Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Fabric conditioner

Acting on a tip from a friend recently I've just checked on the web about the use of vinegar in place of fabric conditioner. It seems to be a widely recognised truth that you can put distilled white vinegar in the fabric conditioner drawer and it will make your towels, nappies etc soft, and without damaging their absorbency (which is what happens with commercial fabric conditioners).
I would try it now but I only have the brown sort of vinegar. I suspect it wouldn't matter if I used the brown sort.
Mind you, I've never been able to work out why anyone thinks it's necessary to have fabric conditioner at all. I think one reason is if you wear artificial fibres, which collect dirt and static electricity (or rather collect static electricity and dirt, the latter being partly due to the former). Certainly supposedly woolly sweaters that have a proportion of acrylic or nylon get dirty very much more quickly than real wool ones. But generally we don't use man made fibres, at least not if we can help it.
Another reason is perhaps that cotton towels come out a bit hard if they aren't hung in the garden to dry. But we generally do hang them out in the wind. And anyway a vigorous scrub with a rasping bath towel never did anyone any harm.
So we've never used fabric conditioner and don't intend to start now. And to judge by this site fabric conditioners are extremely poisonous and may be responsible for a lot of allergy and illness, indeed probably cancer too. So vinegar or nothing seems to be the wisest choice.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Paper handkerchiefs

I apologise for the long silence which was due to being ill (the flu) and then being so behind with my work (and so weak after being ill) that I haven't had any time left for time-wasting activities like the Blogs.

It seemed appropriate after being ill to make some remarks on illness. This time it's about how to blow your nose in an environmentally friendly way.

At Norwich I used to have a box of 3-ply man size tissues (that is, paper handkerchiefs, Kleenex in american speak) which had been on my bathroom shelf for some years. In the Autumn I loaned out my cottage to a couple we know from Church (this was part of an auction of promises to raise money for the new organ, and I offered a weekend break in Norwich).

When I returned, the cottage had been well cared for, all was in order, except for one thing: the tissue box was empty. Now that's interesting, because I'd had it from before I moved to Norwich, maybe three years. I don't remember it being very near to empty. It made me wonder whether other people use such things rather more than I do.

It's not that I don't ever have a runny nose. Of course I do, and I had a terrible one last week, one of those that runs like a tap. The Professor also has an allergy of some sort which means that he sometimes has a runny nose for days at a time. But we don't use former trees to mop our noses, for the most part.

Here is a list of four kinds of things I use for runny noses:

1. Elegant ladies' handkerchiefs in pure cotton. These are small and usually embroidered or trimmed with lace. I use these for everyday use and for going to a weepy movie. They fit in a pocket without causing any ugly distortion.

2. Larger hankies, man size. These are useful for the after-a-cold period, when there's quite a lot of catarrh and a small hankie would be quickly used up. One dozen pure cotton white hankies costs £5 on Norwich market.

3. Bits of old sheet. These are the best thing for a seriously runny cold when you're in bed at home. The sheet needs to have been made of pure cotton (brushed cotton is especially soft and comforting) and should have worn thin and ripped. The result is unbelievably soft and absorbent. You tear off a piece the size you need (very large if the cold is seriously streaming) and when it's a bit damp you can either throw it away or put it aside to be washed and used again (the edges fray but that really doesn't matter). These cost nothing of course, and the laundry is normally just a minor addition to the usual load of white washing.

4. Muslin nappies. An excellent use for the nappies so little used by newborn babies. They are soft and extremely absorbent (you'd probably get through a whole box of tissues before one muslin nappy is too wet to use). The professor (who has some kind of rhinitis allergy) generally carries several muslin nappies in his briefcase in case of an attack of the runny nose—on a bad day he gets through two or three. In fact the muslins our girls had when they were newborn have all now worn out and become disreputable, so a new pack had to be purchased recently. 20 muslin squares cost £22.99 from Mothercare.

Here's a list of the advantages of using these real cotton products over the disposable wood fibre products that they call "handkerchiefs" or "tissues".

1) the cotton ones are much more absorbent than woodchips

2) they cause less soreness than woodchips,

3) they're always there even if you're too ill to go to the shops

4) they don't end up in the landfill (or, if eventually you throw away the rags, they were going to waste anyway and have had a useful recycled life first).

