Train prices in UK set to rise – AGAIN

Once again the train operators in the UK intend to raise their ticket prices yet again, and that well above the rate of inflation, in some cases in the South East of England and some groups of tickets well above ten percent.

Already now train travel in the UK – on long distances and short – is more expensive than is flying. While it is possible to fly from London to, say, Manchester for around £60 return, by train the cheapest rate is over £100 return. Does this make sense? Certainly not if this country’s government is serious about wanting to get people out of their cars and to have more people use public transport. If you make it more expensive than driving or flying this is NOT going to happen. Apparently this is not something the powers that be understand.

Or, and now I know that this would fall under the tag of “conspiracy theory”, is there something else behind this all? Are the powers that be trying to make it as difficult as possible for people to commute and force us all to live, once again, close to where the jobs are? If you cannot travel to work by car, the use of which is being made more and more difficult and it may, indeed, be a factor to environmental pollution, cannot, financially, afford to travel by train – or other “public” means – to work and it is too far to walk or cycle then, by simple force of mathematics the workers, white and blue color alike, will have to, once again, move back to closer where the work is. This means a return to the towns and cities where people can be monitored better. Just some food for thought.

If the government of this country is really interested in reducing car use and still being able for people to commute then there is only one way; cheaper train travel, on a nationwide scale.

In addition to that, in order to green the travel to work, we must have a proper cycle lane network. Not the gimmicky so-called “cycle lanes” that extend for a few yards to a few hundred yards and then, often, very abruptly end.

Furthermore we need to have a rail travel where we can take along, even on our journeys to work, the bicycle along, so that we can get from the railroad station to our place of work without the need of taking, say, a taxicab. Let's green our countries in the way of travel and transportation.

To sum up; the fact that the train companies are (allowed to be) putting their fares up, yet again, well above inflation, is not going to make for less car use, of that we can be sure. We must have cheap – not just cheaper – public transport, in towns and cities, but also across the nation. It does not make sense that I can fly cheaper from London to Manchester than using the train. This does not compute.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), November 2007

Pedalite Pedals – We are on Again

& so are new pedals...

Having reported to you in the pages of this journal the other day, that is to say on Tuesday, November 20, 2007, the failure of one of the Pedalite Pedals of my review set and my assumption that water might have been the culprit I would like to update you on what it happening.

Firstly, it seems that it is some sort of mechanical problem rather than water and something in fact appears to have come adrift inside the pedal affected. More details on that as soon as I get the information back from the good folks ate Pedalite International who now have the set of old pedals to carry out investigations up them.

I now have a brand new set of pedals on my bike and, as before, I am thrilled with the powerful flashes of light from the LEDs in the pedals. I feel so much safer riding my bicycle in the dark, and often for me this is a must; the riding of it in the dark, that is.

The nice folks from Pedalite International in fact came personally, but then I do not live a million miles away from their offices, to change the pedals on the night of Wednesday, November 21, 2007, so that investigation into the failure of the pedal could begin the next day. Now that is what I call customer relation management.

There is a chance that the set that I was given on the Cycle 2007 Show was in fact a “Pre-Production Model” and now a proper production run of the pedals and the failure could be due to that fact. We shall find out in due course I hope and think.

I have to say that I am very happy that the last report and verdict on the Pedalite Pedals is not going to be the final one as I am, in general, very fond of those pedals. We all hope that this is but a freak incident and all will be well in the end. As Simon Theobald, the Managing Director of Pedalite International, said to me on the phone, Murphy and Sod are alive and well and their law often still has bearing on things.

I doubt that there is anything out there on the market that gives the same visible protection to the cyclist as do those pedals and they are an “always on” system, with no batteries to worry about and no chance of forgetting to turning them on.

I shall keep you updated as to the outcome of the investigation and as to the further riding experience of mine with the Pedalites.

© M Smith (Veshengro), November 2007

Pedalite Pedals – The Final Verdict?

After having now used the Pedalite Pedals (see my previous entries here and here) for less a month I must say that my first impression of “Wow! I am bowled over” has rather changed.

