Sunday, 27 November 2011

Voyage of a Lifetime

It's nice to know the boy still thinks of me. The following is a direct copy of a book review which Bron saved for me from The New Scientist. The book in question is Plastic Ocean: How a sea captain's chance discovery launched a determined quest to save the oceans, and recounts Captain Charles Moore's experiences of sailing the high plastic seas.

NB. The review was published on page 55 of the New Scientist on 29 October 2011. It is written by Bob Holmes.

Dangerous debris
When Charles Moore sailed his 50-foot catamaran Alguita through one of the remotest, least-visuted parts of the Pacific Ocean in 1997, he was appalled to find plastic flotsam everywhere.

This discovery of what has come to be called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a vast area of the central Pacific where debris accumulates because of ocean current patterns - set Moore off on a crusade to measure, identify and, ultimately, try to prevent plastic pollution of the ocean. A decade and a half later, Moore's obsession has led to several scientific papers, documentary films, numerous media appearances, and now a book.

"I wasn't the first to be disturbed about plastic trash in the ocean, and I wasn't the first to study it," he writes in Plastic Ocean. "But maybe I was the first to freak out about it."

And freak out he certainly did. Chapter by chapter, Moore recounts his growing alarm as he learns about the abundance of plastic debris in the ocean and the ways it can get there. He also documents the clear harm that seabirds and marine mammals suffer when they become tangled in abandoned fishing nets or swallow balloons or plastic bags. And he makes a tentative case that even the smallest shards of plastic - the size and shape of plankton, and thus likely to be a eaten by fish and other planktivores - may carry a payload of toxic chemicals into the food chain.

In the end, though, many readers - especially New Scientist readers - are likely to find Moore unpersuasive. Partly that's because his book is a bit of a mess, rambling and disorganised. But the biggest problem is that Plastic Ocean comes across as a bit of a rant.

By his own account, Moore decided that plastic flotsam is a Very Bad Thing long before he gathered any solid evidence of any harm to sea life. And he is prone to making leaps: just because toxins can be detected in plastics does not mean that they are present in biologically meaningful doses. Moore my very well be right in thinking they are, but readers who are looking for a dispassionate conclusion based on the facts won't find it here.

The Other View
Truth be told, I had only read half of this review before I began copying it. So, when I got to the penultimate paragraph I started to have doubts as to whether I should post it or not. But, leap taker or not, Moore's book is surely going to be an interesting read. A shame that, as suggested by Holmes, it may not create many new converts to the plastic cause, but even if it creates one then that is one more person fighting in what I consider to be the right corner.

Two other books on the plastic problem have also been published this year, if anyone wishes to add them to their Christmas list. Firstly, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel was published earlier this year - a copy is currently sitting on my bookshop waiting patiently to be read. Or for what looks like a lighter read there is David de Rothschild's Plastiki: Across the Pacific on plastic: An adventure to save our oceans. I'm eager to get a closer look at this as I love the website based on the Plastiki's expeditions.

The Parent Trap

How does a girl persuade her mum to stop trying to make her throw stuff away?

Since moving out of my shared house with Bron, I've been having a bit of purge. While this is a good thing (I hope) for the charity shops, and for me, it's been an equally bad thing for the state of landfill. The amazing Mrs. Green over on the My Zero Waste blog would surely have a heart attack if she saw the things I've been recklessly throwing "away" of late. For the most part I'm talking small things, out of date medicines I found in the back of the cupboard, an ancient video tape or two, stuff like that, and stuff that I can't even remember now that I sit here trying to remember.

The worst stuff, though, the worst stuff are those things that you need when you have a house of your own, but when you move into another household, as Bron and I have both just done, he to share with a bachelor friend and myself to the alma mater. This is the stuff that neither of you wants right now, but are left with the question: what to do with it in the meantime? Stuff like two plastic waste bins, one from the kitchen, one from the bathroom. Two old tires that came off my car that I'd saved because I had this cunning idea that they could be used as garden planters. A microwave that's going rusty on the inside; ditto with a toaster. A bag full of plastic bags that - even when you don't accept plastic bags from shops - somehow worm their way into your home.

Mix this with:
(a) a set of parents who have unconsciously embraced the modern lifestyle of 'out with the old and in with the new', and
(b) a girl who really doesn't want to deal with the reality of dismantling her home,
...and you get a big trip to the local dump.

