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Climate change Ecological Econonomy English Culture Environment local economy Poverty Relief Recycling Science Society

I Don’t Want to Eat My Vegetables is No Longer a Valid Excuse!

I leaned back in my chair with a feeling of contentment. SWMBO and I were sitting in the snug of one of our nearby village pubs, and I was now comfortably replete after noshing an exceptionally large Sunday Roast lunch. 

Ahhh. Sunday Lunch in a comfy local pub

This pub is renowned locally for its excellent food, well-kept ales, and quaint, comfy surroundings. The staff, all of whom were youngsters, were polite, attentive, and friendly.

Additionally, I had other reasons for using this pub. They have a policy of only using locally-sourced ingredients for all of their menu items. So, my roast beef was from a breeding butchery near Southampton, the vegetables were from a local farm, and the guest beers that I chose were from either the triple fff* brewery, based in Alton, or the Hepworth brewery in Pulborough, just across the county border in West Sussex. 

I am currently trying to persuade them to stock some of the really good ales made by the Firebird Brewery in Rudgwick, also in West Sussex.

I really like the idea of supporting local business, and helping to reduce my food miles, and my personal carbon footprint.

I was stuffed full. Yet the side dishes containing more vegetables and condiments and sauces were also still stuffed full, despite SWMBO and I laying into them with such gusto. I felt quite guilty about this, and knew that I was wasting perfectly good food. 

Not the Sunday Roast in question, but you get my point? Serving for one – plus sides!

In my rural area, the waste wouldn’t be quite such a problem, as some of it would probably go back into the farming system to be used as animal feed, but in towns and cities, this would all go straight into landfill.

I wondered to what extent we as a nation were wasting.

What I discovered was truly staggering.

In the UK alone, we waste approximately 10 million tonnes of perfectly useable food every year! Alarmingly, less than 1% of that is recycled in any meaningful way. 

Food – Just chucked into a skip, and left to rot before going to landfill

At the top of our “oh, just chuck it out” list was bread, with 900,000 tonnes wasted each year – that’s about 24 million slices that are sent to landfill. A lot of sandwiches, by anybody’s standard.

Add that to 5.8 million potatoes, and a huge volume of other vegetables and fruits, and it’s easy to see that we have a serious problem.

According to research conducted by the University of Edinburgh, about 33% of farm produce is wasted for aesthetic reasons. Supermarkets usually have contractual requirements for their vegetables and fruit, that specify minimum sizes, dimensions, weights, and appearance. 

This is driven by their perceptions on customer requirements, but, to be honest, the shape of my carrots, or a blemish on the skin of an apple aren’t overly high on my list of priorities. 


As a side issue, I have never once been canvassed for my opinions by any supermarket chain. 

Ever.

A third of all UK-grown, perfectly edible fruits and vegetables are rejected by our supermarket buyers for not meeting their specifications, and so they are wasted. They are probably just ploughed back into the land – and all this in a country where we now run food banks for those who are in desperate need.

This MUST change. The global food system produces about 25% – 30% of global greenhouse gases (GHGs), and agricultural supply chains use up to 70% of our freshwater reserves. Every tonne of food waste that goes to landfill sites will generate about 4.2 tonnes of GHGs. We must grow less and waste less.

But I digress. So, back to my sumptuous pub meal.

The hospitality industry wastes over a million tonnes of food because of providing over-generous portions. This is a tricky issue to address.

The corporate mindset seems to be that customer satisfaction is better served by plating up too large a portion and having some waste, rather than serving a portion that is perceived by the customer as being too small. 

Maybe a mental reset is required. The hospitality sector, pubs, bistros, restaurants etc., should start serving smaller portions, and tell customers that if they would like more side orders of vegetables and sauces, then they may ask for them free of charge.

So far, most that I have written is related to commercial food waste. Now have a think about the amount of food that you personally waste in your own homes.

For every 13 million tonnes of food waste generated, 7 million tonnes is wasted by people like you and I!

That is the equivalent of throwing away one full bag of groceries in every five bags with which you leave the supermarket!

Various initiatives have been set up by several charities, such as Feedback Global’s “The Pig Idea”, which attempts to change the law preventing waste food products from being fed to pigs. 

This law was originally passed to prevent contaminated edible waste from entering the food chain for pigs, which was thought to have caused an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease. 

