Friday, 16 December 2011

15th Century Kitchen Herbalism

The TV series, "Tales from the Green Valley" (which I seem to have missed) contains some great and not-so-great scenes. If like me, you're vegan or vegetarian, scenes of animal slaughter and animal consumption (and they seemed to consume every part, unlike most of today's society) are not something I especially want to watch, even though I know it goes on.

However, I digress, follow the link below to go to a YouTube clip of the 'women' making some herbal medicines for the families winter ailments:

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Beautiful House Truck

OK, I realise that this is rose-tinted glasses material, but from time to time, why not?

I'm fascinated by small, portable dwellings, and especially those built onto or into a van etc. In my dream world, I've converted several vans into little 'houses' that I use to have adventures and explore the wonderful countryside in the UK. Whilst this is a wonderfully romantic idea, I know that the reality might be somewhat different and then there's the unhappy grating of my environmental beliefs against using all that diesel to travel with!

Anyway, as a nice distraction, I came across a website which featured a really pretty dwelling built onto the back of a 1950's 'Green Goddess' ex-military, decommissioned fire engine.

Here, on the first exterior shot you can begin to appreciate the beautiful wood used on the body of the house part, although I'm not sure about the blue and yellow paint they've used on the cab etc. Personally, I think a cream or green would have been more to my taste.

I love the rear 'deck' area and you can see a couple of the large rooflights that help to keep the interior bright and airy. Again, not so sure about the blue panels on the side and back - they don't really fit in from a style point of view, and what are they used for I wonder? Nevertheless, the house truck has a striking profile.

Moving to the inside and this is where I start to salivate! The wood finish and style works perfectly in this environment, helped by the fact that it was not shop-bought timber, but self-milled. I like the storage for books (apparently this vehicle was used as a mobile 'art installation' and the books were all post-apocalypse themed, designed to make people 'think'). The stained-glass window looks the part, although as with the exterior, I'm unsure of the blue metal panels. Definitely need a few more cushions on that seat though - I think I'd be spending a lot of time sitting there.

Finally, looking from the back towards the cab, you can really see the wonderful triangular roof lights here, with the right one just above the chimney of the wood burning stove. I'm in love with the little sink and tap which just seems so 'right'. Once again, the rustic, yet perfectly used woodwork compliments the whole thing. Above the cab, it looks like there is a bed, although the headroom is minimal and perhaps not ideal for claustophobics!

In my dreams, this is parked in a woodland, not far from the coast (possibly in Cornwall). The evening is drawing in as I settle down with cup of nettle tea, brewed on the wood burner. There is the feint sweet aroma that you get from a wood burner - comforting and soothing. Now which book shall I read tonight?

Care to join me? Sweet dreams....

You can get more information on the person behind the house truck here:

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Peace, quiet, stillness and mist

Morning Rays
Morning Rays by Tony Armstrong on Flickr

Winter is beginning to rise and gently asking autumn to pass. We've still got relatively warm weather at the moment, but a clear night brings in a chilly mist that looks like the finest gossamer between the moon, stars and the land, not blocking the light, but shifting and softening it.

The last couple of nights and mornings have been virtually windless too, which together with the mist, can bring an eery, still atmosphere. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to the stillness is that the sounds of the roads and not-too distant motorway appear louder and closer than they should.

I don't like it when this peaceful world is invaded and violated in this way. These unnatural noises are now such a part of our lives that we barely notice them. I could never understand how people who live under flight-paths could get used to it, but I suppose even that can just become background noise for some people, but not me, I think.

I can remember being in my garden when we had the solar eclipse a few years back - as well as the peculiar light we got, I remember also the stillness and quiet. The same was true when the we had the petrol delivery strikes in 2001 - there was a calm, a peacefulness, a reclaiming.

Of course, I am a hypocrite. I drive, so I make noise wherever I go, but I do lust for peace, silence and tranquility.

Ahh, the magic of silence.

Friday, 14 October 2011


You know the feeling you get when something is wrong, but you can't quite put your finger on it, or maybe you think you know but you can't quite articulate it well enough, or maybe what you think scares you because of the enormity of the consequences of your acceptance of a problem or situation? 

Maybe, just maybe, I've found a book which will help me to accept, contextualise and articulate my thoughts and words on something that is on my mind - Derrick Jensen's Endgame : Volume 1, The Problem of Civilisation.

So what is on my mind? I'm interested, very interested, in environmental issues. Specifically, there's the issue that most 'developed' and indeed 'developing' countries are fixated on continued and probably endless economic growth in a world where there are finite, and in many cases, dwindling, resources.

Nobody, especially our puppet leaders, seem able to mention the unthinkable - that endless growth cannot possibly continue, and that the environmental damage we're doing to the planet - our home - is so immense and that most western civilisations are able to 'outsource' the worst, lowest paid jobs, and much of the destruction and degradation to 'less important', less visible and less vocal parts of the world.

