Archive | July, 2013

The Garden of Eden – perhaps not

31 Jul

Several things have come together this week that have made me stop and think deeply about what is going on in Cornwall and the World in general.

I have been very busy in my vegetable garden, the combination of strong sunshine and finally some rain has left me with a lot of work to do. This year I have had bumper crops of Mange Tout, Broad and French Beans, Carrots, and Salad varieties. In general, apart from Carrots, root crops are poor and soft crops such as Courgettes are suffering mildew. While having a coffee break, I wondered how many other people in Cornwall grow vegetables seriously in their garden.

Another thing that interested me was a programme on the Radio where people who were said to be poor, updated previous interviews they had given. A couple of these people were certainly very educated, but unemployed and claimed to be in poverty. They both happened to be women. They said their salvation was being able to grow vegetable to see them through. It was not possible to guess whether these people lived in the town or country. On another programme people were being interviewed about Food Banks, giving details on what kind of food was available, and how they made “convenience” foods last to serve a family. Is self-sufficiency restricted to the middle class? Do only women deal with food and food preparation? Do the urban poor have to rely on opening tins? Or is it that certain people are not so subject to social change which has turned us into an “on the hoof” society, grabbing food when we can as we rush past?

This latter suggestion was brought abruptly into focus when I surveyed the pile of Broad Beans I had just harvested. What dishes am I going to use these for? Looking for the easy option, I entered “Recipes using Broad Beans” in a search engine. The first one I came to started “Open a 500g tin of Broad Beans”! Well what is the difference between a fresh Broad Bean, and one in a tin? Or even more to the point, what is the difference between a perfect fresh Tomato from the supermarket or the funny looking thing that I picked in the greenhouse? In some cases the answer may be “Not a lot”, but there are add-ons. By working in the garden I am able to judge what is happening to the climate, (I keep a log from year to year and have a digital read out of max and min temperature and humidity). Also I can see what is happening regarding the mass of insect life toiling away for good or ill unseen by most people.

What I see is not good. The countryside is not productive, we have lost Market Gardens and Smallholdings with vegetable crops. Greenfield sites on the edges of Truro, Falmouth, Newquay and Bodmin are being built on at an alarming rate, fuelled by the greed of developers and assisted by the Government’s need to build itself out of recession. Sudden weather events such as record high and low temperatures, hurricane strength winds and flash floods are now becoming the norm. Changes in climate have meant changes in insect population. I recently lost a hive of bees due to a respiratory fungal disease caused by the wet winter, and partly due to local farm practices. As a consequence the reduction of bees and other pollinators due to the late spring has meant smaller crops on my fruit trees. Surely by now, climate change must be obvious to even the most deeply buried Ostrich head?

What chance do we have of becoming a sustainable society? I am tempted to say “Not much”, but I am the eternal optimist. Firstly we must educate young people. I learned about gardening obliquely, a bit from my Dad (although I wouldn’t admit to him that I was interested), and the basics of vegetable life from studying Biology at school and college. Nowadays very little is taught about gardening at secondary school. Secondly, we have got to make it easier for people to make a start. Seeds are becoming increasingly expensive, and stupid rules are preventing the use of certain older varieties that are often the best. If you add GM crops and non-viable F1 seeds to the mix you have the recipe for a global cartel on the same level as Oil and Drugs. What happened to seed swops? There are plenty of people who will give advice to novices, and Gardeners Question Time on Radio 4. I have even found lots of very useful ideas in books produced to drive self sufficiency during the Second World War, so it is not as difficult as some people think.

Therefore the answer should be -use the Supermarket outside the back door, it uses less fuel to get there, it costs less, you don’t need a plastic carrier bag to bring it home and it tastes better. I know I am able to spend a lot of time gardening because I am retired, and also I am lucky enough to have a big garden, but some people use window boxes! Even so the message is – get out there and “Dig for Victory” against consumerism.

Way down to Lamorna

23 Jul

As a part of the activities I have used to keep my mind and body active since retirement, I often go off to celebrate the Arts and Literature. My wife and I regularly visit Stratford on Avon and try to see most of the plays in reparatory for the season. This year we went to the Hay-on Wye Literary Festival and nearer to home we go to the du Maurier Festival. Last year we went to the Penzance Literary Festival, and liked it so much we went again this year.

