Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: environment

Apart but not isolated: walk, look, smell, listen…

I’m fortunate, living here, very close to the Forth estuary and no longer in the constraints of a flat (apartment), in that I can take my daily permitted local exercise* (see below) by foot or bike along a few hundred metres of lane to the river banks or a little further into dense and gently-managed woodland, each with their hidden wonders to discover.

One advantage of having been told to work at home, for which I’d already prepared, seeing the way things were going, is that I can do so to timings that suit my own energy and motivation levels better than the standard working day.  The work tasks I can do here are necessary but dull and repetetive admin, so it’s important to me to ensure I make best use of any good weather spells and the best daylight to take my permitted local exercise*.  If I could find a way of making a living that involved always working with this degree of flexibility, I would do so, anyway, while it lasts, I intend to enjoy it.  This is one way I’m approaching the enforced (and, I agree, for now, necessary) self-isolation that most people around the world are enduring right now.

Getting outside, even just into the small garden space I have (and very much appreciate), is important to me.  Taking walks within the constraints of, as far as possible, staying in my home zone is opening up opportunities for me to explore my local area in more depth and gradually find more hidden refuges for a restless mind to rest a while, stop, open out the senses and experience to see and hear beyond our busy and cluttered but self-centred human preoccupations.

I’ll share a few images and words from this, as time goes on.  For now, my work motivation is returning, so here are a few photos from the last few days.  Maybe some more and some sketches to follow.

* – permitted local exercise* … how easily have we fallen into accepting and, largely, complying with this immense constraint on our liberty?  While most agree that it is at present a necessary, provided temporary, measure to take, we must remain aware of and awake to the implications of this and the various forms of “emergency” legislation that have just been passed, with little real scrutiny.  If we want to return to a relatively free society as we get to grips with the COVID19 pandemic (and I am confident we will, despite the widespread incompetence and rampant dishonesty of governments), then we MUST keep questioning and challenging, responsibly, all of these constraints.  We have an opportunity to consider seriously the kind of society, institutions and “economy” (in its broadest sense) that we want to live in and participate in; a subject for a future article.  This extended “winter” is a time, as with the season itself, for new seeds to prepare for germination and when “spring” does return, those that grow leaves first tend to grow tallest.  To be continued.  

Wishing you well, wherever you are.

Stay well, prepare the seeds.

Food Future.

The UK Government has launched a public consultation on the future of our food and food production:  If you are interested in your food and are in the UK, I urge you to put in at least a comment, more voices are essential.

My initial contribution is here, below, followed by (not one but) three free recipes! 

As one who values the quality of the food we eat, the well-being of the animals whom we raise and consume and the long-term health of the environment of which we are all a part, I am deeply concerned about the future direction of our food production and import/export strategies.

I hear and see conflicting messages and strategies between areas such as economic activity, trade deals and food production that are at the least hampering and at worst actively preventing the changes to farming practices, food processing and trading, animal welfare and the related industries that we must make, starting this year, to achieve a genuinely sustainable way of living that promotes human and animal health and well-being.
Henry Dimbleby [the appointed lead for this consultation] rightly states:

“Intensive farming practises have caused serious damage to the environment and the food related disease is costing the NHS billions and drastically harming the lives of millions. Food security, too, is a growing concern: population growth, climate change, the global increase in meat eating are intensifying resource competition between nations”

but, even with so many influential people saying all the right words, we see examples of the likelihood of deeply unequal trade deals with (eg) the USA that will require us to accept and, through participation, support the very farming practices that are continuing to damage soil and organisms upon which we depend for healthy crops and continuted intensive crop and animal production to provide greater meat supplies; these [and other] actions contradict the fine words, however popular they may be among the many people who resist examining the consequences of their own actions. This is the route to disaster for us all.

Leaving the EU will open some opportunities for a few but, for the majority, I see no benefits and considerable harm arising from our weakened position in the world. Nevertheless, what this will demand is that we make real and immediate changes to domestic agricultural and fishing policies and practices in favour of both reducing harmful outputs (carbon emissions, chemical runoff and fossil energy consumption) and making more resilient domestic production networks.