Endgame essentially says that the problem is that 'civilisation' cannot be sustainable and never has been, and goes on to explain this and other related matters in great detail. If you accept what the book is about, and in all honesty, I would defy most rationally minded people not to, then some very deep and awkward questions sit in your mind.

I'll be exploring some of these in due course, but suffice to say, this book is a game changer, if not a life changer for me. Where do you go from here?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Alone in a Crowded Room

Yesterday evening, we were invited to a 50th birthday party for a friend of my wife. There were 104 people there and I'm sure they are all lovely, but I could not connect at all.

The place had no soul, the people were loud, the music was louder (and was more suited to a 21st birthday). It was everything I am not. Am I just getting grumpy as I get older, maybe less tolerant, or is there something else?

I felt lost and alone in a crowded room.

I felt angry with myself for wasting my time and my life by being here, but on the other hand I felt I should be respectful and thankful that I had been invited.

Fortunately, my wife felt the same as I did, and so after a couple of hours and with a plausible excuse, we said our thanks and goodbyes and left.

What I am and what I want is becoming clearer. My purpose, my direction, my goals, my path are slowly materialising before me. But the transition itself will still be hard - just because you know the direction you should be going in, doesn't making turning around easier.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Hidden communities - the Hutters of Carbeth

Please read the update at the end :-)

Because the British Isles is a relatively small place and over developed (from the point of view of buildings, both commercial and domestic), you don't expect that there are many 'hidden' communities. Those out there are often fighting with the authorities or land-owners for survival. One such place is called 'Carbeth' in Scotland and it was originally set up in 1920, but really came into its own just after the WW2 when it became an 'escape' for some of the people of war-torn Glasgow and Clydebank.

A few years ago, the 'hutters' of Carbeth were being threatened with ridiculous rent rises from the landlord (in Scotland, the vast majority of land is owned by a very small number of wealthy estates) who, it became clear, intended to keep increasing the rents until the people moved off. They were also threatened with violence if they resisted.

This short film gives a little background to the people, their buildings and the struggle, which has resulting in them forming an association with the intention of buying the land to preserve their future.

Whilst some of the huts are very 'Heath Robinson' each is beautiful in its own way! The setting looks fantastic - what a wonderful place to live!

More information:

Reforesting Scotland:

In 2013, the community of hutters at Carbeth managed to purchase the land through protracted negotiations with the land owner - their future is now secure!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What would it take for you to act?

One of the issues that I'm exploring and reading about currently, is what would someone do when presented with a fact or concept that they totally accepted, but in doing so, it then exposes a hypocrasy within their current way of life? In other words, what is a person's 'tipping point'?

In a previous article, I included a video showing Julia Butterfly Hill talking about Disposability Consciousness, and since then, I've discovered that for 738 days between December 10, 1997 and December 18, 1999, Julia Butterfly Hill lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree, called Luna, to help make the world aware of the plight of ancient forests and deforestation.

Luna was over 1,000 years old and 200 ft tall. “When I entered the majestic cathedral of the redwood forest for the first time, my spirit knew it had found what it was searching for. I dropped to my knees and began to cry because I was so overwhelmed by the wisdom, energy and spirituality housed in this holiest of temples.”

Clearly, she had reached her own personal tipping point and felt compelled to act.

Birch Shrink Pots

I love natural crafts, although I'm painfully aware that I need to 'practice what I preach' and actually do some myself!

These Birch Shrink Pots shown above are made by the well known wooden bowl turner revivalist, Robin Wood. With a lid, they look like they'd make an incredibly beautiful herb storage container!

They're made by taking a smallish 'green' birch log and hollowing out the centre and then carving a rim on the inside towards the bottom. A pre-shrunk disc of wood is inserted into the rim in the base and as the pot naturally shrinks, it grips and seals the base - ingenious!

Robin Wood made this 'Porringer' (below) which I've already featured and is, in my eyes, a work of art in itself.

Robin runs courses on spoon carving etc: Carving Courses

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Disposability Consciousness

Great and passionate video of Julia Butterfly Hill.

She talks about 'separation syndrome' as in we are able to think of ourselves as separate from nature, separate from where resources are taken from and separate from where we dump our 'waste', creating a 'Disposability Consciousness'.

She spoke with many native tribes and asked whether they had any native words for 'waste, disposable or trash' - they did not, because all traditional knowledge knows that there is no such thing.

Some key quotes that I got from the video are:
"When you say you are going to throw something 'away', where is 'away'?"
"It's only called waste if you're not using it properly" 
"We cannot have peace on the earth, unless we also have peace with the earth" 
"Our disposability consciousness is a weapon of mass destruction"

Quote of the day

‎"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

~ Anaïs Nin

Friday, 23 September 2011

Derrick Jensen quote

“Our bodies know what is right, if only we listen to them. Beneath the enculturation, beneath the addiction, beneath the psychopathology, our bodies remember that we are meant for something better than this, that we are not apart from our human and nonhuman communities, but a part of them, that what we allow to be done to our landbase (or our body) we allow to be done to ourselves. Our bodies remember a way of being not based on slavery—our own and others’—but on mutual responsibility.”

