The pathological consumption of the majority

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

13876526_1045327358850366_8227695636228548239_nThe pathological consumption of the majority, for I do know that not all participate in it, has become so normalized that we scarcely notice it.

The way the majority buys things that is, aside from the essentials, with which we are not concerned really when it comes to consumption for we all have to eat, have at least some clothes to wear, need toilet paper and other things.

What I do mean here with pathological consumption is buying the things that really they don't need and only buy because the latest version is on the market or whatever. It is killing our Planet, other people and ourselves in the end.

There is nothing really that they need, nothing that they don't own already, and still they keep on buying. The new smartphone that has more bells and whistles than the one they only got six months ago and which they still have not used to its full potential, and so on and so forth. And then there are all those things that really are of little use, such those unitaskers for kitchen and elsewhere that will never, actually, be used but be just white elephants. And yes, alas, I have also managed to buy one or two proverbial white elephants for the kitchen at times. Some people work just so they can afford the next new gadget, etc..

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence, meaning that they are designed to break or fail quickly and cannot be fixed or perceived obsolescence, that is to say by becoming “unfashionable”. When the new iPhone comes out it is obvious that an old one is unfashionable; or at least so we seem to have been programed.

Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing often a load of rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator. An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features. The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you, and we, the majority at least, have been brainwashed enough to believe that we need those things for our enjoyment of life. Things have gone so far that people go for hikes in the woods, along trails, etc., either glued to the screens of their smartphones and/or having earphones on or in and listening to some music, or podcast, or whatever. Pray, what's the point?

The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats, not that it ever really did. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population. The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash and the trickle down economy does not work and it is a load of hogwash.

So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics. Well, let's be lunatics then and swim, like living fish, against the current of this madness.

The problem is that the system is not broken but that it was designed in this way. So, what are we to do? May I suggest we break the system and make a new one, one that benefits all of the Planet; people, animals, and the biosphere as a whole.

To some extent some of us are already doing it by moving away from the consumer culture and -society, by reusing, upcycling and by making do and mending. By growing some of our own food and by making things that we want and need ourselves, even, as I love to do, from items that others regard as waste.

However, those that are doing this not only encounter ridicule at times, as said above, but are even seen and proclaimed – by governments even – as a threat to the economy and the nation. Thriftiness was declared by some politicians (in the UK) not so long ago as akin to domestic terrorism.

© 2017

Older people teach young ones traditional skills at GrandFest

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

GrandFest2017Older people led masterclasses in skills such as dressmaking and bread-making at GrandFest, a one-day festival in east London.

Thousands of people came together for GrandFest on June 18, 2017 to celebrate the knowledge held by older people and to learn skills that organizers say are becoming less common.

Now in its third year, the event hosted more than twenty classes at restaurants, pubs and shops around Spitalfields Market. Each class was run by a festival GrandMaker – all of whom are over 70 – and skills included quilting, wood turning and cider making.

It is very important to pass on the older traditional skills that are disappearing and there are so many old and traditional skills that are going that way and which also may be needed more than ever in the future, in the post-carbon world.

Even cooking from scratch, let alone brad making, including and especially sour dough bread, are skills that are fast disappearing. Others have almost gone entirely and many are going if they are not being passed on. That is why festivals such as this one are so very important.

Often such events are held in rural locales and while they need to be held and taught there as well for even in the countryside the old countryside skills are being slowly lost they also must be held in towns and cities and that also more often.

It is extremely important to pass on the older skills to a younger generation, and especially the young generation, as most are rapidly disappearing (the skills, not the younger generation) and many are already lost or almost lost.

In a time not so long ago those skills would have been, automatically almost, passed on from father and grandfather to son and grandson, and from mother and grandmother to daughter and granddaughter. But this has all but disappeared. Not because the young people are not interested but because the older folks think that they are not interested, or that the skills are no longer of any (practical) use.

The festival was hosted by older people's charity the Royal Voluntary Service, which helps more than 100,000 people each month connect with others and keep active.

As I said already, however, we need more of those festivals, fairs or whatever we may wish to call them, and that everywhere, as much as in towns as in rural locales. Even in the countryside many of the old skills are diminishing and are becoming lost as the old practitioners die and have no one to pass the skills on to.

And, in addition to that, we need grandparents to pass skills on to their grandchildren. Young children are generally very receptive and willing to learn and it will be much better for them to learn such skills that may come in rather handy, especially in the post-carbon world into which we are headed, than to play around on their PC, tablet or smartphone, engaging in useless games and other activities.

Introduce them, for instance, to gardening and you will be surprised how eager they will be to do it and to learn. The same goes for cooking, for woodcarving, leather working, and many other old – and not so old, even – skills and crafts.

© 2017

The reuse economy or reuse sector

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

reuse_fabrics-940x400New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia thinks, as does the department, that the reuse sector, both the nonprofit and the for-profit sector, are key to moving forward with regards to a New York City's “zero-waste” drive.

Compared to the heavy duty world of urban waste collection in New York, the reuse sector can seem quite esoteric. Now, the city is looking to make it a mainstream operation.

Because reusable items are generated more sporadically than the steady streams of refuse, recyclables and organics, the systems to handle them can be less organized. Due to a lack of awareness or access, it’s often easier for many residents to just put their old couches and dusty guitars out on the curb. In many places, one has to add, such systems are not – at least not on an official level – even existent.

So, let's look at what this “new” or “newish” sector of the economy, this reuse thing, actually is. Well, to have said new or even newish is rather incorrect for it is neither of it; it is quite old, only it was not called reuse or even an economy back then.

It was what the rag and bone man and others did, namely pick up things that could either be sold for scrap, refurbished, reworked or whatever, and secondhand shops, once upon a time, were very common. Now they have gone upmarket and are called charity shops. Often the same difference. And those charity shops are, obviously, the nonprofit part of the sector, although, considering that the items are donated to them, and even bought to them, they do make quite a bit of profit from the sale of them.

To bring about a more or less zero waste situation the reuse economy must also include and incorporate the repair, rework and upcycling economy, like those artisans and and other workers who will make goods, ideally usable goods and not just art, for sale, as a business, out of items of waste.

It it made to appear as if the reuse and remake economy is something new, recently invented by the green movement, but it has existed for ages. And even upcycling is not a new thing at all. It too has existed for almost ever and a day. Only it was not called upcycling. It was just what one did, and especially what those that did not have the financial resources to buy did. But it also was an economy in that people repaired, restored and upcycled for sale.

Fact is though that over the last number of decades it fell out of fashion and that was as much due to the fact that people just wanted to appear affluent pretending that they could buy new all the time as with the fact that products became, almost all, non-repairable.

The latter especially led to the demise of the repair economy and repair businesses, large and small, fell by the wayside and died a death. Yes, we still have the so-called shoe repairers, for instance, who often also operate the dry-cleaners and key cutting, but you try to get those franchisees to sew back leather upper to a leather midsole. They can't do it “because they haven't got the machine for it”, as I was told when wanting it done. They are not cobblers, the are just machine operators and if there is not a machine with which to do it they cannot do it. Anything that would involve sewing by hand, where a machine cannot be used, they cannot do. Basically all they can do it put a new heel or sole onto a shoe or boot and that is about it. And the latter obviously only if the shoe or boot has a sole that can be removed and a new one put on and with many shoes and boots today that no longer can be done today.

Before every manufacturer – or almost every one – jumped on the bandwagon of built-in obsolescence, following the likes of Osram in the mid-twentieth century and other US firms after World War II, the repair economy was everywhere because everything could be fixed, at least almost everything.

In countries such as the GDR – often referred to as (communist) East Germany – there were entire small enterprises as well as state combines dedicated to repair. The combines were like a department store where you could bring anything to be fixed, even bed sheets and such, though many things people just fixed themselves.

When the built-in obsolescence “hit the shelves”, so to speak, it was the death knell for the repair businesses, large and small, under capitalism, as almost nothing could be fixed anymore or was and still is too expensive to fix with repairs costing many times that of a new one. And we are surprised that our landfills are overflowing and that we have a waste problem.

