marquee selling mugs/t-shirts/canvas bags... So probably raised about £40 in all, from a day sitting in chilly wind, far too close to noisy polluting heavy traffic. Interesting to watch the people passing: most simply didn't register the plant stall, just not part of their worldview. It was a minority whose eyes were caught by plants: seeing the green, their eyes were caught, they had to just scan and check out what the plants were, even if they carried on walking -- even if not really interested, recognising plants was part of their world view. And an even smaller minority actually stopped to see what was on offer -- and most of those who stopped to check us out bought at least one plant, because they were plant-people and interested in local community.

However, I did manage to come home with just one small tray of selected plants-- a succulent, warmth loving Jamaican herb whose names include 'Spanish mint' and 'Guyanese thyme', and a clutch of verbascum/mullein/Aaron's rod seedlings to plant out around the allotment. After selling off all my previous plant stock about three weekends ago at Lordship Rec show, I'd re-built the stock up to half a dozen trays full of plants cluttering up our little back passage. Sociable dinner followed, celebrating the birthday of the campaign's events impresario at Caribbean Spice restaurant in West Green. Then home to watch a Monty Python evening on the teev -- or in JN's case, fall asleep in front of...

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

AGM with fox and sparrows

Our allotments association AGM this weekend was attended by a tree-climbing fox, about 40 sparrows, and a dozen or so of the twenty odd human plotholders. The last counts as a good turn-out -- allotments are for gardening, getting away from the pressures of paperwork, leavened by a spot of gently desultory chat or gossip with whoever else is around. However, for a bunch of people who really aren't into meetings, we managed to string it out --2-5pm, a whole three hours. No wonder the two squirrels who dashed through the meeting area didn't stop and join in. The fox is a half-grown cub, doesn't look healthy -- we think the rest of his family may have succumbed to the mange that has been going around, leaving him (or her) to fend for themself at an early age, and before teaching him to be wary of humans. He came trotting along, took a look at the meeting and disappeared into the tangled vegetation of the boundary hedge; there was rustling and his head poked out through a mass of white-flowering Russian vine at about top of fence level. A score or so sparrows flew up from the cherry tree next door. The fox's head popped back -- then popped out again through the bridal veil up near the top of the cherry tree, and another score of sparrows flew up and away.

The tricky discussions were around who is entitled to plots -- what counts as 'not in active use'; were there mitigating factors or had the leeway been used up? The issue gets complicated when the official tenants, with their names on the council agreement, have brought in 'sharers' who in effect take over -- but aren't on, or near the top of the waiting list. We have two plots that are being neglected: one is a single mum who lives over the fence and has been active in organising social events etc, but is doing hardly any actual gardening on her small (5 pole) plot. The other is a chap who was one of the original plot-holders when this stretch of the old Palace Gates railway was saved from being built on and opened up as allotments; he used to have one of the best-kept and most productive plots on the site -- but then his mother died, he became depressed, he has a condition that requires him to avoid direct sunlight, and for many years now he's left most of his plot run to weeds and cluttered with rubbish that is potentially dangerous to toddlers and small kids. He's refused to split or share his plot, but simply can't look after or use what is now one of just a couple of large (10 pole) plots on the site. Then there was the chap who, a year or so after finally getting to the top of the waiting list and getting his plot, went and got married, and moved off to south London to his wife's place -- hoping to get here to move back here to his. 'Get a sharer in to keep it in active use,' I advised him -- but it stayed untouched, until the Council came to inspect and sent him a 'Notice to Quit' (unless within 1 month he'd brought the plot back into active use). At that point, he got someone in to share, who duly dug and planted... That was the tricky one: a woman who herself had got her plot in almost exactly the same circumstances -- brought in by an absent tenant about to be kicked off -- was, ironically, the most vociferous that this should not be permitted. But this was the line in the sand: with a waiting list of 60 (just recently weeded down from 140) for about 20 plots, plots have to be handed on fairly to those who've signed up to the waiting list, in waiting list order, not on to friends and neighbours and people we know.

