Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Twin Peaks, Star Trek Discovery and Being a Human Person in 2017




There are two television series I've had any interest in watching this year (which is two more than in your average year, so well done The Media).  One was Twin Peaks ("The Return") which was, and I think we can all agree on this, a masterpiece, up there with David Lynch's best work (namely, Mulholland Drive, his best film; and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, please don't hurt me, his second best).  2017's Twin Peaks pushed the boundaries of television, again, as much as did the original series in the early 1990s.  Television as we knew it back then doesn't really exist any more, hasn't for a long time now, but Twin Peaks is one of the few works in the medium that actually recognised this.  It luxuriated in non-linear, multi-level storytelling, toyed with the viewer's expectations, sense of reality, emotions and comprehension in the way that only David Lynch can.  Lynch is a true genius - the Picasso of cinema - and the incredible 18-hour epic that was "The Return" will take years to appreciate and comprehend.  It was written and filmed as a single entity, an 18-hour movie, that just happened to have been split into 18 parts by the convention of weekly serialisation, or possibly because to sit and watch the thing in a single 18-hour stretch would make your brains explode, opening uncloseable doors to worlds darker than we are yet equipped to navigate.  Even if you're well-versed in Lynch already, and bring plenty of snacks.

I, for one, prefer not to comprehend it at all: Lynch's work is best understood subconsciously, indescribably - and slowly.  The new Twin Peaks told its tale very, very slowly indeed, even without the delightful, Pynchonesque diversions into subplots of dubious relevance (whatever that means). In one typical scene, Albert Rosenfield waits patiently as Gordon Cole's unknown ladyfriend - never seen or referred to anywhere else in the story - puts on her shoes, adjusts her make up and kisses Gordon goodbye over the course of three full minutes before any meaningful dialogue is exchanged, the advancement of the actual plot, such as there is one, tacked onto the scene's final minute.  In a time of cinematic universes and joyless encyclopedic fan theories - a time when television has long ceased to be a disposable, episodic distraction and become an immersive world, even a source of individual identity - Twin Peaks was the perfect antidote to the stifling nerd logic of consistency and sense.



The other series was Star Trek Discovery, whose first episodes aired over the weekend.  When it comes to fictional universes, canons, excessive nitpicking, and "fandom", nothing surpasses Star Trek.  It's an epic in a very different, more classical sense than the postmodern Twin Peaks, one which spans 50 years here in reality, multiple television series and movies, with several time lines, alternate realities, and a narrative spanning several hundred years in its own universe.  That narrative, more from the weight of its own legacy than out of the artistic vision of a singular genius (Gene Roddenberry, visionary that he was, was no David Lynch) has been told in an increasingly non-linear fashion, ever since its last incarnation on television, Star Trek Enterprise, made a passable effort of filling in some gaps between the original 1960s series, set in the 23rd century, and our own reality of the late 20th to early 21st century, skimming over the twentieth century itself - what was the future when Star Trek was first written, but is now the past.

Star Trek Enterprise wasn't terrible, but it's not up there with The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager - the so-called "golden age" of Star Trek (from 1987 to 2001 when those three series were on the air continuously) set in the same period of the 24th century, and enjoying a continuous look and feel that is as of its time (the 90s) as the original Star Trek was of its own (the 60s).  Enterprise jumped back in time to the mid-22nd century, made some inventive additions to the backstory and sat plausibly enough within the so-called "canon" of Star Trek as a whole but in a more impatient, ratings-driven time, was cancelled after only four seasons, just when, arguably, it was starting to get good.  And it never really shook off the feel that it wasn't quite, somehow, really Star Trek.  If it was set before the, why did it look so much more advanced?  The future isn't what it used to be, is the obvious answer, and there's nothing anybody can really do about that, but it was never going to be quite satisfactory.  By contrast, consider the Lynchian penchant for setting his stories in worlds that are not quite real, but not quite fictional either, and even when ultra-specific in their cultural context, can never quite be pinned down inside a single decade.  "But who is the dreamer?"

