Friday, 31 December 2010

The Year that Was.

So here we are, at the end of another year ... another decade ... and the beginning of another!

2010 has seen the greatest change to our lives since the girls were born. My elder daughter sat her A levels and was offered a place at Glasgow university to study history. At the same time my younger daughter sat her GCSEs and has moved up to Sixth Form College. The first half of the year was dominated by revision timetables, mocks, UCAS forms, university open days and then the interminable wait for results. It wasn't an easy ride, but we survived!

So now we are three (at least during term time), which is strange but we're growing accustomed to it. I've learnt to ask for 300g of mince instead of 400g, and am getting quicker at texting. I miss her, but she's where she wants to be, doing what she wants to do, and that's all that matters.

As for the rest of the year, I've been struggling to remember everything I've done. It's always now that I wished I'd kept a better record of my activities. My diary contains too many empty pages.

Let me see ...

We had a fortnight in St Ives in the summer. It was our 11th visit and one of the best. My younger daughter finally persuaded me to buy a wet suit and join her and her dad body boarding and all I can say is that I wish I'd given in sooner as it was so much warmer and I had such fun in the waves. We like to do something new every visit and this year we discovered the Knill monument above St Ives and visited the Newlyn Art Gallery. The panoramic view from the hill, even when overcast, was worth the climb (before breakfast I may add!) but I'm afraid that the exhibition at the gallery wasn't worth the effort. In fact it was quite disturbing, which was a shame as it's a delightful gallery with an idyllic sea front location. Fortunately we'd combined it with a return to Mousehole so it wasn't a wasted journey.

We did manage to elevate a couple of university open day visits to mini break status. I'm now familiar with the location and facilities of Travelodges in Brighton, Aberdeen and Glasgow. Although my daughter didn't take to the campus environment of Sussex, we were charmed by the back streets of Brighton and I'm resolved to return with her younger shopaholic sister. Aberdeen brought back memories of my memorable postgraduate year and we felt very welcome by the staff and students. However it was Glasgow that was the true revelation. My memories of visiting relatives and friends on our infrequent trips home from India as a child, were of a dark and gloomy city. This year I have discovered a completely different place, bursting with architecture, art, dance, museums, restaurants, parks ... and humour. I'm looking forward to many more visits in the years to come

Also this summer we helped persuade the Council to turn down Sainsbury's application to build a superstore at Ashton Gate. It's not often that a local community prevails against the wishes of one of the Big Four but on this occasion we did ... and on my birthday! Unfortunately they've since lodged another application so we'll have to go through it all again next year. Hey ho! See if you want the full story or would like to support our campaign.

Apart from these few highlights it's been life as usual, packed with the many routines that keep me going. There's a lot I would have liked to have done differently, but rather than dwell on what's been I'm going to try and look forward to what's to come.

So here I come 2011!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Stop Sainsbury's

The Stop Sainsbury's campaign was launched by a group of local residents opposed to the prospect of a Sainsbury's superstore at Ashton Gate in south Bristol. At 9,290 square metres, the largest superstore in the south west, we believe it will have a negative impact on our community and pose a threat to local independent retail.

The website ( provides details of the application, grounds for objection and how to contact the Council.

If you are affected by this proposal and wish to support the campaign we suggest 7 ways in which you can do so:

1 Send your objection to the Council (see for advice on how to do so). If you could copy your objection to the website it would be useful.

2 Write to the local councillors and MP (see for contact details).

3 Advertise the campaign on your blog, your Facebook profile or Twitter.

4 Email all your friends with a link to the website and encourage them to support the campaign.

5 Ask sympathetic websites to post a link to the Stop Sainsbury's website.

6 Print one of the posters on the website and display it in your window, or use your leaflet (delivered with this month's Pigeon or available from many North Street shops).

7 When you've finished with your leaflet pass it on to someone who may not have seen it.

If you can only do one thing, do No 1!

We have successfully opposed two earlier applications from Tesco and Sainsbury's and are determined to do the same with this one.

The time has come for local people to halt the relentless march of supermarkets across our land and support a more sustainable way of shopping.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Stir Up Sunday

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord , the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thus reads the collect for the last Sunday before Advent, Stir Up Sunday, when tradition has it that preparation should begin for the feast of Christmas with the making of the Christmas pudding.

Many's the year I've been sat in the pew listening to this collect and thinking 'Drat. I've missed it again.' But not so this year when, for perhaps the very first time ever, I have stirred my pudding.

I adore Christmas pudding ... and Christmas cake ... and mince pies. One whiff of dried fruit, spices and spirits and I'm caught up in the mystery and excitement of the festival. It all starts today.

