Monday, 18 January 2010

Inspiration crashing down to earth

So, as you may not be surprised to hear, I've been reading again. This time The Self Sufficient-ish Bible by Andy & Dave Hamilton, and Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? which is a series of essays by various learned people, edited by Andrew Simms. As always, these kind of books are really inspiring and make you want to get out there and make some redical changes! And then real life kicks in and I'm deflated.

Okay, we don't have a car to get rid of, we never fly, we're vegetarian and we try to grow as much of our own food as we can in the garden and allotment. We use public transport and cycle and walk. We buy second hand clothes or strictly fair-trade if new. We buy fairly traded tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, bananas, rice and everything else we can manage to. We buy as much from our local farmer's market as we can. We don't buy lots of new 'stuff'. We have 1 small, old TV and 1 computer which was second-hand. We turn everything off stand-by, have low-energy light-bulbs and try to conserve water. We have a water butt in the back garden. We use only environmentally household cleaners, ditto with the minimal toiletries we use.

But I'm not saying all this to be smug - I know there is loads more we could do (there always is unless you live in a yurt in a field in total harmony with nature), but right now, I can't see how. And this is depressing. I look round the house in a fresh zeal for getting rid of stuff and clutter, and for reforming the way we live, and come up against a brick wall. What could I get rid of - PC, no I use that for working. Cookbooks? No I use them for cooking. Printer? No. SAD light? Definitely no. Table? No. Kitchen cupboards? No. Books? Maybe. We do have a cull every now and again and are quite strict about getting rid of stuff but the ones we keep are ones we read again or refer to. Similar with CDs - we try to download individual tracks mainly these days, and have culled our CD collections as much as we can right now, considering that music is a big thing for both of us.

Obviously, we do have a fair amount of kids' clutter, but looking at it, most of it is fairly harmless, if widely spread - paper, paints, penicls and crayons and pens, scrapbooks, works of art (!), worksheets, packaging recycled into craft creations, glue, scissors, lego, train track, toy cars, books. We're not talking high-tech consumer hell here. Upstairs - can't get rid of stored bedding, or clothes, would be foolish to get rid of sewing machine. Downstairs - tool-box is vital, sewing box, felt, wool, other crafting stuff, bicycle helmets, play pop-up tents, vacuum cleaner, clothes horse, crockery, cutlery, baking tins, string, seeds, matches, candles. All of this stuff is pretty basic day-to-day stuff. Of course, if we lived in an African village, we could and would do without it. But living here, in the UK in the 21st century, this stuff is fairly low tech and basic.

So, where do we go from here? Well, we just used the last possible spare money we have in replacing a window which was (according to the man who replaced it) in severe danger of falling out, with a new, A-rated double glazed and properly vented one which hopefully will help eliminate the black mould on the bedroom wall (eww) and add to the insulation of the house overall. Given that other windows are also in a similar state, it would probably be eco-friendly to replace them too but we can't afford it. I'd like to try and convert our toilet to run mainly on collected rain-water but that again takes money and know-how, neither of which I have right now. Apparently we can't do solar hot water as we don't have a water tank, but other PV panels might be a possibility. If we had the money which we don't. We could maybe add to the loft insulation, but it's pretty thick already, and we don't have any more money.

So here I am racketing round the house alone (kids asleep, husband out earning the cash we don't have), keyed up with righteous inspiration and no-where to expend it. Am I just deluding myself that there's nothing we can do right now? I don't see the point of getting rid of stuff for the sake of it, especially not stuff that we actually use and is constructive or harmless or both. Now I just feel depressed.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Mumbo Jumbo and The Arms Trade

These are things I have been reading recently and which deserve a review. Firstly Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions which took some concentrating on but was ultimately very interesting. As with all such books, I didn't agree with everything he said and I thought on occasion he'd thrown out some babies with bathwater, but I particularly found the chapters on the Thatcher and Reagan regimes fascinating. It filled in some history for me in terms of how the US and UK interfered in politics in the middle east, in particular in Iran, and the chapters on how the economics of the time didn't add up and have led to the situation we are currently experiencing were particularly illuminating.

