Wednesday 28 March 2018

More on plastic - or is that less?

Cling film has been around since my childhood. As a youngster I was fascinated with the way this clever material took up and enveloped the shape of the bowl or plate of goodies it was covering. And I always had the urge to punch a whole in its skin - stretched as tight as a drum over a salad bowl or a plate of sausages on sticks. But what a pain it can be to unravel it from its cardboard roll. So many times have I scrunched cling film or torn it in the wrong place, leaving strangely-shaped stretches of plastic film which won't fit over a tub of party snacks.

And we don't need it. A paper napkin or fabric coated in beeswax - which is washable and re-usable - does the job, as does a simple tea-towel. Edwardian homes managed to keep party food fresh by simply covering their scrumptious offerings with cloth. No devastating newspaper reports of the 1902 curly sandwiches scandal come to mind!

Empty toothpaste tubes are a devil to recycle and a jar of paste, available at health-food stores, are a perfect alternative, and you don't waste it by squeezing too much out of the tube. Less mess, more fish, less rubbish. Dental floss made from silk will break down more easily over time than traditional materials - that might be a better option for those who love to floss.

Tea bags - who needs them? Nowt wrong with loose tea? It is messier to empty teapots out afterwards  if using leaf tea and you can't drop tea leaves into a cup for a single brew as you can with a tea bag, but there's nothing wrong with an infusion. Or we can simply use tea bags which don't contain micro-plastics - it'll take more effort to read the label on the packet carefully, but  if 40 million of us in the UK alone do this the oceans might have a chance.

A friend of mine is now taking her own container into take-away restaurants for her lunch. And you don't need plastic cutlery if you take your eating irons with you. It's a minor inconvenience but herring gulls are at less risk of filling their stomachs with bits of broken up plastic handles if we ditch throw-away knives, forks and spoons.

Small acts could be the beginning of a change of habit. The end of our relationship with plastics. Who wants to see images of turtles swimming through trails of blue plastic bags? Or fish with throttling scarves of the stuff cutting into their flesh? Seals who have grown up with a cummerbund of plastic that slices into their blubbery skin, creating wounds and pain from a belt which won't move on a notch as the animal grows fatter?

It's getting easier to carry your own shopping bag to the grocers, removing the need for plastic carriers. Such actions can make a difference to our seas and oceanic livestock, victims of man's desire for that wonder material: polyvinylchloride, low-density polyethylene, polystyrene or styrofoam.

Any more for any more? Are you managing a break-away from plastics? Do let me know your suggestions. 🐙🐢🐠🐟🐳🐬🐋🌊 The oceans will be glad of it.

Friday 23 March 2018

On the subject of plastics

I am old enough to remember being told at school,  'In a few years time we might all be wearing plastic shoes, using plastic bags, buying plastic phones ...' I was about eight when our class teacher told us this and I thought plastic shoes would be very inflexible and tough on the skin. Of course I wasn't sophisticated enough to realise there are many hardness and softness grades of plastic.

Many decades later the sight of mishappen turtles and seals with rings of plastic cutting into their necks has persuaded me to think back to when I was eight and we weren't routinely using plastic as a covering, for bags, for bottles or as wrappers.

In the garden I am putting all my plastic pots out for recycling and will be going back to using clay or terracotta ones. I tend to re-use old plastic bags as liners for bins or seed trays and I will continue doing that. Inside the house I've gone back to bars of soap - rather than liquid soap dispensers - and use glass bottles rather than the plastic alternative. I will use more pencils than plastic biros or felt tips. We are weaning ourselves off ready-packed apples and buying them loose - to be packed - along with other fruits and veg, in newspaper or brown paper bags. However, even biscuits packaged brightly in thin cardboard boxes are doubly wrapped in see-through polythene and black plastic trays. What to do about that is stumping me at present. Similarly washing up liquid and detergents will be in plastic containers until the forseeable future - I assume we wait until 'ecover' ( other brands are available) re-use glass bottles in place of plastic ones.

It's easy to throw out plastic toothbrushes and nail brushes to replace them with wooden bristle versions. But it is the act of throwing out that is causing the trouble. Wash ups can be replaced by cotton dishwashing cloths - and I do recycle my old ones - eventually, though, the plastic ones will have to be thrown out and end up in landfill or in the seas and oceans. I tend to buy cotton clothes and I do recycle or car boot them or donate them. Our pre-loved garments will rot down, in time.And they still make good rags. I try to buy toys for the children I know that are wooden rather than polypropylene but packaging, again, can reduce the effectiveness of trying to have a plastic-free world.