I've experimented with a variety of recipes but for the last few years I've returned to St Delia's traditional one. Today I measured and chopped and stirred. Tomorrow I'll steam.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Appliance of Science

Yesterday we took delivery of a new washing machine to replace the old one which kept trying to boil our clothes. We'd had a man round to have a look at it who suggested a new thermostat, but it didn't do the trick and we regretfully decided that we had no option but to buy a new one.

I can't remember how old our washing machine was but certainly nowhere near as old as Doris Stogdale's fridge which is still going strong after 58 years.

I hate throwing away stuff until it's no longer useable. So for months now we've kept our washing machine from overheating by setting a timer and turning the dial on to the rinse cycle after 15 minutes. It was annoying but we learned to live with it.

However there's a balance to be struck between continuing to use an appliances that are no longer energy efficient and casually upgrading them. Our old machine was removed by our supplier and will be disposed of in accordance with WEE regulations, and we've replaced it with an A rated model, but I can't help feeling that it's still a waste.

I grew up in India where you could find someone to repair almost anything that was broken. It provided employment and prevented you from having to replace stuff quite as often.

Perhaps that explains my attitude. Or maybe it's my Scots blood.

Anyway I look forward to turning my back on my new machine, safe in the knowledge that it won't shrink my jumpers.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Hey Big Spender!

This afternoon I took part in my first flash mob. We sang Big Spender in Cabot Circus as part of Bristol's Festival of Song. I'd managed to miss all the other events in the week long festival so I was glad to be able to take part in this one.

I've only ever seen flash mobs on YouTube but I think they're brilliant - random flashes of creative insanity piercing the monotony of our urban lives. Yeah!

Here we are, brightening up the lives of Bristol shoppers:

Saturday, 23 October 2010

'They Say Cut Backs! We Say Fight Back!'

This morning I took part in one of the many anti-cuts demonstrations that took place today. It was a miserable day, cold and wet, and I was therefore surprised by the numbers who turned up to march from Castle Park to College Green. We were told by one of the speakers that the police estimated the turnout at 500 and the organisers 5,000. All I can say is that it was somewhere between the two.

When we reached College Green we were addressed by a series of union leaders sheltering under unbrellas as they roused the crowd with their well worn rhetoric. No concensus politics here! I'm opposed to these cuts, especially in relation to higher education, but I do wish we could get away from the language of confrontation. It's outdated and not particulary helpful.

As the mother of two daughters, one just embarked on a four year university course and the other due to start the year tuition fees are set to rise, I was particularly impressed by the Bristol University student who put her case very eloquently against the recent announcements.

There was a minor skirmish, not particularly well handled by either the crowd or the speakers, but it was soon under control. It was the first time I've witnessed any trouble at a demo, and I've been at a fair few. I hope it's not a foretaste of what's to come, as we all need to keep our heads if we're to be taken seriously.

Anyway, by the time the speeches were over and the crowd settled, I was so cold and wet that nothing but a mug of builder's tea and a crisp bacon roll would do. These were both amply provided by the Revival Cafe in Corn Street (unfortunately no website to link to), which I would highly recommend to anyone needing sustenance after any outdoor activity, be it political or commercial.

PS I'm proud to say that my elder daughter was at a similar march in Edinburgh where the sun shone and the protesters were accompanied by pipers.

PPS I did take a photo of my placard, but it was corrupted during upload so I've had to make do with the poster. And I only thought of taking one of my bacon roll after it was eaten!

Thursday, 21 October 2010


This morning I received my eagerly anticipated Graze box. I'd taken advantage of an offer in this Sunday's Observer and ordered myself one free box, to be followed next week by a second for £1.

Graze is a brilliantly conceived scheme which delivers healthy snacks to hungry office workers. Subscribers register and are asked to rate a long list of foods including seeds, nuts, dried fruit, flapjacks, olives, focaccia etc. They then choose a date to have their box delivered directly to their desk. Each cardboard box contains four snacks in individual plastic containers. There is a paper napkin and a pick for the olives. There is also a tiny personally addressed booklet detailing the nutrional details of each snack and another with more general information about the company. Genius!

My first box contained a West country cheddar, red onion and chutney focaccia, green olives in a citrus marinade, a bento mix and an americas nut mix. The focaccia was slightly stodgy but the bento mix was spicy and the americas nut mix crunchy. I haven't tried the olives yet.

Graze boxes are normally priced at £3.29, which is probably not unreasonable given the quality of the products and the impeccable service, but they're too expensive for my budget, so I don't think I'll be ordering any more, or at least not on a regular basis.

