A CASHLESS SOCIETY

I said to the teller when I collected my new bank card: “If you see it used for tap ‘n’ go payments, consider that my card has been stolen and cancel it immediately. I will only use it with my pin.”

She clearly thought I was a geriatric technophobe. “Don’t worry,” she said, brightly. “You can use it easily. Just tap where you see the sign and it’ll register payment.”

“You misunderstand me,” I replied. “I don’t want to use it that way. I know I have to have one of these cards, but I will not use it without identification. You can easily register suspicious change of use – so if it’s used for tap and go, please assume it has been nicked.”

She nodded in a vague, humouring sort of way, and I now realise I should have written to the bank to reinforce my instructions because they took no bloody notice. When an over-enthusiastic waitress at Côte Brasserie took my card and tapped it for me (naughty) before I could shout, “STOP!”, the card was not only accepted but the bank failed to cancel it. Grr.

I find the prospect of a cashless society deeply sinister. Yes, I use my Visa card and my bank card, both regularly. But I am still wedded to cash. And I hate the idea of a future without it.

Without cash, you will never, ever make an un-tracked purchase again. Every store, every coffee bar, every train operator, every website you use will know who you are, what branch you shopped at last and what your preferences and regular habits are.

Without cash, you’ll never have a jar on the dressing table where you throw your loose change of an evening. Mine mounts up surprisingly quickly and softens the financial hammering that Christmas brings.

Without cash, some joys will be forever lost. You will never be able to slip a twenty pound note into your goddaughter’s birthday card, or see a child empty out his piggy bank and have all that fun piling coins and counting his loot – learning basic numeracy and the point of saving at the same time. Heck, even the tooth fairy will die for lack of employment.

Without cash, you will never again be able to make sure the wait staff get their tips because you’ll be forced to put the gratuity on the card. We all know that there are publicans and restaurant owners who don’t pass the tips on to the people who earned them, God rot their hornswoggling arses.

Without cash, you will always have to pay VAT where applicable, and the tax man will know every transaction you ever make. You’ll never be able to bung fifteen quid to Jobless Dave Down-The-Road for mowing your lawn, or buy a shirt off a friend in a quick easy exchange – here’s your shirt, here’s my tenner. Neighbour Molly won’t be able to supplement her paltry pension by giving friends occasional lifts to the airport.

Without cash, the Government will know ALL your spending habits. Do you trust the Government?

Without cash, we are sleepwalking into financial enslavement.

Poor Piggywig. Off to the dump with the broken stand, the defunct spray and the old grill mesh.

Convenience

Sure, the tap ‘n’ go system is quick and convenient. Who hasn’t fumed and chafed behind one of those infuriating old biddies whose arthritic fingers struggle to retrieve 5p coins from her purse?

But how convenient is it really? If you know you have a certain amount of spending money per week, it’s much easier to go over the limit when you’re not handling the actual moolah because it doesn’t feel like spending!

Skinny vanilla spice latte grande plus a ham and cheddar croissant? That’s £6.54. Purchase that 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year, and you’ve lashed out £1,602.30. Did you really mean to spend all that? Did you know it’ll get you two weeks all inclusive in a pretty 4* hotel in Turkey with nearly £300 spending money left over?

Business loves contactless payment, because you are so much more likely to make those kind of small, unnecessary, spontaneous purchases you never did when you had to use your last tenner. Those spontaneous purchases nibble away at your income while businesses thrive on them.

Enough for a latté and a muffin… but you’re less likely to bother if you had to count this lot. Put it in your piggy bank instead, and watch it mount up.

Safety

“You could have your wallet stolen!” cry the devotees of a No Cash Life. Of course. And you can have your card or phone stolen too. Tap ‘n’ Go means you don’t have to sign or provide a thumbprint. No ID required.

Come on, how safe is that when you can spend up to £30 a go? Yes, you might have all your cash stolen, but the most that any of us can usually take out in one go is £250. A pickpocket could spend £250 on St Pancras Station concourse in twenty minutes. A nonchalant reliance on the card’s reliability is woefully misplaced – research has shown conclusively that not all cards refuse payments larger than £30 – a payment over £100 was accepted in one case. Now do you feel secure?

A criminal can take payment from your card when you’re distracted by something else – an accomplice who drops their bag, perhaps. All they need is their own mobile payments machine. Yes, they would have to use a different terminal to avoid the bank’s fraud detection, but clever fraudsters will know how to get round that. Now do you feel secure?

Or perhaps they might use a mobile phone to take a payment reading from a credit card. They can send the data to another phone and make a payment on that second device. All that’s needed is proximity – the fraudster needs to be near the victim. Now do you feel secure?

Or the criminal might nick your card, load it onto their iPhone and use Apple Pay to spend spend spend and in much larger amounts than the £30 per transaction limit. How much do you really trust your bank to check verification and monitor the possibilities of fraud at every level? It transpires that Apple Pay is by no means as safe as you thought, and an efficient crook can do terrible damage to your finances.

Now do you feel secure?

A cash box! Darling, that’s SO last century…!

Who benefits?

Business, government and hygiene fanatics.

The advantages for government are obvious.

  • Minting coins and notes is expensive
  • Money can be forged
  • Money can’t be tracked
  • Your every transaction – in or out – can’t be tracked

Similarly, the pluses for business are clear. Sales increase when consumers pay with a card. People are less likely to make small purchases if they don’t have much actual dosh in their pocket.

Businesses love going cash free because the accounting is infinitely simpler when the software does all the hard work. Yea, I say unto thee, go cashless, ye businesses, sack thy bookkeeper and minimise on staff costs! Tough if you’re the bookkeeper, of course…

You can’t blame them. Who wants to trek to the bank with bags of money and cheques every day? But that’s their problem. I’m concerned about the rights of the individual.

The future

We are only at the beginning of the technological revolution. Yet already giant companies know far too much about us. Have you watched “The Great Hack” on Netflix? You should. It describes how a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested deeply personal data through Facebook and manipulated enough of the population to change their mind about their vote through targeted “advertising”. Targeted lies, more like.

If companies such as Facebook already know so much about us that they can focus advertising on an entirely personal level, just wait until governments have the same information.

Governments know too much about us already. We are a watched society. Already, there is approximately one surveillance camera for every eleven people in this country.

In the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, China, a new form of Big Brother is being trialled with chilling success. The Uighurs are Muslim, you see, and apparently some governments think that all Muslims are potential terrorists who need constant monitoring. Facial recognition technique, biometric information, patterns of behaviour – all these are used to build up profiles to identify potentially restive citizens.

It’s estimated that there may be as many as a million Uighur people in detention camps. For what? Not turning up for flag-waving ceremonies, or being a little too fervent at Friday prayers, perhaps. Even having a relative abroad brings suspicion.

So think of the Uighur region as being the first really enormous laboratory for complete population control, This is achieved by means of behavioural prediction and algorithmically-assisted surveillance.

Remember this: we are only at the beginning of the technological revolution.

Bye bye, wallets…

But I only bought a book…!

Ah, but what kind of book? Or books? History books covering the rise of the labour movement? The purchases are registered in your history. Dangerous.

Never mind that, we’re not quite there yet. Where we have already arrived at is what has been described as “surveillance capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff, the Harvard scholar and writer.

Basically, every time we do anything online, whether we’re buying towels from John Lewis or playing “What Your Colour Choice Says About You” on Facebook, those companies log everything they can glean:

  • preferences
  • likes
  • dislikes
  • habits
  • fears
  • family
  • friends
  • looser connections
  • political leanings or lack thereof
  • purchase records
  • magazine subscriptions

Everything that constitutes our lives, in other words. How? Because we handed over the information free of charge.

Think of those Amazon emails you get… “Based on your last purchase of orthotic insoles, you might be interested in these bunion correctors.” Amazon aren’t interested in your wellbeing, your flat feet or your painful hammer toe, they just want to sell you stuff. They remind you when you didn’t buy something, and they remind you of what you looked at last. It’s not to help you, it’s to train you into buying from them without you realising what they are doing.

Shoshana Zuboff sums it up. “It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination.”

In other words, commerce wishes to control and direct your desires and your spending. Commerce doesn’t care if you get horribly into debt. Commerce yearns for you to buy that extra pair of shoes, or that miraculous sticky tape that makes power tools adhere to walls, or that set of cheerily coloured storage boxes that mean you can stash yet more unnecessary purchases away in your overcrowded home.

And commerce uses third party trackers

It is scary stuff. And when Governments get their act together, as in the Uighur province of China, we will be little more than completely controlled cogs in a rapaciously capitalist society.

Who’s watching you today?
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Cash is freedom

We have to go on using cash. All of us.

Mind you, there is no guarantee that the demand for cash will ensure its preservation. Governments around the world are beginning to move against cash in a big way.

The moment we become entirely cashless is the moment governments have as much, perhaps even more, access to our life profile than Facebook, Google and Amazon. Government will monitor everything its citizens do, and by abandoning cash we are sleepwalking towards totalitarianism. God help us.

80% of all Sweden’s financial transactions are now cashless.

Hong Kong’s Octopus card, once merely an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) transport payment card like the London Oyster card, can be used to pay for:

  • The MTR (Hong Kong’s subway system)
  • Vending machines
  • 7-Eleven (and its competitor, Circle K)
  • Trams
  • Ferries
  • Buses
  • Starbucks
  • Fast food outlets 
  • Taxis 
  • Bakeries
  • Car parks
  • Supermarkets

It is predicted that Australia will be entirely cash free by 2022. (Ironic, really, when you consider that Australia produced Pat Cash.)

The cashless society is coming and we must resist it.

Cash is our last freedom. Let’s not give it up without a fight.

And if you are stuck behind me in a queue in a few years time and you cluck in annoyance because my arthritic fingers can’t fish out that tiny coin, don’t curse. Thank me for sticking with the inconvenience.

Cash is freedom. I cannot emphasise it enough.

What you will save…

  • The last scraps of your privacy from predatory commercialism.
  • A noggin of freedom from government surveillance.
  • Your ability to earn a buck on the side.
Thanks for the tip. Photo by Sam Truong Dan on Unsplash

End note

These pieces are of necessity a great deal shorter than they could be, because I’m trying to distil a ton of information into a fairly brief piece. So I sometimes skim over certain subjects and try to avoid tangents wherever possible. I can address these in the comments section afterwards if they’re raised by readers.

But I thought it worth mentioning that I’m obviously in favour of some degree of underground economy and when I was preparing this piece, I wrote a long defence of it. In the end, I cut it, for your sake as much as mine. So I will say just this; I know that the underground economy diminishes the Revenue’s tax intake. However, I believe it is a necessary freedom from control, and this has to be balanced against the social obligation of the tax system.

In addition, I don’t think cashlessness will stop racketeers, extortioners, pimps, drug peddlers or any other kind of felons from going about their vile business. They’ll extort your property instead of your money, and they’ll store their ill-gotten gains in gold and other valuables, like crypto currencies. Viz; Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s astonishing act of state overreach when he recalled India’s two top banknotes, giving that mammoth population just 50 days to cash in their notes. He was convinced that a vast proportion (33%) of the notes would never be returned because they were being hoarded by criminals and cartels. In fact, 99.3% of the notes were returned, proving that criminals are smarter than he thought.

Follow me

The irony is that I am now going to ask you to follow me (!!!) if you’re enjoying these pieces. All you have to do is enter your email in the box at the top of the page and click the follow button. You will then receive an email every time I publish a new piece (every two weeks). Nothing more. No targeted advertising. I won’t try to sell you anything. And I don’t make any money from this at all.

But without Piper…

… life would be a good deal drearier. She sits in my office all day, my little pal. What would I do without her?

The best dog in the world.

AVOCADOS…

I love avocados. I’ve loved them ever since they were the exotic luxury food of my teenage years when Mum served them with prawn cocktail at her fancy schmancy dinner parties. I loved them even better when there was a sudden avocado glut in 1975 and I was working as a secretary in Shoe Lane, you could get four for 12p at Leather Lane street market. Bliss!

And, oh glory, they are so GOOD for you! No wonder demand has skyrocketed in recent years. Most fruits are chocabloc with carbs in the form of fructose, but avos are brimming with the best kind of fats – monounsaturated fat being its principal fat. Not only that, they’re high in Vitamin C, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, vitamins E, B1, B2 and D, And they contain a shit-load of fibre too!

