Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Seasons greentings...

Christmas eve, and just for a change, my body has given up on me and I am ill. Don't know exactly what it is, but it hurts, and I have now given it to my nearest and dearest. I'm not popular. But this time of year is all about sharing isn't it?

The run up (as usual) has been frantic, topped with the fact we have now adopted a rescue dog who is wonderful, but hard work. If I had a pound for every time I have said down in the past couple of weeks I would be very rich indeed, but the best things are hard work, so here's to giving her a better life than she had before.

So just a little post today, to wish you all the warmest of seasons greetings - I hope you all have a wonderful time, with the people that are closest to you, and with as little stress as possible.

Merry Christmas one and all, and see you all in 2009...

Monday, 22 December 2008

gobble gobble...


I'm sure that most of you will be eating it, or (depending on when you read this) ate it this Christmas. It's a tradition that most of us upkeep, along with chocolate at Easter and pumpkin at Hallowe'en.

Unfortunately, large scale traditions create large scale demand, and where there is large scale demand, some very unscrupulous people try to make large scale money.

And our old chum the turkey can be in the thick of it. Some commercially produced turkeys can grow to an immense 40kg in around 30 weeks. Staggering - which is exactly what they do when their joints just can't keep up with their mass.

I am a very opinionated meat eater, but I respect that people have a choice, so therefore I ask you this. Instead of having an intensively reared turkey that you have to sit on to get into the oven, that takes a day to cook, and that you have to eat for the remainder of the week as you did not realise exactly how much meat was on there, maybe you could spend your hard earned cash differently.

Get a smaller free range bird, or smaller organic bird for the same money (less need for the '200 ways with turkey' book) Or have a free range, organic, local goose. How about a joint of venison (beautifully in season) as old Hugh had in his alternative Christmas feast? Or a good bit of local pork?

Ring the changes, but whatever you do, try and have a responsible dinner...

in this time of darkness...

Not an uplifting title for this time of the season, but it pretty much summed up my Sunday, but in a better way than you may think...

For those of you who were not aware, the 21st December is the shortest day of the year, with the longest hours of darkness. The Winter Solstice, or Yule (as I celebrate) is an extremely important date in the pagan calendar - long before old J was a twinkle in his mothers eye.

Many Christian traditions have sprung from the pagan calendar, as it was much easier to convert people to something new if it retained something familiar, and the trappings of Yule are no exception.

Holly, mistletoe, ivy, berries in general - red and white, trees inside, and of course the Yule Log. Not the chocolate version as we now pick up in the supermarket with dustings of icing snow and plastic fir trees, but a real log, burnt to celebrate the light in the times of almost overpowering darkness, and to encourage the sun to return. A remnant of the log was kept to begin the fire of the next Yule, thus completing the circle.

With the plasticity of the season now in full swing, I feel it important to return to my ancestors roots and celebrate nature and the cycle of the year with respect. After all, regardless of your religion, isn't this what we all do all of the time as gardeners?

My Yule was spent gathering dried seed heads, twigs and berries at Devils Dyke to make into a wreath for the door, being blown to pieces by a battering wind, with stinging eyes and nose from the worst cold I have had in an age. But it was great, appreciating the bounty and power of Nature on the shortest day of the year. We then had a grand dinner, and I lit some candles in my own feeble attempt to bring back the sun.

So it was a little ironic when we returned home in the evening to a house of darkness due to an electricity power cut which lasted all night and into today (hence my late posting). Even Nature seems to have a sense of humour...

Saturday, 20 December 2008

we must be crackers...

From some of my recent posts you may think I am a bit of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas. This is not true, but I cannot stand the hyped up commercialism that we all now associate with the time of year, and all the tat, plastic and general crap that goes with it. By all means, do buy stuff, but think about it. Please don't buy for the sake of buying - and definitely try and cut the crap and packaging.

Right. Rant over.

But quite hypocritically I suppose, I love crackers. We only have crackers at Christmas, and they are an essential part of the Christmas table. The major drawback is that they are full of the before mentioned crap (yes, even the expensive ones, which are just full of silver plated crap) and everything goes in the bin and cannot be recycled as it is usually embellished with metallic bits to make it 'pretty'.

Alternatives are now being made available however. Ones I love this year are biodegradable and full of flower seeds, so will grow in the garden next year. And the internal crap is replaced with a nice little felt fairtrade keepsake and an eco tip. Nice. Find some here.

Or, why not do a cracker secret Santa? We did this a few years ago, and it was great. Get a make your own cracker set (without metallic bits if you can to allow recycling), give each person a cracker and get them to fill it for their secret Santa for the set budget (we did £1 - challenging but did not break the bank).

And make a no crap rule. Get gran a nice neckscarf from a charity shop, a nice bar of soap, a posh little chocolate - the possibilities are endless...they just need to be small.

