Monday, January 4, 2016

Back again

It's been a good long while since I posted anything. Long dull story. However, I've been moved to restart this as I've begun a four week challenge - Just Water. This is a WaterAid fundraiser and requires me to drink nothing but water. No tea, coffee, hot chocolate. Even weird teas are out if made with teabags. I'm allowed lemon and ginger tea if I make it with lemon juice and chopped root ginger, otherwise, not.
More to the point wines, beers and gin are forbidden. Just after Christmas and New Year this seems a blessing but I know in a week or so I'll be wanting a glass of chilled white wine on Friday evening. This gives me a reason to resist. Yes, this fundraiser is for purely selfish reasons - to give me a reason to manage a 4 week detox. Well done WaterAid!
I have a JustGiving page. Feel free to help me along in raising money to support Deliver Life. As WaterAid notes:
Every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment. It doesn't have to be this way. This winter, join us as we follow remarkable mums and midwives delivering life around the world, and be part of our biggest ever appeal. With every penny you give doubled by the UK Government, we can reach 130,000 mums and their families with safe water – giving them a brighter start and a better future.
This is important. Chip in if you can.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gosh! Wow! It's finally happened!

Not the SMBC thing (I hope). Nope. I finally finished my paid work. And I don't know what to do with myself. Usually there is more work arriving before the last work has finished and that's great because it keeps me feeling (financially) secure, but it's nearly August and I've been winding down for the summer. I've got a job next week and a job the second week of August and spaces are available for anyone who wants to stop me blowing my entire fortune on a month at the Fringe (~20 tickets already purchased at huge expense) but right now I have no reports to write, no legislation to research, no courses to prepare, no nothing. I could do housework (it's been a hard year and a half), but I alphabetised a third of my books last weekend and I want to keep something fun to do. I could start preparing for my CEnv interview but they reckon it'll be at least 3 months. I could, I could, I don't know what to do.

On the other hand, it's going to rain all day tomorrow so I can stay in and do some marketing. And perhaps pick another lot of raspberries right now and drop them into my jar of vodka. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

At last the website...Hunter Environmental!

At the end of March my contract with Ecus came to an end. When I decided to become independent I agreed to continue to work as a contractor for the company until they had replaced my wonderful ex-boss, Alison Fanshawe. I signed up for a year and that year is now long gone. I am still doing some work  for those clients who specifically ask for me (bless them!) and I am still acting as Ecus' Training Manager. No new work will come from that direction though, and so I really need to start promoting myself and my services. The obvious first step was a website. Doug Spencer is hosting it for me and the beta, made using Sandvox, can be found at 

Having spent the last six years writing either environmental legal registers and environmental legal compliance reports for my various clients in between writing short bullet points on Keynote slides for training presentations I'm not sure I have my marketing writing style up to scratch but I'll be working on it over the next few weeks. Have a look. 

Monday, December 31, 2012

Some thoughts on Changing Lifestyles

I bought this book new in 1991, read it a couple of times then lent it out to anyone who was interested. Somewhere along the line it didn’t come back and I added it on to my list to re-buy when I saw it (along with Shockwave Rider, The Dispossessed and Ender’s Game). When Amazon came along I looked for it on there. I don’t know when it had gone out of print but it wasn’t even mentioned and for a long time it wasn’t in the secondhand section either. And then, joy! Not only was it available but there were a number of copies.

It arrived a week or so ago when I was reading Sandi Toksvig’s ‘Valentine Grey’. Given the need to scramble to get work completed I was losing the plot of VG repeatedly and so I put it aside to read over Christmas and picked up Changing Lifestyles, secure in the knowledge that it wouldn’t grip me in quite the same way. It turns out to be an excellent book to read whilst struggling with a heavy workload. The chapters are short, the language is simple and the ideas are not new, but I found a piquant pleasure in reading his exhortations to the extent that I had to ration myself to just a chapter before bed.

