The government has stipulated that energy providers must subsidise cavity wall and loft insulation in our homes. Fantastic idea! Well, almost. This has caused massive demand and there don’t appear to be enough contractors to provide the service. So, there is a huge backlog. In winter…
If your house was built in the 1940s or younger, you may well be eligible to take advantage of this energy saving subsidy. To find out if you are, contact your energy company and they will write to the local insulation contractor who will come to your house to provide a free quote.
The thing with great ideas is that they have to be thought through and delivered to qualify as GREAT. So, right now this is a good idea that is starting to happen. Come on E.On, once you have someone hooked you really must deliver. It’s frustrating to find that we can’t access this solution to energy and emissions saving within months.
However, there are BIG upsides. Big demand means people understand the benefits and are ACTING. And it will be worth the wait, E.On estimated that our 4 bedroom house will cost us about £220 for cavity and loft insulation. The payback period could be under 2 years. Our neighbours have had their home insulated and it has made a huge difference to their energy bills – and reduced their carbon emissions.
Will be looking for an EPC soon too - an Energy Performance Certificate - to see how the house rates and how we can make it more energy efficient. I have researched this much yet so would appreciate any help.
In the meantime, let’s get E.On with it!
I have a love hate relationship with Aga’s. Some of my earliest and fondest memories as a child are my visits to my Uncle and Aunt’s farm in Somerset. Mainly Cattle but a few pigs who ate the waste food from the kitchen. My most vivid recollections revolve around the kitchen and the big Aga that sat as a centre piece. Whatever the time of year and whatever the weather the Aga was on, keeping the kitchen warm and cosy. I remember coming in from the cold with uncle Roy after milking the cows and we would all huddle around the Aga basking in its warm radiance. Then Auntie Tui would pull out rolls of bacon that had been slow cooking for an hour, quickly fry up some eggs, make tea from the kettle from the hob and then we would all sit down to a well earned breakfast and family chatter and laughs- Magic!
More recently my step mother redid her kitchen and decided that she wanted to replicate her childhood memories of the country at their new place in London. We had a somewhat heated discussion over this for it has always struck me that an Aga is great in a cold, damp farmhouse with no central heating but a total anachronism in the middle of a city,in a well insulated modern kitchen. The house has central heating and so there really is no need to have it on all the time. In fact it gets so hot in summer that it has to be turned off. She put it in anyway - fair enough!
I was reminded of this argument by a Radio 4 programme (You and Yours) yesterday which featured a discussion between George Monbiot and an Aga representative. George has similar views to mine, but backed up with more salient facts such as ‘An Aga produces 6 tonnes CO2e per year almost as much as the average household in total’! The argument from Aga was that whilst, yes, it used more energy, it was in fact a lifestyle choice and people should be allowed to choose.
This issue goes straight to the heart of what Planet Positive Living is all about. Yes it is about making choices but more importantly it is about making the right choiceand unfortunately having an Aga is not one of them. I apologise to all of you who already have or who are thinking about getting one, but I see no justification, on any level, of choosing such a cooking system for our modern way of life. Slow, energy inefficient and a throw back to a time gone by - unless you live in a drafty kitchen in which case you should get it insulated!
Aga, I am sorry to say it but like the big American car companies that have singularly failed to move with the times, your time is up and your business is ultimately doomed to failure. Or as Darwin ( 200 this week) might say - Adapt or Die!
29th January 2009
Some interesting news from the NHS today; they are introducing a low carb diet. Not the type of diet that reduces your calorie uptake ( although this might be another upside), but a diet that will have a lower carbon footprint.
So this got me thinking, what is a low carbon diet? In my previous emails I had assumed that anything vegetarian would be better than meat, but according to the Low Carbon Diet Calculatorthis is not the case. Naively I chose a cereal meal above a cooked meat feast ( see sample meals) and found to my surprise that the meat meal had a lower footprint than the cereal. On further analysis it seems that I had chosen a high processed cereal and that is much worse than bacon and eggs.
The site has a number of useful tips including some of the following
Seasonal and regional
move away from beef or eggs
Avoid ‘flown’ in food
If it’s processed or packaged - skip it!
It’s a great site and you can create your own meal, although it is light on many of the things that I eat. But a great site none the less.
So, given that Steve’s pigs are local AND seasonal, then perhaps he is OK?
