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

The invention of capitalism

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

diggers1_webCapitalism was invented, yes, invented, and its aim was to turn a self-sufficient peasantry into industrial wage slaves, and my oh my, has it worked.

“...everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” ~ Arthur Young,1771

Our popular economic wisdom – and what the people are told – says that capitalism equals freedom and free societies. But is the really the case? The short answer to this is a firm no. It is slavery in all but name.

Instead of the master the owner of a business is referred to in capitalism as the employer, or worse still in the German language as “giver of work”, while the slave is called “employee” or, let's quote a German translation again “taker of work” which the “giver of work” out of his kind heart (please take not: sarcasm) makes available to the worker. You still with me here?

While in the old days of slavery the slave owner had to look – more or less – after his investment, the workers, house them, clothe them, feed them, in wage slavery the owner pays the slave who then has to use the little money for such things as food, clothing and housing. Often the housing was provided by the factory even which means that the owner got money back for more often than not hovels, and many also had to buy their provisions in factory stores. But they were free. Yeah, right!

This transition to a capitalistic society did not happen naturally or smoothly. The English peasants did not want to give up their rural communal lifestyle, leave their land and go work for below-subsistence wages in dirty, dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of landowning capitalists. And for good reason, too.

The peasant – the independent peasant – in his community was self-reliant if not even more or less self-sufficient. He did not need much in the way of coin, of money, to get the thing he and his family needed. While the factory slave had to toil for days to afford to buy a pair of commercially produced shoes or boots the rural peasant could make his own of an evening, often clogs with a leather upper, for instance, or had them made paying in kind.

But in order for capitalism to work, capitalists needed a pool of cheap, surplus labor. So what to do? Call in the National Guard? Well, in a manner of speaking yes.

Faced with a peasantry that did not feel inclined to playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

The serious brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves are very much at odd with and very far removed from the reputation of people having had free choice in this matter as often portrayed by proponents of classical political economy.

Many different policies were enacted through which peasants were forced off the land – from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots – and even that did not immediately bring the peasants flocking to the towns and cities and into the factories.

The proto-capitalist were openly complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and were trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.

Pamphleteers of that time got busy in decrying the laziness of the peasants and their indolence and those paragraphs below will show the general attitude of those capitalists and their supporters towards successful, self-sufficient peasant farmers:

“The possession of a cow or two, with a hog, and a few geese, naturally exalts the peasant. . . . In sauntering after his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half, and occasionally whole days, are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting; the aversion increases by indulgence. And at length the sale of a half-fed calf, or hog, furnishes the means of adding intemperance to idleness.”

While another pamphleteer wrote:

“Nor can I conceive a greater curse upon a body of people, than to be thrown upon a spot of land, where the productions for subsistence and food were, in great measure, spontaneous, and the climate required or admitted little care for raiment or covering.”

John Bellers, a Quaker “philanthropist” and economic thinker saw independent peasants as a hindrance to his plan of forcing poor people into prison-factories, where they would live, work and produce a profit of 45% for aristocratic owners:

“Our Forests and great Commons (make the Poor that are upon them too much like the Indians) being a hindrance to Industry, and are Nurseries of Idleness and Insolence.”

Daniel Defoe, the novelist and trader, noted that in the Scottish Highlands “people were extremely well furnished with provisions – venison exceedingly plentiful, and at all seasons, young or old, which they kill with their guns whenever they find it.”

To Thomas Pennant, a botanist, this self-sufficiency was ruining a perfectly good peasant population:

“The manners of the native Highlanders may be expressed in these words: indolent to a high degree, unless roused to war, or any animating amusement.”

Having a full belly and productive land was in their eyes the problem, and the solution to whipping those “lazy bums” into shape was obvious: kick them off the land and let em starve. And that is exactly what was done...

Arthur Young, a popular writer and economic thinker respected by John Stuart Mill, wrote in 1771: “everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” Sir William Temple, a politician and Jonathan Swift's boss, agreed, and suggested that food be taxed as much as possible to prevent the working class from a life of “sloth and debauchery.”

Temple also advocated putting four-year-old kids to work in the factories, writing “for by these means, we hope that the rising generation will be so habituated to constant employment that it would at length prove agreeable and entertaining to them.” Some thought that four was already too old. According to Perelmen, “John Locke, often seen as a philosopher of liberty, called for the commencement of work at the ripe age of three.” Child labor also excited Defoe, who was joyed at the prospect that “children after four or five years of age... could every one earn their own bread.”