Now comes Star Trek Discovery - set, to the relief of most fans in the "prime" timeline (as opposed to the "Kelvin" timeline of the stupid, stupid J J Abrams "reboot" movies) but once again, it's a prequel.  Well, it's sequel to Enterprise, but a prequel to everything else, taking place 10 years before the events of the original Star Trek series, i.e. sometime in the early-mid 23rd century, from which we know Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy, Scotty, Uhura and most of the other characters you've heard of even if you don't give two shits about Star Trek (in which case maybe you'd like to skip to the end of this post, where I actually get to the point).  Hope you're getting all this.  



So, several big "whys" hang over the series from the get-go.  First of all, why set a new series of Star Trek here, and not chronologically after all previous Star Trek?  It's science fiction after all, and one thing science fiction is about is the future, so why revisit the past?  A second, related "why" - why did the creators choose to creatively restrict themselves like this?  When you've such an enormous canon, and such an obsessive fanbase - the most vocal faction of which loves to discuss ad nauseum questions of consistency and continuity - why run the risk of upsetting them by making the "mistakes" you inevitably will?  Although the first episode made sense to a more casual fan such as I - with Vulcans, Klingons, transporters, Starfleet and so on behaving more or less as you would expect them to - no doubt the hardcore Trekkies will have already been able to rip the plot to pieces, and, well, good luck to them.  Everyone needs a hobby, and it's not like the creators weren't asking for it.  But they could just have easily picked up sometime after Voyager left off - with whole new regions of the galaxy to explore, unencumbered by previous plots.  Star Trek's greatness is pretty easy to pin down - take the modern, liberal society with all its pleasures and pains, stick it a few hundred years in the future on a frontier immeasurably more vast than the American frontier from which it draws its initial spirit - "Wagon Train to the stars" as Gene Roddenberry first pitched it - and use that as a context for satire, parody, and social commentary, all tied up in the comforting and conventional bundle of weekly, episodic television.  Also, be really silly of the time.  Simple, and therefore brilliant: modernist pop culture of the same calibre as Twin Peaks is as postmodernist pop culture.

Now perhaps if you're a regular reader of this blog you're wondering what any of this has to do with my usual concerns.  It's this.  Star Trek is about an optimistic vision of the future: something which, despite everything, I share.  It's a particular type of optimism: Utopian, and unashamedly post-capitalist.  (Communist, some would even argue, but let's not go there).  It's not something you see a lot of in popular culture.  In The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture, authors Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter elucidate the appeal of this vision:
"In Star Trek...the impact of information technology, markets and consumer goods...is almost completely ignored.  Did Jean-Luc Picard ever hope that a short, decisive battle with the Borg would restore consumer confidence within the Federation?  For all his vanity, did James T. Kirk ever show the slightest interest in fashion?  ... It is tempting to view the absence of consumer products and consumerist values from the series as just bad writing and failure of imagination on the part of the show's writers.  But that would be too quick and easy a conclusion.  Another way of looking at is is as political allegory, of an enlightened future in which the citizens of the Federation have found a way of being individuals without being rebels, of wearing uniforms without succumbing to a deadening existential uniformity...We live in a society that is the exact opposite.  We are all, to an unparalleled degree, self-conscious about what we wear, and the counterculture has played an enormous role in heightening this self-consciousness...The competitive structure of this self-presentation is never far from the surface.  Each item must be acquired at an exotic locale, or in an offbeat manner, or for an exceptionally low price.  Each item must be unique; it must have its own special story".
Star Trek at its best is about the human race having overcome its urges to dominate and conquer, a society "no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things", where "things" also pertains to money and political power as well as material possessions as such.  It's about a humanity that's learned from past mistakes; something which in 2017, when even being an actual Nazi is a hair's breadth away mainstream political position, seems fantastical to say the least.  The "final frontier" of Star Trek is not something to be conquered and civilized, as with the American frontier, but only to be peacefully explored.  Where the wisdom of liberalism can be shared for the benefit of the less "advanced", it is, but never imperialistically; and as often as not, with the negative consequences of such an imposition equally in view.  In the Next Generation episode, First Contact, Captain Picard - the archetypal cultured explorer, diplomat and gentleman, the antithesis of the more gung-ho, excessively macho (but nonetheless good-natured) Captain Kirk of the more confident, liberal 1960s (or 2260s) - shares the following exchange with the leader (called Durken) of a less technologically advanced planet who is suspicious of the Federation's motives.  Their conversation runs as follows:
DURKEN: You speak the language of diplomacy very well, Captain. It is a language I appreciate and understand, but I have learned to not always trust it.  
PICARD: Trust requires time and experience.  
DURKEN: My world's history has recorded that conquerors often arrived with the words, we are your friends.  
PICARD: We are not here as conquerors, Chancellor. 
DURKEN: What do you want? 
PICARD: A beginning. But how we proceed is entirely up to you. 
DURKEN: And if my wishes should conflict with yours? 
PICARD: There'll be no conflict.  
DURKEN: And if I should tell you to leave and never return to my world?  
PICARD: We will leave and never return. Chancellor, we are here only to help guide you into a new era. I can assure you we will not interfere in the natural development of your planet. That is, in fact, our Prime Directive. 
A thousand light years away from any honest exchange you can imagine taking place between leaders in the real world, today.  Which is of course the whole point: Star Trek is about hope.  Hope for a less violent, aggressive, arrogant, domineering, self-destructive future.  A hope some of us hang on to even while our extinction looms.