This was enshrined into EU law in 2002, but now that the UK has left federal Europe, it is possible for the UK Government to consider rescinding this law, subject to animal welfare standards being maintained to ensure the quality of any food waste to be fed to pigs.

Should this happen, the UK could simply revert to the centuries-old practice of feeding waste food to pigs.

A World War 2 Poster, urging the public to save food waste to feed pigs.

The food waste generated by the food manufacturing, catering and retail sectors (which would normally be destined for landfill) could potentially be reduced by about 2.5 million tonnes per year – a drop of 20%.

This is staggering!

The United Nations has stated that if all farmers globally were to feed their livestock on waste food and agricultural by-products, then enough grain could be liberated from the system to feed an estimated 3 billion people.

Supermarkets are also responsible for a lot of food waste at the opposite end of the process. Not only do they reject perfectly edible foodstuffs at the farm, but they also waste perfectly edible food that they over-order, and then just can’t sell!

We have all seen it. Yellow labels on food that is “out of date” being sold at heavy discounts. Like me, you have probably taken advantage of some low prices for food that is at the end of its shelf life.

Good Deals are often to be had, if you are willing to eat expiring food on the day you buy it!

Sadly, a lot of yellow-labelled goods remain unsold, and are therefore thrown into the skip (I have watched this happen at a local supermarket), destined for landfill somewhere.

This is a sad situation, especially as food poverty affects 8% of the UK population, some 5 million people.

To put this into perspective, my dear old Mum, who is in her nineties, volunteers at her local church, and as well as working in the café on a regular basis, she is also involved in the Church’s food bank. 

The food bank, like so many others, collects food and then distributes it to those who are in need. Having grown up during the Blitz, and the privations of rationing during World War Two (and afterwards – rationing didn’t end in the UK until July 1954) she hates waste of any kind, and always tries to live sustainably, well before such a word entered our vocabularies.

A Typical Weekly Ration for an Adult in 1940. 4 Ounces is 115 grams and 3 pints is about 1.7 litres

It still shocks her when she hears about waste of any kind, but she is a product of her generation, and some things are never forgotten.

There is hope though…

There are some wonderful charities that try to save food waste, and help those most in need of support.

Take The Felix Project. They collect surplus food, including vegetables, fruit, dairy produce, and meats, from food manufacturers, farms, supermarkets, and restaurants, and distribute it to those most in need. 

Then there is FareShare, which was started 27 years ago in 1994, as a joint venture between the UK Homeless charity, Crisis, and Sainsburys the supermarket chain.

Originally called Crisis FareShare, the charity collects and redistributes food to over 1,000 UK charities, and has partnerships with Tesco, Asda, and the Trussell Trust (which support the UK’s network of Food Banks). 

The “Feed People First” campaign that it ran in 2018 tried to ensure that it wouldn’t cost the food industry more to donate their surplus edible products to charities, than it would cost them to send it to landfill or animal feed manufacturers. 

By the end of 2018, the UK Government had committed to providing funding of £15 million to enable business to divert its surplus foodstuffs to charity.

Since it was started, FareShare has provided 236.8 million meals all of which were donated to people in need via a network of frontline charities. This resulted in savings to the voluntary sector (assuming they would have had to buy the same amount of food and drink) of about £180 million!

This is a fabulous achievement, but it still highlights a vast mismatch between food supply and demand – there is such a large surplus! It also shows that our society is broken in a sad way, when people living in a supposedly civilised country are suffering food poverty, despite our very generous welfare state.

They alone are responsible for saving tonnes of waste every year, whilst reducing human misery at the same time.

As climate change strengthens its grip on our world, we will have to make some serious changes. This is not only at a global and state level. This is also at local level.

I am not a great horticulturalist, and have little interest in growing things, but I think that in future more families will have to grow some of their own foods to reduce the need for intensive farming and food transportation. Maybe misshapen vegetables and blemished fruit will be more prevalent. 

In fact, Morrisons supermarkets have proven that even ugly produce is nutritious, edible, and has value.

Morrisons leads the way…

There is an alternative though, if, like me, you are a lousy gardener.

How about not only reducing waste for landfill, but also reducing GHGs, and saving money in the long run?

This is where a small, self-contained domestic biodigester plant comes into its own.