Friday, 19 December 2008

five gold rings...

I have pretty much finished my seasonal shopping, but tomorrow I will be accompanying my Dad around the streets of Brighton, shopping for my Mum - a family tradition started when I was young. We almost always forget where we parked the car, and the day finishes with a bag of chips from Bankers.

Anyway - to the point - we always end up in a jewellers of some description - along with everyone else in Brighton it seems. I don't know how much money is spent on jewellery over Christmas, but I know a lot gets spent, at a massive cost to our pockets and to the environment.

Some ethical gold exists, but most of the 2.5 tonnes mined annually (most of which is open cast), is not. Cyanide is used to draw out the gold which can contaminate the surrounding area, processing uses vast amounts of water, and exploitative labour is not unusual, including the employment of children.

So, what is a girl (or guy) to do?

Well, some ethical jewellers exist, like CRED , April Doubleday and Fifi Bijoux, but to stick to my favourite mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle, we should first reduce our lust for the raw material.

Not going to happen?

Well, you could hunt down an old special piece in an antiques store, or for something a bit different, why don't you reuse and recycle your loved ones own jewellery from Crimbles past, using a jewellery remodelling service such as that of Bloom and Co.

Give them an old piece, a bit of money and magic and hey presto, it is made into a new piece of your choice. A ring to a pendant, an odd earring set into an old ring, the combinations are endless. Keep the shiny stuff used and support a proper craftsman - ask your local jewellers for such a service, or visit a local art college and harness the raw talent of an up and coming designer.

I'm not going to lie - you are too late for remodelling this Christmas, so, peruse the antique shops, or keep it in mind for next year. Or maybe even Valentines day???

Thursday, 18 December 2008

stuff and nonsense...

At this time of year (well, actually since about October) the stores and newspaper supplements across the land have been filling with the obligatory Christmas 'gift guides' - each one promising to solve the eternal problem of what to buy everyone on your behalf. And all are free...

I have to admit, even in my youth, when the Argos book could be picked up by a child in one hand and not with the aid of machinery, I loved these 'guides'. They proved good to flick through and have always been good, mindless browsing.

But as I have got older, I question more (is this wisdom???). This year in particular I have been quite disgusted at the tat and crap that is being peddled through these bibles of the Christmas list. Plastic, throwaway, cheap and nasty, or massive, indulgent, unnecessary and vulgar it's all been there, and I have struggled to look at one without putting it down with a nasty taste in my mouth.

So, it was with horror I discovered the Observer magazine on 7 Dec had dedicated 36 PAGES to their ' to the Christmas presents even Santa would be thrilled with'. hmmm. We'll see...

I am glad to say I was (mostly) surprised, shocked and gladdened by the selection.

Chosen by a panel of resident contributors to the Observer, the guide was split into sections, with each bit selected by a suitable expert, so Nigel Slater kicked off with his page for cooks. C'mon Nigel - don't let us down...

It was great - no crappy gadgets, minimal plastic and everything I would gladly receive as a pressie. Carol Klein's book 'Cook your Own Veg' was there, along with 'Forgotten Fruits' by Christopher Stocks, Le Creuset pans (all mine are ancient - great investments), linen tea towels and wooden spoons. Well done Nigel.

Next up was Dan Pearson with his selection for gardeners. Again - a sterling effort - proper timber seed trays, a proper timber trug, wind up torch, recycled strawboard and felt stool (I really loved this) and Japanese 'toe wellies'. Great. No tat, sensible, useful and some good eco stuff. Well done Dan.

And so it continued - for kids by Mariella Frostrup (some plastic, but not much - and some very good creative solutions), for ethical shoppers (surely this should be all of us?) by Lucy Siegle - all good, etc etc. Not all sections would have been my perfect selection, but most of it came damn close.

The point is, this is the first guide I have read this year that had good, ethical, organic, recycled, and innovative solutions to the gift buying problem. And in all sections. Not just the 'green section' which is shoe horned into most guides.

So - well done the Observer - hopefully others will take your lead next year and we'll all have something useful to flick over with a cuppa.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

London bloody london

I have just spent the last few days in our wonderful capital.

Thursday and Friday last week were spent in Lambeth at the Roots and Shoots Centre, where I was attending the Sustainable Building Course run by The Green Register of Construction Professionals. It was a fantastic two days, learning new stuff, refreshing old stuff and generally enthusing with other people about the green movement in general. Refreshments were absolutely delicious (and fully vegetarian) and the tutors were nothing short of inspirational. In fact, it was only spoilt by the awfully cramped Northern Line tube journey in every day, which is ironic given that it was the most eco friendly way of getting in.

But, I am now a proud member of The Green Register and will soon appear here.