So what I was anticipating in Star Trek Discovery had little to do with whether it took place in the "prime" timeline, why the new Klingons look very different to how they "should" look, or to what extent the story it told would be consistent with canon.  I was just looking for a Star Trek that retained some of the original vision of its creators: a less violent, materialistic, humanity.  One less prone to interpersonal conflict.  In time of box-set aficionados - I've never watched Breaking Bad, or The Wire, and I'm not going to so stop telling me to - I need the escapism of a truly idealistic entertainment.  Star Trek seems to my best bet.  But the signals I received from the first episode were...mixed.

The series begins with a personal confrontation, the sort Gene Roddenberry would never have allowed, on the bridge of a star ship between the protagonist Commander Burnham and her captain, Georgiou over an apparent "mutiny" by Burnham.  Each points a weapon at the other, but no shots are fired.  Burnham is confined to the brig.  Then there are lots of special effects, and we meet the new Klingons, cast once again as aggressors and villains.  Captain Georgiou attempts to reassure the Klingons that Starfleet come in peace.  It's a fairly promising start.  Later in the episode, their conflict (sort of) resolved, Burnham and Georgiou beam onto a Klingon ship and they fight.  It's bloody and violent in a way that classic Star Trek very much is not.  Georgiou is impaled and killed.  Burnham survives, and is stripped of her rank, and sentenced to imprisonment for her mutiny.  The stage is set, if the teasers for later episodes are anything to go by, for a story arc on Burnham's redemption under a new captain on board the eponymous star ship Discovery.  Other stuff happens too.  A stand-out scene involves Burnham reasoning with the ship's computer to release her from the brig, on ethical grounds.  It's an encouraging nod to several key Star Trek themes: humanity vs. technology, the value of individual life, and classical heroism.

Still, the whole thing felt a little bit too slick.  Heavy on visual detail, but low on character, in several senses of that word.  Of course it's too early to make those kind of judgements but I'm not holding out much hope of seeing much of another of Star Trek's strengths: silliness.  Silliness is vital component of any serious art form, but there just doesn't seem to be much room for it in television series that are made to last.  It dates quickly, and seems flippant.  Science fiction (and fantasy, I think, though I'm not interested in that - no, I'm not going to watch Game of Thrones either) today has to be "dark", serious, woven seamlessly with CGI but only, it would seem, as an afterthought, fun.  Fun is the key to serious and important truths.  So is silliness.  So is your fat mum.

Twin Peaks is silly, albeit in its own twisted way.  It's "dark" and serious too - remember that its tragic core is the tale of a teenage girl abused and eventually murdered by her deranged and possibly demon-possessed father - but it's never, in the flattening sense of that term, realistic.  Fiction isn't supposed to be realistic.  The real world is a pretty awful place at the moment for most human beings; it's perverse to try replicate it for entertainment purposes.  I'll give Star Trek Discovery a fair viewing, but once it's over, that's it.  No more new television.  I'm going outside.




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Mr Spock and the Cat Police


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Monday, 25 September 2017

Go to Bed.



I've enjoyed reading articles that have appeared over the weekend about sleep, and how about most of us don't get enough of it.  It's one of those things that we all know, but barely talk about.  How often, when asking someone how they are, do they respond, after the obligatory "fine" with some derivation of the word "tired"?  How often, in fact, do people tell you they're "knackered"?

