Monthly Archives: February 2008

My heart *leap*s up

Sometime last year, my sister and I met in London to have lunch with one of our oldest friends and his wife and son. The conversation turned to son Jack and his girlfriend Natasha. They have been together for some years, but he is a struggling musician and actor, and he doesn’t feel he can marry her until he can earn on at least equal terms to her and feel he’s offering her a future. But they both want to spend their whole lives together, and marriage is very important to her, not least for cultural reasons (she comes from a traditionally-minded Asian country).

They hadn’t been together long when 29th February came around, and her proposal of marriage was half-joking. But it wasn’t a joke four years ago and he still turned her down. Last summer, Jack was thinking ahead and worrying about it. He still can’t provide for them both reliably, but a third refusal might really upset her. We asked if he wants to marry her, and he does, but he doesn’t feel he’s got the right to ask her, as things stand.

I suggested that he prepare for the day. He should buy a ring in secret. Then, when Natasha asks him again, he can answer by kneeling at her feet with the ring ready to put on her finger.

He thought this was a romantic idea, but will he do it? Come to that, will she?

If I hear nothing, then the answer is no.

Where Z goes, others follow

I’m glad I finally wrote that shopping bag post when I did, or it would look as if I was responding to the news that M&S is going to charge for plastic bags again. They used to, you know, until about 30 years ago. It’s a relatively recent thing that they’ve been given away and it was in response to consumer pressure “I’ve spent £20 and you are charging 4p a time for plastic bags?” And indeed, they were quite expensive. It wasn’t just a nominal penny or so. A charge of 5p now, while making a sizeable profit (which M&S will give to environmental charities), is not really enough to notice.

You might wonder why the focus on plastic carrier bags? The point is that they are 100% unnecessary and that it’s something that, with only a small degree of care on our part, we can do without. It’s like turning off the tap while cleaning your teeth, or not filling the kettle to the brim for a mugful or two – if you do it, it becomes normal. Yes indeed, sometimes in the home a plastic bag is useful, for messy rubbish, cleaning up after your dog or whatever – but most of us acquire far more than we really need for that.

But there again, we can all get caught out. I keep bags in my coat pocket, in the car and often have one in my handbag, but a couple of weeks ago I was moved to call into Waitrose, and bought more than could fit in the two bags I’d brought. So the larger items went back into the trolley and then the car, unwrapped, and the rest went into one extra bag. If I’d not had a car, it would have been too much to carry actually, so I’d have bought less (when on foot, never use a trolley…).

It’s like a diet (don’t worry, I’ve another place to bore people about my diet). If you eat something you *shouldn’t* it’s better to accept it and work out why you did it and how you’ll make sure it doesn’t happen very often than to say that this proves that you are unable to diet and spend the rest of the day filling your face. Similarly, use as few bags as possible, make sure you reuse them – and for shopping if possible. When they are about to fall apart, then use them as bin bags.

It’s oddly satisfying, you know, refusing carrier bags. Al’s customers boast about remembering their own, but no one nags if they haven’t got one. They are offered a box (I also remember that supermarkets used to have a stack of boxes near the checkout for customers’ use) or an onion sack, free, or a cornstarch bag at cost price – which is 10p for a standard carrier bag size. I’m sure the cost comes down if they’re bought in huge quantity, but Al could buy plastic bags for a tenth of the price. If your local shop starts to give away cornstarch bags, remember that the cost will be reflected in higher prices.

Z was asleep

Indeed, unlike every other blogger on this side of the country, I slept through the earthquake. We turned the light off sometime after 12.30 and I was in that first deep sleep – takes more than an earthquake, it seems, to wake me and the only way the earth moves for me is at the Sage’s touch.

Ro was quite disconcerted by the tremor, and he says that the mice in the attic went frantic.

The main event in this household, this week, was Pugsley moving from a cot into a bed – or at least, we expected it to be. Squiffany moved into a bed when she was about 15 months old, as her parents wanted her to have forgotten about it by the time the expected baby arrived, so that she wouldn’t feel supplanted. Pugsley was as relaxed about it as she had been and just went straight to sleep, and he called out, but didn’t get out of the bed, in the morning.

Pugsley’s vocabulary is expanding. I’ve heard him say ‘butterfly,’ ‘dinosaur’ and ‘elephant’, but he’s moved on to four syllables. Today’s word is ‘Incredible’. I believe he was thinking about the film rather than the earthquake.

And by the way… the Daily Mail has been quick to follow on from my post of yesterday – today’s edition devotes the first ten pages to an anti-plastic bag campaign.