There is inevitably packaging involved - a cardboard box secured with two plastic bands, four plastic punnets, a paper napkin, a wooden pick and two booklets - but the claim is that these are either biodegradable, recyclable or recycled. I'll certainly be be able to recycle everything except the plastic bands and the plastic seals on the punnets.

It would, of course, be much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to buy larger quantities of these snacks and carry portions of them in to work in reuseable containers but, given that there will always be a significant proportion of the population who will not do so, and who would otherwise be opting for a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps, I reckon it's a welcome alternative.

Let Them Eat Pudding

Last evening's Malago WI meeting was largely given over to the consumption of pudding. Members were asked to bring along two portions of their favourite dessert - a family favourite or perhaps one with a particular significance.

I made Gajjar Halwa to reflect my Indian upbringing. It's a carrot sweetmeat, prepared by boiling milk and grated carrot for an hour until thickened and then sweetened with sugar, enriched with butter, flavoured with cardamom and decorated with flaked almonds.

It's quite delicious.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Salmon Fishcakes & Salad

This evening we had salmon fishcakes. I used a tin of pink salmon and mashed potatoes, spiked with spring onion and cornichons and bound with beaten egg.

An excellent way to use up leftover mash.

Melting Moments

Yesterday I baked a batch of melting moments. I remember my mum used to make them when I was girl. She wasn't a brilliant cook but she was famed for her biscuits, and Shrewsburys in particular.

I would have liked to have topped mine with a sliver of cherry to add a bit of colour but they were fine as they were.

Quilting for Beginners

Inspired by Jane Brocket, who visited the Malago WI to talk about quilt making and show us some of her gorgeous creations, I signed up for an introductory course last Saturday. We began by sewing precut squares together and then moved on to using paper templates and try our hand at a log cabin design. We trimmed our patchwork squares with the rotary cutter and sandwiched wadding between the quilt and the backing fabric. By the end of the afternoon we each had a small quilt to take home.

I had a really good time.

Monday, 7 June 2010

I was interested to hear, on Radio 4's PM broadcast this evening, of the proposal to set up an English Academy. The aim of this body would be to preserve and protect the English language, along the same lines as the Academie Francaise.

As a pedant who cringes at the inappropriate use of the apostrophe and who cannot bear to use text language, I would support such an institution. My dad. who studied English at Glasgow, instilled in me the love of well written English, which has never left me and which, I am happy to report, I appear to have passed on to my elder daughter.

One of the guests on the programme was from the Queen's English Society whose aims are 'to improve standards of English, to encourage people to know more about our wonderful language, to use it more effectively and to enjoy it more'. Hear hear!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Sweet Sixteen

My younger daughter celebrated her sixteenth birthday today. Well sort of. With seven GCSEs this week the celebrations were restricted to cards, presents and her choice of today's menu - pancakes, bacon and maple syrup for breakfast and Chinese crispy duck for lunch. Oh, and a chocolate birthday cake!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Singing in the Sunshine

I spent today at the Festival of the Voice at Stourhead. It was my second visit and the sun shone just as brightly as it did last year. I went with the Gasworks Choir and we sang the songs we'd sung at our concert a couple of weeks ago.

I was disappointed that there did not seem to be as many choirs this year but I would like to mention two in particular. The first was an alcapella ladies quartet called Belladonna who sang some delightful jazz numbers. The second was the Avalonian Free State Choir who captivated the audience with their haunting eastern European songs - and the conductor's sensual salsa dancing! If you get a chance to hear either of them then jump at it. You won't be disappointed.

The photograph is of the floating flower creations made by my friend's children.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Salad Days

This year, inspired by the lovely Alys Fowler, I've planted flowers not just to add colour to my back garden but also to my salads. I 've sown calendula and nastursiums but I've also allowed other plants to flower. The chives growing in the planter over our wormery, have produced my favourite flowers so far - bright purple spiky balls that taste of garlic. This evening I sprinkled some of the tiny individual flowers over a green salad at dinner. It looked almost too good to eat. - but not quite!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Stress Busting

A couple of months ago I started attending a weekly yoga class. My daughter sits her A levels this month and yoga was suggested as a means of dealing with stress in the run up to her exams. I decided to go along to keep her company. We found an evening class just round the corner run by a cheery young woman who puts us through our paces without taking it too seriously. The first couple of times I felt every muscle in my body the next morning, but it's getting easier. It makes me more aware of my body, how it works and what I can do to to improve my wellbeing. However my best bit is still the last 15 minutes when we get to lie flat on our backs and are given a short shiatsu massage. Bliss!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


Today was one of those days that doesn't show much promise at the outset, but then surprises by getting better and better. I'd decided to attack the pile of ironing teetering at the bottom of our bed but, with the sun emerging from behind the clouds, I only got as far as the third item of clothing before I abandoned my iron in favour of a trowel.