26th January 2009
The Soil Association has launched a campaign to mobilise our 11 million (!) UK gardeners to become part of the organic, low carbon food chain. Ros has joined us and we are starting this weekend!
Their campaign is A SUSTAINABLE FOOD PLAN FOR BRITAIN and is headed by TV presenter Monty Don. The website is worth a visit and is sure to encourage you into action, from demanding more sustainablly sourced food to growing your own. Here is a snapshot from the Soil Association website:
The Soil Association are very concerned about the UK’s precarious food supply and firmly believe that our 11 million gardeners will have a central role to play. They will be able to grow food for their family and for the community and also help spread greater understanding about our food, quality and supply.
So, while the politicians debate and pontificate, the rest of us will get stuck in and get on with it.
The local farmer delivered 2-3 tonnes of manure on a trailer to start our vegetable garden. We’ve had loads of rain and the field is so wet that it got stuck - I mean his tractor and trailer! So, a 4 wheel drive tractor turned up and pulled the tractor out. Which left the trailer full of dung.
We have made some raised vegetable beds to grow our own vegetables. We’ll rotavate the soil within the beds, lay in some compost and churn in some manure. Apparently, pure manure is too rich (apologies to experts out there, I’m a green virgin).The forecast today is fine, but it is supposed to be lashing down on Sunday. This sustainable living could be pretty knackering!
See latest news from Antartica at the Sietch Blog 22nd January 2009. This is more evidence of clear and present danger.
Coffee at Cafe Nero? A morning at the Gym? Or ‘Help me take my pigs to the slaughter house’!
Most mums might expect to hit the gym on a Monday morning or have a revitalising coffee with friends. When she heard that I had double booked and had to be in London instead of taking the pigs to the slaughter house, Ros had to enrol the moral and physical help of two friends.
Frankie (an expert on reversing a trailer thanks to a recent caravan driving course) and Sophie (a good knowledge of animal and country things) were happy to help Ros while I went to work!
One of the things that is apparent from trying planet positive, sustainable living (and we are mere beginners) is that people are only too willing to help. Where in the past I might have notionally talked about community, now I really feel it (and part of it).
Community works and it is rewarding - whether you are giving or receiving. Early this week, on Britain’s most depressing Monday (according to the press, this was statistically the most depressing day of the year), Ros found cheer and support from friends and strangers. Over to Ros:
With the porkers (not weaners as Steve described in the previous blog – they are weaners when you collect them. He told a bit of a porker…) loaded into the trailer, we set off to the local slaughter house. We became aware that we were following a queue of cars pulling trailers of animals. We had found the slaughter house.
I have always considered myself a practical person but my hands were shaking like a leaf. I jumped from the car and ran to the one in front. “It’s my first time,” I blurted out. The kind couple in the car guided me through the process. You reverse your trailer into a holding pen where Pork and Crackling were guided out of the trailer and along a corridor. With a heavy heart I gave them a final pat and they were gone…
I kept repeating to myself that that was their purpose and we would not have had the enjoyment of keeping pigs if we weren’t going to use them for meat. As a meat eater all my life, I have taken this for granted. Completing the circle has given me respect for the animal and the process.
The support of my friends was wonderful and much needed when I was feeling so sad. I recommend that, if this is your first time, don’t do it alone.
After a cup of tea, I went to the local butcher to run through the different cuts of meat. I had researched these using the River Cottage Meat book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (www.rivercottage.net) and Perfect Pigs by Clare and Robin Wilson (www.oaklandspigs.co.uk).
The decisions on the cuts are based around using the using the legs for hams or joints, the loins for chops or bacon, how many sausages, ribs, shoulder joints and so on. We will try cure and hang one back leg for Parma ham, cure one of the loins for bacon and one of the bellies for streaky bacon. These will need to be cured before being sliced.
The pigs will come from the slaughter house over the next few days so they can be hung by the butcher. He will make the cuts and we’ll collect on Jan 30. The butcher mentioned that ‘first-timers’ can overfeed pigs which can result in the outer fat being too thick (an inch or more where it should be ½ - 3/4” thick. He’ll let us know so we can make sure we get it right next time.
We are now researching where to get the next weaners. We’ve ordered 2 Oxford Sandy/Gloucester Old Spots (ginger with black spots!) but are also interested in Berkshires but there don’t seem to be many around.
So the cycle continues.