Derrick Jensen, Endgame

I've only read essays and online articles by Derrick Jensen. His book, Endgame, is on my reading list. Whilst I don't agree with everything he has said, or some of the people he associates with, there are some very intriguing aspects to his views that resonate with me and where I am at this point in time.

Thursday, 1 September 2011



Do not stand at my grave and weep 
I am not there, I do not sleep 
I am a thousand winds that blow 
I am the diamond glints on snow 
I am the sun on ripened grain 
I am the gentle Autumn rain. 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush 
of quiet birds in circling flight 
I am the soft star-shine at night 

Do not stand at my grave and cry 
I am not there, I did not die…

Friday, 5 August 2011

Adventures in Wonderland...: simple sundays...

Adventures in Wonderland...: simple sundays...: "this morning... There was only a hint of sunshine behind the clouds ... I like the way that sea thrift looks nice even when it's finish..."

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Beautiful Tricks of Flowers

Simply brilliant TED talk about flowers and the tricks they use to pollinate. Well worth 15 minutes of your time!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

Ed and Will (and sometimes a friend or two) walk around the UK, singing for their supper and a place to stay.

Here's a taster of them singing with a friend in a pub car park...

A Walk Around Britain

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cycles of life

My mother-in-law has been in hospital now for over 14 weeks. Initially at Warwick Hospital and subsequently moved to a smaller, cottage hospital, where the care has been exemplary. We have seen the worst (well, almost) and the best of the NHS.

By the way, I feel that the best the NHS offers is when good, qualified, reliable and experienced nursing staff are allowed to do their job with pride and not be 'controlled' by faceless, penny-pushing managers.

Despite having radiotherapy for a brain tumour (she's had, and has been treated for cancer for the past 6+ years), the treatments have not worked and we're in that awful situation where the most that can be done is to keep her as comfortable as possible. A reaction to the steroids didn't help, neither did a bout of shingles.

We kept thinking she'd be recovering "if only she'd get over the steroid side-effects..." and then "if only she'd get over the shingles...", but the reality then hit us all, that she's not going to get better. She's been in bed all this time, unable to even sit up, and nowadays, increasingly uncomfortable.

She has good days and not-so-good days. It's strange how the extra-ordinary, even the shocking can become your new 'normal'.

She used to come over and stay with us on a Tuesday night when she went out with a friend, but now I'm thinking, "she'll never come round and sleep in that bed again..." and "she'll never put the cutlery back in the wrong drawer and make us 'tut'!".

In her garden, there are some beautifully fragrant roses. In fact, I think they have the most wonderful, rosy, fruity scent I've ever smelt. It was such a shame that she wouldn't be able to see them or smell them, so her husband cut some flowers and took them into her.

She's a wonderful woman. Incredibly brave and well loved by family and friends. We are all suffering with her, but I am mindful that life is a part of a bigger journey.

Here are some of the magnificent roses in Anne and John's garden - I can almost smell the scent from the photos!

Friday, 24 June 2011

What makes a salve different from an ointment, and different from a balm?

When you start getting into herbalism, you do have to start learning some terms which may be unfamiliar to most. You'll probably be able to guess what an 'infused oil' is, but what about a tincture or an elixir as opposed to an electuary?

With a good teacher and/or some good books, all will become clear in due course - there's no need to rush! I suggest starting in a small way and make sure you enjoy yourself.

Over at 'Whispering Earth', Lucinda has put up a article about salves, ointments and balms with some useful recipes too, including a basic vegan salve recipe. This does throw up one of the issues I've covered before which is the use of beeswax and being a vegan...

In a nutshell, the Vegan Society decreed in 1988 that vegans should not use or consume beeswax or honey. Until then, it was considered OK and in fact I have some old vegan cookery books which include honey as an ingredient in a few recipes. I completely understand their point of view - there are many unethical beekeepers whether they are small-scale or industrial and without doubt, bees are exploited. On the other hand, the alternatives to beeswax are often exotic plant waxes that have travelled many thousands of miles to get to the UK and may have dubious farming/harvesting practices. So, is it better to find a good, local beekeeper who could supply you with some beeswax rather than use one of the alternatives? Of course, if it was possible not to have to use beeswax or the alternatives at all, that would be great, but realistically that's not the case.

At the moment, I don't use honey. I would use it medically, but only where there was no alternative. I currently don't make salves, but if I did, I think I would probably try to locate a local, ethical beeswax supplier rather than the exotic plant waxes purely for sustainability/environmental reasons. There would be no circumstances that I'd use animals fats - period!

Candelilla wax (above) is often used as an alternative to beeswax in balms and other goods. It's native to northern Mexico and parts of the USA. So if you live in that part of the world, it's probably quite a sustainable thing to use (if you know it's origin).

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Is Amazon pulling your Kindle?

