Archive for December, 2010

31 Dec 2010

Resolve to make 2011 the year you strap on your boots, get on your bike and help fight to save your countryside and environment.

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This is the season of resolutions – usually forgotten by the end of January – but this year, stay healthy, get fitter, save money and contribute to fighting the serious threats posed to our environment and countryside.

David Cameron warns us that 2011 will be a year of austerity. Well, he should know. Thanks to his government’s policies, millions of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens are already struggling and, with the public sector set to be slashed over coming months, the pernicious effects of ConDem ideology will soon begin to affect many more of us.

 If you need to tighten your belt, try to cut back on your own expenditure as creatively and positively as possible.  One of the most beneficial and effective ways of saving money is to slash your car use:

  • give yourself a radius of, say, five miles, and resolve to make all journeys within this either by boot or bike and if you do have to drive – maybe to transport a heavy load – then ensure you also use the journey for something else, like visiting the recycling centre, picking up friends/family from the station etc
  • share lifts to work, or better still, walk/run/cycle there and back  instead
  • shop locally and walk/cycle to the shops
  • order from (responsible) supermarkets and retailers online – most customers find they save money this way and it obviously makes environmental sense too

One of these least successful, and most expensive, resolutions annually made is to attend the gym regularly. Compare the fall in attendance between  January and, say, March, work out how much your increasingly rare visits are costing and resolve to exercise more cheaply, more effectively and more healthily. Use your savings from gym fees to:

  • buy a bike – search local adverts and bike shops, eBay or companies like CycleRecycleUk for good quality, used bikes and spares
  • kit yourself in good quality, but reasonably-priced running/walking gear – you do need comfortable, waterproof footwear and outer layers, but you can pick up serviceable clothes at Aldi/Lidl and outlet stores 
  • see our section on Kit: http://www.bootandbike.co.uk/overview/

 Better still, join a Green Gym. Initially set up by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), then subsequently often run by local groups, this initiative gives volunteers the opportunity to improve their health and the environment at the same time, by tackling physical jobs in the outdoors that benefit local green spaces.  Find out more at: http://www2.btcv.org.uk/display/greengym

For a fraction of the cost of a gym membership you can take out an annual subscription to  www.ramblers.org.uk  or www.ctc.org.uk  where you will find local walking and cycling groups that organise walks/rides and also social activities, give technical advice, advertise gear and equipment, as well as  walking/cycling holidays.

These organisations also give members the opportunity to volunteer – maybe even become part of Cameron’s Big Society, although perhaps not quite in the way he envisaged.  Coalition plans to sell off national parks and our ancient forests threaten not just the environment, but our long-cherished right of access to the countryside.  Equally, reductions in council budgets will result in withdrawal of bus subsidies, preventing many from even reaching the countryside, and the disappearance of rights-of-way officers.

Everyone who cares about the countryside and is horrified at the prospectof their beloved green spaces falling into the hands of developers and big landowners needs to join together to fight these proposals:

  • if councils have to cut back on rights-of-way, then we need to provide the Ramblers and others with enough volunteers to take their place and ensure footpaths stay open
  • all of us should support action groups, like www.38degrees.org.uk lobbying to keep our national parks and forests out of private hands and exposing rich individuals and companies who avoid paying their fair share of taxes

Public pressure does pay dividends.  Cameron, a self-professed huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ guy, has already had to backtrack on his promise to offer an early free vote on lifting the hunting ban.  MPs of all political hues have to be sensitive to the views of their constituents and cannot ignore the consistent 75% of the public opposed to hunting, despite the efforts of Cameron’s friends in the Countryside Alliance.

 So, make 2011 a year to remember: get fit, stay healthy, try to protect the environment and do your bit to preserve your countryside and green spaces.   

Happy New Year.

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23 Dec 2010

Revel and Rejoice in this Staycation Christmas

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So, after a couple of recession-dictated stay-at-home summer holidays, we’ve now got a climate-induced staycation Christmas. Good news! Now you can vote with your boots, or  bike, avoid airport hell, unreliable trains and jammed motorways, stay local, do something different and make merry.

Being stuck on the West Coast Main Line, somewhere between Carlisle and Penrith, for 10 hours last New Year, condemned to counting the parallel lines of stationary traffic on the M6 as an interesting distraction from the religious fundamentalist in the next seat, persuaded me not to travel anywhere this festive season. Blessed are the smug, you may say, as I raise a glass to the miserable queues at Heathrow and St Pancras with a mixture of sympathy, empathy and conceit, sitting by my warm fireside with the added bonus of a  winter wonderland right outside the front door.