And so adaptable!

  • Smash it on toast for a simply spiffing breakfast!
  • Pulp it with honey, oatmeal or yoghurt and spread it on your face for super glowing skin. What’s that if not a win win, a face mask you can eat afterwards? (Perhaps not…)
  • Whizz it in the blender with cocoa powder and maple syrup and lo! You have yummy scrummy chocolate icing for your vegan cake…
  • Mums listen up – the delicately flavoured, creamy avocado is perfect for baby’s first solid food!

All hail, the mighty avocado, the superfood’s superfood!

Except I think we should think about them a little harder because they’re currently not very good for the planet.

OMG, dahling, it’s sooooo healthy!!! Photo by Mariana Medvedeva on Unsplash

A quick digression

Some people will be disappointed that I’m not addressing the issue of meat. This is for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I’m reluctant to bore you with the obvious. Perhaps I assume too much but I think enough is widely known about the horrors of the meat industry and the methane emissions from cattle. People are turning to vegetarianism – a good thing – in droves without my help. What this blog is for is to raise awareness of other issues that might not be so well known.

Secondly, I’m a meat eater myself. I eat less meat than I did, which is an improvement, but I’m not going to preach what I don’t practice. I admire people who give up meat for ethical reasons, and maybe I’ll join them one day, but like St. Augustine, I say to myself, ‘Lord make me pure, but not yet…”

Finally, I don’t believe there’s a moral high ground anywhere, least of all a moral high ground with Yours Truly standing proudly atop it, but I’ll come back to this point later.

Back to avos

Avocado trees evolved in rainforests, so they have relatively shallow roots. Most of their moisture intake comes from the top 30cm of soil. They don’t have ultra fine roots which can seek out tiny water droplets which are bound tightly to the soil. So they need a lot of water. Various figures are quoted: 2,000 litres per kilo, according to the Water Footprint Network. In very dry areas, much more than that is needed. To grow one single fruit, it takes about 320 litres of applied water – i.e. not rainfall or moisture naturally occurring in the soil.

I’ll repeat that. THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY LITRES of applied water to grow just ONE fruit. Try that with a watering can!

And yet it’s being grown in large quantities in incredibly dry areas. California, for instance. Yes, California, which suffered more than 7 years of drought from 2011-2018. They’re grown from Monterey down to San Diego County, in spite of the latter being identified as “abnormally dry” by drought.gov. Unsurprisingly, the current California crop is the smallest in more than ten years.

They’re commercially grown in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Peru. Not all the areas are suitable for large scale fruit farming and it can have a devastating effect on surrounding areas.

Take Petorca, Chile, where the situation can only be described as desperate. Aquifers have been raided to extinction. Where there was a river, there is now a dry bed. Small farmers in the area can no longer keep animals or cultivate their land. Locals have to use water brought in on trucks. This water is frequently contaminated and has to be boiled before they can drink it. Many people are moving away, especially the young, thus unravelling the social fabric of the area.

But heaven forfend that the hipsters and health nuts should forgo their smashed avocado on toast for breakfast!

So healthy and so artistic! Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash

It’s not just in Petorca that things are bad. The demand for avocados – particularly in the US – is now so huge that farmers in Mexico are turning away from traditional crops like cucumbers and melons (which need much less water than you’d think) towards avocados – yes, avocados are the new green gold! In the state of Michoacán, Mexico, avocado plantations have increased by 200%. In fact, in 2017, the avocado business was worth $2.9 billion dollars to Mexico. That’s BILLION.

And that kind of money makes people do all sorts of terrible things, even if they don’t mean to do harm.

Wanna be an avocado farmer?

It’s cheap to start an avocado plantation. The start up costs are extremely low. All you have to do is chop down a bit more of the forest. Hipsters, come on down – they’re turning the forests into guacamole!

The trees prefer medium and sandy soil – the kind of soil that loses its nutrients easily. So lots of chemical fertilisers tend to get applied. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. In alkaline soil, iron needs to be added.

They’re prone to attacks from insects. Fruit-spotting bugs, mealybugs, mites, helopeltis, Queensland fruit fly, red-banded thrips, swarming leaf beetles and red-shouldered leaf beetle (doncha love the on-trend touch of those red shoulders!)

Oh, and they get diseases too. Root rot, bacterial soft rot, stem-end rot, cercospora spot, black spot, pepper spot, anthracnose…

Bring on the chemical sprays! Cue more environmental degradation…

According to Greenpeace Mexico, “the lack of coherence between the public policies linked to land use and forest resources is allowing the transformation of the area’s ecosystems into avocado monocultures.”

Farmers are rapidly thinning out the pine forests to plant avocados trees. This is potentially disastrous. Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know that large scale deforestation is a calamity in the making?

Abandoned house, Kansas, April 1941. It appears we have learned nothing from the Dust Bowl, when 100.000,000 acres of America were rendered unliveable.

Blood avocados

The kind of profits that avocados can generate have attracted the attention of the cartels. In Mexico, a drug cartel known as los Caballeros Templarios, (the Knights Templar) have obtained full and detailed information on every avocado farmer in Michaocán through their State Committee of Vegetable Health. Civil servants can just as easily terrorised into compliance as farmers or pushers. So the Templarios know exactly how much land the farmers have and how much fruit they produce.

The farmers get a phone call. There’s a price: 10¢ per kilo produced, $115 per hectare of land. Exporters must pay more – $250 per hectare. Those who refuse to pay face kidnapping and death.

Packaging and transport

Consider too, how the avocado arrives on your plate.

They’re harvested unripe, and when they get to the packing house, they have to be hydro-cooled in their bins to remove any residual heat. Then they’re washed with sanitiser and polished, and once they’ve been sorted, weighed and individually labelled, they’re packed in single layers in trays, crates, or cartons which are loaded onto pallets and taken to the cooler until the transport is ready.

The avocado is a sensitive bugger. They need a very particular temperature and the humidity must be just right, or they’ll spoil. So their stowage space must be cool, dry and well ventilated. It’s an awfully long way from Peru to the fashionable cafés of Seattle and Toronto and London – and that means a lot of cooling, a lot of electricity. And a lot of pallets and crating and packaging materials which have to come from somewhere – more waste.

Rights?

We really don’t know enough about how avocado workers are treated, but I don’t suppose the cartels in Mexico care about them all that much. In Chile, water rights are available to be bought and resold to the highest bidder, so you can happily ruin the lives of your citizens by drying out the land.

And you wouldn’t want to be a trade union leader in Guatemala. In the last 12 years, 68 trade union leaders and representatives have been killed. Murdered, to be precise. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Factor in the attempted murders, kidnappings, death threats and instances of torture and you really wouldn’t want to stick your head above the parapet to fight for better conditions and pay.

Simply irresistible? Photo by Wimber Cancho on Unsplash

Moral high ground

So you see where I’m going. Is it better for me to eat an avocado from South America which has

  • drunk 320 litres of water
  • contributed to pollution, deforestation and aridification
  • contributed to human misery on an impressive scale
  • earned a shitload of airmiles
  • created a lot of packaging waste

… or a pheasant shot here on the farm? Or a lamb raised by our pal, a good and caring farmer up the road and whose land is better suited to raising sheep than growing corn?

And shouldn’t all these be occasional luxury foods and not daily staples?

The choice isn’t ever that simple, I know, and it’s not a particularly fair comparison. But it’s one of the reasons I’m unlikely to become a vegetarian this side of Christmas.

Dinner? Photo by Jack Seeds on Unsplash

If you must…

… buy fewer or buy Spanish. Spain is the only European country which produces avos for export. It would be sad never to taste an avocado again, so try and find out where they come from.

And yes, it’s very healthy – but you can get all those nutrients elsewhere.

Mercifully, I gather that in the hippest millennial circles, avocados are now considered SO last year – thus demand is slipping slightly. OMG, can you IMAGINE the SHAME of eating something unfashionable?

Just in case you feel a little relieved at this news, it appears that the Chinese middle class have discovered the delights of what they call the alligator pear and imports to China are rising. God help the poor old planet if the masses start demanding them too.

Credits

Many thanks to Malachy O’Neill for his excellent research.

Photo of avocados at the top by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

The photo of the Kansas house is from Shutterstock.

Note: I prefer the spelling of chocabloc to the uglier chockablock.

And finally…

My darling Miss P, who cannot fathom why people eat green food in the first place. Avocados? Pah!

GOB SHITE

No, not gobshite, Gob Shite. Terrible stuff for wonderful teeth.

It’s a comfort, surely, to know that when Armageddon comes, we will greet the inferno with marvellous teeth. No tombstones needed; each grimacing skull will reveal 36 of our own home grown ones in splendid condition.

We’re dog-whistled into being neurotic about our teeth. Fear of not being kissably perfect is the Stuff Of Nightmares! Our hygienist gives us grief about careless brushing. Adverts for whiter teeth, veneers and crowns abound. Experts at distinguished institutions such as the Mayo Clinic assure us that oral health is essential for our general health. So far so good.

It’s the racks of gizmos and products for advanced tooth-cleaning that greet us at the supermarket and the pharmacy that I have issue with. If plastic straws and plastic Q-tips can be banned, why aren’t people hollering about these babies?

My last dental picks.

To my shame, I have a lot of Gob Shite. Look, here’s more.

My last green picky things.

I have been buying these unthinkingly all these years and God alone knows how much stuff is gone into the dump from my dental care routine alone.

The recent report in the Telegraph revealing that all our careful recycling is almost pointless should scare us into really re-thinking our use of ALL plastics. Yes, folks, much of our patiently sorted and recyclable waste is going to landfill and incinerators.

I feel particularly bad about the number of vibrating toothbrushes I’ve binned. Especially as until relatively recently, I never thought about taking the battery out first… (See my piece on why this is BAAAAAD practice!)

My last pulsar.

Mind you, I can’t really blame anyone who does bin these without thinking. WTF do these recycling symbols on the back of the packet mean?

  • The wheelie-bin with the cross through it is the symbol of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive of the EU. I read the Wikipedia page on the subject and it’s bloody confusing. But I think it means it has to be recycled properly – in other words, the battery has to be removed before binning it. This instruction should be in big black capital letters on the packet!
  • The initials CE apparently stand for Conformité Européene, which is French for European Conformity and means the gadget has passed certain tests expected in its category.
  • The third symbol is the most confusing of all, because a lot of people think it signifies that it means “recycle this”. Nope. This is called the Green Dot. (I know, it’s not green in the picture, another source of confusion…) This does not mean that the packaging can be recycled, will be recycled or has been recycled. It is merely a symbol used on packaging in some European countries and it shows that the producer has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe. And no, we don’t have any idea how large this financial contribution might be, or whether they are taking steps to change their packaging. In other words, it’s meaningless. It’s just a feelgood symbol for the manufacturers, akin to the squillionaire banker who tosses 50p to a beggar and feels he has done his charitable best.

So what can we do?

Don’t worry, you won’t end up with teeth like this…
Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Ironic Toothbrushes

It’s sobering to think that every single toothbrush you have ever used is still out there somewhere, buried in landfill or bobbing about in the ocean.

We have to start buying bamboo toothbrushes. However, the ironic bit about these marvels is that the truly compostable ones are made with pig bristles, which is an anathema for vegetarians and vegans. Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem, but reports are mixed on their effectiveness. You can buy them here at www.lifewithoutplastic.com.

So the most effective brushes have nylon bristles. One make – Eco-Bru – actually recommends that we remove the bristles (recyclable BPA-free nylon) when the brush has passed its best and pop them in the recycling prior to chucking the brush. Oh Lordy, another task. I suppose they mean well and at least the handle won’t be around to haunt future generations.

Another irony – makers of sustainable toothbrushes got very excited about using Nylon-4 for the bristles. Nylon-4 is a petroleum based plastic that biodegrades in months. However, there are only a few manufacturers of nylon-4 around so ethical toothbrush makers are forced to use less friendly plastics. Brush With Bamboo uses only 38% nylon, the rest is made from castor bean oil. All hail, the humble castor bean! Who knew?

And a final irony – they’re not yet in all the shops so you may have to order them online – more packaging waste! However, although our local Boots doesn’t sell them, I found two in Superdrug yesterday. Only two, but it’s a start. I bought them both. Which I guess means that Bicester is out of bamboo toothbrushes.