To combat any dissent of the peasants conscripted by force to be wage slave the Reverend Joseph Townsend believed that restricting food was the way to go: “[Direct] legal constraint [to labor] . . . is attended with too much trouble, violence, and noise, . . . whereas hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry, it calls forth the most powerful exertions. . . . Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjugation to the most brutish, the most obstinate, and the most perverse.”

Patrick Colquhoun, a merchant who set up England's first private “preventative police” force to prevent dock workers from supplementing their meager wages with stolen goods, provided what may be the most lucid explanation of how hunger and poverty correlate to productivity and wealth creation: “Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labor in store, or, in other words, no property or means of subsistence but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labor; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.”

So, just to let that think in a little more here I repeat the important part from the above: “Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society... It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labor; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.”

So much for the historic part, and more, so to speak.

Hunger, as advocated by the good Reverend Joseph Townsend, is still today used as a weapon against the working class and for the fear of becoming destitute and homeless the worker will even accept cuts in wages and conditions so as to keep his job (and home). The threat of loss of employment – for the worker does not have a cottage and garden to fall back on and some cottage industry skills that can make him a little money on the side, like the peasant has/had – and thus loss of home and more will keep the worker in line, so to speak, and a good ample supply of unemployed is also necessary for this.

The Irish Famine also has to be seen in this context and the same light for it had less to do with the potato harvest failing due to the blight but everything to do with the fact that the powers-that-be wanted to rid the countryside of the independent peasant.

Full employment is bad for capitalism and the capitalist and thus there has to be a pool of unemployed maintained under conditions worse than under the worst employment so that there remains always the threat from the master to the slave that the slave might be joining that pool if he or she does not do as ordered. That is how the capitalist masters maintain their hold over the workforce and nowadays even the trade unions, more often than not, help to keep the worker in chains rather than helping him to throw off those shackles, as in the case, for instance, most recently in Germany where the IG Metal, the metal workers' union, has colluded with the employers that temporary workers can be used by a company for several times greater a time span, before they have to become permanent employees, as the government has decreed.

Not only did the independent (minded) peasants had to be forced off the land and into the cities and the factories to create wage slaves for the capitalists, even the independent craftsmen had to be destroyed, as both were in the way for capitalism to develop.

It is for that very reason that the powers-that-be are making it as difficult as at all possible for anyone wishing to take up smallholding, for instance, or living and working in a wood, even if they own that land or wood. The independent peasants and woodsmen, as well as craftsmen, are a threat to them still to this very day as they do not fit in with the plans of capitalism.

© 2017

What to do with an old toothbrush

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

toothbrush-311373_960_720Over the course of your life, you will buy things that are meant to last, like a home (if you are lucky enough to have the funds to do so), and others that are frequently replaced, like the humble toothbrush.

Speaking of the toothbrush, dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every three months. If you adopt that schedule, four of your toothbrushes will hit landfills every year. If you are feeling resourceful, however, you can prolong your former toothbrush's landfill trip by putting it to further use after you are done using it on your teeth.

This may be seen, even by ardent reusers, as somewhat of a yuck subject but it is not and does not have to be.

You may want to give old brushes a good cleaning before taking on these projects. To do that I simply stick them in a small container with some hot water and chlorine bleach. After that, you are good to go.

I know that some people have a problem with bleach as not being environmentally friendly but as a disinfectant it is hard to beat and replace.

Get the dirt off veggies

Mushrooms often come with a bit of dirt, but they hate being cleaned with water. A soft-bristle brush will let you remove dirt easily and effectively. Don't stop at mushrooms, either. Other fruits and veggies can be cleaned just as thoroughly with a soft-bristle brush.

Cleaning pesky dishes and tile grout

The lids of sippy cups, stubborn Tupperware containers, and other hard-to-clean kitchen hardware are a perfect use for an old toothbrush. You can get right into the spots that a typical kitchen sponge or even dishwash brush cannot reach.

A toothbrush is wonderful for cleaning pesky kitchen grout and for certain cleaning jobs, including the tile grouts, in the bathroom.

In the bathroom

As already indicated an old toothbrush can serve very well as a cleaning brush for tile grout in the bathroom and is equally at home cleaning off gunk, limescale, and other stuff from around the taps at the sink and the bathtub.

Bicycle chains

A toothbrush is great for getting dirt and such out of bicycle chains and also the freewheel and crank wheel, as well as the gear cluster, if your bike has one, before it causes problems or builds up excessively.

