Category Archives: Green Living

Petticoat emergency!

My latest bit of upcycling. The white fabric came from some old shirts that needed repurposing. Last week I came home from the Gloucester event with a new dress – a decidedly rare occurrence. I knew when I bought the dress that I might well want a petticoat for it. Then at the weekend I found out that we are going to be performing at Stroud Goodwill Evening on Friday night, and I wanted to wear the new dress, and I felt the urgent need for the petticoat. 

And here we are. Quite a lot of hand sewing later. I like that it’s somewhat irregular. 

I seem to be being a bit more overtly femme at the moment. Although I’ll always be a scruffy sort of goblin, I might on occasion be a scruffy goblin in a nice dress and petticoats. As a much younger human I was more overtly gender fluid, moving between very distinct kinds of gender presentation, depending on mood. As I seem to be going through a bit of a reboot period at the moment it will be interesting to see whether any more of that comes back.

Part of this is definitely a consequence of gigging. It’s good to be visually striking and more theatrical, and we’ve all been digging in with the performance kit this year. James has really gone for it, and that’s been a real inspiration for me.


Repairing and re-enchanting

Some years ago, I made a cloak out of tiny wool scraps. I dug it out because I wanted it for an event, and found it had suffered significant moth damage. I wasn’t sure it could be saved, but decided to get in and try, taking one damaged section at a time. It worked. While I was repairing and stabilising the cloak, some words came to me, and then a tune. Of course it’s not just about fabric, it’s about a way of being in the world, which is where the re-enchantment comes in.

Threadbare

When everything’s worn out

And falling apart

I’ll be there with my scissors

My will and my art

And I’ll salvage the pieces

And patch up the rest

Remaking, restoring

Is what I do best.

I won’t throw anything away

If I can help it

I don’t give up in any way

If I can help it

I won’t stop trying if I can,

I’ll repair and rebuild 

This is who I am.

I’ll bring my needle

And I’ll bring my thread

I have glue I have patience

To raise up the dead

I’ll take the discarded

The lost and forlorn

Make something new

Where the fabric is worn.

I’ll bring my patience

And I’ll bring my heart

I have time and ideas

When things fall apart,

I can see futures

When threads come undone

Pick up the stitches

Where the knitting has run.

All I do is keep trying

Nothing too wrecked to be darned

All it takes for the mending

Is to undo the harm

Life wears the edges

I put them back in place

No one too worn to be rescued

Repair and rebuild, don’t replace.


Frivolous boots

It’s rare that I buy new things. Partly that’s about making greener choices and trying to live lightly. Partly it’s the habit that has come from many years of having little disposable income. When I do buy things they tend to be practical and I make them last. The dress I’m wearing in this photo is probably 15 years old.

In the last ten years I have only owned sensible boots. The sort of boots I can use as transport. I’ve had work shoes, trainers and sandals as well, all of them sensible and the sort of thing I can walk a few miles in. However, work these days includes performance and I felt on that basis that maybe I could have some frivolous boots. Here they are.

I’m not a fan of fast fashion at all, and I generally resist the idea that buying things is how to be happy. With the obvious exception of books. I try to focus on what I need and on what’s practical. Much of my sillier clothing is stuff I’ve upcycled rather than anything I’ve purchased. 

And yet…

The desire for decoration, for play and frivolity has been a thing for people for about as long as we’ve been people. Prehistoric people were really into decoration. One of the reasons I didn’t have frivolous boots already is that I’m really not good at this stuff. I don’t reliably feel entitled to play or do things just for the joy of it. I don’t reliably feel worth decorating and I’ve had a fair few periods of mostly wanting to hide. But, I’m getting back into the face painting again, and I have preposterous boots, and there is a growing urge in me to do more things that are silly and expressive.


Upcycling with bees

The sofa came to us second hand, and was used vigorously over the years. That use included the enthusiasm of several cats, and the damage they did to the arms. 

Sofas are preposterously expensive things to buy new, and throwing away a whole one creates an unacceptable amount of waste. So, we dismantled it and did what we could. The metal fold out part for the sofa bed went to the local tip where hopefully it can be recycled. Wood from the sofa was repurposed, and some of it has been kept for future use. The fabric covering went in the bin along with some of the foam padding, but we also re-used some of that foam in rebuilding the arms.

Two of the cushions were dismantled and used to solve a problem with a different piece of furniture. The sofa bed bit was replaced with a wood base – thanks to the generosity of a friend who wombled together something from material he had lying around. We bought a piece of new foam to fit it. Solid foam cushions were reshaped and covered with new fabric and are now leading new lives as different cushions. 

We threw very little out. We ended up with a sofa that perfectly fits the space, and has more sofa and less sofa arm going on. One side of the sofa is now a bookcase and inside the sofa there is more storage space. The whole thing is more flexible and can be arranged to serve as a bed for anyone under 6ft tall, as a sofa pillow fort for me, and as a leisure space. There’s also more room for the cat!


Stay warm with a jumper?