These toothbrushes were found on Midway Atoll, a wildlife refuge in the N Pacific Ocean, approx 1,300 miles from the nearest city. Convinced yet?
Picture from Green Eco Services, awaiting permission.

The other truly organic way to clean your teeth is either with a neem stick or a miswak stick (pictured). Both are types of twigs that apparently contain hygienic properties ; you nibble off the bark, then chew the interior to loosen the fibres, and finally you brush your teeth. Sounds like an awful faff and I’m not sure I’m ready for them. You can buy them on Amazon, but most seem to come from abroad. More postage, more packaging.

I also came across something called a toothwak… it comes with replacement bristles which screw in and seems to be the only truly biodegradable brush. But I’m not sure I like the look of that see-through panel of film… looks like plastic to me!

You can buy the toothwak here – a knowledge of Turkish will help.

Toothpaste

Yep, we have to stop buying conventional toothpaste. Last year, leading brands in America alone sold 423,500,000 units of toothpaste. That’s 423,500,000 plastic tubes heading for the bellies of sea creatures.

This albatross died because its belly was full of our plastic waste. We have to change.
Picture from the Midway Film project, awaiting permission.

There are plenty of alternatives – all you have to do is search for “plastic free toothpaste” and a host of options will appear on your screen. I’m not going to list them all, but you could try Denttabs for instance. And Lush sell something called Toothy Tabs. Click on the links to purchase. And no, I’m not making money on your clicks.

Toothpicks

When I finally finish my stack of shaming plastic picks, I shall move on to these brilliant yokes which are made mainly from corn starch and are vegan-friendly.

I nicked this pic from The Humble Co. but since the link will take you to their shop, I don’t think they will mind too much.

Dental Floss

Yes, an awful lot of dental floss is made using plastics. It’s so depressing, really it is. And it comes in plastic containers. So we have to change. There are many options out there, however. Try The White Teeth Box; their floss is 100% biodegradable, and the little bottles are glass and metal.

Mouthwash

Entirely unnecessary if you clean your teeth properly. It kills the good bacteria in your mouth as well as the bad. And where does the bottle go afterwards?

An even better plan

Keep asking for these products in your local chemist and supermarket because at the moment, you can only get many these items by post. More bloody packaging! If they haven’t started stocking them, ask when they plan to do so. Ask if you can go on a list to be informed when they do start stocking the items you want. Nudge, niggle and nag.

What you will save

Um, probably nothing much financially. But the planet will be awfully grateful.

And finally…

Sorry there has been such a long gap since my last blog. I’ve been writing my musical and these pieces take a LONG time to research and write. And then there are two dogs to be walked… so to sign off, here’s a picture of the photogenic Miss Pips and her glorious plastic-free teeth. Meanwhile, do please keep sharing the blog, I’m hugely grateful for all help.

Piper: A Dentist’s Dream

Credit – photo at the top of a perfect smile by iamSherise on Unsplash and heavily cropped by me. Sorry!

THE CHINA ARGUMENT

If I hear this again, I’ll scream. “Your blog is all very well, but it’s pointless trying to do anything to save the planet until China and India go green.”

Three people have said this to me, and I’m already sick of it. It’s a cop out. A bloody cop out. We all have to try. All of us. Every day. Of course India and China need to get on board, but that doesn’t give us the excuse to go on polluting. It’s like defending the fact that you poop in your front garden because your neighbours have 100 lodgers who poop in their front garden.

Just roll this thought around your mind. James Anderson, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at Harvard, says that we have five years left. In those five years, we have to transform industry as rapidly as possible – it’s not just a matter of cutting carbon emissions, its a matter of removing it from the atmosphere completely.

Five years. (And we all thought we had the luxury of a decade…!)

Here’s another thought to mull over. Anderson says, “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero.”

So don’t mull too long, or that five year period of grace will be over and the world we live in will become a very uncomfortable place.

GAIA

James Lovelock, the eminent scientist and long a hero of mine, originally earned his fame when he came up with the Gaia hypothesis. This posits the theory that the Earth – which he calls Gaia – is a single self-regulating super-organism, and that we are a just part of it, much in the way that the bacteria on our skin is a part of us. That’s a very inadequate little explanation of a great big theory but it will have to do for now.

Lovelock believes that we human beings have multiplied too much and that Gaia is now trying to get rid of us. Catastrophic weather changes, storms, typhoons, desertification etc., and the heating up of vast areas of the world, thus making it uninhabitable are becoming the norm.

So can we do anything personally? He thinks not, and I don’t know if we can, but I passionately believe we should try. We in the West are largely the architects of the Armageddon to come, so we bloody well have to try. Here are some suggestions.

  • Fly less
  • Drive less
  • Eat less meat
  • Eat more locally produced food
  • Waste less
  • Buy less
  • Protest more
  • Have fewer children
  • Heat our homes less
  • Write letters – to government and companies and councils and anyone else you feel needs a nudge.

Note that I don’t proscribe anything completely. I believe that to be unrealistic. Changing the habits of a lifetime is hard work.

And gestures towards greenness are often just that – gestures. For instance, I own a diesel car, and I can’t do without the car as I live in a country village with a lousy bus service. I could get rid of it and replace it with an electric car instead. But it would be a pointless gesture, because it would mean that someone else would then own that car while I polished my halo. Much better for me to own that car and drive it as little as possible. If I’m running errands, I try to get them all done in one trip every few days. If I have to go anywhere farther than our local town, I go by train if at all possible. This means I’ve got my mileage down by several thousand miles per year. No, not perfect, but trying hard.

So don’t come to me with the China argument again, because it’s an excuse of the flabbiest kind. An excuse to go on living our indulgent, destructive lives, and that is true Shit You Don’t Need.

Oh, and by the way…

Letters can work. Proper letters, mind you, not emails and armchair clicktivism. A letter is counted as FAR more significant than an email. That’s because it’s a bother to write the letter, find the correct address, buy a stamp and walk to the postbox. It’s estimated that every letter of protest represents up to 10,000 similar opinions. So imagine if 1,000 of us wrote the following to our outgoing Prime Minister…

Dear Mrs. May,

Whilst I welcome the fact that you have committed the UK to a legally binding “net zero” emissions target by 2050, I believe this is not ambitious enough and we should be “net zero” by 2025.

Yours sincerely, A Person.

That would represent ten million opinions. It might make a difference. And at least when Armageddon comes, you can say you tried.

And no, buying a bag-for-life isn’t enough. Try harder.

Here endeth the rant. And here is a picture of Piper who emits a tiny amount of methane, but counters this by eating our leftovers with a will. She is very fond of my cooking and does not tolerate waste.

Yes, I agree that’s a very unattractively coloured throw, but it was all I could get in the market that day. Unfortunately, Miss P thinks that sitting on the sofa is the Divine Right of Dogs and thus unattractive throws are an essential feature of my life.

Unfortunately, she does not tolerate my tapestry cushions either. She believes them to be woefully old-fashioned, and thus they need to be destroyed.

Little tyke.

Meanwhile, please keep passing this on!

THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT

Yes, I mean it – the Houses of Parliament are shit we don’t need. Nothing we can do about it individually… yet. And no, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have a House of Commons and an Upper House – I mean the building itself is

  • no longer fit for the job
  • engenders the wrong kind of politics and therefore
  • breeds the wrong kind of politicians.

We need politicians. But just look at the shower of twazzocks representing us at the moment! Before you bombard me with protest, I know there are some excellent LOCAL MPs who serve their constituencies well. This isn’t a rant about particular politicians, nor is it a party political broadcast on behalf of a particular. But our politics is not healthy at the moment, and a fresh start might be a wonderful way to start the healing process.

The building itself

It was about to lash down the other day, so I couldn’t be bothered to get any nearer. But how symbolic is Big Ben under wraps, not to mention those storm clouds over Westminster!

The whole Palace of Westminster has to close – and soon – because it needs a vast overhaul. It’s infested with rats and mice, and there are regular sewage leaks in the basements. Serious water erosion has damaged the building, and as recently as 4th April of this year, business was suspended in the House of Commons when water started leaking through the ceiling.

All this is merely cosmetic. The real danger is that the mechanical and electrical systems are old, and the patch-and-mend regime that has kept the place going for decades is no longer enough. The wiring is so ancient that the whole place could go up in flames any day.

The only way this Victorian masterpiece can be restored is by a total evacuation of the building for at least six years, and it will happen soon.

In the meantime, both Houses and all the personnel must find another home. Why not a new PERMANENT home?????

Space

There is seating for 427 in the House of Commons, but there are 650 MPs. The House of Lords can sit 400 peers, but there are about 800 of the blighters. The bloody chambers are simply not big enough, and that’s not going to change with new wiring, is it?

Aggression

The two-sided chambers are built for confrontation, not consensus. In fact, the House of Commons has two red lines down the length of the floor and these were designed to be two sword lengths apart so that an enraged member of HM Opposition couldn’t plunge his epée into the Minister for Transport on hearing, for instance, that said Minister had spent £13.8m on an imaginary fleet of ferries. (Though who could imagine such a thing in real life?)

See those red lines? John Kerry, John Bercow and William Hague in the Commons. Note the Bearer of Ye Olde Lanyard & Lamynayte at the back. Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

MPs shout, boo, catcall, and behave like deranged schoolkids denied their Ritalin. A circular chamber wouldn’t guarantee decent, grown-up behaviour, but it would help take the heat out of room if they weren’t always glowering at one another across two sword-lengths of floor.

Tradition

A place can have too much history. When the House of Commons sits, the Speaker proceeds in wearing a black and gold robe, his train held up by a flunkey in ruffles and pantaloons, and in front of them both is another flunkey carrying the 5-foot mace. (I’m sure the flunkeys have fancy titles with outdated spellings, like Ayncient Searjeant of Ye Olde Mayce, and Seynyor Toadye of Ye Goldeyn Robe, but I can’t be arsed to look them up.)

You can’t see the pantaloons in this photo (which I snuck from the Independent) but I assure you they are there.

Oh, and if you ever touch the mace, which is a long, fancy golden stick, your buttons are torn off and you are forced to eat your chop alone in the Members Dynyng Roome for 13 days. All right, I made that up, but it is taboo to touch the mace and the Speaker will throw you out for being in contempt of Parliament. Cromwell called it a “fool’s bauble” and whilst I don’t often agree with the Butcher of Drogheda, it’s a fair description.

Aggrandisement

The trouble with the Palace of Westminster is there is too much bloody history; nearly 1000 years in fact – Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the building dates from 1097. It’s an 8 acre warren of inexplicable complexity and arcane rules dating from the Flood. There are more than a thousand rooms, over three miles of passages, 100 staircases, and about 30 bars. (One of those bars is for bishops…) Oh, and the bars are heavily subsidised by you and me…

New MPs spend their first months lost and confused about where to go, what to do, and wondering whether it’s okay to go into one room or another or if they’ve trespassed into forbidden areas … I’m not the first person to point out that the Palace of Westminster is more like a very exclusive private members club than the seat of Government. (Mhairi Black, the youngest ever MP, caused uproar when she refused to eat in a segregated part of one of the canteens where kitchen staff and MPs were not allowed to sit together. Bless her!)

The trouble is that once you start accepting these kinds of rules, and you buy the idea that MPs are too grand to eat with dinner ladies, it eats into the soul, a canker of aggrandisement. MPs learn the obscure rules and bone up on Erskine May (the guide to parliamentary procedure). It’s as though they become members of a secret society, developing a Kremlin mentality where the only thing that matters is Parliament itself.

When you go to work in a place like this, you may get a lofty idea of your own importancePhoto of Westminster Hall by Jase Ess on Unsplash

Move

Given that the whole lot of ’em have to move out for a £5bn refurb, why not move them to a new, purpose-built parliament with circular debating chambers and enough seats for the bums of both houses?

Build it in Birmingham

Why not? It’s in the centre of the country, it’s cheaper than London and it’s our second city. Easier to reach for almost all many MPs too – even Penzance is 14 miles closer to Brum! It’s also a brilliant city, and it would take a good deal of the pressure off London. Many other countries have their “capital cities” away from their main cities – Australia, South Africa, USA…

And then…

… when the £5bn refurbishment has happened (and it’ll probably be £8bn and take 3 years longer than anticipated…) it can be reopened for tourism, history tours by schoolkids, office space, weddings, barmitzvahs, and it can earn a living for the nation. And it could possibly host the odd State Occasion, if we allow it.

