Narrowboats rock!

3 12 2009


With this year’s flakey economy, and a growing alternative lifestyle movement, the appeal of boat-living seems to be on the increase.

I moved aboard over 3 years ago, at a time when i wanted more independence but within the realms of affordability. The romantic notion of heading off into the sunset, a beer in hand and a Jack Russell at the helm were also mixed up in my vision of a boating future.

This year i’ve been along the Thames, up the River Lee, down the Grand Union and across the Regent’s Canal. I’ve learnt about oil filters, engine mounts and fuel pumps. I’ve got stuck in the mud, driven over my barge pole and waded the canal in ill-fitting Wellingtons.

And with every experience and story – i’ve grown to love it even more (although there are some things i’ll just never learn to love)…

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Sneaky snapshots

11 09 2009

I finally got up close and personal with Patrick Blanc’s creations – firstly the vertical garden at The Driver and then the Mur-Vegetal at The Athenaeum!
I’ve taken some great close-up pics of the plants and structure and hope it helps all you aspiring vertical gardeners…

cab and men square Athenaeum side athenaeum square

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Make your own Vertical Garden

13 08 2009

roblisameehan - Flickr CC

One of the most popular pages on my blog is about Vertical Gardening.  It talks about the origins of the concept and where various examples can be found – but it doesn’t tell you how to make one.  Now, having done further research on the Westfield Wall and the famous French botanist who leads the way in Vertical Gardening design – i’ve written this post – Do-It-Yourself Vertical Gardening…
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Dustbin Dinner – Freeganism

9 08 2009

George Donnelly - Flickr

This week i met author and historian Tristram Stuart.  I was interviewing him for the BBC World Service and it’s particularly exciting for 2 reasons –

  1. This is my first report for the BBC World Service
  2. The theme of the package is Freeganism – something Tristram partakes in and something i (for some time) have been keen to learn more about
  3. Now although this activity took me to the leafy Sussex countryside and NOT the London streets – this is certainly a movement rippling through the capital and not an opportunity to be missed from Hotspotting to talk about…


    Dustbin Dinner – My adventures in Freeganism

    Tristram met me at ten past one, on Wednesday afternoon, at a train station in Sussex. Instantly recognisable from his Googled publicity shots we drove into town and chatted about what we might find.  He was keen to point out three things –

    1. There was no guarantee what would be in the bins
    2. He wasn’t advocating us all plundering the bins for our food – instead he was doing this to highlight a problem
    3. The car was not his usual form of transport – it was either that or sit on the handlebars of his pushbike!

    After a brief 10 minute drive we pulled up at the supermarket.  We had a quick recorded chat in the car (whilst we waited for a delivery van to leave the loading bay area) and then, with the coast clear, we headed over to the 5 wheelie bins at the back of the store.

    With Tristram’s latest book entitled ‘Waste – Uncovering the global food scandal’, it’s hardly surprising that he wasted no time in getting stuck into the fullest bin.

    Lifting up boxes and ripping open plastic sacks, Tristram expertly identifies the morsels that take his fancy.  Now i realise this may sound a touch repulsive – I certainly wouldn’t retrieve my evening meal from the depths of my waste bin.  But this is where it gets interesting…

    What’s in-store?

    Unlike the bottom of a conventional home rubbish bin – with coffee grounds and eggshells, potato peelings and mouldy cheese – the food that Tristram pulled from the supermarket dumpster was indistinguishable from that which you would pluck from the supermarket shelves.

    As Tristram puts it “It’s like someone went round the supermarket with a trolley, picked what they liked off the shelves, put it in a bag and then just threw it in the bin.”

    We found organic ham, expensive cheeses, smoked salmon, organinc seeded loaves, yoghurts, green beans, sweets and cut flowers.  These products weren’t mouldy, their packaging was (in the majority of cases) intact and although some were past their prime – some things were being chucked away even BEFORE their best before dates!

    A word of warning

    Now obviously things like meat and fish need to be stored in a cool environment and there was no way of knowing how long they’d been in the bin, but Tristram believed they had only recently been taken out of the store and still felt cool to the touch.

    He also made of point of mentioning that smoking/curing meat and fish (as the ham and the salmon were) was  a commonplace method of extending the life of those products.

    He wouldn’t say on record whether he would be eating those particular products and when i suggested we eat some of the salami – during the interview – he advised snacking instead on the vegetables  (as it would be ‘less controversial’).