Working with crafts

A toothbrush can be used to apply paint, glue, polish, and all manner of arts-and-crafts materials. It is a brush, after all.

Applicator brush for boot polish

As we have just established that the toothbrush is a brush, after all, it is quite natural to also consider using a retired toothbrush as an applicator brush for boot and shoe polish.

When your toothbrush is done cleaning your teeth, its life has only just begun, and with the above list we have only just about scratched the surface of all the tasks that an old toothbrush could be put to before finally putting it into the trash.

© 2017

The 81-year-old woman inspiring a nation to recycle

Zeinab Mokalled

An 81-year-old who set up an all-woman rubbish collection team in her village in Lebanon now has a stream of visitors asking how she did it. For nine months in 2015 and 2016 rubbish piled up on the streets of the capital, Beirut, and even now a lack of landfill sites means some of the city's waste is being thrown in the sea. Zeinab Mokalled has shown that when government fails, do-it-yourself local initiatives can work.

"There used to be dirt everywhere and the kids were filthy," Zeinab Mokalled tells me.

She is remembering the 1980s and 90s, when Israel occupied part of the south of the country for 15 years, and waste collection came to a halt in her village, Arabsalim.

As the years went by, it piled up, and Mokalled went to the regional governor to ask for help.

"Why do you care? We are not Paris," he told her.

"I knew that day that I had to take it upon myself," she says.

Mokalled called on the women of the village to help, not the men - partly because she wanted to empower them, and partly because she thought they would do a better job.

Read more here.

Residents horrified as Sunshine Coast Council chops, mulches trees in Urban Food Street

Residents on a street with chopped down trees in the background.

The Sunshine Coast Council has unapologetically chopped down and mulched 18 fruit trees on verges in Buderim within the hugely popular Urban Food Street (UFS) precinct.

The precinct has organically grown over the past seven years to span 11 streets in the leafy suburb, where produce grown on the verges is consumed by more than 200 people.

The area has been at the centre of a six-month stoush with the council after a complaint was made.

The council then ordered residents to obtain public liability insurance and a free permit in order to keep the trees on the footpaths.

The trees felled this morning were on the footpath of three properties where the resident had not obtained a permit.

Residents have told the ABC they were unaware of the work being done until council trucks and mulchers entered the precinct early this morning.

Chris White, a chef and resident within the UFS precinct, phoned ABC Sunshine Coast on Wednesday morning as he stood at the stumps of what were until this morning fully-laden fruit trees.

"It's a way now that they can put a concrete footpath in and it's a show of force," he said.

External Link: Video: Meet the street that grows its own food

Produce from the trees was grown for and consumed by the local community.

Read more here.

System change not climate change

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

18671227_1512636235435117_4603586090297904153_nWould any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons; or that dancing around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Why are these “solutions” not sufficient? But most importantly, what can be done instead to actually stop the murder of our Planet?

While “personal solutions” have some effect, even the smallest things, but they will not really change anything unless we are, all together, prepared to change the system. It does not matter how “green” and environmentally-friendly you may make your lifestyle capitalism will still remain unsustainable. Thus system change that is required for the world to become a better place where people and the Planet count and not (just) money.

When it comes to climate change the question we also have to ask ourselves if why is the emphasis placed so much on the word “carbon” and everything almost is, even when it is pollution in the form of soot, and such, all called carbon, in the latter instance “brown carbon”. So, why? Because carbon has become a tradeable commodity, so to speak, with modern day indulgences, called carbon certificates and such. That does not make it right; the opposite rather. So, in other words, are we being sold somewhat of a falsehood or at least a half-truth?

The Hippies, who often today are being belittled, warned us already in the 1970s about pollution and what we were doing to the Planet by doing what we were doing. The message still stands for it is pollution that has been the culprit and is the culprit, industrial pollution and the pollution from vehicles, from the burning of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas.

Many people today seem to forget that in around that same time of the Hippies scientists were telling us that the world was going to be hit by a new ice age and that we were going to end up with glaciers all over the place and to some extent the very same signs that then were claimed to be the signs of global warming were cited; the expansion of the Sahara and the Sahel, and books were written about it and movies made.

Fact is that the Earth is going through some kind of climatic upheaval but despite the fact that everyone – or almost everyone – is jumping up and down in triangles claiming carbon-dioxide and other “greenhouse” gasses being the culprit such changes are not something new. And, no, the last changes did not happen millions of years ago; they happened around a thousand years ago, and it would appear as if there is an almost 500 year cycle from cold to warm to cold, etc.