I find gardening utterly addictive so, after repotting and staking the Red Alert bush tomato plants my friend Moira had given me yesterday evening, I planted out another Marmande and a squash. Of course I then had to rearrange the garden to find room for the new plants. Next I remembered that the front garden was looking a bit untidy, so I did some weeding and trimmed the Russian tarragon. What with all that, and the need to stop every now and then to admire our poppies, watch the bees disappear into the foxglove and spot the frogs under the lily pads, I was out in the garden for hours.

The ironing will just have to wait until the next rainy day!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Letters from the Desert

I'm a big fan of Peter Owen Jones. I admire him greatly and enjoyed his first two television series (Around the World in 80 Faiths and Extreme Pilgrim). He approaches his subjects with an enthusiasm and honesty that infects and inspires. So I was rather disappointed in his latest series (How to Live a Simple Life), in which Peter attempts to follow in the footsteps of St Francis by giving up money and relying on the generosity of his parishioners and the strangers he meets on his pilgrimage across the south of England.

Peter was as charming as ever and introduced us to some extraordinary people. The problem is I can't see what's wrong with money. As far as I'm concerned it's neither good nor evil, just a more sophisticated form of barter. It's how we come by it, and what we do with it that matters. This seemed to be the conclusion he came to at the end of the final programme, which made me thankful that I'd persisted with it.

I was therefore very grateful to have my faith in him restored by the reading of his latest book (Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim). This is a collection of letters written to friends, family, and a unusual assortment of others, during a period spent in a hermit's cave in the Sinai desert. The letters are lyrically written and disarmingly personal. Peter bares his soul as he narrates the events of his life; his adopted childhood, his wild youth, his broken marriage, his friends and lovers, his career as a parish priest, his faith, and how they have all shaped him into the man he is.

I borrowed the book from my friends Steve and Moira and read it in one sitting this morning, but I have realised I'm going to have to buy my own copy to read and mark for future reference.

If you can lay your hands on a copy, read it and let me know what you think.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Breakfast like a King

One of Alys Fowler's goals in The Edible Garden was to eat one meal a day from her garden. I'm not sure that I be able to do that, not this year anyway, but I would like to be able to include at least one item from it every day.

This morning I picked three radishes from our front window box which went very well with a boiled egg and several slices of Mark's rye bread for breakfast. They are, after all, called French Breakfast radishes.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

To Quilt or not to Quilt?

The Malago WI met tonight with a guest speaker, the quilter, and all round crafty person, Jane Brocket. If the word 'quilt' conjures up fiendishly intricate arrangements of flowery hexagons, then think again. Jane Brocket loves big and bold and bright. I can't reproduce any of her designs without permission, so you will have to pop over to her site to see them for yourself. A feast for the eyes on a rather damp and dreary evening.

Like all talented artists she made it sound so easy. I may even give it a go myself ... one day!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Gardening Leave

It's been a brilliant sunny weekend and I've spent most of it in the garden.

On Saturday morning I joined the Grow Zones team in Niall's garden where I helped to plant potatoes and seeds while 'the lads' chopped branches for firewood and charcoal. Niall had gathered together an unusual collection of planters, including two old suitcases, a couple of Ikea bags and a few drawers! For photographs pop over to Steve's blog.

The rest of the time has been spent in our own back garden. Most of the seeds I planted in April have germinated (I'm still waiting for a couple of tomatoes, Thai basil and chili) and the seedlings had outgrown their tiny pots. The potato plants are growing rapidly and needed earthed up. The soil's almost up to the top of the container. One more top up should do it. Alan planted the two bushes we bought last week - a gooseberry and a redcurrant. They're the first fruit bushes we've grown and I'm looking forward to crumbles and jelly later on in the year.

However it wasn't all work, work , work. We found time to drink cups of tea, test the girls on their revision, admire the poppies and spot the frogs. This morning I made a frittata with chard from our rockery and this evening we had our first barbecue.

All in all it's been a very fulfilling weekend.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

In Praise of Elections

I voted twice on my way to work this morning.  Once in the council election and once in the general.  My elder daughter, who has just turned 18, voted with me for the first time.  It took me back to my first election.  It was May 1979, I was 19 years old, the Tories won and Maggie became Prime Minister.  And, in case you were wondering, there is absolutely no correlation between the two!