Earlier this year, Amazon announced that they were now selling more e-books than physical books. Is it a coincidence that they make this announcement not long after they introduced their new Kindle 2 e-book reader?

Personally, I don't know anybody that owns a Kindle, but maybe I don't enough of the right people! Anyway, everything I say is just conjecture and my opinion!

It makes economic sense for Amazon to promote e-books over traditional books - they don't need a warehouse to stock them, they don't need to buy them in advance so cash flow is better, they don't need to pay staff to pick and pack them, they don't need to post them, so no packaging costs etc., and of course you can't pass them on to your friends when you've finished.

There are some environmental reasons why e-books make sense of course - they don't consume paper, which for reading things like novels (which you don't tend to keep) and daily newspapers makes sense, there are no distribution costs - no diesel for lorries to send them around the country etc. I don't know what the overall environmental footprint e-books have compared to printed books - I suppose it depends on how many e-books you'd buy versus the number of printed books.

What concerns me most is whether Amazon are telling the truth about the number of e-books sold in order to big up the Kindle, to make people feel they're missing out unless they have this latest gadget - is it just a marketing ploy to get people on board?

I have to confess that do buy from Amazon - they have an excellent range of books at reasonable prices, good if not free postage costs, and are usually my first stop when looking to buy something. I also don't tend to buy/read much fiction, so maybe I'm not their ideal customer.

Maybe I'm just too cynical. I have an iPod Touch and have downloaded Apple's e-book reader as well as Kindle software, but the screen is just too small to be useable. I have a relative who has an Apple iPad and he doesn't buy any daily papers now, instead, he has subscriptions to the electronic versions which get delivered automatically each day.

I just think that a lot of the joy of a book is in the holding and feeling, which is difficult to get with en e-book reader. Is this just a gadget that a market has been invented for and isn't really needed?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New Shed Door

A few years ago, I decided to 'improve' my shed. I had already installed a small (10 watt) solar panel on it for lighting etc, but I wanted to experiment with insulating it and generally 'pretend' to be building a bigger dwelling, to get some experience along the way.

The original shed - note door hinges on the
right side - soon to be changed!

My neighbour had just had laminate flooring put down and had some of the underlay material to spare - it had foam/polystyrene on one side and foil on the other - I thought that would be OK as a liner. I then bought a large roll of loft insulation and put that between the battens of the walls and roof. Finally, I used tongue & groove panelling to cover it all up and provide a nice finish inside.

My shed with insulation and panelling being installed.

I built a framework for a bench and even fitted a hand-powered water pump in case I wanted to make myself a cup of tea. I know it was overkill, but I had a great time and learned loads (I would do all slightly differently now - but that was the whole point - it was an experiment in building).

I boxed in my solar electric system (that also was a mistake I learned - never assume you'll know where you want lights and sockets, because things always change!).

Note door - left hinged and stable-style (plus window). Large solar
panel is just leaning there temporarily!

The plan was to make a new shed door too, but after spending a lot of time on all the stuff so far, I needed to get on with other things that I had neglected, so that was put on hold for a while.

The original shed door was hinged on the right, but shortly after we had the shed, I changed the hinges to the left to make access easier with the growing shrubbery outside. I then decided it would be nice to have a window in the door, and make it a stable door, so I reused the shiplap cladding and turned it from vertical to horizontal. All was well initially, but two things happened 1) the shed heaved slightly, so although the door was perfectly straight and level, the opening ceased to be, and 2) I never used the door as a stable door - good idea, but pointless really.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to start the new door. It's actually quite hard to make a door fit a skewed door frame (when you're using straight wood that is), so to help everything stay at the angle/bend I wanted, I decided to make a basic framework and then clad the inside with plywood - this means, once fixed, the door is permanently braced and won't ever droop. Having fixed the back, I used some polystyrene insulation sheets (a friend gave them to us - they were actually packing materials that some products came with and were due to be chucked out), and then lined the front with exterior shiplap cladding and painted it.

New door showing basic framework with plywood back - this keeps
it 'skewed' to fit the deformed frame.

Plywood panel can be seen in more detail here.

Almost finished! Rigid polystyrene insulation (recycled) under the cladding.
Glass and door furniture to be fitted.

This is were I'm up to now.

I've realised that I must like 'doors' quite a lot - looking though my photos (collected from trawling through the net), it seems that quirky doors seem to attract me! Doors are perhaps more important that we think - besides being physical barrier between inside and outside (which at night time means the difference between warm and cold), they are the threshold, the divider, the line you cross between spaces, so a quirky door makes people realise that they are indeed crossing into a new, perhaps even sacred space.

I thought I'd post a few photos I've found of various doors. Hope you enjoy them!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Word of the day: Incongruous

incongruous |inˈkä ng groōəs|
adjectivenot in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something the duffel coat looked incongruous with the black dress she wore underneath.DERIVATIVESincongruity |ˌinkənˈgroō-itē; ˌi ng-; -kä ng-| noun ( pl. -ties)incongruously adverb

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Life - the good and the bad.

