Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Obelisk

Who knew that Loughborough had an Obelisk? Loughborough isn't London by a long shot, it is a small town in the Midlands and yet poking above the treeline on the outskirts of town there is an 80ft Obelisk.

When I first saw it I thought maybe it was a chimney from an old factory or brick works, but given its location it made no sense.

It was built in 1730 for Ambrose Phillips who owned the Garendon Estate. He had been inspired by a trip to Italy. You can find out more history here. Garendon Hall was in a poor state after the war and was demolished, and the rubble used in the building of the M1 motorway. The Garendon estate is slowly disappearing as chunks have been sold off to developers over the years. My home is built on former Garendon estate land and we are fighting to stop the remaining land being developed.

How many 285 year old Obelisks involve traipsing through a muddy woods to see them? It looked rather lonely and neglected, and has had some ugly repair work. But the four spheres that hold the column up still look amazing. It was hard to get a good photo to show it on my mobile, but the whole top column rests solely on these stone spheres, giving the illusion that it could roll off, yet it is clearly incredibly stable.

What is reassuring is how well it has been built, considering it was before the industrial revolution and well before we had discovered oil. There is lots of amazing architecture still standing from this time, but I can't imagine the brickwork on my house surviving more than 100 years!

It is easy to forget how brief the current era of cheap oil has been. Where will the downward slope of the oil peak take us? Maybe it will re-ignite an interest in sailing ships, canals, windmills and great architecture again. Or maybe something completely different. But I think it highly unlikely that it will take us back to a medieval Britain, although many (my kids included) seem to imagine that this is what life without the internet means. Before oil there were books, music and art and after the oil is gone there will be too.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Selective news

I like reading the news on the internet, because it lets you pick and choose the most interesting stories, rather than watching half an hour of what someone else dictates as the 'top' stories. I am very selective, having no interest in celebrities or gossip, or the tit-for-tat that spews from the mouths of our politicians - glancing at a political headline is more than sufficient. Whereas some stories really grab my attention, and for a long while the weather related ones were some of them.

The BBC news site, my channel of choice purely because it doesn't have adverts, used to have a page devoted to weather news. I found it when I was doing a presentation on climate change and wanted some recent examples of extreme weather events. You could guarantee that there would be a flood or drought causing death and destruction virtually every single day, that would barely ever make it into the 'top stories'. You can see my 'weather scrapbook' summary for 2010 below. How many of those do you remember seeing on the news?

  • January saw significant widespread snowfalls across the UK. Not quite the 17.8 inches of snow that fell in Washington D.C. in February, which was their snowiest winter ever. Even Miami saw sub-zero temperatures for the first time in 20 years.
  • 125 deaths were reported from the severe cold in Northern India in early January.
  • Heavy thunderstorms and flooding caused 10 fatalities in Egypt in January.
  • Severe droughts hit southern and southwestern regions of China over the first part of the year, affecting 6.1 million hectares of farmland and leaving 18 million people short of drinking water.
  • The worst floods in a decade also swept through parts of China with more than 3,100 dying and included a devastating mudslide which left 1,471 people dead.
  • In May Tennessee saw epic floods killing 31 people in all and breaking the monthly record by the 2nd day of the month.
  • Cyclone Phet killed 24 people in Oman in June.
  • Devastating floods hit Pakistan in July and by August a fifth of the country was submerged. 20 million people affected and nearly 2,000 deaths.
  • July also saw a heatwave in Russia, the hottest since records began. A month of temperatures above 30 Deg. C also led to a severe drought and raging wildfires. Death toll is estimated at 50,000 from heat and air pollution. Crops were also badly hit and all exports of wheat have been stopped.
  • The UK had its wettest July ever recorded and flooding hit.
  • The Amazon rainforest suffered from an “exceptional” drought the worst in 108 years of records with entire stretches of river drying up completely.
  • November brought snow to the UK and throughout much of Europe and North America severe cold and heavy early snowfalls occurred. The Arctic however was unusually warm.
  • The Hurricane season saw 19 named storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 intense hurricanes, coming in 2nd place for the most hurricanes in a season after 2005. Luckily many of these did not make landfall.
  • 2010 was also the second hottest year globally on record, after 2005.
  • 19 countries set new records for the highest temperature in 2010, and one country set a record for the lowest temperature.

