SHOPPING…

“What??? Shopping???” I hear you cry. “Has the woman lost her wits? SHOPPING? None of us is shopping now, in case you haven’t noticed, you great lummox!!!”

Well, of course I had. But firstly, I hope this finds you all in full health, and living the quiet life.

Strange times, eh?

We’ve all been upended by this ruddy coronavirus, haven’t we? I’m at home now having got 2/3 of the way through a theatre tour which was of course cancelled, or rather, postponed. But to be quite honest, I’d started to feel heartsick with worry for my old man. So I’m surprisingly relieved to be home with the people I love, preparing for what looks like a long siege.

And so are most of you. It’s not been too bad this far, apart from the occasional clutch of alarm when some twazzock comes and stands right behind you in the queue at the chemist – and then coughs… Yikes! But modern communication means that we can stay in touch with family and friends and my WhatsApp groups have been extremely busy with all sorts of hilarious nonsense.

But we are going to have to change our lives, and one area we can change is in our constant desire for the acquisition of stuff. Listen, I’m not oblivious to the joy of a new dress, buying a pretty antique vase, or bringing home a souvenir from abroad. However, especially in the light of the present circumstances, it seems a rather shallow pleasure.

Can we learn to live without shopping? Can we learn to only buy when we need, and to buy quality over quantity? Few of us will have the money to purchase anything for the next while, so can we make it the habit of a lifetime?

Dahling, don’t you just LOVE all those classy bags????
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Shopping as a pastime

We’re encouraged to think that shopping is a lovely way to spend the day. Hmmm.

I live near an excrescence known as Bicester Village where you can get wispy little designer frocks in a size zero reduced from £3000 to £1500 and other high end “bargains”. Honestly, Bicester Village is full of Shit You Don’t Need! People come in droves and at Christmas, the queues down the A41 are shocking. Coachloads, families in cars, minibuses from other parts of the UK. Imagine what the traffic is doing to the air, all that fossil fuel being burnt! All that pollution!

Bicester Village, strangely empty because I took the photo on 21 March before we went into lockdown but clearly, business was right down even then.

I’ve been there – reluctantly – to get the odd gift. Am I lucky in being able to say that going to Bicester Village brings me no pleasure? I think so but…

The rise of designer shityoudon’tneed…

There was, I think, a massive turning point in the 1980s when the French designer, Philippe Starck, looked at the old toothbrush and the workaday lemon squeezer and thought, “Mais regardez cette vielle chose, c’est terrible!” Or something along those lines. And lo, squillions of these gadgets became (and continue to be) an ornament to all fashionable bathrooms and kitchens.

Sweetie, it’s simply iconic!

Suddenly, everything had to be designed, re-thought, beautified and made stylish.

Especially us. Magazines urge us to make ourselves over, to rethink our living spaces, to order that stylish kettle, the latest iPhone, an Arne Jacobsen egg chair. We must purchase new and fashionable table linen, Christmas china for once-a-year Yuletide glory, 50s retro furniture., etc. Throw out that brown furniture belonging to your grandmother! Buy new towels to match your tiling! Heaven forfend that you should have last season’s bag / trainers / eye-shadow!

And where will your old stuff go? The charity shop – okay, good. Bonfire – hmmm, not so good. Landfill – BAD.

Temptation at every turn

Even online, we’re greeted by Satan and his harpoon with every click. Amazon suggests “other books I might like”. Sahara, which sells lovely clothes for older women who resent beige (me) and don’t want to blend into the background (me again), sends me regular emails featuring photos of my kinda clobber. It takes strength to resist. I don’t always succeed.

In the chemist, BOGOFS and other bargain offers tempt the most hardened shopper. Ooh! I think, 3 supersize bottles of body lotion for the price of 2, must get those! A year later, I’m still working my way through bottle no. 2.

At the supermarket, tempting delicacies attractively packaged and arrayed at eyeline level to distract me from my carefully written shopping list. Even when I stick to the list, my old man subverts my good intentions when he “just happens to pass M&S” and stocks up on dainty morsels in plastic trays. He’s mad for those fishy mousse thingies, so we end up with a fridge groaning with grub, and me grouching about waste.

And at this very moment, the fear of empty store cupboards has led people to madly shop for loo roll (grr) and food, much of which is expected to be thrown out as people have bought far too much fresh food.

Chatting last Friday to the stallholder of a local market stall (a judicious 2m apart, I hasten to add) he said, “You wouldn’t believe how much people are buying, at least 3 times more than usual. Dunno how they’re going to use it all.”

But shopping gives us a kick!

Much has been written about how the brief rush of pleasure we get from shopping can become addictive. I’m not going to go into it in depth here, but here’s a nice summation from the Priory website. (The Priory is an addiction clinic in the UK.)

When we make a purchase, our brain releases endorphins and dopamine. For some, this momentary pleasure can lead to compulsive shopping, as the instant reward and motivation to re-experience the ‘rush’ starts to outweigh self-control and practical financial considerations.

Oh, the pleasure of shopping doesn’t last.

But debt lasts…

Today, Sofology the sofa shop is offering interest free credit on purchases over £500. That’s today, 27th March 2020, when the world is in meltdown and people are losing their jobs and their income right left and centre. Here’s a bit of blurb from the website.