5) BEST OF ALL they don't deposit a white fuzz all over everything in the washing machine if you accidentally leave one in your pocket!

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Misleading quotes for rail tickets on the internet

Yesterday after choir Tricia happened to remark on the fact that she'd been on the internet to find out the cost of going to Norwich at half term for a day with young Lizzie, for a shopping spree. On the internet the lowest price quoted was something like £30:00 (Cambridge to Norwich return) and they almost decided against going, or scrapping the train and going by car.

But in a fit of extravagance they decided to go anyway, and were pleasantly surprised to discover that the tickets cost £13:00 total for both of them (in fact I suspect that ticket included the price of the bus to the city centre in Norwich as well as the train journey, though they probably didn't know that).

I've just checked The to see what they quote for an imaginary day-return journey tomorrow on that route, and they think it will cost £17:40 for a "saver return" for one adult, £22:30 for a "standard open return", or two single tickets (which for some reason it advises "might be cheaper") at a minimum of £14:10 each way (i.e. £28:20 for the round trip).

This is absurd because the ticket you actually want to buy is an Anglia Day Ranger which will take you not just to Norwich and back but to Sheringham or Yarmouth or anywhere else you want to go in East Anglia, as many journeys as you like in a day, and it costs £10:00.

Today I had a similar experience. I asked The to quote for my day-return journey, Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds. It offered a "standard day return" at £10:80 or two singles at a minimum of £7:50 each (again advising in its stupid way that "two singles might be cheaper"). When I got to the station I was served without hesitation with a "Cheap Day Return" ticket costing £7:90. A "Cheap Day Return" (which is an off-peak day ticket) is, after all, what I would have expected to be looking for.

Now what exactly is the problem here? There seem to be several hypotheses that spring to mind.

In the case of the Norwich trip it seems that the computer is perhaps programmed to give only ticket prices that are to the specific destination, and in this case the cheapest ticket is (unusually) not the return ticket to Norwich but the day ranger ticket for the whole of East Anglia, which is extraordinarily good value.

In the case of the Bury St Edmunds trip it seems that the computer is unaware of the Cheap Day ticket. Why might this be? One option is that the key factor is that the ticket I bought was to "Bury St Edmunds BUS". The crucial thing is that "BUS". The ticket includes the bus fares in the town you're going to. It's not a ticket to Bury St Edmunds station, it's a ticket to the city and is valid on the buses. I've encountered this before (it's the same if you go from Norwich to Yarmouth: you have to buy a ticket to Yarmouth BUS, because that's cheaper than a ticket to Yarmouth.)

If you go to the station you speak to a human person behind the window, and he knows that a ticket with the bus included is cheaper, and that's what you will want. He doesn't even ask (because who would want to buy a ticket without the bus if it costs more?). If you ask the computer the computer quotes you the price without the bus, because you didn't ask it for the bus (and why should you? It doesn't offer you that option).

That's the difference between a machine and a human being. That's why it will never be possible to make artificial intelligence.

As for why the ticket without the bus costs more—that remains a mystery (but it is the privilege of humans, unlike machines, to decide to do things in an irrational way if they so choose).

Thursday, 8 March 2007

The cost of a car

Today someone on Radio Norfolk estimated that the cost of running a car (which she'd just decided to give up) was £3,000 a year. This was for an old, nothing special, second hand car in which depreciation is not too dramatic.

I rather suspect it must actually be a lot more than that.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Cycling with babies and toddlers in tow

Further to my last post, about what you do with baby when you've left your bike and trailer (or bike with child seat) at a cycle park. Good news for parents in Cambridge is the Park Street Cycle Park pushchair scheme, where you can leave your bike for free and borrow a pushchair instead, to go round town.

I have a sort of feeling my children would have refused to get into a strange pushchair. But perhaps if one had been doing it from their babyhood, it would be perfectly routine and no reluctance would be encountered.

More details here and here.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

What does it mean to be green?

It means feeling a certain smug satisfaction, nay glee, at the 'misfortune' of the poor motorists who filled up with "go-slow" fuel at various supermarket service stations in the UK this week... Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting