Wednesday 30 April 2008

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Wildwood - a photography Exhibition

Wildwood, an exhibition at Bolton Museum, features new work by photographer Pete Davis. These stunning large format photographs capture the mystery and beauty of wild woodlands in Wales, UK and Vermont, USA. Its a lovely exhibition and not on for much longer, so if you are in Bolton in the next few days, make sure you pop along to the museum!

After visiting this exhibition with my Mum we then visited the Aquarium, in the basement of the museum, where we were delighted to see several new species of fish, including the pygmy glass danio, one of the smallest fish in the world.

Monday 28 April 2008

Birdwatching in suburban Manchester

My parents house in suburban Manchester has a lovely garden and is surrounded by other lovely gardens. It's great to see so many birds all thriving there. Although there are significantly fewer starlings, house sparrows and song thrushes than there used to be (following UK wide trends) and the increase in magpies and jackdaws isn't always welcomed, its great to see that there are good numbers of blue tits, great tits, woodpigeons, collared doves (which have only relatively recently colonised the UK and now are everywhere!), blackbirds and robins as well as occasional visits from more unusual birds. On my visit we saw greenfinches and a coal tit, and my parents have also recently seen long tailed tits and goldcrests. These are three species I don't remember seeing when I was growing up there and I was a keen birdwatcher from a very early age! It was really nice to see signs of breeding behaviour from the blue tits, song thrushes and blackbirds (including one male blackbird with a white patch on its head but a particularly fine song!).

My parents really look after the birds in the garden, having several feeders filled up with good bird foods. Two blackbirds have particularly developed a habit of visiting the garden first thing in the morning for their special fruit snacks!

We also enjoyed a rainy walk round Rivington where we heard willow warblers and robins singing.

Thursday 24 April 2008

Why I don't complain about train fares

A lot of people grumble about train fares in the UK, here's why I don't:

Edinburgh to Bolton single £9. Bolton to Edinburgh single £15.

This is what I've paid the last several times I've made the journey! I seem to be pretty lucky getting the cheap deals! (Of course more of our fares should be that cheap). I also enjoy the fact that the train journey between Edinburgh and Bolton passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in southern Scotland and the English Lake District.

I'll be back next week!

Make Your Own Biofuels from Waste Oils

When Dr Rudolph Diesel demonstrated his newly-invented diesel engine in 1900 at the World Exhibition, he used fuel derived from peanut oil. Now a new device, about the size of a dustbin on wheels, enables drivers of diesel cars to produce their own legal, duty-free bio-fuel from recycled cooking oil. The ‘Fuelpod’ is so efficient, it can pay for itself within about a year. It sounds like a great idea and when I got the information sent to me at work, I thought I'd share it here!

The Fuelpod is designed to recycle cooking oils and is therefore environmentally friendly, unlike biofuels made from farmed crops, which have negative impacts on food supplies and rainforests. This week, Jean Ziegler, the UN's rapporteur on the Right to Food, described farmed biofuels as "a crime against humanity" because they divert food from the poor to provide fuel for the rich.
For more information on the Fuelpod, visit:

It is heartening to see that both the European Commission and the UK government are rethinking their targets on biofuels.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Late Spring Snapshot

A confusion of cherry trees
has bloomed since November
while others are still in bud -
leaves slow to unfurl in the cold
late Spring. The nuthatch, a southern
bird welcomed here by recent warmth
fluffs its feathers, delays nesting.

Late Spring for Totally Optional Prompts

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Time Capsule for Earth Day

I would give you
the song of a skylark
rising thoughtless
into the blue

the blue green flash
of a kingfisher
darting downstream
to the waterfall

the fall
of a peregrine
plunging to catch
its prey

the prayerful cadence
of a nightingale
in the honeysuckle scent
of evening

The RSPB works to conserve birds and their habitat across the UK and beyond.

Time Capsule for Weekend Wordsmith

Earth Day is 22 April 2008. Enjoy the beauty of the earth and help to protect it for future generations.

Monday 21 April 2008

Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana is a documentary from Werner Herzog that weaves mirages and other images from the Sahara with a soundtrack made up of religious music and Leonard Cohen tracks and extracts from Mayan creation myths. It is a mesmerising and beautiful meditation on the desert and the human influences on it - images include shots of beautiful villages; rusting machinery abandoned in the sand and groups of dead animals lying rotting.