We don’t think you should have to wait or save up before you can feel at home on a sofa you love. With our range of payment options, you can select the option that works best for you, and order the sofa of your dreams today.

I only mention Sofology because their current advert annoys me. This sentiment is echoed all over the internet and what’s left of the high street. Why should you save up for something? If you WANT it, you MUST HAVE it! You’re ENTITLED!

Because you’re worth it!

Somehow, during the 67 years I’ve been breathing the air on Planet Earth, shopping has transmogrified from buying what you needed to ordering what you deserve.

When I was a child, you might need anything from a loaf of bread to a new outfit for a wedding, but if you didn’t need it, you didn’t purchase it. Now, thanks to L’Oreal grasping the zeitgeist with ruthless brilliance, we think we are worth it – whatever “it” is. We accumulate stuff simply because we imagine it enhances our sense of self-esteem. My very glamorous mother had one lipstick, I have five. Some women have many more than that. Young people are encouraged to buy ultra-cheap clothing, wear it once and then chuck it. OMG, can’t be seen wearing the same thing twice!

The visual blight

Our desire for stuff has blighted our countryside with vast distribution centres the size of towns.

Each of those small yellow blobs is a huge truck. I lost count of how many of these buildings like this there are in Magna Park, Milton Keynes

Where are we supposed to grow crops?

Our desire for stuff means our homes are full, so our towns are desecrated with storage units.

Appropriately, the colour of the rape flower.

Is this really how we want our towns to look?

Our lockdown opportunity

So now we’re all holed up at home in unsplendid isolation, and shopping has been transformed overnight into a risky necessity. Wouldn’t this be a really good time to address our habit of acquisition, and abandon shopping for the sake of shopping? And when we come out of our siege, could we make sure we don’t rush headlong for the shops and start the whole damn cycle over again. After all, you can bet the Burghers of Calais didn’t make a dash for Carrefour the minute Edward III spared them in 1346. They’d have gone home to their families and thanked providence.

End notes.

I hope everyone stays safe. Thanks to all the new people who’ve joined. I shall try and keep an optimistic tone to this blog as life is tricky enough as it is. Some are saying that this pandemic could slow climate change quite considerably, proving that it’s an ill wind and all that mullarkey. But I think we’d all rather that it wasn’t this particular ill wind!

If you’re reading this on the website, the photo at the top is by Erik Mclean on Unsplash. If you’re reading this at home, there’s no picture at the top. Don’t ask me why, blame the vagaries of WordPress.

Unattributed photos were retrieved from t’internet by yours truly by cunning means of screenshot and cropping.

Please continue to share and do tell your friends about the blog, but only if you’re standing 2 metres away.

Obligatory animal pic

Piper loves going for a drive. She won’t be doing that for a bit.

She’s a bit of a back seat driver, if I’m honest.

THE SHAHTOOSH

Now for something COMPLETELY different. We’re all working hard to reduce our plastic, and our carbon footprint, and now and then we need a break from being virtuous. Besides, I don’t want this blog to get too preachy, so here’s a piece of SYDN I hope you never have to worry about. And I think it’s pretty fascinating.

Okay. Think of the softest pashmina you ever felt. Nice, wasn’t it? Soft, warm, and oh so caressing. Imagine if it was quite a bit softer, softer and finer. That’s not a pashmina, it’s a shahmina, made from even finer fibres than a pashmina. Gorgeous. OMG, can something so fine be THAT warm?

Now imagine it finer and softer still. As fine as the thinnest, flimsiest silk and yet warmer by far. Finer even than the softest vicuña woven for the King of the Aztecs. So fine that a huge shawl can be pulled through a pinkie ring.

That, my friends, is a Shahtoosh. The word gossamer was surely invented to describe it. Made from the finest fibres in the world, plucked from the beard and belly of Chiru – a Tibetan antelope. You have to be a master weaver to be able to handle those unbelievably delicate fibres. Naturally, rich people love ’em.

The innocent Chiru on the Hoh Xil Natural Reserve in Tibet. Before we all give up tourism, I would love to travel out there with https://www.tibettravel.org/ to see these animals on the roof of the world.

I’m rich, I want one!

Sorry, you can’t have one. It’s illegal to sell or even own one in most countries. This is because the Shahtoosh is the textile equivalent of the Elephant’s Tusk, or the Ocelot Fur Coat. Just as it takes more than one ocelot to make a coat, it takes between three and five hides to make one shawl. You see, the endangered Chiru has to be killed for its coat. No, the fur can’t be sheared or combed, the animal must be killed. Deaded. Deprived of life. Just for its underhair.

Why can’t you breed them?

The Chinese have tried, but it’s been a complete failure. The Chiru have very poor survival rates in captivity. They breed at incredibly high altitudes which humans cannot manage for long periods of time. It’s life at these high altitudes which makes them develop their super-thick coats, and they need an enormous amount of space to forage for food in such a hostile environment.

You can actually see these remarkable animals in Tibet if you go with tibetravel.org

Any relaxation in the law makes it a great deal harder to enforce the prohibition on making, selling or owning a Shahtoosh. Not even the finest forensic examination could tell whether the shawl came from a wild or captive animal. Just to clarify – pashminas and shahminas are mainly made from the hair of the Changthangi, or Cashmere goat. This is perfectly acceptable because the goat sheds its coat in spring and can be combed. The Shahtoosh can only be made from the fleece of the Chiru and this animal cannot be sheared or combed. And as these animals are protected, they must of necessity be poached.