For many years I have enjoyed the writings of those who have recently been redefined as grumpy old men/women. Lawrence D Hills and John Seymour typify the category. They were not grumpy so much as opinionated. Lawrence Hills, founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), seems to have all but disappeared from popular culture but John Seymour’s Self Sufficiency seems still to be around and has stopped him falling into total obscurity.

I’ve been giving some thought as to why the highly opinionated (environmental) writer appeals to me. I think it’s because, although I believe in the urgent need to change our actions, and though my work involves raising awareness of environmental issues for businesses, I am not evangelical. It’s just so lovely to read someone who says it plainly and obviously lives his ideals. And so, John Seymour.

I first recall coming across Seymour in my teens. My father, a reluctant gardener but great dreamer, had a copy of ‘The Self Sufficient Gardner’, I think from his book club. I have no idea whether he chose it in a moment of enthusiasm or whether it turned up because he didn’t cancel it. I think he passed it on to my uncle, a man interested in gardening for food production rather than simply avoiding censure. Before it disappeared I spent some time reading it, loving its downright instructions and beautiful illustrations although I felt no call to put its advice into practice at that time.

I was a teen in the 70s, a time of flared jeans, cheesecloth shirts and a dawning awareness of potential limits. Limits to Growth was published in 1972. There had been electricity blackouts during the 1972 miners’ strike and again in 1974. The oil price shock of 1973 meant that the school cruise I went on didn’t go to Dubrovnik because the cruising speed was lowered to save fuel. A further oil shock happened in 1979. None of these issues were caused by real shortages but we became aware, for the first time in the post-war UK, that our modern systems were not invulnerable. Then, of course, there was the Good Life and Jimmy Carter’s ‘cardigan’ speech. At my first election I voted Ecology Party. In other words, I was environmentally aware and not averse to the whole idea of living more lightly.

Changing Lifestyles was published in 1991, when my son was just walking and I was expecting my daughter. It didn't change my life. I was already the breastfeeding mother with my babies in terry nappies, cooking wholefoods and heading towards educating otherwise. It wasn’t life changing but it was lifestyle affirming. He wrote about energy, transport, work and homes, rubbish and recycling, the land, farming and food. Twenty years on and there is nothing that he was saying that couldn’t be said right now, although he thought that by 2012 we would be safely post-petroleum. 

Reading it now it is really difficult to find something surprising to say about it. We should turn down the thermostat, we should drive less, we should find meaningful work that supports our communities, we should grow much of our own food and buy what we can’t grow locally, we should eschew processed ‘dead’ food, we should step back from the precipice and save ourselves. There have been twenty years worth of books saying the same thing since Changing Lifestyles, although a great deal of what we come across these days is so based on emotional manipulation that it wearies me to even begin to read it, and much is a call to action for everyone else, whilst making no effort to reduce the author’s own impact. Al Gore is the quintessential example. This book was written by a man living his beliefs and, as he notes,  ‘this book is about quality of life.‘  

I determined some time ago thatI wasn’t very happy with my own quality of life. I needed some sort of meaning. God does not really provide that for me. Shopping doesn’t do it either. John Seymour’s vision of a life lived to the full, a life of hard but meaningful work, of food made with natural, local ingredients, of making a difference, speaks to me in a way that so much of the modern lifestyle and the recent calls to action do not. 

At the end of his book Seymour looked at where we were and what options were open to us. He delineated a continuous growth scenario, a palliative scenario and a radical change scenario. He concluded that the only possible choice was radical change. I would suggest that, since 1991 we have attempted to paper over the cracks of continuous growth with a little bit of palliative action. I’m no different. Maybe a bit more palliative than continuous growth but not by much. And not anywhere near radical change. 

