Thursday, 20 August 2015

The gulf between London and Euro land.

Extract from an article in a recent Guardian/Observer
You pay more than ten times more for an 'apartment' in London than in Berlin.  How ****ed up is the UK economy?  But why???
Meelu and her fiance now rent a 110 sq metres apartment in a sought-after district that costs the same amount as her 9 sq metres room in Notting Hill once did. She once calculated that, if she were to move back to London and have the same quality of life as she does in Berlin, she would need to earn £230,000.


I'm starting to sweat about this. A). I might not be eligible to vote (how fair is that)? And B) if it goes wrong I might have to have to offer myself up as a mail-order groom. Hoping the UK public isn't so stupid as to vote to leave the EU but after two Tory election victories and the Scots saying no to independence I'm not 100% confide

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Eden Project

The Eden Project: one of the great green success stories of the Twenty First Century.   These guys bought up an abandoned and derelict china clay pit and have transformed it into a wonderland of bio-diversity in just 15 years - a project that cost 141 million pounds to establish. 

It claims to have the two largest 'greenhouses' in the world (the domes you see in the background) and the largest 'captive' rain forest in the world.  In fifteen years it has become Cornwall's biggest tourist attraction - and at a guess is probably the largest private sector employer in the county.   It's layouts are very well designed - and have a more ethno-botanic approach than most gardens.  For example in the rain forest biome they have examples of a Malaysian home garden, explain the significance of cashew, cocoa, sugar and banana production.  Similarly the Mediterranean biome explains the cultural and economic importance of different crops.  They deserve full marks for combining a 'family day out' with a strong green message that people can take home with them, for the quality and provenance of their food, for using recyclable disposable plates, cups and cutlery and many other attempts to exemplify sustainable practices.  It was well worth a visit - and I (who do a lot of work in these fields) learnt a lot from it. Yet I still felt uncomfortable with the sheer size of it.   Perhaps mass tourism just isn't for me. 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Permaculture Course in Hindsight

I have just come off of a sixteen day intensive course about ecological design; with sessions on principles, contouring, foraging, pruning, water harvesting and re-use, mushroom growing, passive housing and many field visits: at times my brain felt like an over-filled sponge.

Sixteen days of living cheek by jowl with a bunch of ‘permis’, sharing meals, stories, knowledge and aspirations. The course culminated in a three half day design exercise in which we were asked to utilise what we had learnt.  I’ve now got a Permaculture Design Certificate and am seriously thinking about moving on to do the Diploma.  Here’s our design.

Sixteen days living in a canvas topped gypsy caravan, woken up every night by the patter of raindrops and every morning by birdsong.  From new moon to full moon: sixteen days of not having to think about locking my caravan or van. Learning about the multiple businesses that run out of Keveral: growing micro-greens, running a box scheme (see below), running a campsite, making cider, growing mushrooms and woodland management - and I may not have caught them all. 

Sixteen days of using dry-compost toilets with a view into the woods.  It's strange using water-thirsty, nutrient losing water flush systems again.

Sixteen days at Keveral and two quotes to remember:‘The best fertiliser is the gardener’s shadow’.‘You are endowed with two ears and one mouth. It’s wise to use them in that proportion’. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Permaculture Course: Days 1-3

I  am on a Permaculture course, enjoying an intensive two-week long learning experience about ecological design, with lots of natural history thrown in. The days are long - sometimes 12 hours contact time. There's a wide range of people here: chefs, smallholders, a woodsman, a graphic artist and so and each person is bringing a different knowledge set to the course, although most of the guys have beards and/or buns!

Here's some photos from the first three days.

Monday, 20 July 2015


My gypsy caravan home in Cornwall for the next couple of weeks, while I do I a Permaculture Design Course.

Back to Blighty

The sun comes out just as I reach Calais. The approach to the port is now ringed with about 3 km of 3 metre high double fencing crowned with barbed wire. It's still shiny, so obviously brand new. Fortress UK is defending its borders more and more. Sniffer dogs checking all the lorries. Apart from fortifications Calais port is really lacking in facilities: there's just a toilet block and three vending machines. o unlike Dover.  