So legalisation and herding would undoubtedly lead to a rapid decline in the population of the Chiru because forensics wouldn’t be able to tell if the animals were from herds or from poaching. The bitter irony is that captive breeding stimulates poaching. Why go to all the bother of trying to raise herds and live in such an inhospitable climate, when you can just take a smart hunting rifle with telescopic sights and pick off a few animals to ake home?

Ok, it’s a niche piece of SYDN. But one day, you may come across a Shahtoosh and I guarantee that you will recognise it now you’ve read this far.

My encounter with a Shahtoosh

We had a very wealthy old lady round to supper, a friendly acquaintance of my other half. I didn’t know her well, but she’d donated heavily to a charitable project he was involved in, and supper was our way of thanking her. As she was leaving, I picked up her ‘shawl’ to hand it to her, and my jaw dropped. It almost floated into my hands. I was horrified.

“How many animals died for this?” I said, without thinking.

She had the grace to look embarrassed.

“Don’t ask!” she said. “I didn’t know when I bought it.”

There was nothing more to be said, so I handed it to her quietly. She was our guest, she was in her very late 70s, she’d been incredibly generous elsewhere, and I wasn’t going to bring five rare antelopes back to life by haranguing an old lady.

She’s now been dead for some years, and her Shahtoosh probably went to the charity shop. I hope someone got it for a tenner and it’s been keeping them warm all these years later. It would be horrible to think that five antelope died for their coats to end up in the tip.

But I shall never forget that wonderful, ravishing fabric. I felt like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe when he eats the White Witch’s Turkish Delight. I wanted – no, I lusted – after one of my own. But I will never own one.

Still being made…

Yes, I’m sorry to say they are still being made secretly in Kashmir because they are in high demand. Rich people love them – you know, the kind of people who instal a gold toilet in their bathroom. And it’s MUCH easier to get away with than a mink coat because (a) not many people know about Shahtooshes and (b) they just look like a beautiful fine bit of fabric.

Sometimes human beings are so disappointing.

What you will save…

Online research tells me that these tender stoles sell for about £4,000-£5,000.

As lovely as any antelope…

My beloved companion, wee Piper. Going a bit grey like her mother.

Footnotes

Picture credits. I couldn’t find any snaps of Chirus on free websites, so I snuck the pics from the https://www.tibettravel.org/ site. And no, I don’t get a kickback if you do book a holiday with them! The scarves at the top are mine, some are pashminas, some aren’t, but I needed something colourful.

I am researching something serious for next time. Keep the faith, and keep sharing.

WILDLY UNNECESSARY SPECIALIST PLASTIC BAGS

“But I’ve got my Bag for Life!” I hear you cry!

Yes, yes, of course you have. Me too. In fact, I’ve got seventeen Bags For Life, because I keep forgetting to bring them to the supermarket so I have to buy a new one, simply proving that I’m a forgetful twazzock of epic proportions.

In fairness, plastic bags are only the teensiest, tiniest part of the problem of plastic pollution, but we have to start somewhere.

And they’re everywhere. Here’s a by-no-means comprehensive list of single use bags you can stop buying. You have to hand it to the packaging manufacturers and their marketing departments, they’ve worked REALLY hard to make us think we need different bags for every occasion!

Sandwich bags. Lordy Bill, there are so many other ways to keep your sarnies fresh – in a wax wrapper. in foil or greaseproof paper – or even a plastic box you can use again and again.

Snack bags. Yes, there are such things and they are entirely separate and distinct from sandwich bags. Big Bad Bag Corp would like us to believe that we need BOTH snack bags AND sandwich bags. OMG, imagine the confusion if you put your snack in your sandwich bag and your sarnie in your snack bag! You might eat your BLT double decker thinking it was a piece of fruit and then you’d have nothing left for lunch! Gastronomic confusion would reign supreme!

Pictures of fruit on the bags are there to make you think you’re taking the healthy option.

Freezer bags. These are not particularly practical. They flop in the freezer and either stick to the surface or wrap themselves round whatever they’re sitting on. Boxes stack so much better and can be reused indefinitely with care.

Stoopid.

Ice cube bags. Yes. Ice cube bags. I ask you. ICE CUBE BAGS!!! Which you have to tear and shred to get the ice out and then throw away… Oh puh-leeeeeeeeze! Use an ice tray!!!

Slow cooker liners. Whaaat? People actually COOK their FOOD in a PLASTIC BAG, without wondering what petrochemical-type contaminants might be leaching into their food? Yikes. The packet says “Keep pots clean – seal in flavour”. Accept it, making stews means you have to wash the pot afterwards. Just soak it overnight, or leave it on simmer full of water for a while, and that should make the crusty bits come off the side.

Roasting bags. Again, another ruse to sell you something completely unnecessary in the belief that somehow it will save you time and effort. It means you miss all the gorgeous, gooey cooking juices under the meat. If you want to protect the top of the dish from burning, use a saved butter wrapper and mould that round your chicken or yer chops or whatever. And if you really want to seal in your roast and keep your oven clean, you can make a ‘bag’ from a large piece of greaseproof paper. Eezi-peezi.

