"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The National Garden Scheme

I went to a beautiful garden last weekend. Seeing all the bright spring bulbs in flower I thought to myself, is it perhaps just possible, maybe, please God, that winter really is now over?

I think we are all tired of this winter. It seems to have been endlessly cold, wet, gloomy, with more snow than we have seen in years. I am sure that I am not alone with these thoughts. It has been really bad news for the seriously depressed, and those with SAD, (seasonal affective disorder).

Everyone has been looking for the first opportunity to get out and about at the weekend and this garden was packed with visitors enjoying the colourful displays, the mild weather and the tea and cakes with a view.

What brought everyone out to enjoy this garden? We have a scheme in the UK called the National Garden Scheme. Every year people open their private gardens up and down the country for the public to come and view, to raise funds for charities. In the last 10 years the scheme has donated more than £23million to different national and local charities, including for example Marie Curie Cancer Care, Macmillan Cancer Support, Help the Hospices, and other major charities, and more than 1000 local charities nominated by garden owners.  Add to an interesting garden the teas and home made cakes which are almost invariably available, and a pleasant afternoon is guaranteed. The gardens vary from the tiniest town plots to the largest estates. They are all different, all show off different features, and very often the owner is on hand to answer questions. If you are not already a supporter, I can strongly recommend that this year you obtain the little yellow directory for your area (often available in garden centres or nurseries - otherwise obtainable by post- see the website) and try a few for yourself. 

Do other countries have similar schemes? Do let me know.

I leave the last word on spring to William Shakespeare, from Love’s Labours Lost 

When daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he:
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear.

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he:
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Sentient beings and vegetarians

Yesterday I wrote of no news being good news. If we change the order of this maxim that served my mother so well for so long, we could say “Good news is no news” and that makes me think about the media business generally, where it is certainly true to say that papers and other news media tend to sell to our voyeuristic tendencies and emphasize the bad news before the good! This then tends to portray a pessimistic view of the world and its problems, whereas we all know that there is plenty that is good about human nature and life generally.

lions prideIn the animal kingdom, the same thing seems to be happening. The films of predators chasing and catching their prey are full of excitement, and make better television than endless shots of prides of lions or herds of elephants just lazing around enjoying the company of the group. This fact, says animal behaviourist Jonathan Balcombe, gives us a false impression of the natural world of prey versus predator. It is not all "nature red in tooth and claw," the expression of the day used by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850:

"Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

In Balcombe's recent book Second Nature: the Inner Lives of Animals, packed with anecdotal and experimental evidence, he shows us why he believes that animals can feel emotion, have a memory and a sense of their own lives, and even feel mental as well as physical pain. In fact the animal kingdom is much more sentient than many would like to believe. This of course has enormous ethical implications for us as humans and for our relationship with animals.

Animal cognitive science is a rapidly growing field and there is even a journal, the Animal Cognition Journal. Balcombe points out that our treatment of animals lags far behind our knowledge of them and this is an ethical issue that we all need to take on board. Balcombe has been a vegan for 30 or so years. I have been a vegetarian for several years now. Something in the order of 75 billion animals are killed to feed us each year. As I have written that sentence apparently 10,000 chickens have been killed to satisfy our appetite for meat. Quite apart from the feeling that I do not want animals killed to feed me, the world simply cannot sustain us any more at the top of the food chain. Meat is an extremely inefficient source of our food and energy when one considers the plants that have to be used to fatten the meat that we then eat.

I turned to a vegetarian diet after seeing the most beautiful large tuna being unloaded with winches from the fishing boats in Playa Santiago in La Gomera. What right have we, I thought, to allow these lovely creatures suffer to satisfy our diet when there is no need. Then I watched the lads fishing at the same port, and I watched with dismay as they threw their catches on the pavement and left them to thrash around until dead.

There is increasing evidence around that fish suffer, that they feel pain. See for example First Science.com Just because we have always done something does not allow us to continue to behave the same way unquestioningly. We do have choice and with the fish supplies dwindling in the oceans perhaps we should think more about making these choices to prevent unnecessary suffering and to increase sustainability, ultimately for the good of us all.

Monday, 29 March 2010

No news is Good News

old phonesWhen I was a little girl there were no computers or mobile phones. Most houses didn’t even have a phone in the home and people would have to go to a neighbour or the public phone box to make calls. The one we had was like the one in this picture!! One day we had a bad thunderstorm and the phone was blown up by a lightning strike, leaving a scorched hole through the wall plaster where the wiring had been!
In the public phone box we would put 4 old pennies in the slot and press Button A if the call was answered, when we would be connected, or press Button B and get our money back if there was no reply! As a Girl Guide I remember that to get one of the various badges I had to travel a mile by Scout’s Pace, (alternating walking and running), and make a telephone call from one of these public boxes. Old phone box.I was terrified of doing this: so much so that it was prearranged for me to ring home and get through to my father or mother – even with this plan it was still a daunting prospect for me and I remember being very nervous.