The film was originally intended to be presented with a science fiction narrative, an idea that was abandoned once filming began, but was realized in his later film The Wild Blue Yonder.

Available as part of a DVD boxed set of films by Werner Herzog.

Saturday 19 April 2008

Weekend Walk - Peebles

Today we got the bus down to Peebles in the Scottish Borders. The fields were full of lambs and it felt as though Spring was really here! Lots of rabbits everywhere too! We went for a lovely walk in the Glentress Forestry Commission Woodland. Many of the trees were covered in lichens:

The weather was nice, though very windy, especially on the exposed slopes! We heard lots of birds singing and saw wrens, blue tits, great tits, robins, a greenfinch, blackbirds, a song thrush and several rooks building their nests in their rookery at the top of a group of trees. I also saw 2 nuthatches, which although they're common in areas of England are very unusual in Scotland and I think Peebles must be the most northerly point they ever reach. We also saw these two lovely horses.

You can read about an earlier trip we made to Glentress Forest last year here.

Friday 18 April 2008

Needle Case 2

I started this needle case a while ago, its taken so long partly because I couldn't find a suitable lining for it and partly because I'm lazy when it comes to sewing! Inspire Me Thursday's latest challenge of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle motivated me to finish it, plus the fact that I really need a new needle case! The lace is from a stocking, the velvet and the inner fabric are from old underwear, and the felt is made from shed rabbit fur. I also made a needle case as a gift for my Mum, you can see that one here. All my crafts are made from reused materials, you can browse them here.

haiku - health

my legs ache
as I reach the hill top
a robin sings

in the garden -
organic tomatoes
grow brightly.

fresh from the spring -
distant mountains

health for Mad Kane's Haiku Prompt

Thursday 17 April 2008

A Friend of the Earth by T C Boyle

This is the story of Ty and his family, eco-activists all of them and their lives in 2025-26 with flashbacks to the 1980s and 90s. The vision here of 2025 is chilling, extreme weather and mass extinctions have taken their toll and the earth is a much denuded place.

The book shows up some of the contradictions and hypocrisies of some parts of the environmental movement as well as individuals. Ty really isn't a likeable character, although he's a zealous activist, he isn't really focussed and he doesn't think through the consequences of his actions with disturbing results.

It's a very powerful book that makes the reader sit up and think about what we're doing to the earth. Though there have been mass extinctions in the past (just think of the dinosaurs) this will be the first time it has happened with a so called sentient intelligent species around who could stop the chaos but most of the time seems intent on bring on destruction faster and sooner just for the sake of a few bucks.

The vision in this book isn't always consistent, but it is always thought provoking. Read this book, then think about how you can lessen the environmental impact of your life and maybe we can stop this scary vision of 2025 becoming reality.

I reviewed But n Ben A Go Go by Matthew Fitt, another book about similar themes here.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Poetry Collage cards

Just a small selection of my latest poetry cards, made from 100% reused materials including out of date office documents, magazines and cardboard folders. The smallest one is a Japanese phone card.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

April Bio-fools Day

From today, all UK petrol stations are required by law to sell only fuel which is blended with 2.5% biofuel. As almost all biofuel currently takes land from agricultural production or from valuable ecosystems, this will have devastating consequences on climate, carbon sinks, food prices and human rights, with people being violently evicted from their land.

*The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year* - Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute

What's wrong with Agrofuels (biofuels)?

*Deforestation, peatland destruction and the use of nitrogen fertilisers mean that agrofuels are worse for the climate than fossil fuel. Paul Crutzen (Nobel prize-winner) suggests that rapeseed biodiesel is up to 70% worse for climate change than ordinary fossil diesel (even though it's grown in the UK and involves no deforestation or peatland destruction) due to nitrogen fertiliser giving off nitrous oxide - a 300x more damaging greenhouse gas than CO2. Across the global South people are being evicted, often violently, from their land to make way for agrofuel plantations. According to Jean Ziegler (until recently the UN special rapporteur on the right to food) 12 million more people are going hungry now than a year ago due to rising food prices, something that agrofuels make a large contribution to.