When the Romans were in Britain they grew grapes in this country, apparently almost as far north as Hadrian's Wall, for the making of wine. Then, and more for reasons of climatic change than anything else, in the early fifth century they just packed up and left.

Some centuries later the Vikings settled on a large island that they called Greenland and unless they were all seriously colorblind the “green” part of the word should be a giveaway. The island was covered in forests and meadows.

In the tenth century the son of the Viking chieftain of Greenland, one Leif Eriksson, arrived on the Labrador coast and, according to records, was presented with sweet black grapes by the local inhabitants. But less than hundred years later the Vikings seem to have abandoned Greenland for climatic reasons.

In the sixteenth century frost fairs were held on the Thames with the river, apparently, frozen to almost its total depth. The cold time seems to have then carried on, more or less, as far as winters are concerned, because some of the summers seem to have been very hot and dry at some times during King Henry VIII time, until about the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when it started to get warmer, incrementally, to where we are today.

While some of the climatic upheaval, or climate change, today is due, no doubt, to what we have been doing, in the name of progress and profit, to the Planet, some of it, probably around fifty percent, or even more, is due to the cycles the Earth seems to be going through on a more or less regular basis.

What we are facing at this very moment also is an Earth axis shift, which the powers-that-be claimed to be a shift of the magnetic north pole, and this will impact on the changes even more than anything. The magnetic north pole, by the way, cannot shift or move, at least not according what we were taught when I was a little younger, as it is located, according to what were taught, on an island off the north coast of Canada. In know that Wikipedia and other “sources” today claim it to be different but I am not buying that.

If the Earth axis is tilting, or even if it is that the magnetic field of the Planet is changing, this will have an impact on the likes of the Gulf Stream, the Jet Stream and many other weather and climate phenomena, and no matter how much we cut “carbon” it will not make much of a difference. That is not to say that we should not reduce or eliminate pollution of the air, the water and the soil, etc. we should and we must. But we must, along with this, also prepare to adapt to the changes and prepare.

But this is not going to happen in the current political and economic system where everything is run by some hidden agendas that just do not make sense to anyone who is prepared to think for him- or herself. The great problem is, though, that many, the great majority in fact, it would appear, are not prepared to think for themselves and want to leave that all to the politicians, the very same who have gotten us into much of the mess in the first place in many instances.

We have to be and create the changes that we want and need and the models for a new society, community by community and area by area and while there are many things that can be done on a individual basis others may and do require a community to do them.

There are some things, as said, that we can do on our own, and those can also be done on a larger scale, such as withdrawing our support for the current system; refusing to partake in the wild consumerism that we are being encouraged to partake in; and others. Creating the new models of the society that we would want, however, can only be done in a group, in a community, in a village, and therefore we must find like-minded folks to work together with.

© 2017

Your organic milk might contain algae and fish oil

Organic milkMillions and millions of gallons of organic milk contain industrial-brewed ingredients to beef up nutritional values.

When you buy a carton of organic milk, chances are you think you’re getting a carton of pure organic milk. And if you’re splurging on organic milk with DHA Omega-3 fatty acids to support brain health – and who doesn't want their brain health supported? – chances are you think that those healthy bits are coming courtesy of healthy grass-fed cows. But as Peter Whoriskey points out in the Washington Post, you might be wrong on both accounts – much of the nation's organic milk can thank algal oil (and fish oil) for its brain-boosting boasts.

Whoriskey describes a setting in a South Carolina factory that sounds a tad less charming than Horizon’s cartoon cow leaping across the planet's grassy fields might suggest. He writes:

Inside a South Carolina factory, in industrial vats that stand five stories high, batches of algae are carefully tended, kept warm and fed corn syrup. There the algae, known as schizochytrium, multiply quickly. The payoff, which comes after processing, is a substance that resembles corn oil. It tastes faintly fishy.

The oil is added to milk, in this case Horizon’s DHA Omega-3 version, allowing the company to advertise its added benefits and attach a higher price tag. Consumers bought more than 26 million gallons of Horizon’s algae-goop milk last year, according to the company; that accounts for 14 percent of all organic milk gallons sold.

Read more here.