Life tends to give us our greatest gifts, disguised as our worst nightmares.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Green Beautiful

A friend on Facebook posted a link to this 'cult' French film which is now available with English subtitles on YouTube. The Green Beautiful (La Belle Verte) was apparently banned in the USA and it's easy to see why (watch the film).

It's broken down onto 9 parts. I watched the first part and maybe because I was in the wrong mood, I didn't really get where it was going and it all seemed a bit strange, so I left it for a few weeks. Today, I made myself watch the first part again, and then the second and it all started to fit together.

Strange, but hugely thought provoking and beautiful.

Monday, 14 February 2011

My aching back

I've had a weak back for a long time, possibly from lots of driving and bad posture (sitting behind a computer screen) when I was younger -  who knows? Since reaching my 40's I've been aware of how important keeping one's health has been - there are so many things that I want to do with my life, but a lot of them will involve a degree of physical strength, so having something like a bad or weak back was to be avoided.

Of course, thinking and doing are different things and when you feel well, you get complacent and end up doing nothing preventative. Until that is, a problem strikes and you realise just how vulnerable you can be.

Last week, sciatica struck. I woke up with a twinge in my back and thought that, as usual, it would disappear within a few minutes. Well it didn't, but the next thing I did was rather stupid - I spent 2 hours or so digging over a vegetable patch. I know, I know - I've had the lecture from my Chiropractor today about listening to the body, but at the time, you think you're invincible and think you know best.

5 days later and I'm still in absolute agony, but slowly starting to feel a bit better. I've been given instruction to sit in front of the computer for no more than 20 minutes at a time and then walk around for 10 minutes.

I guess the lesson is a) to listen to your body b) to act on your intuition and c) prevention is always better than cure.

Hindsight is a wonderful gift.

Monday, 7 February 2011

They're selling our forests

I signed the petition to 'Save our Forests' at the excellent 38degrees website. My local MP, Lorely Burt wrote back to me, which was good (she has been a good campaigner on local issues), however, she has voted for the bill to go through and seems to have fallen victim to the governments spin.

The 'consultation' she refers to has a number of options. Unfortunately, one of the options is not to keep things as they are. One of the issues that the government seems to have is that the Forestry Commission (FC) is seen as both a regulator and is therefore regulated by itself. OK, this is perhaps wrong, but surely the answer would be to split the FC into two rather than sell off the forests?

Here's what she said. I will be trying to get to see her.
Lorely Burt MP for Solihull
03 February 2011
RE: Forestry Commission 
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding the Forestry Commission.
I would be strongly opposed to any proposals to change the protection that our treasured forests and woodlands currently enjoy, to restrict public access to them, or to sell off "heritage forests" (such as the Forest of Dean) to the private sector, but there are no such proposals. The coverage in some parts of the media of the government's proposals has been very misleading.  
The public benefits of our Heritage Forests, which include the Forest of Dean, New Forest and Sherwood Forest will be maintained in full. There will be no sale of Heritage Forests to the commercial or private sector. The government is tabling an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill in order to enshrine this principle in law.  
However, many areas of woodland in the Public Forest Estate are used for timber production and there is no reason why the government should be closely involved in this. The government proposes selling these sites on the open market.  
Even when part of the estate is sold, there will be safeguards. The sale to commercial investors will be conditional upon guaranteeing public access and sales will be on a leasehold basis of 150 years so that conditions on replanting can be guaranteed. The government will also not allow the sale of any site where more than 10 per cent of land is classified as Planted Ancient Woodlands (PAWs). Statutory environmental protections that currently apply will not be affected by any change of ownership.  
In terms of my own voting intention, I believe that it is appropriate to wait until I see the recommendations of the consultation before making this very important decision. I will be listening to constituents and colleagues, as well as representations of charities and interest groups in the run up to the debate on the day.  
There is more information on the DEFRA website and you can download a copy of the government's consultation paper from here:  
I would strongly urge you to reply to the consultation, as I will be myself, in order to ensure that the department is able to base their decisions on a wide base of evidence from many different perspectives.  
If you would like to raise any further issues or if you would like to come and discuss this with me in person then do please let me know.  
Yours sincerely,
Lorelt Burt MP
Member of Parliament for Solihull 
The forests are currently owned by the people. And according to recent surveys, 84% of the people are opposed to the sell-off, in any shape or form. So come on UK government, listen to the people and act.

For an up-to-date view on the situation, visit
You should also visit the Woodlands Trust website for their view on the sale.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Life is fragile and precious

Cancer is a word that I had not used until around 6 years ago when my wife's mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. The weird thing was that as soon as I started to talk about it to people, suddenly, it was everywhere - everyone seemed to know someone who had had it or had succumbed to it.

She had surgery followed by radio therapy, and despite some complications, she progressed well. At each yearly checkup, we all anxiously awaited the results, and each time she got the all clear.