This is due to the fact that one of the pedals, the right side one has, probably due to the amount of rain and associated mud we have had in the last couple of days, basically, ceased working, as regards to the lights. The white diode only now works – as a stationary light and non-flashing – when the pedals are actually in motion – and that only, it would appear, as and when it feels like it – and the other two diodes, the amber and the red are no longer working at all. The strobe effect is gone and there is no longer any energy left after the pedalling has stopped while the left side one, so far, is working still as well as before.

I must say that had this not been a review sample and had I actually paid good money in the form of £34.95 for it I would not only be rather disappointed but in actual fact would be demanding my money back

That these pedals, or at least one of them, should have ceased working after only such a short period of time is not a good omen.

Therefore I have to say, in all honesty now, that I have to withdraw all my previous good reviews of the Pedalite pedals, as I owe it to my integrity and especially to my readers to speak the truth.

I can therefore no longer recommend Pedalite pedals. Improvements certainly will have to be made by the manufacturer in that moisture, rain, etc. do not adversely affect the electronics and other workings of those pedals.

Considering, as said, that the pedals have only been in use with me for about a month – they were fitted on October 17, 2007 and it is November 20, 2007 at time of writing – I must now give this product a definite and absolute thumbs down.

At the retail price of £35 those pedals should be entirely moisture proof – for I can only explain the failure to the fact that I have had to cycle through water in the recent day or so – and should not be failing like the review set that I was supplied with did.

If it is a water-related failure of the pedals then I can only say that this is not a good sign and this product falls into the same category as the “Bikehut” three-LED front-lamp that failed on me in less that 5 months due to water having gotten into the workings and shortened out the LED chip and leaching out the acid of the batteries. I was told in that instance – that light I had actually purchased and it was no review sample – that the light must be kept out of direct rain by both the retailer and manufacturer's agents. Sorry? Pardon? Do they really expect anyone NOT to use the lights on the cycles in the rain? They cannot be serious, to paraphrase a certain tennis player.

© M V Smith, November 2007

Boiling only the amount of water that you need!

Again and again we, the ordinary people, are being admonished to boil just the amount of water needed to make, say, our cup of tea.

While this is indeed very good advice – who in their right mind would want to waste energy, whether gas or electricity (and water), and to that we could also add to that, and time, to boil more water than needed – this is not always as easy as said, especially with electric kettles that have a “minimum water” level which often is well over one large mug size even.

Someone find me one – that does not cost a small fortune – where the “minimum capacity2 is not well above a large mug size and we don't even want to mention ordinary cup size. Most kettles require about 1.5 mugs of water to be on the minimum capacity level. This must change, and kettles that have a smaller capacity must be made more affordable, before people will be able to boil just the amount of water needed to make the one mug of tea.

In addition to that people must be educated that is costs a lot of money to boil a full kettle. For some strange reason some folks actually believe that they save money when the boil a full kettle. Beats me why but it is so. I have had people actually say that I am wasting energy just boiling a small amount of water. How they come to that conclusion is beyond me but there are many who seem to believe that.

© M V Smith, November 2007

Mayor Ken's DIY Planet Repairs Kit

Review by M V Smith

I could not say as to whether the “DIY Planet Repairs Kit” that is being sent out by the Office of the Mayor of London, is Mr, Livingstone's personal idea and brainchild (though I do doubt that), but then that is neither here nor there.

What, honestly, is supposed to be achieved by sending out, at cost to the environment and London Council Tax payers, a little kit in a cardboard box (recycled board???) consisting of a little A6-size booklet of 42 pages, though well written, with some suggestions (we shall look at one or two of those later on) on how to be a little green, a coffee mug, which could be suggested as a water measure for the kettle as it has the slogan “Only boil enough water for the cups you are making”, a 4-minute “egg-timer” intended to be used as a timer for the shower so you only shower for four minutes, some stickers and a button badge, beats me.