It can be seen as an exercise in how a community manages its boundaries, negotiating informal shared norms alongside the blunt instrument of official bureaucratic rules. The first factor is that the association chair, who liaises with the Council, feels the need to secure agreement from other plot-holders about whether plots are 'not in good order' and their holders are generally felt to have used up reasonable leeway. The second factor is the balance between personalised discussion -- that plot, that person -- and seeking to agree criteria or principles that should be generally applied to justify the judgement on individual cases. Are we saying that at least 50% of a plot should be cultivated to qualify as reasonable use? Yes, we may allowances for people who've taken on a new plot and may need time to bring it into use; we make allowances for people who let the association know they have been ill, have a bereavement, a change of job or other circumstance, or have a new baby. But how long a period of grace? Cases differ, no simple formula is fair to all -- so it will come back again to the peer group gossip circle or community consensus. That is, the community can agree to offer up mitigation arguing that someone should not be kicked off their plot -- but hasn't the power to get someone kicked off if their plot satisfies the inspecting Council officer.

Then there was the discussion of principles for bringing a sharer in: the official plot-holder must remain involved -- at least being seen visiting from time to time, all sharers must go on the official waiting list if they aren't already, and all sharers must be told that the plot cannot just pass on to them if the official tenant drops out but will have to be passed on to the top of the waiting list.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

10:10 challenge

Cut your personal carbon footprint by 10% in 2010 says the Guardian's 10:10 challenge. The trouble with being early adopters is that we've been doing all the obvious and easy green footprint-shrinking stuff for years. Should we have delayed, so we could claim the brownie points now its just become trendy?

It comes as a shock to see cabinet ministers pledging now to change their light bulbs to low-energy -- we've had the low energy bulbs longer than we can remember. Is this country really run by people so dozy that they haven't even managed that kindergarten-level step in environmental responsibility? At least the Tory front bench managed rather more ambitious pledges that suggest they've moved beyond the basics. Signing up last year with the London Green Concierge service to get the house insulation sorted out means we can't use that as our 10:10 pledge. We've never run a car so can't give that up. We grow-our-own fruit and veg in back garden and allotment, with surplus veg going into Tottenham Food Co-op (last Fri and Sat each month at Broadwater Farm) and spare plants supplying the Wards Corner Campaign fundraising plant stall at local events. On non-Food Co-op weekends, our regular shop is at the Stoke Newington organic farmers market (run by Growing Communities) and at the Fresh & Wild ethical supermarket across the road from it.

Four things we've identified to still further shrink our carbon-prints:

1) Replace old fridge-freezer with new A-rated fridge-freezer. Trying to find a replacement that gives us plenty of freezer space for storing seasonal gluts from the allotment (especially the luxury of our own raspberries, strawberries and blackberries with winter muesli) shows up just how uninformative is the internet info on fridge-freezer models available -- almost none actually show just what the internal storage space looks like. We spotted a Beko 11.2 cu ft model with five freezer drawers at Currys on our first casual recce -- which had vanished next trip, and neither it nor any other five-freezer drawers model has showed up on internet searches...

2) JN to stop falling asleep in front of computer, TV etc leaving lights and AV appliances blazing away all night long. This would also require cutting his booze-miles intake...

3) Switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier like Good Energy or Eco-tricity -- we are already on the 'green tariff' of our mainstream provider, but that's just a halfway measure.

4) Cut holiday travel: we've already switched to taking Eurostar to explore France, rather than signing up for trips that involve a flight. But in 2010, we will be committing air travel to Australia, combining catch up with my family and a world SF convention. We will of course offset against the emissions -- by donating to an international development organisation like Practical Action, Tree Aid or Water Aid that work directly with African communities on self-reliance that helps deal with the damage that climate instability is already inflicting. Committing air travel at all is a mortal sin, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...

Monday, 14 September 2009

Tottenham Show and 'Revive the Rec'

Broadwater Farm's high-rise blocks sit alongside Lordship Rec park. They're about 10-20 mins walk north of our house, depending whether you take the direct or scenic route. This Saturday was 'Revive the Rec' festival in the park, incorporating the 3rd Annual Tottenham Food and Produce Show. I started the day early registering entries for the Show, and when released, headed for the Save Wards Corner campaign's area -- setting out the bookstall, then helping run the plant stall. The sun shone, so good turn-out of people, kids, dogs...