The Way to Z’s heart…

…A friend rang with a message for the Sage, who was out, and we had a chat. He’s a charming chap (and a regular on the Antiques Roadshow; keep an eye out and see if you can spot him). In the course of conversation, I mentioned that I shall always hold him in the highest esteem, since the occasion when he put his cup of tea on the floor by his chair, our (late lamented) setter, Chester went to greet him, put his snout in the cup and had a good slurp. Friend C. airily drank the rest of his tea without a qualm.

That’s the sort of man I respect. And I said so…

An argument against plastic bags. Especially free ones.

I don’t often climb on a bandwagon and, as you know, this blog is normally for general cheerful waffle,. However, a post has been brewing for a while, prompted initially by one that Blue Witch wrote (BW, if you send me the link I’ll put it up), saying that she felt too much fuss was being made about plastic bags, and it’s here now because of Diamond Geezer’s grumble today. Blue Witch is concerned that supermarkets will make yet more profit – well indeed, but none of us is naive enough to think that we’re not being charged for our ‘free’ plastic bags in higher prices already.

This is a pamphlet that Al wrote, having done a good deal of research, most of it on the internet and, although it’s long, I reproduce it in full. I appreciate that most of you won’t have time to read it all, but please do take away the message and try to take your own bags when you go shopping.

Over 95% of Britain’s plastic carrier bags are imported from China, Malaysia or Thailand. Once picked up by a shopper each carrier bag is used, on average, for only 12 minutes.

Approximately 90% are then discarded and buried in landfill sites.

Of the 10% which are not immediately thrown away, the vast majority are used just once more as a bin liner and so are thrown away on their next use.

The few that are recycled (approximately 0.5%) can only be made into such low-grade plastic that they are almost exclusively made into new bin liners, so end up in the landfill anyway.

So-called “degradable” plastic bags have been introduced by many supermarkets implying that they will be less damaging to the environment. In fact it has now been proven that these bags can actually do more harm than good.


What’s wrong with these “degradable” bags? Don’t they break down in landfill?

The “degradable” bags are identical to the original carrier bags but with extra additives, the toxic metal compound cobalt being one of them. These make the bag more brittle causing it to fragment into small pieces. The extent of the damage these fragments cause to marine life has become increasingly evident. It has been discovered that there are six times more plastic fragments floating in parts of the Pacific Ocean than there is plankton.

Isn’t this a bit pointless? After all, it’s only a carrier bag.

The problem has arisen because of the vast scale of the situation. Around 1.3 trillion are manufactured annually and it takes an estimated 2%* of the world’s oil production to make them. The fact that all this effort and waste is going into making something that is actually “only a carrier bag” is the whole point of this campaign.

So why ban them completely? It seems a bit drastic.

The fact is that plastic bags are actually not necessary at all. They are easily replaced by simple solutions that have always existed. People have only become dependent on plastic bags in the last few years and in many ways the disposable carrier bag is symbolic of our modern throwaway culture.

If the problem is so serious why doesn’t the government do something about it?

Many governments around the world are doing something about it. To name a few, Australia has banned plastic bags from all superstores, Bangladesh has banned them entirely. Ireland has had a “plastic bag tax” for several years and France has given intention to enforce an outright ban in 2010. The British government is reluctant to act. As ever, their policy is to allow market forces to dictate progress. Unfortunately the four supermarkets which control over 80% of Britain’s grocery market have stated that they are not obliged to consider environmental damage in their decision to supply plastic bags.

So what’s the alternative? I can’t put everything in my pockets.

Shops participating in this campaign will stock alternatives for customers who don’t bring their own carriers. These are usually recycled boxes, paper bags, reuseable fabric or string bags and 100% biodegradeable cornstarch bags.

What are these new 100% biodegradeable cornstarch bags? Are they really flimsy?

Cornstarch bags look like plastic, feel like plastic and retain water and meat juices like plastic. However, unlike plastic they are completely compostable and leave no toxic residue after they have broken down

If these cornstarch bags are so environmentally friendly why don’t all shops just switch to giving those away instead?

The fact is that, although cornstarch bags are very environmentally friendly for disposal, they use more fossil fuels to manufacture than a standard plastic bag. For this reason, simply swapping from one bag to another may help solve one problem but would create a whole different crisis of a similar scale. For this reason one of the main principles of this campaign is that all shoppers are charged a small price for every new bag as an incentive not to use them.

With those reuseable cotton carriers, isn’t the cotton industry even more environmentally unfriendly because of the intensive farming and child labour involved?

This is a worry, but is avoidable if shoppers ask questions before buying cotton bags. Fair Trade organic cotton from sustainable plantations is available and unfortunately this is always reflected in the cost. Cheap cotton bags are often seen but are usually from countries like China which have none of the expensive overheads caused by standard pollution controls and providing even the most basic human rights for its citizens.