The suggestions in the booklet are OK and also well written, such as “waste not, want not” on page 7, as well as many other suggestions and pieces of advice. One did make me rather smile, as I assume that I will not have been alone in that respect, and that was on page 10 where it states “Don't rush to flush – if it's just a pee”, suggesting not to flush the toilet every time that one visits it for the “pee”. I am sure, though, that some folks may not have smiled that that suggestion but have thought it rather outrageous. I am in fact not among those but think of it as rather good advice, considering how much water is, literally, poured down the drain each and every time we pull that lever or that chain. However, might I ask as to whether the Mayor of London does follow this advice himself?

Though I do live just outside of Greater London I was nevertheless kindly sent the kit upon request, without mentioning the publication even, though it took about two months at least to arrive; I did get advised of the delay and the reasons for this and received updates on a regular interval by email. The reason given was that the demand had been much higher than anticipated and therefore there were delays in getting the kits out to those who asked for them. I must say that I find the entire thing quite cute, but... I do believe that the small booklet would really have sufficed, or better still it would have been had it been just a publication on treeless paper, e.g. downloadable as a PDF, on the website only.

I am not knocking the kit per se but, like mentioning the packaging on the “Bye, Bye, Standby Kit”, I am thinking about the cost of to the environment here. It is all supposed to be about reducing our carbon footprint and all that jazz but the government offices who thus advice the public churn our tons and tons of paper, etc. in the effort to tell people to not to use so much paper, to use virtual newspapers instead of paper ones, etc. Often it appears to be the old nanny-state adage “do as I say and not as I do”. That, in my opinion, is just not good enough.

Green up your garden this Autumn – Gardening Tips from Ecover

Spending time in the garden is one of the most relaxing ways to spend a weekend. It is also a great way to lower your food miles (by growing your own vegetables), encourage biodiversity (by planting for wildlife) and reduce your kitchen waste (by composting!). You might already be reducing the amount of chemicals in your home but why not follow some of our top tips for greening your garden

Avoid using pesticides and insecticides in your garden, try out some natural alternatives instead. For example crushed eggshells or sharp grit is an excellent alternative slug repellent.

Re-use household rubbish in the garden ice lolly sticks for plant labels, egg boxes for seed trays and compost your kitchen waste in a wormery. With a bit of imagination your empty Ecover washing up liquid bottle could become anything from a mini-cloche to a bird feeder. Email your garden inventions to (Please also share them with this journal - Ed.)

To combat a slippery moss covered path add half a pack of Ecover chlorine free laundry bleach to a watering can and sprinkle over. The moss should quickly die off.

Save water by installing a water butt. Alternatively try out a Drought Buster, which uses the siphon principle to empty your bath water onto your garden.

Here are 5 top gardening tips for Autumn to help you on your way to greener fingers:

1. Don’t be too tidy! Worms love leaf litter and a healthy lawn will benefit from worms dragging fallen leaves into their burrows below the turf.

2. Don’t bother with bonfires. Pile all your autumnal trimmings into a corner of the garden: compost heaps provide habitat for all sorts of helpful gardening allies, like hibernating hedgehogs, nesting bumblebees or slug munching slow worms.

3. Leave stands of teasels, evening primrose and even sweet corn plants to over winter; the seed will provide forage for flocks of finches and all those nooks and crannies in the wrinkled vegetation will house hundreds of hibernating invertebrates.

4. Make (or buy) some bug boxes, hollow tubes like bamboo canes, cow parsley or even the dreaded Japanese knotweed make superb dwellings for safety seeking bugs. Stuffing plastic bottles or steel cans with layers of stems or bark and placing them in a protected place ensconced in a log pile or cleft of a shrub is not only fun but provides habitat for ladybirds and lacewings alike.

5. Many species of birds will be looking to put on some weight in anticipation of colder and harder times ahead so its a good time to clean bird table and feeders before offering winter time treats like sunflower hearts or suet.

Being greener in the garden by encouraging wildlife is easy and fun particularly if you get the kids involved!