It requires genuine, long-sighted political leadership of the kind not well-suited to our short-term democratic processes and certainly not in evidence of late. This may well require doing things that are unpopular – whether this means raising the cost of all forms of meat, standing our ground in trade negotiations in respect of food production methods and standards or working collaboratively with our neighbours in agreeing to restrict marine exploitation for the long-term benefit of that ecosystem, not the short-term benefit of a voting constituency. We may all have to share the load of supporting people through the transition from harmful to sustainable food production methods; we will all share in the future benefits.

Political courage and vision, both lacking at present, are urgently needed for this, based upon evidence and not nostalgia, tradition or ideas of cultural identity that are sustaining the unsustainable.

I look forward to seeing how this “debate” unfolds and contributing to it, as long as it becomes a genuine cause of action and not just another “consultation” that is ignored in favour of short-term expediency and dubious deals. It is time to walk the talk.

Thank you for reading this far, here are some recipes: bon appetit/eet smaakelijk!

Recipe 1: butternut squash and grilled red pepper soup

chop it all up small, grill strips of the pepper first then chop.
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded
1 onion, fried in the pan first
Olive or rapeseed or coconut oil
Ground black pepper to taste
Finely chopped ginger root
(Optional ground coriander seeds or ground cardamom seeds)

Chop it all up, fry onions then add all except the pepper, add enough water or veg stock to just float it all, boil then simmer for about 20min, blend until as smooth as you like, add chopped grilled pepper.
I like to stir in or garnish with coconut milk or yogurt.

Image may contain: coffee cup and food

Recipe 2: Non-dairy Whack-a-mole!

Guacamole without dairy content: I substituted non-dairy soft cheese (from Sainsburys) for the usual cream, non-dairy yogurt or coconut milk would also do, plus mashed up avocado with lemon juice and pepper, a bit of sea salt too…
It was so nice that I forgot to take a photo, sorry, though it still looks like green mush so you can imagine it easily enough!

Recipe 3: Giant Puffball Fungus Feast

One of the advantages of cycling to work is that I can notice and stop to harvest some lovely wild food, yesterday I picked up one of these, about grapefruit sized, from the verge on a lane near home. It’s the first one I’ve ever found in perfect cooking condition.

This website gives good identification information and a recipe, which I used as below and per the attached photos.  [you’ll have to search on that site for Giant Puffball, they’d moved the page I originally linked to, it’s a good site]

I ate half last night and the rest is in the fridge…. I’ve got my eye on another one growing there…
A white wine would go well with it, in moderation of course, or Elderflower cordial. It has a delicate taste and a nice soft but not slimy texture when cooked that reminds me of a slightly firm Brie.

Washed, sliced, fried in olive & rapeseed oil, dipped in egg & seasoned (pepper, a bit of salt) flour, fried again, served with omelette &peppers, plus a blob of non-dairy (coconut-based) cream cheese, natural yogurt or a mild creamy cheese would do too. better with a simple salad or crisp stir fried greens, maybe stir-fried sunflower seeds with sea salt. Nothing too strongly flavoured or you’ll miss the point of the fungus. The egg and flour (or breadcrumbs) gives a nice crispy coating.

Image may contain: food

Walking in the Wind

We had planned to go further north and west, a friend and I, to climb bigger mountains in the Mamore range, near Ben Nevis.  The weather has been keeping just ahead of the forecasters and what appeared promising for today became a prospective struggle in arduous winds with likely snow and hail in that area; Plan B was formed, Ben Vorlich, the western one, by Loch Lomond, shorter, closer, still a quality mountain and, for me, a new one.


The wind was strong, the air cool, I put on extra layers for the first time since March.  The walk in, from the car park near the hydro-electric power station south of Ardlui, revealed rugged peaks and advancing bands of rain and lower cloud.  My camera was going to have to be my  sketchbook today.


