B&Q to close 60 stores and axe 3000 jobs

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

DIY chain B&Q is to close as many as 60 stores in a shake-up set to impact on 3,000 jobs.

B&Q's parent company Kingfisher, which also owns Screwfix, wants to cut about 15% of surplus space through the review of its 360-strong B&Q estate.

Staff at Southampton, Dundee, Baums Lane in Mansfield, Stetchford Road in Birmingham, Hyde in Greater Manchester and Barnsley have been told that their stores are closing. The locations of the other shops on the closures list, however, have not been disclosed.

The company said it believes it can meet local customer needs from fewer stores and stressed that the closures were not in response to signs that Britons are becoming less keen on DIY. Already in 2014 rival DIY chain Homebase announced that it would close a quarter of its stores – about 80 outlets – in the period up to early 2018.

While Britons may not be becoming less keen on DIY the fact that they can purchase everything much easier online than in a physical store, and a great majority are doing so, is probably the main factor, asides from the economy, here.

Kingfisher said it expects to offset the B&Q jobs impact by opening a similar number of shops at sister business Screwfix and through redeployment.

The changes were announced at the same time as the company posted a 7.5% drop in annual profits to £675 million after sales fell by 1.4% to £11 billion in the year to January 31, 2015. This performance was impacted by trading in France, where Castorama and Brico Depot were hit by the weak economy and low consumer confidence.

B&Q UK & Ireland's total sales, on the other hand, were up 1.9% to £3.7 billion in the financial year, with sales of outdoor seasonal and building products up 4%. Profits were 16% higher at £276 million.

In contrast, profits in France were 12% lower at £349 million as Kingfisher announced it will also close a small number of stores in that country.

The state of the Euro economy is impacting on the sales figures on the continent for sure but also where they are on the up, such as in the UK and Ireland operations people now spend money on home improvements and such rather than on say foreign holidays, etc. That too is a sign that the economy is far from on the up for it has also a great deal to do with the fact that prices are low, due to an almost deflation rather than any inflation.

The perpetual growth economy is anyway history and capitalism, make no mistake about it, is very much on the way out and that will mean that those large corporations are also going to be destined to the scrap heap of history. On a finite Planet perpetual growth and a perpetual growth economy cannot be sustained, ever.

Time too wake up and make some drastic changes...

© 2015

Gardening ‘prescriptions’ keep growing

A growing number of GPs and healthcare professionals are ‘prescribing’ gardening to improve health outcomes for their patients. The health and wellbeing benefits of gardening and food growing are increasingly being recognised, leading to a rise in the number of projects being commissioned by The NHS and public health, the Growing Health project has found.

Gardening prescriptions are being championed by a growing movement of charities and healthcare organisations who want gardening and food growing to be seen as a key activity for public health, general health and social care. Many of these projects engage people at risk of ill health and in areas of high social deprivation, providing physical and mental health benefits as well as helping to reduce social isolation.

Professor Jeremy Levy, Director of Education and Quality at Health Education North West London stated “Investing and supporting food growing and gardening as part of our health service is a cost effective way to improve health as well as prevent ill health”.

This topic will be discussed by leading healthcare professionals at a forthcoming conference ‘Prescribing Gardening - making green care a natural part of the health service’ on Wednesday 27th May in London. The day is for commissioners and healthcare professionals to see and taste for themselves the benefits of food growing for people who given a ‘green prescription’. It will take place in the beautiful setting of Phoenix High School Farm, in the White City Estate, which is one of Hammersmith Community Garden Association’s (HGCA) therapeutic gardening projects.

A former project volunteer, now project coordinator, Kevin Bittan commented on the impact on his health. “The course made a dramatic difference to my life and I very quickly started feeling physically better. My age and the years of self-abuse and stress had taken their toll but attending the Get Out There gardening project put a real spring in my step.”

The programme includes an expert panel of speakers including Professor Jeremy Levy MA PhD FHEA FRCP who will be presenting ‘Commissioning gardening and food growing to promote health’. Doctor Cavanagh, GP at Brook Green Medical Centre and CCG board member will be looking at ‘Gardening for health – a GP’s perspective’. Other projects highlighted include a public health commissioned project in Tower Hamlets.