Now it seems that all children have mobile phones and many appear to be more comfortable using them to talk to or text their mates than in any face- to- face social situation. I dread to think of the charges the long- suffering parents of today have to face for their kids, especially as the technology changes so rapidly and I am sure kids always want the latest gismo so as to appear cool to their peers.

Of course in my childhood communication was even more difficult from abroad, if possible at all. But then trips abroad were the exception rather than the rule for holidays. When older, and as a student, we traveled through Europe or the US on camping and touring holidays there would be no telephone communication with home. We simply sent a postcard or two and that had to suffice. Even those probably arrived after we were home!!

And well I remember in those days that just before the One O’clock News on BBC Radio 4, as we were sitting down to our family lunch, there often would be a public announcement asking for Mr. or Mrs. “so-and-so” to get in touch with a certain number because their parent or other relative was perhaps dangerously or seriously ill.

Hence my mother always used to say when we went away that “no news is good news.” Because of course if anything had gone wrong she would have certainly heard about it.

Now don't we all have too much news?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

A garden is a lovesome thing God wot!

My Garden

A garden is a lovesome thing
God wot
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Fern'd grot
The veriest school
of peace and yet the fool
contends that God is not
Not God!
in Gardens when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.

by T. E. (Thomas Edward) Brown (1830-1897) , "My garden", from Old John and other Poems, published 1893

The photo is of Helen in the frost one very cold winter morning! She was sculpted by Judy Ann Cropper.
Thankyou Judy - Helen gives me much pleasure and I think she is very happy where we sited her!! At the moment she is keeping watch over the new frogspawn!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Global decline of butterflies

When I was a child and my hard working farmer father had any time to spare, he would take me for walks in the woods across the road from the farm to look for butterflies and moths. He was passionate about them and recognized them all. I remember his almost child-like delight at spotting a comma, a skipper or a painted lady – then on the South Downs of Sussex he would show us the different blues – such pretty and dainty butterflies favouring the flowers and other vegetation of those chalk slopes. The names of these beautiful insects even now flood back into my memory and evoke those long summer days that to a child seem endless.

And we were brought up to love and respect all the natural world around us, based on an understanding of the interdependencies of the different plants, animals, birds, insects that were all around us.

But even then, more than 50 years ago, alarm bells were ringing – there was already concern that butterflies were in decline in the British Isles. Now this concern is much greater and it has gone global.

There has just been a conference in the UK, (Reading), organized by the Butterfly Conservation Trust, a UK charity. attended by 300 scientists. And the conclusion is that there is still a long way to go to achieve the target set by the United Nations to halt the decline by 2010 of the world’s biodiversity. Biodiversity is the entirety of life on earth, birds, animals, butterflies, worms, fungi, bacteria, and including ourselves. David Attenborough has said that halting biodiversity loss is on a par with getting a man on the moon in its complexity, and an improvement in butterfly numbers would be a good indicator that we are winning.

Clearly in the knowledge that their target was in no way achieved, the UN have had to rethink, and they have declared this year as the International Year of Biodiversity to be formally marked on 22 May.

The UN wants to raise public awareness of the importance of biodiversity, and encourage organizations and individuals to support the rich diversity of life on earth. Gardeners and farmers are clearly at the sharp end of this initiative but we do not have to live in the country to make a difference – even the smallest plots will help, and allotments, ponds, community orchards, rooftops, parking lots, hedges and ditches, all can be nurtured to encourage biodiversity.

I am trying year on year to grow more flowers that attract bumblebees and other insect pollinators, butterflies, moths and other “bugs?” Because of course these then encourage other wild life. We can all go to a big garden, for example I go to the RHS garden at Wisley at all seasons of the year, to observe which plants the butterflies and bees like best and introduce them into our own plots.

Can we all pledge to do something, however small, to make a difference to our local biodiversity? Let's have some exchange of ideas. What will you do?

Friday, 26 March 2010

Why slums are a good thing - apparently

SlumsDid you watch Slumdog Millionaire? As you watched it did you think that the answers to our climate change and sustainability problems could be found in the slums of cities such as Mumbai and Hanoi? Did you like me think that slum living cannot possibly be a “good thing” and that the poverty of these densely packed areas needs to be addressed as a global humanity problem? We could be wrong apparently.

