Monday, 25 November 2013

50 Years

Last week there were lots of fiftieth anniversaries. Fifty years since the deaths of JFK, C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley and fifty years since the first Doctor Who episode. All this happened twice my lifetime ago. Today, much is still the same as it was then, but there have been changes.

Compared to fifty years ago my childhood had less skylarks than my parents' did, less fields to play in and more cars; but also more access to knowledge, more sights of far away lands and unimagined creatures. Today there are more nature reserves, but is this because we value our nature more or because these are the only islands we have left in our world where nature can remain? We have so much more of almost everything than fifty years ago. More people, more televisions, more food (for some of the world), more hunger (for other bits of the world), more knowledge, more travel, more communication. But you can't just have more, we still only have twenty four hours in each day, what have we given up for all of this more? Recent studies  indicate that over the last fifty years the proportion children playing in natural spaces has dropped by as much as seventy five percent. So for every four children running around in fields, rivers, beaches and woods when Doctor Who first aired there is now only one child today.

I expect JFK and Huxley have somehow affected my life, perhaps by affecting my parents lives (they were in primary school all that time ago), but I am certain that C. S. Lewis and Doctor Who have helped to shape who I am today. Both the Narnia series and Doctor Who tell stories of escaping to another world, full of wonder and adventure and where battles can be fought and won and where hard decisions for good must be made. These are elements from any good children's story. In fifty years time I want my future children and grandchildren to have these stories too. I want them to wonder at worlds far beyond our reach and imagine what dangerous adventures they might go on in the future. But I don't want that wonder to just come from a screen or a book. I don't want to tell them tales of why the hedgehogs disappeared or explain what a tree house was.

Whenever we imagine the future, we want to imagine it brighter, cleaner, safer and better for our children. That's the image that I hear people talk about when they talk about JFK's potential legacy. It would have been better if....

But the future we give to our children is whatever we can manage to make it. It's not something to be imagined it's something to be made. My children will run around in fields, they will see creatures they have never imagined and they will reach for the stars, because I will show them how and because my parents showed me how. But if we don't try, if we don't open the doors to the fields, or take the time to show them a daisy, a hedgehog or a skylark, how will they learn?

We are the children which the past produced, whether it was fifty or ten years ago. Our children stories have taught us to fight for good, to make hard decisions for a better  future and take ownership of our lives. All we have to do is make those stories reality, fight for the best bits of life and our planet and protect them. If we can do that, then who knows how good the next fifty years might be?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Finally Feeding

Six weeks after I first put up my new bird feeders I was beginning to lose hope that the local birds would ever find them. I moved them a fortnight ago to a different window because the large flock of local sparrows congregates in a hedge in front of our flat, rather than at the back where the feeders had first been.

Even the meal worm feeder which had been successful last spring wasn't attracting any hungry insectivores and was still completely full.

But then, a few days ago at breakfast we saw movement at the window. A magpie hovered against the window, picked up some meal worms and then darted back out of view! I never knew magpies could hover, but apparently they can. Over the last few days (while I've been away) the magpies have returned again and again, learning that the window sill can be sat upon to feed and so we don't get the entertainment of hovering anymore.  Now the feeders empty and I need to fill it up again, which I've very happy to do!

It's wonderful to see the feeders providing a use now the weather has turned colder, and I love magpies. If I were abroad and saw large black and white birds I'd probably stop to enjoy the exotic sight, here in the UK I still think they look exotic and I love watching them figure out where food is hidden on the roofs opposite our flat. Now I can have an ever closer view of these fascinating creatures.

Hopefully the regular visits from magpies will encourage the other local birds to check out the seed feeder, which is only a few feet away but is still as full as ever. We'll have to wait and see.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Lat week I talked about giving bulbs for Christmas presents. Often these lovely presents flower beautifully and then die off and get composted. It's normal for these bulbs to be designed as one use only, but sometimes they can surprise. 

This cyclamen was bought for me as a present about 3 years ago. It looked lovely the first Christmas I had it, and then it was put in our garden in Preston, and forgotten, for about 15 months. It was rediscovered when we moved last year and although there were no leaves or flowers it made the journey down south with us. Since then it's been living on our kitchen windowsill and in the last few months leaves have appeared and then, slowly flowers too. It's been flowering for about a month now and it's still going strong, hopefully at least until Christmas. So who knows, those bulbs you plan this year and give to friends might give them years of enjoyment, surprise and pleasure, there aren't many gifts that can do that.

Monday, 4 November 2013

50 Days

I'm not sure where October went but we're now 50 days away from Christmas and it's time to start thinking about presents. I'm not particularly well organised with gifts but if you want to give things that are eco friendly or home made you do need to plan ahead a bit. Since starting this blog I've been quite successful in my green gifts; previous blogs are here and here.

The most important thing with presents (whether green or not) is that they're wanted. There's no point giving an organic cook book to someone who hates cooking just as there's no point giving a gift day at a race track to someone who doesn't drive on principle. Gifts should be something people want or need, and the green part should be an added extra, just like I buy washing up liquid and if I can find an eco-friendly type it's an added bonus. It shouldn't be a way of showing off green credentials!

Over the years some of my green gifts have been a bit hit and miss, but others have been a big success. I've been surprised by how many comments I receive through January and February about bulbs that I've given to friends and family. During those dark months it's nice to watch something grow, it remind me of the coming spring. So bulbs are something that I keep on giving, but with different plants each year. This is a present that can be planned last minute but the sooner you plant bulbs the sooner they'll flower and planting at the right time will help strong healthy growth. I'll be looking for bulbs (which are actually quite cheap) over the next few weeks and planting them up individually for family and friends before the start of December. A good money saver is to buy packs of bulbs and then pot them up yourself in decorated jam jars or recycled flower pots rather than buying the post bulb and vase/pot packs.

If plants don't do it for your friends and families why not have a hunt for local produce. Whether it's creating a mini hamper of jams, breads and cheese from the farmers market or buying a calendar from a local artist local often means unique and I definitely have more fun discovering unusual handmade items in little local shops than trawling through the high street. This gift idea works really well if you're travelling to visit people over the festive season. Our local supermarkets sell locally brewed ales and popping in to bulk buy for a variety of male relatives just before the long drive north saves hours of stress trying to pick a suitable pair of socks for each! They get interesting beers they enjoy and couldn't find near them; and I can give the same gift year after year as the local specialities change over time.

There's always the option of home made gifts which I have done a lot of in the past. The problem with this is you need to make sure you can create quality, but also that is likely to take a lot of time. I'm still deciding what to make or buy this year but I really like the look of these hand made notebooks. I often get notebooks from friends as gifts (and give them quite often too) and I always use them. It looks like a fun project which can be personalised easily to suite different tastes.

The last ideas I'm planning on trying this year is the themed goodie bag. Whether it's a kit of baking equipment or a selection of puzzles and games; collecting up lots of different little gifts to suit an individual's interests  is a fun way of making an original present. Presentation is everything so whether it's separately wrapping ten little gifts for a niece or pilling lots of goodies into a hamper and wrapping with a bow for a parent changing the wrapping to fit the receiver is part of the fun. It also means you can combine second hand objects with newly bought one to make up a much loved selection that will give enjoyment for months rather than minutes.

So those are my ideas so far. I'm sure by December I'll be rushing around the ships looking for last minute gifts still but if I can find a few well thought out eco friendly  gifts for those who will enjoy them I'll be happy. And still, there are 50 days left to go after all.