The conference is part of the Growing Health project run by Sustain and Garden Organic and HGCA Plant a Seed – Grow Well project. It is supported by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens. To book visit http://prescribinggardening.eventbrite.co.uk. Suggested donation £20

For more information please contact: Maria Devereaux, Growing Health maria@sustainweb.org or Amy Chrisp - Hammersmith Community Gardens Association amy@hcga.org.uk

Growing Health is a national project run by Garden Organic and Sustain, which is funded by the Tudor Trust, to see how community food growing can be routinely used by the health and social care services as a way of promoting health and wellbeing for a range of individuals and population groups www.growinghealth.info

Evidence of the benefits of gardening and food growing can be found in Growing Health publication ‘The benefits of gardening and food growing for health and wellbeing’ www.growinghealth.info

Hammersmith Community Gardens Association (HCGA) www.hcga.org.uk is an award winning local charity which runs four pocket park/greenhouse/school farm sites, delivers gardening education to local schools, and also delivers outdoor/environmental health-based programmes for other organisations.

The charity has experience of working with hard to reach groups including those at risk of homelessness and from BME background. The association has developed a peer mentoring and volunteer ambassador programme.

The Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens supports, represents and promotes community-managed farms and gardens across the UK.

Phoenix High School, The Curve, Shepherds Bush, London W12 0RQ

Thompson & Morgan public open days back by popular demand

press-release-jimmys-farmLike Willy Wonka opening the gates to his chocolate factory, the chance to get a glimpse of the immaculate Thompson & Morgan summer trial grounds at its Suffolk HQ drew thousands of gardeners from far and wide each summer though the 90’s and 00’s. The annual open weekends were a highlight of the local horticultural calendar, with gardeners and gardening clubs attending from as far afield as France and Germany.

The annual event was drawn to a temporary close in 2011 when 5,000+ visitors attended over two days. Thompson & Morgan New Product Development Manager, Michael Perry, explained: “The success of our open days was part of their temporary demise, our site just couldn’t cope with the numbers coming to see our displays. Our catalogues and online listings show off the Thompson & Morgan range perfectly, but there’s nothing like the chance of seeing everything at its peak of summer growth before your eyes. We’ve been looking to bring the open days back in a format that works for us, our customers – and the local road network!”

Jimmy’s Farm, likewise based on the outskirts of Ipswich, is the perfect partner venue for reviving this popular event. Already established as a favourite Suffolk visitor attraction, it is able to cope with traffic, parking, coach parties and thousands of visitors. What’s more, it is open daily to the public, so what once had to be crammed into a single weekend on a working site can now be explored at leisure from 1st July right though to September.

A brand new Thompson & Morgan Garden has been built at the well-known attraction to showcase a snap shot of the company’s technical growing trials. Over 1,000 containers (including the company’s own Tower Pots™, Easy Fill Baskets and Flower Pouches™) will be put on display to showcase its seed and plant offering. Existing customer favourites will be set alongside soon-to-launch exclusives from its 2016 seed and plant range. Thompson & Morgan fruit and vegetables will be given special focus in a series of square metre growing beds. Expect to see particular emphasis given to fuchsias, sweet peas, cosmos and tomatoes. Visitors will also get an opportunity to see how the company’s new incredicompost® and incredirange® of fertilisers work in combination to bring the best ever results to all parts of the garden, especially patio containers and baskets.

Farm owner Jimmy Doherty said: “I’m so excited that Thompson and Morgan are bringing their show gardens to the farm. Growing is a big part of what we do here and we hope it’ll inspire many gardeners to get green fingered.”

The garden joins a host of free attractions at the farm including rare breed animals, top class restaurant and butchery, as well as craft and gift stores. The gardens will be closed to the public during Jimmy’s Sausage & Beer Festival weekend (25-26 July). Gardening clubs and societies need only register their intent to visit if they require refreshments or food as the restaurant is very busy during the summer months.