Despite those depressing election nights during the long reign of the Tories, I love polling day.  We live just round the corner from our polling station, and the sight of people walking down our road, clutching their polling cards in their hands, never fails to gladden my heart.  There are young people on their way to, or from work, mothers pushing buggies with toddlers in tow, elderly couples holding hands.  All of them on their way to exercise their right to chose the government that will determine so much of their lives over the next few years.  Marvellous!  And I've heard all the arguments about the unfairness of the voting system, the corruption of the political classes, the lack of any real difference between the major parties, the enormous power wielded by multinational corporations over which we have no control etc.  There's truth in all of them.  However I refuse to let it dampen my enthusiasm for a system that allows one person one vote, no matter who they are, where they live, how much they earn or what they believe.

Since I cast my first vote way back in 1979 (for the SNP, by the way!) I've always voted, with one unforgettable exception.  It was a local election during my time at university.  It had been a busy day, I was tired and I hadn't followed the campaign closely enough to have any strong preference for any of the candidates.  Big mistake!  When got home, the wife of the family I lodged with, asked me whether I'd voted.  I had to admit that I hadn't, whereupon, lovely woman that she was, she tore into me, reminding me of the sacrifices women had made to win me this right and accusing me of having betrayed their efforts.  I have faithfully voted in every election since!

My other lasting memory of elections is lying in bed listening to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme's coverage of the South African elections.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I heard Brian Redhead interview old women who had walked for miles and waited days in the queue to vote for the very first time in their lives.  We really don't how lucky we are.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Bristol Against Sainsburys Insane Colossal Superstore

Those of you who live in South Bristol probably already know all about this proposal but, for those of you who dont:-

Bristol City Football Club wish to relocate their stadium to a greenbelt site just outside Bristol. To finance this move they need to sell their old ground. Sainsburys have offered them a substantial sum and have submitted a proposal to build a new 9,300 sq m superstore, with an 850 space car park, on the site. This will replace their existing store half a mile down the road.

There is strong opposition to this proposal and I have today submitted my objection online, the text of which I reproduce below.

I would like to submit my objection to the proposal, for the following reasons:

1 The construction of a superstore at Ashton Gate will have a detrimental effect on the local environment.

Sainsburys move from Winterstoke Road to Ashton Gate is being billed as a relocation but is much more than just that. The store will almost double in size, and will increase and expand the range of goods for sale. It will not be the kind of store local residents will pop in to for a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. Shoppers will be drawn from much further afield, and the majority of them will arrive by car. Why else the need for such a vast car park? Winterstoke Road is already congested and will become infinitely more so, while the streets surrounding the store will be used by drivers attempting to avoid the main roads. Increased levels of traffic will lead to increased levels of air pollution in a largely residential area, and along routes used by children walking to school. Tankers delivering petrol, lorries supplying goods and vans servicing the home delivery service will ensure an almost constant stream of traffic throughout the day and beyond. Noise and light pollution will affect those living in close proximity to the store. Granted they experience both from the football stadium, but no more than a couple of nights a week. The superstore will be an almost 24 hour presence.

All this in a city whose council is promoting the 10:10 campaign.

Much is made of the green credentials of the new building but these will be more than outweighed by the increased carbon emissions from the vehicular transport it engenders.

2 The presence of a superstore at Ashton Gate will pose a completely unnecessary and unfair threat to local retail.

Bedminster offers a wide range of stores from supermarkets through high street chains to family run businesses. We already have two large supermarkets (Asda and Sainsburys), several smaller ones (two Tescos, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland) and an extensive range of other food and non-food retailers. We did not need a Tesco superstore, nor do we need a bigger and better Sainsburys. Relocating this new store from the other side of Winterstoke Road to within a couple of hundred yards of North Street will almost certainly have a detrimental effect on local traders. The claim that the move will stimulate local trade is ludicrous. Shoppers arriving by car, parking in the car park, loading their boots with Sainsburys goods and filling their tanks at the petrol station are not going to stop off in North Street on their way home for a pound of mince, a box of matches or a packet of paracetamol. The new Sainsburys superstore is specifically designed to satisfy their every requirement and sales in local high streets areas will fall as a result.

Although some distance removed, Asda may very well be affected and, with it, the shops in East Street. An expansion of this magnitude suggests that Sainsburys will be hoping to attract customers from all over South Bristol, depriving areas such as Knowle, Brislington and Long Ashton of their custom.

This is a disaster, not just for the local traders, who will lose their income and possibly their jobs, but also for sustainable community. Local trading is a far better option than its supermarket equivalent. Goods are more likely to be locally sourced or produced. They are not transported hundreds of miles to and from central distribution centres. They are generally less packaged. They are sold by shopkeepers who know their wares and are able to respond to public demand. They provide continuity, inspire loyalty and offer a personal service that binds the community together.