I have just read something that flies in the face of everything I have held as vitally important to living well in strong community. My gut feeling, and I know I am not alone, is that rural living is idyllic, healthy for body and soul, allowing us to get in touch with the earth beneath our feet and the natural world around us. Why otherwise do city dwellers rush to the countryside for their weekend breaks away from the bright lights? Sure we go up to the city for culture and entertainment, but I always breath a huge sigh of relief when I return from such a trip to the open rural space where I am fortunate enough to live. It seems to me counter intuitive to live in a city.

Houseboat docks, with downtown St. Paul in the backgroundInspired by a densely populated, tight knit houseboat community in San Francisco Bay, architect Peter Calthorp believes that good community, or new urbanism as he calls it, is based on what he has termed “walkability,” when everyone has to meet with everyone else on a regular basis as they all go about their day to day business. That certainly satisfies the sound community envisaged by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks where everyone knows everyone else by name.

Dharavi slums, MumbaiSo I can see the sense of this relatively new idea. Very densely packed conurbations, slums, urbanization by any name, are hugely efficient in the use of resources, energy, hospitals, schools, for example, and in sustainability with recycling etc. Many of us have seen TV documentaries following the recycling efforts of children on the rubbish tips of slums, where it seems everything has a further use. Slums produce innovative businesses and occupations, not shackled by all the rules and regulations of modern life. That does sound appealing. But of course there is a downside – in health issues for example.

All this and more is in a fascinating article I found in Prospect magazine, (Feb 2010 How Slums Can Save the Planet), while visiting my son last weekend. It is written by Stewart Brand, one of the world’s most influential and controversial environmentalists – see for example his latest book Whole Earth Discipline.

I am impressed with the arguments that Brand and Calthorp use and I recommend you read the article in full. I now have the book which I shall read and I shall post a review at some time in the near future.

I cannot help but feel that something is missing in these ideas, something valued highly by human ecologist Alastair McIntosh for example, so beautifully expressed in his book Soil and Soul. Yes that’s it; humanity needs soul and spirit. Institutional religion may be on the decline, but spirituality is definitely and significantly on the increase. Indeed the reason that some churches are in decline may even be because they have lost sight of the spiritual side of their worship, they do not provide what the public want and need. I have just read two really good books by zoologist David Hay. He is also a practicing Christian but he is certainly not “preachy.” In Something There: The Biology of the Human Spirit, Hay explores the results of his own carefully designed experiments into spirituality and religion over 30 years, and skillfully makes the case for spirituality as the vital ingredient for human well being and for meaningful lives.

His later book, Why Spirituality is Difficult for Westerners, is in fact an expansion of one of his chapters in Something There. In this short and well -written essay in four chapters, he explains why he thinks that spirituality or what he otherwise describes as relational consciousness, far from being something we pick up from indoctrinations in our upbringing, is actually something we are born with, that has survived through biological natural selection as something that is of value to our survival. This, he says, underpins both religion and ethics, indeed is a precursor of both. But it is threatened, at our peril, by the new individualism, the Me Millenium. I have written fuller reviews of both books on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Both Hay’s books are well supported with scientific and theological references as well as with illustration from poetry and prose – which adds a further and interesting dimension to his writing. I recommend them both.

But how does this idea, that new urbanization holds the key to our global problems, fit in with nature and the countryside? Whilst controversy and debate continues over the facts surrounding climate change and our role in handling this, the ecologists have little doubt that we are part of a complex web of life and we are damaging this fragile global ecosystem. We have become aware that any of our actions must weave into that whole living system. Traditional indigenous cultures understand that and activist and futurist Elizabet Sahtouris feels strongly that there are important lessons to be learnt from them. I so agree. They have wisdom that we have lost in our urbanization. As James Lovelock reminds us, in his book The Revenge of Gaia, (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2006), we need “to renew that love and empathy for nature that we lost when we began our love affair with city life.” Brand suggests that we need a new profession, that of “active urban ecology.” Who then protects the countryside, and for what purpose? I don’t like the sound of this at all!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Stop the Drop - Save our countryside from trash

and the streets were littered with cerveza cans

Trash, garbage, litter, whatever you call it, £2.1 million per day is spent in England alone on clearing it up. 1.3 million items are thrown down each weekend!! As I drive around our beautiful countryside I am dismayed by the litter along the verges. I have followed lorry drivers and watched as they toss empty drink cans or sandwich wrappers out of the cab window. I have seen car drivers empty out their car ashtrays onto the tarmac of the supermarket car park. I have seen swans hurt through swallowing fish hooks and nylon line, birds that have died in a tangle of string or netting carelessly left lying around outside. I have seen laybys festooned with the remnants of picnics because the family could not be bothered to take their litter home.
The workers who walk along the sides of the roads with their litter picker tools and the sacks to receive the garbage are clearly putting themselves in danger - and it is all our fault! Road signs alerting us to the dangers they face are increasing in number. In France the signs give them names - hoping perhaps that personalising the sign a little in this way will get through to us, help us to heed it.