Wastepaper bin liners. Are you a hotel? Probably not. And even if you are, stop it. Put a piece of newspaper at the bottom of the bin if you must. I hate the way hotels put those flimsy liners in their bins. Thousands and thousands of these get dumped every day with just a tissue or a couple of bits of cotton wool in them. If hotels equipped their chamber staff with rubber gloves and a damp cloth it would be a great deal better for the environment. (I now travel with a plastic box for my waste cottonwool etc., and instead of using the bins in hotel rooms, I take it home and dispose of it there.)

Dog poo bags made of plastic. No excuse, chaps, been here before. You can get biodegradable bags everywhere in which to pop those plops.

Customs bags. You know, the ones they make you put your costmetics in to go through the machines at the airport. Get one, and keep it for next time. And the next. And so on.

What about big bin bags?

As to big bin bags, I’m resigned to having to use them. The hazards of being a garbage collector are enormous – they never know what foul stuff they’re picking up, whether it’s diseased, or full of rodents, insects, toxic waste, hypodermic syringes, broken glass etc etc… So until such time as garbage collection is mechanised, bin bags are vital for providing at least a small level of protection for these workers.

But most plastic bags are unnecessary, and if you need to be reminded of how plastic never disappears from the planet even when you can’t see it, read my piece on cling film/Saran wrap. If that doesn’t give you the holy horrors, I don’t know what will.

Nice and short this time, eh!

All photographs taken by Yours Truly, most of them in Sainsbury’s of Bicester. I think we can all agree that I’ve done a MARVELLOUS job. Okay, they’re a bit shite, but frankly I haven’t yet got used to the embarrassment of going round shops and photographing things like a weirdo.

My current challenge

I’m on tour, which means eating microwave meals at the theatre every day. I’ve challenged myself to do this without single-use plastic and am reporting my progress on my Twitter feed. It’s quite bothersome but because I am such a geek, I’m rather enjoying the challenge. @DillieKeane if you’re interested. Also @ShitYeDontNeed.

And finally… Here’s a picture of a hound, but not Piper this time as she is fed up with me for going on tour and refused to pose. Sorry, Pips, I shall be home the whole summer and we’ll make hay (and definitely jam) together and you can play hide and seek in the dahlia forest.

Meanwhile, this is Barney, our beloved Labrador, in the Drug Chair. It’s called the Drug Chair because there are strange aromatic medicaments in the upholstery that cause whoever sits there to go to sleep during interesting television programmes which means the rest of us have to watch them again.

Barney, an 11 and a half year old puppy, here asking you to admire his mighty tackle. He’s such a bloke, really. Even still, he is the nicest, gentlest, huggiest chap in the world.

ALMONDS…

Or mainly, almond milk. Yes, that surprisingly pleasant milk-substitute beloved of Clean Eaters everywhere.

As more of us drift towards a meat-free life, it beckons temptingly. You’re almost elevated to dietary sainthood the moment you whisper with a shudder, “Oh! I don’t do dairy, do you have any almond milk?”

Yes, it’s hugely popular, not just with vegan converts and bearded hipsters, but those unlucky enough to be lactose or dairy intolerant. When I was young, no-one had ever heard of lactose intolerance. I suppose people just suffered in silence and wondered why a milky coffee made them fart like an ancient Morris Traveller.

However, there is nothing virtuous about almond milk. Nothing at all.

I have no idea if this is almond blossom, but it is very pretty and livens up the page a bit.
Photo by Jorge Alvarez on Unsplash

Are Californians drinking dirty water?

On average, it takes 12 litres of water to grow one almond. 12 litres! Almost as bad as avocados

Most of the world’s almonds come from California, so there’s quite a carbon footprint too. According to the Almond Board of California, and they should know, the state “produces about 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the U.S. commercial supply. Almonds are California’s #1 agricultural export.”

It’s also the most extensively irrigated crop in the state, in spite of the fact that poor old California has had an appalling drought since 2010.

All trees that produce crops of any kind need a constant supply of water, so when there’s no rain, farmers irrigate their crops with water taken from wells drilled deep down into the aquifers. These are layers of permeable rock containing groundwater.

In normal times, aquifers are refilled with rain. But after 10 years of drought, the higher aquifers are empty. So farmers are drilling deeper and deeper. This means the quality suffers. Why?

  • Salinity increases the deeper you go. Salty water isn’t good for the soil and it’s not nice to drink.
  • In some built up areas, groundwater basins are contaminated by industrial chemicals.
  • Away from the towns, nitrates from fertilisers often pollute local drinking water supplies. This should worry people a great deal more than it does as it can have severe health consequences: hypoxia/hypoxemia***, cancers and thyroid problems.
  • Near the coast, salt water flowing into yet more aquifers doesn’t help crops – and again, it’s not good for drinking. 

It gets scarier. In an op-ed for the LA Times, the distinguished scientist and hydrologist Jay Famiglietti, claims that California is at risk of running out of water.

What drought really does…

We think of drought this way – it dries up what we can see in front of us – brown grass, curling leaves, failed crops etc.

What we don’t realise that it affects the land in a much more frightening way.