Biodigesters are designed to capture the methane given off by decomposing organic matter. 

A Typical Domestic Biodigester

For most people, organic matter would be food scraps including vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, dairy waste, cooking oils, pips, nuts, and bread.  Some folks may operate smallholdings, and may therefore benefit further by enabling a certain amount of manure from livestock to be used. 

For the truly environmentally-conscious, biogas lavatories are on the market that enable human waste to be processed as well. 

A Biodigester Toilet. Waste not Want not? https://www.homebiogas.com/product/bio-toilet-kit/

Biodigesters consist of a simple tank, which may be made of hard plastic, or out of very strong PVC sheeting. The waste organic products are simply placed into the tank, and within a short period of time, helpful, friendly bacteria will start breaking down the material.

There are two main by-products of the process. One is a good source of methane gas, and the other is liquid fertiliser.

The gas generation is simple, natural, and ecologically friendly, and the methane gas output may be used to operate a cooker. Once up and running, a typical biodigester will produce enough methane for two hours of cooking per day.

The slurry that may be drained off at the end of the process is full of nutrients that are essential for plant health, and are odourless and non-toxic.

I would add a word of caution here.  If you do decide to install a biogas lavatory, and use human waste, then you can’t use the by-product as fertiliser, and it must be treated as sewage and compliance with disposal regulations is essential. However, you can still tap off the methane!

So, maybe it’s time to buy less food, and to encourage our supermarkets to be less restrictive when specifying the acceptable standards for fruit, vegetables, and other produce.

Even reluctant gardeners should have a go. It’s possible to grow beans, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes in pots – even on a small balcony. Every little helps.

If you have a larger garden, maybe invest in a biodigester, and reduce your reliance on mains gas. You probably won’t generate enough gas to run your central heating, but you will be cutting down your GHG footprint.

I guess some of the answer lies in our own hands.

You decide.

Go Well…

Header Photograph – Surplus Tomatoes piled up to rot…

* Yes, It really is spelt that way!

Categories
Airport Animals Cats English Culture International Aid Pets Poverty Relief

Monty, My Part in His Rescue…

It’s been a hell of a year.

When I celebrated the impending arrival of the incoming year on December 31st 2019, I, like, everyone else had no idea how 2020 would develop, plunging us into the darkness of the deepest crisis in 300 years. 

Early in the year, the media was focused primarily on the passage of the Brexit withdrawal bill through parliament, and the news that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be withdrawing from their roles as Major members of Royal Family UK PLC.

How the Daily Telegraph reported The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s withdrawal from Royal Life.

Flybe, the British regional air carrier, the largest in Europe, was in meltdown, and looked likely to go into receivership.

The leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn was sailing turbulent, if not stormy waters in the Labour Party leadership contest, and British Airways had recently suspended all flights to and from mainland China.  

News of Coronavirus was just starting to penetrate the public consciousness with the first two confirmed cases in the UK happening on the 31st January.

This news was, to some extent, overwhelmed with the reporting of the UK formally leaving the EU.

Storm Dennis had ravaged the UK, but we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and started all over again.

On the 5th March, news of the first UK death from CV19 elevated public awareness to a greater extent. People were now hearing more and more about the virus, and there was an almost surreal atmosphere across the entire country.

Flybe finally went bust, and panic buying swept the UK, with supermarket shelves being stripped bare.

Flybe – A great regional carrier. Photo Courtesy Aero Pixels

One of strangest things, was that toilet rolls seemed to be high on the panic buyers’ list of essentials, despite the fact that CV19 was widely publicised as an upper respiratory tract infection, rather than a gastric condition.

It seems there really is nothing more eccentric than a Brit in a pandemic.

Furlough, a word unfamiliar to many of us was now being bandied about, and the country moved into full lockdown.

I am fortunate. I live in a lovely country district and was able to use my legally approved one hour of exercise to explore the local area, which includes several nature reserves, a National Park

South Downs National Park, Near Petersfield, Hampshire, UK

and the Shipwrights Way, which is a bridleway connecting the Alice Holt forest near Farnham, with the ancient island city of Portsmouth.

The Shipwrights Way, not far from Petersfield in Hampshire UK

It was around about this time that SWMBO1 started talking about doing something for other less fortunate individuals. She has always been a gentle, caring person, and after a few conversations, I finally agreed to offer a home to an immigrant.