That is not to say that people are not a problem here either as many seem to treat everything as disposable even if it is not. It begins with cutlery and other reusable things at picnics in parks where those items are, once soiled having been used for eating with, are tossed out just like disposable items. It carries on with clothes where a button has come off, even though they still have the button in their possession, and so on and so forth.

The reuse sector could really have its work cut out nowadays with people's waste alone to clean, rework and all that, and then bring it back into circulation. And if we add to that upcycling then we would really be motoring and a good thing it would be too.

© 2017

200 years on the bicycle is more needed than ever

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

bicycles_Amsterdam1Does it have to be a brand-spanking-new bicycle? No... The old one that you may still have standing around in your shed given a little TLC or some other secondhand one would be much better and ideally without the fancy gearing of today.

On June 12, 1817 the bicycle saw the light of the world, in the form of the Laufmaschine (Draisine), by making its maiden voyage under the captainship of its inventor, Karl Drais. It has come a long way since and today is more needed than ever.

It was born out of the need for a replacement – albeit temporary – of the horse as very few horses were left in Germany at that time due to a climate event which brought about “the year without a summer”.

Today not just a climate event but climate change makes the bicycle even more important, and in this case as a replacement for the modern horse, the motorcar.

While the climate event of 1817, “the year without summer”, went away, the climate and weather returned to normal. Horses came back into use as they could be fed again and there was food for people again too. The bicycle, therefore, descended into obscurity for some time. With climate change this is, more than likely, not going ever be a return to normal and we will have to look to the bicycle as a low-carbon alternative for travel.

Today's bicycles are about as far removed from the original concept of the running machine, the Draisine, as is the ox cart from the modern car, with the exception of the balancing bikes for children nowadays which are almost a Draisine, having no pedals.

Bicycles do not, that is true, do not achieve the speed of a car and neither can they travel the same distance in a day as can a motor vehicle. On the other hand though most cars are not used daily for long distances but mostly for short trips (with the exception of those that may use them indeed for long commutes) for which a bicycle would not only be more efficient and cheaper but also faster.

By the time you have the car ready to go on the road, especially if it is kept in a garage, have buckled up and all that, you would already be half way there with a bicycle. Then at your destination, say the high street, you have to find a place to park the car, and more than likely that will take some time and may even cost you money to boot. The bike, on the other hand, you can just “chain” to the nearest lamppost or such and you can do what you want and need to do.

The bicycle is also one of the most energy efficient vehicles for public transportation. Instead of burning fuel and money and making you fat it burns fat and keeps you fit. Though as a cyclist I do realize that in many countries the infrastructure is not there for cycling, at least for safe cycling, and drivers of motor vehicles, from cars to trucks, see the cyclists as someone, more often than not, who should not be on the road with them. That needs to change.

While we are seeing a year by year increase in bicycle use in Britain, including for commuting, no real serious change will come about until the political will is there to change the status of cycling infrastructure by creating safe paths for cyclists (and pedestrians) alongside every, or at least almost every, road, that are separate from the road itself. What can be done in other European countries can be done in the UK and no one can tell me different.

© 2017

Bring Your Own Cutlery needs to become a new trend

Bring Your Own Cutlery (BYOC) needs to become a new trend, no ifs or buts

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

BYOC1_webBring your own chopsticks has become a trend in Japan and Taiwan and this must extend to cutlery elsewhere. Bring Your Own Cutlery (BYOC) needs to become a new trend, no ifs or buts, but, oh, and here is a but, we then also have to take it home again to wash up when it is dirty. It is not difficult and not rocket science.

BYOC wherever you go, instead of using disposable plastic utensils that never biodegrade while littering the world's beaches. Even if plastic utensils are claimed to be biodegradable or worst still compostable they are neither, at least not under normal (composting) conditions.

As an “old” military man – and soldiers and officers always carry their own “mess kit”, at least “in the field” – it is a habit to have my own set of cutlery on me when I know I may be dining out on a take out that might require tools. I also have a set of chopsticks, in a leather sleeve, same as the stainless steel cutlery, for the same purpose. The chopsticks were found, thrown away, still sealed in their original package, after a picnic and the stainless steel cutlery is ex-airline. Those ex-airline knife, fork and spoon are smaller than standard cutlery but similar smaller cutlery can be bought in stores as well.

Plastic forks, knives, and spoons are one of those things that we tend to think are inevitable when eating on the go or feeding a crowd. Even though alternatives do exist, these are not widely known or accessible, which is a pity, considering the impact that plastic cutlery has on the environment. It does not biodegrade, and they are some of the most common trash that is found in parks and open spaces and also on the beaches. The majority of those never ever make it into the recycling stream either.

Along with shopping bags and straws, disposable plastic cutlery is yet another part of the pollution puzzle that is threatening the world's oceans and waterways. And, like bags and straws, it is a direct consequence of our societal obsession with convenience, something that would not need or have to exist if everyone took a few moments to plan ahead before leaving the house.

The strange phenomena that we, who work in parks and open spaces, now encounter is that people take real cutlery to a picnic and then, would anyone believe it, they leave them, once dirty, behind, either thrown into the trashcans or just left behind where they have been sitting.

So, what are the alternatives?

Most obviously, disposable plastic cutlery should be made illegal, which is precisely what France has done. All single-use plastic cutlery, along with plates and cups, will be banned soon: "Manufacturers and retailers have until 2020 to ensure that any disposable products they sell are made of biologically sourced materials and can be composted in a domestic composter." While that is a nice move I doubt that there will be any disposable products going to be coming on the market that are truly compostable in a domestic composter, though they may claim that, in the same way that they claimed that the plastic bags for the food waste caddies were compostable in that way and later industry had to row back saying that that was not what they meant but compostable in a commercial hot composting unit. But that was not what it said, at least not originally.

What we all really should start doing is carrying our own cutlery for eating in restaurants or on the go in the same way that many people travel with water bottles. So why not forks and knives, too?

China, and I understand also Japan, have recently pushed to get people to carry reusable chopsticks, in order to reduce the 20 million trees currently cut down each year to make disposable chopsticks. The campaign has been hugely successful, thanks to celebrity backing.

While we don't, as yet, have celebrity backing for bring your own cutlery it should, nevertheless, become something that we do as a routine. A small set of flatware can be easily carried; every soldier does so in the field, and more often than not in the pocket of the tunic or the shirt. Those military sets that clip together can be purchased as military sets (from many surplus stores) or also for the civilian realm as camping or trail cutlery (from camping and outdoors equipment stores). It was also common practice for Boy Scouts and Young Pioneers when going to camp to have your own clip-together set) or similar).

Many more restaurants should again be offering metal cutlery for eating in and that should also extend to ice cream parlors for spoons. It was the common practice not all that long ago. But washing real dishes and cutlery takes a little effort and that was – probably – the main reason that everything went over to plastic “garbage”.

Let's hear it for BYOC.

© 2017

Pen and pencil: for texting the old-fashioned way

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

pencil-clipart_640-480About 500 years ago or thereabouts a graphite deposit was discovered in England and sliced into the first pencils some time after that. Initially it was used in a holder.

Despite of the fact that the inner core of a pencil is called a lead there is no lead in it and lead was never used. The metallurgists who discovered this pure graphite in Britain thought that is was some kind of black lead and thus it was called plumbago.

In the 16th century, a large deposit of pure, solid graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, England. This was the first time in recorded history that high quality, solid graphite had been found. When metallurgists first encountered this substance, they thought it was some sort of black lead, rather than a form of carbon. Thus, they called it “plumbago”, which is derived from “plumbum”, which is Latin for “lead”.

It didn’t take people long to realize that solid sticks of high quality graphite were good for marking things. At that point, this newly discovered substance from the mines of Borrowdale became extremely valuable. So much so that guards were eventually posted at the entrance to the mine and laws were passed to stop people from stealing the solid graphite. In addition, once a sufficient stock of the graphite was mined, the mine itself would be flooded until more graphite was needed.

