Trying not to be part of the problem.

Travelling Light

I landed at 9:55am and sped through customs. Having no checked baggage to wait for made this easy. I flashed my passport to the powers that be and that was that: home.

I had spent the last two days in Toronto, which is 3,412 miles from where I live. It was only poor forward planning that left me there so short a time. Somehow my reputation proceeded me: at the wedding, at least three different people asked me if I was "the guy who's only here until tomorrow". They were impressed, perhaps, by my fleetingness; or confused, more likely. No point hanging around, I said. No, I didn't say that really. Not out loud.

Toronto is a charming place. I stayed at the Holiday Inn in the Downtown area, amongst skyscrapers, 24 hour mini-markets, an "Irish" pub or two, and other buildings of little aesthetic or actual interest. I jumped to the conclusion that the whole city was much like this, which was a mistake. It is not. My apologies, Toronto, I was tired.

Through the miracle of more or less ubiquitous WiFi, Kieran and I located one another immediately, and settled upon the Hair of the Dog pub on Church Street as the location where we eat, refresh ourselves and compose a speech for tomorrow's wedding. Are we the best men (both in the context of the wedding, and in general)? Do we really have only three minutes between us to speak about, of all people, Ross? Do Canadians drink beer in pints? So many questions.

Kieran was not feeling well. Kieran flies great distances all the time. His last trip was to Libya. He feared he might have caught a cold from another passenger. I speculated he might have caught some awful tropical disease. This didn't reassure him, and he corrected my geography. Libya isn't tropical.

We ordered beer and drank it; food, and are it. We agreed that writing a speech about Ross under such conditions was impossible. So we drank more beer, and retired.

Next morning, Kieran instructed me to meet him at Kensington Market, about a mile's walk from my hotel. It was raining heavily at 7am as I sought and found somewhere open that time on a Sunday that might provide coffee. The machine in my room was not working, although in fact at was, as Kieran later demonstrated. By the time I had consumed a "breakfast cookie" (gluten free and vegan) and a "triple" Americano (confirming in the process that Android Pay works in Canada) the rain had eased off and I set off on foot to Kieransville.

My sense of direction is terrible. It's not inconceivable that without Google maps and GPS I might by now be dead. Still it helps to have some human input when you're navigating a strange city, so I asked someone sweeping up outside a Wendy's for directions. This way is north, she said. This way is east. If you want to get to Kensington market, you need to walk east to the corner of Something and Blah and get the streetcar. I fancy a walk, I explained. It's only a mile on the map. Oh, she said. This threw her for six. Walking to your destination in Canada is as unusual as in the USA, perhaps. She had no idea how to give directions to pedestrians. The second stranger and asked for help was the same. I trusted Google though, and it saw me right. People: useless.

Kensington Market is an interesting place.  It's not a market in the British sense of the term: more an entire city block of shops selling things that markets usually sell, indoors and out.  An abundance of fruit and veg, and herbs:

At 10:30am on a Sunday morning, one of the many tattoo parlours had a queue of enthusiastic and impatient locals waiting for it to open, which might be the most hipster thing I have ever seen:

Or maybe that's this:

Or possibly this:

No, it's this:

Kieran and I made a brief documentary:

We settled in a cafe to write our speech for the wedding.  Kieran ate a breakfast bagel.  I had something strongly avocado-themed.  Obviously.  It was delicious, and reasonably priced.  Canada is very reasonably priced.  That said, my monthly budget flew straight out the window as soon as landed.  When you're spending foreign money, it doesn't feel like you're really spending money, but you are.  A taxi from the airport was $60.  I could possibly have walked it.  The bus back was $7.70.  I could possibly have walked that too, although I might have missed my flight.

Everything I needed for my journey fit into the backpack I use in everyday life: my suit for the wedding, my Chromebook, phone and various chargers and batteries, my passport, a change of clothes, my toothbrush, and my medication.  I wore the same shoes for travelling and walking as for wedding, which performed admirably.  To be in a foreign country with only the things you can carry to get you through the day, with only a cheap(ish) hotel room to lay your head in, with only one pair of shoes and some of your wits, feels wonderful.  I think the intoxicating feeling of the "travel bug" has a lot to do with just being able to leave your stuff behind, and get on with living.  Money, unfortunately, remains necessary.

Or perhaps not.

Musings for Airports

Everything is interesting.  Everything is ambient.

Mistakes on a Plane

Lufthansa and Air Canada's vegan options are...somewhat limited.  Life is absurd.

Sunday Linkdump

Some things that have come to my attention this week.

Indoor garden update

Look I made a video.