Over the next few weeks, we prepared, and made sure that we had bought a new bed, and some bedding, and laid in some stocks of extra food. We had been told that the young guys early childhood had been one of deprivation and sadness.

Abandoned to try and survive on the middle eastern streets as best he could, he was used to fighting for every scrap and morsel in order to sustain himself, frequently sleeping under an old car for protection.

A vicious street fight resulted in a serious jaw injury, and the subsequent infection led to the loss of over half his teeth. Luckily, he was taken in by some kind benefactors, who paid for him to see a medic, and after some dental extractions, a massive dose of antibiotics, and some inoculations, he was sent back to the kind family that he had put him up.

Eventually, it was arranged for him to come to the UK, and the paperwork was finally completed and he was granted the right to residency, and was cleared to travel.

So, on a bleak November morning, SWMBO departed for Heathrow Airport in order to pick him up from the reception centre.

I was enjoying a coffee (what’s new?) about three hours later, when I heard the car pull into the drive.

I was a little apprehensive about my first meeting. Would we get on all right? Would he fit in, or would he end up treating the place like a rubbish dump?

Well, when he walked in, I was taken aback. He was slim – maybe even a bit underweight, and wearing a smart coat. He started speaking to me, loudly, and none of it made any sense.

He was clearly hungry, so I set a loaded plate in front of him, and he laid into it as if he had never eaten before.

He was clearly tired, and so after eating he slumped on the sofa, and fell deeply asleep.

He has now been living with us for about five weeks, and he has settled in nicely. He now treats the place as his own, and is putting on weight nicely.

He and I have spent a lot of quality time with each other. He doesn’t speak any English, and I certainly don’t speak his lingo but body language is truly international and we have developed a really good relationship.

He often snugs up next to me on the sofa, watching TV with me. I don’t really object. Quite a bromance in fact. He has got into the habit of staring deeply into my eyes, and often pushes against me, maybe a little harder than he should.

Oh. Maybe I should add at this point, that our legal immigrant is a street cat – rescued from his sad and lonely life under the desert sun.

Monty, My Faithful Wingman. Even More Faithful If It Looks Like I am Going to get Him Food!

We have named him Monty, after Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery 1st Viscount of  Alamein who commanded the Eight Army during the North Africa campaign in WW2. His troops were known as the Desert Rats.

It seemed appropriate, as he is an Arabian Mau. The colour of molten caramel, sleek, well-groomed and very placid.

Plus, he has no underfur, so he doesn’t moult, and he used a litter tray from day one. How lucky am I?

He now greets me when I open the bedroom door with VERY loud cries. Not mewing like a normal domestic cat. Almost a wail. I wonder if he learned it from the early morning calls from the minarets?

This talking goes on until I can place his food in front of him, which he eats very tidily – virtually no spillage – unlike other cats that I have known who seem to throw it everywhere.

Anyway, the little chap has fit in nicely, to the point that he now shares my office with me, and has discovered every location in the house where the hot pipes run under the floor.

All I have to do now is teach him English.

I may be some time…

Monty, in his previous street life – Un-Loved and Un-Cared for. Luckily, he was discovered by one of his guardian angels, Emma, who rescued him, and with Matt and Janis as his foster carers, looked after his welfare whilst he was being nursed back to health, so that he could enjoy a better life. Thank you also to the great team of volunteers and fund raisers who ensured that Monty would be cared for. Well done to you all, too many to name, but Aysa, Emma, Matt and Janis. deserve a special mention. You should be very proud of what you have achieved. We will love our new addition.
Monty, Doing What He Does Best

Note 1 SWMBO – She Who Must Be Obeyed

Categories
Charitable Agencies Charity Climate change Environment fashion HEALTH International Aid opticians Poverty Relief Recycling Society

Are We Being Ripped Off For Our Spectacles?

I was in my mid-thirties when I decided that I would make flying my profession, rather than a hobby. As I thought that there was no point in training for a Commercial Licence, I was going for the full monty – the Airline Transport Pilot Licence.

Being a naturally cautious person, I read up on the CAA’s Class One medical requirements, and thought that I would meet most of them, but before wasting the not inconsiderable fee, I decided to have an eye test at my local opticians.