Secretaries should contact tilly@jimmysfarm.com or call 01473 604206.

For opening times and directions see www.jimmysfarm.com

Follow Thompson & Morgan on Facebook and Twitter (#TMopengarden) to stay informed on the latest happenings with the Thompson & Morgan Garden at Jimmy’s Farm

Source: Thompson & Morgan Press Office

Fiskars Weed Pullers - weapons of weed destruction

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

76125It doesn't take long for weeds to take over a garden and removing them can be an arduous task. Until of course you are fully prepared to wage war on weeds with the Fiskars Weed Puller. It's a smart solution because it removes weeds with a quick pull and release action without the use of harmful pesticides. The tool works with four deep-reaching stainless steel claws, which grab the tap root efficiently.

Once the weed has been pulled, a quick fire ejection releases it straight into a waiting wheelbarrow or trug and off the lawn or bed you are working in. Designed to make removing weeds effortless, this eco-friendly weeding system allows the gardener to work without bending down, prevent muscle strain and backache.

As James Wong says, the steel claws of Fiskars weed puller reach down deep so you don't have to.

Tips & Tricks from James Wong

"A close relative of trendy radicchio, dandelion leaves are a spring time delicacy across the Mediterranean, from France to Italy. Containing 7x the antioxidants of lettuce, this gourmet green is so easy to grow it literally plants itself. A free farmers market on your doorstep? Boom!"

Product details

  • Deep reaching stainless steel claw grab roots in multiple direction

  • No digging or bending required

  • FibreComp™ shaft for lightness, strength and durability

  • Softgrip™ comfortable handle which enhances its ergonomic design

  • Length 988mm. Weight 917g

  • Length of blade: 90cm

  • Available as a telescopic model with a large D-shaped handle. Length 1000mm extending to 1200mm. Weight 1700g

  • James Wong fronts the Fiskars garden hand tools campaign to revolutionize gardening and inspire a new generation to get outdoors.

Fiskars garden tools are available nationwide in DIY stores, hardware stores, garden centres and online.

James Wong and Fiskars

In his new role as brand ambassador for Fiskars, horticultural celebrity and ethnobotanist James Wong injects the va va voom into gardening. With tools designed to minimise effort and James set to maximise enjoyment, it's a union that will invigorate today's gardeners and inspire tomorrow's.

Reinventing Gardening

Fiskars tools are examples of the company's aspiration to reinvent the gardening experience through the use of advanced engineering and materials. We believe that all things, even the simplest, can be made better and smarter so that work in the garden becomes easier, lighter, more efficient and simply more pleasurable - which is ultimately what gardening should be all about.

Edible weeds

Dandelion are not the only edible weeds in your garden, however. There is also Chickweed, Fat Hen, aka Lambs Quarter or Goosefoot, and quite a fair number of others. So, therefore, don't necessarily weed them but eat them; at least those that are edible, and as James Wong mentioned as regards to the nutrient content of Dandelion in comparison to lettuce many other weeds too have great nutrient values. Therefore, before you weed the weeds check which ones may be edible and use them rather than waste them.

© 2015

The Communist Manifesto – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Communist Manifesto
by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
Originally published February 21, 1848

Marx_and_Engels“There is still a compulsive quality to its prose as it provides insight after insight into the society in which we live, where it comes from and where its going to. It is still able to explain, as mainstream economists and sociologists cannot, today's world of recurrent wars and repeated economic crisis, of hunger for hundreds of millions on the one hand and 'overproduction' on the other. There are passages that could have come from the most recent writings on globalization.” writes the English Marxist Chris Harman in 2003 and one cannot disagree with that at all.

As The Communist Manifesto has, in early 2015, experienced somewhat of a revival and has become a best seller in the newly released Penguin Classics series I decided to re-read it and reacquaint myself with it once again as well.

What does “The Communist Manifesto” have to offer more than 165 years after its publication?

The answer must be: “A great deal and then some”.