How strange that we accept this; that most of us are tired, most of the time.  In some contexts we even respect it: to be tired indicates a person is busy, and there is no greater honour than being "busy".  Or being seen to be busy, which amounts to the same thing.

Neurologist Matthew Walker of the University of California at Berkeley has just written a book on the subject, which is the source of the recent media attention.  The Guardian posts an excellent article on the man and his book today, with a title that gets to the heart of the matter - The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life - as does the Independent, although with an inferior headline.  

Coincidentally, I happen to have been reading a book called Counting Sheep: the science and pleasures of sleep and dreams, a charming read on the subject of sleep deprivation, dreams, erections, torture, and health.  The author notes how sleep deprivation has been used as a method of torture since ancient times.  He passes on an anecdote of a "Chinese merchant who was sentenced to death for murdering his wife.  Sleep deprivation was deliberately chosen as the method of execution, on the grounds that it would cause the maximum amount of suffering and would therefore serve as the greatest deterrent to potential murderers...[T]he prisoner eventually died on the nineteenth day, having suffered appalling torment".

One reason I gave up working full time was to spend more time in bed.  I wonder if the fact that that may sound ridiculous is indicative of the problem our society has in placing value on a good night's sleep.  I worked night shifts - three blocks of twelve hours a week, often more - and for three and half years, not once would I have described myself as rested.  Staying awake all night is an ordeal, and being paid to do so makes it no less painful.  So perhaps I was more attuned to the value of proper, natural sleep than others; but even so, as has also been widely reported, starting work before 10am is "biological torture", which means anyone stuck in the 9 to 5 (plus sweaty and exasperating commute) ought to pause for thought and ask whether their work matters more than their health.

Of course, most of us have no real choice but to work five days out of seven, wrestling ourselves out of bed before our brains and bodies are ready for it, gob down coffee and sugar and junk through the working day just to keep ourselves "productive" (which is, incidentally, one of the most disgusting words in the English language).  The late, great David Foster Wallace illustrated the "petty frustrations" of ordinary life brilliantly in his classic "This is water" speech.  I've linked to the relevant time code here but if you've not already heard this, start from the beginning.




Having to work, even when it kills us, even when we know it is killing us - and even when, as another American David has just as eloquently illustrated that work is objectively pointless is one of the great the tragedies of modern existence.  (His book, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy also deserves your time).

You have to wonder, could it be, in such a world, that simply going to bed could be an act of rebellion?





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A Case of the Mondays
A Good Night's Sleep
On staring out the window


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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Repurposed juice cartons and propagating succulents




A little while back I decided to try and propagate a succulent in a teapot I was no longer using.  Here is the post about that, and here is what the plant looks like today:


Satisfactory, but I think you'll find what's even more satisfactory is using any empty juice cartons as plant pots and propagators.  I love tomato juice, so I've acquired a few of these recently.



Since they're designed to be water proof, they make ideal receptacles for soggy soil, and therefore for plants.  Simply cut out one edge, fill with soil or compost and that's all I need to say about that.

It works better for some plants that for others.  For instance I've also tried to grow some baby leaf spinach, but this has been less successful.  Though perhaps, if you've a keen eye, you can spot a tomato seedling in there too.  Tomato seeds seem to get everywhere.  I really don't know how they do it.



Succulents are remarkable things, propagated into a new plants from a single leaf, as you can see here:




A couple of tips:

1.  Gently prise off a leaf from the base of your plant, rather than the top.  Don't force it; just wobble it back and forth until it comes loose.

2.  Lay down the leaf on some dry soil and spray lightly with water.  Leave for some time (at least at week).  This allows the edge of the leaf that was severed from the plant to form a dry "callous", from which you want your roots to sprout.

3.  Check back on the leaf every so often until you see roots or new growth forming, at which point spray again.  Wait until the surface of your soil is completely dry before spraying again.  Succulents like to hold on to their water, but too much of it will not be welcome.

4.  Off you go.  Makes a lovely little Sunday afternoon project.



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Growing a succulent in a tea pot
Herbs and shoots




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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Another Exciting Episode Of




Hello.  I thought I'd have a go at making a very slightly more "professional" looking video about my allotment, whatever that means.  Just in the very same week that YouTube disabled their editor, so I had to resort to Windows Movie Maker.  Oh well.  Here it is.