There is huge subsidence in the vast San Joaquin Valley, where most of the almonds are grown. The aquifers are slowly collapsing deep underground, and when aquifers collapse, so does the ground we stand on. Land that sinks – no matter how slowly – is dangerous for roads, bridges, levees, buildings – infrastructure of every sort.

This photo, snuck from the Water Education Foundation, shows how far the land subsided in 25 years.

In turn, this makes the mountains ranges running alongside the valley higher, and this increases the likelihood of earthquakes.

Remember, this is in California, which you might call Earthquake Central. This massive subsidence been identified as the largest human alteration of the Earth’s surface. Wow.

In fairness, this is a process that has taken 150 years of sucking the water out of the ground to create farmland out of marsh. But the rush to cash in on the almond milk boom has led to almond acreage in California increasing by over 80% in the decade between 2009 and 2019. Trees need much more water than cabbages.

Thus groundwater depletion is happening quicker and quicker, which means the land is sinking faster and faster, “nearly 2 inches (5 centimeters) per month in some locations“. (NASA).

Eek. Eek, and thrice eek.

You can’t grow almonds without bees…

Almonds are actually fruits, and fruit trees need bees for pollinating.

Just in case you’ve forgotten what a bee looks like, here’s a beautiful close up by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash. Marvel at the pollen baskets on its back legs!

Let’s hear from the Almond Board again.

  • About 1.6 million colonies of honey bees are placed in California almond orchards at the beginning of the bloom period to pollinate the crop.
  • After almonds, honey bees move throughout the United States, pollinating over 90 other crops and making honey.

This is what’s known as migratory beekeeping, and it leads to bees being stressed.

Actually, the term, “migratory beekeeping” makes me cross because it’s wilfully misleading. Bees are most definitely NOT migratory, In normal circumstances, they feed on a wide variety of nectars.

What it means in reality is that hives are trundled from crop to crop as each needs to be pollinated in turn. While the bees are being driven, perhaps hundreds of miles, they’re in closed cartons, unable to fly.

In addition, transporting them from one monoculture to another deprives them of a balanced diet. Almonds are grown in great monocrops – acres and acres of nothing but almonds. Come on, you’d get sick if you ate nothing but chocolate for three weeks and then moved on to baked beans for a month, followed by a fortnight on eggs. This is basically what is required of these “migratory” bees.

Shunting them about the country also increases the risk of spreading parasites and diseases, not only amongst managed hives but also among the depleted wild bee populations they might just encounter round the edges of these monocultures.

In fact, all crops are more effectively pollinated by a mix of honey and wild bees than by honeybees alone. But there are no other foods for the bees, so the farms rely 99% on these “migratory honeybees” with virtually no extra input from other pollinators.

Slave bees, more like.

And then there’s insecticides, upon which almond growers are so dependent. A study last year which looked at the toxic combination of insecticides and fungicides on bees in almond orchards reported the following:

  • increased larval mortality,
  • increased deformed brood
  • a significant number of colonies completely dead.

The decline of bees around the world should make this a matter of deep concern.

A busy bee going about its business on what might be almond blossom – who knows? Marvellous. We must fight their corner. Photo by Zuleika Sequeira on Unsplash

While I’m at it, let’s not demonise farmers. They’re making a living, and many of them are at their wits end as to how to improve farming. The safety of bees, the absurdity of monocultures and the use of groundwater needs to be dealt with by legislation at state and national level.

But St Gwynnie of GOOP drinks it!

Yes, the fragrant Gwyneth Paltrow, the not-as-vegan-as-you-thought goddess with the noxiously idiotic lifestyle website GOOP, apparently has a smoothie made with almond milk every morning – whether or not she is detoxing! So it must be the superest of super things evah, hey?

A random smoothie. Nothing to do with the Blessed Gwynnie. But is that her face appearing in the lime??? Photo by Alina Karpenko on Unsplash

Oh yes, the internet is awash with any number of clean eating influencers promoting the virtue of replacing dairy with almond milk.

So how nutritious is it?

Go to the Alpro website and you will find this list of the benefits of drinking “almond original”. My comments in italics.

  • Naturally Lactose Free
  • 100% plant-based
  • Vegetarian (er… isn’t that the same as 100% plant based?)
  • Naturally low in fat
  • Naturally low in saturated fat (Surely that’s just a subheading under “fat”?)
  • Low in sugars (But since you can get unsweetened almond milk, I think we can assume the these sugars are added…)
  • Rich in Fibre (except all the nut is taken out)
  • A source of calcium. Contains vitamins B2, B12 and D.
  • Source of calcium and vitamins D and B12. (Sorry guys, you just said that!) Vitamin B12 contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Search as I might, I can’t find any evidence to say it’s any better for you than old-fashioned cow’s milk or, for that matter, any other non-animal milk.

Lactose intolerance and veganism

Some people are lactose (dairy) intolerant. Others hate the milk industry and make a moral choice not to drink it. For both groups, doing without milk is a serious nuisance. And this isn’t a perfect world and frequently we have to make quick choices that we know aren’t good for the planet.