If I spend £20 or more in a shop, surely I can expect the retailer to at least pay for the bag?

The intention of this campaign is to focus the public’s attention on the carrier bag and the environmental cost of them. A situation like this makes it no less relevant.
The actual purchase of a carrier bag is intended to stand out in a shopper’s mind so as to provide more incentive to plan ahead and be prepared.

Isn’t this just an excuse for retailers to cash in on the new fashion for ‘going green’ by making money out of bags which used to be given away?

Retailers in the campaign are advised to sell all basic bags, both fabric and cornstarch, at cost price. The argument for this is that they never used to make a profit from supplying the plastic bags so it would appear rather unscrupulous to try to make money via the environmentally friendly bags.

What’s the big deal? Banning a few bags is pretty meaningless when you consider the scale of pollution worldwide.

This is not a broad campaign covering all aspects of global pollution. Banning plastic bags will not stop pollution any more than saving a polar bear will stop global warming. This is a campaign about one problem with a simple solution. Disposable plastic bags are a shocking waste of resources and a simple change of habits is all that is required to make a drastic difference.


If you have read this far and want to know more, I recommend you start with Modbury’s website. This is the Devon town that was the first in the country to go plastic bag free.
Another link to a New York Times article on the Irish ban on free bags.
Here’s BW’s views on the same subject. Scroll down to December 19th (though read all the rest on the way, because she’s always worth reading). She has linked to a commercial website which completely disagrees with what I say, although notice what it’s called, and you’ll appreciate it’s to be read with caution.

For example, it says that 80% of people reuse plastic bags in the home. Two things – first, that’s 80% of people reusing some bags. It does not say 80% of bags are reused. Second, that nearly always means using them to put rubbish in, before putting it in the bin. I wrap rubbish in newspaper, because that’s biodegradable. It’s rarely (Al would say ‘never) actually necessary to use a plastic bag at all.

Another link –‘paper or plastic?’ – well, I agree with the article, which says ‘neither’.

If you have a related link, let me know in the comments or by email and I’ll add it. Of course, I’m willing to link to posts on both sides of the argument, as long as they’re not abusive.

*This includes all plastic wrapping, not just carrier bags.

Mystery illness

You know I told you a few weeks ago about Val, the owner of the pet shop, who collapsed in agony and was taken to hospital with abdominal pains? It’s most odd – she had all sorts of tests and nothing came to light at all. The preliminary diagnosis was either a kidney stone or pancreatitis, but it was neither of those. She was in enough pain to be given morphine for several days.

She was in hospital for a fortnight but eventually was better enough to come home. All the doctors can suggest is ‘a virus’, and that she should get over it. She didn’t eat for a couple of weeks and had to be put on a drip, and is still not well at all. Very odd. Poor Val.

Don’t Call Me Madame

Thanks to Gert for this one.

You Are Upper Class

Class isn’t always about money, and you’ve at least got the brains, manners, and interests of an upper class person.

You don’t have a trashy bone in your body, and you don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.

You’re comfortable with your station in life, and class issues don’t really bother you.

The finest things in life are within your reach, and you’re comfortable enjoying them.

You may end up: A business leader, corporate lawyer, or philanthropist

Other people who share your class: Bill Gates, Oprah, former world leaders like Bill Clinton, and those reclusive billionaires no one ever talks about.

Of course, the only classy thing to be is classless – but the final sentence made me laugh.

Almost time for Z to earn her keep

The Sage has spent the last week or two gathering together china for our next sale in May, and we’ll be putting the catalogue together in the next fortnight. It’s early, but so is Easter and we want it done before then.

There’s one piece in particular that I really love. I’ll tell you once the catalogue is out, but it’s a trade secret until then. No question that we’ll buy it – a similar piece sold at auction for more than we could pay a year or two ago, and this won’t fetch less.

We enjoy everything about an auction, whether as buyers, sellers or, in the Sage’s case, as auctioneer. It’s exciting – as you know, if you’ve had any dealings with eBay; and a live auction is far better again. Even if you’re not buying, looking at and handling beautiful objects, maybe that you could never afford to buy or wish to, is a pleasure in itself.

Legs 900

The sheep were on the Ups and Downs again this morning. This is a field of ancient grassland, grazed by cows in the summer and otherwise left as it has been for centuries. That is, at times in the last few hundred years, some gravel has been dug out, which is why it is up-and-down rather than flat, but it’s never been cultivated. In maps, it is labelled as ‘Saxon earthworks’ or ‘Saxon burial ground’ – no one really knows.