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Monday, 18 September 2017

YouTubing It


Just a quick update to draw your attention to my YouTube channel.  It's not something I invest much time in, but perhaps if I can generate some more interest I might start doing so.  I have an astonishing seven subscribers so far.  The full channel is here.  I know nothing about making videos.  I just film them with my phone and then stick them on there.  Occasionally I try to edit them a bit.

I won't be talking about, or playing, or talking about playing video games.  There also won't be any politics, probably, and I definitely won't be talking about politics while playing video games.  That's just...weird.  And I am not weird.  I am extraordinarily normal.

Not really selling it, am I?  Oh well.  If you're interested in following the progress of my allotment, keep your eye on this playlist, which I have called "The Allotment" and which you can go straight to by clicking here.  Here's a sample:




Thanks.




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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Allotment Update



A good 5 or 6 hours on the allotment today.  It felt...right.  The more time I spend outside, around plants, feeling the air, listening, the more right it feels.  This could be where I am supposed to be.

I pruned the blackcurrant bush, and marked its territory with a circle of bricks.  Mulched it a bit.


I started a wall to mark of the edge of the path and what I call the 'inedible bed', which I have been gradually filling with shrubs and the like.

Build that wall!

I think I'll grow thyme in the cracks between the bricks, next year.

Earlier this week I moved my acer tree from the indoors to out, as it was looking very sad.  I hope she fares better out here.



An anti-ladybird from another dimension has been to visit the compost bin.  I've never seen one like this before before.  I've started to collect the pictures I take of creatures I see on the allotment into an album, which you can view here.  To such tiny things we owe our lives.




I've been thinking about colour a lot recently but have nothing to say about it yet.  Some labour: I've removed the wood chips and the nasty black plastic sheet beneath them from the space between the beds and the shed.  It was tiring, so I did it in short bursts, punctuated by Carlsberg.  But look at all this new potential growing space:


Black plastic sheeting would seem to be an allotmenter's staple, but I don't like it.  It suppresses weeds.  I've even heard it referred to as "weed suppressant membrane".  That just sounds so...unnatural.  Clinical?  I understand why you might wish to use it, but I want my allotment to be a garden as well as a farm.  A work of art.  Weeds are welcome here.  What is a weed, really?  Who cares?  Here's another, more conventional ladybird, probably from this world:


In my own little, and still artificial, space, I am trying to listen to nature.  I don't even know what that means yet.  You have to be very, very quiet, and still.  Something humans are not innately good at.

The onions I sowed two weeks back have sprouted!  The broccoli too!  This is happiness.



I thought it would be interesting to 'greenhouse' some of the shoots inside re-purposed plastic bottles, and leave some of them to the elements, to see what difference it makes.  The unnatural world has its uses.






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Monday, 11 September 2017

Zero Waste Week 2017: Friday, Saturday, Sunday...and a chance to ponder.


I'm not very good at doing things. By which I mean, setting goals, making plans, and sticking to them. I have intentions, but they are more like dreams. You realise you're dreaming, and you wake up. They immediately start to fade. After mere moments, you forget everything you dreamed about; only the knowledge that your were dreaming remains. You are awake, which is often disappointing, logical, and predictable in all the ways that dreams are not.

So, Zero Waste Week 2017 is over. I made an effort not to waste, not to throw away anything, to reuse anything that could not be recycled. I was reasonably successful (though try as I might, I still can't stop eating crisps). It's good that such things as Zero Waste Week exist, and it's good there are such people as its founder, and all the bloggers, activists, and even - dare I say - entrepreneurs making adjustments to the world for the better. These are the people who are good at doing things, at having goals, at achieving them. At living their dreams, without waking up. Knowing that they're dreaming, but continuing to do so. Lucid.

I am not like this. I would quite like to be, but my brain is scattered. I would like to write my book, but my brain is scattered. I would like to work towards a singular goal, but my brain is scattered. How, like Thoreau, can I "live deliberately"?  I still do not know.  So I meander through life like candy floss.  I've been eating more oranges, after reading about how 1,000 truckloads of orange peels and pulp unexpectedly revived a Costa Rican forest, to scatter the peels into my lazy bed allotment space, which I intend to compost and cultivate for the spring. Applause is owing to Linda McCartney Foods, whose coincidentally vegan sausages are delicious, and come merely in a cardboard box. Zero waste, tasty, vegan food. I ate four boxes last week. Now the boxes take their place with the orange peel on the foundation of the lazy bed.




