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...

Monday, 10 November 2008

My guilty secrets

I came home from Papa Westray on the Northlink ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen (very comfortable, overnight with a spacious cabin). That bit was fine.

But before that, I did something terrible.

I took the plane from Papa Westray to Kirkwall (not the two minute flight to Westray that is in the Guinness book of records, but still a little flight, fifteen minutes of it).

Now this was a bad idea for more than one reason.

One was the environment (though of course the thing was flying anyway, and better full than half empty I suppose).

Second, it nearly didn't fly at all, because the pilot was being iffy about how low the cloud base was and had to be chivvied into agreeing to come and get us, which he eventually did, but only after we'd hung about in the shed at the air strip for an hour or so ringing him and trying to persuade him that it was "brightening" a bit. So we came pretty close to having to resort to plan B, or even plan C which would have been to stay longer (which would have been an attractive solution but I'd run out of clean clothes).

The third reason why it was a bad idea to take the plane was that plan B—which was to take the boat to Pierowall at 4 pm, and then the minibus or taxi across to the other end of Westray, and then the boat to Kirkwall at 6, getting there at 7.30, in time for the meal I'd booked at the Kirkwall hotel at 8 pm—was actually a great deal shorter and more efficient, as well as more immune to the bad weather. Well, more immune to the kind of bad weather we were having on that particular day.

So why did I succumb to booking a flight in the first place?

Well, partly because it seemed at the time that the flight was likely to be a safer bet than the boat, since the boats had been cancelled in the storms a week before. And it's no good waiting to see, because there are only 8 seats on the plane and you won't get on at the last minute if the boats aren't sailing. So to be on the safe side I rang for a plane ticket a few days before I knew whether the weather would be bad. It was a remedy for ignorance, not a preference for flying.

So the real problem is humanity's desperate lack of foreknowledge. How easy it would be if we knew what was going to work best before we had to take the decisions and make the plans!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea

Today I reached the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea.
This is how I got there:

First, I took a train from Cambridge to London.

Then, I took a sleeper train from London to Edinburgh and another train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.

After staying for a while in Aberdeen, I took a bus to the Northlink ferry terminal.

Thence I took a ship from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, and stayed overnight in a B&B in Kirkwall.

The next day, I took the Orkney Ferries boat to Papa Westray.

The walk to the north part of the island was this morning's expedition.

We reached the place where the oceans encounter one another at around 11 a.m. It was rather wet and grey and there was a lot of wind, but an impressive amount of surf and large waves.

Total journey time about 23 hours, not including the overnight stops. Probably it would have taken a little longer if we hadn't cheated by driving the car a couple of miles north before starting this morning's walk.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Gardening the hard way

As I sit in my study (being on research leave, I'm doing a bit more of this) I watch other lucky people (the gardeners employed to do the shared areas of our courtyard) come and spend their time doing energetic things in the fresh air and the sunshine. Today they have been shooing leaves about with a noisy machine that pretends to be the wind.
Now, what more stupid activity could you engage in on a very windy autumn day, than shooing leaves about with a blower? What a waste of fossil fuels! The mischievous leaves briefly go in the direction you intended, but then you turn your attention to the next leaf, and the one you just deposited gets up and goes somewhere else, assisted by the much more powerful Boreas, who knows a thing or two about how to scatter Autumn leaves. When, briefly, you do succeed in making a small and rather loose pile of leaves in some corner, out of the wind, then you come along with the next two or three leaves you've just collected with your blower, and as you approach your untidy pile of leaves, the blower helpfully blows away the ones you'd already got there, in its attempt to deposit the newcomers. Off they all go again, and you're back to square one.
I don't know what you call this stupid machine for blowing leaves, but I am quite certain that it is one of the most useless inventions known to mankind. What you need (Mr Gardener) is a large outdoor broom and a pair of boards. Someone long ago, many thousands of years ago, invented the idea of a broom, and really this is one of the best inventions known to mankind. You sweep up the leaves with the broom, and then you pick them up in piles with the pair of boards (holding one board in each hand and pulling them hard together with the leaves compressed between them) and load the leaves into the wheelbarrow like that. It's easy. In fact, I don't think it's any harder than lugging that ineffectual blower around. And it's good for you. And it's quiet. And it would be much more satisfying for me to watch from my window, though it would make me more envious of your job.