Since then it became harder and harder to find the weather-related stories on the BBC, and now I have given up looking for them. These events haven't just stopped happening, but whether through lack of funds, lack of interest or ulterior motives, far less are being reported.

It is becoming more and more obvious, that the BBC offers a tainted view of world affairs. Just as they are selective with climate/ weather related stories, they are selective in other areas too. So I now read RT news site as well, the Russian news channel which often has news from a different perspective than the BBC. (Plus it doesn't feature the leering face of David Cameron or his cronies quite so often.)

Mostly RT has the same stories, but there are differences. For instance regarding Eastern Ukraine the BBC will always refer to 'pro-Russian rebels' or 'Russian-backed separatists'. You can see this in todays report on the shelling of Mariupol where blame for the attack is immediately assigned to the rebels, who are then reported to deny this. The equivalent report from RT refers to the 'East Ukraine militia' in the text (although the initial photo uses 'pro-Russian rebels' in its description, though the image is from Reuters). The BBC give the impression they are showing the rebels' side of the story, by saying that the rebels deny the attack. However the RT report goes further and points out that the militias stronghold is 110km away and the militia are quoted as saying they have no heavy artillery within range of Mariupol.

The government in Kiev must know who attacked Mariupol. Either the government issued the orders themselves or they didn't and it was the rebels/ militia. But firing on civilians is an international offence, and they are hardly likely to incriminate themselves, so can we trust what they say? The same applies to the rebels. That is why I would expect there to be investigative journalists coming up with proof and interviewing witnesses, but when it comes to the shenanigans in Ukraine there really seems to be very little based on actual evidence and a lot based on what the different sides say. Our best hope may be from the OSCE but little seems to be reported from them either in the media. Gathering evidence is clearly a frustratingly slow process.

To me it feels like the invasion of Iraq pantomime all over again. "You have weapons of mass destruction!" says the US. "Oh no we don't!" say the Iraqis. "Oh yes you do!"  "Oh no we don't!"..... The trouble is that the truth didn't come out until after we went to war and half a million people died. Then it just became a big joke to some people, but to me it seems like an apology is due.

That is why I am interested in knowing the truth. The mainstream media just aren't providing that any more, and I would encourage you to question everything and share your doubts, while we still can. Do we really want to be blindly misled into another war?


Well I wrote the paragraphs above this morning and since then both the news articles I quoted have developed further. The BBC are saying that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a rebel leader, has launched an offensive against the city port of Mariupol and takes responsibility for the rocket attacks, with the Ukrainian Prime Minister accusing Russia of breaching the Minsk agreements. Whereas RT are quoting Aleksandr Zakharchenko as saying that since it was the Ukrainian government who attacked Mariupol, they are launching an attack on the government positions to the East of Mariupol. And so the pantomime continues. Oh no it doesn't! Oh yes it does........... :-(

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Dandelion coffee

At the end of my first summer with half an allotment, I was lucky to be offered the other half of the plot.

Someone had taken it on about the same time I did, but soon packed it in. Shoulder high weeds took over and there were regular mutterings amongst the other plot-holders about "One year's seeds is seven year's weeds".

The allotment officer tried to find someone who wanted it, but no one lasted 3 days after that. This half is right next to the entrance gate, and a portion of it is allocated for the council's compostable waste bins, so it wasn't the most attractive plot. But now it is under my care :-)

My first job was to clear all the weeds and that job gave me my first harvest. Once the tall weeds had been cut back, I found the ground covered with Dandelions. Digging the roots up whole was quite a job, but some of the roots looked quite substantial. I don't like wasting anything, so I ended up bringing a sackful home.