Of course, sticks of pure graphite are fairly brittle, so people started embedding them in various things such as hollowed out pieces of wood and also simply wrapped tightly in sheep skin. Thus, the pencil was officially born with a core of solid graphite, which was known then as black lead. The tradition of calling sticks of graphite “lead” has endured to this day, and in many countries the pencil is actually, in the vernacular, called, basically, a lead pen, such as the German “Bleistift”, which means precisely that.

But who uses a pencil anymore?

Pencils are like fax machines and margarine: They do a job, sure, but other things do the same job better – pens, email and butter, respectively. You can write a letter in pencil, but it's more adult to write in pen. You can solve a crossword in pencil, but it's more courageous in pen.

As far as I am concerned there are some things that a pen cannot do compared to a pencil, or at least not at the low cost.

When the US went into Space they spent millions upon millions to have a pen developed that could work in zero gravity, etc., which is now the Fisher Space Pen, while the Soviet Union (USSR) spent nothing, zilch, nada. They used what was already there and could do the same job, and yes, it was and is the humble pencil.

To be honest, we were issued – let me rephrase that... they tried to issue us – with the first generation of Fisher Space Pens (Bullet Pens) but they were so useless that we refused. The ink was so shall we call it think, or whatever was wrong with it, that it just could not follow fast enough as far as our writing was concerned. It just was not flowing well enough. Today the pen is somewhat better but I will just stick with an ordinary ballpoint or a pencil; thank you. Or, and now you can call me a real old-fashioned guy, a fountain pen, and ideally one that gets filled from a pot of ink.

But back to the pencil for a moment and the question as to who uses a pencil anymore? When I am working with wood, be it carving spoons, etc. I will mark the bowl shape (nothing else though) in pencil. On green, wet, wood a pencil mark works better than does a ballpoint pen and when I mark dry wood for cutting and such I always use a pencil, at time a flat carpenter's pencil. Also, the marks of a pencil can be removed from the wood (or whatever else) while that of a pen may be not.

Also, a pencil works when the paper is slightly wet (where often a ballpoint pen and especially a fountain pen will not), it will work on walls, upside down and in low gravity or even zero gravity environments, and in low temperatures where, again, ballpoint and fountain pen often will not do so. Thus there is still a place for it for sure.

I could not think about working without pen and/or pencil as I am still very much a pen and paper merchant. I also still write letters, though most of them, nowadays on the PC's word processing program and then printed out. The envelope, however, more often than not is addressed by use of pen though at times the typewriter – yes, one of those antiques, and mine is one, in fact – is used for that.

How could I possibly write in my diary – oh, yes, one of those books with paper pages in it – or my notebook, if it were not for the humble pencil or the ballpoint pen? The only drawback – though at times it is an advantage – of the pencil is that it is not really and truly permanent. Anything written can be erased by use of an eraser. But that is also one of the advantages of the pencil. Horses for courses, as they say.

© 2017

Industrial agriculture and forestry

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

woods.jpgWe are dealing with Nature as if she were a factory floor and we even call agriculture and forestry nowadays industries.

Nature is not a factory floor, however, but a living intricate organism that cannot be (just) exploited, whether it is in the way that we farm today or the way that we deal with our woods and forests.

We are trying to get more and more out of our farmland and our woods and forests without considering that it just does not work that way. Oh, if the soil is depleted of nutrients we can just chuck some chemicals at it to feed the plants while at the same time further eroding the soil and the organism that live within it and that are needed for proper soil structure and soil health.

We use machinery that compacts the soil and destroys the organism that live there and that make the soil the life-sustaining stuff that it is. In forestry the huge harvesters, which are claimed to be so much more efficient than using loggers and tractors or better still horses to move the logs, with their weight and wheels destroy everything in their wake but then it is the fact that branches have not been left laying on the floor “for the wildlife”. So, lets create “habitat piles”, that will solve the problem, while we continue with bad practice.

But, we are told, it must be done this way so as to be expedient and profitable. Profit, in the world today, comes before anything and everything and that we are degrading and destroying the biosphere – let's get away from the term environment, for environment just, in actual fact means surroundings – to such an extent that it has difficulties supporting life.

Ever bigger and heavier machines are needed, we are told, for farming and forestry to be efficient and productive, which at the same time destroy the very soil that the entire operation depends upon. Then it is a call of chemical industry to the rescue in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc., in the hope that that might mitigate some of the infertility of the soil and so on. Fighting fire with fire might work with a forest fire to some extent but not in this case.

If we don't nurture Nature Nature will not nurture us. Simple as that. Time to understand that Nature is a living breathing organism and not some factory floor with production lines. But that is how we have come to behave in the last century or so and it is just not a way that we can go on. In fact, we should never, ever, have started down that road and we must make a one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn about and we must do that now, immediately, before it is too late.

We are reaching the point where the Earth, where Nature, will have to end the burden that we have placed upon Her, if we do not lift the burden ourselves. It is those practices of ours of treating Nature like a factory floor that have placed an enormous burden upon Her and unless we lift this burden She will change things Herself, no doubt. Nature has Her ways of keeping a balance and that way might very well go against us.

We need Nature but Nature does not need us. This is something that we did well to remember and began now, this very moment, to make and demand the changes that are required. Nature is not a factory nor is it a store of resources to be plundered for profit.

© 2017

Why do we have people going hungry?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

x-defaultPeople are not going hungry or are starving because we cannot produce enough food, though that is what governments and the media are trying to make us believe.

Instead, the real reason why people are starving is because capitalism says that it is better to throw away suboptimal vegetables, which means those that not conforming to the approved norm, instead of selling them (cheaper).

Cucumbers that are too small or too big, or have a bigger than permitted bend, apples that do not fit into the size and whatever criteria, and the same goes for potatoes, carrots and other fruit and vegetables that are not grown straight, and so on; they all are not allowed to be sold.

It is because of this kind of manic capitalist system there is hunger at home and abroad. It has nothing to do with an inability to produce enough food or the lack of suitable land and the amount of suitable land for growing produce. When we are told that we are being lied to. Already at present the amount of perfectly good edible food, though misformed, according to the standards, that is being thrown before it ever makes it to the shelves of the stores, or even the wholesalers, could feed the entire global population several times over.

Years back in Britain we had the so-called Agricultural Intervention Board which stepped in each and every time there was a glut, whether it was apples, potatoes, or whatever else, and ordered a proportion of the produce to be destroyed by being dumped in holes in the ground and having bleach poured over everything.

Today it is the wholesalers and supermarkets who make the decisions after having hammered into the heads of the consumers that vegetables should look a certain way and since then claim that they cannot sell the what we would lovingly call “ugly” fruit and vegetables, as no one would buy it as they are not esthetically right.

In addition to that, in Europe, there seem to be European Union regulations which specify ho much bend a cucumber, for instance, is allowed to have and any that fall outside that rule are to be destroyed. The same seems to go for the size and shape of apples, bell pepper, and so much more; potatoes even.

Anyone, however, who has ever grown fruit and vegetables in a garden, allotment, smallholding or farm will know that such engineering criteria almost cannot be applied to stuff that grown in the ground or on a tree and in the stages between. While we may be quite happy to eat the non-conform fruit and vegetables from our own garden – and those of us who would do that, I am sure, would also buy and eat such produce if it would come onto the market, especially when a little cheaper – such produce may not, legally, apparently, be sold on market stalls or in stores.

In times of glut have you ever notices that – generally – the prices do not fall in the store, at least not significantly. The reason for that is that only a certain amount of the produce is allowed to make it to the market so as to keep the prices artificially high. That is what was, in the older day, the task of the Agricultural Intervention Board in Britain and it would appear that the practice if still alive and well, only operated by different agencies; nowadays by the capitalist entities themselves.