Reading the words by Marx and Engels made me thing with almost every sentence, at least in the first parts, “has no one read it?” as they describe so very well what is going on in our world and society (again) today. And this is not just about the economic state of affairs, though they are definitely spot on in that department.

While one may not agree – necessarily – with everything as I, for one, do not believe in political parties any more than I believe in religions and I also believe that we must return to a much different life and society, much of what Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto is as valid today as it was in their days.

Why a review of The Communist Manifesto seeing that it is that old already?

One reason is that it has, as said already, recently – in early 2015 – become rather a best seller since it was releases as part of the newly released Penguin Classics series in the style of the old paperback of the range of bygone years.

The second is because the message – with some caveats, I like to add – is today as important – more so probably even – as it was in the days when it was first published in the first half of the 19th century.

Marx and Engels were well ahead of their times in many aspects in their analysis of the problems of and with capitalism but, as with Orwell's “1984”, no one seems to have read the writings or, if they did, they did not heed the messages and warnings.

Overproduction, of which Marx and Engels speak in the Manifesto has gone berserk to such an extent that products are made to be tossed out in six months to a year and all of it in order to keep the economy artificially growing, by forcing people to buy new every so often.

This overproduction is also rather frequently mentioned and exposed as a major problem for the situation of the working class in the book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” and that book too should be read by all.

Marx and Engels write about the vision of “Utopian” Socialism of Robert Owen and others – a return to a simple life with equal status for all – as something almost disdainful. I, for one, however, believe that today that may just be the way forward. Industrial production is almost history and if all indicators are correct has but a short time left to live.

The “means of production in the hands of the state”, as espoused in the Manifesto is not the original ethos of “the means of production in the hands of the workers”. The state and the workers are not one and the same and by no stretch of imagination can they be seen interchangeable, even if the means of productions are nationalized. No, not even under communism. This leads and has lead to state capitalism masquerading as communism where the worker exchanges but the state as master over the corporate boss. Only when truly the means of productions are in the hands of the workers, physically and not just “on paper”, will the wage slave system and the slavery of the working class cease.

While Marx and Engels, maybe rightly so, rant – for lack of a better word – against what the call Bourgeois Socialism the fact remains that political change without social change, in the same way as social change without political change, as many later communists realized, will not help the proletariat much either. Both need to go hand-in-hand together. Political change on its own may not lead to social change in the same way as social change will not – necessarily – lead to political change.

When it comes to Robert Owen, et all, the harshness, I believe, is not justified as they and the Levellers – and yes, there was, maybe, no real working class in existence then if we see the working class only as the industrial factory workers – had in mind a society where all are equal and live and work under equal conditions. Should that not be our aim and goal?

If the dictatorship of the proletariat is to mean that only the proletariat will have the real rights and the rest, especially the former owners of the means of production, the landowners, and others, will be treated as second class people, then communism will never sit easy with all but the most violent of the working class, who would like to see all those that once held power be lead to the guillotine.

Also, and this was recognized to well by Ernst Thaelmann, the working class or not only those who work in manufacturing industry but the working class are all, theoretically, who work for an employer, for a master, be that the state, whether in the service of the state or in nationalized industries, or for a private or corporate boss.

He or she who works on the farms, as employee of the farmer, in the forests, and in public service, is as much a member of the working class as the miner or the factory worker at the production line.

Apart from the Bible, “The Communist Manifesto” has become the most widely read book in the world. Whenever there is trouble, anywhere in the world, the book becomes an item; when things quiet down, the book drops out of sight; when there is trouble again, the people who forgot remember. When fascist-type regimes seize power, it is always on the list of books to burn. When people dream of resistance “even if they are not Communists”it provides music for their dreams.

So, what would we then conclude from this about the fact that, in the beginning of 2015 the book is seeing a revival as far as purchases of copies are concerned, not that it cannot be gotten, nowadays, for free from sources on the Internet?