Individually packaged sugar portions are stupid, and so are you, so am I, and so is everything else in world

A night shift became available suddenly last night, so on the way in I decided to treat myself to a coffee, even though I said I should probably stop doing that. Anyway, it caught my attention in doing so how Costa have adopted a policy of offering 25p off the price of your takeaway coffee if you bring your own reusable cup. This is surely a good thing, if it encourages people not to use disposable coffee cups, and might even signify the first inklings of high street giants of the potential profits to be made from the zero waste demographic. Naturally, however, I have a number questions.

My First 'Zero Waste' Weekend

Strawberry Gardens forever...

Friday is a market day in Bury, so I made it my mission to explore for the first time with my "zero waste" goggles on.  Results were...mixed, but encouraging.

What is a meal? (And other difficult questions)

Don't be greedy with your ingredients.  In greedy ents.

Another Green Afternoon

Sunday afternoon I was back at Sarah and Jon's for part two of our exciting gardening adventure (part one is here).  It was a glorious afternoon, and the seeds we planted two weeks ago have all begun to sprout. This made me feel happy.

Sarah was disappointed with the progress of the mustard seeds, but I think they're doing fine. I don't think they're necessarily a 'grow bag' sort of plant though. I think they'll sprout just as well in shallower soil, and might not even need as much sun as they've been getting.

Taking the Zero Waste Plunge

In which I ponder the possibility of never eating beans on toast ever again.

Energy and the Election

Riding on the bus this morning, taking full advantage of the free WiFi now available on most public transport in Greater Manchester, I happened to glance at the time. 6:57am.  What the heck, I wondered to myself, I'll tune in to the Today Programme and catch the so-called "headlines".

A Bit More Foraging

In a post a few weeks ago, I celebrated the joy of living near a park.  More and more I find myself drawn to plants, to trees, to gardens and parks, and to the people who appreciate and maintain them.  Gardeners are wise, peaceful and interesting people, every single one of them (probably).  George Harrison (no less) dedicated his autobiography "to gardeners everywhere".  The other day I was chatting to a wise older lady about allotments in Manchester.  She has had hers for years.   She knew all about gardening. She new about a lot of things.  You could see it in her eyes somehow.
George Harrison: fond of plants.

Vegan Reading and Research

Writing a book is hard work, and hard work is really not what I'm all about.  But I do want to write a book, so focus and a degree of self-discipline are required.  Today, my 'writing day' (or one of them) I've been sorting through my library of ebooks and pdfs, and categorising the ones I need to read.  I think this will help to focus my mind on how I'm going to organise my own book, if I group materials and read them together, rather than tumbling down every rabbit hole I find in the bibliographies, for which I've a terrible weakness.

European Ecovillage Conference 2017

I'm hoping I can scrimp and scrape together enough funds to attend the 2017 European Ecovillage Conference in Ängsbacka, Sweden in July.  Keynote speaker is none other than Charles Eisenstein, a writer whose book Sacred Economics explores the issues of gift and sharing economies, and the labyrinth of ecological and political questions that relate to such ideas, and about which I gushed before I'd actually finished reading it, in a post all the way back in August.  (I've since finished it, and my gushing was entirely merited).

Sunday Linkdump

I've been coming round to the idea recently that perhaps the internet has done as much harm as good.  Perhaps some emergent digital Abraxas out in the cyber ether has been conspiring all along, for reasons mysterious, to maintain a kind of balance between good and evil over the fulcrum of access.  Whatever you're looking for, somewhere on the internet, you can almost certainly find it.  Or at least someone else who wants to talk about it.  Perhaps there's only two of you in the entire world.  Before the internet came to be, the chances of you ever finding each other, of even knowing each other existed, were effectively zero.  This is no longer true.  And there are 7.5 billion people in the world.  So the chances there are only two of you are very low indeed.  Consider that.

Anyway, in exploring the worlds (to list just a tiny sample) of environmentalism, veganism, sustainability, frugality, tiny houses, communitarianism, dumpster diving, ecology, green anarchism, zero waste, vermiculture, indoor gardening, permaculture, SEO, minimalism, transhumanism, space exploration, renewable energy, degrowth, socialism, anarcho-capitalism and various shades of libertarianism; seasteading, global collapse - I inevitably collect more links than I know what to do with, except file away for some nebulous 'later' that never arrives.  So it occurred to me a periodic linkdump here on my blog might be in order.  Perhaps once a week, on a Sunday.  Perhaps more often, perhaps less.  Consequently, here's a few.  Explore and enjoy.

Paying Not to Die

My water bill came a few weeks ago, I thought it might be an idea to pay it.  So I did, because that's what you do with bills.  The bill was for £98.40 and covered the period from 17th December to 21st April, which is 138 days.  138 ÷  98.4 = 1.402439, meaning it cost £1.40 a day to have clean, running water plumbed into my home for the period in question.