It is ours, after all.

Thanks to Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash for the photo at the top.

Piper in her favourite chair, imitating a Member of the British Parliament.

Note

I’ve gone fortnightly. I published these weekly to get the blog off the ground, but being bombarded with my thoughts every two weeks is probably quite enough for most of you.

USE BY DATES (and all that garbage)

If I had a regular radio show, I’d call it “What Would You Un-Invent” and I’d invite guests on to suggest things they think humankind was better without. Okay, it’s not a snappy title, but it’s a flipping brilliant idea.

I’d interview myself first, of course.

“So, I’ve got Dillie Keane here. Dillie is an ecobloggista who sits at her desk and frets about the future of the planet. Dillie, what would you un-invent?”

Thanks Dillie. Excellent question, but not easy to answer because there are so many candidates, wet wipes being high on the list. However, as it’s my own programme and I shall be back next week to interview me again, I’m going to plump for sell-by dates.”

“Super! And when were sell-by dates first used?”

“In the 1950s, actually. A bright spark at Marks & Spencer dreamt it up…”

“Ha, bright spark, Marks & Sparks! Very good.”

“Do try to be serious. As I was saying, it was introduced for foodstuffs in their storerooms, but it had to wait for another 20 years before it made it to the supermarket shelves. Now food dating is everywhere, and it scares people into binning perfectly good food every day. For instance, that Pret a Manger pasta salad dated yesterday which is in the bin beside you.”

“Er…”

“Had you remembered to put it in the fridge overnight after you decided you weren’t hungry after all, you could have happily eaten it today.”

“Yes, I…”

And when that salad, along with all the other mountains of unused food that people can’t be arsed to eat, rots quietly away in landfills, it emits loads and loads of methane which as we all know is a major contributor to Climate Change. And now, of course, food dating is mandatory in Europe.”

“Right! So, given that food dating is mandatory in Europe, is this a good thing, Dillie?”

“A highly questionable law, in my humble opinion, Dillie! But it’s also widely adopted outside the EU – entirely voluntarily! So you don’t just have to be an EU Quangocrat to be a meddling twat.

“Oh dear, we’ll have to cut that. Can’t allow use of the word “twat”. The phone will be red hot with listeners from the Home Counties who don’t give a damn about Climate Change but who DO hate bad language.”

Food dating = food waste

According to WRAP, a UK based charity which aims to reduce waste (amongst other equally noble aims), we throw out £20 billion worth of food waste every year in the UK alone. That amounts to a staggering £810 per family per year. This is food classified as “edible“, as opposed to bones, pips, rind, etc., which is defined as “inedible”. (Incidentally, if you give your leftover steak to your dog, that’s not counted as food waste.)

Barney, our lab, so HATES food waste, he’s happy to do the washing up himself.

It’s even worse in the USA. According to Climate Central, an extremely respectable independent organization of leading scientists and journalists, 40% of food produced for consumption in America is chucked out every year. This is equivalent of $165 billion dollars worth of food each year. Blow me down, but that’s an awful lot of greenhouse gas being created.

Nowadays you hear a lot about how cattle are poisoning the planet with their farts. In fact, food waste produces 34% of all methane emissions in the USA, which is not far off equalling the methane emissions from ruminant livestock (42%) – cows, sheep and buffalo – which are the chief flatulent culprits. Worldwide, the figure is much lower – ruminants contribute between 14-18% of methane. And Methane heats the planet WAAAAAY faster than CO2, though to be fair, CO2 hangs round a lot longer.

This isn’t an argument that we can relax about meat-eating, but it shows there is no moral high-ground. Rotting vegetables and fruit are every bit as pernicious as rotting meat.

What’s more, this habit of chucking good food is making us poor and the supermarkets very rich.

And then there’s all that plastic wrapping…Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Who to blame?

Simple. All of us in the super-wealthy “West”. We should be ashamed.

  • We plan badly; instead of organising our meals in advance, we impulse buy and guzzle as our whims dictate.
  • We’re visually tricked into buying food we don’t need. Supermarket psychologists know exactly where to place yummy treats that aren’t on our list. “Whoops, did I really need those choccy puddings?”
  • Supermarkets simply ADORE selling us too much food – that big bag of carrots, for instance. Too often we only use a portion of it and the rest turns to mush in the bottom drawer of the fridge.
  • Some of us (me for instance) have terrible food anxiety. I am genuinely paranoid about not being able to feed the family. Who knows, six years of the Irish famine may have imprinted in the family genes? This isn’t just fantastic speculation – there is a growing theory that cultural trauma can be transmitted down the generations. Luckily, my anxiety over food waste is even greater than my fear of starvation.
  • And just because I think this point is worth repeating over and over again, we chuck food because we are BAMBOOZLED into doing so by the bloody date on the bloody package.

So let’s just note the difference between the various terms, because these can be confusing.

Sell-by (or display until)

This just means the the shop has to sell the item by a certain date. It doesn’t mean the food has gone off. It does NOT mean you have to get rid of it if it’s in your fridge. But it’s confusing. As a result, garbage bins get another helping of food, glorious food. This is from Business Insider.

  • Here’s a little secret about those “sell-by date” labels you see on food packages… consumers should know they’re not safety dates, according to the US department of Agriculture.”

Not only that, they are not required by law – not in the UK, anyhow. They are added for stock control only.

Best By (or Best Before)

Again, this doesn’t mean the food has gone off by the date on the carton. It just means that it’s at its optimum on that day. Do remember, however, that prepared foods have so many preservatives in them that the “best by” dates might not apply.

Use by

This is the most unsettling of all. You’ll see it on tins of food, packets of dried lentils and all sorts of other comestibles that have an incredibly long shelf life. The not-so-subtle message is “Use by… or else!”

One splendid way to ignore food dates is to look at them upside down without your reading glasses.

A great mystery…?

So how come people didn’t all die of food poisoning before packaging was stamped with proscriptive dates, and before refridgeration? Time for some bullet points. (I’m very fond of a list, as you have probably already divined.)

  • People bought fresh on an almost daily basis.
  • Everything was cooked from scratch.
  • People had noses, eyes and tongues in those days. We seem to have lost ours.

Whoops, not only was that a lovely short list, but I have just looked at my face in the mirror and I DO have a nose, two eyes and a tongue! So do you!

A few ideas for avoiding waste!

Another list, oh joy! (You may be thoroughly waste-savvy already, in which case, don’t read on. But I’m constantly surprised at how unconfident people are about food… and I’m covering my back so that no-one can accuse me of encouraging them to give their family salmonella…)

  • Use your eyes. If it’s a funny colour, or is growing a grey, green and bubbly coating, don’t risk it. Scrape that bit off and taste the underneath part. If it tastes ok, it’s ok. (The only thing I share with Teresa May is that I scrape mould off jam and eat it. All right, I have also run through fields of wheat but I did a lot more while I was in the field than she ever did, I’ll wager.)
  • If it has separated or curdled, it’s probably off. Before pasteurisation, our grannies used sour milk or cream to make soda bread and stroganoff. However, since pasteurisation and homogenisation, milk doesn’t go sour like it used to – scientists can tell you why, but I can’t, and sour milk these days is horrid. (Note for no reason – this soda bread recipe is the dogs’ bollocks and it uses fresh milk!)
  • Use your nose. If it smells wrong, chuck it.
  • Still not sure? Use your tongue. A tiny taste won’t poison you. If it’s sour when it shouldn’t be, bin it.
  • Oddly fizzy? Bin it.
  • Tinned food lasts a lot longer than the date. Because of food labelling laws, (grr), manufacturers have to pluck a date out of the air to give a rough guideline but that’s all it is. We have all found a tin of beans or whatever at the back of the cupboard dating from prehistory. So open the can, have a gander, if it looks ok, stick yer finger in it and have a lick. Does it taste like it should? It’s fine.
  • Dried foods – pulses etc – last really well. Ignore the dates. If you see tiny crawly insects, these are weevils and you must chuck ’em.
  • Cheese gone hard isn’t bad. It’s just not as nice as it was. If it’s Cheddar or another hard cheese, grate it on top of pasta. If it’s a soft cheese, melt it on toast under the grill. If it’s got a greenish tinge, cut that bit off and eat the rest. (Pregnant women – check all cheeses on the internet for safety. The NHS website, for instance.)
  • Leftovers are fine. Don’t chuck ’em unless you have a labrador. If you don’t have a greedy mutt and are in doubt over how to use leftovers, consult Jack Monroe’s brilliant website, Cooking on a Bootstrap. You’ll find some excellent ideas for leftovers. And check Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall too – he’s very excercised about food waste.
Barney’s brekkie this morning: proper dog biscuits, Friday’s mashed potato, some chicken skin and a small piece of toast. Barney is our 11 year old puppy, the most gorgeous Lab in the world, and he prospers very well on the occasional leftover.
  • Is the food squidgy when it should be firm? Wrinkled when it needs to be plump? Soft when it should be crispy or brittle? Probably edible, in spite of being not especially appetising.
  • Leftover rice? Bacteria (B. cereus, which sounds ridiculous when you say it) goes bonkers in cooked rice left out in the open. Refrigerate or regret! And if you haven’t used it the next day, don’t risk it on day two.
  • Can you see lots of wriggling white things? OMG, you should have chucked it LONG ago! Unless, of course, you are partial to Casu Marzu, a now illegal Sardinian pecorino cheese that’s deliberately infected and only eaten when crawling with maggots. I’ve got a fairly strong stomach, but the very thought of this makes me giddy with revulsion. Still, each to his own…
  • If your loaf of bread has gone a bit stale, spritz it lightly with water and toast it. Or keep it in the freezer and bring it out slice by slice because it freezes really well. Stale bread makes yummy croutons, bread & butter pud, and breadcrumbs. If it’s gone green, sing Goodnight Irene and chuck it. And buy less.
Our rescue chookies – L-R Baldie, Brownie and Berniece – are delighted with a few crusts which will soften once they soak up the early morning dew.

We all fail. When I send the Beloved to do the shopping with a list, he comes back with cheddar when I wanted mozzarella, more dips than you can shake a stick at. Honestly, he has no idea of how much hummus two people can get through in a week. Then I’ll rush to the shops without warning him, come home with a bag of fruit, only to find he’s bought two melons, a mango, a punnet of blueberries, a box of nardicots and a bunch of bananas.

(Note: nardicot was my favourite new word of 2014. I’d never noticed the word before but suddenly it seemed to be everywhere. I’d always called them easy peelers.)

My friend Margaret (frequently mentioned here) tells me that following recipes can be a recipe for food waste, because you buy special ingredients that you don’t use again. So it’s great to read that some of the more responsible food writers are keen to help you use your leftovers wisely.

European food markets are a terrible temptation for me. I come home with a suitcase FULL of things I’m never going to eat.

Foods you can safely eat after the use-by date

  1. Biscuits.
  2. Hard cheese.
  3. Chocolate.
  4. Crisps and packeted snacks.
  5. Bread.
  6. Cake (especially made with butter rather than margarine).
  7. Dried pulses – lentils, barley etc.
  8. Canned food.
  9. Goat’s milk (you won’t believe how long it lasts).
  10. Cow’s milk.
  11. Eggs. Older eggs make better hardboiled eggs – much easier to peel. Worried about them? Try the float test – if they sink to the bottom of a bowl of water and stand on their end, they’re super fresh. If the sink and like on their side, they’re a bit older, but still fine. If they float, they’re bad bad bad. Another method is to crack them open one by one into a cup before using – it’s very frustrating to have to throw your cake mixture out because you dropped a stinky old egg into the batter. And yes, you will DEFINITELY know a bad egg when you see it and smell it. Black, and smelling like the entire congregation has just blown off.
  12. Vegetables of any sort. You can rescue slightly wilted leaves, or tired cauliflower/asparagus/celery etc by popping them into a bowl of cold water in the fridge. The transformation will astonish you.

The Three Grand Exceptions

  1. Never mess with chicken. Salmonella in chicken develops quickly and will make you VERY sick. Use all meats quickly, and follow guidelines on the packet. Best of all, don’t buy it at all unless you intend to use it by its recommended date.
  2. Never mess with seafood. Only cook from fresh.
  3. Never mess with ordinary pork. Ham keeps, bacon keeps for ages. That’s because cured pork products are, er, cured. Preserved, in other words. Fresh pork isn’t.
We all fail. This is what happens when the Beloved goes mad in the Dip Section of the supermarket.

