Sunday, 31 October 2010

New beginnings

Spring is traditionally the time for thinking about new beginnings and new life, as the trees bud and the first seeds begin to appear. Our first baby, however, is due in January and so we've been wrestling recently with exactly what this will mean, both for our lives and for our principles in the near future and longer term.

We've already taken the biggest step - the decision to have a child (plus, of course, the bit where we got pregnant!) - which represented the largest compromise to our eco ethics. Because there's just no escaping the fact that having children at this point is environmentally, and perhaps morally, irresponsible. An article in the Guardian last year, by Sam Wong, discussed research being done at Oregon State University 'that every child in the US adds 9,441 tonnes to each parent's carbon footprint. This is assuming that emissions per capita continue at today's levels. Compare that with 1,384 tonnes of carbon dioxide for each child in China, or 56 tonnes in Bangladesh.' It seems inevitable that having a baby will have a significant impact on your carbon footprint.

But more than that, greenhouse gas emissions are set to continue to grow up to 2030 as the larger developing nations reach our standards of living - by which we mean consuming and wasting. Depending on which research you read, we're either approaching or have reached the age of peak oil without any massive strides to reduce our dependency on oil and oil-based products. Industrial agriculture has destroyed the land and polluted our rivers and oceans. We all know about the problems with North Sea fish stocks, but recent research at the University of Oxford suggests that Britain alone is losing native species more than ten times faster than records suggest, and that the speed of this loss is increasing. I'm not sure if it's just because environmental stories are considered more newsworthy now, or if the rate of change is just accelerating, but it all leaves me wondering:'what kind of world will our children be inheriting?'

At the same time, I can't help but feel optimistic that new parents can make a difference. By bringing the three 'r's' to our parenting choices (that's reduce, reuse and recycle by the way!) we not only significantly reduce the environmental impact of our babies, but we can also instill in a new generation a way of living that is more in balance with the earth's resources. We can inspire them to want to be part of the solution, rather than simply, unthinkingly, continuing to contribute to the problem.

Well, this is certainly something that we'll be trying to do! I was about to say 'so buckle up for the ride' but this doesn't seem appropriate: after all, even with a baby on the way we haven't changed our view about not being car-owners. It simply means we have a different set of criteria for what we need from a pushchair (still doesn't make choosing one from the apparently thousands on the market any easier!). Maybe it's because we were cynically expecting it, but we've been terribly aware of the pressure on soon-to-be and new parents to buy, buy, buy! Even the NCT (National Childbirth Trust), a charity for whom I have a lot of respect, have a catalogue which includes a range of apparent 'essentials' from which I'm going to cherry pick my favourite -the Tummy Tub: Unique Baby Bath. This easy to fill, move and store item is 'easy and safe to use anywhere in your home'. I'm sorry, but it's a bucket! Why would I pay £20 for this bucket, when if I decided that it was a good idea, I could buy one from my local hardware store for a fraction of that price?! To be completely fair to the NCT, they also include a lot of products which are natural or reusable (gold star for selling organic babygros and washable breast pads!), not to mention their hiring schemes for tens machines (for pain relief in labour) or breast pumps, rather than forking out for a new one that you'll then have to dispose of once it's no longer needed.

In contrast to this crazy idea of not buying things, consider that from your very first appointment with an NHS midwife you're given a 'Bounty pack' to hold your maternity notes, exhorting you to 'join the UK's favourite parenting club' whose main sponsor appears to be Pampers. Inside this pack are a wealth of leaflets and 'magazines' containing money-off coupons and free samples. At 3 months you can pick up your next Bounty pack ('Mum-to-be') with yet more samples and coupons, followed by 'overnight essentials' apparently given to you in the delivery suite, 'newborn essentials' offered when you leave the hospital and, finally, a 'family pack' at 6 months (after which, presumably you're on your own for the next 18 years). I should say, I went to pick up my 'Mum-to-be' pack from our local Boots branch mainly out of curiosity and retained maybe three of the free samples (a newborn disposable nappy, a mini pot of sudocrem and a pack of breast pads - all of which I thought might come in handy at the hospital and it was better to use them than just chuck them away) and none of the coupons.

It concerns me that the whole system implies that you'll be buying all of these items anyway, so why not pay less for them. The majority of the coupons are for new, plastic, or plastic-derived items that are being marketed as 'essential' for new parents, without any questioning of who has decided that they're 'essential' purchases. (It's not clear who 'Bounty' are - are they a company? A charity? There's no 'About' information on their website and a link to a corporate site that hasn't been built yet.) The fear of not being a 'good parent' seems constantly to be played on by these multinational advertisers - don't give out your email address, or you'll be bombarded with 'baby e-zines' which purport to tell you about the developmental stages of your growing foetus as a front for some of the most outrageous advertising I've ever seen.

As we try and navigate our way through this new eco minefield in the coming months and years, I hope I can offer some thoughtful and inspiring insights on these topics - so tell your baby-ed up friends to get reading!

Sunday, 17 October 2010


I believe that I may have mentioned before that I love the autumn. I'm always slightly disappointed when, following a rainy summer, the predominant colours are browns and yellows. Although these can be beautiful too in the right light, on a drippy day at the end of October, they're really pretty uninspiring! For that reason, I've been taking pictures at every opportunity of any other colours that grace the garden (and the kitchen - it's cheating, but as I say, it's been a bad year!)

My favourite autumn colours are the reds - from fiery to deep - which make such a marked contrast to the yellows, browns and fast disappearing greens. The old adage that 'red and green should ne'er been seen unless there's something in between' just doesn't stand up in nature. Think about a tomato vine nestled amongst the plants' greenery, or, for a more seasonal take, to the glory of a holly tree in full winter regalia.

The last of the tomatoes in the greenhouse

In some lights, the ivy trailing over our fence is almost purple.

And here it is picked out with a rime of frost

Another interesting fact we hadn't been aware of - our red grape variety had leaves which turned red, whilst our white grape variety had leaves which turned yellow!

In the kitchen I've been converting our own raspberries and the glut of uneaten plums from our veg box into wonderful ruby-red jellies. Last week, I also picked the last of our tomatoes and chillies and I'm now enjoying their slow transformation to ripeness in a bowl sat in the intermittent sun.

This is actually a raspberry and apple jelly, made a few weeks ago, but it has the same gorgeous glow.

Ripening tomatoes and chillies

This year I've also discovered the attractiveness of the colours of our winter veg bed. Now that all the other beds are empty but for a fuzz of recently planted green manure, covered over with enviromesh to keep out the cats, the squirrels and the ash keys (we must have pulled up more than a hundred ash seedlings last year), the brassicas are really coming into their own. Our apple trees at the end of the pergola are almost bare now, and it's possible to see through them to these serried ranks of beds topped with white arches, flanked by a beautiful blue-green sea of kale, cabbages, brussels and purple sprouting.

A head of purple sprouting in the frost

And our first ever mini brussels just starting to appear