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November, 2010:

Harking Back to Better Times

In the UK we currently have a spate of historically based TV programmes. Is it odd that in a upcoming ‘Time of Austerity’ TV producers are seemingly prepared to remind us all that a simpler life in the past was better? There is even a new version of that old staple of TV re-runs ‘The Good Life’ from the 70’s. Mind you – this new version is barely watchable – concentrating primarily on the personalities of the presenters rather than the substance of the content. In fact, I only managed to watch the first two programmes.

Another programme tries to recreate a series of high street shops from different eras in UK history. This could have been good. It’s not for two reasons. The first is that the time given for each of the ‘eras’ is only a week (must take a while to change each shop ready for the next era), and the second is the ‘Chamber of Commerce’ – a group of people who seem to be a bit like the ‘Dragon’s Den’ panel – who stroll into the High Street dispensing opinions and problems in equal measure. I watched two of these as well. I have given up now. Then – there is ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘The Edwardian Farm’.

I think that there is a lot of looking back with rose-tinted spectacles going on here. Times were better in the old days – for a very few. For the majority life was not so good. Disease was rife, money was short and living conditions could be very harsh. Things were not better for your ‘average’ person. I am glad that I was born into this time, in this country. That last is also an important factor – because there are places in the world where it is not much fun to be alive and where disease is still rife, money is very short and living conditions remain very harsh. So if you are warm, have shelter, aren’t hungry and no one is abusing you, these are the better times.

Overuse of Plastics and Rampant Consumerism

Whilst expending time and fuel taking a load of plastic containers to the recycling point yesterday I was pondering on how many other people do the same? I make a point of collecting all plastic bottles, trays and food containers that we use. It is very surprising just how much there is – given that there are only two people in my house now. If I just threw all of that stuff in the bin it would end up in landfill – but what if I had no choice? I have the means to recycle this stuff, but I am sure that there are many people who are in situations where this is impracticable – and their plastic ends up in the bin.

It seems that there are two ways in which the situation can be eased – one is to cut down on the amount of plastics used by the supermarkets (let’s be honest – most of us shop in them), the other is for Local Authorities to collect plastics for recycling along with the other stuff which is collected. I understand that some Authorities do this – but my city, for example, doesn’t, and it’s a big city. Not all ‘biodegradable’ plastics degrade easily it seems – have a look here. This is an important consideration.

At some future time I think our descendants will be amazed at our society – and the way that we have let things slip before we tried to pull back from the edge. The push to make us all consume more and more is great – and even now we tend to be suckered into believing that we actually NEED the latest add on, gadget or thing. A lot of electronic items now come in cardboard packaging – which perhaps seems ‘greener’, but what about the energy needed to actually make the thing? That’s another issue.

Back to plastics. Could supermarkets cut back on the amount of plastic that they use? Could they change the type of plastics to really biodegradable ones? I think the answer to both of these questions is ‘yes’. Better still would be for the ‘consumer’ (hate that word) to choose to shop elsewhere. Is it really fun wandering around an aircraft hangar sized shop wheeling a trolley the size of a small car? If it is, then why do people fondly think of times when there were true high streets full of individual shops, and personal service was the thing? Things tended not to be wrapped in plastic either!

Inveterate Collector

I collect things. I wish I could say that the things I collected increased in value as the years go by – but I can’t. I tend to collect technological type stuff. One of my vices over the years has been the urge to record. I was the kid who had the reel to reel tape recorder with the mike propped up against the TV speaker to record episodes of ‘The Champions’ and ‘The Persuaders’ because they seemed so good at the time that I just wanted to keep them. Watching a re-run on TV a few weeks ago indicated quite clearly to me just how wrong I was. Some remnants of these recordings are still hanging around somewhere. I found an old reel to reel tape in the attic a few months ago, and I know that the reel to reel recorder is up there somewhere as well. What are the chances of it working after 35+ years?

I moved on to audio cassette recordings, then video recordings, flirting briefly with formats such as  ‘U Matic’, ‘Phillips 2000′ and ‘Betamax’, before settling on VHS. Onto CD for audio and games, then DVD for audio, games, TV programmes and films – and suddenly realised that I had amassed a lot of self recorded material, taking up a great deal of space. This is in addition to all the stuff that I had bought – on lots of formats. More stuff in fact that I could listen to watch or play in two lifetimes. I’ve even got DVDs still in their original cellophane covers – never having been opened. The other day I found that I have two copies of ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ – and I don’t know why. I have a complete box set of Series Three of ‘Six Feet Under’ (a TV programme I have never watched) – and I don’t even know where that came from!