The best rule of all…?

IF YOU DON’T NEED IT, DON’T BUY IT!

To help yourself stick to this rule, always go the to supermarket with a list. Do not deviate from it. Do not buy that tempting tub of mackerel paté, or that bumper packet of drumsticks you just trollied past – it’s not on your list! Plan your meals, and buy what you need. Resist the lure of BOGOF offers. This doesn’t have to exclude treats, but it’ll keep your bills down and your food waste to a minimum.

Better still, if we ALL do this, it’ll make the supermarkets slightly less obscenely wealthy. Don’t forget – it is not in their interest to make you buy less or waste less. And you will start to trust your own judgement on whether your food is good or not.

Isn’t that something to aim for?

What you’ll save

£810 a year?

Taking a pic with my right hand of Dolly the Donkey eating a wrinkled old apple out of my left hand proved surprisingly tricky. She has it down her gullet in nanoseconds.

Post script

Testing my theory to the max, I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago. I found a tub of taramasalata in the fridge which was 34 days out of date. Yes, THIRTY FOUR DAYS!!!! The seal on the tub was perfect, and when I opened it, there was not the faintest hint of a “wrong” smell – and it looked scrummy. Taking my life in my hands, I ate two large teaspoons of the stuff. It struck me that if anything was going to make me ill, it would be processed cod’s roe. It was delicious.

The next day, undisturbed by any digestive cataclysm, I ate two more large teaspoons.

I’m still here. No sickness. Which makes me wonder… what the hell do they do to our food??????

Piper is convinced she can levitate matter. Here she is, willing my loaf of bread to fall off the breadboard. Perhaps she will succeed one day?

BRAZILIANS (the wax, not the people…)

It has always puzzled me that a woman might want a Hitler moustache where her pubes should be. If I were going down for the first time on a woman, I’d be somewhat put off by meeting Adolf en route for the Mound of Venus.

Hang on a minute, what do I see…?

Is that a man running away from a girly subject? Come back, you need to read this!
Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Yes, my merry men friends out there! This is for you too! It doesn’t matter whether you’re straight or gay, whether you’re pressurising your girlfriend to wax, or having it done yourself to make your todger look bigger. You NEED this because you’re part of the conspiracy against pubes. (It’s true… the Boyzilian / Brozilian is reputed to enhance the size of a man’s wedding tackle. Give me strength…)

Let’s be honest. A partner who’s put off by a stray pube or two isn’t worth bothering with, particularly if the partner is a bloke. You really have to wonder about a man who wants you shaved like a baby. Pervy? Yep, a tad. Watching too much porn? Very probably.

Listen, it’s complicated when all that puberty stuff kicks in. I remember well the panic when I looked down in the bath and saw – whaaaaat? – HAIR!!! I didn’t have one of the world’s more sympathetic mothers, but I rushed to her in panic and she gave me the usual brisk reassurance that this was perfectly normal. And it was. Still, it took me a while to adjust to my weirdly changing body.

It’s also normal to get used to it, and it’s normal for boys to get used to seeing it. They have hair too. It’s what bodies do and it’s for a reason. We’ll come to that.

But we aren’t perfect. Even supermodels hate things about their bodies. And one of the essential routes to contentment is the ability to accept ourselves as we are. I don’t mean we shouldn’t tidy ourselves up or that we should forgo makeup (horrible thought!) but there are certain things about being human that we might as well get used to, pubic hair being one of them. (Are you listening, chaps?)

Holidays!!!

OMFG, is that a stray pube? Should she become a nun NOW??? Photo by Igor Starkov on Unsplash

You’ve got a new bikini, you’re off to a sun-drenched isle, and you’re self conscious about those little wiry hairs that seem to have a will of their own. By all means, get a bikini wax to tidy up the edges.  If you need a Brazilian because your monokini is so small, I wonder why you bother wearing one at all.

Reasons to be cautious

  • Risk of infection. Are you 100% certain that your salon uses the best sanitary practice?
  • Not just infection… you have a higher risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases after grooming your basement area. Things like the herpes virus and genital warts can spread through little nicks, cuts and abrasions.
  • A viral infection known as MC (molluscum contagiosum) is on the rise, and it is increasingly associated with waxing. You get small, raised, quite hard little spots on the skin (papules). It’s not dangerous, but it can be horribly itchy.
  • Small scale studies have noted a correlation between a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and “grooming” of pubic hair, with the numbers going up again for what they term “extreme grooming”. On the upside, you’re less likely to suffer an invasion of crabs, but it doesn’t seem like a fair exchange if you’re risking herpes, HPV, syphilis, molluscum, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and HIV.
  • Sometimes you get ingrown hairs after a waxing. A hair curls round and grows back into the follicle. Sometimes it doesn’t even bother popping its head outside, and just grows sideways into the skin. It can cause little red pimples which can easily become infected.  This beauty website has a whole page devoted to ingrown hairs caused by waxing – and one of the tips they recommend to minimise risk is to exfoliate the area regularly, and to make sure you do it two days before your waxing… Yowza! Sorry, but that sounds like another way to be very sore indeed! And no, waxing again is NOT a cure for ingrown hairs.
  • Is your beautician experienced enough? After all, it’s a sensitive area. It can get quite swollen down there if the practitioner is new or, worse still, careless. The internet is awash with bad waxing stories.
  • Just in case you think you can do it yourself inexpensively at home, there are plenty of horror stories about this too, like this girl who not only drew blood but stuck her butt cheek o.
  • Fancy scarring after waxing? I thought not. Again, just try googling and you will easily come across a fair number of awful stories.
  • Are you sure the wax used at the salon is of the best quality? Or that it wasn’t used for the client (or clientsssssss) before you? (Eww!)
  • Do the beauticians double dip their sticks while you’re squeezing your eyes shut in anticipation of that painful strrrrrrip! Ugh! Bad, dirty or cheap wax can make you very sore.
A leg, some hot wax and a lolly stick.  Well, you surely don’t think I was going to show you an actual front bottom being waxed? Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The list goes on! (I just thought it was time for a picture!)

  • Did you get a Groupon voucher for your Brazilian? If so, ask yourself why…
  • Your therapist may have to touch your labia to pull it to get the correct degree of skin tautness. Hmmm. Dunno about you, but I feel quite uncomfortable about this. Only my lover and my doctor belong down there.
  • It can be sore for hours.
  • It can itch like crazy when it’s growing back, and when it does, it’s TORMENTING. Do you really want to be spotted furtively scratching your muff to relieve your itching?
  • During lovemaking, a lot of rubbing goes on. Hair acts as a cushion, reducing friction, making the action easier. This is especially useful in the first throes of lust when people are at it like rabbits. (Sorry. My family are reading this and I’m sure they think this is TMI…)
  • Finally, it means yet more bloody product going to landfill.  Sticks, cotton wool, lotions, soothers, wax etc.

Er, a corduroy thong? I don’t think this woman is going swimming, do you? Photo edited by me, original photo by Alexei Romano on Unsplash.

Confession time

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that I’ve had direct experience. I have, and weird it was too. The waxiste spoke no English – we were abroad – and all I wanted was a bit of a tidy up. An old fashioned bikini wax, in other words.

Oh my, she had those old pubey babies off on one side before you could say whoaaaa. So of course I had to have the other side off too. I didn’t want to walk lopsided, after all.

Would I do it again? You must be joking. I hated looking down there and seeing a Hitler tash. I’m a grown woman, for heaven’s sake. I’d almost have preferred the “Hollywood” – except I wouldn’t…

The “Hollywood”. The human equivalent of the Oklahoma dustbowl.

Why hate pubes???

Medics will tell you that pubes are there for a reason.  Or possibly even several reasons. Mainly, they act as a kind of natural shield against bacteria, allergens and other nasty microorganisms or pathogens that might affect your lady garden. There’s also a theory that the hairs trap the pheromones that help us attract and find a mate, but that’s getting way too sciency for me!

So if you’re thinking of moving over to lasering, ask yourself if you really want to be bushless. Laser isn’t without risk either – skin irritation and pigment changes are the most common side effects.

If you do go ahead with full deforestation and it goes wrong – your chuffbox gets all sore and covered in red bumps etc. – you can always book in for a vajacial. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s an actual facial for your vadge. This involves a full cleanse, a soothing mask treatment, and a bit of tidy with a pair of tweezers to remove those naughty ingrown hairs! Again, more product, more expense – jeepers, is it worth it?

Just in case you still need convincing, even Vogue magazine announced last year– The Bush is Back!

What you’ll save

Prices vary, but anything between US $60-120 (£50-£100) seems to be the norm for a waxing. Don’t forget – you gotta keep doing it, anything between every 2-6 weeks. Say that’s eight waxings a year adding up to an absolute minimum of £400 (US $480). Wowza. 

My pal Margaret Allen came back from Paris and informed me that Parisian women like to trim their pubic hair to the size and shape of the new (smaller) metro tickets. Should you decide to travel to Paris and desire that particular waxing, you must ask the beautician for “le ticket de metro”. Who knows, it could double as an Oyster card in London. It would be a good fitness aid as you’d always have to jump up to flash your groin at the card reader.

PS

The tickets are about to be replaced by electronic travel cards. Perhaps that’s why they’re being immortalised shave-wise?

And finally…

Here is a picture of Piper after a haircut so severe, she refers to it as the day she was given an all-over Brazilian. It was 13th August 2016, and she was scalped by someone who shall remain nameless but who had promised a bit of a trim. A BIT OF A TRIM???? This is a picture of a traumatised dog. I kid you not, I honestly believe she thought I wouldn’t recognise her, and she was really distressed for weeks. She has only allowed me to release this horrid photo because she feels it might act as a warning to young shavers everywhere.

Who am I? Am I a cat-chasing killing machine? Or am I just cold and confused and being denied biscuits? And why has Mother left the dishwasher open?
Hairy Piper in her Easter outfit. A much happier dog. I don’t know whose shoes those are.

End note…

I have noticed the weird paragraphing in the emails that get sent out to followers and after two hours chatting online to Adam Leone at WordPress, I hope to have solved the problem. Incidentally, he and I have started following each other’s blogs as there’s a definite feeling of shared interests, and you might be interested. https://carrottopsallotment.com/

Secondly, do please share my blog with friends and relations and even people you hate. Especially them.

FARMED SALMON

Q1 When you tuck in to your salmon steak, are you aware you’re eating a migratory animal?

Q2 Can you imagine what would have happened if businessmen in London and elsewhere had come up with the bright idea of caging swallows and selling them as food?

Yep. You’d have had every twitcher, every member of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, every bird-fancier the world over protesting in kagoule-clad FURY at the idea of caging these beautiful migratory creatures that fly huge distances to nest in our eaves every summer and give us such joy as we watch them wheeling about the sky.

And yet, when those business consortia started stuffing salmon into sea cages, where was the effing protest? Did you hear a sodding squeak of dissent? Where was the RSPF when it was needed? Nowhere, because there is no such thing as the Royal Society for the Protection of Fish.

Let me just say now that if you want jokes, don’t read on, because I cannot be funny about this. We complain about the nasty side of farming, the barbaric way that animals are treated. We sign protests to make farmers kinder to chickens and we’ve even seen the middle classes massing at ports to end the shipment of live animals.

But caging an animal that has the urge, the overwhelming drive to migrate, is a very particular form of cruelty that makes me weep with fury.

This is Shuna Island on Loch Linnhe. It’s 2k long, which gives you an idea of how enormous those salmon nets on the right are. Picture from Shutterstock, and yes, I paid.

The salmon is a wonderful, almost miraculous creature, a streamlined swimming machine that starts as a tiny, pink egg, tucked under a bed of gravel in a river by the female. Not just any river, her river.

Once it’s mature enough, (providing it survives at all, that is), it leaves the river and swims out to sea. After anything between one and four years at sea, the salmon will return to the very river it was spawned in, to breed and begin the process again.

Just think about this miracle. They leave their home river as young grilse, and then migrate over 3000k to the great feeding grounds north of the Arctic Circle. When they’re mature enough, their astonishing homing instinct impels them back to precisely the same spot where they were buried in the gravel as an egg. Just imagine the ridiculously impossible odds of doing such a thing – and yet these glorious creatures do it year after year.