We are still discussing what, if anything, we should do to pull back from the brink of disaster, as the edge crumbles under our feet. As Seymour says, ‘in the end each one of us has got to take responsibility for what we do, and what we don’t do. There is only one person in the universe over whose actions I have complete control and that is myself.’ And yet. I am so weak. I know what I could do and I don’t, because I’m trying desperately to pass for normal. I think perhaps I should spend some time returning to this book where the issues are clear, and remind myself that I have control over my own actions. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

42 Procrastinations

Jim Mowatt asked me to write a short piece for the special ZZ9 zine to be distributed at Novacon. Unfortunately I have a report to write. Urgently. While considering the dilemma I contemplated my procrastination options:
1.     I must just check my work email
2.     I need a mug of tea
3.     Did I clean my teeth? I’ll just pop up and do that now
4.     Look at the state of the carpet – I’ll feel more comfortable if I vac it (I know I don’t usually care but…)
5.     Perhaps I should set the training days for next year
6.     Before I do that I need to put bank holidays in my diary
7.     And school holidays – mustn’t clash with those
8.     I’d better call Gareth to check he’s happy with the dates
9.     Now I’ve got Safari open I’ll just check my Yahoo! Account
10.  Hurricane in Jamaica, selling virginity for $780,000 – I’ll have a quick look. It might come up in conversation
11.  It won’t take long to check my demon account
12.  And my gmail
13.  Both of them
14.  And perhaps I’d better check my demon account on line – odd things haven’t been coming through
15.  I’d better finish the Humber Energy audit report and send it now it’s been proofed
16.  I’ll just do the purl row of my knitting so I’m ready to increase on the next row
17.  But what if I forget it’s an increase row? I’ll do the increase knit row
18.  Time for another mug of tea
19.  I’ll do the dishes while I’m in the kitchen
20.  I’d better set an alarm for my meeting with Jess this afternoon
21.  I’ll sort my expenses for September
22.  And check the thesaurus for synonyms for procrastinate
23.  Is ‘synonym’ the right word? I’ll check my dictionary
24.  I’ll have a quick look at my ‘To Do’ list. Maybe spend ten minutes tweaking the order.
25.  I’ll just give Darren a quick call – doesn’t do to forget the marketing
26.  And email Edward James about Novacon
27.  And Dave Hicks
28.  Oops. Time for a pee. All that tea
29.  I’ll clean the sink while I’m here
30.  I should move the books from the chair back onto the shelves
31.  And at least put the ‘A’s in order
32.  And the ‘B’s
33.  Whilst I’m up I’d best put the wine bottle in the recycling bin
34.  And put the bin out – I know the collection’s not until Monday but I don’t want to miss it
35.  There’s a helicoptor!
36.  I haven’t watered this plant for ages, poor thing
37.  Time to pop down to see Jess
38.  Whilst I’m here I’ll wander down Sharrow Vale and pick up a loaf of bread
39.  I wonder whether they’ve got any nice fruit at Sharrow Marrow
40.  Just before I start the report I must make a mug of tea
41.  Maybe I’ll write Jim’s piece
42.  I’ll check his email again
Cripes! It’s only supposed to be a hundred words. It could take me days to edit it down. And bloody hell! The deadline was three days ago…
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Season Changes

This week Jeph Jacques, he of the wonderful Questionable Content, found that he couldn’t draw his usual Thursday cartoon because of a deep and debilitating depression. He notes that this often happens to him at the changing of the seasons. I find myself wondering at this. I find season change deeply delightful.

The change from autumn to winter brings the anticipation of lighting the woodburner, drinking the raspberry vodka, the return of the stars (even in Sheffield), lights, decorations and christmas. From the end of December there’s the wonderful moment when the days start getting longer again and there’s the new chances provided by the new year.

By the beginning of spring I’ve usually had quite enough of those things, except the days drawing out. The first brave snowdrops, the expectation of warmer days, the promise of seedlings growing in the window, the return of colour to a grey world fill me with hope.