Don’t get me started on ‘free’ discs that are given away with magazines. I subscribed to several computer mags for quite a few years and kept all of the discs – mostly CDs, but in the latter years they started to give away DVDs as well – and some of those were double sided. Anyway – I have boxes and boxes of these things – many of which are designed for Windows XP, 98 and 95. Some even for DOS (yes, I go back quite a way).

I have been ‘having a clear out’. All of my self recorded VHS and audio tapes have been consigned to the bin. I tried to give them away – free – but no-one wanted them – not even on Free Cycle. I transferred the films of my kids when they were young and some other important stuff to DVD.

I gave most of my commercially recorded tapes to charity shops a while ago – which they accepted grudgingly. Apparently no one wants them any more. I must admit that I still have two boxes in the attic which I am finding it hard to release. I remember watching ‘Pingu’ and several other things with my children – and I can’t quite bring myself to throw these tapes. I have gone from over 300 tapes of various type down to less than 20. They will go to – eventually. It’s the discs next – there must be well over 2000 of these in various guises. I’m resisting the urge to buy Blu-Ray discs – although I do have a player now. I joined a rental club that means that I don’t have to keep the discs. But there lies another problem. Sometimes I have the disc at home for two or more months – and then send it back unwatched. Where’s the sense in that?

What a good little Consumer I have been over the years. My last two DVD players are, you’ve guessed it by now, in the attic. Even the old VHS player is loitering up there. Perhaps they hold sullen conversations with the older but no wiser Reel to Reel Tape Recorder? No, that’s just silly.

Peppers and Squash

Some of the peppers from the allotment being washed prior to being chopped and frozen.

The name of the ‘flying saucer’ squash by the way is ‘Patty Pan’. Still have to look up the chillies. I turned most of them into chilli paste – which is now in jars. I also produced a bottle of chilli oil – using olive oil as a base –  it’s hot.

I’m making a vegetable stew with some the squashes. It’s cooking on the stove even as I write. It’s still raining – so mostly indoor activities today. The cats are restless for some reason.

More on Audio Books

I came across this site which is really an archive of radio broadcasts – something for everyone. It relies on people using the ‘BitTorrent’ method of sharing information – but everything it has listed is – seemingly – in the public domain. It has mostly British radio programmes etc. Useful for those people who can’t use the BBC iPlayer service. The web link is . If you want to know about using torrents, then here is a good place to start: .  Downloading torrents doesn’t have to be illegal – try searching for ‘legal torrents’ in a search engine like Google or Yahoo.

The Actual Allotment

I really do have an allotment. I was there only yesterday. As I live in the UK the clocks have just ‘gone back’ to allow us lighter times in the mornings – but this means that the evenings draw in very quickly. On my allotment the grass is still making a determined effort to take over. I have some grass paths to split things up, and this makes it easier to walk on in the winter – but needs constant maintenance. As well as trimming the grass with my rechargeable electric strimmer I was taking down the last of the runner beans and picking the remaining produce.

I have a lot of chillies (again) – I need to look up what variety they are. I still have a carrier bag of cayenne peppers in the freezer from last year – can’t seem to use them up! I will invent some kind of preserve this time I think. I made up something I called ‘Tiger Preserve’ last year – involving chillies and ginger. Very hot! I also have a lot of ordinary bell peppers and some nice long sweet red peppers named ‘Frigatella’. I was thinking of drying those and preserving them in oil. Also brought back some carrots, beetroot, french parsley and butternut squash. Also the last of another type of squash – looks like a dumpy flying saucer. The celeriac, parsnips and leeks are doing well.

I need to go back and finish tidying up – the grass is still winning at the moment. That’s the problem with the strimmer – it runs down quite quickly. I would go today – but it’s just started raining, and the forecast isn’t good. Besides which, I’ve promised to take my Mum shopping – she can’t get out by herself and so I usually do her shopping for her. Sometimes she likes to come with me – along with her portable oxygen tank. Ho Hum.

Movember Again

I can’t believe that it’s two years since I first mentioned Movember – and here it is again!! I’m not doing it myself this year – but if you are interested – have a look here. I realise that I have been lax in not posting – but a lot seems to have been happening both in my life and in the world. I will try to be more regular.