It is not a lack of produce, of food, that is the cause of hunger in the world, especially not in the countries of the so-called West, but the capitalist system. And there is enough food being produced capable of also eliminating hunger in the Third World, especially if we would not force countries such as Kenya, and others, to grow food for the market in the West; food that the people there often would not, themselves, eat, as it is not part of their diet, such as green beans. Obviously the roses grown in Kenya for the market in Europe and elsewhere are not edible in the first place and take up valuable agricultural land and water.

© 2017

Pizza boxes, fast food cardboard and similar

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

On those boxes we can see greenwash in action almost in the extreme.

HTB1vYsIHFXXXXXrXFXXq6xXFXXXBAll those containers are marked with the recyclable logo and the imprint “recyclable” and while they are recyclable when they haven't been used the fact is that, once those containers have come into contact with foods, which is the case once they are in our hands, and thus have gotten food residue and/or fat on them, they can no longer be recycled.

Should they end up thrown into a bin for recycled paper and card the entire contents therein is considered contaminated and is sent to landfill as it cannot be used in the production of new paper or cardboard.

This is about the same kind of greenwash that we are faced with with regards to the so-called compostable plastic bags, disposable cutlery and such. While the latter may be compostable they are not in a general composting environment but only in commercial hot composting plants.

So, if the consumer believes the message on the boxes he or she will throw it into the paper and card recycling thus contaminating the entire batch which is then going to landfill instead of recycling.

At many catering establishments the same happens on a much larger scale where the staff is either unaware – or uncaring – throwing all paper and card into the paper recycling leading, again, to entire loads of paper and card to be sent to landfill instead of to where it really should be going.

The main problem is also that the message is not given out to households, as well as businesses, that even the slightest “contamination” will cause the entire batch to be not recyclable.

This does not only apply to fast food packaging. Your cardboard cake box, the “paper” bag with croissants, Danish pastries, or such from the bakers, the paper wrapper from the chips shop, and more, also are not recyclable.

When it comes to ordinary recycling of paper the fat and other residues on those items, which is seen as contamination, make this impossible but we must find a solution so that this stuff does not have to be sent to landfill.

It must be possible to even recover contaminated batches and either sort through them – manually – to recover the useable paper and card or, alternatively, have that paper and card go to a composting plant. Even, though I am no engineer, it should be possible, I would think, to take that material and pulp it for fire logs, insulation material for various applications including houses, or such.

© 2017

Reusing and upcycling tin cans

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Tin Can Cutlery Bins2_webMany food products and produce still come in tin cans of various sizes and while they, the tins, are – mostly – completely recyclables, as they are – predominately – steel, they also lend themselves extremely well for reuse and for upcycling.

As with glass jars the attitude of my grandparents and their parents, and, generally the majority of the people of that time, was that they had paid for the tin cans – and those were the days before there was recycling – and because of that as many as possible of them were put to reuse and were upcycled, although that word also did not exist then, the practice, however, did, before throwing them into the trash.

Reuse and upcycling of them came in many ways from the simple reuse of a can as s coop for chicken feed, for example, to more elaborate conversions. The Australian bushmen (nothing to do with Aborigines or the Bushmen of Southern Africa) were also real masters in the reuse and upcycling of all manner of tin cans.

Personally I always have to smile and almost laugh out loud when some people are so proud buying recycled steel pencil bins and such for quite a lot of money while they toss clean tin cans into the recycling bin, apparently incapable of thinking that such a can, in itself, can serve immediately as such a receptacle.

I have personally encountered such “green” contemporaries who were so proud of having purchased recycled steel pencil bins while, at the very moment of telling me, deposited a number of tin cans, which they had even washed out and the labels removed, into the recycling bin. When I commented on it they just could not get the message. What has gone wrong with the mindset of people?

Below a couple of ideas (of mine... there are more) and I am sure there are others who have more ideas still.

Storage Wall: Wooden board with various different sized tin cans attached to it by means of screws (and affixed to wall). Such a storage wall can be used for all manner of storage, even in the kitchen for utensils.

Billycans: Carefully drill two holes on opposite sides just below the rim, make fence wire handle, put the wire in through the holes and voila! One billycan. That's the way the Australian Bushmen used to make the first before billycans were made by manufacturers. OK. Your homemade one won't have a lid but so what. It is, after all, the way they originally were. The bigger the can, obviously, the better, in a way.

Drinking cups: Tin cans such as from condensed milk with either handle made from wire, such as softer fence wire or aluminum wire, or a tin handle affixed by means of wire, or solder.

Beakers: Use narrower and taller tins than those used for the little cups (above), such as those larger ones, and they often are olive drab color on the metal, in which tuna comes.

Desk Tidy: That is to say “pencil bins” made from tin cans. You can paint those, give a sleeve of denim or whatever else. Or you could, obviously, use them as they are, or use those that have pictures on them. Some still are that way instead of having paper labels. But even plain tin ones are fine, in my opinion. They also make an instant statement of a reuse mindset.

Storage for kitchen utensils: Same idea as for the desk tidy/pencil bins only that they hold cutlery and such instead (see photo above).

The above is but a small list, even of what I, on my own, could come up with, but there is so much more what can be done with tin cans of (almost) all sizes. While they are recyclable steel I still rather like to use them for something that will keep them even out of the recycling steam for longer than just tossing them into the recycling bin.

© 2017

Happy Birthday to the bicycle; 200 yeas old

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Laufmaschine.jpgThe old girl has reached the ripe old age of 200 and is looking as good as ever. Actually, let's face it, over the years the old girl has changed and improved, and thus looking even better. Though, when we see today's so-called balancing bikes for young children, the Draisine is back, even in wood, with some improvements.

June 12, 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the date on which Karl Drais (although he had an aristocratic title he renounced the “von” and the title Freiherr, that is to say, Baron later) took his new invention out for a ride and the modern bicycle was born.

On that day Drais rode his two-wheeled invention, the first Velocipede, five miles from the centre of Mannheim and back in less than an hour, at an average speed of 9.3 mph. It was basically a bicycle without pedals that one pushed along the ground but it was still much faster than walking. He called it a Laufmaschine (running machine in German) but the press named it a Draisine after the inventor.

The reason for the invention was not just for the fun of it. It was in response to an environmental crisis. Two years earlier in April 1815, Mount Tambora exploded and changed the world. This put so much ash and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere that it turned 1816 into "the year without summer", causing world-wide famine. Most of the horses were slaughtered because there was nothing to feed them or their owners, so they became dinner.

But Drais needed a means of inspecting his tree stands that did not rely on horses. Drais discovered that, by placing wheels in a line on a frame, one could balance through dynamic steering. Thus a narrow vehicle capable of maneuvering on his land and the Laufmaschine became the immediate precursor of the bicycle.

As the bicycle became more popular, people found riding in the streets was uncomfortable due to the deep ruts left behind in surfaces of the roads by coach and cart wheels. This lead to cyclists sharing the sidewalks with pedestrians, which, in turn, led to the first conflicts. The penny-farthing, a bicycle with a huge direct-drive front wheel and tiny rear wheel accelerated fears for the safety of riders and passers-by alike and bicycles bans became common.

The invention of the "rover safety cycle" put the rider's feet back within reach of the ground, and helped this mode of transportation to return to the streets of cities around the world, introducing the rear chain drive in the process. Further important breakthroughs included the invention of ball bearings, the pneumatic tire, and the freewheel. Though some have, today, gone back to the fixed back wheel and please do not ask me why.

Today the bicycle is the most energy efficient and pollution free means of transportation on the planet, aside from walking. It is seen by many as a major player in the solution to climate change given that they are emission free. They could also be the answer to urban congestion as they take up so much less space than a car, and especially to urban pollution.

As in Drais' day, bikes are controversial. Motorists hate them when they are sharing the road and hate them even more when bike lanes are built and take away space for driving and storing cars. As in the days of Drais road conditions are often so awful and dangerous that cyclists sometimes take to riding on the sidewalk, alienating and endangering pedestrians. Though, it has to be said, neither of that is necessary if the cyclist remembers that he or she, theoretically, and often legally, is not meant to be there and that it is the domain of the pedestrians.