Friday, 26 September 2008


It's time for my annual post about English Apples. Alas, things seem to be still just as bad as last year. A week or so back I wandered briefly into M&S Simply Food at the railway station, and it made me so angry that I had to leave in a hurry and I was in a bad mood for the rest of the day. For there on the horrible chilly shelves (apart from anything else it's a very uncomfortable experience if you're in summer clothes and sandals) were apples of the following sorts: Coxs from New Zealand, Granny Smiths from Australia, and some kind of soggy red apples from France... I forget what. How fresh were these apples, do you suppose? The southern hemisphere ones were presumably picked under-ripe about five months ago, and the French ones were presumably fresh last October, 11 months ago. So the shop was selling stuff that was best-before some date months earlier.
Meanwhile Cambridge market stalls, not three minutes away, are laden with local apples, crips juicy, picked that morning. The trees in the gardens by the country roads are bending under the weight of lovely September fruits. There is nothing more delicious than a Worcester Pearmain (providing it hasn't got over ripe or been kept too long). So what was this decaying rubbish doing on the shelves of Marks and Spencers, which prides itself on the quality of its food? And how much had it cost the environment in refrigeration and oxygen-free storage to keep such old fruit so that it looked as if it was still fresh, besides the transport from the wrong side of the world? Once again I have vowed never again to go into that shop.
And then there was the British Academy lunch. Nice lunches they do, but two things annoyed me. One was the fruit: there we were in September but was there a single item of British fruit on the fruit platter? I doubt it, though it's conceivable that the strawberries were English. So, there were plums, but they were not the gorgeous victoria plums that we have. There were apples, but they were not the gorgeous September apples that we have, but some of those last-season Granny Smiths from South Africa or Chile whose skins are so caked with wax and chemicals that they taste bitter at every bite. There were Kiwi fruit. There were grapes (conceivably from Europe I suppose, but don't bet on it). There were bananas. There were oranges (from the southern hemisphere I presume). So if, like me, you were trying to eat local you were lucky to get anything: a strawberry was all I could stomach.
And why do they try and serve hot food for a sandwich lunch and fill the room with the fumes of those wretched spirit burners? It was most unappetising.
It's time the caterers who do business lunches started taking notice of what we actually want to eat and why... It isn't as if local food isn't nice: it's nicer than the stuff that's been stored and travelled.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Summer Holidays

This year we decided not to go anywhere far away that required air travel, so we took a few days in Wales. The trick is to set out in the expectation that it will be a gloomy wet week, cold and very windy, with cloud on the hills or even in the valleys. Then if you have even one brief sunny interval, or a momentary clear patch with good views from the top of a mountain, you come home thinking how fortunate you've been.

Strictly speaking a car would not have been necessary for the first part of our holiday, since the place we were staying would have arranged for us to be collected from the nearest station. But for the last day we had to go to Lampeter. Interestingly, we discovered from an old map in Aberystwyth museum (one of the places where we whiled away a few hours of a wet day) that the railway used to go to Lampeter, along with a great many other places, in days gone by. How vastly life would be improved now if that were still so!

In any case, taking a car enabled us to take wellies, walking boots, umbrellas, waterproof trousers and a mountain of books to read, all of which were very useful. At least, I took wellies, despite Robin's reluctance, and was very glad of them.

Apparently, according to, if we'd gone by train, the carbon emissions for a simple return journey from Cambridge to Morfa Mawddach and back, would have been 102 kg (51 kg per person). It seems to me odd that it's doubled if two of us travel, since the train would have run anyway even with just one of us... But I suppose you have to divide the total emissions of the train by the passengers it carries. That would make it a bigger total the fewer people were carried, not twice the amount when you carry twice as many people. Ho hum.