Then, Monday was spent visiting the RHS Lawrence Hall in Vincent Square to meet my Feb Show neighbours and see the logistics of the site. The December show was being set up whilst we were there, with the theme of pantomimes. Not my cup of tea, but I can see the fun aspect for this time of year. I did object however to the huge amount of plastic white snow being used by some exhibitors.

Despite my misgivings on the material, the hall is a beautiful example of a concrete span building, and the tiered windows cast a wonderful wash of light throughout the space. I can't wait to put our little garden in there.

I then (stupidly) battled Oxford Street, looking at the window displays and decorations. Selfridges won again, for imagination and scale, with a Santa at the laundry and on the tube, and massive 'smashing' baubles inside. The 'more the merrier' mantra used for the displays is a little unfortunate given the state of the economy, but there were plenty of people about, so who knows.

London bloody London - great to visit, but it's also nice to go back home...

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

lettuce all be merry...

Last night I went to the bi-monthly meeting of the Sussex Postcard club and bought this fantastic postcard for the princely sum of 50p.

I have to admit, it took me a minute or so to get it, but I actually laughed when my brain cells finally connected. I kept on thinking of kale or cabbage, which didn't fit.

There should be more vegetable based greetings - like the one above, or 'please turnip at my party - I'll make sure you're not the gooseberry', and 'lettuce make up and berry the hatchet'.

I'm sure you can think of better ones?

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

busy? me? nah...

I apologise for the lack of blogs recently - to say we have been busy is a tremendous understatement, but I plan to remedy this with a whole bagful of blogs over the next couple of weeks, about all sorts (but especially having a greener crimbles), so watch this space.

So - what have we been up to? Here is the (link filled) rundown...

Well - first we went to Bruges and wondered at some fantastic Belgian creations. We didn't do the skating in the square as I have a duff knee, but we drank gluwein and ate chips with mayo. Bruges is a wonderful little place, and demonstrates how well the Belgians can marry very old spaces with modern interiors...exciting, respectful and beautiful.

I went to a fantastic meal with the folk of Saville Jones Architects, at Graze in Hove, which specialises in local, seasonal and organic food. We had a seven course tasting meal, which comprised of truly some of the most wonderful food I have ever eaten, with impeccable service. I highly recommend it.

Then we went to dig up our fantastic Douglas Fir tree at Wilderness Wood, who we have named Frank (after Sinatra, who we listen to when we decorate the house). He is perfectly formed and smells wonderful. We then celebrated by having a mug of Sussex tea and a cranberry filled shortbread tree biscuit outside in the watery sun, and watched everyone else transporting their own special Franks from the plantation to the barn. For me, this is what the season is about - family, nature and togetherness - not plastic, sales and the credit crunch.

Sunday saw the launch of the 2009 Green Pages - the eco alternative to the Yellow Pages by Sarah Lewis and the Brighton Peace and Environment Centre. We picked up our free copy of the directory (which will now be distributed across Sussex) at the Hove Farmers Market and attended the 'swishing party'. Our bag of swapping clothes was a bit random, and included a pair of Rodeo ski goggles and an earflap woolly hat with orange reindeer on. I even donated a few of my own handknitted hats. The reindeer hat was swapped in seconds as it was about 2 degrees outside. In return, I refilled our cotton bag with other peoples cast offs. Great. We then had a very nice cup of mulled cider (at 10 in the morning...) and bought some local wine from The Iron Railway Vineyard and had a free homeopathic remedy tailored for our ills by the wonderful and knowledgeable practitioners based at Revitalise in Hove, where they run a drop in Homeopathy Clinic.
And today I am posting my cards - fully reclaimed and recycled - made from flyers left over from our show gardens this year. (will show you how I made them in another post...)
What a great week. Here's to more celebrations eh?

Monday, 1 December 2008

'twas the first day of christmas...

...and my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree...'

Well, maybe not at the moment.

According to a recent report by BirdLife International, and quoted by The Independent, the poor little grey partridge has declined a staggering 79% over the last 25 years. Not anything to do with loves giving them in pear trees unfortunately, but more to do with massive scale agriculture, pesticides and monoculture. This has to change, and with the wonderful increase in organic farming, habitats are growing again, and with a bit of help, so will the partridge numbers.

So, if you want to give a partridge in a pear tree (both of which are wonderfully in season at the moment), I suggest you find a good and responsible game butcher local to yourselves and purchase a couple of these beautiful birds for the table - visit to find your local supplier, then quiz them about their suppliers. A good butcher knows the history of his/her stock and will be proud to tell you. And if you possibly can, try and make it an organic bird.

The pear? Well, bash up a quick pear chutney with this recipe and serve with the partridge. Then buy a pear tree anyway as they are a great British fruit and highly under-rated.

Maybe not as romantic as the original song, but still a great British meal. Lovely local food.