The nineties began with the mass destruction of Marx effigies. It was the “postmodern” age: We were not supposed to need big ideas. As the nineties end, we find ourselves in a dynamic global society ever more unified by downsizing, de-skilling and dread” just like Marx said. All of a sudden, the iconic looks more convincing than the ironic; that classic bearded presence, the atheist as biblical prophet, was back just in time for the millennium and times beyond. At the dawn of the twentieth century, there were workers who were ready to die with The Communist Manifesto. Now, in the first part of the twenty-first, there may be even more who are ready to live with it.

Marx saw the modern working class as an immense worldwide community waiting to happen. Such large possibilities give the story of organizing a permanent gravity and grandeur. The process of creating trade and labor unions is not just an item in interest-group politics but it is a vital part of what Lessing called “the education of the human race.”

It is not just educational either but existential: the process of people individually and collectively discovering who they are. And, as they learn who they are, they will come to see that they need one another in order to be themselves. They will see, because workers are smart: Bourgeois society has forced them to be, in order to survive its constant upheavals. Marx knows they will get it by and by. Solidarity is not sacrifice of yourself but the self's fulfillment. Learning to give yourself to other workers, who may look and sound very different from you but are like you in depth, gives a man or woman a place in the world and delivers the self from dread.

But the one important thing also to consider, as I have mentioned before, is to what actually is the “working class”?

Marx (and Engels) apparently only saw the working class as being those that were industrial workers and it took Lenin and Thaelmann in Germany to make the point that all workers are part of the working class and not just those working in heavy industry and the mines, for instance. In today's world the working class is far broader than what Marx and Engels envisaged and we must recognize that.

© 2015

Consumerism: The scourge of our world

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ever since the end of the Second World War the developed world – and also some other countries have followed suit now – has headed for the consumer society and industry created built-in obsolescence.

Companies had made huge profits from the war as the military was using stuff at the rate of knots and then some. Now, with the cessation of hostilities, they saw their profits diminish like the proverbial furs escaping down the river.

In order to counteract this they realized that if they could but produce goods in such a way that they could not be repaired (no user serviceable parts inside, used to be on many products), and then even to such an extent that even repairmen could not longer do it, or if they could be repaired make it in such a way that parts and labor would be more expensive than buying new and design products in such a way that they had but a limited lifespan and would break down, irreparably, in a short number of years, they could keep selling the same product to people over and over again they would be on to an absolute winner. And so they did just that. This also meant that they did not have to invest too much in designing new and better products and thus also saved in that department and made bigger profits still.

There was a time when products were well made and made to last and could be repaired, often even by the users themselves. New sales were mostly achieved only by designing and making new and better products and such.

Repair constituted an entire sector of the economy with small repair shops for everything in even the smallest towns. Today the so-called show repair shops can't do more than glue a rubber sole (leather, if you are lucky) on a shoe or boot. Don't ask them, though, to resew upper to midsole, for instance; the majority can't do it as they “haven't got a machine to do that”, as I was told. This is how far we have fallen!

Not so long ago everything was made in such a way that it would be repaired and spare parts were available for those products almost ad infinitum today, even it something can be repaired, spares cannot be had after five or ten years, even if the product would continue for a long time were they available.

This is just another way of manufacturers making sure that we have to buy new all the time, as with the built-in obsolescence where a PC, a printer, or what-have-you will, literally, stop working after a given time and it is designed so that it cannot be repaired, thus requiring new products, of the same kind, all the time to be produced, putting a great strain on the resources and the environment.

Ever after World War Two, as already mentioned, the course has been set for this stupid way of making us into consumers and forcing us to buy more and more and as we would not do so if products would last and be repairable as they used to be they just simply moved the goal post and made things so that they could not be repaired or limit the availability of spared to but a few years and bingo; a new this or that will have to be bought, and that goes for (almost) everything.

But it is also people who have become shall we say lazy and are not even – but things are changing with some – prepared to learn simple DIY repair skills such as sewing on a button on a shirt, for instance. They rather throw is and buy a new one and the fact that sweatshop produced garments are sold so cheaply nowadays also makes for that. Rather than putting on a new button, even if a spare may be sewn into the shirt somewhere, they throw it away and buy a new one and the same goes, alas, for so many other things.