It turned out that I needed some correction, as I was astigmatic, so I duly ordered two sets of spectacles (as required under the CAA regulations). Luckily, my eyes have remained relatively stable for many years, and I only needed infrequent changes.

When I did need a change of lenses, I used this as an opportunity to buy new frames – not that I am a dedicated follower of fashion – just that as my hair decided to part company with me, aviator-style teardrop glasses looked a bit odd.

As the years have gone by, my hairline has stabilised at what us aviation professionals describe as “bald as a billiard ball” but my prescription now changes much more regularly, with presbyopia adding to my astigmatism.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, it’s about waste, and sustainability.

I attended my annual sight test at the local branch of a well-known high street optician and, as expected, my prescription had changed, and I needed some additional correction.

Now, I paid a lot of money, relatively speaking, for my last set of glasses, and the frames were comfortable, lightweight, and suited me, as they sat comfortably under aviation headsets, and weren’t uncomfortable whilst wearing a motorcycle helmet.

“May I have these frames re-glazed with my new lenses?” I asked the sales assistant.

“Let me check” she responded, tapping away at her keyboard. Frowning, she looked up at me, saying “I’m sorry, but it’s more expensive to re-glaze your glasses than to buy a new pair.”

“These frames are only two years old!” I exclaimed, “and I like these ones.”

She squinted at the arm of the glasses, reading the name off. A flurry of further whacking on the keyboard, and she eventually looked up. “Good news – the frame is still a current model.”

“OK” I said. “How much?”

“”Well, for the first pair, with all of the lens options (Varifocals with photochromic tinted lenses, and anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings), it comes to £407, and the second pair with a plain lens is £165.00”

I thought about this for a Nano-second.

“No.” I said firmly. I needed to think about this.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

So, if spending almost six hundred quid on new glasses was the cheap option, and reglazing was more expensive, then I would consider cheaper frames. I didn’t have the time to select alternative frames that wouldn’t cost the equivalent of the GDP of a small country, so thanking the staff, I left to return home.

I thought about the incredible waste going on here. A perfectly good frame essentially being scrapped. Maybe this was a cosy arrangement with the opticians as the frames were their own brand and they were effectively influencing customers to buy new frames. New frames = better turnover = more profit.

A few days later, I was sitting at my laptop with a mug of tea in my hand, idly watching two Robins fighting in the garden. I realised that I was squinting, so I slipped my glasses on, which improved things a lot, but not 100%. This reminded me that I needed to do some research into the wastefulness of planned obsolescence in the optical trade.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that there is a solution.

I came upon a website called Lensology. Previously known as Reglaze My Glasses, this company specialises in fitting new prescription lenses into existing frames.

The company have no retail outlets, and are in fact an optical laboratory, producing lenses for the optical industry.

A bit of background here – consider this; The Association of British Dispensing Opticians reports that about 3.2 million pairs of glasses (which were no longer adequate due to prescription changes) were collected by their members annually. ABDO no longer collects them as the charity to which they were sent can’t make their collection financially viable any longer. Even so that is a lot of glasses.

Suppose that the average cost of a pair of glasses is £150. A staggering £450 million being thoughtlessly discarded.

Many spectacle frames are plastic, and contribute to the problem of global pollution and climate change.

Since 2010, a charity called Vision Aid Overseas collected these spectacles, which were then processed in order to raise funds for improving eye health in developing nations, such as Africa.

This would include recovering precious metals such as gold from spectacle frames, selling on appropriate frames to vintage and retro outlets, and recycling the other components such as lenses, and the metallic parts.

This was until august of this year, when the scheme stopped due to being economically unviable.

As a result, VAO report that many people will now just dispose of their redundant spectacles by throwing them in the refuse.

So, I decided to act, and get my perfectly adequate frames re-glazed with my new prescription.

Lensology’s process is ridiculously simple.

I registered on-line, and within a couple of days they sent me a flat packed cardboard box in the post. Filling in the enclosed form, I selected my lens type and my personal options (Varifocals, photo-chromic, together with anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings). and a copy of my optical prescription. The last thing was to email the company a photograph of me wearing my spectacles in order that they could measure my inter-pupil distance. This ensures that the glasses will be a perfect match.