Charlie Dimmock Multipurpose Garden Scissors – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Poundland Garden Scissors_BlogPart of the new and exclusive Charlie Dimmock range at Poundland  those narrow bladed multipurpose garden scissors are easy and precise to use so are ideal for dead heading, removing dead leaves and stems which in turn means more flowers and less chance of disease on plants.

Garden scissors, or scissors in the garden, are – in my opinion – a must in the garden tool armory. And while secateurs can do some of the tasks, if they are very sharp, others they can not and only a pair of scissors will do the job. For all the uses for scissors in the garden see my article here.

So, now to the review of The Charlie Dimmock Multipurpose Garden Scissors:

Let me start first of all, if I may, with the packaging. Unlike many where the product is welded into the plastic in this case the molded plastic is just attached to the cardboard backing with 3 small staples and thus the plastic and the cardboard can be easily separated for recycling. Already a plus. All too often in order to get into the packaging of many products one requires a can opener or, well, a strong pair of scissors. And then often the paper, card and plastic still cannot be separated, making recycling (almost) impossible.

The blades are sharp, definitely sharp enough, coming out of the box, for all tasks. Unlike, obviously more expensive makes and brands, though many of those are about the same, the blades and handles are not one piece steel but the blades are molded into the plastic handles. Then again they only cost you one Pound Sterling.

One thing to remember though, as regards to garden scissors, they are just that, namely scissors, and are not intended for pruning really, bar, maybe, giving the little box “tree” a haircut, or snipping off Rosemary for use in cooking, for instance. Other woody stuff is to be handles with secateurs.

© 2017

Plastic frozen food bags as hanging basket liner

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Wall_hanging_basket_lined_with_frozen_food_bag1I am one of those people who take reuse and all what is related to that to another dimension at times, as regular readers will know, and I do, yes, tend to keep those bags from frozen food.

Being a vegetarian, single, and not being able to shop for fresh vegetables daily or such, I tend to buy them frozen. Alas, they then come in those bags. But waste not want not they are, after being rinsed out, used for all manner of things, such as sandwich bags and, well, in this case to line hanging baskets.

While coir liners are compostable and all that they cost money and they don't always come in the shape of the particular hanging basket – or container that one is repurposing as a hanging basket – and I also often like to keep the plants in those baskets for longer than the lifespan of a coir liner.

Previously I have used cut up potting compost bags and such but none to hand when I wanted to do a hanging basket – this one, as you can see from the picture, however, is actually a wall mounted one – and remembered that I did have those frozen food bags.

Well, cut a long story short – and cutting was involved in the work as well – two bags later with the help of my trusty garden scissors the basket was lined and then filled with leaf mold. The latter no longer involved any plastic bags or cutting. The cost of the entire exercise? Aside from a little battery power for the drill to make the whole for the screw to hold the basket – zero. The basket was found, the screw and rawlplug, aka wall plug or screw anchor, too. Waste not want not obviously.

© 2017

Garden scissors and their uses

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

What are garden scissors used for and learn how to use scissors in the garden

gardening scissorsGarden scissors vs pruner shears or secateurs

When you mention garden scissors to some people they will counter with “oh, you mean pruning shears” (or they may say secateurs instead, depending where they are from in the English speaking world). But no, that is not what I mean. I mean scissors for use in the garden. While, to some extent, secateurs can be used for the same tasks in the garden as scissors there are many tasks that scissors either do better or can only do properly.

What are garden scissors used for?

OK, as I have said above your secateurs can do a lot of the cutting tasks that (garden) scissors would be employed for as well, such as deadheading, cutting off dead and dying leaves, and harvesting fruit and vegetables, but they will have to be very sharp to do that well. Scissors are much better suited for this task and when it comes to opening seed packets, or bags of compost and such then they will always outperform secateurs by miles.

Garden scissors are not something you would want to use for pruning, however, unless you are trimming and shaping small box trees or such. General pruning is done with bypass secateurs for green material and with anvil secateurs for dead woody matter. Unless you are using Rolcut or Original Loewe, their parent. Those are anvil secateurs that can do both equally well.

How to use scissors in the garden?

Many readers may now wonder as to whether they need spacial garden scissors for use in the garden and the simple and short answer here is a firm no. No, you do not. You can use ordinary common-garden (pardon the pun) plain household scissors though most garden scissors have two equal size blades (in width and design) which is not always the case with ordinary household scissors.