Then in 2009, she began to get pains in her back and hips. She said that in her heart, she knew it was cancer, but didn't say anything at the time to us. Several trips to the hospital, tests and scans later, it was confirmed that the cancer had spread to her bones, with a spot detected on her lungs and liver.

A regime of chemotherapy ensued and the prognosis was not too bad. We had to accept the she would never be cured, but the doctors were confident that they could keep things in remission for a reasonable length of time.

The chemo seemed to work and as her hair grew back, so did her confidence. At times, you forgot how ill she had been and although the realisation that the cancer is still there never goes away, there began to be more good times than bad - holidays were planned and thoughts turned from now to the future.

A couple of weeks ago, she had a really sore throat and catarrh that just wouldn't shift. She choked when she tried to eat, but we thought it was just a throat infection. Her doctor was concerned that the problem wasn't going away, and given her history, suggested a prompt consultation with an E.N.T. specialist.

The ENT appointment was today. The preliminary diagnosis is that it's a nerve problem - something is stopping one side of the throat working properly. There is a possibility that it's due to the cancer - they can't be sure until a full scan has been completed.

So we sit here in our world that has been turned upside down. We live in hope that its not due to the cancer, or if it is, then it's something can be sorted out. But we also face the possibility that it is serious.

It's so hard to watch, not only Debs mum having to face this news, but her husband, my wife and other family and friends trying to take it all in. Life is put on hold.

Monday, 24 January 2011

What's important?

Somedays, you have to say bollocks to Twitter, Facebook and Email.
Somedays, you need to kick yourself and say 'so what'?
Somedays, you just need to look at the trees, or a sunset.
Somedays, you are reminded of who you really are.

Yesterday, it would have been my mum's birthday. She died, quite suddenly, 7 years ago. 

I need to talk to her, there are things I need to say. I'm sure there are things she needs to say to me.

Down to earth with a bang.

Tomorrow? Back to Twitter, Facebook, Email and all that crap. Keep on smiling.

Monday, 10 January 2011

My wooden bowl

In my last blog entry, I mentioned Robin Wood and the porringer bowl that I bought from him. Well, here's a photo of it in all it's glory.

Actually, this is bowl number 1 which split (just after I took this photo) - the problem in working with natural materials is that there are sometimes defects which don't manifest themselves immediately. Anyway, Robin was really good and sent me a replacement, which I've now had and used for over 2 years and is in excellent condition.

I love to use this bowl. The texture and feel is wonderful, as are the ergonomics. I hold the bowl with my left hand cupping it and with my thumb resting on one of the wings for stability.

With this type of bowl, the wide rim is of course turned complete and the unwanted sections are hand axed off afterwards.

In the YouTube video below, you can see Robin starting with a log and ending up with a bowl, completely made by human power!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

How to Make a Wooden Spoon

Following on from my previous post about 'green woodworking', one of the assistants on the course I went on was a guy called 'Barn'. Now, renamed 'Barn the Spoon', he has apparently been walking around the UK, making wooden spoons in return for food and shelter.

Robin Wood (honestly, that's his name) had him stay for a while in October and blogged about it here, here and here. In fact, whilst I'm mentioning Robin, he has a whole website category on spoon carving which you can check out here. I actually have a bowl made by Robin which was a birthday present from my wife a few years ago - the style is called a 'porringer' - I'll put some images on the blog soon - it's a gorgeous bowl to eat from!

Anyway, back to Barn the Spoon - I found a series of 4 videos with him demonstrating how to carve a spoon from a freshly cut branch. Apparently, when he's not being filmed and explaining everything, he can complete a spoon in around 14 minutes.

This is pretty impressive stuff - watch and enjoy!

Barn the Spoon and How to Make A Wooden Spoon part 1
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Barn the Spoon, and How To Make A Wooden Spoon part 2
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Barn the Spoon, and How To Make A Wooden Spoon part 3
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Barn the Spoon, and How To Carve A Wooden Spoon part 4
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Green Woodworking

Green woodworking is a traditional way of working with wood that is unseasoned, ie in the green. The fact that the wood will shrink in a pre-determined way (and by a known amount) after the item has been made is used to the advantage of the overall piece. An example of this is when making a chair, the cross rails are pre-shrunk for 24 hours or so in a 'hot box' (ie so they won't shrink any further) and are then inserted in the legs.  As they legs dry, they will shrink and grip the cross rails, meaning that no glue or nails are needed.

Chairs and stools made from green wood are also immensely strong because the wood is not cut against it's grain which can expose weaknesses. The people who made the chairs in this way were called 'Bodgers'.

Mike Abbott, explaining safety procedures.

In September 2008, I was fortunate to spend a long weekend on an 'Introduction to Green Woodworking' course with Mike Abbott. It was a wonderful and inspirational experience, based in Brookhouse Wood, not far from Bromyard in Herefordshire. Part of the joy was simply being there, in the middle of a tranquil woodland, with no electricity or phones, living and working under a massive canvas sheet and with a couple of open fires on the go at all times.