I then put two frames into the box, and using their Freepost address, I popped it into the post.

The next morning, I received a friendly email from one of the staff at Lensology, who informed me that they had received my frames, and including a quote for the re-glazing of my frames.

The quote was exceptional. I could have my primary glasses with all the bells and whistles and a spare with just a plain varifocal lens for £334.75!

A saving of £237.25

I immediately placed the order, paying online, and a few days later, received my glasses.

The glasses were an excellent fit.

And the best surprise?

Inside the box, was a handful of chocolates.


This is, without doubt, the best way forwards. No waste, money saved, and chocolate.

Go well.

Mark Charlwood © 2020

Categories
Charitable Agencies Charity Elderly English Culture International Aid Nostalgia Poverty Relief Religion Society

Giving back a little of what I’ve been given

On a sunny and bright January Sunday I escorted my elderly Mother to her local church.

A confirmed Christian, my dear old Mum has been attending the same church since I was a child.

I attended this very church until I started work; I was confirmed there when I was about thirteen. 

My Parents continued as paid-up practising Christians, but I lapsed over the years, perhaps because I came to realise that, in my own very humble opinion, most religions (with the exception of Buddhism) are possibly the root cause of most types of conflict – best summarised as “My God is better than your God, so I will persuade or force you to believe in My God”.

I reckon that over the centuries, this has probably caused more wars than everything else combined. So, I got heartily fed up with it and decided that whilst I do believe in a force of good and evil, I stopped subscribing to any belief system that punishes people for being human.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe in a supreme infinite being.

I do.

I don’t think for one moment, that the perfectly integrated natural world in which we live happened by some cosmic accident. That would be akin to me taking a 5000-piece jigsaw, and throwing the pieces into the air, and then have them all land in the form of a flawlessly completed puzzle.

Folks, that just ain’t gonna happen is it?

Somehow, I feel more connection these days to ancient paganism.  My Great-Grandfather was a Senior Druid. The limited amount of research I have conducted into both my Great Grandfather and Druidism shows them to be cognisant and respectful of the seasons – the natural flows and rhythms of the planet.  Living in harmony with nature, and looking for ways to co-exist with our fellow inhabitants of this lonely rock we call home.

Stonehenge – A Place of Beauty and Tranquility.

I don’t go to church that much these days, mainly family “duty” missions – hatchings, matchings and despatchings.

Having said that, whenever I visit my dear old Mum on a Sunday, I willingly take her to morning service, as I know it gives her great pleasure, and that in turn makes me happy too.

I normally combine this with a pleasant and relaxed drive through the beautiful Sussex countryside, through forests and heathland, traversing the undulating folds of this green and pleasant land, passing through villages that were already old when the Doomsday Book was still in draft form.

The High Weald of Mid Sussex Home to writers such as A.A. Milne, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and… Me!

The trip normally routes via a small farm where we stop, and collect a dozen fresh eggs from the tiny stall at the gate, leaving a couple of pounds in the honesty box.

The last port of call before home is normally into a pleasant country golf club that serves the best coffee for miles around according to Mater.

Nestled in a quiet valley of the Sussex Weald – the home of the best coffee in Mid Sussex – allegedly!

But back to the story…

Having attended Sunday school since I was old enough to walk, I have a relatively good understanding of the Christian faith and see that it gives a lot of comfort and support to a lot of people.

I, therefore, believe that I am not a total charlatan or hypocrite when I take my mother to her local church on a Sunday morning. In some respects, I find it quite cathartic.

So – coming back to 0830 on that January Sunday. 

It was a beautiful, crisp, clear morning, with azure blue skies; sporadic fluffy white clouds, and a cool wind, stirring the bushes as I walked the route to the church, over paths and roads that were etched into my memory over fifty years ago. 

However, the speed at which I walked them was considerably slower than way back then.  Echos of my childish laughter bounce back from the weathered brick walls and moss-clad fences.

I now meander, rather than stride. Mum is now much slower since her falls and as it’s a beautiful morning, I am content to wander next to her, as she regales me with an endless stream of chatter, telling me all that has happened in her busy week.

I greatly admire my Mother. My Father was her rock, and when he passed away 8 years ago, I thought that the strain and grief would kill her as well.  However, the old girl is made of much sterner stuff, and it wasn’t long before she bounced back. 