This all seems reasonable enough, until you start looking at it without conventional capitalist blinkers. United Utilities made an "operating profit" of £567.9m last year.  Think about that: for collecting, processing and providing water, and (presumably) playing some role in the maintenance of the infrastructure required to do so, United Utilities made over half a billion pounds.  Water is something no life would exitst without.  It is, by definition, essential.  Periodically, it falls out of the sky above most of the populated areas of the planet,  indifferent to our concerns, and totally outside of our control.  And profit-making corporations charge us money to access it.  It makes total sense, but it's also totally insane.

Propagated Bolted Cabbages Experiment Success Rate: Low

Unfortunately, of the five cuttings I took from my "bolted" cabbages last week, only one has survived.  It looks like this:

Let's call that a 20% success rate.  Unsatisfactory, but it will still be interesting to see what becomes of this new plant.

No Buy April: The Results

Reality seems to be conspiring against me not to blog about my "No Buy April" experiment.  I just logged in to blogger only to find a second version of the post I had almost finished, after my first mysteriously vanished from my drafts just as I was about to publish it, has also vanished.  This is unsatisfactory.  The idea was for a much longer post about reviving my "cost of living" monthly series, that petered out  last year, to muse on various related issues (personal and impersonal) and bring things back up to speed.  But I'm buggered if I'm writing all that again, and I've already started to map out a writing/posting schedule for this month, so it'll have to wait.  Without further ado, and before it disappears a third time down the blogspot gremlin's post hole or whatever, here's how I managed my "No Buy April".

Local Democracy (Part One)

The government in their infinite wisdom have decided that now is the right time to call a General Election, since as anyone who was paying attention in 2016 will attest, asking the electorate to make decisions in their own best interests is something that always turns out well.  There is some speculation as to reason why the Prime Minister chose now to call an election, three years earlier than legally required (a plausible explanation is that it was a tactical move designed to solidify Theresa May's hold on power, as 30 sitting Conservative MPs face potential prosecution for electoral fraud in 2015 - MPs who, if found guilty, would lose their seats, triggering by-elections which might then result in the government losing their parliamentary majority).  No doubt a tangled web of reasons is being woven in the minds of the powers that be even now, as the preposterous process of mediated campaigning gets underway, one to which you and I will never be privy, and probably wouldn't want to be, but down here in the so-called "real" world, time ticks along from one day to the next as lineally as it always has.

Kitten Proof Indoor Pea Farming

If you like a challenge, I can recommend sharing your indoor gardening space with two young, excitable and endlessly curious kittens.  These two little terrors came into my life last November, right around the time I was starting to make preparations for growing food in my modest, gardenless flat.

They love to attack each other, almost as much as they like to attack my shoes.  They're brother and sister, and while they might not be compatible entirely with my longer term plans they're a joy to have around for now.

War wounds.

Anyway, something they've really developed a fondness for is eating my plants.  This is fine, up to a point (and it beats being attacked in bed, which is the other, almost as effective way they've found of communicating that they're hungry).  But when those plants are ones I'm growing in order to eat, I've had to come up with more creative ways to keep them away.


Today I’d scheduled an excellent post that revived my “cost of living” series to report back on the results of my “No Buy April” experiment.  For some reason, however, it has disappeared.  This is annoying.  I will now have to rewrite the whole thing.  This will take some time.  Most unsatisfactory  While you are waiting, here are some pictures of trees to look at, and a short video, taken yesterday evening.  

Be happy today.

Recycled Tin Can Lavender Nursery

In his 1992 book, The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey documents the contempt in which the early twentieth century literati held mass produced, tinned food:
E. M. Forster’s Leonard Bast eats tinned food, a practice that is meant to tell us something significant about Leonard, and not to his advantage. The Norwegian Knut Hamsun waged intermittent war in his novels against tinned food, false teeth and other modern nonsense. T. S. Eliot’s typist in The Waste Land ‘lays out food in tins’. John Betjeman deplores the appetite of the masses for ‘Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans’. Tinned salmon is repeatedly a feature of lower-class cuisine in Graham Greene....George Orwell, in The Road to Wigan Pier, maintains that the First World War could never have happened if tinned food had not been invented. He blames tinned food for destroying the health of the British people. ‘We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine gun.’
I can't think of a better reminder of how quickly and easily the controversial and provocative can transition to the essential  and mundane than this.  Who today doesn't use tinned food?  And have you ever heard of anyone speak of it with any kind of emotional attachment at all?  If you have, I suggest finding yourself some new circles to move in, before it's too late for all of us.