This is a miracle I’ve known all my life. My grandparents lived in Ballina, County Mayo, and anyone Irish will tell you that the salmon from the River Moy is the finest in the world. We visited them each summer and every single year, Granny would have salmon for us the night we arrived, the dish of kings to welcome us home. It was the season for them, there was enough for everyone in the area, and yet it was still regarded as the very greatest of treats.

In the following days, I would be taken to see the salmon leppin’, as they said it then. We’d walk down from Grandpa’s house to the River Moy in County Mayo, and watch these wondrous creatures hurl themselves into the air and up the weirs and falls, swimming with herculean strength against the fierce downward rush of the river, great crowds of them flying above the spume. An astonishing sight, and a yearly ritual for the locals to turn out in crowds to watch them.

So this is personal.

The democratisation of luxury

The first caged salmon could not be sold whole, only as steaks. That was because they were so badly damaged as the fish frenetically tried to get out of the cage to follow their genetic programming and migrate, biting chunks out of one another in the effort to escape.

(But they’re only fish! So much more important to make sure that smoked salmon is no longer the preserve of the wealthy!)

Three or four generations later, the urge to migrate is bred out of them. So why do I say these non-salmonid salmon are shityoudon’tneed?

Here goes.

Food

Salmon are “farmed” in vast nets which are tethered offshore, so they have to be fed, as they cannot swim round and feed themselves. They’re carnivorous, so other fish are ‘harvested’ to feed the salmon. Anchovy, herring and sardine shoals from other seas are thus depleted. Oh the bitter, bitter irony, that fish farming should contribute to overfishing!

The food is dropped into the net, and not all of it is snapped up by the salmon on its way through. It then falls through the holes in the bottom of the net, and onto the seabed below where it rots.

A company called Protix is breeding insects to replace fish meal, but this doesn’t replace the fish oils also needed. Research is going on in this area by other companies.

Dye

The food they are given is different from the crustaceans they should normally feed on – and which gave them their marvellous pink flesh. In nets, that flesh just turns a sort of grey. So they are fed with dyes, otherwise people wouldn’t believe they were purchasing salmon. And some of that dye ends up on the seabed too.

Lice

A louse. They can get quite big, from 0.5cm to 2cm. Horrid things. Photo from Shutterstock.

When salmon noodle around in nets instead of powering through wild, cold seas, they acquire sea lice. These feed on the head, skin and blood of the fish. Yes, lice are flesh eaters. Fish with sea lice can a) can die if infested with too many and b) aren’t terribly attractive to the average shopper, so these must be treated with chemicals.

Guess what? Some of those chemicals sink to the sea bed too. Oh, and since great populations of fish crowded into nets are ideal breeding grounds for sea lice and other parasites, the actual population of sea lice has gone through the roof, particularly in Scotland, so the wild fish in the area become infested too.

Oh, and where do the dead lice end up? Rotting on the sea bed. Hmmm, it’s quite a graveyard, that ol’ seabed.

Incidentally, Steinsvik are developing a drug free system to get rid of sea lice called the Thermolicer. The little critters don’t like sudden changes of temperature, so the fish are bathed briefly in lukewarm water and the lice fall off. All well and good. But how stressful is it for the poor goddammed fish…?

This from the website: “The fish are crowded and pumped through the Thermolicer and then back in the same cage or to an empty cage.”

Yikes.

And here are the lice in action. I grabbed this photo from Don Stanniford‘s page. He’s a long time campaigner and scourge of the salmon farming industry. Respect.

Disease

Have I put you off yet? It gets more unpleasant still. Salmon crowded into nets also get diseases, ulcers and tapeworms amongst a list of unpleasant conditions, so antibiotics and other therapeutants are used to combat this. Antifoulants and disinfectants too…

I dragged this pic from The FerretI don’t think they’ll mind as we’re on the same page. And we need to see these pictures.

It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realise that this cocktail of…

  • rotting food
  • chemicals
  • dye
  • dead sea lice
  • antibiotics
  • disinfectants
  • faeces (whoops… did I mention that salmon need to poo?)

…is a pretty toxic combination. It smothers the seabed below and all around, and gradually kills everything … all the kelp, starfish, bottom feeders, crabs, flatfish, scallops, anemones etc that make up the incredibly complex and beautiful ecosystem that is a seabed.

Yep, salmon farming is not only unusually cruel, but it pollutes like billy-oh.

I snuck this picture from Common Sense Canadian. That’s a yardstick showing the depth of the crap under a salmon farm. 32″… that’s more than 81cm. Nothing can live beneath that.

Pain

Do the fish suffer? Do they feel pain? It certainly suits us to think they don’t.

The scientific jury is out on the subject, but fish certainly respond to stress in a way that suggests they feel pain. Dr. Lynne Sneddon’s work at the University of Liverpool has ensured that scientific opinion is beginning to drift towards the conclusion that they do feel pain.

Crossbreeding

Most of the stocks of “Atlantic” salmon have actually been crossbred – Scottish salmon with Norway salmon. Jeez, we can’t help messing around with genetics, can we?

Just a thought… can they actually be described as “Scottish”? Hmmm…

Escape

As if this wasn’t enough, sometimes the nets don’t hold. A violent storm, human error, some faulty equipment perhaps… the nets break open and suddenly the area is flooded with thousands and thousands of fish that compete for food with the wild fish, so food stocks are depleted leading to underwater famine.

More crossbreeding!

Worse still, these escaped farmed salmon can cross breed with the true wild salmon, which has the effect of diluting the genetic information. So what happens is this: the year old salmon (known as a grilse) bred from this hideous mismatch leaves its river knowing that it MUST go somewhere, but where? It gets lost. One more nail in the coffin for true wild salmon.

Edit – dated 17.05.19Reader Eoghan Brady let me know the following “Just to clarify a grilse is an adult salmon who returns after a year and will be small,a smolt is a young salmon that’s going to sea ,usually 2-3yrs old ,a parr is a young fish before they become smolts.” Thanks, Eoghan.

Seal death

Oh, and seals get caught up in the nets sometimes. So they get shot. More than 40 licences to shoot seals are issued in Scotland every single year to salmon farmers.

The bigger ecosystem

Before salmon farming, there was a lovely little industry in the Highlands and the West of Ireland. A load of little B&Bs hosted fisher folk with expensive rods, thigh-high wellies and dreams catching the biggest fish of the season. Gillies – folk with deep and intimate local knowledge of the local area and the habits of salmon – took them to the best spots for landing their prizes.

Gillies are proud of their art – and it is an art. If you’re a veggie or a vegetarian, you might not agree, but the gillies and fisher folk I have met all loved and respected the salmon, and would never wish to do it harm. They just wanted to take a few from nature for the one of the great gastronomic treats the human being could enjoy.

The B&Bs too – they welcomed the fisher folk with their wet weather gear and their wet kit and their day’s delights and disappointments. Hot baths, hot whiskies, hot meals… and a cracking breakfast before the next day’s rigours. The angling industry has supported thousands and thousands of jobs.

That’s all going and it is also a part of the ecosystem. Salmon farming doesn’t bring local employment. A skeleton staff can operate a salmon farm owned and run for the profit of companies in London and Oslo etc. Actually, campaigners claim that 99% of Scottish Salmon farms are marketed and branded as “Scottish” but are actually owned abroad. What do these foreign consortia care if they destroy a species?

Extinction

It is no longer a matter of question as to whether salmon farming is causing the extinction of wild salmon. The collapse in numbers of salmon returning home to spawn is terrifying – both in Ireland and Scotland. And farmed salmon themselves are not safe – just a day ago, hundreds of thousands died from an outbreak of algae on Loch Fyne. All those corpses to dispose of safely… hmmm…

Salmon farming in open nets really is the devil’s own work. I’m not keen on battery chickens, but at least a farmer with a battery chicken business can spread the chicken poop straight onto his fields, thus cutting out the need to purchase expensive fertilisers.

The democratisation of luxury should be regarded with a very wary eye. Salmon was never made cheap and available so that the poor were able to join in the fun. It was farmed solely to make some rich people even richer. Certain foods should always be luxury foods. Caviare, saffron, crab, Bar-le-Duc jelly, for instance. Salmon should be on that list.

But I buy organic…!

Ah… did you think you were in the clear, buying organic farmed salmon…? Yeah. So did I. What an eejit I am. Look, the subject of salmon farming is enormous and hugely complex. I am in grave danger of boring you to death, and my sister Anne has complained about the length of my pieces. So let’s just say this – I will come back to you on the subject of organic farmed salmon. Rest assured, however, it’s not great.

Meanwhile, I hope you will consider buying less, or better still, NO salmon in future – smoked or otherwise.

Finally… (yes, really!)

Here is a picture of my dog. I need cheering up. And so do you, I shouldn’t wonder.

Piper feeling very sad at the plight of her fellow creatures. That is one thinking dog.

Please forward this and tell your friends about my blog, particularly this piece. If I’ve published your photo and haven’t paid, please get in touch and I am happy to discuss terms or remove them if the price is too high. And thanks to Caroline Attwood on Unsplash for the photo at the top.

BATTERIES (IN THE GARBAGE)

In which Dillie The Lazy Cow (DK1) has a tricky conversation with Dillie The Annoying Goody-Goody (DK2)

DK1 FFS. Who’s idea was it to put this in?

DK2 Yours!

DK1 Mine? You mean yours?

DK2 Okay, mine. Whaddevah… Anyway, as I was saying, about batteries…

DK1Wot! Not content with taking away my luxury toilet paper and banning me from using shower gel, you’re telling me I can’t use batteries now?

DK2 Just listen for a minute, would you!

DK1 But I neeeeeed batteries! I use lots of them! They are essential to my life!

DK2 I know. The TV remote, your mouse, the smoke alarm, toys, the car, the golf buggy, your vibrator, etc. etc.

DK1 Yeah yeah yeah. So?

DK2 Do you recycle them?

DK1 Um, sometimes… Why?

DK2 Because batteries contain many toxic chemicals and heavy metals. These can include lead, antimony, calcium, cobalt, tin, selenium, nickel, cadmium… etc. Cobalt is particularly pernicious as although it’s associated with the transition to cleaner energy, it also has a history of child exploitation and human rights abuses in the Congo.

DK1 Nasty. But what has that to do with recycling?

DK2 If you blithely chuck out dead batteries with the rubbish, those poisons go to the tip or landfill. The casing of the battery corrodes and the contents, sulphuric acid and lithium and lead for example, leach out into the groundwater and into the food chain. If those tasty morsels got into your body, you might glow in the dark.

DK1 I’m an actress, I can think of nothing more FAAAABULOUS than being my own spotlight! Give me a real reason to worry.

DK2 How about fish and chips and potassium carbonate for your dinner?

DK1 Ok, not so nice. I can see I’ll have to go vegetarian.

DK2 Are you sure? The impurities in the water are absorbed by plants and fruit and then you eat the plants. In other words, mercury soup and aluminium apple sauce. Either way, they get into your body. Not great for the digestion. Or the kidney, the liver, the skin, or your asthma. Or your children. Not even fruitarians escape.

DK1 Golly. Would my water taste different too?

DK2 Many of those toxins don’t actually have a lot of taste – so they can sneak into your whiskey and water and not be noticed.

DK1 Nobody could accuse you of optimism, could they?

DK2 You may mock, but there’s more. Primary lithium batteries ignite very easily. Imagine the number of lithium batteries being crushed by heavy machinery in landfill sites. One exposed battery catches light and whoosh! You’ve got a fire that “can burn for years underground.” Here in the UK, fire and rescue services have to deal with approximately 300 significant fires in waste dumps every year, and a significant number of those are started by lithium batteries. Think of that toxic air… incredibly toxic. Nice.

Photo ‘borrowed’ from the Gila Valley Central, provided originally by Safford Fire Department. I’ve since discovered that the Gila Valley is in Arizona.

DK2 Scientists reckon if “an irreversible thermal event” occurs in Lithium-ion batteries, it may release perhaps 100 different gases if they do combust. “An irreversible thermal event” – it’s a chilling phrase, isn’t it?

DK1 Blimey.

DK2 Blimey is right. So are you going to recycle ALL your batteries now?

DK1 Yes, all right, all right. Don’t go on.

DK2 And will you switch things off when you’re not using them to conserve battery life?

DK1 Yes, yes, yes, okaaaaay!

