Free Water-Saving Device

I grew up in Canterbury, New Zealand, where water was plentiful, delicious, untreated and free. It came from glaciers, filtered through layers of rock through to artesian wells deep underground. Since then there have been ongoing warnings that the artesian wells are in danger of running dry, and meanwhile a huge increase in dairy farming has led to greater strain on river water and run-off polluting the previously pristine rivers. I read with alarm an article the other day about Government cuts potentially causing deaths due to poor water quality. I find it hard to believe this is the same place I grew up in, things have changed so much just in my lifetime.

Here in London one does hear warnings about reducing water use, but to be honest I don’t pay much heed. I don’t leave the tap running when I brush my teeth, and that’s my lip service to water conservation. Oh, and doing my washing with Eco Balls on the 30-minute cycle – actually, that saves a lot of water. But my motivation to use the eco balls came more from wanting to cut down on chemicals and time than actually saving water.

I really do take water for granted.

Then this morning, I read this article by Lucy Siegle: Can I Use Water And Be Green? I realised I’m really not doing enough to save water. Then while googling ways to save water, I discovered a really easy and FREE way to save water in your toilet cistern. Of course, if you have a brick on hand, just chuck one in there and you’re done. But living in a fifth-floor London flat there aren’t any bricks around. Enter Thames Water: they are giving away water saving devices to anyone who lives in the UK. Thames Water customers can order up to 50 free devices and other UK residents can order one each.

Click the link, and do it now!

You know you’re old when…

… there’s a “Vintage Reproduction” of your first Barbie doll. Cripes.


Isn’t she….. vile?

Mum had resisted buying me one for as long as she could, but pester power won in the end. At the age of five or six, I didn’t really grasp the concept of feminism; I just knew my friends had them. Once I had my Barbie she only came out when my girlfriends were around. The rest of the time I played with Lego, or did cut-and-stick with old cereal packets and chocolate wrappers, or made paper planes, or flew kites, or banged nails into wood offcuts (I think I had a child-sized hammer for this purpose).

Yet as soon as I saw this Barbie doll on Stitchywitch’s blog, I remembered her vividly. She obviously had some impact on my childhood. Though I definitely didn’t want to *be* Barbie. I think I wanted to be a Greenpeace activist (until Mum persuaded me I could save the whales by becoming a marine biologist).

The toys of my youth seem to be making a huge comeback at the moment. Children are playing with Care Bears, My Little Ponies, Sylvanian Families (I always wanted these, but they were really expensive), Polly Pockets and Transformers. I think even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming back (these were a little after my time, but I remember one Christmas when every gift my brother received was Turtle-themed! That was going a little too far). Is it because my generation are having children now, and they want the same toys for their children? I currently only give children unbranded toys, made (sometimes homemade) from natural materials. If I ever have a kid, I hope she/he doesn’t ever ask for a Barbie doll!

I’m out of words now. Discuss.

What Women Want

… or at least, what they talk about.

I was talking to Paul-the-Riverford-vegman this morning, and mentioned the awful Daily Mail article that basically said knitting groups are like Sex and the City except with knitting. That women meet up, drink cocktails and gossip about men while we knit. We don’t!! (and yes, I know I should be well above moaning about a Daily Fail article) For starters, there are often men at knitting group. But even when there are no men present, we don’t talk about them! Paul asked “well, what do you drink, and what do you talk about?” “Cider, or tea if it’s in the day time, and we talk about knitting” I said.

But it got me thinking. We don’t talk about knitting ALL the time. So unbeknownst to the rest of my knitting group (I didn’t want them to be self conscious as it would ruin the exercise), I scribbled down the topics of conversation at this afternoon’s group – consisting of five women of various ages and nationalities – over the course of about an hour or two. I went along with the conversation but tried not to propose topics myself or steer it in any way. Here’s what I wrote:

Work (troubles at), science, publishing, shopping, chocolate, cake, diabetes research (and irony of bake sale in aid of), knitting, hot cross buns, Italy, Wales, languages, Canada, cold (in Canada and London), emigration (to Canada), immigration (to London), knitting, cake (again), cafes near Earl’s Court, whinging (re work (troubles at)), home improvements, knitting (lengthy discussion of different bind-off methods), names (common and uncommon), rope-making (a man who had been making rope at another table came over to talk to Helly and she invited him to join our group), crochet hooks (comparison of), chocolate (again), atheism, racism, postcards, marmalade.