Scissors can be used in the garden to deadhead flowers, remove dead leaves, harvest vegetables, and snip herbs. You definitely cannot beat scissors for cutting seed packets or potting soil bags. Scissors are invaluable when you need to get into the impenetrable packaging, whether of new pairs of secateurs, or whatever, and for many other tasks.

I, personally, would not got as far as using them for edge paths or beds in the garden but I know that some people do that.

As you can see, there are many uses for scissors in the garden, be it those trusty household types of scissors or those that are specifically sold for use in horticulture. Either of will do the job but one thing they should be, ideally, and that is sharp.

If you have an old pair of small to medium household scissors that no longer are the best for use in the home or an old one that you can refurbish – at, ideally, zero cost bar a little penetrating oil and cleaning – then go for and with that. Otherwise you will find Poundland – or Aldi or Lidl at times – having cheap garden scissors for between a Pound and three.

On the other hand car boot sales or charity shops may have a good useable pair of scissors just asking to be used in the garden in the 25p or 50p box which, with a small file and worked in the right way, can be just the ticket for use as a pair of garden scissors.

But, whatever you do a pair or (garden) scissors would be in your armory for your garden. A pair of garden scissors can reach parts other garden tools can not.

© 2017

Crisis Preparedness

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

krisenvorsorgeWhen we look at the world today we can see that preparedness, being prepared and equipped to deal with any kind of crisis, is very important. The world in which we live today, being overly dependent on technology, especially the electronic kind, can easily be brought out of its equilibrium.

The next financial crash is only around the corner especially considering the way that many banks are back playing the same ponzy schemes that they played last time round and there are many economists and others who predict that the next crash is already on its way – probably just a year or a couple away – and that it will be worse than the last and probably worse than the Great Depression even.

But, unlike when the Great Depression hit, the majority of the people today live a life that is so far removed from reality that they do not have the skills and also not the mental frame to do things for themselves. They have to learn this from scratch and while today we have all the knowledge we – the majority at least – do not have the practical skills. Some cannot even cook from scratch let alone be capable of growing their own food, know where to get wild food, or now to make this or that they need or want for themselves.

Many people who are more or less self-appointed and self-acclaimed experts in the field of preparedness always suggest that people should have gold and silver coins as means of cash/currency. That is utter baloney as nowadays gold and silver, unlike in the days of the Great Depression and even still after WW2 are not recognized (as currency) and thus are absolutely useless. They offer no means of and for barter whatsoever. Gold and silver in whatever kind of coins are just a way for you to waste your money. In addition to that if those coins are not old currency coins how can you be sure, if they come from some “wild” mints, that they actually have the gold or silver content that is being claimed?

Your best bet is not gold and silver coins but skills and tools to perform jobs or produce goods that other want and need. Knowledge and skills are the key here. And knowledge must be more than just theory.

In times gone by people always prepared for the unexpected and for lean times and that not just by having some cash under the mattress or such place. They canned, the preserved food in other ways, and they knew how to make things from almost nothing. Today most do neither and do not have the skills either.

Cash under the mattress is not going to be an option anymore today where the coins and notes are changed in design every five minutes – well, almost – and the old version being no longer legal tender within a short space of time. All done in order to make us dependent on the state and its agencies. Therefore it will have to be other supplies – and especially skills – that you have to make it possible for your to live well enough after such an event and which also provide a means of barter with other, perhaps.

Theoretically, properly prepared there is no reason to fear a crisis nor is there any need to get into a panic and tiswas, when it happens. I did say theoretically, for the world today is not the world of the 1920s and 30s when people still had proper community and also knew how to do things.

Books on the various subjects of preparedness, homesteading, gardening, survival, and the many crafts and whatever, are good to have as a reference library but they are not something that you would want to go to when the proverbial already has hit the air moving device but you want to learn from them, and ideally also from live teachers, and acquire the knowledge and especially the practical skills well before well before any such event.

In the event of a crisis, which, more than likely will be a global one, you cannot rely of the state or other body for help. You have to know how to help yourself and you can only rely on yourself.

You may have the skills, the knowledge, and the provisions. Others that don't, however, are the danger; a danger to you, your loved ones and your survival. In a crisis you also cannot rely on the state and its agencies to protect you from any marauders; in fact the state and its agencies themselves will become a threat to you and your freedom.

So, thus, when it comes to protection from marauders it would appear that you will be, in the event, more or less on your own. The agencies of the state, as I have just said, will not (be able to) protect you and therefore you will have to do that yourself and you may also need to protect yourself and your loved ones from the very agencies of the state.

© 2017