Jewish National Fund Launches Environmental Awareness and Carbon Offset Program

As a new year dawns for the Earth and its inhabitants, we must take responsibility for its future. Jewish National Fund, Israel’s oldest environmental organization, is proud to announce JNF GoNeutral - An Environmental Movement for Tomorrow

You are invited to our site, where you can calculate the average amount of carbon dioxide you put out each year by answering a series of questions about lifestyles and energy consumption, and then offset these emissions by supporting JNF’s century-old afforestation program in Israel. Trees play an important role in the Earth’s carbon cycle, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and breaking it down into carbon and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air while the carbon is sequestered in the tree.

You can also support JNF’s other cutting-edge environmental work, such as the research and development of alternative energy sources, water desalination and recycling techniques, arid land management, and combating desertification.
Actor Chris Noth has kicked off the campaign, becoming the first person to "GoNeutral" with JNF. Known for his roles as Mr. Big on "Sex and the City" and Detective Mike Logan on "Law and Order," Noth, a committed environmentalist, has been a friend of JNF since he planted an olive tree in JNF's Presidents Forest in Jerusalem on a visit to Israel in 2004.

Since 1901, JNF has utilized its world-renowned forestry expertise to plant more than 240 million trees in Israel, transforming 250,000 acres of arid land into sustainable forests. These trees have absorbed an estimated 110 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere. JNF also leads the world in water desalination and purification techniques and organizes international conferences on desertification and arid land management.

“With a century of experience in greening the landscape of Israel, JNF has evolved into a global environmental leader and is uniquely positioned to spearhead this campaign about environmental accountability within the worldwide Jewish community,” said Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, D.Min., JNF’s chief of institutional advancement and education. "Our Jewish tradition reminds us of our responsibility for the Earth. JNF GoNeutral reaches out to both young and old, making them active participants in protecting our planet's future."

Because the first and most important step in curtailing climate change is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the GoNeutral website. also lists simple ways to cut down on energy consumption at home, in the office, and on the road, encouraging participants to reduce their emissions as much as possible.

GoNeutral with JNF. Visit

Nylon teabags coming to a supermarket near you

Supermarkets in the UK, apparently, have begun stocking teabags made from nylon mesh, rather than the traditional perforated tissue paper.

Experts predict the nylon variety, said to be the next best thing to loose leaf tea, could come to replace the paper version.

The bags are based on a Japanese innovation from the 1980s, and Asda, which is owned by Wal Mart, uses the new-style translucent nylon teabags for its Extra Special range, while Sainsbury's now sells St James fruit teas, made with silky, food-grade nylon. The bags are large enough to be filled with whole leaf tea, fruit, flowers and herbs.

The nylon bags are around four times more expensive than the paper version and have previously only been available at specialist tea shops. This is the first time they have gone on sale in mainstream high street stores.

While experts say that “these nylon mesh tea bags are the next best thing to whole leaf tea brewed in a teapot," it beats me why we do not, in fact, rather use loose leaves in a pot or, if you have to brew in a cup, why not use a infuser. I know of some people who carry their own tea and infusers to do just that.

This is the world gone mad entirely, in my view. While everyone is being encouraged to recycle and to compost where possible along come teabags that cannot be composted so, you have to open the bags if you want to compost the tea leaves and you still have something left that is not biodegradable, and that is rather a messy affair. This is utter madness.

"Hopefully, this type of bag will become the norm”, said the same expert. I rather hope not and I hope that the environmentally conscious consumers will send this idea to where it belongs. Into the annals of stupid ideas and inventions. Nylon is a product of the petroleum industry and do I really want to brew my tea in “plastic”? I do not think so.

I would rather see the demise of the teabag altogether in the interest of the planet and the return to proper tea in the pot – or by use of a infuser. In some supermarkets I find it is actually difficult to actually buy loose tea and let's not even talk of teas that are not “standard” such as a favorite of mine, South African Redbush tea. It seems to be only available in teabags.

Let's hear it for the loose tea and the infuser.