The Festival was started up by the Friends of Lordship Rec group, working with 'Back to Earth', a small local environmental project/consultancy. They ran community consultation exercises and drew up a plan that includes an eco-centre building by the lake, a city farm in an area fenced off for (now largely unused) playing fields), restoring the 'model traffic area' where kids on bikes and trikes can practice the rules of the road, and de-culverting and landscaping the river Moselle which runs through the Rec and continues under the Estate's housing blocks before it re-emerges in Tottenham cemetery. The first Festival aimed to show the strength of local support for the bid to Revive the Rec -- and duly helped secure HLF funding for the project. Ahead of work on the Rec starting, once the funds are in the bank, Back to Earth and the Sustainable Haringey Food Group (or Growing in Haringey) started up a Community Cafe and Food Co-op that runs in Broadwater Farm Community Centre the last Friday and Saturday each month. The Cafe is run by Farm residents, and links to catering NVQ training and accreditation; the Food Co-op is run by SH volunteers.

How the spatial layout of stalls at these events fits (or doesn't) the 'social geography' networks always intrigues me. Because the Lordship Rec show is purely community based and run, the organisers had a pretty good idea about the intricate network of inter-connections, but the puzzle simply can't be solved in a 2-D layout. The 'jam and jerusalem' show marquee sits up the slope, flanked this year by the organisers fundraising gream teas and activities tent, and a long 'Green zone' marquee where Sustainable haringey and its Food Group set up. But Friends of the Earth/Haringey Tree Trust and Friends of Tottenham Marshes were on the other side of the path, outside the Green Zone, alongside the sprawling Wards Corner campaign -- bookstall, plant stall, campaign info (plus raffle, and camapign-logoed mugs, t-shirts, canvas bags), and tea-and cakies cafe -- with the local Eye Practice/Tottenham Traders Association alongside. The optometrist who is also chair of Tottenham traders occupies one of the buildings threatened with demolition by the Council's plans that the campaign opposes. However, the Ibero-American Association tent was a long way off -- the market traders in Wards Corner building itself are one of London's two main Latino trading and activity centres. Meanwhile, Tottenham Civic Society (which is part of Sustainable Haringey and of the Wards Corner campaign) was way off on its own at the gate through from the lake and model traffic area. And the Food Co-op and Community Cafe were running in the Community Centre the other side of the Moselle. JN and I belong to all of those except Tottenham Traders and the Ibero-American Assoc -- he's Civic Society secretary, Friends of the Earth treasurer. We both ended the day helping pack up the Wards Corner area, along with a ward councillor who (like most of the councillors who actually represent the locality) has come out publicly opposing the Council's demolition-based plans and supporting the community campaign.

Last year, I worked on the Show right through from registration through the judging and certificate writing process -- a highly complex set of routines. This time, there were fewer entries -- but more vegetables and jams; registration deadline was set slightly earlier and there were more volunteers. Nonetheless, judging this year still ran right up to 3.30pm -- half an hour past the scheduled time for local MP David Lammy to present prize certificates. Last year, I then wandered around all the stalls. This year, I just got a couple breaks to head for the Community Centre's proper toilets (always avoid the porta-loos if you can). So I didn't get to the Civic Society, or to the Green Zone marquee, or even to the FOE and FOTM tents along our own range of stalls. I bought olive oil and a couple of plants from the Justice for Palestine stall, where one of our neighbours (who I think of affectionately as 'Furry Philip' was working), waved at the Food Co-op folk whose stock was selling out rapidly. Apart from that, I saw those who dropped by our stall.

At the start of the spring/summer community events season, we had lots of plants to sell; at this tag end of the season, a very depleted stock. The main supplier is Sue P, who has what in these parts counts as a big garden, and whose latest project is running a 'Garden Swap' scheme in her road. I'm the other major plant supplier. We ended the day with just one tray of unsold plants. But yesterday I brought a dozen small Savoy cabbage plants home from the allotment to pot up, plus a flourishing calendula that had been growing among them. The Wards campaign is planning a community consultation day, with architects, on 3 October -- we may have re-built the stock to run another stall then.