DK2 And what about that natty little cook’s timer that doesn’t have an off switch?

DK1 I take the battery out when I’m not using it to make it last longer.

DK2 Good girl.

DK1 Don’t patronise me, bi-atch…

DK2 Wouldn’t dream of it. By the way, did you know that serious injuries and deaths caused by swallowing batteries is on the increase in a big way?

DK1 Tsk. Who swallows a battery?

DK2 Little kids with little fingers taking little button batteries out of toys. Granny’s arthritic fingers drop the tiny hearing aid batteries…

The hand of a common law step-grandmother (me), holding a hearing aid battery.

DK2 Toddlers and crawlers love little shiny things! It’s even been reported in the Daily Mail!

DK1 Gosh, it must be true then!!! But surely Science is moving on?

DK2 Not fast enough to sort the mounting battery problem.

DK1 So what’s the solution?

DK2 Buy better batteries. Cheap batteries run down quickly – spend more on them and they last longer. Rechargeable whenever possible. And always always ALWAYS recycle.

DK1 Where?

DK2 Doh… At the supermarket in the UK! Or the toxic waste station in the USA. Doesn’t matter where you are – just type “BATTERY RECYCLING” into Google with your postcode or address, and your search engine will tell you where your nearest recycling point is.

DK1 So this piece should really be called ‘Batteries in the garbage’?

DK2 Have it your way.

WHAT YOU WILL SAVE

The planet.

It’s shameful enough that kids live on pickings from dumps without being poisoned by the residue from corroded batteries. Picture by Abhishek from Shutterstock.

And finally, by public demand…

Her Imperial Winsomeness, Princess Maris Piper Desirée Boulangère Keane O’Neill sitting on my dressinggown in our bidet. She is a joyous dynamo who needs no batteries.

Before you go…

If you’re enjoying these pieces, please share the links with your friends and family. And do sign up to follow… just scroll back up to the top, press the blue button and you’ll get an email when there’s a new piece – and ONLY when there’s a new piece to read.

HELIUM BALLOONS

We all love helium balloons, don’t we? Pretty floaty things that cheaply cheer up a dreary event room for hire… Personalise them and someone will feel a little warmer around the heart – Happy 80th Birthday Grandad! Dennis and Dave’s Wedding! Poppa’s Little Princess! Give your loved one a heart shaped balloon for Valentine’s Day… awww….

Awww, he must love me if he bought me a love shaped balloon…
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

And then, when we’ve had a few glasses of wine, there’s the added fun of undoing the balloon and breathing in the helium, and speaking in a weird high voice for a few sentences. We’ve all done it, it’s ridiculous and very very funny.

Except I now feel a little bit guilty about that innocent bit of fun, because now I know that helium is an incredibly rare and marvellous gas and maybe I shouldn’t be using it so flippantly.

Helium… hmmm… this is one of those subjects that makes me wish I’d paid more attention to my science lessons in school.  But I was a giddy musical geek who gave science up as soon as I possibly could. So bear with me.

Eek, it’s getting a bit sciency!!!

Helium is one of six noble gases. The noble gases are all called noble because they are incredibly stable, and helium wins first prize as being the most chemically inert element yet discovered. It won’t blow up or become corrupted with other gases. If helium were a person, it would be the Dalai Llama:  stable, adaptable, brilliant, admirable, noble, but unrepeatable when it’s gone. (That’s entirely my flight of fancy – please don’t tell any scientists you’ve met. And if you’re a scientist, pretend you haven’t read it.)

It’s also the second lightest of the gases. Hydrogen is lighter, but you wouldn’t want hydrogen balloons at your party. Students of 20th Century history will know of the terrible tragedy of the Hindenburg, the German passenger airship that blew up in 1937, killing 36. The jury’s still out on what actually started the fire, but certainly the hydrogen used to lift the dirigible was highly flammable.

Strangely, in spite of being the second most abundant gas in the universe, here on planet earth, helium is one of the world’s rarest elements, making up about 0.0005% of the earth’s atmosphere. It’s harvested from underground, from fields of other gases as a by-product of those gases.

Helium’s lightness is its downfall – or perhaps I should say, it’s upfall – because the minute it hits the surface of the earth it vamooses into outer space.  Gravity has no effect on it.  Whoosh, and it’s gone.  That’s why it’s so brilliant for party balloons. 

It’s put to better use in MRI scanners, where it acts as a coolant for the superconducting magnets that produce those astonishing images of your insides, and which have become such vital diagnostic tools.

The magic machine. Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

It’s a key component of the tanks that deep-sea divers wear – mixing it with oxygen helps prevent them getting “the bends”.  Without it, the Large Hadron Collider wouldn’t exist. Not only that, I’ve had to end my dreams of making my fortune smuggling radioactive materials because I’ve discovered that Helium-3 can aid in detecting neutrons from a long distance. It really is the most miraculous stuff.  

Since helium is so scarce and non-renewable, scientists and manufacturers are very keen that we don’t waste it.  Only 14 plants around the world produce helium for sale, in the following countries (and in order of quantity produced) – USA, Qatar, Algeria, Russia, Poland and Australia  Some of those plants only produce tiny amounts.

The USA did have huge quantities which had been stockpiled in the Federal Helium Reserve, but the stocks outstripped the demand for so long that in 1996, the US Government decided to get rid of its surplus, and cheaply.

However, as more and more uses have been found for this wonder gas, it’s become more expensive.  From 2007 to 2017, the price went up by 250%.

Crisis

In July 2017, the blockade of Qatar by a large group of other Arab countries meant the second largest supplier of helium was suddenly unable to sell or shift it out of the country. The blockade continues.

If that can happen, one can assume that those few other sources might not be much more reliable.  Algeria is hardly a model state. We live in an age of political instability. In August 2017, the EU was so concerned about stocks of this vital element that it added helium’s name to the list of Critical Raw Materials.  And who’d have thought that the President of the United States might threaten trade wars all over the place?  

I am indebted to Samantha Sophia on Unsplash for this excellent photo
of the 45th President of the United States of America.

This is all in spite of the fact that a huge reserve of helium was discovered in the Rift Valley, Tanzania in 2016.  You’d think people in the know would have been rejoicing and dancing in the street, but they’re still worried.  Supplies have not yet come on stream, and the price of helium rose 10% in the month after the find.  

Sadly, Tanzania is bedeviled by corruption and political instability.  The democracy established in 1994 that made the country so attractive to international investors for thirty years has proved tragically fragile, and the current president, John Magufuli, has rapidly transformed the country into a dictatorship of the usual depressing brutality.  You know the kind of thing – corruption, people disappearing, mutilated bodies turning up on beaches.

Okay, the quantity of helium found in the Rift Valley is very considerable, and it gives the world a great big breathing space (in a funny high voice).   But more and more uses are being found for the gas.  Yes, there will be more helium deposits found.  Higher prices of the gas will encourage more gas fields to harvest it from ever tinier deposits instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere as happens now.  Labs are finding ways to recycle it, and there is always the prospect of mining for it on the moon. 

But wouldn’t it be a bitter irony if we couldn’t have a vital MRI scan in 20 years time because we’d squandered so much of this marvellous stuff on party balloons?

What you will save

It depends if you’re planning Macy’s parade or having a party for three-year olds.  Hobbycraft online offer a Helium Balloon bundle for £28.  For that you get a helium canister, 10 white latex, 10 neon and 10 assorted balloons,  a packet of Unique Party Iridescent Curling Ribbon, and 6 Black Foil Balloon Weights.  No information is given about what to do with the empty canister, the iridescent curling ribbon and the foil weights… hmmm…

P.S.

Helium balloons come in three types.  Foil (known in the US as Mylar), latex and Macy’s parade.  The foil balloons are nasty little bastards, and have caused an enormous number of serious power cuts (or in the current rather ugly language, power outages).  It’s cos they float away, innit, and when they come into contact with power lines, they can cause a power surge or a short circuit.   Result – fires, melted electrical wires, power cuts, possible injuries, damage to properties, and enormous inconvenience all round.

So pretty, so annoying…
Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

If and when they bypass the power lines, they just float on up and up and up, expanding as they go. At about 7,000 feet, they often explode, or float into the countryside. Death Valley is apparently littered with thousands of spent party balloons. Lovely. Especially as they’re not biodegradable. So many reasons not to buy the little buggers. 

P.P.S.

I can’t leave without mentioning Lawn Chair Larry, the Californian daredevil who strapped a load of helium-filled weather balloons to an aluminium garden chair and shot up to 16,000 feet, drifted into LAX airport airspace, and finally came to earth on Long Beach having done a ton of damage to some power lines en route? Here he is, lifting off…

I’ve searched extensively to find who owns this picture but no joy. I feel strongly about correct credits so if you contact me, I am happy to pay the usual royalty.

Just in case you’re tempted to do the same thing, the notoriety destroyed him. He seems to have only had sporadic employment, and finally shot himself through the heart in Angeles National Forest. 

A sad ending.

Ooh, the things I have found out since starting this blog…! I dragged that photo (sorry, but at least I’m fessing up) from a website called findagrave.com. It was uploaded by Scott Michaels, I’m presuming he was the photographer and I’ve written him a nice email to tell him I’ve used his snap and I’ll pay him if necessary. What interesting hobbies some people do have!


ANTIBACTERIAL LAUNDRY CLEANSER

Are you planning to eat your underpants? Suck your jeans? Bandage a nasty cut with your freshly washed sweater? 

No? Then you do not need Dettol® Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser. 

This is the ultimate three-card trick of the laundry world, the cleverest, most pernicious con-job I’ve seen in a long time. Talk about inventing something completely unnecessary…

I am racking my brains to think why you might need hygienic clothing. 

Are you working in a research lab under the strictest of conditions? In which case, the lab will have its own routines, procedures and special clothing that keep the lab sterile. Same with a hospital. 

Are you looking after someone ill? You still don’t need antibacterial laundry cleanser because believe me, if the patient is THAT sick that they need totally sterile conditions, they won’t be at home under your care, they’ll be in an Intensive Care Unit.

Do you work with livestock? Have you just chucked up all over a favourite blouse? In which case, soaking the soiled articles in a bucket overnight, rinsing and then washing in a modern machine with modern detergent should do the trick. Repeat the process if there’s still a whiff or a stain. 

Look, clean clothing is nice. We all enjoy putting on a crisp, freshly laundered shirt. But it’s a shirt. It’s not dinner. It’s not a bandage. It doesn’t need to be hygienic. 

And here it is, in serried ranks, waiting to be bought…
© Chloë Goodridge, special researcher to Ms. Keane

The power of three

Dettol® are really onto a winner here, because this product is being sold as a third component of your wash. Yes, they advise you to use it IN ADDITION to detergent AND fabric conditioner. (I assure you, there’ll be a piece here on fabric conditioner later, fret not.) 

Here are the ingredients. I don’t pretend to understand them individually, all I know is that they are yet more ENTIRELY unnecessary chemicals being put into the poor overloaded sewage system.

Per 100 g Liquid, contains 1.44 g Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Di-C8- 10- Alkyldimethyl, Chlorides and 0.96 g Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Benzyl-C12-18-Alkyldimethyl, Chlorides, Contains 5% Non-Ionic Surfactants, Disinfectant, Perfume, Butyl Phenyl Methyl Propional, Hexyl Cinnamal and Citronellol.

That’s a lot of chemicals to get out of the system to make our tap water drinkable. Even if you insist on drinking bottled water (and I most sincerely hope you don’t), it’s nice to know you have potable water to make your tea and boil your vegetables in.

Still life with biscuit tin. How many laundries has the water in my tea been through, I wonder?

New products make waves

As far as I am aware, this is a new product on the market. I haven’t yet discovered any other anti-bloody-bacterial bloody laundry bloody cleansers for sale. (Let me know if I’m wrong – I can always edit!) But I have a ghastly feeling that now this has come on sale, the suits in the other detergent/cleanser companies will be cacking themselves in fright because Dettol® have stolen a march on them.

“Say, Chuck! Have you seen this new product, Dettol® Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser?”

“OMG, Sir, I just saw the cutesie-cutesie ad on TV last night for the first time and I shat my pants, it was such a great idea!”

“Yes siree, bob, and it’s for moments like that that we NEED to be selling an Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser of our own!”

“Don’t worry, Sir, I’ve authorised the Research and Development Team to get working on our own product!”