I like the idea of "less than zero waste", as I toyed with midweek. Not just zero waste, but finding waste already wasted and de-wasting it. Here's a man walking the coastline of Britain picking up all the litter he can find, with his dog, living off £50 a week and raising money for charity all at the same time. A person with a dream, a plan, and a smile. I would like to be more like that. I wonder why I am not. My brain is scattered. Am I, as they say, woke? Perhaps not. I'd rather be gardening.










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Zero Waste Week 2017: Wednesday and Thursday
Zero Waste Week 2017: Tuesday
Zero Waste Week 2017: Monday
Individually packaged sugar portions are stupid, and so are you, and so am I, and so is everything else in the world
Taking the Zero Waste Plunge
Zero Waste Eating is Good For You
My First Zero Waste Weekend
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Friday, 8 September 2017

Zero Waste Week 2017: Wednesday and Thursday


Here's a little conundrum: is it "zero waste" to buy knock off food from the supermarket that might otherwise have been thrown away?  Let's assume that you're buying an item just before closing time that nobody else would have bought, and it's wrapped in the usual excessive packaging. The supermarket aren't allowed to sell it after midnight, so they throw it out. The food goes uneaten, and rots, and the plastic ends up in a landfill, the sea, and maybe even, as the news reports this week, in our tap water.  Definitely not zero waste.  Or, maybe, a perverse kind of neo-ecosystem.  (See below).

But now it's yours, and you've eaten the contents (well done) but you're left with packaging you wouldn't otherwise have bought. You've accumulated a waste deficit, so to speak. So this isn't zero waste, either.

The solution? Reuse or recycle. Simple? Let's think.



Today I'm left with these plastic trays, that until very recently contained vegetable spring rolls. "Best before" today. They tasted average. It occurs to me they could make handy little seed trays for the greenhouse in spring. I've amassed quite a collection of such receptacles, and though next year I intend to grow as many plants (edible or otherwise as I possibly can) on my allotment, as well as indoors, sooner or later I'll reach a personal "peak plastic".

Perhaps a way to think might be as if we each have a "waste quota". I'm beginning to explore permaculture and the idea of biomimicry, and the adage that's rattling in my head is how "nature wastes nothing". It rained sporadically yesterday, so in between allotment tasks I took refuge in the shed and pondered this. It appears to be true.




The rain falls and is soaked into the soil, where the worms chew and poo.  Plants grow, bees pollinate them drink the water and eat the soil, and grow into food for humans and other animals.  When the plants die, they rot into the soil again.  The water evaporates, and swirls in the air, and falls again, elsewhere.  This and many other eco-cycles continue as they have for billions of years, forever adapting and adjusting to tiny changes, natural or otherwise.  It's actually one of the first things I remember learning at school.  These truths are all around us, but we barely think about them.  We should.  Nature wastes nothing.  We waste almost everything.  We are young, and nature is very, very old.  We have so much to learn.

Again, my thoughts turn to the individual, and how limited s/he is.  The individual wastes easily: the group, less so.  Might we start sharing our waste and excess?  "One man's trash is another man's treasure".  A library of plastic?  Such things might be the future.

Every day now I gather any food scraps into a bag and nip over to the allotment to add them to the compost. This week I freed most of the wooden crates from the clutches of the bindweed and set them up to hold organic matter removed, to be added to my compost bin as space emerges.  Through I definitely wouldn't sit on it (blackberry brambles in my bum, no thanks) it is in all other respects more beautiful than than my plastic-stuffed sofa, changing every moment, returning to the earth, making itself useful.  I daydream of weaving airtight packaging from bindweed, or hollowing out thorn-plucked brambles into drinking straws.  The sofa never changes.  The walls between us and the world are mostly bare.  And on the other side...