The transition from late spring to summer is probably my least favourite. I love late spring; fresh mornings, the darling buds of May, English asparagus, nettle soup, long warm days. 
Summer comes anyway. The garden (such as it is) is growing and I can move into sleeveless t-shirts and lose the quilt. And the lovely soft grey rains of summer are simply delicious. Not this year of course. Long term dreary deluge gets wearing after a while. And the swifts! Shrieking and diving through the deep canyons of our terrace-lined streets, amazingly distant crescents skimming the high sky.

The change of summer to autumn, though, is glorious, even as the swifts desert us for warmer climes. There’s a refreshing chill in the air. There’s a return to school feeling, the other new year, and I love it. English grown winter squash start to appear. The leaves begin to turn; a bounty of gaudy beauty. For me it feels that autumn begins after Sally’s birthday on 10th September. 

This year she was 21 and I begin to have to admit that my own transition from summer to autumn has pretty much gone. Over the last few years I’ve lost suppleness, strength and the elasticity in my skin seems to be fading. The things I’ve gained don’t seem to be that positive, mainly weight. I am loving my increasing invisibility however. Never having been backwards at coming forwards I can overcome young men’s inability to notice me if necessary, but there is something deeply peaceful about merging into the background. The hurly burly of the chaise lounge has been gone for some years now and I do occasionally look back with a certain wistfulness at the excitement, but only occasionally. I’m finding work increasingly rewarding, friendships of greater importance and I wake up far too early looking forward to each new day. Of course, getting out of bed takes longer and it takes a good few minutes for my feet and knees to loosen up. But then the lure of the early morning mug of tea encourages me to stumble down two Sheffield-steep flights of stairs to the kitchen. I’m currently mainly avoiding intimations of mortality and enjoying the days.

This week, leaning out of the Velux way before dawn I saw Orion above the horizon, faithfully accompanied by his hound, or at least I could see Sirius shining above the brightening horizon. Taurus and the Pleiades hung above him. There is not a glory of stars in Sheffield, and I miss that, but it makes the old favourite constellations easy to see. I guess the winter sky is so lovely to me because as an amateur astronomer of eleven it was the only one I got to know well. I was packed off to bed before the summer stars could be seen. It has the comfortable familiarity of many things known and loved in childhood. It’s been a gorgeously bright and blustery week. On my way to work this week I saw the local hot air balloon rising above the Botanical Gardens and some young guy, possibly not entirely sober, greeted me with the words, ‘Hiya darling. Have a blessed Wednesday!’ Of such things are happiness made. 

On a much, much darker note, this week the Hillsborough report was finally released. So many lives cut off horribly in the flower of their youth. So many lost so early, so many parents, lovers, friends with their lives blighted. I’ve always thought the lines, ‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.’  was poppycock; a brave attempt at comfort. The end result of growing old may be weariness but it is a privilege to have the opportunity. It would be churlish to whine.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Things have been busy...

So I’ve been working long hours and trying to fit life in around it. I’m just mildly concerned that I’m forgetting everything that has happened because I haven’t had time to reflect. A wander though my work diary reminds me of all sorts of wonderful things that we have done. 

In March I had almost a week of work in the south, delivering two Waste Awareness courses to a construction company (Vinci plc) in London, doing a legal audit for Canon UK in Reigate and fitting in a sales meeting in Harrow. As these things spanned a weekend we took the opportunity to visit the wonderful Reeds. Ian, who is a very generous chap, introduced me to his friend Jilly Reed a long time ago. We’d love to see more of her but as she no longer comes to conventions and as Moat’s Tye is a long way for us the meetings are rare, and treasured all the more for that. Jilly puts me in mind of a splendid head girl from any of the books I read as a young teen; the terrifically enthusiastic and effortlessly ethical girl that we all tried to emulate and had tremendously passionate crushes on. Sigh. Chris, Ian points out, would have been an ideal District Commissioner from the days of empire, sitting on the veranda dispensing justice and gin. I adore them both. Through the haze of days passed I remember being mercilessly pampered, wined and dined, and long periods relaxing on the sofa in front of the fire chatting late into the evening. I’d like to live like this more often.