The way some cyclists ride and their attitude – and I am a cyclist myself – it is no wonder that people are often not very fond of them, and it seems to be getting worse.

I cannot understand why one has to race along the sidewalk – where one is not supposed to be in the first place though, I admit, I ride there myself but at slow speed (I am in no hurry ever) – or park paths, and such, where pedestrians have priority, weave in and out of motor traffic, undertake cars and trucks, etc. What's the hurry, what's the rush?

But two hundred years ago the skies cleared and a normal climate returned, and soon people were back to being pulled around by horses and the bicycle almost was forgotten. But in our the environment and climate, more than likely, is not going to return to normal, and our cities cannot hold any more cars.

As we enter an era when new pressures encourage everyone to swap their car for alternative transportation, it makes sense to celebrate the birthday the bicycle. So, once again, Happy Birthday old Girl! Let's ride!

© 2017

Fighting fire with fire or, in this case, plastic with plastic

Forget bio-based bottles, one Dutch designer believes we should fight plastic with plastic.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dopper bottle1Have you ever wondered what it takes to produce just one plastic bottle? It is the combination of one liter of water and one liter of oil. But how often are these recycled? Not all that often.

The state of our oceans portrays a very visual part of the problem with plastic bottles and other plastic. Greenpeace has discovered that the demand for single-use plastic bottles is continuing to grow as more than two million tonnes of throwaway plastic bottles are sold each year which is the equivalent weight of 10,000 blue whales.

Greenpeace campaigns that companies move away from single-use plastic, embrace reusable packaging and make sure the rest is made from 100 percent recycled content. But the true fact is that plastic products cannot be made from 100% recyclable content. Some part of virgin plastic will always be needed as, unlike aluminum, steel, or glass, plastic does not retain its strength and other properties.

Dopper, however, is one company looking to change these patterns of behavior and our throwaway society. The Netherlands based firm produces reusable water bottles to encourage consumers to use tap water instead of bottled water and reduce plastic waste. Their solution? Fight plastic with plastic.

The company's founder Merijn Everaarts was first inspired by watching a documentary about our world's plastic consumption. He was shocked how plastic bottles could make our oceans “change into a giant garbage patch that resembles plastic soup.”

In 2009, he noticed how many plastic water bottles were being thrown away every day and “just had to do something about it!”, as he says.

This led to the creation of Dopper, which is Dutch for “dop” or bottle cap. Everaarts wanted to use this as the stem of the name to highlight the importance of the bottle itself. It is a reusable bottle made from either high-quality plastic or steel to help reduce the impact on the environment. Almost 100 entries were submitted to design the famous bottle that is sold today. What is particularly unique about Dopper is that the cap also turns into a cup.

"Responsible behavior has become quite trendy nowadays”, Everaarts says. “Investing money in good products is a statement of a good investment that you will be able to keep for a long time. People are starting to get more aware and concerned about their environment, and that is a good sign!"

Additionally, Dopper's founder wanted to maximize the design so it could be used as more than just a reusable plastic bottle. After further innovation, the team designed a sports cap with a flexible nozzle making it easier to drink whilst working out. The new cap is shaped like the Dopper signature cap that makes the bottle so recognizable. However, its design uses a flexible material that can be folded back, allowing for easy access to the nozzle cap. Dopper wants to raise consciousness with regard to the impact of single-use plastic waste, which is why the new cap can be used on current Dopper bottles. So no extra bottles in your cupboards – all you need is an additional cap to get a new use out of your Dopper.

Even the original Dopper bottle is a design feat in itself. Not just is it a reusable plastic water bottle, it's unique design has several features that just make it the choice for a water bottle.

Another obvious answer to this growing marine issue might be to create bio-plastic bottles but from what I have seen of so-called bio-plastic is that it does not what it claims to do any much of it, such as in the case of the bottles from Pepsi and Coca Cola, is greenwash. It states that it is bio-plastic in large letters but when one reads the small-print one finds that it has only a 25-30% bio-plastic content.

For Dopper however, the amount of recycled materials isn't enough to create a closed loop as the real disadvantage to recycled plastic is the fact that it's quality is not as good as a virgin plastic.

Also even recycled plastics still contribute to marine pollution, and do not compensate for the growth in the total volume being produced. There has also been a move away from refillable bottles, low levels of recycled plastic used in drinks containers and opposition to deposit return schemes which pay people to return empty bottles.

While the Dopper bottle still is plastic and made, so I understand from virgin polymer – though a steel version can be had – using and reusing one of those with tap water is much, much better than using disposable plastic bottles with so-called mineral water, which often is nothing else than tap water itself.

© 2017

Make Do and Mend

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

18557251_1397913886914578_1270310445997979841_nMake do and mend is a basically philosophy and mindset that I grew up with as a child, as much as I grew up in hand-me-downs whether this were clothes, bicycles, or what-have-you, and it is something that has stayed with me to this day. I still practice this philosophy – which nowadays is often known as practical recycling, reusing and upcycling – in various forms to this very day.

Already as a small boy I developed the habit, which was actively nurtured by our parents and other elders, and it has – unfortunately, some of my friends would say – stayed with me too, of picking up anything from the streets, the woodland paths, the hedgerows, and so on that might just come in handy. Old nails and screws; nuts and bolts; tools that have been lost or thrown away; even “old” knives; and much more are in that category.

Among the knives that I have found there have been knives for the re-working into sheath knives, as well as pocketknives with nothing wrong with them; there have been spanners and wrenches, screwdrivers, and many other tools, including a Leatherman Wave, in its holster, that was almost new and only required deburring the two knife blades. It had been deliberately thrown into the trash in a Park and had not just been lost accidentally. Some people simply seem to have too much money to know what to do with it, it appears, and more money than sense, that's for sure.

The habit of making do and making things also stretches with me to making use of everything that can be, in one way or another, re-worked into something else, whether this be old and worn Jeans into Ditty/Possibles bags or other things; old kitchen and butcher’s knives into “new” sheath knives. The leather of old boots, shoes and bags will be made into the sheath for such knives and/or into other items such as belt pouches for folding-knives, compass, pocket-watch, and so on.

There is only one severe drawback to such a habit and that is the need for a fairly large storage area in your home for all the things ”that might come in handy some day”.

During WWII in England booklets galore were published by the Ministry (and there was a shortage of things but they seemed to have enough paper to produce those official booklets) on the very subject of “Make Do & Mend” telling people, for instance, of how to change adult clothes into underclothes for children; to convert Dad’s old cotton shirts into nightshirts for the boys, and so on.

The philosophy and attitude of making do also applied in those days to digging up one’s flowerbeds and “digging for victory” by growing vegetables there instead of flowers in one’s garden. That could also still be a very valuable philosophy today too – instead of filling the garden up with grass and flowers, which may be esthetically pleasing to the eye and all that don’t feed no-one. Growing at least some of one’s own vegetables and such could give one some more cash in one’s pocket. Vegetables can – in actual fact – grown behind say a flowery border in a garden and look quite nice as well. The trees in one’s garden should not be ornamental this or that but fruit trees such as apples, pears, cherries, walnut and hazelnut, and anything else in that league and the ground beneath such trees should be utilized by vegetables and soft fruit such as strawberries. Also grow your own culinary and medicinal herbs in your garden, including such beneficial plants as Aloe Vera. If the climate isn’t suited for growing the latter out-of-doors than grown those in pots in the house. The same can also be done with many other herbs and spices.

And if you have no garden to speak of to grow your own vegetables and such then you can use various forms of containers such tubs made of various things such including old bathtubs even. Almost everything can be grown in containers, fruit trees even. Hanging baskets of all kinds also can be employed for growing fruit and vegetables. Strawberries do well there, and even beans and peas can be grown in such containers.

But back to the make do and mend philosophy per se.

While make do and mend seems to be coming back into fashion to some degree many people still have the disposable attitude and seem to have to have the latest in fashion, be this with regards to clothes or anything else.