Several got discarded on close inspection - half the dandelions suffered from insect damage, so what hope will my veg have! After a lot of scrubbing, they were chopped and dried and shrank down to just this......

And so they have sat on a shelf for a few months until I decided to try roasting a few for some dandelion coffee. One of my secondhand bargains over the summer was a hand-cranked coffee grinder. Of course now I had something to grind it wasn't going to work!

Undeterred I took it apart and realised it just needed tightening. So within minutes I had some freshly ground dandelion.

It did have a vague coffee-likeness, but was not so bitter and more like Barley cup. Very comforting on such a cold day. "Hedgerow Medicine" by J Bruton-Seal and M Seal suggests grinding a few pods of cardamom with it, or even cinnamon or fennel seeds. It is also good for you as it cleanses the liver and skin.

So if you are looking for a free, healthy, locally-grown, caffeine-free alternative, that you can harvest from virtually any garden, playing field or road verge..... then try dandelion :-)

Sunday, 11 January 2015


I'm going to be honest - I have at least another week of work to do for the project I am working on. It has been hard to see the end of it and my motivation has dipped to record lows. I have had to strictly prohibit trips to the allotment or writing posts until it is finished, and even spent 3 hours working on Boxing day. But my mind still try's to find other escapes and distractions!

So I spent a few days regularly checking for news from the tragedy in France and watching in horror as the events following the attack on Charlie Hebdo unfolded.

Getty Images

I like France. When my kids ask me where in the World I would like to go on holiday I always say France. Of course they always moan because they have dreams to travel the World and see amazing sights, and as far as they are concerned they have already ticked France off the list several times. But the next holiday I am planning will be in ...France :-)

Why? Because of the fresh croissants in the morning. They are nothing like the pre-packaged ones that you can buy in the supermarkets in the UK. It is worth getting up early and walking to the local Boulangerie, which you will find in every village, just for the delicious taste and texture of soft, warm, fresh croissants. Mmmm......heaven!

The French know this - how important it is to have delicious, fresh and varied food. It really makes you feel good to savour a delicious meal, even if it has taken all day to make, and meant sourcing ingredients from several different farms or markets. Just a slice of bread or a juicy tomato tastes better in France, because everything is about freshness, quality and the pleasure it brings, rather than just for hunger. It feels like we have lost this in the UK....if we ever had it.

And this is what shapes France, in my mind. It is why they still have a culture of lots of small rural farms and markets, and they fight companies like Amazon in order to retain small local businesses. It is why the Farmers have a voice and are quite willing to muck-spray government buildings or dump rotten cabbages outside, if the government ignores their needs. It is freedom of speech and more still. It is a population who reject TV dinners and demand better. It is a population who know that they have the power to object to stupid government or EU policies and to provoke a change. I'm not happy about it, but I am sure we would just grumble behind closed doors in the UK.

This is why it is always fascinating to see where the French stand on World affairs. The UK prime minister just parrots whatever the US have said and votes how they vote. But France doesn't always follow the rest of the flock. Look at the lead up to the war in Iraq, when Tony Blair was falling over himself to please President Bush, but the French had their own opinion and took a lot of bad press from the US for it. I seem to remember there was a boycott of French fries ?!?

And more recently President Hollande has been talking about ending the sanctions on Russia. Once again taking an independent line that is counter to that of the US. Here is what President Holland is reported to have said.

Mr Hollande said Russian President Vladimir Putin "doesn't want to annex eastern Ukraine - he told me that"............
..............."The sanctions must be lifted if there is progress. If there is no progress the sanctions will stay in place," Mr Hollande told France Inter radio.

On 15th January there will be a summit between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine, which may lead to a decision on sanctions. It will be interesting to see what the French decide to do.

For today though there are mass rallies in France. I worry that it will provide a target for more attacks and I hope that the day remains peaceful and that the worst is over for the people of Paris. My thoughts are with the 17 killed in Paris, and also with the hundreds of thousands killed around the World by extremist forces. Let's hope that 2015 brings peace.