The next journey away from home was much less relaxing, the trip to Eastercon. Ian had found us a deal with the Sheraton, two hotels away from the Radisson, where we were on the club floor. Sally had a sofa bed and so the cost was lower than I feared especially as it was possible to get by on the food from the Club Lounge and the two hours worth of free drinks in the evening. The wine was surprisingly palatable for the price. 
As Christina Lake and Doug Bell were running the fan programme all three of us were on prog. I enjoyed this part of the con immensely. We were also performing in one of Ian’s fannish musicals, ‘Oliver with a Twist’. As always with these things, the month leading up to the show was saturated with oliver. We wandered over to Julia and Doug’s to read through and pick up suggestions, Ian iterated and reiterated songs and jokes, rewriting feverishly, we prowled the aisles of Poundland looking for props and costumes, Ian dealt with Tech and marshalled cast, averting disaster and, at the con itself, publicised the thing relentlessly. 
Much of the rewriting was caused by the change of venue. We were expecting to put on a little show in the fanroom and found we were actually scheduled for the main hall on the Sunday evening. Horrors! Ian’s little fannish production would have meant nothing to the wider con attendees and so a whole new show had to be constructed with minimal in-jokes but the same number of bad puns. 
Something like this certainly gives a focus to a weekend, looming terrifyingly, rushing towards one like a juggernaut, performed in a complete funk and then gone, leaving us slightly deflated and relieved that things had not been worse. The usual post show examination of reviews and tweets was rather overshadowed by John Meaney’s performance at the BSFA awards and the gender parity row (of which more in the next Journey Planet). I hadn’t realised that the whole thing was going out live on UStream. I’d have gone on a diet. Well, no, I wouldn’t, but I’d have held my belly in more.

The very next weekend we had Julia’s hen party. She refused to wear the L-plates and silly veil and none of us were allowed to wear ‘Hen Party on Tour’ tshirts. What we did was go to Brown’s for cocktails and then to the Showroom where Julia had hired a cinema to show Ladyhawk. Oh the wonder! Whilst we were doing this in a very civilised manner Doug was crawling around the many pubs of Sheffield, tweeting his progress. Ian, not a beer drinker, became on honourary hen for the film. Of course he’s as lovely as Rutger Hauer. Ian and I abandoned the party as they trooped off for a curry and then for late night drinks at Julia’s.

We had a prior appointment with the Everly Pregnant Brothers at the City Hall.
I’m fairly new to the Everlys. My introduction was at last year’s street party where a bit of them performed for us. Richard lived on our road at the time and had his arm twisted mercilessly until he agreed to perform. There are lots of examples of their fine work on YouTube. You should look at it. They are a very localised phenomenon, selling out in Sheffield almost as soon as tickets go on sale. We had failed to get tickets to a concert earlier in the year and had arranged to go with my sister Sue and her chap, Robin, to see them in Leeds but the gig was cancelled due to lack of sales. This evening, in Sheffield, they had sold out the Irwin Mitchell Hall, a 2000 seat venue. The show was amazing, electric and at the end we wandered away dazed, singing ‘No Oven No Pie!’ 

Lots of work followed, nights away in Travelodges and Premier Inns, so unlike my stay in Harrow at the Grim’s Dyke Hotel, former home of WS Gilbert, but other than a picture of the satyr holding up the marble fireplace in the main hall I’m not going to mention this fine place again (though if you are in the area you should definitely stay there). 