You may have heard of the recent film “Summer in February” about A.J. Mullins and the group of painters around Lamorna just before the First World War. This years Penzance Literary Festival was lucky to persuade both the writer/screenwriter of the film Jonathon Smith, and later the Director of the film, Pippa Cross, to talk about their work. They were some of the best talks I have ever heard, giving you the real nitty-gritty without talking down to the audience. Well done to Peter Levin who organised the festival.

The final “bash” of the festival was a great treat. First a sing-song down in the Acorn Bar lead by Hilary Coleman and some of her singing group, including all the old favourites songs such as The White Rose, and Cornish Lads by Roger Bryant. I felt very emotional, and it wasn’t the beer! However by the time Hilary’s brother Will Coleman joined in with My Grandfathers Clock/ Old time Religion, the tears were tears of laughter. That man is a genius! Then as the evening progressed we had stories from Liz Harman, Pauline Sheppard and Anna Maria Murphy. If you get a chance ask Anna Maria to tell you what happens if you buy a basket off the Orchard Girls!

If you missed this event remember to book early next year.

I can see right through you

11 Jul

Transparency, openness, accountability, all phrases that trip off a politicians tongue. These words have been given more than a fair share of airing by the new Cornwall Council, and perhaps I am expecting too much from these “new brooms”. I was expecting to be really impressed by the new PACs, (Portfolio Advisory Committees), because they offered the public a chance to ask questions at a lower level of the machine than ever before. We have been able to ask questions at Cabinet and Full Council level, but never at what is a Committee level.

Full of bonhomie, I attended the first meeting of the Transport and Waste PAC and had a question down for answer. There were quite a lot of people in the Committee Room public area and all the new Councillors were all there with their scrubbed faces, ties and satchels (or perhaps I should say man-bags), just like I remember the new kids on the first day of term. The new Chair and Vice Chair were elected on the nod, and we began with public questions, and this went as would be expected, but with a much gentler and more informal tone than the previous administration. There was also one question down for answer from a Member and this was also dealt with correctly.

Then up stepped a lady Officer from Democratic Services, (a misnomer in this case), to tell the public they had to leave. There was much consternation as some people had come some considerable distance to observe the proceedings and the meeting had only lasted about 20 minutes. Matron told us that we had to leave because the meeting was going into informal session and the public were not allowed to be present. The last time I attended a Council meeting that went into informal session, the Committee first voted to agree to go into informal session and then certain members of the public were not excluded, they were actually asked to come forward and take part in the debate. No warning was given on the Agenda notice, and no vote was taken.

We all filed outside to be greeted by some of the PAC Members who told us that they didn’t know this was going to happen either. The irony is that this situation happened in the same week that the Government has issued new rules on transparency for Council Meetings. We can now take cameras and recording equipment into any Council Chamber in the land and record what goes on in public sessions. In addition, if the session is to be closed to the public, notice must be given 28 days in advance. 28 days, we didn’t even get 28 seconds!

It turns out that the reason for the informal meeting was because the new boys and girls needed to undergo training on how the PAC worked. My take on this is why does the public have to be excluded, are we not entitled to know how our representatives are trained? I was worried that there was a darker side to it and therefore a few days later I turned up for the Environment Heritage and Planning PAC. Exactly the same thing happened there, except that the public part of the meeting was even shorter, perhaps ten minutes.

It has since struck me that it would have been more economical to have gathered the new intake together and given them all training on PACs if they sit on one. This way it would be OK to excuse the old hands who could do something more productive, and the training would not have to be spread out over several days.

But perhaps there is a more sinister reason for each PAC to undergo this secret training separately. Could this be because the grinning row of Officers present want to indoctrinate the new boys and girls into how they should think and vote on the various tricky issues that are the pet creations of these unelected eminences with their big salaries? I wonder.

Terry Towel Virtual Olympics

5 Jul

It is often said that there are two groups of people in Western Civilisations, those who climb to the top of the pole no matter what. They don’t mind if they trample on other people to get there and have no feelings for them. The other group are said to have some sort of vocation, they are prepared to sink down the pole, provided that they can give a hand up to others who are less fortunate.

This could be allegorized by saying that if you found a Ten Pound Note in the street, a person in the first group would pick it up and put it in their pocket, while a person in the second group would give it to a beggar. How do you get your head round a person who picks the Ten Pound Note up and tears it into small pieces and throws it into the air? This is what we do if we don’t recycle.