Wheen's main thrust is that since 1979 every institution in the west has been turning its back on the values on the Enlightenment - rational thinking, logic, open-mindedness, lack of superstition, turning away from religious faith - and turning towards the 'mumbo jumbo' of the title. There are many things he includes in his definition of mumbo jumbo, including many things which are frankly shocking, such as Ronald Reagan's use of astrologers in making US policy. He's also very much against relativism and post-modernism. His thoughts on Princess Diana were very funny. He attacked Left politics as well as Right politics.

However, sometimes the tone became a bit smug. Personally I do actually think that examining accounts of history taking into account the context in which it was written is a logical and scientific thing to do. But, a bit of balance, I do also think that there are also objective facts which can be established. Wheen seems to be saying at times that context and relativism are never useful. I'm also very dubious at his claims that alternative medicine is illogical and irrational superstition. And his assertion that conventional medicine is entirely based on logical progression in research and scientific methods is just plain ignoring many facts which spring easily to light should you pay even the most passing attention to the history of medicine. Maybe wishful thinking?

Anyway, all in all, very amusing, enlightening and wlel worth a read even if there are bits which will annoy you a bit.

The second book I want to talk about is Mark Thomas' As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade which was another fascinating, if very disturbing, book. I have to admit to not knowing very much about the arms trade, and neither do I want to. Except, that we should know about it, in order to campaign for it to be better regulated. If you know anythig about Mark Thomas and his comedy style, then you'll be able to imagine the kinds of things he does for this book - sets up fake arms companies to trap arms dealers in breaking the law, to show up the ridiculous and inadequate nature of the law, and to show how big business takes precedence over concern for human life.

I wasn't sure how many laughs could be squeezed out of such a subject, but Mark Thomas manages to make us laugh about it without ever forgetting how serious it is. This is an important book which never reduces things down to a simplistic level. Thomas manages to acknowledge the humanity and complexity even of the most repugnant and callous arms dealer, while at the same time condemning their trade. The Government (yet again!) are the ones who come out of this book the worst. And it's good to know that Thomas' actions for this book did actually prompt some real changes in the law. Another recommended book.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A new challenge for the new year

I've decided to stop washing my hair and see what happens. Since we moved house 2.5 years ago, I've spent a long time faffing about with my hair and being cross about it. The extremely hard water here (even harder than the hard London water in our previous house) just reacts with shampoo to make a scummy mess so that long hair like mine always looks limp, dull and in need of a wash.

I've been contemplating what to do about this - I've tried various shampoos, the best being Lush's Hard (a solid shampoo) and Lush's I Love Juicy (a liquid one), but I'm not prepared to go mainstream with our shampoos again. I tried washing it in rain-water which really helped but is not very practical for most of the year and is a real faff.

I could cut my hair, which I don't want to do as it doesn't look right short and would also need regular cuts which I don't do. I also thought about dreading it, but again, seems like a lot of hassle. I just want to leave it, occasionally brush it, but generally just leave it and it look OK enough so I'm not having major self-esteem issues over it.

I've tried using lemon juice, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, and various combinations thereof, and just ended up with sticky hair or pips.

So finally, observing the fact my children seem to have lovely shiny, fluffy hair and yet wash it with shampoo once a month as the most, I have decided to do the same. Having researched this, it appears that most people experience a period of acclimatisation to not washing the hair with shampoo which can be from 4 weeks to 8 weeks. Some people don't find it ever acclimatises and stays a greasy mess. I guess I just have to try, so I'm giving it 8 weeks. I last used shampoo on Sunday 3 January, so I'll see where we are by late February.

Here's to 8 weeks of hats and tying my hair back. So far, so good.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year

And is it a new decade? I don't mean to be pedantic but I'm never sure exactly when a new decade starts - is 2010 the last year of the decade or the first year of a new one? There seemed to be much dissent about when the new millenium started - the end of 1999 or the end of 2000? Was there a year zero and if so, does this make any difference anyway? I'm rather confused. But, presuming it is a new decade, here's a quick resume of my decade, starting in 2000.