We had a good ascent up a clear and well-used path, good conversation and challenging questions augmented by challenging squalls of wind and rain and good scenery.

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Despite the wind, perhaps 45 knots on the summit, we found calm shelter behind contorted rocks to eat lunch and greet other visitors, including a pair of ravens to whom we offered encouragement, but no lunch, in memory of an incident on another mountain.

There were many moments of dramatic and fast-changing light, mist, views, too fast to draw, even had I been alone; memory and the camera would have to capture what they could, for later reflection and inspiration.

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I love the drama of strong contrasts, the many greys of clouds, deep inky-black land-forms under murky masses of cloud while dazzled by a bright shaft of sunlight and slivers of silver light off wet rocks or a wedge of vivid green-yellow grass against deep blue- or brown-black mountain sides behind.  I feel the urge to paint these things, the motivation is building again to do this.


Descent felt tiring, though not difficult, my feet chafing more than usual, my faithful boots feel like they are less a part of me than previously. Less conversation now, more concentration.  Reaching the road felt good, we had completed a “quality mountain day”, as the guidance notes for my logbook used to say.  We have had food for body, spirit and mind today; bon appetit!


Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond

Mist, clearing…

It’s been a pleasantly mild, damp, misty day… somewhat “dreich” but a welcome disincentive to prevaricate and go out on the bike or on foot and, instead, make some progress indoors at the keyboard on something I’m writing to try to persuade the local government to deal with some dangerous gaps in local cycling routes…

Still, I had to get outside for a short while and the Forth Estuary is only a few hundred metres away, over the dykes that keep the shore away from being almost a private, muddy, beach near the house I live in just now.


Nobody else was around, though I could hear distant traffic on the Clackmannan Bridge, “normal” people were watching TV, gaming, Face-booking or whatever, not walking in wellies over squelching salt-marsh grasses with the warm scent of nearby mud and water and wet grass filling their senses.


Perched on a yellow navigation marker, high above the low water, a small group of Cormorants sat making quiet noises and hanging out their wings in the damp air to dry.  Other birds circled and screeched but remained invisible to me, their pale plumage blending them into the low cloud above.  An occasional gull stood on the mud, looking at it with a pessimistic air, in my mind at least.  Water bubbled quietly in a few thin drainage channels while I made a sketch and took a few photographs.


I returned over a tidy line of spring-tide flotsam, leftovers of many lives, up against the dyke, climbed up through wet vegetation and back, pausing to smell the intense scent of the remaining wild roses, a bumble bee frantically busy collecting nectar and pollen.  All activity felt remote and small-scale, as if the world were taking a Sunday rest.

The misty air was clearing, a bit, from the West and with it, my mind felt a little more active and ready… home, coffee, cookies, words.

Balloons, post-script.

Looking back just over a year through previous posts, I found the post linked below, (Balloons, EBI) which I’ve updated with a postscript.  I’m in a better place, now, but see much of the same thing going on.  Even in a small circle of influence, I am doing what I can to leave things better than I found them and to leave the seeds of improvement in the minds of others I work with.

white and red plastic heart balloon on sky during daytime

Photo by Pixabay on

Photo: David E. Gurniewicz,

I would like to be planting, metaphorically in this context, a forest of oaks and beech and ash trees, interventions that lead to a big shift in how things are being done, that leave a lasting result. Unrealistic aspiration, grandiose self-delusion?


In reality I am probably sowing smaller seeds, in the hope that they give rise to plants that can thrive in devastated land, like the Willow-Herb that is abundant in this part of Scotland, and produce flowers that feed many insects… less spectacular but possibly more widespread benefits…  I will never really know, but it helps prevent cynicism.


If none of this makes sense, have a look at the original post, I don’t feel articulate enough this evening to labour the point.  I’m off now to make another cup of tea and continue work on turning old scaffolding planks into a dining table.

Balloons – EBI

Despite everything, I think it is still worth it.

Thank you for putting your trash in a bin.  It does make a difference.


Alternatives to Balloon releases.