Take out food is likely to be an ongoing issue. Perhaps we should try to sit down and enjoy a drink or bite rather than consuming on the move? But take aways cause problems: 25% of plastic produced globally is packaging. Even without a packet the film around a sandwich or similar is likely plastic. Plastic straws, cups and cutlery go with the take away territory and add to an already enormous problem.

Currently only 14% of plastic is recycled. By 2050 there will be more of it than fish in the sea. Anyone got other good tips for cutting down the use of and the throwing out of this fish-suffocating material?

Tuesday 6 March 2018

The Oscars, fame and who's up themselves.

Watching the Oscars has got me thinking about fame - and character. The ones who think of others and those who think only of themselves.

I suppose the first time I saw a famous face was when I was a very little girl and The Queen made a visit to the Midlands. I remember screaming like a whirling Catherine Wheel at a sixties pop group, 'The Rockin' Berries' at The Grand Theatre (who remembers them?) and I first saw famous Shakespearean actors on the stage at Stratford and others at Birmingham Rep. But my lasting memories date from the 1970s.

Appreciating fame was a slow burner for me. I was underwhelmed by it. No-one turned my head, it seems. When T Rex was on tour and the gloriously-sparkly Marc Bolan did a gig at our civic hall I was hard-pushed to become a giggling awe-struck chick. I must have been born with an innate sense of superiority - or on a low light - or born with deep self respect as he was merely a chap - wasn't he? He didn't turn my head, as they say. Nevertheless, after all the encores and the crowds had squashed back through the aisles, outside to their hum-drum lives, my friend Helen and I crept up some stairs and found Bolan's dressing room. I've often wondered why there were no queues of adoring fans. Without any ado he gave us his autograph and we were truly pleased with ourselves. Later, whilst we were discussing the definition of the word 'groupie' - and wondering whether the girls we'd seen hanging around Marc Bolan were examples of such an intriguing group - we were only eleven and first year grammar school girls - I realised I'd left my expensive Parker pen with Mr Bolan. We had to go back. There was still no queue of autograph hunters - why not? - and as I held out my hand for my pen - to the famous man - he gave it a kiss. 'I'm here for my pen,' I said, not glowing at all at the feel of his lips on my knuckles. (I did get my pen back. He was clearly used to adoration.)
Later David Bowie was touring with Aladdin Sane. I'd always liked Bowie's music but was unimpressed that he was almost an hour late on to the civic hall stage. This time I was with a boyfriend - still on a low light - and I didn't go backstage for an autograph. Just continued buying his records. 

When I was studying for my 'A' levels - physics, chemistry, biology and general paper and I'm not even a scientist - I started listening to radio jazz programmes and spotted the work of a female saxophonist - Barbara Thompson. It was many years later when I got to speak to her as a friend of ours knew Ronnie Scott and put on jazz sessions around Bath. That time I was more star-struck, perhaps because she was not a household name and the chances of seeing her were far more remote than the sight of Bowie. Perhaps. 

Before I left home to study for my first degree I used to go to JB's - a night club in Dudley. In true Midlands fashion the beatifically-haired Robert Plant was ignored as he leant on the bar and ordered a pint. We were there to see the Steve Miller band - Robert Plant was merely part of the audience. But he looked good and wasn't self-admiring. Just part of the gig. Of greater interest that night when chatting in the loos to former class mates - was finding out who'd lost their virginity - and who hadn't - since we'd all left upper sixth.

Since then our neighbour, Justin Adams, has become Robert Plant's lead guitarist. It's a small world.

Once at university the late, great John Peel was DJ for a night - that was fun - but I didn't shake his hand. Is my reluctance to engage with fame because I'm uncertain about what to say? Could be.

For my fortieth a group of us went to London and we were tripping over stars in Shaftesbury Avenue. Neil Pearson was big in Drop the Dead Donkey and he was there in the crowd, off for a drink or a meal or a show. Ewan McGregor sat next to me in the stalls for a revue with Eddie Izzard, Stephen Frost and friends. That was exciting but all I can remember was his conversation about his mother. Rather nice. Everyone clapped when Peter Andre took his seat in the royal box. Why him, in particular? 

We have an active theatre in Bath and I once saw Griff Rhys-Jones rushing along the streets, in full make-up, either out for a swift walk or to purchase something, he was in an awful hurry. Paul McGann stepped out from the underground car park one Saturday afternoon, he was in The Monocled Mutineer and I remember he seemed shorter than I expected. Anthony Head, before he was famous in Buffy Vampire Slayer, was waiting outside the then 'Gemini' Cinema one Saturday evening, for a friend presumably. I don't recall the film we saw. But he was just hanging around minding his own business. 