The new year of 2000 was memorable because me and my husband both had the worst flu we'd ever had and he had to delay starting a new job because of it. We had fairly recently adopted 2 cats, and I was working at a local FE College. During the year, I changed jobs to working for a charity which dealt with victims of medical accidents. I also started getting more involved with the local Pagan scene and with one specific group in particular.

In 2001 we bought our own flat and moved in in May. Towards the end of the year, I went part-time at work in order to be able to spend more time studying - I was coming to the end of my part-time degree. I started doing website moderating for the Pagan group I was involved with and also became their online agony aunt.

In 2002 I started the final year of my degree - it took me 6 years part-time altogether. I also started a new job for the government quango the Housing Corporation. It was another part-time job. I found out I was pregnant with my daughter within weeks of starting, and what with that and my degree I never really felt I got to grips with what I was supposed to be doing. I took my final exams at the end of the year while 6 months pregnant and stopped working at Christmas.

In February 2003 I gave birth to my eldest child, my daughter. Her planned homebirth went wrong and we ended up being transferred to hospital by ambulance and having an assisted birth which shocked us both with its brutality. Funnily enough, she took up the rest of the year. As planned, I didn't go back to work, and we were pretty much absorbed with her. We lost one of our cats, our beloved boy Sebastian to kidney failure.

In March 2004, we got married in a small, low-key but very enjoyable way and our daughter was the star of the show. At the end of the year, my book Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft was published. By the summer I was pregnant with my son and I spent most of the year being sick.

By the start of 2005 I was sick, shattered and depressed and ending up giving birth 3 weeks early in March. But it was a relatively peaceful homebirth as we had hoped and the rest of the year was spent adjusting to being a family of 4.

By 2006 we really needed to move out of our tiny flat but the process was not smooth and everything that had been planned since the spring of that year fell through just before Christmas, leaving us to start again the following year. I started self-publishing my writing, starting with a novel Towards The Sea, then my home education books Freya and Heath Are Home Educated and The Genie In The Teapot and then the follow-up to my previous book on Paganism, Thoughtful Pagan Living.

In 2007 I had a small article published in Green Parent magazine, then started writing for Hippyshopper, the green website. I also got published in Juno magazine and started the first of a series of articles published in The Mother. We finally managed to move house (and town) in July after a lot of stress. My brother-in-law got married the following weekend! It took me many months to settle into the new house and the new town, and I was still feeling upset and isolated at the end of 2007.

At the start of 2008, my job with Hippyshopper was cut and I started working for 63336 - a text-based question and answer company, where I've been working ever since. I also started meeting up with individual families in the local home education scene, culminating in co-starting a local meet-up in a park. I finished another novel, but have so far failed to get it published and am undecided about publishing it myself. I took over an overgrown allotment plot in May and we got our first crops from it in the autumn.

In the spring of 2009 we decided to formalise the home education group and moved it into a rented hall for weekly sessions in July, setting up our own bank account and getting our first funding shortly afterwards. I also joined a local fledgling Transition Group in the summer, but so far it doesn't really seem to be getting properly started. Our allotment was much more fruitful this year and we had onions for 4 months, potatoes for 6 months, and tons of carrots, swede, peas, and beetroot. We also had tomatoes, courgettes, strawberries, raspberries and French beans from the garden, and I made lots of jam from fruit either picked free locally or cheaply from the nearby Pick-Your-Own farm. I've also started work on a Young Adult novel. And started doing a course to learn to be a life coach.

And so, plans for 2010? My major plan for 2010 is to try and visualise in all areas of my life exactly what I'd like, ideally, and then try to make that happen, no matter how incrementally that might have to be. The dreams have to be as exact and ideal as possible, even if they are not practical or realistic, and only then must I sit down and work out in what ways I can achieve them. The dreaming is important, to give me the goal to aim for. I'm hoping to finish my course and start being a life coach. I'm hoping to finish my Young Adult novel and get it published. I'm hoping to continue working and running the Home Education Group and doing my allotment. I'm hoping to be inspired.