A greater percentage of every pound spent in local businesses remains in the local community than for every pound spent in a supermarket. To opt for a superstore over local retail at a time when governments, both national and local, should be seeking solutions to an oil dependent society, is very short-sighted. And to choose to demolish a perfectly adequate building in order to build a brand new larger one half a mile down the road, when we are all being urged to reduce our carbon footprints to save the planet, is suicidal.

3 This is not the only, let alone the best, solution to the problem.

I would rather the club remained at Ashton Gate, in the heart of the community that supports it, than chase after illusory fame and fortune. I certainly do not approve of the construction of a stadium on a green field site. However, if the club is determined to move and dispose of its existing ground, then I suggest there are worthier legacies it could leave to Bedminster than a monstrous box straddling a concrete car park.

A mixed development of housing and small businesses would be an ideal alternative. Sainsburys proposes a housing development on the Winterstoke Road site. This is the wrong way round. Houses on the Winterstoke Road ‘island’ will be isolated, cut off from the services of Bedminster by a congested road struggling to cope with its increased load. Ashton Vale residents will lose the only food retailer they have and will now also have to negotiate Winterstoke Road to do their shopping. Meanwhile a new Sainsburys will pose a threat to a thriving high street, where a housing development would benefit from all the services its residents desired.

We are told that Bristol City Football Club cannot fund the move without the price Sainsburys will pay for the Ashton Gate site, but are not reassured that the club have exhausted all other possibilities. I feel we are being emotionally blackmailed by the, as yet unconfirmed, prospect of hosting a couple of World Cup matches. It is much easier to back popular short term projects, especially in the run up to an election. It is much harder, but ultimately more honourable, to take the long view and chose the one that will be of lasting benefit to the community. I am hoping that you will take just such a decision in this matter.

My submission is short on facts and figures, although I have listened to and read a good deal of arguments on both sides. I am relying on your having read and digested these for yourselves. This is my personal submission as someone who has lived and worked and raised two daughters in Bedminster, who loves its thriving community and who fears for its future should Sainsburys be granted permission to build this superstore.

A previous application for a Tesco store was withdrawn on the eve of the planning committee meeting. I wonder what will happen this time.

Friday, 30 April 2010

The Politics of Food

Given three candidates and three debates our family decided to match them up with three specially designed dinners.

So the first week we ate seafood paella, in honour of Nick Clegg's wife.

The second week we had spaghetti with smoked salmon and asparagus followed by Eton mess to represent David Cameron.

Last night Alan and I tucked in to haggis, neeps and tatties in celebration of Gordon Brown. The girls don't care for haggis, so they had French sausages, echoing the Auld Alliance. We would have had cranachan for dessert but there weren't any raspberries in the greengrocers. I guess we could have deep fried a few Mars bars instead!

I was pleasantly surprised by the debates, having feared that they would prove to be no more than a political talent show. In reality they raised a wide variety of issues (though sadly very little on the environment/international development/trade justice etc) and appear to have captured the interest of many people who would not otherwise have given the election a second thought.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Hothouse (contd)

Well, the promised photographs of my garden didn't materialise yesterday. I spent the morning in Leigh Woods with my daughter, who was taking photographs of natural forms for her GCSE art project, and the afternoon at the annual community choir convention at St George's Hall.

The woods were a refreshing change from the city - fresh shoots and buds and birdsong. The singing was uplifting and joyful. All in all a good day.

But back to the photographs:

This is our back yard from the first floor. I wasn't lying when I said it was small, was I?

The view would have been better without the clothes on the line but it was too good a drying day to miss. The pond is in the middle of the rockery and the mini greenhouse is just visible in the bottom right hand corner. The plan is to grown runner beans in containers at either end of the rockery wall and train them up along the fence. The hanging basket will hold trailing tomatoes. The ledges around the rockery are ideal perches for pots of herbs and shoots.

If you look very carefully you can see two of our four frogs in the under the foliage.

The pond is heaving with tadpoles after bumper deposits of of spawn. I don't think our pond will be able to support many more frogs so most of them are going to have to find somewhere else to live. In any case I'm hoping to find rather fewer slugs in our garden this year.

There isn't much to eat in the garden yet except rhubarb, which has already given us a a juicy crumble, and this vibrant chard. It's growing very happily in the rockery and is an example of how vegetables can be grown for aesthetic as well as functional purposes.