Everyone mucking in to prepare dinner.

Toilet facilities were a palatial compost loo for your poo and a secluded strawbale to wee on. The shower was a trug bucket which you filled with warm water from the fire and hoisted up in the air. A hose pipe came out the bottom of the bucket and had a tap on the end to control the flow of water. It was an exhilarating experience showering in the open, although I was also nervous of running out of water mid-shower and having to walk back to the 'kitchen' for more.

One of the fires. This one fed the 'hot box'.

The working area contained several shave horses, foot-powered lathes, wooden blocks and a brilliant collection of tools, plus a selection of wood to choose to work from.

For my main project, I decided to make a small stool. It was amazing to start with a log - literally complete with bark etc and then to cleave it into four pieces, each of which would become a leg. Using initially an axe, and then a shave horse with a draw knife, the quadrants of wood were rounded off and suddenly transformed!
Stool legs, drilled and ready to accept cross rails.

In addition to the stool, I also made a candlestick and a babies rattle on the foot-powered lathe. The rattle is actually quite complex for a beginner because it has enclosed rings - Mike made one, then I tried. It was OK I guess! It is perhaps sad for me to say that one of the most satisfying things to feel and hear is  wood being cut perfectly with a chisel on a foot-powered lathe - mmmmm!

My rattle above, and how it should have looked below!
It was my first time on a pole lathe though.

On the last day, the stool was assembled (no glue or nails) and the final test was to put the stool on a branch of a tree and hang from it. Fortunately, it all stayed together! The finish it off, I used strips of Wych Elm Bark to weave the seat.

I had a utterly brilliant weekend - Mike and his assistants were great teachers, and the other course attendees were all fascinating people. We had great communal meals and a couple of drinks in the evenings too!

I came home with a massive smile on face, but smelt of sweat and woodsmoke! Oh the memories!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

When Ideology Meets Reality

I'm quite an idealistic person. 20+ years ago, I became a vegetarian - not just the sort of vegetarian who eschews meat, but an avid label reader who avoided all animal products like gelatine and cochineal (a red food colouring made from crushed beetles).

Although I kept my old leather walking boots until they fell apart, I didn't buy anything with leather, which was really cool when people used to question my ethics and say "I bet your shoes/belt etc are leather" - which they weren't. With that brick wall in their face, sensible people would shut up and accept me, others would harp on about the cries of the lettuce as it was violently ripped from the ground - 'gosh, I never heard that one before'.

About 14 years ago, I got to know some people who were vegan - at that time, they were campaigning against the export of live calves from Coventry airport and I quickly made the connection with milk, calves and the live export, so I became vegan. Being vegan from a dietary point of view was fairly straightforward - yes the choices were more limited, but we (my wife became vegan at the same time, which helps) just got more imaginative with cooking.

Of course, being vegan is a lifestyle and much more than just food. Choosing to avoid, 'as far as possible' (the words of the vegan society) all animal products, means no wool and no silk. Again, it's fairly easy these days to buy clothes made from cotton or man-made fibres (in the early days, getting suits was a problem, but no so much these days).

So everything is fine isn't it? Well, no. Actually it's not.

You see, I'm also an environmentalist, interested in localism and look to the future (less oil available etc etc) and the problems that might bring. I have some lovely tops made from cotton, but most cotton is, I guess, now GM (genetically modified) and heavily sprayed with pesticides and insecticides - hardly sustainable. I have some great non-leather footwear, but it's made from oil-based man-made fibres which again is not sustainable. They might last well, although probably not as well as good pair of leather boots. Do you see the dilemma?

I have some nice 'hemp' garments, but generally speaking, they are very expensive (in monetary terms). The same goes for organic cotton or bamboo and so on. I'm not a 'fashionista', so I don't buy a lot of clothes which means I can afford to spend a little bit more than usual on the odd garment, but not everyone can and more often than not, the cheap, man-made fibre garments concern me in terms of sweat-shop production and so on.

Of course leather itself is not environmentally benign - the production (apart from the fact that it is/was the skin of a living animal) can involve various nasty chemicals in the tanning process, and again there are parts of the world where leather is produced that have less than ideal production and employment ethics.

Wool is another area where I can see both sides of the coin - on the one hand it goes against my vegan ethics of keeping/controlling animals for mans' use, where the animals are looked upon as just a commodity and I believe that around 40% of wool comes from slaughtered animals. Sheep, like goats, are also pretty destructive on the land where they are farmed. The other side is that it's a highly durable natural fibre that lasts well and in addition to use in clothes, can be made into house insulation and so on - so it can have some good environmental credentials.

Green woodworking course with Mike Abbot

Having said all the above, and as a vegan, I currently won't buy anything leather or wool (and family & friends know all this when it comes to birthdays etc!). I do have a pair of leather work gloves - a builder who did some work on the house left them behind, so rather than throw them away, I have used them on some tough jobs where non-leather probably would have been useless. I'm interested in green woodwork and if I pursued this, at some point I'd come across buying knives that come with leather sheaths, or leather straps that operate with pole lathes - what should I do?