However, I know the amount of grit and strength this demanded of her.

She now enjoys an active social life, working part-time in the church cafe, attending various church groups – and up until recently, driving every week to meet up with her “old ladies” (all, of whom were younger than she was!) in one of the local towns, a short drive away.

She is now a regular bus rider and travels all over the counties of Sussex and Kent to visit different towns and shopping centres.  Far from becoming a hermit, I now almost have to make an appointment to see my own mother!

Where next?

So, it was on this lovely day that we sat down in the small Methodist chapel, resplendent in its gleaming white paint.

The modern contemporary Church. Light airy, and fresh…

I recognised many of the folk in the congregation. Some I knew from years ago; the parents of some of my contemporaries, now aged, stooped, wrinkled and infirm. Some were my age, in their late fifties or early sixties and at least one nodded to me and smiled a greeting.

I joined in the hymns – somewhat unenthusiastically I admit. I have never been a great fan of Charles Wesley, and this service merely reinforced my views that he should have been taken away and summarily pecked to death by ducks for writing such appalling dirges.

I have more affinity with the happy, loud hymns created at Gospel churches. They seem to know how to really enjoy their worship.

The service was officiated by the incumbent vicar. His sermon gave me the inspiration to write this article.

His lesson was actually quite interesting and contained one very important quote. He was referring to the offertory, and he made the statement “you are only giving back a tiny fraction of what the Lord gave you”

This fragment of his sermon stuck with me, and my thoughts kept returning to it, unbidden throughout the following weeks.

Yes, for the comparatively paltry amount of a fiver, which is what I furtively chucked into the collection plate, I have always been on the upside of the equation.  I am fortunate in so many areas of my life.

Giving a little back…

I am relatively fit and whilst I am no Einstein, I do have a reasonable level of intelligence and education. I hold down a good job, and as a result, I live in a nice house in a beautiful part of Southern England, surrounded by nature and enjoy a good standard of living.

I have been so privileged, that through my accident of birth, I was born into an age of good medicine and healthcare and into a temperate and civilised country.

In addition, the country in which I live, has a decent democratic society, with a generally compassionate and caring nature.

I could have so easily been born into poverty and disease, or a totalitarian society with brutal law enforcement, where there is no such thing as individual freedom or a free media and press.

What value could be placed on these fundamental privileges?

So, yes, the old padre was correct in his sermon.

My fiver, will hopefully go to aid those so desperately in need of it; medical relief in sub-Saharan Africa? a school in the slums of Brazil? clean water in the hinterlands of Tanzania?

It matters not where it goes.  I do know that it will be sent where it is needed most – and hopefully will make a difference to someone’s life.

Go Well…

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Timeslip – and the Absurdity of Twinning…

I recently visited my elderly Mother in the sleepy West Sussex town that I grew up in. She still lives in the same house, which, despite being redocorated several times, still seems familiar to me in a way that is almost impossible to describe.

I am a frequent visitor, but I still get catapulted back to my youth when I arrive.

I carried my lightly-packed wheelie bag up the stairs to “my” bedroom.

I can remember when we moved to the house back in 1971, my parents offering me the choice of bedrooms, as I was the eldest child, at the ripe old age of 10…(Seniority rules!). I did a quick recce of the rooms, and promptly chose the room with a northerly aspect.

Mum was surprised about this, as the room was quite a bit smaller thatn the room facing south. She pointed out that I may prefer the larger room as I would need to do homework there.

I stuck to my guns – I wanted the northerly view, as this gave me a fantastic view of the aircraft descending on the glideslope into Gatwick airport, some eight miles to the west.

I smiled as I dumped my bag on the old wooden chair in the corner. I stood by the window, adopting almost the same position as my former boyhood self did fifty years ago.

A flash over the spire of St. Mary’s Church caught my attention. Even with my age-inhibited eyesight, I could still make out the colour and shape; a Norweigian Boeing 787, respendent in it’s red and white livery.

Norweigian 787
Norweigian 787 on Approach to Land

Back then I used to spend hours in my bedroom, armed with pair of Prinzflex 10 x 50 binoculars – a 10th birthday present from my Grandma. I am pleased to say, that despite several housemoves and a number of foreign holidays I still have these in my posession, and they still function perfectly.

