Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: sustainability

The causes of raspberries


I’m due to move at the end of the week, so I’ve been dismantling shelving and re-packing the few things I unpacked on arrival up here in Scotland last year. This time it’s a shorter move, about 6 or 7 miles closer to work, which will take about 40min off my cycle commute (I’m not a fast cyclist), and to a more self contained cottage, a welcome change from living in flats for the last few years.

I took some relaxing time out at the end of the afternoon, to walk through the birdsong-resonant Callendar Woods and down to the lochan by the house. It has been one of those overcast, warm, still days that mute the light and makes for a soporific , timeless feeling in the air. Leaves have sprung from nearly all the trees, blossoms are out, insects buzz around and a lot of birds have already begun to lay their eggs. I found empty blackbird eggshells and one duck egg that a crow or similar had evidently robbed and partly eaten, by the paths.

Most people had gone home but there were still some families out as well as a couple of small groups of youths, sitting and muttering quietly to each other. A few younger children were out and running around, one adult, one of their parents, close by. The children were shouting at each other, only when I drew a bit closer did I hear more clearly them telling each other, in a playful tone of voice, to fuck off, repeatedly… the parent seemed unconcerned …. but then yesterday by the shopping mall in town I heard several parents swearing profusely at and in front of their young children…. the seeds of another abusive and angry generation are sown. Causes and effects, I see some of the fruits of this in school.

Other causes and conditions are coming together to create new phenomena too, the flower buds are forming on the raspberry plants that grow profusely in the woods. I could buy raspberries now in the supermarkets if I wanted but, for several reasons, I resist this to wait for the local, wild, harvest. The wild ones taste better too, perhaps they arise from healthier causes and conditions, less stressed and pressurised, able to take their own time to become ready.

raspberry plants with buds


Ticking outside the box.

I did Prevent training today,
which, when reading some of the definitions of its scope,
reveals a disturbing degree of room for opening out
the mouth of the net of state attention and intervention
to catch far more than those who are bent on
violence and harm and destruction,
but also those who see a different way forward that
is not the status quo,
does not make the present model of how we should live
that would make much of the present system
without violence
and open a clearing in the forest
in which fresh new and healthy things can grow
from seeds that have always been there.

I ticked a box, concerning noticing signs
of Radicalisation,
there were maybe eight learning objectives;
I learned nine.

This video raises some relevant questions
and is in its own way inspiring,
if you are interested in questions
and not just ticking boxes.



Balloons – EBI

I am sending this to my colleagues at the school I work at, today, in the emotional heat of organising and participating in what are often very worthwhile events and activities, it is too easy to forget that whatever we do has consequences.  By the way, WWW means ‘what went well’ and EBI means ‘even better if’, used in our school evaluations with students.

“If you are planning a balloon release, for whatever reason, please watch the linked video [] . This sort of activity is contributing to significant harm, both on land, to domesticated and wild animals, and particularly at sea, where many more balloons than people realise end up, adding to the growing and severe problem of plastics and other similar man-made detritus in the oceans. Even genuinely “biodegradable” balloons do a lot of harm to livestock and birds etc before they eventually break down, as shown in the video.

I request that we choose instead activities that at least minimise harm, such as releasing hydrogen-filled soap-bubbles [helium is a finite resource] or that bring actual longer term benefits to our environment and community. This would be more in keeping with our purpose as a school.

Perhaps in this context our evaluation could then read something like this:

WWW: we showed the children how to commemorate/celebrate without causing pollution and harm, we released bubbles….

EBI: we will show the children how to commemorate / celebrate by adding something lasting and beautiful to the area, we plan next time to plant trees.



That was a year ago.  A few staff emailed me back with supportive comments.  The staff who planned to release balloons did so anyway. There was no discussion of the issue that I was aware of and no response from the Head.  I was not surprised, except perhaps in getting any kind of response at all.

I continue to see what should be shocking levels of ignorance, thoughtlessness and wasteful behaviours among teaching staff and management levels in schools and I do what I can in my role as a technician to avoid or mitigate this.  There are some who are the opposite, of course, but they seem rarely to get into positions of real influence or get disillusioned and leave the profession.

I try not to let these experiences make me cynical, even if my circle of influence shrinks to my own arms’ reach, I can do things differently in my own space.  It does however weaken my motivation and sense of loyalty to organisations and people whose declared purpose I believe in passionately, when I see them behaving in ways that run counter to that.  Dis-illusion perhaps, seeing things as they are…?  I want to use that as the basis for more effective action, a work in progress.


I have no car this weekend, it failed its MOT and awaits remedial work after the Easter holiday.
My travels are curtailed – train,  now walking.
Yet I feel much more free.