It’s poor land, sand over gravel, and it’s grazed by a few cows in the summer until it browns off in July or August – not that it did last year, as it rained for weeks and the grass never did go dormant. But it it were overgrazed, it would take some time to recover. That’s why we weren’t best pleased to see a couple of hundred sheep relaxedly chomping again this morning. The Sage rang the owner of the sheep – the field they had been on didn’t have enough grass, so they’d explored a bit. He said he’d be along later in the day. We went out to ask the sheep to go across the stream, into our other field which is rather more robust.

Sheep are so lovely. They were quite docile and good-natured. The other day, the Sage had moved them alone, apart from the assistance of Tilly who, asked politely, stood near the gate where we didn’t want them to go. This time, I strolled to the further end of the field and then walked towards them; they moved away from me and gathered in a flock and then paused to see where we wanted them to go next. The Sage indicated, and they went. They waited courteously at the ford for their turn.

Later, indoors, Tilly barked. I went out to see why, and found young Jack, whose parents run the village pub, at the door looking embarrassed, with his two dogs on leads. Unfortunately, one of them, while running loose, had dashed across the field, torn at a chicken coop and killed our cockerel. He came at once to tell us and apologise. What can you say? – we thanked him for coming over. It took some courage. Easy for a lad to call the dog, act as if he hadn’t seen what happened and go home. I know the dogs are well behaved normally.

These are a few of…

The rules of the tag are:
1. Obviously, indicate the source that tagged you.
2. Write out 7 of your favorite things, that are dear to you, but are not “popular choice” any more. Categories could include, but are not limited to:
a. All time favorite book ever read.
b. All time favorite movie.
c. Best memory from the first 12 years of your life.
d. All time favorite teacher.
e. All time favorite tea time snack.
f. All time favorite piece of jewelry/family heirloom.
g. The one possession you would never part from…

How Do We Know tagged me more than a month ago – I’ve found this really hard, which is the reason it’s taken me so long to finish it. I hedge my bets, it seems, and don’t have a single favourite of anything.

All time favourite book. I don’t know how to choose. Book from my childhood that I still love most would probably be The Secret Garden. The favourite books on my profile: Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace and Crime and Punishment aren’t just there because the titles read well together – I think they are all superb. All three of them are books I first read in my teens, but would still reread now, with pleasure. Indeed, I reread War and Peace last year, for probably the fifth or sixth time but the first in a couple of decades. In an idle few minutes, I’ll still pick up one of Saki’s short stories – witty and sardonic and I love them. I wrote a whole post-ful of books here and have deleted most of it – no, I can’t choose one single book. It’d be like choosing one man to spend my life with – ah. Right. Well, it’ll have to be the Complete Works of Shakespeare then. I suspect this is cheating.

The one possession I’d never part from. People are more important than possessions. There isn’t anything. The things that mean most are those that belonged to someone I loved, or were made for me by the Sage, but there’s nothing I couldn’t walk away from. I couldn’t live without books, however, and be entirely happy.

Tea-time snack. Ooh, snacks. Now we’re talking. A crumpet, spread with Gentleman’s Relish. Or toast, made on a toasting fork by the fire, with butter and Marmite. Home-made scones and home-made jam. I’m not thinking about this one any more, as I don’t eat most of these things just now. Well, not butter or scones. Nothing wrong with Marmite. Or toast.

Family heirloom – One of these days I’m going to haul Bobby the leopard down from his perch in the rafters of the garage and see if he’s been eaten by worms. If he hasn’t, he’ll be made into a table and I’ll tell you the proud story of Great Uncle Ronan. If he has, he will be ceremoniously burned.

Memory. I don’t know about best, but the most remarkable is the sight of ice so thick on Oulton Broad that cars could be driven on it. This was in the winter of 1963, when I was nine. I wonder if we’ll ever have a winter like that again, but I doubt it.

Teacher. I adored my first teacher. She had soft brown hair and a perfect complexion. I remember standing by her and wanting to kiss her cheek as it looked so soft. I can’t remember her name though.
Mr Lamb, my Latin teacher of 35 years ago, who is now in his late 80s and still wonderful. When comprehensive schools came to Lowestoft and the teaching of classics was destroyed, he retired early to become an antiquarian book dealer. Once, he showed me an incunabula (the earliest printed book) dating from 1485, the same year as the Battle of Bosworth Field, when Richard III was killed and the Tudors took the English throne. I’ve never held anything I revered so much.

Films – they are on my profile. Music then? No, too wide-ranging. I listen to too much variety to compare one type with another. But a musical composer, that I can pick. Mozart’s musical genius needs no recommendation and his operas show a clear-sighted, unsentimental acceptance of human frailties that I find wonderful.

I’ve still got a meme outstanding from Badgerdaddy. I haven’t forgotten…