Tuesday 15 July 2014

Blooming marvellous!

I have spent a glorious spring and early summer as an "In Bloom" volunteer for a project aiming to improve the town and in particular with plants. Rather than sitting for seven hours a day on a computer I have been outside in the open air learning about the care of roses, edging techniques, planting up enormous town centre pots - the list is endless. I feel much healthier for it too.
planting out in central reservation
My other local environment volunteering is focused on litter picking and prevention and as I have blogged before although it has its moments it can be pretty disheartening and people, for all sorts of reasons, do not often engage with you. Here a morning in the park tending the roses means contact with all kinds of people from newcomers to the town who don't have many connections yet to parents and grandparents with children in tow. If I ever had any doubts about the value of this kind of initiative I will remember a remark from an older man who strolled past us as we tended some planters with the remark "It makes you feel glad to be alive". In fact most people, even in these times of strictures can see how uplifting plants can be. I say most people - one man used  a stage whisper to utter "More bloody flowers" the other day and I don't know how we managed to keep calm! Still he was a very small, miserable voice.
planter by canal

Of course it is not just the plants. Once you start looking in more detail at the spaces around you there are all kinds of small things that you can do from clearing all those pesky weeds to repainting posts and staining benches - all part of the In Bloom work. And then of course litter picking dovetails in here too [changes hat].

But I love the variety. One day you could be planting in the river - we have had some new berms put in recently, and the next you could be painting posts.
river planting
repainted posts

The In Bloom volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They include people working full time who take annual leave to get involved, to retired people with no knowledge of gardening [most people profess to having no knowledge of gardening!] or people who have not got enough garden of their own and more time now, to people with special needs who find a role they can cope with. Then there are the groups of children. This year six year olds planted all our sunflowers and made posters. School children planted fruit trees and tended vegetable gardens. It takes a lot of coordinating and I am glad not to be in that role but the team work is amazing! Not for me boring office meetings about some nonsensical topic, but tea breaks discussing pruning techniques and if we need waders in the river! Love it!

Thursday 29 May 2014

A load of rubbish

I am involved in a litter action group and we have become very interested in recycling as a result of picking up so many cans and bottles on the way. Nine of us went to see what happens to the rubbish from our town.

 The waste management facility is very geared up to visitors with 10,000 children a year coming to learn about recycling and landfill. We started with a presentation that included a look down on the 500 acre site and all its services from the Mechanical Biological Treatment [MBT] to the Materials Recycling Facility [MRF] to the anaerobic digesters and composters and the inevitable landfill.

So much to see and learn.We were particularly interested to know what happens to our blue binned rubbish - co-mingled recyclables. Our presentation took a live camera peek at some of the 20 people dealing directly with our waste at any one time, in the MRF cabins. Workers stand at a fast moving conveyor belt removing particular materials into skips in 8 hour shifts. We were transfixed by the large plastic film removal area. Other cabins were looking for 3D, plastics etc. You can see the categories they remove in the picture below. 95% of the co mingled rubbish received is recycled.
recyclable materials reclaimed

Much of the facility is mechanised.
paper recycling
We were impressed that the MBT facility picks out some of the recyclables [our black bins] and that all is not lost if for some reason rubbish has been assigned the wrong bin. It is however much better for the environment - and cheaper - to put it in the correct bin in the first place. As a litter picker who gets some less than savoury plastic bottles and cans - the best place is the black bin rather than mix with the cleaner blue bins materials.

I think the plastic bag issue hit us the most. Not really any plan for them beyond baling them up for some, as yet, future use.
plastic bag bales

Our group picture included a Mors Bag - made from recycled fabric and given free as a replacement for plastic bags. More information from www.morsbags.com.

The drive round the facility created a lot of questions about landfill, methane gas and slurry and the relative merits of burning rubbish which some countries favour. We knew from earlier training that authorities are charged as much as £103 a ton for rubbish that goes to landfill and that there are big targets for recycling.

I think it is safe to say that we went away with a much better understanding of what happens to our waste, a little depressed at the sheer volume of it all and with more questions buzzing around in our heads! 

Oh and did I mention the smell? How could I forget that!