As it was we went by car, and according to Cloud Amber, the same simple return journey in the model of car that we hired and with two of us travelling, would typically have emitted 52.1 kg per person, a total of 104.2kg for the two of us. This is not much more than the emissions for the train journey, probably because the route by car is a bit shorter.

So I think in this case, I shall not list this particular journey as one of my guilty secrets, although doubtless we did a few extra miles by car on the little outings to wet and windy places during the holiday, which otherwise we would have had to do on foot (or maybe just not do them and read more books instead. Reading books seems to be a low carbon occupation, particularly if the books are second hand and there is enough daylight to read by).

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Soya again

So, according to the BBC news site, a study has shown the damage that soya does to men's fertility.
And the experts say "Oh but it can't be so because men in Asia eat far more soya, and they don't have fertility problems".

Yes, but as it's often been pointed out, they don't eat the raw soya that we're fed in our soya products here. They eat fermented soya, which eliminates the female hormone effects. Doubtless those fermenting techniques were developed over thousands of years, and only those who used them survived and were able to eat soya without declining populations.

Still, I guess it's no bad thing to spread natural contraceptives round the world, if we can reduce the population that way. The trouble is it turns our men into unattractive fat women, and they live longer too, in their effeminate infertile state. This is not good news for the planet or for us it seems to me (us being females who like our men to be real men).

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Baths and showers

A long while back I mentioned the idea that it's better not to wash too much. The thought is two-fold.

First, washing too much is unhealthy, and undermines the natural ways in which our skin and hair keep themselves protected against wear and tear and germs and things.

The second thought is that washing too much destroys our natural attractiveness to each other and prevents us from maintaining healthy relationships.

This is damaged partly by washing off the natural smells that make us attractive to other human beings, especially to bodies of the opposite sex and to our mothers and brothers and sisters and things. It's also damaged by putting on other non-human smells, especially the smells of soaps and shampoos and deodorants and other potions, which may seem pretty to us when we choose them in the shops but aren't actually very sexy as the smell of another person (as opposed to being delightful as the smell of a rose or a lily of the valley or a honeysuckle or a lavender flower; actually most of them don't seem to be any of those but some much worse artificial perfume which would be most distressing to find in a hedgerow). Hence the increasingly high divorce rate and frequent break down of intimate relationships. That's the thought.

And of course it's damaged in rather insidious ways by the clinging smells imparted to our clothes and linen by artificial perfumes in washing powders and fabric conditioners (about which I've written before). I have had several very miserable experiences recently of having to partake of a first rate meal, or even just a good homely meal, while sitting next to, or opposite, someone who smells like the vent from a college launderette. You anticipate a lovely meal of asparagus with garlic butter, with the delightful bouquet of a good wine under your nose. Instead you're constantly and repeatedly transported to that terrible aisle in the supermarket where they sell "laundry products": things that are obviously designed to appeal to people who naturally smell disgusting (I suppose. After all you wouldn't use those products if you smelled nice by nature, would you?)

The longer it is since we last used such artificially scented products ourselves the more intrusive it seems to become when one sits near someone who uses them, or when we have such a person in the house, and the more intolerable it seems. I suppose if you wear such clothes and sleep in such bedlinen you don't realise that the smell is coming from you, and that it's terrible to those who notice it. And I suppose you go around the world not realising that there are parts of the world that smell just lovely, by nature. Indeed there are some real people who have really nice smells too. Maybe some of those people under the horrible smelly clothes also would smell lovely, if you could only find out. And then you would like them and want to spend time with them, instead of longing to get away. I'm wondering whether to start a campaign to change all this by actually telling people that they smell horrid.