At this point I stopped writing, told the group what I had been doing and read out the list. They hadn’t been at all suspicious about my scribblings, they must have thought I was writing pattern notes. They all agreed the list was fairly representative of what we tend to talk about – not many highbrow philosophical discussions there, but certainly no gossiping, and no talking about men apart from a passing reference by Helly to her partner Ed (re home improvements). I know knitters are fairly preoccupied with cake but even I was surprised at the amount of time we spent speaking about food.

“You should write a blog post about this”, Helly said.

“I intend to”, I replied. “I’m going to flesh it out by talking about that test they judge films by, I can’t remember what it’s called though”

the Bechdel Test” said Jenny. “In order to satisfy the test, a film has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man”. This happens in real life all the time (as we just evidenced), but not very often in film and TV.

The conversation moved on to lectures, museums, art, the Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project, and garden centres.

Then we all ate some cake.

Rainbow Warrior

I just discovered this video.

I’m absolutely seething, but will try to get some words out. That man, Godfrey Bloom, is a member of the UK Independence Party and a member of the European Parliament. At the end of the video, he congratulates the French for sinking the original Rainbow Warrior.

France began testing nuclear weapons in its Pacific territories in the 1960s, and particularly on the atoll of Mururoa. In 1973, New Zealand took France to the International Court of Justice and won a ruling that France should cease all nuclear testing. France ignored the ruling and in 1974, the tests continued underground. New Zealand took France back to the ICJ in 1995. 147 underground nuclear tests were carried out between 1974 and 1996 when France finally stopped the tests.

In March 1985, NZ’s prime minister David Lange – in a brilliant speech – won the Oxford Union debate with his argument that nuclear weapons were morally indefensible. Lange then went one step further by banning all nuclear-powered ships from New Zealand waters and ports. The United States took this to be a repudiation of New Zealand’s obligations under the ANZUS treaty and ended the alliance.

Four months after the Oxford Union debate, on July 10, 1985, the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior was moored in Auckland Harbour. Two French secret agents dove under the ship, attached two limpet mines, and then detonated the bombs. A Spanish photographer, Fernando Pereira, was killed in the attack. He had an eight year-old son.

This was an act of state-sponsored terrorism in New Zealand territory and was seen as an act of war by France, a country which was supposedly a friend of New Zealand and which many New Zealand citizens had died fighting for only forty years earlier. In the months and years which followed, France showed just how “friendly” it could be, first denying responsibility for the attack, then trying to pin the blame on MI6, then trying to block imports of New Zealand products into the EEC. Unfortunately for France, they underestimated our police force and the vigilance of ordinary citizens and two of the estimated nine agents involved were caught (thanks in part to a Neighbourhood Watch group), tried, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The US stood by and did nothing – fair enough, perhaps. But the UK did nothing either. New Zealand severed its last constitutional ties with the UK parliament and became fully independent in 1986, the year I started school. Apart from a love-hate relationship with Australia, New Zealand was alone in the world – a tiny little outpost in the Pacific, its traditional allies gone, but all the same not allowing itself to be pushed around.

My childhood was full of anti-nuclear symbols, rainbows, and Greenpeace bumper stickers (and, by the by, Neighbourhood Watch groups). The environment movement was huge. We were all indoctrinated to “be a tidy Kiwi” and were already experiencing first-hand the effects of climate change due to the ozone hole (pre-regulation of CFCs). New Zealand truly came of age in the 1980s and was a world leader in nuclear and environmental issues.

Godfrey Bloom needs to understand that his comment not only condones terrorism and murder, but he has managed to offend a whole country. Which is a bit hard to understand given that his party is calling for closer relations with Commonwealth countries.

Yesterday was New Zealand’s national day. This year I skipped the celebrations – a pub crawl on the Circle Line from Paddington to Westminster ending with a big party in Parliament Square (though in recent years the Circle Line has always been inconveniently closed on the day). It seems appropriate somehow – a bit of an “up yours” to the Empire. I am proud to be British (though there is a lot in our history to be less than proud of). But I am also proud to be from a country that stands up for what it believes in, even to the extent of losing its friends. The events of the 1980s didn’t just shape New Zealand’s national identity, they shaped my identity as an individual.

When is a £1 coin not a £1 coin?