 For the first time in nearly 50 years, lowland Britain is looking forward to a real white Christmas.  Snow might clog up the airports and roads but it doesn’t stop you travelling: by boot, or by bike – if you are on two wheels, take  care, get some  advice on tyres, riding strategies, equipment from experts on blogs like http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2010/dec/22/snow-cycling-weather-toronto 

Why spend  on an overseas ski trip later in the season when you can enjoy this unexpected winterscape on your doorstep, and not just in Scotland but throughout Britain? Find your boards and skis, hire some snowshoes – there are even some in vogue entrepreneurs who will  rent you a sled – or lace up your walking boots, just get out and enjoy.

Visit your local forest or national park – even the Peak District is relatively quiet on Christmas Day – now transformed into wondrous silvery vistas. Then, when you get home, campaign with http://www.38degrees.org.uk and others, to save these national treasures from privatisation – the Coalition’s latest ideological, immoral idiocy.

 If you can’t reach the  retail mall, stay local and buy from your neighbourhood traders. You’ll be helping your local community and you might find they offer more than you expected.  Anyway, the fewer cars sliding about, the more chance of the delivery vans arriving.

But, if your online orders don’t arrive in time, adapt, use your imagination and skills – cook, sew, paint, make – to create authentic and unique presents that will probably be appreciated more by their recipients.  And, if you’re totally useless then utilise the kids – teenagers are universally expert at downloading and other computer-related stuff – into producing favourite playlists and videos for absent grandparents and relatives. Ignore the jibes about fogey music and they’ll usually oblige by showing off their IT skills.  When your original presents do arrive, they’ll be an extra post-Christmas surprise.

 If nobody can get to you and you can’t reach them, sample a unique Christmas Day on your own.  Thinks of the positives: no in-laws, no having to thank people you don’t like for presents you don’t want, no having to watch the Queen’s Speech and you can cheer up by  comparing your plight in a comfortable, heated house with those at Terminal 5.  If you simply can’t cope with spending Christmas Day at home on your own, then don’t. Find yourself a local old people’s home, an acute children’s ward, or homeless shelter and spend some time with people who deserve some quality time and company. Take some of your food stockpile with you, or invite some lonely old person, or deserving but hard-up family to join you at home, make soup with the leftovers, portion into meals, freeze and you’ll have ready meals for the next few months.

Greater mobility, milder winters, more extended families have all resulted in more of us travelling further afield in mid-winter. It’s impossible to say if this makes 21st century Christmases better than those of yesteryear and, in any case,  hypothetical debate is no consolation for those who can’t be where, or with whom, they want to be.  But you can make the most of this unique December; leave the car in the garage, save on that overseas trip, feed the birds, get out and enjoy this Alpine winter right on your own doorstep.

Remember, there are times, even at Christmas, when your journey is not really necessary.

Have a great festive period, wherever you are.

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04 Dec 2010

10 Reasons for Celebrating the Snow

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Let’s be positive about seasonal snow:  after all, isn’t it supposed to be like this in the winter?

1. It’s enchanting: who can resist that delicate white blanket covering the bleak, brown earth, the ethereal icicles and frozen cobwebs decorating naked trees and bushes, or the blood orange sunsets reflecting on the glistening silver landscape?  

2. This unexpected beauty lifts spirits at the darkest, most dismal and depressing time of the year and the special light helps counter the onset of SAD and other seasonal afflictions.

3. For those of us who do get out and about in the winter, soft clean snow and sharp sunny days beat waterlogged fields and persistent rain and wind any day.

4. It’s an ideal excuse to wear those down jackets, salopettes and four-season boots in the conditions they were originally designed for.

5. While motorways are gridlocked, airports closed and trains cancelled, those who travel by boot and bike (this is when your off-roader with chunky tyres comes into its own) arrive at their destinations with the bonus of a little more exercise and unhindered by the usual volume of motorised traffic.

6. The conditions have forced drivers to be more careful and cut their speed, so making the streets safer (give or take the odd slip) for children, pedestrians and well-equipped cyclists.

7. In an age of video conferencing, Skype and the internet, the experience of the last week should encourage sensible employers to offer more opportunities for flexibility and working from home.  And, schools could look north to Scotland, where GLOW, the world’s first national intranet for education, allows joined-up working for pupils and teachers, in and out of the classroom.

8. Children across the country, including teenagers in lowland Britain who have reached adolescence without ever experiencing this level of snow, literally on their doorsteps, have enjoyed a few days of traditional winter sports: the novelty, camaraderie and excitement of actual, as opposed to virtual, activity outdoors far outweighing any educational damage from a few days out of school.

9. It’s a timely – in the week of the UN climate conference – and salient reminder that we can never take nature for granted.

10. Adverse weather is one of the few topics that gets reserved Brits talking to each other and it also tends to heighten our awareness of and concern towards the old and the vulnerable, as well as wildlife in our locality.

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