House, Home and Happiness

I live in a small but pleasant first floor (the first one above the ground, if you’re American) flat on a busy road in what I suppose is an ‘average’ area of this city in the middle of England.
I have enough space, just, for most of the things that I possess and adequate space for the things I actually need.
I would like to have a little more space, a room that could be a studio/office, a utility or workshop room, a garage or at least a covered area for the car that I still need, enough garden space in which to grow vegetables, set up some solar panels, a place to run a wood-kiln or experiment with rocket stoves or perhaps make a surfboard. This would be good, it would allow me to do things more easily, enable me to live more closely to the way that I want to and reduce further my consumption of ‘stuff’ and energy, perhaps even generate some. It would be enough.
I thought about this as I was driven past some lovely, large, relatively new, houses in a wealthy part of Cheshire the other night. Apparently they are mostly owned by ‘celebrities’ – footballers and others who are ‘famous’ for a variety of reasons – or by people whose work is valued highly in today’s society, whatever its contribution to the happiness, or suffering, in the world.
The houses were impressive, superficially attractive, sometimes beautiful, sometimes not, but all prompted my curiosity. I wondered about the people living there, what they were doing that evening, how warm it was inside, behind the grand and secured gates. Many had the appearance of being full of people, to judge by the number of lit windows, or perhaps they just left the lights on. Some had carefully designed outside lights, too, stage lights to display the houses and gateways. Some of these up-lights had the unfortunate effect of making the windows look like black holes, skull-like empty sockets. The house assumed the aspect of an empty office building or a prison under this lighting.
Were the occupants really eating very different food or enjoying very much better and more satisfying showers than I am able to? They could only eat one meal at a time, take one shower or bath at a time, sleep in one of the many beds, watch the same TV programs as most other people, probably even discuss similar things. Were they really as much happier than ‘average’ people, in compensation for the substantially greater cost in financial outlay and maintenance and worry involved in these modern mansions? Do they have fewer arguments, happier and more satisfying relationships, tastier food, much longer lives, greater insights and wisdom… Do they get their money’s worth?
How hard do they have to work to keep up these homes? How much extra insurance and administration do they have to pay for and do? How peacefully do they sleep when they are away?
We drove on, my girlfriend and I, to a lovely meal, good company, finally back to a small but comfortable and clean and sufficient flat, with only a small garden plot and no security gates.
We slept well.


I’ve just emerged from a busy supermarket into the brisk sensory immediacy of a cold, rainy, very British December evening.  It is a welcome shock that helps bring me back from the numbing of my mind induced by the relentless seasonal musack, the intensely bright light and the aisles of super-laden shelves.

As I start the car and turn northwards towards a shared weekend, I wonder whether freedom really equals choice and whether choice equals freedom, at least in terms of material goods?

Is there not perhaps a point beyond which greater choice becomes oppressive and limits our freedom to enjoy living and our relationships with others?

My cup is empty and I am running late…  I could choose to write more… but I choose to move on … people are more important than these words.

Safe journeys to any readers out there.

Art and Landfill

My main job this week has been to throw works of art into a skip. I am clearing out several years’ worth of accumulated student coursework that the department here had decided it should keep beyond the few months required by exam boards (in case of appeals). Those who wanted to reclaim their work have had ample time so to do; the majority either forgot or weren’t attached enough to the work to bother.

If I were to estimate the hours of research, thought and effort that the students put into this mass of creative output, I suspect it would equate to several lifetimes of artistic expression and exploration. As another portfolio of brightly coloured artwork goes in, with a flash of bright colours, glittering sequins and foil, exhuberant frills and textures, I wonder briefly how absorbed was the student who spent his or her time making this piece.  How much did they struggle with or enjoy the process?  How much pride and confidence did they feel after completing it?  What were the associations that they experienced while producing this work?  What would they feel if they were to look at it now, would they throw it willingly in the skip or would they want, after all, to keep it?

Then there is the quantity of material consumed in this process.  The sheer volume of paper, card, metal foil, glue, wire, paint and so on is impressive; disturbing, too.  I have managed to reclaim some paper, a few other materials, whatever had a genuine use now in the department, but I don’t have enough time to strip down everything, so much has to go.

I dislike this waste, even though it is at least the product of a constructive educational process and all practical subjects require practice and some ‘wastefulness’ to learn and refine skills.  What bothers me the most, I think, is that the creative process has involved so little apparent consideration of the origin and fate of the materials, the “bigger picture” so to speak, the wider consequences of creative activity.  I have an impression that there is a general unwillingness in most school departments to consider the issue of waste and consumption, except in purely financial terms, and even then, inconsistently. If we could at least incinerate it in a school boiler, we would reclaim some useful energy from it all before sending the ash to the landfill.

So I just do the modest things that I can, right now; reclaim usable paper for sketching and painting, set aside reusable canvases and stretchers, salvage useful timber to pass to the Design & Technology store.  I use some wood from old printing frames to make a plant-pot stand for my flat – I’m growing peppers and chillies in the window.

Here goes some more old pottery, glazed and so beyond recycling.  Heavy, lumpy pots, exhuberantly ambitious and small monuments to adolescent baroque taste, fun to look at but perhaps not what you might want to live with.  A few are salvaged by passing staff, some well-made slab-pots, as are some paintings which I give to inquisitive and appreciative young Year 7 pupils whom I have to prevent from climbing into the skip in a frenzy of treasure-hunting; if I’d known they’d be this popular, I’d have set up a stall and sold them to make some money for the department!

Before I leave it all at the end of the day, just another skip-full of rubbish, until you look closely, I reflect on my own feelings to disposing of or destroying my own artwork.  Usually I’ve painted over older work but I have also burned batches of other things, drawings, sketches, notes, paintings for which I had neither space nor further use.  On a couple of occasions this has been a sort of ritual of moving on, a ‘funeral’ for a particular stage in my life, cathartic in a way but more a marker for me and a process of attempting to transform earlier material into new energy and motivation for change.

In the end it’s all to do with letting go, becoming free of attachment and able to use the past as the foundation for now and the future. Real, physical foundations are, inevitably, out of sight yet retain their essential function; if we keep on digging them up to look at them, we  undermine them too.

So this skip-load will soon head for the municipal dump and will mostly end up adding to the vast volume of ‘stuff’ in the ground, fermenting quietly and noxiously for future generations to suffer or have to deal with.  At least most of this load is fairly innocuous and stable: wood fibres and inert hydrocarbons, various metal oxides, silicates, clays, glass, some metals… enough to form a small layer of interesting rock, perhaps.  While present seagulls will be disappointed as they pull apart the bright paper, future geologists, in whatever form they may take, will at least have cause to wonder at what happened in this ancient, wasteful, era;  the rock might even look nice, too.