We have been conditioned to consume and to consume ever more to make ever more profits for the corporations, to the detriment of our wallets and especially the Planet and all its inhabitants. But, the good thing is that we can change it through how we buy and by demanding to have things changed back to a proper way of doing things and that means also that products are, once again, repairable, for instance. This is not going to happen by itself. It is us who have to bring this change about.

© 2015

The Fifth Sacred Thing – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Fifth Sacred Thing
by Starhawk
published 1993 by Bantam (New York)

5thSacredThingCoverThe Fifth Sacred Thing is a 1993 post-apocalyptic novel written by Starhawk. The title refers to the classical elements of fire, earth, air, and water, plus the fifth element, spirit, accessible when one has balanced the other four.

This tale is set in California in the year 2048 after a catastrophe, which has fractured the United States into several nations, and a time of ecological collapse. The hideously authoritarian and corporate-driven Stewards have taken control of most of the land and set up an apartheid state, one region has declared itself independent: the Bay Area and points north. Choosing life over guns, they have created a simple but rich ecotopia, where no one wants, nothing is wasted, culture and cooperation are uppermost, and the Four Sacred Things are valued unconditionally.

They have reverted to a sustainable economy, using wind power, local agriculture, and the like. The City of San Francisco has turned into a mostly pagan city where the streets have been torn up for gardens and streams, no one starves or is homeless, and the city's defense council consists primarily of nine elderly women who "listen and dream". The novel describes "a utopia where women are leading societies but are doing so with the consent of men.”

In this new City of San Francisco every house is equipped with a small garden plot. The food is available to everyone and access to food (and water) is not limited by money, power, or ownership. Farms where the city's fruit and vegetables grow are hidden behind the blocks of homes. There is plenty of food and everyone is said to have more than enough to eat. The only remnants of the pavement that once existed are narrow paths meant for walking, cycling, or rollerblading. These paths are accented with colorful stones and mosaics. The city is depicted as a beautiful town where everything is shared yet nothing is lacking.

But the Stewards are on the march northward, bent on conquest and appropriation of the precious waters. It’s the love story of Bird the musician and warrior and Madrone the healer, and of Maya, Bird’s grandmother, ninety-eight year old story teller, whose vision provides a way for them to defend their city from invasion without becoming what they are fighting against. The story is primarily told from the points of view of 98-year-old Maya, her nominal granddaughter Madrone, and her grandson Bird. Through these and other characters, the story explores many elements from ecofeminism and ecotopian fiction.

The novel explores the events before and during the ensuing struggle between the two nations, pitting utopia and dystopia against each other.

Yes, it is true that this book was published some time ago and no, unlike usual for a book review, I did not receive a free copy from the publisher, but bought this one a number of years ago secondhand from a charity shop.

However, as a book it deserves a review, especially in view of the fact that, so I understand, the book is soon to be made into a movie, all things being equal.

This book falls, to some degree, under the label “post-apocalyptic” but it is also utopian, but in a positive way. Though in all its utopianism it could just be a vision of something that could work and we don't have to wait till everything has collapsed to establish a society such as this. In fact, we must create such examples of new a new society in settlements of all kinds now so that when the inevitable happens and the system that we know finally collapses new different kinds of alternatives are ready to spring into action.

Despite the fact that the novel is being made into a movie at some time in the maybe not so distant future I would suggest to read the book rather first. Especially as the book could almost be used as a manual from which to draw inspiration as to how to set us such communities and to run them.

We must find a new way of living and working and of living together and working together and there, I am sure, is no “one size fits all” model that can just be placed in front of people, and also the various groups in the book, even those that cooperate with the people of the city do not, necessarily, all sing, at times, from the same hymn sheet, to some extent.

On Starhawk's website a free e-book is available based on her latest book “The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups called “The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings” which may also be of use to those wishing to establish an ectopian style community.

© 2015

Why coppice?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Were it not for the question mark this could be mistaken for the name of a woodland but while it is not about woodlands and their management it is.