But if you do decide to change from almond milk, and I hope you do, oat milk and coconut milk seem to be a wee bit less damaging, even though they come in Tetra Paks which are much less eco-friendly than you might think. (But that’s for another time…)

Better still, make your own almond milk. Buy almonds grown near you (they’re grown in Australia, Europe, Asia and North Africa) and get bottling. Here’s a handy recipe to start you off. Chefs don’t like the pulp, I gather, but there are any amount of recipes out there for using the by-product. Or use it to make an exfoliating scrub.

My final question…

Is it worse for me to buy cow’s milk delivered in a glass bottle which will be used again and again (yes, we still get ours like that!) or a Tetra Pak of almond milk that goes on fouling the planet long after you’ve finished with it?

Ahh, life is so complicated!

***Request for my brother Frank

*** Frank, am I correct in stating that hypoxia and hypoxemia (low oxygen in your tissues/blood) will occur when the mechanism by which methemoglobin is formed is affected, “thereby inhibiting the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood“? My research seemed to point to this.

Note to the rest of you. My brother Frank is an eminent surgeon, and therefore a proper Man of Science. And yes, I could have asked him before publishing, but I don’t think it hurts to show my areas of ignorance and my efforts to redress this! And besides, I’m off on tour any minute, and want to get this out there!

Meanwhiles, welcome to all of you who have joined recently, and thanks to chuttersnap on Unsplash for the photo of the almonds at the top. Honestly, without the wondrous Unsplash’s free photos, this blog would be very dull to look at.

But of course, the best picture of all is the one of the… yes… wait for it… the One And Only beloved Mutt who has a starring role in this blog.

Quite rightly. She is a very eco-minded Person-Dog as she loves to lick the plates in the dishwasher before the cycle starts, thus extending the life of the machine. She firmly believes that hygiene is less important than waste.

What a clever dog!

BELOVÉD ECO-MUTT!

Her Ladyship in wistful mode, gently fantasising about killing rabbits.
Photo by Jaimondo Sharpe, who is Piper’s second favourite human bean after me.

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

My last post garnered a few useful recommendations from my excellent readers, so rather than sit on them for a few months I thought I would pass them on. Strike while the iron is hot. Thanks to you all, it’s bloody brilliant to know that there’s a host of other eco-worriers out there doing their bit.

Ecodoggie!

As my dog is a person-owner (I wouldn’t dream of saying it the other way round, I am Piper’s slave!) I have been using bio-degradable poo-bags for some years. You can get scented ones but that is er, gilding the, er, lily, surely? I never have trouble getting them from pet shops – but Shirley Jordorson recommends the ones you can get on ecovibeuk. Just make sure that they are entirely plant-based.

Ecovibe dog poo bags. Most website photos these days are protected so you can’t grab ’em and use ’em again. Since I’m sending you to their sites with no advantage to myself, I have no compunction about taking a screen shot instead, and cropping it.

However, even the best and most bio bags don’t necessarily degrade within a year if they’re buried beneath vast piles of other garbage at the dump. You need light and oxygen to compost stuff, so disposing of the bag correctly is important. Do try and use those dedicated dog poo bins. The contents are taken to commercial composting facilities where high temperatures ensure both the bags and Rover’s whoopsies are properly composted.

Better still, if the Mutt poops in your back garden, have a shovel handy and tip it down the loo without a bag. Yes, really.

Soap!

Catherine Read recommends her pal’s website, Sea Green Soap which looks delightful. At the moment, you have to go through her Facebook page to purchase, but it’s worth having a peek especially as she has some doggy soap on offer!

This looks pretty and marvellous.

Last year, I went with my two NSDs (Non-Step-Daughters) on a morning’s soap-making course. I have to say it’s not rocket science. It was good fun, but the main thing I remember was that our teacher wouldn’t let us use the rose oil as it was too expensive. Never mind, we’re still using the soap and it’s lovely.

My lemongrass and parsley scented soap with poppyseed scrub! It smells gorgeous, actually.

Scourers

My old pal Kristin got in touch to sing the praise of coconut fibre scourers. “They’re fantastic. Biodegradable, non-scratch etc. Highly recommend them.” Thanks Kristin! I am ordering some from Ecovibe – plus a number of other interesting, non-plastic cleaning products I’ve discovered on their COMPLETELY BRILLIANT website. And they plant a tree in Australia with every order over £30.

And just in case you’re wondering, yes, those sponge scourers are made from polymers. In other words, plastic. Get with the coconut scrub pads, folks!

As always, worth buying in bulk…

Gas gas gas…

Finally, Shirley recommends switching for your power to Good Energy. They don’t supply you with 100% renewable, they actually have rather a complex system of trading energy, but the thrust of what they’re trying to do is to significantly increase the amount of energy we use from renewable sources. And they own a number of wind and solar sites.

Shirley says, “The supply costs a bit more , but they are a lovely friendly company, who take the time to give you a personal service.”

Frankly, the energy companies we’ve used in recent years have been so appalling I would be happy to pay a bit more. I’ll see what the old man thinks.

Plaudits

Time also to give praise to some companies that are doing wonderful things. Shirley reminded me of 4Oceans (I’m wearing the bracelet right now, thank you so much, I was incredibly touched to get it!) They’re taking plastic from the oceans and making bracelets from them – mind you, they have taken so much plastic from the oceans it’s hard to imagine that there are enough wrists in the world to wear the squazillion bracelets they could make. Still, it’s a heroic and laudable enterprise, so hurrah for 4Oceans.