Three pieces of news over the weekend
- The World Glacier Monitoring Service announces that most glaciers will vanish by 2050 ‘Many Glaciers’
- David Cameron and the Conservative party launch their new vision for a ‘Low Carbon Economy’
- Delhi, India bans the plastic bag as reported in The Guardian 17 January 2009
All significant in their own way.
Firstly, the Guardian reports that Figures released by the WGMS for 2005-06 showed the biggest loss of ice in a single year since those records began, and based on historic reconstructions, it was thought to be the worst year for 5,000 years.
The latest data for 2006-07 shows that 22 of the 27 reference glaciers for which data has been supplied lost mass, as did 55 of a longer list of 74 glaciers. The total losses were half that of the previous year, but still the third largest on record. In Europe it is thought glaciers have lost one quarter of their mass in the last eight years alone, said Haeberli.
Professor Haerbli the director of the WGMS said “If you have a realistic, mid-warming scenario, then there’s no hope for the small glaciers - in the Pyrenees, in Africa, in the Andes or Rocky mountains. The large glaciers in Alaska and the Himalayas will take longer, but even those very large glaciers will change completely; they will be much, much smaller, and many of them will disintegrate, forming lakes in many cases. - “This means many will simply be lost in the next decades - 10, 20, 30, 40 years.
This is sobering news and re-empasises the massive task ahead of us!
The second piece of news is that The Conservative Party have released their vision for a low carbon economy. It is well crafted document that proposes some very interesting strategies although at present it is devoid of specific targets other than saying that their strategy WILL meet the 80% reduction set by the present government. But despite this, the party deserves real congratulations, making it quite clear that this issue cannot be ignored just because the economy is failing.
Of course this does beg the question ‘What the hell is Labour playing at, not least with their decision over heathrow’. It does strike me that since the departure of David Milliband from the scene ( departed to foreign huts in India) that the department has lost its bite.
The final piece of news is from India; Delhi is banning the plastic bag for reasons of pollution. For me this is the most significant of all of the latest news I have read. Perhaps the 5 year potential jail sentence is a bit steep but the sentiment is absolutely correct. If we wait for change of culture, then we could be waiting at least 2 generations. Governments need to take the bull by the horn, take the hard decisions that they all talk about and drive change through legislation.
So my question is - do we really need to wit for the legislators or is it possible to influence and change in a single generation?
20 January 2009
It has been fun bringing up these two weaners. It has been our first experience of pig keeping and I am sure it won’t be our last. They have been a valuable addition to Field End. The boys have loved feeding them, except when they get a bit boisterous and chew on their wellies, sitting watching them, giving them a scratch and just having them.
And people beyond the family have become involved. We have been getting apples from a neighbour, local pig breeders have been offering help and advice and our friends have been grilling us on whether we want to send them to slaughter and eat them…
As a family of animal lovers (if that is not a contradiction in terms), we have felt strong feelings about the pigs going. Tonight we’re all a bit fed up. They are only 6-months old and it seems such a desperately short life.
I think, perhaps, we are all a bit naive about food and this process is opening our eyes. I am pleased about that. We talk about the food on our family table a lot now – the taste, where it has come from, if we like it. However, we all knew (all except Charlie who’s 5) that they would be leaving us one day and return another as chops, sausages and bacon.
And the day has come. To transport them to the slaughter house in Heathfield we had to get a trailer. We had been buying meat from a local farmer and he has let us borrow a small livestock trailer.
It was now a matter of getting the pigs into the trailer. Using a bucket of food and apples, we coaxed them out of their pen and into a holding pen by the open door of the trailer. Once there they refused to move. Ros got in the trailer and Will and Tom shuffled and edged them forwards with the fence panels making the shrinking pen. I was pushing and shoving but they are pretty heavy and wouldn’t budge.
As light was fading, Ros told me of the tip she had from a local farmer: “Cover the head with a bucket and reverse him in.” Anything was worth a try, so with a bucket over Pork’s head, I heaved him up the ramp and into the trailer. Crackling soon followed. Great advice!
We now have to complete some paperwork, such as the Food Chain Information form from BPEX (www.bpex-fci.org.uk) and animal movement forms from Defra (www.defra.gov.uk/animalhealth). You can also find out more about pig keeping from The British Pig Association www.britishpigs.org.
Ros also has to let the butcher know what cuts we want. We haven’t done this before, so it appears to be a compromise on the type and quantity of meat you want. We are going to take advice from the butcher as this is our first go. We do want one ham, even though you have to hang it for a year.