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Not messing about on the river

Working on looking after the local environment in the most practical way I know - clearing litter - continues with an exciting new twist! Our group has purchased a dinghy to attempt to retrieve sunken litter and litter on riverbanks inaccessible from land

We wanted to pick up some tips about using boats to collect litter. Four of us spent an afternoon on the River Soar, a much bigger river than our meandering River Welland. Here we met experienced  litter pickers working with the Outdoor Pursuit Centre. Right in the middle of the city there are monthly sessions which often involve 20 volunteers on the water in canoes or on the riverbanks above them.

We started out being kitted up with gloves and of course the life jacket which felt more like a strait-jacket and makes you feel a little less agile! 
volunteer in life jacket 
The sight of the canoes - see right of picture - gave me the jitters - especially when I realised we were to work in pairs. I am notoriously uncoordinated on boats - the steering confuses me! However needs must. Next the litter picking gear - two types of picker - big pincers were new to us but we were going to be lifting heavy sodden litter and they are better at this than the traditional pickers. And very impressed to find we were to separate our litter into two hooped bags - one green and one red.

bags ready
Off we went in our canoes and had to learn very quickly how to steer especially as we were competing with vast groups of canoeists out for the afternoon. And the current is very strong in places. Some frayed moments - not only in terms of litter...

I found there was a knack to keeping close to the bank to allow your partner to pick the litter. Need to have something to cling onto even if it is only a blackberry stalk..Taking pictures at the same time was not an easy option..
I'll just get that Warburton's wrapper..

The worst offenders are plastic bags which either drape themselves in overhanging branches or languish on struts and offer all kinds of terrors to wildlife. Very heavy to lift out too.

I chatted to two litter pickers on the riverbanks - regulars who had seen some sights in their time. They spoke about finding an old safe in the river, a bag of passports, bags of puppies and kittens. Not for the squeamish in a river this size I think. You never know what you will find. We took "on board" a heavy bag the river bankers had collected to save their shoulders.

The weather wasn't ever so kind to us novices - it rained and even hailed - but we were wet from the start and it was another lesson we learnt I think! Wear waterproof trousers next time...

Friday 13 December 2013

When's the funeral?

I have lived through some harrowing cremation services - and one burial - from the all singing, sobbing variety to the quietest, quickest stranger led service. I am haunted by the sight of a funeral manager pressing what to me looked like the "next" button at my father's funeral. I think the allocated time was twenty minutes in this busy south London crematorium. So when my partner announced that he and his family were opting for an unwitnessed cremation for his mother I didn't need much persuading that they were opting for the right thing. She was a woman with no religious views, no close friends, away from her place of origin and uncomfortable at social occasions. She would have approved of this approach. But people have been so caught up in the psycho babble around "closure" that they have convinced themselves that seeing a coffin in a room [including that symbolic movement of it to another place during the service - the tear jerking moment] and getting some stranger to spout your words about them helps them come to terms with their death. This has been so evident this week as  I have been responding to the automatic "When's the funeral?" and - when I have the energy - talking  about unwitnessed cremations. Quite a shock to people who have never considered this. And the idea of closure is firmly embedded. It is the next thought they have once they recover from the idea of not having this ceremony.

In the same way that our lives have been hi jacked to celebrate a commercial Christmas or halloween our deaths have been hijacked by the marketing - oh so subtly - of this witnessed ceremony and all the trimmings. Funeral companies are geared up in every sense for the big event. It takes some determination to actually find that there is a small and hopefully growing demand for something much simpler.

A blogger writing last year has researched the whole closure issue more academically and directs us to articles that examine it  http://simpleethoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-controversy-with-closure.html.

Personally I do not want my last act on earth to be a polluting one so will opt for a woodland burial - but I would like it to be unwitnessed too. To wish for anything else would be self indulgence now that I know there is an alternative!

Monday 25 November 2013

A litter picker's tale

One of  my big hates is litter. Some years ago I joined a local environment group and have volunteered to pick up the litter in three streets. Every time I go out I think about how I am feeling and wish I could record it for a blog but it is not easy to capture the mood and that bit of sweet wrapper at the same time.

I was interested to read a blog which recorded people's feelings on picking up litter http://litterwithastorytotell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/earth-day-how-i-feel-when-i-pick-up.html and I can relate to all of them. But I find it is much more complex than that.

Let me tell you about my patch - it is three streets of  terraced housing that includes a Chinese Takeaway, a paper shop and a circular seated area and small "flower" bed. Pictured is a typical Saturday night/Sunday morning scene.