When it’s a fake. I found a fake in my change yesterday, and another today. Today’s was a particularly bad fake:


You can see that the design on this side is not stamped in the centre of the coin. The letters “IRB” (for Ian Rank-Broadley, who designed the Queen’s head you see on the coin) which should be under the head are very indistinct, I can only see the R.


This side has the right design for the year (2001), which is a start. However, the design is very indistinct, and tellingly it is not aligned with the head side but almost 90 degrees out.


The motto, Decus et Tutamen, is correct for the year. The cross is present – this is absent in many fake coins. But the lettering is too deeply stamped, and edge of the coin (the grooves) is poorly defined.

If you think you have a fake, you can compare it with this handy chart from the Royal Mint.

I took yesterday’s fake back to the shop, and today’s fake wasn’t mine. But I think I may start collecting them from now on – they are quite interesting. Incidentally, check all your new (2008) 20p pieces for the year. Some were incorrectly stamped without the year, and these are now worth about £20. I’m definitely looking out for one of them!

Carbon action #1

To start off with, I thought we would calculate our carbon footprints and see where our starting point is.

I’ve shopped around a bit and there are many different calculators on the internet. Some measure more than others.

BP has a carbon footprint calculator here.  It only measures household energy use and travel.  Mine came out at 3 tonnes.  My actual footprint must be much higher however as it did not take into account food and consumer items.  My household energy use is fairly low as we use gas for heating and cooking, which actually burns far less carbon than electricity, I don’t have things like TVs or stereos, and our flat is so warm we barely use the heating anyway.  Travel was the real kicker.  I came out at almost zero for ground travel as I don’t own a vehicle and never take taxis so it’s public transport or walking everywhere.  However, I fly a LOT.  I’ll look at what I can do about that in another post.

So, what’s yours?


I did something today that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. I made a loan through Kiva.  Until recently I had been making monthly donations to the MSF Australia and Greenpeace, however these were coming out of my New Zealand bank account without any funds coming in!  So I finally stopped them.  I will probably continue to donate to MSF from here.  I do a lot of research before donating to any charity (which is why I hate the people who work on the street, on commission, whose sole mission is to sign you up there on the spot) and MSF gets a big tick from me.

I’m moving off-topic though.  I first heard about Kiva at least a year ago.  They are a not-for-profit that arranges microfinance for people and groups in developing countries.  Anyone can lend any amount of money they like.  Through the magic of the internet, Kiva matches up lenders with borrowers through local microfinance groups.  It’s a fantastic idea and one that works really well.  It’s been very popular with lenders as they can see where their money is going and really feel like they are doing something good.  It’s also not charity or “aid” as such – these people want to fight their own way out of poverty, they have figured out how they need to do it, and they will work hard to pay back the money they borrow.

My loan was to the Ntinda Kafene Women’s group in Uganda.  It was hard not to get carried away and lend to more borrowers!  I think I will make it a regular thing, and then when my money is paid back I will of course re-lend it.

Me(me) again

1) What was I doing 10 years ago?
I was halfway through my penultimate year at high school, probably right in the middle of doing a play.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

  1. Go to dance class x2
  2. Attempt to buy dress to wear to Andrew’s wedding (ew Oxford Street)
  3. Bra shopping (depressing)
  4. Supermarket shopping to stock up for Pancake Sunday (every Sunday is Pancake Sunday when I’m in town)
  5. Meet up with school friends for dinner (yay!)

3) Snacks I enjoy:
Anything salty and fatty!  Crisps, corn chips with guacamole are probably my favourite.  Honey roast cashews, mm.

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Go back to university and study all the stuff I didn’t get around to last time – economics, history, sociology, english lit, french lit, art history, international development, etc etc.  Not all at once, I’d spread it out.  Travel the world.  Buy a nice house in London and a little bit of land outside London where I can have chickens and a garden and babies!  Also a house in the Marlborough Sounds and one in France.  Make that a chateau with a vineyard.  Les enfants must speak ze français!

5) Places I have lived:
Christchurch, North Loburn, Germany, New York, London

Top 5 Museums/Galleries

This list is pretty fluid and subject to change, but (in no particular order):

1. Museum of Modern Art, New York

2. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne

3. Canterbury Museum, Christchurch

4. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

5. Pergamon Museum, Berlin

What are your favourite museums?

(of course, now I’m thinking of what would be in my top 10… the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, the space museum in Washington DC, the Costume Institute at the Met in NY, the list goes on…)