© M V Smith, November 2007

Reelight – Product Review

On Sunday, November 4, 2007, I finally managed to get around to fitting the set of Reelight SL100 Flash Extended that I received as a review sample at the Cycle 2007 Show at Earls Court, in London, a couple of weeks ago, to my Raleigh Pioneer Classic bicycle.

Reelights are “driving lights” for bicycles with no need for batteries as they have theyr own own energy source by magnetic induction. They are made with LEDs with long lasting durability and tested also under severe climate condition

Bikelights have a documented increase in safety with up to 32% for cyclists. Reelight bike lights are for cyclists who need stronger and always turned on bike lights. Motorbikes and cars drive with constantly turned on driving lights in many countries – and make themselves thereby much more visible and safe when in the traffic. Bike lights are made to light your bike up day and night. Because Reelight bike lights are very strong, always on due to their own power source and no need for batteries and the fact that they are on as soon as the wheel moves you will also be more visible during day light. This means more safety for you when riding your bicycle as you are seen easier by other road users, whether during the day or in the dark.

While the fitting is quite easy to achieve for anyone with a little experience and knowledge in fixing up bicycles and who has the right toolkit one could benefit from some more detailed fitting instructions. Despite the fact that I am quite versed in fixing up bicycles and have a rather comprehensive toolkit for cycles it took me the best part of an hour for fix the set of lights to the bike. I would, therefore, recommend that anyone not all that well versed in cycle maintenance and repair have this set of lights fitted by a cycle mechanic.

While the version that I was given for review, namely the SL100, does not continue flashing at stopovers, the SL120 version, apparently, does. I cannot, however, report on it as the review sample is the previous version, e.g. version SL100.

As for a little ride report I can only say that the flashes are very bright, even in daylight, and there is no loss of kinetic energy from the magnets in the wheels.

As those lights do not use any batteries whatsoever it should and has quite nice green credentials. One part, unfortunately, offsets that into the negative direction and that is, like with the “Bye, Bye, Standby” kit I reviewed a while back, the fact that the packaging is, to a great extent, plastic “wrap” of a kind that is hard or even impossible to recycle, according to waste managers at some councils.
I am sure that one could use just a cardboard pack like is used, for instance, with the Pedalite pedals.

Review by M V Smith, November 2007

Reelight website

Recycling alone will not do

Even if we would recycle everything that can be recycled in the UK – and the same is probably true also for elsewhere – there would still simply too much waste. Something must be done with that.

There is only one answer to this problem; we simply MUST reduce our waste; the waste that we produce in households, in industry and especially the packaging waste and I am not only referring here to the plastic carrier bags.

The problem is that, probably even then, after the step above, there will still be some stuff left that needs to be disposed off. In an ideal world, maybe, that would not be the case but...

...we do not live in an ideal world and won't be, I am sure, for some time to come.

Therefore the non-recyclable waste must be used to produce energy, whether this is by means of incineration in waste-fuelled electricity power plants – no NIMBYS please – or by anaerobic digestion and the use of the resultant methane gas for the generation of electricity, or as gas for heating and cooking, does not matter. What matters is that holes in the ground are no longer an option.

Other countries can do it and are doing it rather well. However, when this even gets as much as suggested in Britain firstly everyone – especially the likes of those that claim that they are all for the environment – gets up in arms against such incinerating electricity generators and we are also being told that it cannot be in Britain as, apparently, Britain is different to Germany, Holland or Sweden. Then again we are also told that Britain is different when it comes to, say, micro-generation of electricity and selling of possible surplus from such activities back to the national electricity grid, but then, that is rather another story.

Regarding waste we have only one major option and that, aside from recycling, is reducing the waste that we produce. We must look at recycling maybe also in a different light, e.g. Not so much to the large commercial operation but in fact looking at the craftsman or -woman who has ideas of how to turn waste into reusable items. This, however, also requires a different approach by banks and grant-giving bodies. I guess this is, however, again something that could not possibly be done in the UK.

Food for thought, I hope... let's go and make a change.

© M V Smith, November 2007

Don't rush to flush -

- if it's just a pee

This is the advice given in the DIY Planet Repairs Toolkit (review of this little "kit" to follow soon) from the Office of the Mayor of London.

While the idea of not flushing the lavatory each and every time, even if it was just a “pee”, may offend some people and even be considered unhygienic and even unclean by some, it would save lots of water if we all would follow this advice. Each and every time the loo is flushed “unnecessarily”, gallons of perfectly good water are just literally poured down the drain.

If we see that even in countries as rich – at least in some places that country is – as the USA there are places where water has become so scarce that the supply has to be trucked in by tanker and then is released from a water tower to the community only for a few hours each day then such advice as given in that booklet from the London Mayor's Office might be worth more than just a little consideration. Who know is we not all, one day, be faced with similar water shortages as are being reported from the USA, if we do not learn to conserve water.

While households are one source of water wastage often, as with all too frequent flushing of the lavatory and leaving the tap running while brushing teeth (Why would anyone do that? What's wrong with using a beaker?), industry is one of the major users and indeed wasters of water, though only second in line after the water companies themselves who do not fix leaks and broken pipes fast enough. Before they should even be permitted to tell their customers to conserve water, however important and necessary this may be and is, they must get their own act together first and sort out those pipes that seem to be more porous than a sieve and that are for ever leaking gallons and gallons of water into the surrounding soil and elsewhere.

© M V Smith, November 2007

Love Food Hate Waste campaign launched in the UK

LONDON - New research has revealed that Britons waste a whooping 6.7 million tons of unused fresh fruit, vegetables and baked items annually. The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimated that the cost of these food items touches at least £8 billion per year.

Therefore a new campaign called 'Love Food Hate Waste' has been launched in the country with an aim of increasing awareness among consumers. The organizers estimated that almost one third of all food purchased in Britain's High Street ends up being wasted.

Food that is thrown away often ends in landfills, where it decays and released gases like methane, which are classified greenhouse gases. The WRAP claims that when energy expended to pack and transport the food is taken into account, almost 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is spewed into the atmosphere.

"Our research showed that 90 per cent of consumers are completely unaware of the amount of food they throw away. Once attention is drawn to it however, we know that people are surprised and keen to take action," said Liz Goodwin, chief executive of WRAP. "If we could halt the amount of food being wasted in this way, we would make a big impact – the same as taking 1 in 5 cars off UK roads."

The Love Food Hate Waste campaign is also being backed by celebrity chefs including Ainsley Harriott, who said that throwing away vast amounts of food was a criminal waste. "You don't have to be a chef to know how to cut down on food waste, you just need to care about your food and your pocket and the rest will follow," he added.

For more information on the campaign as well as tips to prepare and store food, please visit the website

RSPB Gone Crazy?!?

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has bought, so I understand, an area of 1800 acres of prime farming land on the coast of Essex, UK, and is intending to flood it with seawater to create a salt marsh for wading birds.

Duh? Why? Why reduce prime agricultural land that Dutch engineers wrested from the sea some 150 years or so ago at great expense to a useless salt marsh; in other words, to return it to what it was before it was reclaimed?

Yes, OK, for the wading birds and all that jazz and I am all for the environment but... Why destroy productive land? This is environmentalism gone made.

The RPSB, which is a charity, seems to have accumulated too much money from subscription from its members, donations and other sources (and maybe the Charity Commission should take a little look into what it going on) and if I would be a member of that organization which, thank the Gods I am not, I would cancel my membership sort of yesterday.

Environmentalism gone mental is not, it has to be said, the sole prerogative of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Other environmental organizations too have their share in this, including such organizations as Friends of the Earth. They should about the need for renewable energy but as soon as a wind farm or a wave energy plant is proposed somewhere they go up in arms against it. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have wind energy and other renewables – and we must get away from bio fuel that comes from palm oil (this is another subject though) – without placing the plants for this somewhere. Not in my back yard does not work with this. Time everyone realized that.

Just my 2cents on this subject.

© M V Smith, November 2007