Finally, a photograph of our mini greenhouse, which is now much fuller than this.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


A fortnight ago I bought a mini greenhouse (£17 from Asda) which kick started my return to gardening after a long cold winter. I was on holiday and the weather was warm and sunny - perfect conditions for pottering around in our back yard.

I dug out my collection of seeds but had to bin most of them as they were seriously out of date. So it was down to the Riverside Garden Centre and back to Asda to replenish my stock. I used the River Cottage's Veg Patch Handbook to guide me to the best varieties, but also came across a number of seeds specifically designed for containers.

We don't have a big garden. If I discount the narrow strip between the rear extension and the wall between the houses (which is too shady for most plants) then we're left with an area measuring roughly 15 feet square. Two thirds of this is concreted over, with a raised rockery taking up the remaining third. My dream is to dig the whole garden up and start again but, in the meantime I rely on containers.

Once Alan had erected the greenhouse I soon filled it with dozens of pots sown with my new seeds. There were four kinds of tomatoes (Super Marmande, Balconi Red, Tumbling Tom Red and Harbinger), dwarf broad beans (The Sutton), peas (Hurst Green Shaft), runner beans (Polestar), squash (Cobnut), salad leaves, aubergine (Orlando), courgette (Firenze), chili pepper (Prairie Fire), basil (Italiano Classico), Thai basil, flatleaf parsley, coriander, sunflowers (Giant Single) and butterfly flowers. Then I sowed nastursiums (Jewel Mixed), calendula (Art Shades Mixed), beet (Cardeal) and borage in outside pots. I sowed more peas (ordinary ones meant for cooking) in a window pots to be eaten at shoot stage. In a large pot I planted our first lot of salad potatoes (Vales Emerald). The front of the house was not forgotten either as I sowed three window boxes with salad leaves and radishes (French Breakfast).

I've been following the BBC series Edible Gardens presented by Alys Fowler, which has been a source of inspiration. Alys taught me how to plant an indoor microgarden (instructions here) and I've now got broccoli and watercress growing in ice cream containers on our bedroom window.

Two weeks later most of the seeds I sowed during the Easter holidays are showing signs of life, with the noticeable exception of any of the tomatoes. So I've sown some more of all of them and am hoping they'll germinate more successfully. Alan also sowed some spinach (Bordeaux), French sorrel and fennel (Romanesco) in the rockery.

I've really enjoyed being out in the back garden whether I've been planting, tidying, checking on the progress of our multitude of tadpoles, hanging out the clothes, helping the girls with their homework, relaxing with a cup of tea, admiring our neighbour's glorious forsythia or eating our meals outdoors (the first of the year being a chorizo tortilla with wild garlic and nettle pesto on sourdough bread - delicious).

Roll on summer!

PS This post is crying out for a few photos. I'll get my camera out tomorrow and remedy the situation.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The First Day of the Rest of my Year

I'm not a great believer in self help books but following a link from a fellow blogger (Mrs Green or Almost Mrs Average, I can't remember which) I bought a copy of One Year to an Organised Life by Regina Leeds. It arrived at the end of last week and I've spent some time this weekend reading the introduction before embarking on my journey to organisational heaven!

The first chapter deals with time management and the kitchen, two areas in which I could do with some inspiration. I can potter for Scotland and never find the walnuts I last saw on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. So I'm going to to reassign time spent on various activities and cultivate some good habits. (It apparently takes 21 consecutive days to establish a habit!) I'll be recording my progress in a journal with an cover featuring the famous Dr Seuss cat trying to keep half a dozen or so items in the air without dropping any of them (illustrated above). Very apt I think.

Despite it being Mothering Sunday I've received a woeful lack of encouragement from my daughters who have reminded me of all my previous (unsuccessful) attempts to impose order on the chaos that has become my life.

I'll show them!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

'Giving up' v 'Taking up' for Lent

It is the custom, and not just in religious circles, to 'give up' something for Lent. Based on Jesus' 40 day fast in the wilderness there is undoubtedly something to be said for foregoing the physical in pursuit of the spiritual. However it can be frustrating and often leaves you feeling smug, if you've managed, or disheartened, if you haven't.

The CSMV nuns who ran St Mary's School in Pune encouraged us to 'take up' something for Lent instead. I remember sewing a romper suit for a child in their orphanage. It required time and effort on my part and made a material difference to someone's life. Besides which, positive actions are always more satisfying than negative ones.

In previous years I have followed, albeit sporadically, the Love Life Live Lent booklets produced by the Church of England, which encouraged readers to engage in a variety of random acts of kindness etc. I couldn't find any sign of these booklets this year so I turned to Christian Aid, who have an excellent project entitled Count Your Blessings. Every day you are given a statistic relating to world poverty followed by an appropriate action to take. For example, today I have learned that wasted food costs the average family £420 a year. I have then been asked to give 42p for each type of food I bin this week. By the time I reach Easter Sunday I shall not only be more aware of the plight of those less fortunate than myself, but I shall also have a jarful of coins to put towards making our world a better place for everyone.