Instead we should:
dramatically reduce fossil fuel use,
live more locally
improve public transport and
investigate environmentally friendly bio-fuels made from waste oils.

Information from Friends of the Earth Scotland
For more info on biofuels visit:
Also read the feature on Biofuels in The Ecologist magazine here.

Monday 14 April 2008


Inspire Me Thursday's prompt this week is envelopes. I reuse envelopes all the time and try to do this in imaginative ways, you can see some examples of this here.

The photo below shows a page from a book of haiku and collages I'm currently putting together, using a book that I won in a competition in one of Michelle Ward's GPP Street Team Crusades. Inside the front cover, I've pasted a herbal tea envelope onto the page and used it to store a Japanese phonecard with one of my haiku written on the back.

Saturday 12 April 2008

Plastics and wildlife

I saw something really cute today - a crow (which incidentally had albino splotches on its wings) was playing with an empty plastic bottle, rolling it from side to side then jumping on top of it. Once it saw me it strutted away, almost as though it was embarressed to be seen playing. Crows are very intelligent and resourceful birds but this sighting was a first for me.

Of course though, plastic litter poses a threat to animals. Birds and other animals can ingest small pieces of plastic which can poison them or they can get trapped in torn plastic or bottles. So all plastic waste needs to be disposed of carefully and where possible alternatives should be found for plastics.

Friday 11 April 2008

Eco Portal Press launch

Today the Waste Innovations Eco-Portal was launched to the press. The shop in St Mary's Street looks wonderfully eco-friendly and stylish, with the flooring being made from recycled newspapers and magazines and all the fittings being made from reclaimed wood and recycled circuit boards. The items for sale are equally environmentally friendly, hemp bags, trinket boxes made from reclaimed materials and whole ranges of jewellery made from off-cuts and found materials. The press pack contains a bookmark and key ring both made from recycled circuit boards.

The launch included a song from Ferial Puren of Waste Innovations, then I read Amazonia and Swifts. Then there was time to chat over snacks, the paper napkins were left over from someone's wedding, which I thought showed a real commitment to re-use.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Creation of Myth

When the volcano exploded
and there were no books
to tell you
this was not the first -
you created myth
to explain

flood, hurricane,
disease and earthquake -
for each you called a spirit.

Later belief in one higher god
and science banished myth
to darkness

but sometimes on the hill
we hear the chanting,
feel the reverence
for the spirits
of earth.

Mythology for Totally Optional Prompts

For an earlier poem inspired by mythology, follow the link below:
Mythologies of the Moon.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

You Am I

Part of the New Europe Film Festival at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, this odd but beautiful Lithuanian film is part self sufficiency manual, part surreal fable, part drugged up party. Baron, an architect is building a tree house in the middle of the forest, its a wonderful construction of wood and glass with nifty little gadgets everywhere, built just above a river. There are distractions a-plenty in the form of parties at a nearby holiday cabin, and a conundrum over the nature of reality involving an aspiring writer, but the real enjoyment of the film is in the peace and quiet of the forest and the birds and insects that live there.

Monday 7 April 2008

Festival of the Trees is now Up

The very first bilingual Festival of the Trees is now up at Arvores Vivas em Nossas Vidas - you can browse it here. It features my poem Barking and several other poems from the Read Write Poem prompt Be a Tree.

The Earth, an Intimate History by Richard Fortey

This is a thick book about geology, focussing on plate tectonics and covering volcanoes, mountain formation and fault lines. There are some beautiful photos too and useful diagrams. I was also interested to read about the geology of many places I've visited and to read background information to the several recent tv shows on geology. The book is interesting, engaging and very informative, but I felt the author made too many digressions that didn't add to the reader's experience or knowledge. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson made a lot of digressions, but I felt they always added to the book.

I read this book for general interest but also partly as background reading for the Dino Dig at the Science Festival. I would have been better reading a dinosaur book I know! There were several dinosaur fans at the Dino Dig, who put our cobbled-together knowledge to shame. Last year there was a research paleantologist on the Dino Dig team, this year, for half the festival there wasn't even a real dino enthusiast on the team and it showed - though it didn't stop most of the children having a great time!

Edited to add: I've just found a copy of the Ultimate Book of Dinosaurs in the second hand shop across the road. How useful that would have been over the last couple of weeks.... I bought it anyway, my interest has been piqued by the Dino Dig...