I am traveling with P&O today. I normally don't because they are major donors to the Tory party. But today their timetable suited me better. I get on board and find out they don't have TV (unlike DFDS), which scuppers my plan to watch the first mountain stage of the Tour de France - on Bastille day too! 

I order a steak and kidney pie, mash, mushy peas and gravy to get me into a 'going back to Blighty mood'. The staff are very friendly and jokey but the exchange rate they charge for meals is about 15% worse than you get anyone else. The White Cliffs should be in sight soon.

There was a 20 KM queue of lorries waiting to get into Dover harbour, lined up on the inner lane of the motorway. I felt really sorry for the drivers. Make it to my friends place in time to see the highlights of today's stage. It finishes in the valley where my last Pyrenean trip ended (and where the next will pick up. Chris Frome tore the filed apart on the 1500 m climb at the end. I don't think 'll try to emulate him when I go back that climb looked vicious.  Thursday I travel onto to Cornwall.

Sunday, 12 July 2015


I'm driving past the Commission today on the eve of what is likely to be one of the most important EU summits ever held (the Grexit).  Security is tight.  Europe's leaders seems to be really divided on the issue of whether to keep Greece in the Eurozone or push it out. The Greeks are damned either way.  Either they stay in and face a far more stringent austere package than they voted oxi to last Sunday or they get pushed out - their economy goes into free fall and nationally-owned institutions get comprehensively asset-stripped.  Perhaps with a devalued dracma they can rebuild their eceonomy faster than staying in (people are takling about Argentina's example, but the switch there wasn't nearly as dramatic - they actually had a currency in place) - but in the short term the consequences will be horribly painful. Either way the Greek future looks grim. 

But for the EU as a whole it raises bigger, more strategic, questions.   There are most definitely both hawks (the Finns, the Baltic States and others who think Greece should be kicked out of the Euro zone) and doves flying around (the French are trying desperately hard to get them to stay in).  Since the early Benelux agreements what is now the EU has been expanding, and over the last 25 years this seems to have been more for political reasons than economic ones. When the Euro was created there were several states whose inclusion was the subject of much debate (Greece being one of them) but much was made of inclusivity. I   I can't help but feel that if the Greeks are foced to leave then the EU will have symbolically have turned a corner and the talk of unity and a common cause will start to sound like empty rhetoric. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The hottest day of the year

I did a grand tour of Belgian traffic jams today. The first on was at Rue Belliard, where it took twenty minutes to make the 500m from Arts-Loi to the tunnel because they have narrowed the five lane road to two lanes. --AVOID Indefinitely--.  The second was on the A40 where it took forty minutes to make two kilometres on the highway - though it was not at all evident whether that was due to an accident or what. I realised it might be a long wait when I saw first aid squads giving out water (in bags labelled 'civil emergency drinking water';) to people stuck in the 33 degree heat.   I was grateful for that - as I had just finshed mine before hitting the queue.  That was a thoughtful and inclusive gesture but also perhaps symptomatic that the Belgians recognise that they don't manage their motorways very well.  There were overheated cars stranded on the hard shoulder every 200m or so. 
On the upside I helped a friend move - under a stressful timetable - and got to do my first natural water swim this year (sharing the pool with goldfish and dragonflies! :-). Hopefully the first of many.   I came home with 'van driver's tan': a reddish brown left arm and a white right one.  Can anyone lend me a right hand drive car for the weekend so I can get the balance right???

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Urban wildlife

I've been neglecting 'my garden' this year.  The courtyard I planted up so lovingly three years ago is not quite gone to rack and ruin - just not not receiving the maintainance that it deserves (though my landscape architect neighbours said I chose the plants and planted up the courtard well :-) .
The last 2-3 days I have  been paying it more attention. Each time I have seen a blackbird flying in or out of the ferns that I bought back from Cornwall three years ago which are now well established.  It's a rare treat to see a blackbird in Brussels.  Guess she's built a nest there and that I should continue to beningly neglect the garden for the summer - unless until the chicks are fledged.