And at gigs we saw Peter Gabriel several times. One Christmas I was shopping in Waterstones, and bought about three books as gifts, Peter Gabriel was in the same queue with three bags of hardbacks. A lot of people to buy for, it seemed. One other Saturday afternoon, looking at household items in the co-op, I saw John Nettles, before he was known as Barnaby in Midsomer Murders. He was appearing in pantomime in Bath. Prosaically he was wandering around with a few hand towels. He had no shopping basket and looked lost. Had he forgotten to pack properly?

One of the most exciting incidents regarding the famous was meeting Terence Stamp. I'd absolutely loved him as Sgt Troy in the 1967 film version of Far from the Madding Crowd. The day I saw him I was tired and had had to travel back from work by train via Bristol Temple Meads. As we queued for a cab at Bath Spa railway station my fatigue must have shown on my face. I have never forgotten his kindness when he pointed to a cab which had just drawn up. He was ahead of me in the queue but beckoned to me to get in - he would wait for another. Conversely I had a quite different experience at Lucknam Park when Noel Edmonds was staying there as a long-term resident. I had finished my swim in the leisure spa and went to the poolside bar for a drink. While I was reading the paper I heard the big-time DJ ask the bar attendant to put the lights down so he could enjoy the candle light. I protested.
          'There's a woman over there asking for the lights to stay on,' laughed Noel Edmonds.
          'I'm reading a fascinating article about dyslexia, Mr Edmonds, and I need to be able to see,' I said. I was furious at being called 'a woman over there' and his assumption that no-one needed the bar lights on. He was used to getting people just to do.

When I last had a slipped disc I had six months off work as I really couldn't move well, let alone teach and I was in a stupor from taking painkillers. However to get me out walking Richard used to drive us to Dyrham Park and Marshfield. On one such early spring day I saw Jo Brand and her daughters walking along Marshfield High Street. I didn't stop to speak to her as I felt she was enjoying some down-time, but I've always admired her and would have loved to have said so. Perhaps I'm just shy. Perhaps.

After my swim at Bath Spa hotel, I'm no longer a member at Lucknam Park, just as the 2012 Olympics ended, we did pluck up the courage to speak to the great Mo Farah. He was attending an event at Bath University and staying at the hotel. He seemed a very ordinary chap, and at that particular time was merely keen to get something to eat. But I enjoyed shaking the hand of a man who had just won the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races. He was something but didn't show it. 

On another occasion John Hurt sat quietly by himself in the pub attached to Bath's Theatre Royal - when he was appearing in The Seagull. Better, I suppose, for him, than being mobbed. Perhaps.

Similarly, sitting listening to a self-obsessed acquaintance over coffee I noticed Alison Steadman walk past the cafe with her mum. Another famous person just going about her daily business. My self-obsessed friend was so self-obsessed she couldn't even be bothered to look up at the great Alison Steadman. I'm no longer friends with Ms Self-Obsessed but I love Ms Steadman. 

At the Edinburgh Fringe it's easy to be surrounded by comedians propping up the bar at The Pleasance. We saw the then emerging League of Gentlemen there (whatever happened to Mark Gatiss?) and Jenny Eclair just chatting to fans. Stephen Frost, again, was walking along a narrow passage way in old Edinburgh when I spotted him. We've since got to know his brother Anthony, the eldest son of the famous artist Sir Terry Frost, and an artist himself. And they're all so nice and unassuming.

One other time a less famous character actor - Terence Hardiman  - stepped out from the taxi rank and went into the hotel opposite Bath Spa Station. He was awfully kind to a magazine seller and politely said, 'Thank you. I don't need one now.' That's the way to speak to people. It gets the message across without sounding rude.

When I used to go to comedy clubs I saw another famous comedian - he was so brilliant - and still is. (Jeremy Hardy's shortness of height was soon forgotten.) Like Paul McGann we simply don't notice artistes' heights on screen but stature is noticeable in the flesh. And Jeremy Hardy's always on the side of teachers and points out, in the main, we aren't criminals. Great on radio 4 too.

One winter - flu was all around - we were sitting near the comedy stage with our drinks. The show was yet to start and the great Tim Vine, red-nosed, full of a cold, sat and chatted. He said, 'Can I ask one thing?' 
                                      'Not can we do your show for you!' I said. He smiled, did the show, but must have felt wretched. Teaching is bad enough when you have the lurgy but to be well-known and ill and still have to perform in front of a crowd - and make them laugh... Fame isn't all it's cracked up to be.

When it was announced that Fay Weldon was to be my manuscript tutor at Bath Spa University others thought I'd found a pot of gold. 
                                      'Hello, Fay, famous person, I'm Nina,' I said, at our first meeting. She smiled and was the kindest, most supportive tutor I could wish for and invited me down to her house. Goodness knows what she truly thought of my early scribblings but marked my submission as worthy of a distinction - sadly her co-marker didn't agree. I've since had my novel edited by Kylie Fitzpatrick who is equally kind and supportive. Not up themselves at all. There is clearly no need.