As the UK faces electricity price hikes that will push many into fuel poverty, advice for staying warm abounds. Far too much of it is coming from people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. The ‘just wear a jumper’ solution is a popular example of this. Without understanding how poverty impacts on people, we aren’t going to prepare well or help each other.

A jumper keeps warmth in, it doesn’t heat you. That works ok in cool temperatures, when you are moving around, or when your body can burn calories for warmth. Food prices are going up. If you can’t afford to heat or eat properly a jumper is of little use. The colder it gets, the less those extra layers can do to help you. In very cold conditions, the body distress over hours of being cold is immense. I’ve been there. People can and do die of hypothermia.

If you can’t afford heat, you are probably also going to struggle with the costs of doing laundry, which of course requires heating water. A jumper is a large item to wash. Even if you are really careful about trying to keep it clean, after a week or so of being worn all the time, a jumper will start to smell a bit cheesy, and then increasingly cheesy. If you think hand washing clothes in cold water is going to solve this, it isn’t. You don’t get clothes as clean in a cold wash, and this is punishing on your hands when your environment is cold. I have done it and I do not recommend it.

Then you have to get the jumper dry. Good luck doing that without using energy in a cold home that is already damp because that’s what happens in cold conditions. If you cannot dry your clothes fast enough they will rot – can you afford to replace them? If it takes 2 days to dry a jumper, it will smell like a wet dog. You might be able to hang it outside, but winter weather is notoriously bad at drying clothes.

The old ‘wear an extra jumper’ trick works much better with an open fire – which is something older people are more likely to have experienced. An open fire may not make your home super-warm, but it does tend to make for a drier home, and you can stick your laundry in front of it. I’ve done this too. It’s not optimal, but it is workable.

If you’re making fires and keeping them going and hand washing laundry then this of course is cheaper in terms of money. It’s expensive in terms of time. Back when this way of living was more normal, it was possible to run a home on one income. It’s not technically possible to fund a contemporary household through work while also doing as much domestic labour as an early twentieth century housewife. 

I’m all for re-skilling and using slower and less energy-intensive ways of doing things. But, you have to be set up for that. You certainly can’t do it alongside a host of other labour intensive things, and you can’t do it if you are ill or in pain. Wringing out a massive wet jumper by hand takes quite a lot of effort.

We need to resist these suggestions that the problem is people not trying hard enough and not being willing to put up with some discomfort. Cold, wet homes are a nightmare. Modern build isn’t designed for you to live how your great granny did. The extra jumper causes as many problems as it solves.


The hideous lawn massacre

Lawns in the UK are yellow and dead. If the heat goes on for long enough, the grass won’t survive to reboot. Lawns that are not all grass are doing slightly better, as are areas of grass that haven’t been kept desperately short. Grass under trees is having a far better time of it, thanks to both the shade and the way trees redistribute water.

The UK loves its tidy lawns. Except right now they don’t look tidy, they look awful. They are awful. They’re also far too easy to set fire to, which is not an attractive quality.

Lawns are awful. The shorter and neater they are, the more awful they are. Nothing lives in them. The more you do to treat and control them, the more harmful they become. We urgently need to get over lawns, they do no good at all. It is my hope that the current death of lawns will encourage people to rethink them and replace them with something that can both survive and support other kinds of life.

Partly what makes a lawn attractive is that they are expensive and hard work to maintain – all that cutting and tending and poisoning doesn’t come for free! So having a big green lawn with only grass in it is just the sort of thing to show off what an affluent member of the landed gentry you are, as you pay a few peasants to do all the hard labour for you! Except now we do it to ourselves, voluntarily, for reasons. It’s amazing what it’s possible to persuade people is good, desirable and an appropriate use of their time and money.

Meanwhile the astro turf is probably melting. However unpleasantly the grass might burn, I’m prepared to bet that astro turf going up is going to be considerably worse.

The people who did not mow and the people who grow trees have much more hope of a pleasant garden this summer, as their reward for having done less. I just hope it catches on.


Time for Ocean Aid

Today is World Nature Conservation Day. I’m sharing content from fellow Moon Books author Steve Andrews, who has written a book called Saving Mother Ocean – more about that over here https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-saving-mother-ocean He’s currently exploring the idea of Ocean Aid concerts.


Heat and life

This last week or so has taught me a great deal about heat. Some of it through first hand experience, some of it through reading. As the climate crisis impacts on us, I am clearly going to need a better understanding of how to survive in hotter temperatures.

My home is not designed for hot weather. I assume these flats were built with single occupancy in mind, but many of them now house families, and we’re not unusual in having three of us. Most of the advice for staying cool assumes you have resources and aren’t overcrowded. Human bodies put out heat and moisture, and if there are too many of you for the space, then keeping out the heat by closing the windows doesn’t really work.

We managed during the hottest days, by changing when we slept and when we work. Many people don’t have that option. Capitalist industrial work habits aren’t adaptable, and being able to adapt is going to be key to health and survival. While the focus is on profit it will be hard for front line workers to be gentle with themselves. Bake or starve are not reasonable options to have. To change this, we’d have to value human life and wellbeing more than we value making profits for the few.

It turns out that hot nights are a far bigger problem than hot days. My body can tolerate heat if there’s a chance to cool down overnight. When the night is also hot, sleeplessness and panic ensue, and these also undermine health. It’s not just me. Heat is much more likely to kill when it continues through the night.

One of the contributing issues here is the way in which urban spaces retain heat. Hot tarmac and hot buildings stay hot after sunset and it takes time for that heat to dissipate. To combat night heat, we need more green spaces. Tarmac that has been shaded doesn’t have heat to emit at night. Trees help us stay cooler in the day and that benefit extends into the night as well.

The obvious solutions – electric fans and air conditioning – increase our energy consumption and add to the problems we’re already experiencing. One of the things a heatwave can do is knock out the power supply, so an electric fan might not be a good investment for dealing with extreme heat at night. I’m exploring other options.

My takeaway from this is to keep a closer eye on the anticipated night temperatures during heatwaves, and to prioritise night strategies when hazardously hot nights are predicted. Finding ways to cool down is essential, but unless we deal with the climate crises, this is just firefighting and we can’t solve anything that way.


Strange bedfellows for Druids

Sometimes, to get things done you have to work with people who are not perhaps your natural allies. My go-to example of this is that it was otter hunters who first raised the alarm over falling otter numbers in the UK in the 20th century. Hunters and nature lovers worked together to try and get things changed for the benefit of otters, and otters have made a superb comeback.

If we wait for the perfect allies, we might never get things done. However, if we team up with people that also has implications. Who and what are we supporting and validating? Is that a good risk? I feel strongly that as Druids we have a responsibility to consider who we empower and where that might lead, no matter how urgent the cause. People with terrible motives will show up for causes they think will win them support and make them seem acceptable. I recollect how locally, UKIP folk very visibly joined the popular campaign against the local incinerator, while UKIP councilors went ahead and voted for it.

Enter stage left, my strawman for today, the fictional organisation Nazis for Nature. If they appear to share our aims around a pressing issue – like saving a local wood, should we shun them, or embrace them? Perhaps we embrace them, for the good of the cause, and a few weeks later photos of our smiling faces as we work alongside them come up alongside material about eugenics. The thing about Nazis is that we know what their intentions are, and where they are going and to what ends they might find us useful. Increasingly, people who support politics that seek to harm other people, are being vocal about it, guessing is not so much of a problem now as it might once have been.

We might not agree with what the otter hunters do. We might be going to actively work against them in the future, but we also know what they want. For otter hunting to survive as a sport, there have to be plenty of otters, which means there have to be lots of habitats for otters and the rivers need to be clean. At no point are they likely to change tack on that score. Everyone in this scenario is working to avoid otter extinction, and other differences can be dealt with when the otters are safe. It’s worth noting that otter hunting is now illegal in the UK. 

When you can see what a person stands for and how that might play out in the longer term, an uneasy truce around a key issue can be a good choice. Solve the biggest problems first and deal with the other issues later.

Sometimes, doing the right thing will call for some challenging compromises. The key is to look at the overall trajectory. Ask whether these people genuinely care about the same issue, or whether they might be piggybacking in the hopes of benefiting themselves. Ask if what you have is a valid difference of opinion from the people you might make an uneasy alliance with. People who hate Star Trek and people who love it might realistically work together to save a science fiction convention. The differences of opinion aren’t really that important compared to what’s at stake. 

People’s right to exist is not something that we should consider open to debate. These are not opinions we can agree to differ over. Anyone whose policies are murderous or ecocidal is not a good ally even if their short term aims seem to align with ours in some way.


The power of urban trees

We’re having a heatwave in the UK, thanks to the climate crisis. It seemed like a good time to talk about how powerful and important urban trees are.

Urban trees have a huge cooling effect on urban spaces. They cool the ground beneath them, they shade and shelter nearby buildings. The need for air-con goes down when there are trees, which of course reduces energy use and that in turn can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause the problems in the first place. With a crisis of living cost in the mix too, not everyone can afford to cool their homes. Less affluent areas are less likely to have trees in the first place, though.

Heat can be a killer. 2021 saw thousands of heat related deaths across Europe. Heat puts a strain on the whole body – heat stroke and dehydration cause problems in their own right, and put strain on your organs. Hearts can give up in extreme heat. 

Publicly owned trees have the power to save lives, and to make it more feasible for people to keep functioning safely in hot weather. At the same time, trees help solve the problem of excess C02 in the atmosphere. It’s a win all round.

Cities would be much better places if some of the colossal amount of space given over to driving and parking cars was used instead for trees.

At this time of year I’m very aware of how the shade from a nearby horse chestnut tree impacts on the temperature in my small flat. Smaller living spaces, especially if they’re a bit on the crowded side – are harder to keep cool to begin with. The tree makes a lot of difference. No doubt many people would be helped through excessive heat by the presence of more trees.

Planting more urban trees right now won’t solve the problem immediately, but it’s a good investment in the future.