And what I find so difficult is that  every piece of litter that I see dropped has behind it a person with so little interest in the world around them and so little insight into the effect of their actions that when I look at it it seems to throb with indignation. And then there is the wry knowledge that the tomato sauce sachet won't be alone - it will be followed by its mates - the cup, its lid and the straw, and then the napkin, the foam box and some of the uneatable contents - we have other takeaways within walking distance and one major offender a short drive away. Plastic spoons are the worst - when they have been walked on repeatedly and splintered into tiny intrusive shards.

It is interesting to observe the psychology of all this on others when I am out litter picking. I am always pleased when people speak to me - especially as they have to make an effort to engage me as I am usually focusing on getting that picker to clasp a cigarette end [don't get me started] or something that needs head down and concentration. Apart from the cheery quip "Doing community service then?" I have noticed though that less people want to have eye contact with me than if I was just walking along. Do people just see a little eccentric old lady and nothing else? Is it a collective guilt? A few do speak admittedly but those with children most don't use the opportunity to tell them - and they are clearly interested - why someone is picking up litter in their street and there is a distinct scurrying. I find it hard to be assertive because it feels accusative. One lovely resident brought out tea and scones though for a group effort around this bench and its flower bed and that was a great feeling.

I get a sense of satisfaction out of recycling. I always collect recyclables separately while I litter  pick and make sure that those drink cans [funny how you get a sixth sense about them being full still] and glass bottles and plastics get to my recycling bin. That alone makes me feel that it is all worthwhile and apart from bad days like the takeaway above the litter is - I think - reduced. In the mean time we work on other strategies to stop it being dropped in the first place.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Goodbye to all that

There is a reason for the dearth of posts and absence from blogging land and it is a four letter word that I may well have given up for good! WORK!
Farewell to my workplace - time to move on!
The focus of my blogs for the next few months will be about making adjustments to a new way of life following a long period of change and then three months learning a new job and heavy commuting. The fateful day of the big decision has come and gone and now here I am keen to enter a new phase in my life.

So will I be able to focus on all the things I have imagined for so many years that I would do as I entered by later years free from the 9-5 drudgery? Will I finally be able to use all the arts and crafts materials taking up a whole cupboard, all the fabric scraps lining my wardrobe waiting for textile projects, read all the books - the big hardbacks no good for the train - that I have collected together over 40 years? Do some serious baking again?

Every time I go for a walk I want to find out more about what I can see about me. Fungi and lichens fascinate me and the fabulous patterns in plants and I love to photograph them.
Common Puffball

I want to sing more than one evening a week and have the time to practice. I want to give more time to my local environment group and perhaps inspire people to bin their litter if nothing else. I want to get more into "guerilla gardening" too.

Then there is family and friends - quality time with family and friends - a grand tour perhaps. We'll see...so this is the plan and I will be watching this space to see how I have been getting on!

Wish me luck...

Tuesday 15 January 2013

There are bag pipes

Having been in that barren blog free land since September I have, today, decided to take up my ..keyboard. Two prompts - a comment on my last blog jogged me and an hour later I found in the pocket of my trousers a piece of paper with eight words on it - Bag pipes. There are some pipers in kilts.

handwritten note
This note goes some way to explaining the sudden drop off in my blogs after 16 months. The note was passed to my Mother in law who was sitting by her bed on a rehab ward in hospital after a fall that fractured her hip and arm. She fell not long after my own Mother had had a nasty bout of pneumonia.

It was not the mobility problems that ensued after the fall, or the problems with dressing or even the delicate dressing and bathroom arrangements that caused the most anguish....it was her hearing. Before the fall she had been very deaf and stubbornly refusing to have any investigations with a view to seeing if there was anything that could be done. This meant that specialist services for deaf people were also not part of the picture too. She had once been told as a girl not to let anyone touch her ear ...yah ..yah and she just turned up the TV a bit louder very week.

But after the fall she went completely deaf. Not even yelling one inch from her ear would get through.  We have resorted to writing everything down. The bonus is that we all know what has been said and she can keep messages with times and dates on them. This message was to tell her that just outside her door two men in full Scottish dress were playing bagpipes - and was it loud. [actually it was excruciating..an acquired taste are bag pipes!] She had no idea. It was then we realised the extent of the problem and when we moved into full message mode. She is just about to start on an investigation 2013 style so let us hope she can get some of it back as she is getting mighty  weary of subtitled TV..even if the neighbours are having a quieter time!