Broadwater Farm became notorious in the 1980s - the useful Wikipedia entry says it was dubbed 'worst place to live' in England, and hit the headlines with the Broadwater Farm riot in 1985 (four years before we moved to Tottenham). Residents really resent the way that every time the place gets mentioned, the history of the riots and the bad reputation get dragged up again. After the riots, regeneration money was poured in, the above-ground walkway system was demolished, the buildings renovated and each block given its own entry-control system and concierge. Community organisations were formed, training and youth projects were funded, and the place turned itself around. In 2003, apparently, there was only one crime reported on the estate, a burglar who was arrested -- it now has one of the lowest urban crime rates. Until the Food Co-op started, we had no reason to go into the estate, and would have felt intruders just to go in and wander around. Having the Co-op and Cafe to visit regularly, we and others living around the area now have the estate as part of our home territory, a place we know and go to, not seen as a separated-off enclave or ghetto. The Festival similarly aimed to draw both Farm and other local residents into visiting and using the adjacent Rec -- both so that local people who used to fear and avoid the wide open, potentially wild, space could enjoy and benefit from it, and so by having more people of all ages using it, to walk kids and dogs, to play, to sit out on sunny days, the Rec itself would feel safer and be safer and so encourage more use and social benefit...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Broken Britain?

On all the statistical indicators, where I live is 'broken Britain': in the 5% worst 'areas of social deprivation', high in the crime league table -- a shooting at the top of our road where the 'working girls' hang out in highly impractical garb, multiple shootings and stabbings scattered along surrounding streets, where the police have raided crack houses, mugging and fly-tipping black spots. The sort of thing you tend not to mention when you phone home to Mum. But that's not what it feels like -- at least most of the time, these days. Our biggest current lament is never a weekend off from the round of community festivals in local parks, civic society walks and socials, Sustainable Haringey networking, residents association street party and 'Big Lunch', the local 'crafts and produce' village show... heaps of social capital, simply lashings of social energy. Being the most ethnically diverse local area in the UK feels like part of the vitality, not a problem -- but many, particularly newly-arriving refugees, live in dire poverty.

It wasn't always thus: the first decade or so that we lived in Tottenham, there seemed almost no 'community' to get involved in. The early post-96 years of Local Agenda 21 there seemed a very scant handful of overworked usual suspects who could be bothered, and getting any wider interest seemed a very uphill struggle. Two -- okay, three -- things I think have made the difference. The first to take effect was the rise of email and Web 2.0 -- which made it easy to send information whizzing around, and allowed people to get and keep involved when they couldn't turn up to the time or place of meetings. True, it has its downside in in-box overload (and I go through spells of being allergic to turning on The Enslaving Machine) -- but when you skim through, fast on the delete button, you catch up with all the gossip, plots, campaigns...

Second has been changes in the local council. Back in 1996, when the council talked about 'involving the community', you could almost see that they thought of it as one amorphous rather menacing black cloud that they really hadn't a clue how to tackle. And they didn't really talk about 'environment' except to dismiss it as a marginal concern of an unrepresentative bunch of middle-class weeds. Now, Haringey is aiming to be 'London's Greenest Borough'. Back in 1997, Thatcherism and Old Labour blinkers had between them broken the council -- the New Labour 'democratic renewal' emphasis on community involvement, together with loosening of budget constraints, have allowed it to rebuild its confidence. And, despite the problems that central Government targets and performance indicators bring, they have also meant that well-meaning rhetoric more often now gets put into practical action. Third has been the rising tide of alarming evidence and headlines about climate change.

Three community networks are making the biggest difference. First to come together was the Haringey Federation of Residents Associations, which focuses the scattered RA together as a fairly formidable local force. The residents associations are where the diverse ethnicities, ages, faiths and other interests tend to get together on what affects them where they live -- traffic, places for the kids to play safely and other local environment issues emerge as big concerns for all. What the middle-class greenies like and want, or dislike, turns out to be the pretty much the same as their neighbours' likes and hates: what everyone wants is to be able to open their front door and step out without feeling depressed by ugliness, or threatened -- and everyone enjoys a nice bit of greenery. Next was Sustainable Haringey, which evolved from the previous LA21 group but with far more vigour, using the Interweb to draw in a whole new generation and link up a diverse range of projects and groups: the 'food' group is one of the liveliest.

Third, is the Wards Corner Community Campaign (http://wardscorner.wikispaces.com/) which brought residents and local businesses together to fight the demolition and 'clone town' mall-and-tower-block so-called regeneration of the once-elegant Edwardian department store above the Seven Sisters tube station. The Council and local NDC have scandalously misused New Deal fo Community funds for a scheme that far from being 'community-led' is vigorously opposed by the affected community, and was pushed through with furtively token 'consultation'. The campaign is currently fund-raising to appeal against judicial review decision: more info and the alternative 'community plan' submitted for planning permission can be seen on the web-site above.