The next big event was, of course, the wedding of Julia Daly to Douglas Spencer at the Hilton Hotel, Sheffield. What can I say? Unlike one of Ian’s plays this day had been powering towards us for years, it seems. Julia looked fabulous in her lovely red dress, the setting was good and the cakes were amazing. It was very like a one day SF convention with a single programme stream, a number of normal people wondering what was going on and the same old fans in the bar. A huge thank you to Julia, Doug and, of course, Julia’s Dad, for a day to remember. Many photos were taken. Ian's are here (see parrot). Fran Dowd's are here (see cake). I’ve since asked the happy couple what they are going to do now the event is in the past and they haven’t given me a totally believable answer. Doug says he’s cleaning the house.
My last big event was our holiday in France. A Pete Atkin concert was organised in St Germain En Laye and, of course, we had to attend. As I say, Ian is very generous and one of the things he has shared with me is his musical enthusiasms. I’m not sure whether I am most grateful for Pete Atkin or Justin Currie. Justin has a sublime voice, good tunes and excellent lyrics, Pete has a fairly average voice, amazing tunes and Clive James lyrics. 
The concert was performed in a room in the lovely chateau but before that we had to get there (East Midlands Trains, Eurostar & RER), book into our very pleasant hotel and go to a garden party at Oliver’s jolly nice house. It was sunny and hot and quite delightful because of the surrounding greenery and fresh breeze. And the rather nice wine. There was a quiz which I utterly failed at. I have no idea what songs are on what albums and the singles were way before my time. Everything is on iTunes and plays randomly. I couldn’t tell you what the B side of Beware of the Beautiful Stranger is. Never mind. There were enough people sitting in the shade under the trees who could so embarrassment was avoided, not that Pete could answer all the questions when asked to give a final judgement. 
The concert was, as always, great, worth the distance travelled and in a delightful setting. The room was rather hot and Pete struggled to keep the guitar in tune but the songs never fail to inspire and there were some new ones to make us hope for a further CD release in the not too far distant future. Ian put a set list up but it will mean little to most people reading this. You should just go listen to at least one song. He’s on YouTube. And then buy all his CDs.

The day after the gig we packed up and headed for Le Bourg Dun and the Harveys. These fine people picked us up from Dieppe station, fed us and put me to bed. I’d developed a sore throat and lost my voice for a few days the week before the holiday so we also spent some time tracking down French pharmacies over the week. Again, a lot of the holiday was spent with me sleeping. I’m hoping that sooner or later I will have enough time and energy to do justice to a holiday with John and Eve. Eve cooked wonderful meals, we drank beer sitting in the garden in the afternoons in the shade of the peach tree (I was allowed to hang up washing - a nice little job that kept me from feeling completely useless) and wine in the evenings over dinner and later in the sitting room as we chatted until I headed for an early bed. John and Ian talked computers and played with Garageband. Poor Eve! 
Having recently sold their house in England they are finally able to look for another house in Normandy, maybe off the main road, and most mornings Eve spent some time looking at what was available. Both John and Eve had work to do so we had plenty of time to laze around, something for which I was very grateful.

They packed us up in the car on Friday and we all headed back for the ferry to Dover so that John could play a Jubilee gig and we could have the bank holiday weekend at my house, see Ruddigore at the Lyceum (not one of the standout operettas - and we were probably the youngest couple there) and Prometheus (goodish), Moonrise Kingdom (excellent) and Men in Black III (surprisingly good).

Ian went home on Wednesday morning and I managed to break a bone in my foot the same morning. I’ve got crutches!

And this weekend I, and my crutches, came up to visit Ian, mainly because we had tickets to see the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show in Glasgow. This was a delight with most of the original radio cast, a splendid band and Billy Boyd as The Book. This latter did not work so well. We wondered if he had ever heard the show and whether he had done a read though of the script. This was particularly jarring for Ian who knows the show by heart and, like a religious experience gone wrong, was jerked out of his blissful state with each mispronounced word. For me it was less problematic. I’ve listened to the show a fair number of times, watched it on TV and read the books but I don’t remember things. The guy playing Slartibartfast was excellent, an aging Arthur Dent was actually better, Trillian and Ford were the proper radio characters and Phil Pope was simply wonderful. However the star of the show, as always, was Marvin and his diodes. Oh Marvin! This is still such a wonderful show, undulled by time and repetition and at the end, when Douglas Adam’s picture was projected on the screen above the actors I felt tears in my eyes. Oh Douglas!