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I was also the proud owner of a Vantone Airband Radio, My dear old Dad got it for me up Tottenham Court Road. I was thrilled to get this. It had Police, Public Service Broadcasts, Air Band, Sea Band and VHF so after a lot of trial and error I was able to tune the Gatwick Approach frequency and the Tower, and monitor the aircraft arrivals. God, I wish I still had that old set now. The hours I used to sit there, transfixed, listening to the exchanges between crew and air traffic control.

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No 787s then. My regulars were Air France Caravelles, British Island AIrways 748s, Tradewinds CL-44s, and the Braniff 747 – The Big Orange.

E21E78E0-D47C-4B13-B7F8-48F9CBE4F51C Tradewinds Canadair CL-44 at Gatwick Airport

All the registrations that I saw and heard were dutifully recorded in a battered notebook, together with scrawled notes of times and dates.

I have to face it. At that time in my life I was a certifiable addict. I needed my aeroplane fix every day,

Going to school was just an inconvenient interruption to my passion, and I spent many lessons just gazing into the sky. Sorry Mister Clifford. It’s not that you didn’t make Physics interesting, its just that my mind was always elsewhere.

Mr Woolcock, you tried so hard to fire my imagination up with chemistry, but moles and millimoles weren’t my thing. 707s and 747s were my thing.

I was so fired up with this disease called aviation that I even cycled the 9 miles each way to London Gatwick Airport every day of my school holidays to watch aircraft.

It was all so innocent by todays standards. I would park my bike by the simple chainlink fence, and climb up the steel emergency steps on the side of the gate building. Once up on the roof, I could walk all the way down the building and set up shop at the end of the pier.

From my vantage point I could actually look down at the BIA Herald aircraft sitting on the ramp below – not something that could be done now.

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So – visiting my dear old Mum caused a bit of a time slip – and I momentarily dropped through the temporal rift back to 1971.

Getting back on track then…

Knowing that my Mum is a regular church-goer, I took her to the Sunday morning service today. The church has been thoroughly modernised, but the congregation and the format of the service has not.

I recognised a good few of them. Many were the then young parents of my contemporaries back in the day. Now old, stooped and struggling, but still happy to belt out the hymns, most of which were unfamiliar to me. I nodded to some, and exchanged a few words with others.

It was when I visited the loo to wash my hands that I discovered what is probably the most unusual cultural exchange.

Let me explain…

After World War Two ended, the  Council of European Municipalities (as it was then) promoted the twinning of communities from different member states as a way of bonding the fissures created by the war – a war which effectively ripped mainland Europe apart.

From the Town Twinning website, I found this descriptive quote on “Twinning”

“A twinning is the coming together of two communities seeking, in this way, to take action with a European perspective and with the aim of facing their problems and developing between themselves closer and closer ties of friendship”.

The medium sized community of East Grinstead in West Sussex covers just under ten square miles and has a population of just under 26,500.  The town has been here since the 1300s, and lies on the Greenwich Meridian – so stand in the right place, and you can have a foot in either hemisphere.

It is twinned with Bourg-de-Péage in France, and has other twins in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. This is heralded on the signs at the boundaries of the town.

This is all a very lofty ideal, and I have been to various events in the past including a French Market, and a German Beer Festival hosted by the town twinning association.

What I saw in the Church toilet though made me laugh out loud.

There, on the wall hung a framed photograph of a very basic toilet facility somewhere in Tanzania. Apparently, this toilet was twinned with the clean facility here in the Trinity Methodist Church.

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Toilet Twinning – The Way to Go?

Stifling my laughter, I decided to check the other lavatory in the foyer, and sure enough, that one had been twinned with a latrine in South Sudan.

I decided that I needed to check this out, and I visited the Toilet Twinning website, and it turns out that this, whilst initially amusing, has a serious aspect to it.

According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, about 2 billion people on this planet have no access to a safe and hygeinic lavatory.

Furthermore, almost 1,000 children die every day from preventable diseases that are linked to dirty water and unsafe lavatories.

From the website, it seems that anyone can twin their toilet with a latrine somewhere in the developing world, and the money raised goes to the International Relief and Development Agency’s “Tearfund”.

The money is used to provide clean water, hygeine education and basic sanitation.

I know which Twinning Association I prefer…

Have a good day…