I love the look and practicality of the leather pouches shown below. They are made by Ben Orford - a green woodworker who originally trained with Mike Abbott (Mike also taught me on my 'introduction green woodwork' course). They look durable, should last for years and really appeals to me, but it's leather and I'm a vegan, so I don't go there!

So what about the future? I believe in peak-oil (in fact, peak many things) which will force a new localism onto people and the economy. It will, in the not too distant future, become a lot more expensive to ship goods across the world, and the raw materials for what are currently 'cheap' items, will not be so cheap.

I know vegans (and many vegetarians) who will buy leather and wool and not feel bad about it (they somehow manage to block out the 'bad' bits). Equally, I know many vegans for whom the issue is very black and white - they will never be compromised into buying or wearing an animal product or by-product, at any cost, at any time.

Personally, I can see a time, when as an environmentalist, it would make more environmental sense to buy leather goods rather than synthetic 'leather-like', or maybe woollen socks rather than polyester. But the trouble is how I can reconcile that with my veganism? At the moment, I can't reconcile it, but in the future, I may be forced to change, ever so slightly.

Oh the joys of caring and thinking too much!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

January No-Tox

One of the herbal blogs that I visit regularly is 'Whispering Earth'. An entry yesterday was interesting as it referred to a January 'no-tox' regime. I've never done a detox as such, they sound like hard work and the whole term has spawned an industry of hype and false-claims, however, a 'No-Tox' diet sounded good!

Flower offering at the Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire UK
In essence, Lucinda writes that although many people think about detoxing after the indulgences of Christmas, it's actually a bad time because we're still in winter and the body needs different food types at this time of year (heavier, winter foods that build us up and allow us to survive the cold!), so a 'fresh greens' diet would a) be hard to get locally/sustainably and b) quite stressful on the body.

Lucinda says that it's better to have a 'no-tox' diet, ie one that eliminates/reduces our intake of toxins and focusses on natural, whole and unprocessed foods.

What I found interesting was Lucinda expands the idea of what toxins are, to include things like a TV program that leaves us agitated, unhappy, or with violent mental images and so on.

Her blog entry goes on to suggest some techniques to support the body after the seasonal excesses, such as body brushing, body rub, gentle exercise, seaweeds and green foods and hot lemon water.

Take a look at the full article and see how 'no-tox' you can go in January!

Whispering Earth : As The Strings of the Lute - A January No-Tox.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Regrets of the Dying

Perhaps a little morbid, but when you read this article, you get a view of life that precious and full of wisdom, because when it comes to the end of your life, you can honestly look back at the important stuff. Let's take heed from this and concentrate on the stuff that matters.

Calendula flower at Springfield Sanctuary, Nr Stow on the Wold, UK

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.  They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Do you think in straight or curved lines?

Alan Watts explores his relationship with nature.

Although filmed in 1971, it's perhaps more relevant today than ever. Let's stop thinking in straight lines and boxes and look at nature.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The beautiful art of Izumi Omori

When visiting Devon or Cornwall, we often explore art galleries and alternative shops for interesting cards and prints.

One artist whose work I've admired is Izumi Omori whose paintings have a magical quality and depth and is unlike anything I've seen before.
From her website: 
Izumi’s work features the magic of growth, the miracle of flowers and the life of the trees and hedgerows, alive with bees and insects. Her paintings shimmer with light and living energy, capturing transitory moments of many-layered life and growth in layers of paint and texture. They have both strength and delicacy; a blending of Cornish elements with Japanese style and sensitivity. Izumi’s paintings grow into existence by a process of building up and paring down, allowing the paint to speak and develop as it needs.
Izumi Omori explores her Japanese influences as she absorbs and explores the beauty of Cornwall. Born at the foot of Mt Fuji she has grown up with a love of the spectacular, that nature so willingly offers, Like the pure water of Shiyosenkyo a waterfall near her home town of Kofu, her passion to express the love of her surroundings run deep and vibrant in a enthusiastic colour of learning. 
Each painting is a journey, Sometimes she knows the path she travels and plans each step of it’s creation and sometimes likes to let the materials explode as she endeavours to take control of their ever defiant ways, she then leaves her painting as she reads the textures and reflects apon it’s creation and the influences that surround her, time has no passage as Izumi will only commit to put focus to her expressions, when she feels it is the right time and she understands what she what’s to translate, Izumi will sometimes build a painting to near completion only to tear it down and re-build it in to what it is she believes to be true, she has a great belief in evolution of art. She belives that art should penetrate more than just vision but should touch many other senses and if she can communicate this with her work she will have a found a true way to speak to all.
Please check out her website:

A Secret of Zennor - Izumi Omori

Afternoon Enchantment - Izumi Omori

Bluebell Woods - Izumi Omori

Pass to the New Future - Izumi Omori

Zennor Moon - Izumi Omori


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