Sunday 6 April 2008

Crafts at the Science Festival

One of the activities in the Dino Dig at the Science Festival was to make plaster casts in the shape of ammonites that the children could then take home with them. Before the festival started we had made lots of casts ourselves in case the children's casts didn't set properly or broke as they came out of their moulds. At the end there were some left over, so we got to bring some home too! Here are mine!

Saturday 5 April 2008

Last Day of the Science Festival

So the Science Festival is almost over! What did we all get out of it? Well the children and families who came along hopefully learned some science, learned how to puzzle things out and how to think with an open inquiring mind. The Dino Dig offered a fun activity that opened children to the excitement of scientific discovery and maybe helped them develop their team working skills.

For those of who were science communicators, we learned how to survive 13 days work with no day off (though there were a lot of sick days within the team), we learned how to communicate science better, even bits of science we previously didn't know that much about. Personally, I was really very happy to get this intensive experience of informal education before starting work on my first writing workshop course (the new dates for which can be found here).

Thursday 3 April 2008

Gateway for Eco-Living opens in Edinburgh

Waste Innovations announces the opening of its first retail shop, The Portal, located on St. Mary’s Street off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, on April 12.

The shop is a gateway for eco-living, stocking eco-friendly, sustainable, recycled, and organic products. It serves as a stage for innovation and design by adding value to waste materials in the form of marketable products.
Dr. Macpherson, director of STIRnetwork, envisions The Portal as a 'creative platform to utilise skills and encourage creativity, so that it’s not wasted'; As the saying goes, one man's waste is another's treasure. The “waste” at The Portal has been creatively modified into “treasure” for the taking!

She notes a 'current climate of waste' contributing to the atrophy of creativity. She wants to eliminate wasted creativity, skills, and opportunities by using those resources on waste materials to produce a final product that incorporates an eco-friendly solution via a people valuing means. To her, waste is not merely the clutter in the bin; it is also the disuse of talents and skills. For example, too much household and commercial waste goes into landfills, when much of it could be recycled. 'One-hundred and nine square miles of Great Britain are currently being used as landfill, not surprisingly as we send 16.9 million tonnes of waste to landfills each year,' says Dr. Macpherson.
'By the age of seven,' she added, 'forty percent of childhood creativity disappears, just imagine how much creativity has declined by the time we approach eighteen. The lack of creativity combined with the UK unemployment rate of 5.2 %, reveals a need for a creative outlet, and STIRnetwork's own creative solution to waste is The Portal.'

Standing for 'Sustainable Technology, Information & Research, STIRnetwork, founded in 2002 is a non-profit organisation, recognised as an Investor in People in 2007, that operates as the head of multiple eco-aware micro-businesses. Waste Innovations is a creative eco-marketing venture from STIRnetwork. Waste Innovations also plan to launch an e-commerce site within the next month.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

To Blantyre

A rainy day journey to Blantyre –
dull, dreich, mist covered hills.

Lulled by soft voices and motion of travel
I drop into half sleep and dream of the sunshine.

Jolted awake, my senses are staggered,
disjointed awareness of palm trees and hornbills.

On a rainy day journey to Blantyre, Malaŵi*.

*there is also a town called Blantyre in Scotland
Previously published in Poetry Scotland

Regional Poetry for Totally Optional Prompts

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Creative Workshops at Waste Innovations

We now have the full list of workshops to be held at Waste Innovations in Edinburgh:

My Poetry Workshop: TUESDAY APRIL 29TH 6PM (First of 8 consecutive weeks)
Kids Art Workshop: SATURDAY APRIL 26TH 10:30AM (First of 8 consecutive weeks)Teens Acting Workshop: SATURDAY APRIL 26TH 1:00PM (First of 8 consecutive weeks)
Half-Day Paper Making Workshop: FRIDAY MAY 2ND 1:30PM (First of 7 consecutive weeks)
Full-Day Paper Making Workshop: STARTING JUNE 6TH - first Friday of every month 10AM

More information about course costs and organisation from Waste Innovations. If you're interested in the poetry workshop and want to know more, just leave a comment here or email me....

Please note: due to flooding of the Eco Portal these workshops have been CANCELLED.