Old habits die hard though, and I have also pledged to give up biscuits and cakes between meals.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Happy Days!

This evening my elder daughter and I walked up the hill to Totterdown to have a thali with some friends. A thali is the Hindi word for the plate on which the meal is served. The number and type of component dishes vary, any combination of rice, flatbread, vegetable curry, dal, sambhar, raita and salad.

My vividest childhood memories of thalis are from the three and half day journey from Pune to Coonoor we made every summer. We would stop at one of our favourite restaurants and take a seat in a room thronged with noisy diners. There was no menu, there being little need for one. At lunchtime everyone ordered a thali. Service was swift and within minutes large stainless steel plates were placed before us, their edges rimmed with half a dozen or so smaller dishes (watis) each filled with delicious food. My favourites included potatoes flavoured with mustard seeds and stewed drumsticks! In the middle was a heap of flatbread (puris or chappatis). As we ate our watis were continually topped up by an army of waiters circulating with pots of steaming curry and mounds of steaming hot puris. After we'd had our fill of bread the rice would arrive and if we'd had the foresight to save some until now, we'd douse it with sambhar (thin lentil and vegetable soup) and finish it with a spoonful or so of dahi (yoghurt) to aid our digestion. There was sometimes, but not always an Indian sweatmeat, and the whole meal was washed down with glasses of water. Then, after the ridiculously cheap bill was paid we'd pile back into the car and continue on south.

The Thali Cafe's non-dairy thali wasn't in the same league but it was good enough for me this evening.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Letter to the Editor

For those of you who do not live in Bristol, the Evening Post is our local daily newspaper. I don't have time to read a daily paper and have only ever bought it when there's been a specific reason for doing so.

I have, however, recently begun to log on the the online version, This is Bristol. I wanted to keep up to date with the proposed Tesco development on the site of our local football stadium and decided that this would be the easiest way to do so. I was also interested in hearing other people's views on the matter.

Good idea? Well, yes and no. I was able to keep up with developments, albeit biased in favour of Tescos, but as for a rational debate on the pros and cons, forget it. Every article provoked a flurry of comments but the majority of them were irrelevant, prejudiced or downright offensive. Whenever anyone made a serious point they were met with ridicule and scorn. The comments section was dominated by a few individuals who appeared to have nothing better to do all day than to trade insults with each other. I was never brave enough to sacrifice my opinions to their ravaging.

Today I logged on to read Mike Ford's report on the 'Love Bemmy' meeting I attended on Monday evening. This was arranged to allow a group of Bedminster/Southville residents to hear from the woman who had been the inspiration and driving force behind last year's Love Easton campaign. I was impressed by what I heard and, given that it was our first meeting, the subsequent discussion had gone well. Nothing was decided but there was recognition of the value of such an enterprise and enthusiasm for the tasks ahead. Mike Ford wasn't as impressed, but once again it was the comments that caused me to despair. It would have been wonderful if contributors could have come up with suggestions as to how such a campaign might work, or even issues that might stand in its way, but instead it was the usual toxic blend of fear and prejudice that does nothing to foster a healthy community and everything to destroy it.

This time I did make my contribution, not in the comments section, but in an email to the editor suggesting that if the paper aspires to be the forum for discussion the city needs, then it must surely adopt some form of moderation.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bloggers for Haiti

If you've been moved by the images and stories coming out of Haiti during the last week but have not yet dug deep to help make a difference, then you might like to consider donating to the Bloggers for Haiti appeal. They are funding ShelterBoxes to provide tents and basic equipment for Haitians made homeless by the earthquake. The aim was to raise enough money for one box. On the current total they should be able to stretch to six. Maybe we could get it to seven ... or eight?

Friday, 1 January 2010

A Guid New Year

Not having got to bed until the wee hours we slept in this morning and decided to have a (very) late breakfast in the Lounge. It was packed out but we managed to get a table. We were advised it would be a 45 minute wait for our food so I popped over the road to buy the Guardian to read over our hot drinks. The G2 section was given over to climate change and I was particularly taken by an article by Andrew Simms in which he quoted from EF Schumacher.

'We must do what we conceive to be right and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we'll be succesful, because if we don't do the right thing, we'll do the wrong thing and we'll be part of the disease and not part of the cure.'

I think I could do worse than taking being guided by this principle in 2010.