Having witnessed, fleetingly, the way that some of the rich and famous go about their lives between shows or book-signings what has struck me is that no-one needs to be rude or self-congratulatory. There is nothing wrong with being polite, however grand they may be. Noel Edmonds is one of the few who has managed to remain in my memory as someone who thought he could treat others in an off-hand manner. I'm sure he's really nice and meant no harm and perhaps the famous can't always be on their guard. Perhaps.

But it's Terence Stamp for whom I will always harbour a secret passion - and he's so nice with it. What a pity we never shared that taxi. 

Friday 2 March 2018

How to deal with a frozen condenser pipe

Good morning guys, I have had lots of phone calls regarding boilers not working due to their condensate pipe being frozen - this is the white pipe that’s comes out at the bottom of your boiler and in some instances terminates outside your property. If you boil the kettle and carefully pour the hot water over the white pipe this should defrost any blockage caused by ice build up and get you up running. Some of the ice is stubborn, so you may need to tap the pipe with a wooden spoon or equivalent to loosen it. If your pipe is high, maybe try tapping it with a brush handle, do not climb ladders in this weather. You may need to reset your boiler after the ice have melted on some boilers. Please repost this, as it may help a lot of people.

With thanks to Steve Roderick, via Facebook

Saved Photo

How to bath in Bath

Simple - you might say - run the hot water, add some frippary like Molton & Brown gensing with frankincense suds and get in.
Ah not so fast! Not in these snow-drenched days living under enforced house arrest...

Around lunchtime today, just as I was thinking I’d better have a bath and wash my hair - in case the hot water and heating went off - it did just that. The heating and hot water went off. A small boom in the boiler, just above the sofa and desk where I do my writing, sounded as if all was not well. I fumbled with leads and memory sticks, switched off my printer, unplugged my lap top and sat in bed. The boiler didn’t sound well and it might mean we’d be getting cold.

Richard to the rescue.
Yes, we’ve been here before.

Richard came rushing upstairs with a kettle of boiling water complaining that the windows wouldn’t open. What was he talking about? Within moments the windows did open, my study was like a block of ice and Richard was tipping scalding water on the condenser pipes shouting, ‘The hot water’s off!’ I suggested we switched on the portable heaters since if the hot water was off the radiators would likely go cold too.

And not to be outdone in this Heath-Robinson approach to life-below-freezing-point I switched on a brand new kettle - our spare - filled the ensuite wash basin with hot water, turned on the cold tap and mixed some reluctant-to-come-out-of-the-tube shampoo into my hair and washed it. ( I had partially undressed but it was too cold for a strip-wash). 

All was going well. Richard was merrily hanging out of the window, I was helping (?) by rushing up and downstairs with wet hair and the spare kettle to add to the quantities of boiling water being thrown at the condenser pipe. I put my back out moving the portable radiators around. I am recovering from a slipped disc but when it’s cold you need the extra heaters. 

Whilst drying - I won’t say styling - my hair Richard shouted ‘Bugger’ and opened all the doors letting in even more frozen air. I found him outside trying to rescue the lid which had flown away from the old kettle. But he had to give up. (He’d leant so far out of the study window it had dropped off on to the kitchen roof below.)
             ‘Here. Have this stick and pull it off the roof,’ said I.
              ‘I can’t reach it. The snow on the kitchen roof is so deep the kettle lid’s sunk down and I can’t get at it.’
              ‘Would a magnet help?’
               ‘How would that work?’ Richard wasn’t taught any science at Ilminster Grammar School. ‘Anyway have  you got a magnet?’
              ‘Erm... no.’
              ‘I’m not getting a ladder out in this weather and climbing up on the kitchen roof to rescue a kettle lid.’
                ‘Well use the new kettle,then,’ said I.
                ‘Where is it?’
                ‘Plugged in where it’s been plugged in for the last year.’
Once dressed I continued working in bed and heard some gurgling coming from the boiler. ‘This new kettle’s better than the old one.’
                  ‘Yes, it’s new,’ I said, winning first prize in the stating-the-bleeding-obvious-competition.
                   ‘Are the radiators coming on?’

The radiators were coming on, the barn doors were closed, the window, which opened and shut fine, was shut and there was hot water. I plugged my lap top back into the mains ( my old lap top doesn’t charge properly - hence the use of the mains lead - but my Mac does. I use my old lap top for writing Word docs.) 

Did I dare risk it and actually have a bath?