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Zero Waste Week 2017: Tuesday
Zero Waste Week 2017: Monday
Individually packaged sugar portions are stupid, and so are you, and so am I, and so is everything else in the world
Taking the Zero Waste Plunge
Zero Waste Eating is Good For You
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Sitting on a Landfill (Waiting for the End to Come)


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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Zero Waste Week 2017: Tuesday


Today was an office day, which entails several bus rides. In thinking about "waste" I find myself pondering not only food and packaging, but also energy.  Now taking the bus is certainly less wasteful than driving a car - a bus can transport more people in a single vehicle, and is therefore more efficient - and as an individual it seems I could say that catching a bus that would go where it was going anyway is "zero waste".  But you can't consider these questions just as individual.  After all, if nobody got the bus, eventually busses would stop running altogether, which would save even more energy.  So would that be less than zero waste?  That doesn't seem possible. Complex questions that I need to think about some more.  I wonder if these are factored in to calculations made about our carbon footprints.

I could, indeed, work from home, and sometimes I do.  But not today.  I had a meeting with my supervisor, which was, not at all unusually, postponed.  So I could have worked from home.  But I had to leave home to find that out.  So it goes.

Out of curiosity, as I'd packed my own lunch, I investigated what zero waste options might be available for me on my half-hour allotted lunch break, i.e. within walking distance of my office.

Bananas.  That's it.  A small catering van, a petrol station, and a medium sized Co-op all within five minutes' walk, but the only thing available to eat that did not come in plastic or other dubiously "recyclable" packaging were bunches of bananas.  There was plenty of fruit, of course, but almost all of it was contained in pointless plastic.  


Grapes. No, really.


The ubiquitous "meal deal".  Sigh.  The equally ubiquitous Starbucks self-service station.


Disposable cups, individually packaged sugar, plastic spoons.  Double sigh.  I noted, with some amusement, but more despair, the dizzying array of plastic cups and cutlery, wrapped in yet more plastic, for sale.


That's right, my friends.  Both "premium" and "basic quality" plastic utensils are available.  Oh, the wonders of consumer choice.  Triple sigh.

On the way home, I stopped in at the market I bought broccoli, sweetcorn, garlic, and onions.  No packaging required, though I was, needless to say, offered a bag. I declined, having brought one with me, because I alone can save the planet.  Indeed.



How should a person feel about all this?  The default setting appears to be smugness, but this is hardly satisfactory.  As with the bus journeys, so it is with the pointless proliferation of plastic.  The demand creates the supply, and vice versa.  It's a horrifying kind of symbiosis.  Where does it end, and how?  It seems like the solutions are so simple, but when taken only as individuals, real change remains perpetually out of reach.





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Related posts

Zero Waste Week 2017: Monday
Individually packaged sugar portions are stupid, and so are you, and so am I, and so is everything else in the world
Taking the Zero Waste Plunge
Zero Waste Eating is Good For You
My First Zero Waste Weekend
Landfill/Sofa
Sitting on a Landfill (Waiting for the End to Come)


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Microgreens grown in allotment soil

I haven't been as focussed on microgreens growing since I got my allotment, but I've still been conducting one or two experiments on the side. The one I want to show you here is some pea shoots I've been growing using allotment soil instead of compost. Here they are after uncovering on 26th August (10 days ago)...



...and here they are today:




The yield is much higher than it was using compost, but the rate of growth seems to be much slower. I started them off under the same conditions as previous trays - covered and weighed down for the first two days, sprayed at least once a day and out of direct sunlight - before moving them into a lighter spot in the kitchen, but the difference is noticeable. Not sure why this is. Still, it suggests they soil on the allotment is of good and nutritious quality, which makes me happy. Perhaps the slower growth is due to the changing season, as the temperature has started to dip (I only use my heating when it gets really cold, which means room temperature is dipping too).

I'm not really interested in growing microgreens under "artificial" conditions (heated, under lights etc) because of the energy costs involved, so perhaps it's worth adopting a more wintry frame of mind.




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Monday, 4 September 2017

Zero Waste Week 2017: Monday



This week is the tenth annual 'Zero Waste Week', the brainchild of Rachel Strauss, a blogger, campaigner and all round good egg.  She's been on my radar for a while, and after signing up for her newsletter last month, the time has come.  What's it all about?  Rachel explains:
"What happens when you throw something away? Away isn't some magical place; it's landfill, an incinerator, the bottom of the ocean, litter or the stomach of an animal....Zero Waste Week is a grassroots campaign raising awareness of the environmental impact of waste and empowering participants to reduce waste."
"Awareness raising" is all too often an empty gesture, but not here.  The awareness to be raised is your own.  How much do you waste, and why?  Can it be avoided?  Where does what you waste actually go?  "Away", indeed is not a magical place.  It's just somewhere else.  "Out of sight, out of mind"?  No.