Shirley’s second valediction goes to Revive Eco, a little Scottish company run by two young Scots lads who are turning waste coffee grounds into a substitute for palm oil. I’d never heard of them but will be keeping an eye out for them in future. Have a gander at their blog – they’re pretty amazing and I wish them huge success.

More…

I’ve had lots of recommendations on the Facebook page and also in comments here, but this is long enough already and I want to get this out to everyone before I head to Memphis… yes, ratcheting up that carbon footprint. But it’s not for a holiday, it’s for the funeral of my other half’s brother, and sometimes you must put family before good intentions and worthy behaviour. So this comes from a very sad version of me, because he was a lovely man and we were enormously fond of one another.

And you haven’t had your picture of the dog!

Here she is looking moodily hirsute on a recent visit to Hammersmith.
Picture by Jaimondo Sharpe.

Till next time, then. xxxx

We recommend!

I thought I would start 2020 on a positive note, so I asked my colleagues for their eco-recommendations. (For those of you who don’t know me in my other life as a cabaret performer, I work with a group called Fascinating Aïda and as we’re all working together right now, it seemed like a good idea to sound them out.

Me – Who gives a crap!

Splendid eco paper for the eco bottom!

I never believed I could get excited about loo roll, but 2019 saw a deep and profound change in me and all I can say is this bamboo marvel is the dog’s bollocks. It’s quite expensive – however, it is so densely rolled that each roll lasts MUCH longer than yer usual gubbins. We ordered 10 boxes back in March for all the family (3 households, 9 people) and we still haven’t had to order any replacements. Order 10 boxes and you get a a hefty discount.

Apart from anything else, this exemplary company donates 50% of its profits towards building toilets for people who don’t have them. Bravo!

If you’re wondering why you should stop using conventional loo roll, here is the gen in brief. It destroys forests. Ancient forests. Here‘s the longer piece which was my first blog. I’m sure you’ll be just as horrified as I was after doing the research.

Of course the downside of the discovery that bamboo can replace so much could lead to more deforestation for endless bamboo plantations, much like the palm oil plantations despoiling much of Indonesia etc. But we’re not there yet and so here’s my hurrah for Who Gives A Crap.

Me – Georganics toothpaste

It takes a few days to get used to this – it’s a bit odd and claggy. Colgate and their rivals have, after all, worked very hard to make their products deliciously irreplaceable. But their plastic tubes are the work of the devil and Georganics toothpaste comes in recyclable glass jars with metal lids! Better still, for peppermint haters (Adèle) there is an orange flavour for your oral delectation.

Top tip – if you’re ordering online, order in pairs. I ordered three, thinking I was being clever. The third arrived all lonely in a box perfectly sized for two…

LiveCoco Toothbrush Heads

Our Company Manager, Fiona McCulloch, recommends these, I can’t speak for them myself as I’ve gone over to bamboo toothbrushes, but they’re worth exploring. Yes, they are plastic, but the idea is that they last you three months and then you send them back to LiveCoco where they are properly recycled.

Ecosia

She also recommends the search engine, ECOSIA, which I use instead of Google. Ecosia is a remarkable German company that donates 80% of its profits to tree planting schemes, and to date it has planted very nearly 80 million trees worldwide. It’s also keen on privacy and doesn’t store your searches. Just click on the blue link and follow instructions – the search engine will be planted on your browser and every link buys a leaf or two.

Marvellous Ecosia
  • Note for my sister Anne who is pretty much fossilogue when it comes to computers, clicking on the link means when you see a word highlighted in blue, move the cursor (the little flashing black line) onto that word and click. It should open a window which brings you to the desired website.

Miss Liza Pulman recommends…

Produce bags

Produce bags are a great idea, so long as you remember to bring them to the supermarket, and so long as the supermarket sells loose veg, not in plastic bags. Where I live (an eco-wasteland) you wouldn’t find much use for them – mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli etc., all come with packaging of some kind but baby steps are better than no steps. You can put these bags straight into the fridge too.

Silicone sponges

Jaimondo (our Tour Manager) and I are very keen on these silicone sponges which last for ever and you can chuck into the dishwasher for regular cleaning. Silicone is not quite the miracle eco-product that some people claim, and we shouldn’t all be hurtling to use it in every situation but used judiciously, it’s pretty amazing. For more information on silicone, read this excellent and very thorough article from Life Without Plastic.

We have both gone over to bar shampoo – no plastic waste – and we’re both happy with it. Mine is from Lush. Jaimondo purchased his at the Health Food Store and when he got it home he was horrified to see it was from New Zealand, so he’ll be buying a bit more local next time. Ain’t that a great example of how easy it is to do the wrong thing when trying to do the right thing!

Just one more…

The world is finally beginning to wake up to the horrors of fast fashion. My pal Margaret Allen has written a fascinating piece about it on Medium which is worth a read. But life without the occasional new item of clothing is a bit dull and I am not entirely immune to the charms of shopping.

Enter Turtle Doves, an amazing company which makes new lamps for old, or rather, new garments from old. It takes secondhand cashmeres and makes new jumpers, throws, cardies, wraps, mitts, wrist-warmers etc. Absolutely beautiful and fun too.