Among children and young people peer pressure may have something to do with it in that clothes from a charity shop don't, in their minds, have much street cred and all that. Years ago it had to be Adidas, then Fila, then Nike, and the wheel keeps turning in that department. But what makes them better then non-brands? The name only, not necessarily the quality, and the price is often astronomical. The same goes for other things. And ordinary cell phone doesn't cut it; it has to be an iPhone, and ideally always the latest.

All need to learn, and the children and young people have to be taught, that it does not have to be the latest and that the latest and most expensive is not always the best, especially not for the Planet and the wallet.

Staying with what we have, making things ourselves even from things considered “waste” in the common perception, and generally making do and mending, buy secondhand, and so on, must be the way to go. The latter also and especially keeps money in the local economy, though only if we are using local secondhand shops, thrift stores and charity shops. And, if things can be repaired and you cannot do it yourself then use local repair shops to do it. Keeps the money local and also work.

© 2017

Some eco-friendly actions you can take to protect the Planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

14570257_10205580764277263_3669665344947784806_nTaking steps to protect the environment is something everyone should do and can do. It is our Planet and our responsibility to do what we can to protect and preserve it.

Whether you are believer in climate change and global warming or not, the actions you take do have consequences. As our children and their children will be inhabiting this world long after we have gone, it is important we take a few key actions to protect the environment in which we live.

Clean-up your local community: You don't need a national “clean-up day”, or even a regional or local one to pick up around your local community and encourage others to do the same. If you see trash, pick it up. Toss it in the nearest trash can.

Where I live and work, in a municipal park, there are a number of dog walkers and other park users who do exactly that. In fact they reach the parts that park staff often does not get to, or not very often, and thus keep the park clear of littler even more. Some actually carry their own bags and picking gear. Other dog walkers, unfortunately, are less considerate and dispose of their dog waste bags by simply leaving them everywhere.

I have come across advice from some people who have written on this matter as to politely challenging people who they observe dropping litter to please put it into the bins. Personally I would advise against such actions. A great many people who inconsiderately drop litter will not be happy to be reminded of it.

Reduce and minimize waste: United Nations estimates indicate around 33 percent of the food that is produced around the world is wasted, according to The Guardian. This means close to 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year, while close to 795 million people are going hungry or suffering from malnutrition. When you break this down by category, it is easy to see which foods are being wasted most:

45% fruits and vegetables

35% fish and seafood

30% cereals

20% dairy

20% meat

People living in the highly developed countries, such as the US, the UK, Germany, and others, appear to be the worst offenders, whereas those living in less-developed and poorer countries are generally more frugal. And that goes not just for food. They are more frugal in general.

Do a little gardening: Those who grow their own food can become more sustainable, and will be less likely to waste the food for which they worked so hard. In addition, gardening is good for your overall health and well- being. You know what you are eating, as you grew it yourself, so you won't have to worry about ingesting harmful pesticides and toxins and GMOs bits. Parts of the herbs, fruits or vegetables that aren't used can go right back into your garden a compost to complete the circle.

Oh, sorry, what was that? You haven't got space to grow food? If you have a garden you can grow food and even if you haven't got much of one or none at all you can.

Get busy reusing, repurposing, upcycling and finally recycling: The more you you do that, the less will end up in dumps and landfills.

Before you even go near the recycling bin(s) with anything think RRU first. First think reuse, then repurpose, then possibly upcycling, and that well before you ever toss it into that bin or those bins.

You should first work on reducing your overall consumption, reusing those materials and goods that can be used again, and upcycling items which no longer have a use in their current form into new, usable items. You might as well get the most out of your purchases.

Think of those glass jars that certain produce come in. Aside from the fact that you have paid for them through your purchase they are useful for so many things. Warning everyone, I am now on a roll again.

Our grandparents and their parents rarely would ever toss such things out until or unless they were broken. Such jars were used for storage of dry goods and foods by grandma and grandpa, and they were even used for drinking vessels. After all, they would say, they paid for them, and right they were. Empty tin cans too were used for a variety of tasks and purposes and even the lids.

Food waste, after you have eliminated as much of it as possible, does not belong into the trash can. It belongs into the compost bin or composter to be used in the garden.

Only when all the reuse, repurposing and upcycling options are exhausted, and only then, the recycling bin(s) come(s) in. though that only works really if there is a kerbside collection in your area.

Stay in touch and in tune with Nature: Take the time each day to get out and about, so you stay closely connected with Nature. The better you understand its value, the more respect you will have and the more you will do to protect the environment. Even if it is just for a short time each day, go for a walk, take a bike ride, go on a hike or just sit outside and look around. When you look closely, you will be amazed and awed by Nature and its capabilities.

Lowering emissions: Don't forget to lower your emissions by opting for eco-friendly forms of transportation. I know that that all depends on where you live and the distances that you have to travel; for work for instance. If distances are not too far then opt for a good quality bicycle and also learn how to maintain it. When traveling further than you would wish to with a bike and the facilities are there opt for public transport, such as bus, tram, metro, train, over the car. Only use the latter if absolutely necessary.

While none of these actions will not necessarily change the world over night or even in a day, each can make quite a difference. When we work together as a whole, all our small actions combined, the people of the world can accomplish quite a bit. Start now and be the change you want to see in the world.

© 2017

Freeplay Energy launches Bluetooth option for Encore radio range

Press Release

London, June 2017: Freeplay Energy is proud to announce the launch of a new Bluetooth option for the Encore range of off-grid radios.

Freeplay Encore Player 1 lr_webThe Bluetooth feature is designed to support education in off-grid environments by enabling teachers who have downloaded educational content to their mobile phones to then play it back through the radios’ speakers. Educators will be able to use a wide range of previously inaccessible content, whilst students will benefit from a broader curriculum, improved educational opportunities and, ultimately, enhanced life chances.

This Bluetooth feature also makes distribution of on-demand educational content to remote locations much more straightforward for content producers.

Announcing the availability of Encore’s new Bluetooth feature, Freeplay Energy’s managing director John McGrath said: “Encore was designed for, and is ideally suited to, extended use in off-grid schools, colleges and homes. And as technology moves on, so does the Encore radio.

“That is why we are delighted to offer a brand-new Bluetooth option for our Encore range.

“The Bluetooth feature is now an option throughout our Encore range of solar-powered and wind-up radios. It means that, after using mobile phones to access and store information, teachers can then play the content back via the Encore’s powerful speaker.

“As a result, students who have no access to mains energy can benefit from global educational resources, as well as broadcasts made outside of school hours. They can therefore make the most of an unprecedented breadth and depth of information, improve their educational attainment and increase their life chances.

“Freeplay Energy’s Bluetooth feature for Encore radios really is a game-changer.”

More than 32 million children of primary school age in Sub-Saharan Africa have no access to schooling. For those lucky enough to attend school, teaching quality is often poor because of a lack of resources and limited teacher training. Freeplay Encore and the new Bluetooth option have been designed to increase access to educational services and to boost the quality of available educational resources.

All Encore radios feature a multiband radio with FM/AM/SW1/SW2 channels, and excellent speaker quality, allowing groups of up to 40 listeners to hear clearly. In addition, the radios feature a solar panel and a failsafe winding mechanism so that they can be used in off-grid settings. Reading lights are included so that teachers and children can study after dark and optional mobile phone chargers can be integrated into each product.

To find out more about Freeplay Energy’s Encore radios, including the brand-new Bluetooth option, please visit www.freeplayenergy.com.

About Freeplay Energy

Freeplay Energy is a leading manufacturer of windup and solar powered products designed to meet the needs of the 1.2 billion people around the world who are currently living off-grid. Its patented technology harnesses human, solar and rechargeable energy and converts it into electricity to power unique portable consumer products, replacing conventional disposable batteries that are environmentally toxic and expensive to replace.

Freeplay Energy's products have been distributed throughout the developed and developing worlds by a range of businesses, charities, NGOs and government and UN agencies.