    Milky Milky

    Interestingly, a carton of milk was pulled from the bags which certainly wasn’t fit for consumption (looking more like something you’d spoon onto a jacket potato than pour onto your cereal!)  This, i said to Tristram, was justified in being in the bin but Tristram’s response was to ask ‘why’ had it been allowed to get to that state in the first place?

    Surely it was the responsibility of the supermarket to manage its stock more effectively?  They should have ordered less or discounted it in advance of its decay.  Certainly an interesting point and an argument well made.

    Waste

    Reading Tristram Stuart’s book you get a clearer picture of the waste at every stage of our food supply chain and as he says during our interview “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

    All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure in freeganism and whilst i’m not quite up to the task of loitering round the back of Asda’s aright at this moment (which Tristram isn’t even encouraging) –  i have become more conscious of my own part in avoiding unnecessary waste.

    • This evening i wrapped up my leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch
    • and i ate two eggs that had passed their sell-by date

    Simple.

    Extra info

    Look at Tristram Stuart’s own website to learn more about him and his Liber-ate movement

    The London freegan scene is currently quite disjointed with only a few meets advertised.

    Alternatively – let’s try and arrange some freegan fun, a dumpster dive or a backstreet bin raid in London – whatever we call it – who’s up for joining me?!  

    Either email (info[at]nataliebarrass[dot]com) or comment at the end of the post.

    Picture at top by George Donnelly CC 2.0 on Flickr





*Video* – Eco Fashion

10 07 2009

_thor_ - Flickr

Between 20-24th April 2009, Spitalfield’s Market was host to the London Alternative Fashion week.

With a strong eco flavour, passers-by got to witness catwalk shows of ethical, recycled and/or sustainable fashion.

I covered the event for Strawberry Earth and spoke with designers Wilfried Pletzinger and Holly Dutton.  We got some great shots of the event and some interesting answers from the designers – have a look at the video from the Eco Fashion event at Spitalfields
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Streetcar

19 05 2009

So the other day a lovely person from Streetcar called me to say –

“Hey, hope you’re enjoying our service, can we give you £10 worth of driving?”
“Thanks” i say, “I’ll take you up on that.”
And so this morning i did…

streetcar logo

I think Streetcar is totally brilliant! It makes something usually so hassleful – ie hiring a car – into something totally seamless.
Joining is a breeze. You don’t need to send bits of paper, prove where you live or sign on the dotted line.

  • You just call them up
  • Talk to a human being
  • Have a 3-way conversation with the DVLA
  • Tell them your bank details (Streetcar, not the DVLA)
  • Wait for your smartcard key to be delivered

If you want to drive one of the cars before that – it’s not a problem. You just book your car (either online or over the phone), turn up and then call them so they can unlock it remotely. Once inside – open the glove box and there’s your key!

The VW Golfs are £5.95 an hour and you can also hire a Streetvan for £8.95 an hour.
They do special deals on the cars – recently you could get one from Monday-Friday for £99.

Extra info –

  • You don’t pay for petrol (after 30 miles per day you are charged 23p per mile)
  • If you need to fill up you pay with a special card they send you
  • If you drive through the C-Charge zone they just add it onto your bill

The best bits –

  • You can plug your MP3 player into the stereo
  • The car has its own telephone number so people can get in touch with you whilst you’re out driving!!
  • Streetcar will reimburse you up to £7.50 if you take the car to be cleaned AND give you an hours free driving!
  • AND when i called them this afternoon a friend of mine actually answered the phone! You can’t get much better service than that…
    Exactly what i think!  I wanna be in their advert...

    Exactly what i think! I wanna be in their advert...

     

    "Stella!"

    "Stella!"





Vertical Gardening

10 05 2009

sir_mervs - Flickr
Living in London it’s considered quite a luxury to have a garden.  I’m actually one of the lucky ones (despite living on a boat) as i do have a patch of green to call my own.  Friends of mine have to make do with 2 pot plants on the loosely titled ‘roof terrace’ – accessed by climbing out of the hallway window.

It’s because of this lack of private vegetation that i believe Londoners relish trips to the park.  We appreciate a well-tended railway station garden or a pub-front covered in hanging baskets.  And it’s why i love the new Westfield Shopping Mall in Shepherd’s Bush.  Not for anything inside – but for it’s valiant attempt outside at bio-diversity – with a humongous wall of foliage!
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