At the moment, in a rather muddled way, some global thinkers are suggesting that it is imperative that we put a brake on run away consumerism. We have an idea that the actions of man are contributing to climate change. On the other hand we are being encouraged to spend our way out of recession. Build bigger and faster roads and railways so that people can burn more fossil fuels, or perhaps build more and more houses over the countryside so that it doesn’t matter if people have two or three homes. It doesn’t matter if this is at the expense of farm-land because Strawberries can be flown in from Africa, and this will aid poor farmers. All this so that we can kick start the economy so that everybody has a job, money in their pocket and can go out and buy the latest electronic gadget that will allow you to see video on you wrist watch, get silly squiggle messages from people you don’t know, or be told that your relative has just got on a train that you didn’t know they were going to catch in the first place.

All of this activity requires resources. Water in Africa to grow the Strawberries, oil from deeper and deeper wells to power the machinery to dig out the roads and railways and to power the transport, packaging to wrap up the latest consumer gimmick, and this has got to come from somewhere. The answer is simple, it can only come from this lump of rock that we stand on, the Earth.
Millions of years ago our planet was a ball of gas and dust spinning in space. As it cooled it condensed into a rotating sphere and the various gases combined into more and more complex substances to eventually end up with a rocky globe with a still molten core. The presence of Carbon in the surface matter, water vapor and oxygen in the atmosphere, and a suitable temperature eventually produced living organisms. The key point in all of this is that apart from the odd meteorite, no extra material has arrived on Earth since it formed. We do not have fleets of Starship Freighters arriving at Space Ports to unload Titanium and Zirconium from other Galaxies, what we have got is all we have got. Therefore, why do we throw it away? After all where is away?

For some time enlightened people have said that the only way to save the planet is to recycle. The odd Hippy was saying that sixty years ago when I was a teenager, but nobody took any notice. Then gradually, various “Green” organisations took up the call, then UN bodies, until finally it became obvious that it was actually a good economic policy because it was cheaper to recycle than make products from virgin material. The next stage was that raw material market prices began to go up as the Earth’s resources got scarcer. As a result of pressure from Europe, the UK is beginning to get its act together, but any day of the week you can still see people piling recycling into black bags. The litter blowing about on roads and caught in fences beside railway tracks is there for all to see. Funny thing is it is worth money, I bet it wouldn’t stay there for long if it was actual money.

Nearly everything can be recycled, and legislation is slowly coming in that says if you can’t recycle it, you can’t make or sell it. However, some recycling is simple whereas other items require a certain amount of pre-treatment which puts the price of the process up. The simplest way to make recycling pay is to separate the material before putting it out for collection. Some people claim that they haven’t got room for all those bags, but the material still takes up the same space whatever you do with it. Some people say they haven’t got the time to do it, but it takes no longer to put it in a recycling bag than in a black sack. The truth is they can’t be bothered. So how do you make them bother?

Psychologists are divided between behaviourists and cognitivists, the former believing in carrot and stick and the latter, that explanation and logic will produce results. Cognitive methods take longer and tend to be more firmly fixed, but we don’t have much time. Monmouthshire Council have said that they will only collect two black bags per fortnight in order to encourage residents to recycle. A commentator on the radio said she would not be able to manage, particularly when it was one of her children’s birthdays. I wonder what material arises on a birthday that cannot be recycled. I speculated that perhaps her children were so young that they got over excited and used up extra disposable nappies. This was followed by other speculation, like what happened to a Terry Towel nappy? I also then made myself a “virtual” fortune by inventing a TV panel game in which fathers were asked to change a baby’s Towel nappy and then hold the infant vertically to prove that it wouldn’t fall off.
I have these moments now and again, it must be old age!

Other Councils use financial reward to encourage recycling, giving out tokens for free meals in local restaurants, or vouchers for shops. However, the key factor that needs to be addressed in Cornwall is that burning the waste in an Incinerator makes it impossible to recycle it. As recycling generates money, and Cornwall Council is so short of money that it is cutting front line services, then the obvious answer is to link the recycling with the provision of Council services. This would be explained to the public by ambulances with stickers on the side saying “You paid for this Ambulance by donating your recycling.”
One of the big disadvantages of what would appear to be a simple solution is that Cornwall Council don’t seem to get any money for the material we recycle. They have to pay Sita to take it away! But that is another story. Therefore, even if we the public, do not benefit from recycling via our Council Tax, keep doing it for the benefit of the planet.