Managing our woods by coppicing is almost – I did say almost – as old as the hills. It has probably come about when humans discovered that some – in fact many – species of trees regrow when cut and that rather vigorously and almost in perpetuity.

In the British Isles, and probably also in other parts of Europe, our woods have been managed in this way since more or less neolithic times, and we have managed them well and they thrived under this care.

Coppicing continued from the early times in its growth, and by the mid 13th century, most of our woodlands in the British Isles, and probably elsewhere, were managed as coppice.

Coppicing remained an important rural industry in Britain until its decline started in the 1850s, when a decrease in the demand for traditional products came about.

This decline increased dramatically after the First World War when major industry started to manufacture products that were once supplied from the woods by coppice workers and went further and deeper into decline after about the Second World War and especially with the advent of (cheap) plastic goods for the kitchen, etc. Products made from coppiced wood just could not compete any longer on price.

Then emerged the false idea (among environmentalists especially) that cutting any tree was bad and the demand misguided quarters to let the wild woods be wild woods.

This has allowed our woods to fall into a serious state of disrepair to the point of total destruction almost. The problem is that if a coppice stool, a tree that once has been coppiced, is not continued to be managed in this way, will eventually, as the trunks emanating from a single rootstock, the stool, break this root, this stool, apart because their weight, as they become “top heavy”. This will destroy such a coppice stool permanently and others, over a short time, in the same plot, are going to follow, which means the end of that particular woodland.

Woods (and forests) do not manage themselves, especially not those that have been coppiced before, despite what some have been led to believe, and if all, the woods, wildlife and we are to have a benefit and use of and from those woods and its products then we have to manage them and manage them well.

Coppicing is the finest management system for our woods and one – probably the only one – under which they thrive and here not just the trees but the entire ecosystem.

The cutting of the trees in rotation of so many years – between about seven to fourteen, depending on what the wood is to be used for – opens up the canopy, in some areas at least as never the whole area is cut, allowing light to reach the woodland floor. This in turn allows seeds that have lay dormant to germinate and emerge and the area will soon we covered in wild flowers of all kinds and the air be resounding to the sound of bees and butterflies will be everywhere. Birds or prey will be able to hunt and soon also tree seeds that have been covering the floor will germinate an new life will start, and not only from the coppice stools who also will begin shooting again. Don't worry, no flak jacket required.

The wood that has been harvested during the cutting will be put to use to benefit humans in many ways, from charcoal and beanpoles to other coppice crafts, including treen ware, such as spoons, spatulas, baskets, and much more.

Most of the wood that our ancestors used, bar the huge beams for building houses and ships, came from woods that were coppiced and very little wood was ever wasted. It heated their homes, provided their furniture, their eating utensils, including bowls and trenchers, tool handles and in some cases the tools themselves, such as pitchforks. The latter were often made all from wood and in a variety of ways, but some were just simply wooden poles that had a natural fork of two or three (sometimes more) tines.

Even in Britain wooden bowls and spoons, even for eating, were still in daily use in the countryside well into the 20th century but after World War One things began to change and wood was less and less used in that kind of daily life and after the Second World War it ceased virtually all together. In some parts of Europe the use of wood for everyday objects continued much longer and in some cases continues to this day and the coppice worker's products are still in demand, such as in some areas of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Russian soldiers and partisans carried personal eating spoons from wood still during the Great Patriotic War but then again, someone might say, it was a country that was still rather backwards. Yes, maybe, but it still beat the Nazi war-machine.

The British and European coppice woodlands did and still could produce most of the wood needs of our countries, with the exception of really wide boards, which are not possible to achieve from standard rotation coppice, even if a tree is left for twelve to fourteen years to grow before being cut. Almost anything else, however, can be made from this wood; after all it used to be done before.

For more on coppicing and why, etc. see “Managing our Woods”, a small book that explains the whys and wherefores of managing our woods in this way and calls for us to return to that way.

© 2015

Reuse and Upcycling of Plastic Packaging

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

As much as we may wish to avoid plastic (in our lives) the fact remains – at least for the foreseeable future – that it is with us, especially as far as packaging containers are concerned, and thus reuse and upcycling of those is better than any other solution.