So: broken Britain? We're seeing green shoots just re-sprouting after the Thatcherite freeze. What would help here is a Keynsian 'Green New Deal' and practical recognition of non-monetary community ownership, community investment, community assets. A new monetarist clamp-down would break the fragile new grassroots renaissance that has started to grow..

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Your money or your life?

Every now and then, I buy a bit more of my life back from the demands of werk. Trouble is, the more they pay me, the more expensive buying back my own time becomes. Still, I reckon it's worth it.

Why put your life on hold on the gamble that you'll live long enough to reach retirement, with your health and marbles intact enough to enjoy it and do all that werk leaves no time for -- and that the value of your pension, and the state of civilisation will both hold up so you get to collect what's due to you? Retirement as life deferred, in the same way that pension is salary deferred. Am I an optimist for gambling that I'll get by all right without maximising income and pension now -- or a pessimist who doesn't trust the future to make up for losing the present? A bit of both, of course.

Back when I was involved with New Economics Foundation, I was impressed by James Robertson's 'Future Work' and 'Future Wealth'. The former book particularly argued that a sustainable society must better recognise and balance the 'real economy' and real value of actual goods and services, and the massive amount of unpaid useful activity that sustains communities and the human spirit, against the 'money economy', since money is a very flawed measure of real value. Having bought the argument, I put my money where my mouth was, and 'bought' back a couple of days a week of my 'own time' -- getting a life, rather than just having a job.

I'm now on my third spell of part-time. First time up, in the 1980s, I was working for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika pulled the rug from under the Cold War; as fear that the world was about to be blown into radioactive smithereens subsided, so did the membership fees and donations that fuelled CND, So I offered to cut my working days, with the aim of Writing Immortal Prose on Fridays -- but usually just managed to catch up with household stuff, recover from feeling shattered by the four preceding days of werk -- recover bounce and energy on Saturday when JN, my other half just wanted to lie about recovering from being shattered. In the mid-1990s, I chucked a demanding berth in transport journalism with the idea of building up freelancing -- but JN, alarmed at becoming sole support for our brand new mortgage, demanded I look for at least a part-time proper job. This time I took Monday and Tuesday as my 'own days', so JN & I could loll about shattered together Saturday mornings, gently recover through the weekend, then I could carry on with the energy and purpose built up before re-entering the world of werk for a manageable three-day week. That is, I reckon, about the ideal work-life balance. I wanted to use my own time for writing stuff, for putting into practice some of the community, environment and sustainability prescriptions that, for werk, I advocated -- which ended up co-chairing Haringey Agenda 21 community side, chairing Permaculture Association Britain, and a spell as chair of New Economics Foundation. I realised that a lot of the ooh-pretty stuff I coveted I'd rather have the fun of making myself than buy from a shop. I wanted do gardening... I went back to full-time werk when the community involvement grew into voracious demands for all my 'own' time -- if other people were going expect me to do what they wanted, rather than what I enjoyed offering, then I might as well get paid for it.

Now, I have Mondays as my 'own day' -- and am inquiring about re-claiming another day for myself. This time round, I just aim to fit in a bit of life. In practice, that means swimming in the local pool to keep fit, pottering in garden and allotment, doing a bit of stuff around the house, and maybe heading out to shops or a bit of culture. Last year, we 'greened' the house -- blog on that to come. Community stuff creeps in, so far just around the edges. I resist turning on the computer with its engulfing tide of emails.

Money has its power over us only to the extent that we accept it in preference to other values. Those of us who have 'enough' money -- average (median/mode) income or above are in a position to exercise choice. We can of course maximise the money we rake in, then spend or save it to buy stuff we want. Or we can focus on stuff that money can't buy -- quality of life, quality time.