Can it be avoided?  That is the question.  It might seem that to be human is to waste, to some degree.  We consume, we excrete.  We have an impact.  A "footprint".  Various footprints: a carbon footprint being only one of them.  As with any environmental issue, the strict practicality of the matter is only part of the point.  There is a wider context, too, always: a human - dare I say "spiritual" element - to things.

But we must begin with the practical.  There are and will be plenty of excellent blogs that look exclusively at the practical.  I've decided to approach things a little differently.  Realistically, you might say, which I mean in no way as a criticism of any other blogger.  I'm not really a "practical" person, though I do try to be.  Anyone who's successfully transitioned to a genuinely zero waste lifestyle is a hero in my eyes. It isn't easy, and though it gets a little easier all the time as the idea of zero waste nudges into the mainstream, it's still a long way off. Those who have already made it are pioneers.

I would like to focus on and acknowledge the difficulties of going zero waste in everyday life.  To what extent you can live up to ethical standards is determined not only by motivation, but also by the environment and circumstances in which you find yourself.  A struggle between things you can control and things you cannot. Too often in social media and the internet we are given the impression of others living "perfect" lives. We present idealised versions of ourselves. It can be alienating, as well as inspirational.

I'm trying to avoid this. A few months ago, in a short-lived burst of enthusiasm for the ideals of zero waste, I posted about "taking the plunge" into zero waste, and how using the approach to food shopping and eating could have some pleasant side effects.

It wasn't long before I lapsed back into convenience.  The "thrill" of avoiding all and any packaging was fleeting, and was swamped by the inconvenience of it.  This morning, I bought these:

A box of washing powder (cardboard), a bag of coffee (plastic/foil), a bag of sugar (paper) and a bag of sweet potatoes (plastic).  Zero waste report: C minus.  Could try harder.  I know already that Strawberry Gardens, only a mile's walk away, sell sweet potatoes loose - but the Co-op just across the road sells them in plastic bags, and cheaper.  Market forces.

I wonder why only sugar, off dry foodstuffs, comes in paper bags.  Why not pasta, rice, dried beans?  Seems like it's just traditional.  Coffee, too.

The cardboard box of washing powder is biodegradable, but what of residual chemicals, traces of powder?  Is this something I should put straight onto the compost heap when it's empty?  Perhaps not.

The plastic bag from the sweet potatoes?  OK, well that can go into the sofa.  But I can't just keep doing that.  More creative ways of using waste might be something to consider.  Perhaps the empty coffee packet as a plant pot?

Yes, why not?  After lunching on the sweet potatoes, I nipped off to the park for some more herb cuttings.  The sage is beginning to yellow into autumn, and the mint and chives have recently flowered.  I nabbed a few sprigs of each.  At home I emptied the coffee into a mason jar, snipped a few holes in the bottom, filled with compost and added some mint sprigs.  I hope they take root.

I ate the sweet potatoes for lunch.  The packet indicates they came from the USA.  What a ridiculous distance for food to travel, but there it is.  I want to try growing sweet potatoes on my allotment, but I'm not sure if they're suitable for the climate.  They're one of my favourite vegetables, but if zero waste is to go hand-in-hand with ethical environmental living, perhaps buying them un-packaged isn't really enough.  Something else to consider.  The same questions come up when considering coffee.  Could I live without sweet potatoes or coffee?  Well yes, obviously.  But would I?

Perhaps an approach to take might be this: to waste as little as I possibly can this week: to grapple with issues as they occur to me, rather than strive for any kind of perfection.  Take stock of what I have wasted seven days from now: what I have used, could re-use, and could not.

Seems like a good start.






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Related posts

Taking the Zero Waste Plunge
Zero Waste Eating is Good For You
My First Zero Waste Weekend
Landfill/Sofa
Sitting on a Landfill (Waiting for the End to Come)


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Please consider disabling your adblockers when reading this site.  I make every effort to ensure no inappropriate, rubbish or offensive advertising appears here, and nothing that is contrary to the spirit of this blog.  So it's really nothing to be afraid of.  Cheers.