But why don't we just "stop the drop?"
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has started a campaign, headed up by Bill Bryson, who is a staunch supporter of everything British. Will you support it?

I'm Trash Pictures, Images and Photos

So please dispose of your litter thoughtfully and carefully, so that England may remain green and pleasant for those who come along after us.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living

West Burton BWWhen we eat into our capital investments, everyone knows that the income from those investments will decline. Over the longer term it is dangerous to do this. We run out of the resources that enable us to live. But that is what we are doing to the earth.
I read somewhere, cannot remember where, that the maximum ecological footprint we should leave from our activities is 1.8 hectares per annum, but we are using up 2.2 hectares - eating into our capital investment. We cannot continue to do this if we want a long term future on God's earth.

Of course we are getting better at recycling, reusing, being more economical with our energy usage, etc etc. But "The fact remains that without Government intervention, these (measures to address climate change) are likely to remain disconnected, piecemeal and ultimately insufficient...Personal efforts, when not secured by Government intervention, are likely to pove ultimately ineffectual."

This quote comes from a fine book I have on my shelf: Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living by Nick Spencer and Robert White, (2007, SPCK), of the Jubilee Centre. In spite of the title, this book is written, as stated in the Preface, for Christians and non Christians alike, as a "uniquely holistic response to the problem of climate change."

After revisiting the nature of the problem, the book then explores the biblical perspective of sustainable living, and concludes with 3 chapters on how Christians can and must respond, emphasising the unique position of global faiths to tackle global problems.
This is not only a fine theological journey through the links between faith, religion and climate change, it is also a very practical book, full of what we are doing and what we can and must do.
Whilst government intervention is all very well and good, I fear that too many of us expect such interventions to solve every ill of society without accepting our own personal responsibilities. And Christians have a huge responsibility to lead on these issues. If we fail to care for the things that God cares about, we are surely failing to love God.

Another book that has come out more recently is Creation in Crisis - Christian Perspectives on Sustainability, edited by Robert S White, a fine collection of essays by both distinguished scientists and theologians.
Why, the blurb asks, is so little being done to save our planet. Because, it points out, "we do not want to face up to the fact that the material comforts we enjoy are bought at a cost to other people and to the natural world. This volume highlights the seriousness of environmental degradation and climate change, the root causes and possible solutions, and the contribution of Christian thinking to these issues."

13 years ago Hugh Montefiore, former Anglican Bishop of Birmingham UK, wrote a gem of a little paperback: Time to Change - Challenge for an Endangered Planet, a book designed to stir people to action and commitment to saving the environment, illustrated throughout with biblical readings and notes for reflection. Towards the end of his life, Montefiore was so dismayed with the lack of Christian action on these issues that he moved his allegiance to the Friends of the Earth, where he was chairman for several years. His book is still available and still worthy of a read.

So much science, so much data, so much evidence, so much need to live simpler lives so that others may simply live.
When are we all going to wake up and start living those simpler, more sustainable lives? For God's sake?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Nature with Spring in its step

Sometime during the last few days both my two small ponds have filled with huge dollops of frogspawn. Is this earlier than usual?

Although we have had a week of lovely spring like days on and off, the penalty we pay for clear skies at this time of year is cold nights, even frosts in places. Is nature being fooled? The blue tits have been visiting the nesting box for several weeks and I am sure they are now feeding their young in there. Is there enough food for them?

Even the daffodils are at last opening in the garden. Perhaps spring really is on the way.

I have just spent a glorious morning on the allotment in sunshine that was so warm that I stripped down to just a tee shirt!! Now it is cold and raining yet again! But there are wonderful spring signs up there. The rhubarb is showing through and the lovely Cerinthe have self seeded for another wonderful flower show later in the year. The brassicas have recovered from the pigeon damage in the snow, with the help of some less than neat netting that I put up in an icy wind and there are still some brussel sprouts for picking.

It is a wonderful feeling to be able to obtain all our vegetable needs from the plot, free of chemicals and other unknown nasties on shop produce. I shall be posting photos and a diary of my vegetable growing endeavours throughout this coming year.

And how about these amorous parsnips!

Monday, 15 March 2010

More reasons to love Madeira - Funchal

Why I Love Mallorca

Why I love the spring

After such a long cold winter even the hardiest British souls were getting truly fed up with cold, dark damp days. Even more of a joy therefore on Mothering Sunday to have a beautiful spring day, warm (out of the wind) and certainly sunny.
We took a trip to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens and were rewarded by spring bulbs emerging in all their fresh glory. Here are a few:

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Why I Love Madeira

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



with vapor trails


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