Tomorrow the deed is done. Ros is taking them with her friends along for moral support. We will give you an update then…
We also had the hedge trimmed today. It’s once a year activity where local ace farm hand Will rocks up with his tractor to cut our hedge down to size. It’s helping thicken it up after a few years of neglect. It would take me a few days by hand and weekends are precious to keep the animals, vegetable plots and other projects going, so we gladly take this helping hand. A word of advice, stand well back because the wood flecks go flying.
Cheers, Steve & Ros Malkin, the boys and all at Field End
I have been offline for a while supporting Leanda (my partner) in the birth of our new son ( no name yet). It reminded me of a drunken conversation I had some time ago at a wedding I attended. I was sitting next to a 30 something woman whom I was regaling about my eco-credentials. We were having a great conversation about saving the planet and doing the right thing and I was feeling quite virtuous until she asked me how many children I had; ‘Four’ I replied ‘and one on the way’.
It was like the a bombshell had hit; her support for my efforts evaporated in front of my eyes as she called me a hypocrite and worse. ‘How could I justify, even for one moment, having more than one child when our planet is under such strain;surely if I was the true environmentalist that I claimed then I would have refrained after my first or second child’.She called my reckless and irresponsible and then told me that she and her husband had decided not to have any children as this was the true eco-path.She then got up and left me in disgust, leaving me to ponder my position.
I must admit that I was shocked and at first incredibly angry. I mean how does she know that one of my kids will not be the person to save the planet by finding the solution to cold fusion, or become another Mother Teresa or even the next Jonathan Porritt?
But I guess she does have a point. The world does have limits and from her perspective I am being grossly selfish in my procreation; by having more kids I am denying others access to resources in the future.
But what do you, my blog colleagues all think? - Am I being selfish, should I feel guilty or is she being over righteous and does saving the planet go as far as denying our right (?) to have children?
Your thoughts would be most welcome
15th January 2009
We’ve accumulated 2 pigs, 4 sheep, 20 or 30 bantams, a handful of ducks and a bunch of domestic pets - 2 dogs (and a 3rd boarding with us for the next few weeks), a couple of rescue cats, fish, Zebra Finches, a rabbit and 2 Guinea Pigs.
We’re embarking on a more sustainable, lower carbon lifestyle. I’m not sure we’re the best role models - I love riding my motorbike and can’t imagine ‘hot holidays’ are a thing of the past. But we want to have more control over what we eat, save some money, cut our energy and reduce our family’s emissions. And we want to enjoy the process.
We moved south from Sevenoaks in Kent to try to find a house with some land and moved into Field End Cottage just over a year ago.
We bought Field End while travelling to Norfolk to have a week sailing with the family near Blakeney. When we got into Field End we tried to buy the field alongside. With the help of the estate agent and the land owner, we managed to secure just under 5 acres - 2 fields and a small wood. We could not believe our luck. We had started our dream.
2008 was about getting organised. We got the fields under control - they had been left to go to seed, so we had them flailed and topped (getting rid of the brambles and weeds) and fenced them ready for the sheep. I didn’t know they were coming. Ros woke early one Friday morning (which is pretty unusual) and blurted out “Great they are coming!”. She then divulged that she had bought 4 Manx Laughton sheep, originally from the Isle of Mann.
By the time I was home from work in town (London), we had 4 chocolate coloured ewes. The boys were out feeding them sheep nuts, trying to get them to eat from their hands. It took about 2 days and they were coming straight to us.
I built a sheep shelter this time, with last year’s Christmas present (a chainsaw!) and some scaffold planks and got the bantams and ducks organised in an electric fenced pen after the fox decimated our flock.
So what does 09 hold in store. Well, the resolution is for revolution, and reduction. This is it. We are now going for it. Sustainable living. Low carbon, planet positive living.
We’re planning growing our food, slaughtering the pigs (that’s something we are going to have to face very soon), lambing in spring, researching a domestic wind turbine, trying to get our cavity walls and the loft insulated at the lowest cost, selling my old Jag.
It’s a year of change and a big transition for us. We’ve alot to learn and I have a feeling this blog might just keep us sane. I remember reading a review by parents taking their teenage kids through the most turbulent years. They wrote a diary and they found humour in the 3rd party detachment of writing so that the whole thing became a fun and rewarding adventure for them all. I hope it will be the same for us! We’ll keep you posted.
Steve Malkin of Field End