Spōn by Barn the Spoon – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Spon coverSpon: A Guide to Spoon Carving and the New Wood Culture
by Barn the Spoon
224 pages, Hardcover, 16.5 x 2.2 x 23 cm
Published by Virgin Books (25 May 2017)
Language: English
ISBN: 978-0753545973
Price: £20.00

I was send this book by the publishers upon my request having just learned of the publication of it. Knowing of Barnaby Carder, better known as Barn the Spoon, I was most interested to have a look at it and I was in no way disappointed.

The book itself is a spoon carving guide but also introduces the reader to the new wood culture, or wood renaissance, and that being right up my street being a forester by original trade, and a carver of wooden things, including spoons as well.

Spōn is not really a technical manual like, for example, Willie Sundqvist's 'Swedish Carving Techniques', but instead takes the reader through a personal journey that Barn himself has taken, though it does give the reader many instructions, hints, and tips.

In his book Barn the Spoon explains to the reader the how and why as regards  to certain woods, tools, and techniques that he has found best suited for carving usable spoons and he then explains it all in more detail and shows the reader some of his favorite spoon designs to try.

Aside from that he walks the reader through every aspect, from choice to tools and how to keep them sharp and well maintained. Personally, though, I have different ways of sharpening knives, including hook knives and I believe that too much emphasis is placed on certain ideas, such as the supposed Scandi grind not having a secondary bevel. But I have only been a professional knife grinder for almost my entire life and have never encountered such a grind, not even on Scandinavian knives.

Spōn is a lovingly written book, with many color illustrations, that is full of the passion of someone who really appreciated wood and its properties and what can be made from it, though Barn mostly touches on wooden spoons only.

As a Romani-Gypsy by birth I very much enjoyed and appreciated the fact that the “Roma Spoon”, as Barn calls it, the traditional one of the Roma of Romania, in included. It is more a serving spoon that for any other purpose; the eating spoons are often different.

But that spoon, however, is only one of many different Romani spoon designs that used to be and are still carved by Gypsies in Eastern Europe (and beyond), such as by those in Poland where the bowl is the egg shape, reversed, and not as pronounced in the reverse.

In Russia the Romani carve spoons that are akin to those of the Doukhobors which are similar to the Welsh Cawl Spoon though without the pronounced crank in the handle and a handle that is almost round. But I digressed.

As I said before, Spōn is not really a technical manual but a book that, while teaching the reader about spoon carving, leads you more on a personal journey of the way the author does things and why and also introduces the reader at the same time to the new wood culture, or wood renaissance. I hope that readers will discover the joy of carving spoons and other treen objects from reading this book but also be encouraged to connect without our woods and trees and to value the handmade wooden kitchen utensils and such like. Handmade goods are so much different to factory and machine produced and thus are also higher priced. A good wooden spoon is not tuned out in five minutes flat. It often takes hours and the price does then often not even reflect an hourly minimum wage. Let that sink in.

A very good book that I can most certainly recommend.

© 2017

Alexei Navalny & the Anti-Corruption Movement in Russia

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Alexey_NavalnyIf we remember that the Maidan “demonstrations”, which led to the problems, which is still expressing it mildly, in the Ukraine also started claiming to be an anti-corruption movement. Where it led to we have all seen.

Also what is being attempted in the Russian Federation has the same aim, namely to destabilize Russia and create there also one of those “colored” revolution, just like in the Ukraine and other places.

The players behind the scenes are definitely the same, and Navalny is nothing but a puppet in their hands. We can almost guarantee that one major player behind the scenes, and the main source of funds for Navalny and his “movement”, is the very same who has been behind the Ukraine issue and those color revolutions in many other countries. It certainly does not require a degree in intelligence work to figure that one out.

Thus regime change in the Russian Federation is the name of the game in which Navalny and his movement are a pawn, in the same was as regime change was the plan in the Ukraine and still is in other countries. The US even are being used, whether they know it or not, in this operation run by this particular person and his organizations. On the other hand it could be the US using that person and his organizations. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

© 2017

The latest model is not the greenest

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

14570597_1317930151553422_1404047324989227567_oPlease note that I have not even inserted the word “always” in the headline as it is a fact that the latest model is not the greenest, period.

The latest model is not the greenest even if it is being promoted and touted as having greener credentials than the one you already have got. Stick with what you have got (as long as it still works, obviously) for that is the greenest, and you know what, that even applies to your car.

I know that we have visited this issue before but let us, nevertheless, do so again.

Every new product that you buy to replace another one that is still fully functional, even though the new one may have, according to claims, “greener” credentials than the “old” one, comes at a much higher environmental cost than the one that you are already using.

Sticking with what you have got, for as long as at all possible, is far better for the Planet and much “greener” than any new product however “green” its credentials are made out to be.

First of all credentials are all but claims made by the makers which we, the ordinary consumers, can absolutely not verify in any way, as can be seen from the supposed cheating on emission standards by various car manufacturers.

How can we verify the claims that are being made without testing equipment and the technical know-how to carry out such tests? We cannot, and that is a fact. And it is also a fact that most of the accreditation industry awards itself by way of a voluntary code of practice and such jazz.

There is so much on greenwash about that all such claims must be taken with an extreme large dose of salt; the proverbial pinch does not suffice. Therefore sticking with the things that you have already got rather than believing and being taken in by the claims is by far a better and “greener” choice. It is also kinder on the wallet.

© 2017

Staycations up by a quarter this summer, research suggests

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

staycation_uk1The number of British people opting to take domestic holidays this summer is up by as much as quarter over last year, research reveals.

The unfavorable exchange rate and unpredictable political landscape have attributed to the rise in staycations, it is suggested. To that we should also add that there are still many who literally cannot afford to go abroad as they have not had a pay rise for many years.

A 23.8% rise in British holidaymakers planning UK stays for summer 2017 was identified based on searches and bookings made between October 2016 and January 2017 to depart from June to August this year.

UK trips are getting shorter too, as the data indicated that more than half of domestic holidaymakers are planning a break of three days or less – up 8.8% from last year.

A notable decline of 5.2% was found in the number of UK travelers planning a staycation of 12 days or more, however this group still accounts for 16.6% of the total. The top five UK destination cities this summer are London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Glasgow and Manchester.

While staycation bookings are up, Spain remains the top summer destination for UK holidaymakers, followed by with Italy, Greece and Portugal, though France has dropped out of the top five this year despite being the third most popular destination for Britons in 2016.

With Sterling plummeting 13% against the US dollar and dropping 9% against the euro since the EU referendum vote last June, we are seeing a notable uplift in UK tourists opting to holiday at locations at home. Others will be vacationing at home at home, so to speak, in that they are not going to any resort or anything of that nature.

We have seen that stay-at-home staycations have become very popular over the last couple of years ever since the Great Recession and austerity in Britain and this could be seen in the local Parks with a serious increase of visitors.

We have seen an almost a 25% year-over-year increase in people opting for staycations in the UK this summer rather than going abroad and over half the people are planning shorter trips for less than three days. That trend has seen an increase of almost 10% over the previous year.

For some, as mentioned, opting for a staycation at UK destinations (and even altogether at home) is closely tied to the unfavorable exchange rate between Sterling and Euro since the Brexit vote but, in my opinion, it has also a great deal to do with lack of cash flow, so to speak, as many workers who would have traveled to destinations on the European mainland just cannot really afford to do so.

Other concerns, no doubt, are those of security and the ever increasing restrictions of what you can and cannot take with you on an aircraft nowadays, with regards to terrorism concerns. Check-in rimes are getting longer and also the check-out, so to speak, on the other end. And on the way back you have a repeat performance creating hassle and stress which almost requires another holiday to get over it.

Personally I cannot think of any better kind of holiday, vacation, than staying at home and spending it there.

© 2017

Reusing silica gel packets

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

silica gel packetsDo not throw those packets away which come in different sizes. While they are not edible – please don't try – they can be reused in several ways.