There's a story of a go-getting millionaire businessman who walks out along the (Mediterrean/Caribbean...) beach from his 5-star hotel, and trips over a local stretched out asleep beneath the palm trees on the sand. "Why aren't you out working?" snaps the irritated millionaire. "You people have no spirit of enterprise. If you just got off your ass and started fishing, you could sell the fish to this flash hotel. If you worked hard, you could buy a boat and catch more fish, and make enough money to run a fleet of boats."
"And what, senor, should I do then with all that money?"
"Why, you could sell your fleet and you'd have enough to retire to somewhere like here and live a life of leisure enjoying the beach and the sun..."
And the local yokel tipped his hat back over his face and went back to sleep in the sun...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Our freezer is stuffed with runner beans, we've been giving them away to neighbours -- and begging the neighbours who share the fence they grow against to please, please pick all they can see and reach. But next door (a Congolese family) though they nod and smile when I tell them this are leaving lots of beans that have grown huge and tough. While the harvest lasts, its overwhelming -- but as soon as a few beans have been left to grow old and ripe, the plants will stop bearing.

Nature produces short gluts -- gardening is (among other things) the art of having lots of different gluts throughout the year in more or less manageable quantities. But high summer, now, is when all the gluts come at once.

At the weekend, I tried bottling applies from our two 'minarette' backyard trees (one is definitely Lord Lamborne, the other I think is Worcester Pearmain but it may be Ashmeads Kernel) in order to clear the whole shelf of our fridge they were occupying, plus the overflow on the benchtop attended by a cloud of little gnats . My second ever go at bottling -- not very successful, only one of the three jars formed a seal, and the fruit rose in all the jars. But I have become a pretty dab hand at jam-making: the first three years I tried it, I worked very conscientiously by the book -- achieving the chemical transformation to 'jelling' point, then transferring the super-heated solution to (hot sterilised) jars and sealing them to maintain sterile conditions is pretty serious technical stuff. I probably wouldn't have dared tackle it if I hadn't, as a kid, seen my mother making jams, so I knew it is something that can be done at home and had a very vague and basic idea of what was involved. It is, of course, something you tell the kids to stay clear of as basic health and safety precaution. Now, I just launch in -- measure up for 1 pound sugar to one pint fruit or strained juice, boil up the fruit, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Wash out the jars while it's boiling up. Usually, that's as far as I get on Day 1. Next day: bring the fruit and sugar back up to a rolling boil, put the jars in the oven at 120F for a minimum of 10 minutes, after 15 minutes at rolling boil start checking the jam for 'jelling point' by dropping a spot of it onto a cold saucer -- once the surface wrinkles when you push at it, its set. Turn off the heat, and ladle into hot jars. I seal while its still hot -- waxed paper discs onto all the jars, then dampened cellophone covers. Leave to cool, then label and stash away -- we keep ours in a 'dead fridge' (which will get a separate blog entry) outside the back door.

Tomatoes just starting to ripen; mass of lettuces (Rossa di Trento) starting to go to seed down the allotment -- they've been such good growers that I'll let at least one of them ripen seed for re-sowing (and for opportunistic self-seeding).

Pressures of time: werk which advocates getting into the great outdoors, engaging with nature, physical activity and psychological relaxation/fascination creating health and well-being -- but what I do for werk is sit indoors at laptop, go to meetings, or sit in trains, stopping me from getting out there and actually doing the stuff we advocate. I can at least, werking at home, be distracted by watching the small birds at the back garden bird feeders.

Fingerprints and identity

The laptop issued me by Natural England for which I werk has a fingerprint recognition swiper. Theoretically, this saves the owner the bother of remembering passwords etc and also means only they have access to the machine. There have been ghoulish speculations that any baddie really wanting to break into the system/steal the machine would chop off the unlocking finger, in an unromantic update of the Tom Lehrer song.

My problem is that, as far as the machine recognition is concerned, I just don't seem to have any fingerprints. At least, none that it can recognise. Perhaps it's soft feminine skin; perhaps they've been worn away by gardening, or swimming.

But when it comes to bio-metrics for ID cards, passports, credit etc -- am I a non-person? And how many other women, blokes, children also have finger whorls too faint and soft, or worn and cracked, to be reliably readable as identity markers?

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Why this blog

1) Reflections on balancing the demands of an 'environmental' job with living a sustainable green life -- including community action, as well as home, garden, allotment
2) Reflections on the practice and theory of permaculture, as a system for thinking through (design) sustainability -- as a balance of earthcare, peoplecare and fair shares
And no doubt, other stuff about life as she is lived.