I’ve gone one like this and at £89 I think it’s pretty good value. Warm as toast too!

Enough already

Dame Adèle says she has no special recommendations but we can attest that she has, in many ways, been living Secondhand September all year round for decades. I don’t believe she has purchased any new clothes since 1602, being an obsessive haunter of charity and thrift shops, and all her Christmas presents came from the Oxfam bookshop this year. All hail our very own Secondhand Rose!

So that’s enough to set you on your way, if you weren’t there already. I said I would include a picture of my Christmas tree (tinsel free) so here it is.

I did a rather annoying vignette thingy with the picture and now I wish I hadn’t but I can’t be bothered to go back and re-edit.

And finally…

I wish you all a very peaceful and fruitful New Year. May 2020 bring harmony and hope. Please continue to follow this blog, and to share it with friends and foes alike. Thanks to Katya Austin on Unsplash for the photo of the thumb in foliage up top. And here is Miss Maris Piper Desirée Boulangère Keane O’Neill seeing in the new year with a bath.

TINSEL & LAMETTA!!!

Jeez, I am such a spoilsport. What kind of killjoy would say that lovely, sparkly, Christmassy tinsel was shityoudontneed? Oh my, what a downer!

Before I go on, I’d like to welcome all the new folk who’ve joined in the last couple of weeks – thanks SO MUCH for following this blog and please do share and spread the message if you think I have anything useful to say!

And apologies for such a long gap since my last blog. It’s been a bit busy chez moi – for those of you who don’t know, I am currently doing a show in London and it seems to take all my energy!

Back to tinsel…

Ok. I propose a tinsel amnesty. You have tinsel. It’s almost Christmas, your tree is already up, lovingly be-tinselled. Just don’t throw it out when Christmas is over, for heaven’s sake. Use it again and again, and don’t buy any more. Make sure you take it ALL off the tree before you dump it.

Oh, but if you have pets, do make sure it’s out of reach. Cats in particular love tinsel, they adore playing with the stuff. YouTube is chocablock with adorable videos of puddy tats playing with tinsel.

Cat riveted by tinsel.

Cute, except that sometimes they eat it, and it causes a blockage in their stomachs. Or it can cause something called “a severe linear foreign body“. The tinsel string can either loop around the base of the tongue so it never gets properly swallowed. Either that, or it can get strung from the stomach down through the intestines. As their insides move and attempt to pass the wretched stuff down their inner tubing, it gradually abrades the tissue and can end up slicing right through it. Result – rupture, pain, terrible injury, surgery, death. Etc. And all for a tatty bit of sparkle.

And yes, the same thing can happen to dogs.

But the worst thing about tinsel is what it’s made of.

Plastic & mylar

Yep, it’s our old friends, plastic and mylar foil, the same stuff that some helium balloons are made of. According to the American Chemical Society, it was originally made of shredded silver so one has to assume po’ folks wouldn’t have been draping it over their trees. Since when it has been made of copper laminated with silver, then aluminium (which was flammable – whoops!), and more recently lead foil with a shiny tin surface. Apparently lead was the best, because it hung wonderfully, unlike our modern floaty stuff, but the risks of lead poisoning were too high so now it’s made of plastic. PVC, actually.

I’ve written enough about plastics on this blog to bore you all, so here’s just a quick reminder. Plastic never stops being plastic – it just shreds smaller and smaller and smaller, so small that a billion nanoparticles can fit on the head of a pin. We have yet no idea how appalling and dangerous to health this may turn out to be. Just because you can’t see nanoplastics doesn’t mean they’re not there and they’re not threatening our world. (You can read about it in more depressing detail on my recent blog about cling film.)

Tinsel isn’t biodegradable We’ve all seen those sad Christmas trees left in the street for the garbage trucks, sometimes with whole strands of tinsel still adorning the branches. Well, when you throw out your tree, it will go to the dump where the tree will eventually turn into compost, but the tinsel won’t.

When you think about it, Christmas itself is pretty ghastly for the environment… trees chopped down for decoration, posh nosh racking up huge food miles, packaging and wrapping and delivery costs, Christmas jumpers made from God-Knows-What, useless gifts, single use wrapping paper, glitter (just as bad as tinsel), and tons and tons of wasted grub…

And don’t talk to me about Melania Trump’s Christmas on steroids… how many trees in the White House? 58 in the public areas alone. Sheesh!

But it’s tough to completely buck the trend and I really am not a grinch. I still send cards. I wrap my presents. I have a Christmas tree and every year I get the same pleasure as my pretty decorations come out of the box, added to one by one and saved from year to year. I’ll post a picture next time but as I’m not home right now, it’ll have to wait.

So I’m only anti-tinsel. And lametta. And as I said at the beginning, if you have it, you might as well use it. Just don’t feel the need to add more.

Oh, and please make sure it all comes off the tree when the decorations come down.

And have a merry Christmas.

And to end my piece this time, before the obligatory dog picture, here’s a picture of a festive tomato that I grew this year. Well, I’m not sure how festive it is, but I consider it to be an immensely cheery fruit.

And here is the Girl Of My Heart herself in a particularly Christmassy picture taken in 2017.

Miss Piper in her Yuletide kercheif feeling slightly disappointed that no cake crumbs have fallen off the birdtable.