The recycling of plastics – as much as that of everything else – still requires a great amount of energy, even though maybe not as much as creating plastic from virgin polymer. But we do have to consider the collecting, etc., of the plastic recyclables as well, and it takes lots of energy in the form of diesel and other sources.

Thus the greener option by far is reuse and recycling before we even as much as think of the recycling bin and tossing those things into it.

Many plastic packaging containers just simply ask to be reused, be those certain ice cream tubs or others.

But other plastic packaging too is a candidate for reuse and, especially, upcycling, such as shampoo, detergent and other such bottles, including plastic milk jugs and even PET bottles.

PET bottles can be reused, or better upcycled, into various things and in a variety of ways. One thing to say first, however, and that is never, repeat never, reuse them for drinks.

  • plastic ollas for the garden

  • cloches for seedlings and plants

  • etc.

Small drinks bottles filled with pebbles, beans or rice, make great maracas, that is to say, percussion instruments.

Milk jugs are another kind of plastic packaging that many of us get more than enough of and they can be reused and upcycled too into a variety of things for home and garden, from storage solutions, over boxes, to scoops and cloches, and even watering cans. To toss out those jugs, even into the recycling bin, before you have exhausted all the reuse and upcycling possibilities, would be a crime.

There are, obviously, some plastic packaging containers and materials that cannot be reused and upcycled and some of those cannot even, alas, be recycled. Those that cane be reused and upcycled, however, should be before even the thought of the recycling bin comes into play, especially as reuse and upcycling has a much smaller impact on the Planet as does recycling even.

Recycling plastic packaging (and other materials as well) has a large environmental footprint that often we are being kept in the dark about. Not only does the recycling process take a large amount of energy still (and water) the collecting of the recyclables, the sorting, the redistribution, etc., too require a high energy input. While it may be a little less than producing from virgin polymer this footprint is still immense.

Thus, let's see to it, as said before, that we reuse and upcycle all these materials before we even think about tossing them into the recycling.

© 2015

Getting a loan: The worst thing you can do

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Taking out a bank loan is the worst thing anyone can do and the same goes for working with so-called credit cards.

While it is true that some people need to take out a loan at times simply to make ends meet, which in itself is already bad due to the system being designed against them, basically, applying for credit in any shape is a bad idea.

And, I may add here also the buying something on the “never-never”, as it is often called in Britain, that is to say on hire purchase or on catalog credit or whatever. The interest rates, even though presently the bank rates may be at an all time low, are horrendous and the same goes for credit cards.

The best thing to do with the latter is to pay them off, if you have any, and then cut them up into tiny little pieces and dispose off those pieces carefully.

When I was a child I was taught not ever to buy anything that I could not afford to buy in cash and almost everything was still bought in cash then in shops. The use of checks was few and far between and though some people used catalog shopping and the credit that was offered buying on hire purchase, paying off in installments, most saved up and then bought with a wad of cash. And, while paying in cash, especially large amounts can get you into trouble nowadays even, I still today buy only something if I have the money to do so in my bank account. If I think I cannot afford something then that has to wait until I have save the money up top buy it.

But people today do not want to wait. Instant gratification seems the order of the day and they have to have what they want immediately, preferably yesterday. And thus, if they can't afford it, they use credit cards or a bank load, if they can get it. Well, and if that does not work for some then it has to be a criminal act but they have to have what they want there and then immediately. But I digressed a little with the last sentence.

Loans, however, whether from mail order catalogs (with the internet those and the loans are few and far between though nowadays), using credit cards, banks, or whatever, all have a very hefty interest rate attached to them, some as high as 35% and more per year. Far higher than any mortgage. But that is also a loan and is, probably, best avoided.

The best thing to do is to avoid debt in any way, shape or form, because it is going to haunt you and may end up biting you in the proverbial. Learn to be frugal instead and to manage your money and save for things and then save for the best possible version of it; go for quality rather than cheapness, and try to get something that will be repairable.

© 2015