A third thought is that washing one's body too much and taking too many showers is wasteful. I'll come back to that.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Price of fuel protests

So we have three problems: (1) Petrol costs a lot; (2) The roads are congested because too many people are driving too many cars to too many places for no good reason; (3) there is a problem with carbon emissions and climate change which could be quite serious.

Does it seriously seem to be worthwhile trying to solve these problems by increasing the production of oil so as to bring the price down? Indeed, when you think about it, is item number one one of the problems? Or is it rather the solution to the other two things, which really are problems?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Things useful for bringing up children without a car

A bus route

Living in town is helpful, but above all, living on a bus route is helpful, because children can learn to use buses quite easily, and if it stops nearby you can go door to door to a lot of places that can't easily be reached by car.

Annie used to go to her violin lessons on the other side of Oxford from an early age by herself. It seems as if it was from the age of about 6 or 7 (but I wonder if this was really so? She'll probably correct me if I'm wrong). See her onto the bus at one end, and she would arrive safely at the other, with her quarter-size violin, where her teacher's house was a short walk from the bus stop just beyond the railway bridge.

Both the children sampled the use of the bus to go to School at the age of 11. This involved changing buses in town. Older children would help the younger children to manage the journey and to change buses safely in town. Several local families were making this journey regularly from East Oxford to North Oxford, to a variety of schools in the same part of town, and the children all got to know each other and to look out for each other at both ends.

The main problem with it was the amount of time it took to do the journey by bus, because of changing buses, so they had to leave before 8 in the morning, even though the journey was only about three miles. Our girls took to cycling instead as soon as that seemed safe, because cycling took about half as long. But still, it was useful to have the bus as an option, particularly when the cello had to go to School too.

And then we used to use the bus to go to the railway station whenever we had a substantial amount of luggage, such that cycling was not an option. Many a happy holiday began with a number 4 bus to the railway station, and most holidays ended the same way.

None of this would have been easier with a car. Actually just about all of it would have been a complete nightmare if you'd tried to do it by car. So, for a happy life, a good bus service, not less than every ten minutes and preferably direct to the railway station is an absolute must. I think in old age, a regular bus service to the hospital is probably more important still, but old age is not the topic of this post right now.

Friday, 29 February 2008

What does it mean to be green?

Not being able to spread the butter on your bread till at least April.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The hunt for the best bacon in Cambridge

In the old days the best place to buy bacon was the old grocer's shop on Prospect Row. What was his name? Mr Cook? Anyway, he used to serve excellent firm dry bacon which he sliced for you on the spot, and also wonderful ham. That was, I think, the last real grocer's shop in Cambridge and it closed down about three or four years ago.
Now, the question is, where can you get bacon? Not the sort that boils in grey sludge, but real bacon that fries in the pan?
This post is to announce a competition. Please sample the bacon at your local butcher and any other outlets you know of, and let's have them graded out of 10. Ten stars for the best and one star for the worst.
Rumour has it that Duchy Originals bacon is good. I'm not sure if you can get it in Cambridge. But let's rate the local non-supermarket ones too. I bought some streaky bacon from Andrews, the butchers on Burleigh Street today. It looks a little tired but not too wet. I'll report back.

English apples

It's nice to know that consumers have woken up to the wonders of English apples, helped at last by the supermarkets. See this news report from the BBC:

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Life in the fast lane

This entertaining video gives a glimpse of how we get about in Cambridge. You will see that bicycles are much faster than cars and other motorised transport....

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Nuclear Power?


No no

No no no

This government doesn't seem to understand what the word "necessary" means. Nothing, no kind of hypothetical necessity whatever, could ever make it "necessary" to add new nuclear power stations. Rather, it seems clear that it is absolutely necessary that we should not do so.

And how conceivably could the cost of decommissioning be added in to the costs born by the companies? Those costs are incalculable. It must be a logical impossibility to undertake to pay them.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Ecologically-sound Christmas presents

Another good one I got was a bottle of Ecover washing up liquid.
This is a really useful present, good for me and good for the environment.