We find those little – and sometimes not so very little – packets everywhere. They pop our of all sorts of packaging and lurk like an ugly bug or something in vitamin bottles, new shoes and many other products. The majority just toss those packets out but there are many ways in which we can actually reuse them. So, hold on to them. They can come in handy.

Silica gel is a desiccant, a substance that absorbs moisture. It is not a gel, despite its name, but actually a very porous mineral with a natural attraction to water molecules, that is to say, in simple terms, moisture.

Manufacturers utilize the “gel” to keep goods from spoiling, molding or degrading due to humidity. The “gel” itself is nontoxic, but can have a moisture indicator added (cobalt chloride) which is a known toxin that turns pink when hydrated and is otherwise blue in its dry form. Most silica found in our food and household purchases, however, looks like tapioca beads and is benign unless combined with certain chemicals. Even in that benign form, though, you should not eat it.

Although silica gel has massive potential for reuse, there do not seem to be an recyclers, commercial ones I mean, that are prepared to, well, recycle it.

I tend to keep them, whatever the size, for future reuse. The only problem I have is that I keep forgetting where I put them. Which reminds me that I must look for all of them and – finally – put them somewhere all together into a box or such and then label the box. – Update: Box with packets found. Now must put label on box and remember where it is.

There are a number of reuse possibilities for those little, and not so little, sachets, that can keep the stuff out of the landfill for a little longer.

  • Put some packs in your ammo cans and gun cases/safes to keep the ammo and guns dry. The same goes as to where you keep your knives.

  • Protect personal papers and important documents by putting some gel in a bag wherever these are stored, such as filing cabinets (oh, I know, I am old-fashioned and yes, I still use them – the filing cabinets that is).

  • Keep with photos to protect them from humidity.

  • Put and keep a little sachet of gel in your camera bag. After snapping photos in cold or wet conditions, silica gel will absorb moisture to keep your lens from fogging or streaking.

  • Leave a couple packs in your tool box to prevent rusting of tools.

  • You could also use the gel to to dry flowers or place with seeds in storage to prevent them going moldy.

  • Put some packets on your window sills to banish condensation.

  • Use in luggage while traveling.

  • Put some bags with your leather goods, such as coats and shoes, bags, belts, etc., wherever you keep them to to prevent them going moldy in storage.

While these packets may be annoying and seem like a waste of resources, they can extend the life of many items. Another reason someone needs to be collecting them to recycle: they can be reactivated repeatedly. To recharge, you just need to bake the saturated beads on a cookie sheet in the oven, though that takes a while, or gently in the microwave. They can also be air dried near a radiator or other safe heat source.

P.S. If you don't have silica gel packs handy then rice in small cotton bags will also do the trick of absorbing moisture. Our parents and grandparents used to do that to keep salt from getting lumpy.

© 2017

Sources of wood for the treen worker

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Arborist1While the coppice worker, the woodsman and underwoodsman, who carves and turns treen goods, makes furniture and walking sticks, has choice and ample supply, often others who make such goods not not have such a source and ready access to a steady supply of raw materials and have to find other ways of procuring those. It can be done, however, and that even in towns and cities.

There are the municipal and the private tree surgeons and tree contractors that more often than not have to pay to get rid off the lumps of wood they cut on an almost daily basis and the less of that they have to take to the dump or such the less they have too pay for it and the happier they will be. So make friends with them. Most, if not indeed all, will be more than happy to let you have whatever you want out of what they have cut, generally for free, unless they have an outlet for it that pays, which most of them do not seem to have.

Those contractors may even be happy enough to deliver the stuff to your door in order for you to take it off their hands for the less they have to chip and the less they have on their wagons to dump the more money is in their pockets. Generally a win-win situation for both, them and you.

So, if you see them working approach them. Most don't bite. Make acquaintance with them and ask. Showing interest in what they do and being able to engage with them about trees and such matters has them open up in no time. Those guys and gals are generally so passionate about their work that they love to find someone sharing a similar passion for trees and wood. I have yet to find a real tree surgeon who does the job and has chosen the career, if he or she is a true professional, for the sake of the money. It is a passion with most of them and not just a job. Thus if someone shares their passion they will be more than happy to part with some of the wood, especially if they have to pay to dispose of it.

In my own neighborhood there is a small farm where many of the tree surgeons, who have no other outlet for the wood, bring their stuff in order too get rid off it, against payment to the farmer who, though, turns the logs into firewood and bags the wood chips and sells both at a price, making money from two sides. In my view this is unethical but this smallholder, I guess, sees it as offering a service to the tree surgeons while at the same time creating a small business and income for himself. But that business and income could also come from not charging the tree surgeons and just charging for the wood and the wood chips when one sells them. But then again that is just the way I see it.

Back to obtaining wood for carving if you have not got access to a woodland.

Most tree surgeons and other such contractors, I am sure, will be only too happy to let you have all the wood that you want and that you can use and that for free, more than likely, and they may even be kind enough to drop it off right in your front yard. Go and talk to them and see.

© 2017 

The bane of the wooden disposable chopstick

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

disposable chopsticks1_webI might just be able to live with it – but then more than like not even then – if the majority of those disposable chopsticks that are given out with sushi and other East Asian takeout dishes were made of bamboo but they are not. The great majority are made of wood, and it would appear of some hardwood as well in most cases. Some of them may be bamboo but the majority that we encounter here seem to be more wood, hardwood, in nature.

Chopsticks have a long and storied history, dating back to 2100 BC when Da Yu, the founder of the Xia dynasty, was trying to reach a flood zone. In his haste, he didn't want to wait for his food to cool down, and adapted two twigs to help him eat his food quickly. With the popularization of Asian food all over the world, chopsticks – especially the disposable kind – are now being used the everywhere.

But “throwaway” chopsticks are an unmitigated environmental disaster. In China alone, 80 billion chopsticks are thrown away each year, requiring hundreds of acres of forest to be cut down every day just to keep up with the demand, so some reports go. From where we are sitting this is, obviously, very hard to verify. In response to this, however, the Bring Your Own Chopsticks (BYOC) movement began and is gaining ground in places like Japan, China and Taiwan.

Often I tend to find them thrown away unused, still in their packets, which means that the person eating the dish opted, more than likely, for a plastic fork or spook instead of the supplied chopsticks. In that case the chopsticks come home with me to be (re)used as tools for which they are intended for, namely eating with.

From those I have made up a couple of BYOC sets, one in a leather sleeve that can be easily tucked into a pocket, for use when out and about so as not to use disposables from a restaurant.

Those that are out of their packets and have been used or otherwise tossed are reworked into dibblets, that is to say for tools to prick out seedlings in gardening.

In North America, apparently, those single use chopsticks are more of bamboo than of hardwood. How that is to be I do not understand but so the story goes and in Canada recently a young start-up has begun recycling those into a variety of products.

In Vancouver, Canada, this young start-up called “Chopvalue” cleans them up and turns them into home accessories and furniture.

Chopvalue's founder, Felix Böck, is a doctoral student in the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia. The idea for the start-up came when he realized how many chopsticks were thrown out every day.

Böck estimates that in Vancouver alone over 100,000 pairs of these utensils are sent to the landfill every day. Wanting to do something to address the problem, Böck invested in some recycling bins, and recruited restaurants to get their customers to throw their bamboo chopsticks in the recycling bin, rather than in the trash. These are then picked up by Chopvalue, and then taken to their lab, where they are cleaned, coated in resin and then hot-pressed with a machine to come up with a flat material.

The use of a fair amount of resin in the making of the products, however, makes me question the green credentials of this though as no information is given as to what kind of resin is being used. Also the heat and pressure in the production required a great deal of energy and again the green credentials are, thus, at least in my opinion, more than questionable.

Better would be if we would first of all not use them and really bring our own chopsticks or, alternatively, find ways to reuse and upcycle those sticks on a different level that does not require an amount of chemicals and energy. I am sure that it can be done in a way that is much better for the environment than making “planks” our of them by use of resins, heat and pressure.

© 2017