“Good man. We’ll strike the fear of laundry-related disease into the public.”

OMG, my cupboard is full of unhygienic clothing!

Fear sells

This product is a perfect example of Steve Jobs’ theory that we, the public, don’t know what we want until we see it in all its glory.

There are various marketing strategies that companies use, but the cleverest inspire either Lust or Fear. The iPhone was such a glorious piece of technology it made us weak with lust. On the other hand, this new laundry product reminds us that we are scared rigid about bacteria and socially terrified of being smelly. 

Here’s some of the blurb from the Sainsbury’s website. 

Dettol Laundry Cleanser is an additive that kills 99.9% of bacteria giving odour-free freshness : 1. Kills 99.9% of bacteria, even below 20ºC so that you can be confident that your laundry is hygienically clean every time, whatever temperature you wash at (proven to work in rinse cycle temperatures as low as 15ºC) 2. Gives odour-free freshness for up to 12 hours. It doesn’t just cover up malodour but eliminates odour causing bacteria at source….”

“Ideal for towels, children’s clothes, underwear, socks, bedding …and more…”

To kill viruses**
Soaking: add 1 cap to 2.5L of water and leave to soak for 15 mins
**Laboratory tested on influenza H1 N1; RSV; Coronavirus; Herpes Simplex Type

Note the various fear-triggering words in there…

  • bacteria
  • odour
  • malodour
  • children
  • viruses
  • influenza
  • herpes

…all designed to make you worried about something you NEVER thought of before – the fact that your laundry might emerge from the wash like creatures from the deep… contaminated and riddled with viruses!

Clean Seasalt socks. Whoever thought they might give me flu AND herpes!!!

Listen. You get your clothes out of the washing machine and dry them – tumble drier, washing line, heated towel rail – it doesn’t matter which. During the drying process they will come into contact with the air which is full of all sorts of microscopic bugs that we can do NOTHING about and which mainly do us NO harm. 

Maybe a fly lands on your t-shirt while it’s drying. Are you going to wash it again? Don’t be daft. 

You pop your knickers on and, whoopsie doo! A wee fart escapes. Are you going to wash them again? I no nink no. 

You do your trousers up and the dog jumps up to say hello. Are you going to put them back in the machine immediately? Don’t be ridiculous.

And if you’re not completely convinced, here’s this from the product description. 

Causes serious eye damage.

Ah. That’s not so good. Here’s another.

Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.

We are washing this stuff into the sewage system???

Oh, and there’s yet another empty plastic bottle at the end of it which is going to go… er… where?  Landfill, of course!!!!

Landfill. Not one of humankind’s greatest achievements.
Photo by Ayotunde Oguntoyinbo on Unsplash

Time was when Dettol® was a comforting product. Mum always had a bottle under the sink so that if a kid got sick on the bathroom floor, or the cat pooped in the kitchen, she’d clear it up, mop the floor and then go over it with a bit of Dettol®. She dabbed cuts and grazes with it too. The smell was clean and hospitally and safe. That’s not so surprising, as it started its life in hospitals where it was used in surgical procedures to clean cuts, wounds etc.

Now, it’s owned by Reckitt Benckiser, a British multinational consumer goods company, and it’s just another brand trying to make a buck in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace. Long term responsibility towards the planet doesn’t figure in the world of retail sales, I guess. Shame on them.

YOU DO NOT NEED HYGIENIC CLOTHING. I REPEAT, AND I MAKE NO APOLOGY FOR SHOUTING, YOU DO NOT NEED HYGIENIC CLOTHING. YOU DO NOT NEED THIS PRODUCT!!!

Finally, a word from Miss P.

Piper knows instinctively that a comforting cuddle is far more important than hygienic laundry.

PATIO HEATERS

Remember when you were a kid and you went to a bonfire night party and you stood by the huge fire?   Remember how your front was always roasting and your back was freeeeeeeeezing? 

Patio heaters are even less efficient than that.  

My googling tells me they cost anything from about £100 to £570.  They heat the open air.  The open air is a very big space.  It boldly goes all the way to Alpha Centauri and beyond.  And when you’ve heated a bit of that air, you have to buy another gas bottle to heat more air.  

And yes, I know that there’s an atmosphere between us and the great emptiness of outer space, I’m just trying to highlight the sheer futility of heating the outdoors. Especially as spring is finally here and the urge to sit outside gets stronger and stronger, and you suddenly become aware of all kinds of garden gubbins filling the shops: gazebos, swing seats and all that kind of mullarkey.

Of course patio heaters come in all shapes and types.  There are wall mounted, ceiling mounted and freestanding heaters.  There are tabletop heaters, and halogen bulb electric heaters.  There are fire pits, chimineas and every kind of stylish wood burning brazier which even I will admit I find attractive.  It’s a deeply primaeval need that impels us to huddle around a fire with a bunch of mates clutching a beer and a burnt sausage. 


Some years ago, I gave the Beloved a Chimenea for his birthday in desperation because I couldn’t think of anything else.  We put it together and lit it for the friends who’d gathered for a few bevvies, and have never used it since.  Piper didn’t want to pose and I now realise the decking needs a good scrub.  

However, it should be emphasised that whilst it is not a great idea to heat the outdoors at all in an overheating world, the ones that do the real damage are the ones with the gas bottles because they have special horrid qualities all their own. 

Time to give a big shout out to…

Surprising eco heroes? I don’t have permission to post this logo, but I don’t think they’ll mind me praising them.

In 2008, Curry’s actually stopped selling patio heaters because of ecological concerns.  (If you’re reading this anywhere else in the world, Curry’s is a huge electrical retailer in the UK with 295 superstores and 73 high street shops.)  This was a highly significant move on their part.  If only all those pubs and restaurants with outside heaters would follow suit.  

Curry’s decision came after a report the previous year by the EST (Energy Saving Trust) who found that the average patio heater emits around 50kg (110lb) of carbon dioxide per year.  So it doesn’t just heat the air, it emits that horrible CO2 that does so much damage to our lovely world.

Just in case you want to dismiss the EST as a bunch of spoilsport eco extremists, it’s actually an independent, impartial not-for-profit organization funded by the UK government and the private sector.   Its purpose is to advise on ways to save energy.   When the Chief Executive announced the findings of their research, he said, ‘Why don’t people just wear a jumper?’  Bless him.  A man after my own heart.

Even better – find someone else in a jumper and cuddle up.  Photo by Tom The Photographer on Unsplash

Clothing and fabrics have come a long way.  If you can afford a patio heater, you can afford a decent fleece or a duvet coat.  There are intelligent fabrics around these days that ensure that we don’t need to be cold ever again. Well, not in the normal way of things;  I’m assuming you aren’t living in Trondheim or half-way up a Himalaya.   Textile manufacturers have studied the business of keeping warm and there have been astonishing innovations in materials that will make sure you don’t freeze.  (And no, I’m not going to get into the subject of polyester, etc., right now.)  Fabrics can breathe, they can let sweat out and keep warmth in.  You can even get clever gloves that allow you to play with your iPhone without taking the gloves off.  Like your mum said, wrap up warm and you’ll be ok. 

Why would you want to heat the air?  Why in the name of sanity would you want to sit outside when it’s too cold to sit outside without a patio heater? Why, in an overheated, still overheating world, would you want to heat the air? 

What you’ll save

Let’s just go for the top of the range, shall we?  The Stainless Steel Goliath gas flame heater is £570.  You can get cheaper, but surely you want the best? For £570, you get just one of these babies – the stainless steel one which, for no fathomable reason, is more expensive than the black or white version.  Oh, and just remember, the gas will need replacing.  I don’t know about you, but replacing gas bottles becomes an awful faff after a bit. 

But, hey, it is a stylish piece of design and will heat your front, your sides AND your back, so long as you keep rotating.   

Here is the Goliath in all its glory.  Please do click on the link if you wish to purchase.  I won’t receive any payment.  Even I can see it’s a nice piece of kit, especially if you’ve decided that being out of doors on a cold evening is better than going inside and getting warm. 

Another idea…

Let’s just imagine what you could buy with £570 instead – and never have to struggle with changing the gas…

How about this marvel for starters?

I love the design of this The North Face – Summit L3 Down Hoodie – Down jacket but the name’s a bit of a mouthful

Normally this retails for £296.95 but at the time of publishing, this is going cheap for a mere £193.02 including VAT from Alpine Trek. Buy now to avoid disappointment!

Just in case you’re like me and always cold, why not add a fleece underlayer? This vibrant Arc’teryx garment is known as a Covert Cardigan. Yes, like a secret cardigan for rugged types, because as we all know, cardies can be a bit ageing. Not this splendid article though! This will set you back £140 at the Arc’teryx shop (ooh, doncha love that super-kool apostrophe!) in London where it is currently available in Kingfisher blue. Just click on the link to order it.

Arc’teryx get fabulous reviews on websites like switchbacktravel.com

You will have plenty left over to purchase these amazing electric gloves. So whether you’re guzzling frankfurters in a chilly back garden, hunting moose in Alaska, or simply suffering from arthritis, your hands never need be cold again! Worth every penny at £119.99 from Amazon.

Rechargeable batteries too!

Total spend so far – £453.01. And all of these items so much more portable than a patio heater!

You still have financial room to purchase a full set of thermals from Blacks, the excellent camping and leisure shops.  You’ll want two sets – one in the wash and one on the body – so that’ll set you back £30 (£15 each).

I’ve got a set of these – fan-bloody-tastic

To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to spend the full £570 – so far, the total spend is £483.01 so you’ve still got £86.99 left… How about 84 bars of delicious Kendal Mint Cake, a very popular choice amongst climbers for restoring energy in adverse weather?

You can order just 42 bars for £18 but I’ve taken advantage of the offer of free postage for orders over £20.

Now add this beautiful paisley scarf from John Henric of Sweden, a snip at £45 (currently reduced from £89 – don’t say I don’t find you bargains!)

Pity about the tie – it would be equally fab on a woman.

Trigger warning

Pictures of meat coming up. Both cooked and uncooked. I thought it best to mention.

So you are finally left with the princely sum of £5.99 which is just enough for two packs of Black Farmer Sausages which are my absolute favourites and which have the added bonus of being gluten free!

If you haven’t tried them, you haven’t lived. (With apologies to vegetarians and vegans who obvs have lived and do continue to live happily and healthily.)

Other things you can do

Does your local pub/café/restaurant have patio heaters?   Perhaps you might instigate a gentle and polite chat with the publican/owner/restaurateur and encourage them to either turn them off completely or at least use them a great deal less.  If it turns out that they have them on to keep smokers warm, perhaps you could point out that smokers might smoke a bit less if they think they’re going to freeze to death before lung disease carts them off to Paradise.  Thus, you will be contributing positively to the health of local smokers.  There you are, you see – two good deeds in one! 

What should I do with my old patio heater?

The gas cylinder can be taken back by the company you got it from.  The rest of the heater needs to be taken apart, and probably by someone who knows how to do it.  The stainless steel/cast iron/aluminium parts can be recycled as scrap, other components can’t be recycled and its ultimate destination is landfill, I’m sorry to say.  Yep, it’s yet another bloody potential pollutant.  So if you’ve got one, just leave it on the patio till someone invents a way of disposing of the whole thing. 

A final question…

Should we give up barbecuing?

Blimey, what a thought. 

Imagine the cultural impact on Australia and South Africa if barbies and braais were banned!!!  Whole nations would be in crisis!  I don’t want to be responsible for national trauma, thank you. 

Seriously, “I don’t know” is my straight answer, but my feeling is that barbies are probably less damaging given that we use our barbecues for a far shorter time than we use the patio heater.  Once the chicken legs or veggie brochettes are on the plate, the fire dies down or the gas is turned off… but then we stay out all evening under that bloody patio heater, emitting CO2 like lunatics…  it’s not really in the same league, is it?

And besides, the Beloved likes nothing better than transforming a humble chop into pure anthracite and wrapping his gob round it moments later.  There’s no way I’d be able to make him relinquish his role as The Great Blackener of Meat.  One has to accept one can only do so much.

Meals of pure charcoal are an inevitable part of my summer.  Particularly when it’s beginning to rain.  Photo by Paul Hermann on Unsplash

A word from Miss Pips

Here is a picture of Piper in the snow, wearing nothing but her Christmas Kerchief.  She doesn’t know why we don’t grow lovely thick coats like she’s got.