I watched those two perfectly good dustbins ("a charity shop doesn't want stuff like like that" and, "I'll buy you a new one", instructed my mum) go sailing over the rails and into the skip - there to sit for all eternity alongside all the other household items the local Cornish folk had gotten bored of this week. It felt so horribly wrong. But (yes, here it is, that 'but') they needed to be out of the house that day, there was/is no space left in my storage rental, and no more space at the parental home for them either. Although it felt wrong, I also felt like I had no other option at that particular moment in time. A word to the wise: never try to clear house from 40 miles away; this is what happens. And where was Bron? Well he, of course, had moved out all the stuff he wanted and left me, in typical Bron-stylee, to deal with the rest of it.

But back to my opening question. Despite the episode with the bins, I managed to save the draining racks from the kitchen sink. Or so I thought...

"I just can't get this clean," my mum tells me while I'm drinking my morning cup of tea. She's trying to clean off the natural accumulation of gunk that any draining rack gets after several years of use (honestly, I have cleaned it since I bought it, just clearly not to my mother's standards).

"That's ok," I said, "You don't have to clean it."

"But its unhygienic. It'll grow bacteria if you put it away like this."

"It's fine, it'll be fine."

"Let's just get rid of it. I'll buy you a new one." Ah, bless her. She absolutely means well. And yes, a new one would be nice. But that's not the point: there's nothing wrong with the old one. It's perfectly usable. And there really isn't that much gunk.

The final word? In this instance, mine. "It hasn't given me food poisoning yet," I commented. To which she, reluctantly, conceded.

The irony in all this is the fact that both of my parents grew up in a time when 'make do and mend' was the daily mantra. My mum comes from a low income background where nothing was wasted. In many ways she's still very much a proponent of this attitude, but - as far as I can tell - only so far as hygiene is not involved. Bacteria be damned if my mum is in the room.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Plastic Living

People keep asking me: “How’s the writing going?”

To which my brain responds: Sorry, err, what writing?

After all, how can I write about trying to live without plastic when I haven’t been trying particularly hard to do the actual living without plastic part?

“Shock! Horror!”
Or so readers may say. “You’ve stopped watching your plastic intake? How could you?”

I haven’t actually stopped watching my plastic intake so much as watched it increase instead of decrease. I could say that I don’t know how it happened, but the truth is I do know. And there are two main reasons - whether they are good reasons or not, I don’t know, but they are my reasons.

1. I’m lazy and I like yummy things to eat. Most of the plastic in my life comes from food - takeaway sandwiches, yogurt, ice cream. Things that I gave up a couple of years ago have crept back into my diet (and, unfortunately, onto my waistline). And when I’m on my lunch break and I’m hungry and I have half an hour to consume enough food to get me through the rest of the day, popping to M&S for a salad or sandwich is quick and easy.

2. Boyfriends are difficult. When I first started my plastic kick, Bron was completely supportive. But, whether he intended it or not, there are, unfortunately, limits to his support. Mostly in the form of whether or not a change I want to make impacts on him and his lifestyle, his habits. And when you live with someone, there is only so far you can go before everything you do impacts on the other person.

Catch 22.
When someone is resistant to change, do you:
(a) try to force the change you want on that person and risk making them either unhappy or resent you for forcing them into something they don’t want? Or,
(b) try to appease them, to maintain the status quo. The risk here being that you wind up resenting them from preventing you from being the person you want to be.

Thus, after two years of studying for my MA and a year plus of that trying to significantly reduce the amount of plastic coming into our house, I was well aware that Bron was reaching the limits of what he deemed acceptable change. Solution: give it a break, have a treat or two, and stop trying to change his plastic habits. I - perhaps rather blindly - hoped that this would go some way to solving the little cracks I worried were forming under the surface of our relationship. Of course, the problem with relaxing a bit on the plastic front is that ‘a bit’ leads to a bit more, and then a little bit more again. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the plastic floodgates had opened, rather that they developed a bit of a leak. So how could I continue to write a blog about reducing plastic?

And now? Well, now everything is different. Those relationship cracks I mentioned? The act of not talking about plastic every day doesn’t actually act like polyfiller, no matter how much you wish it could. Especially when each crack needs a different type of polyfiller. And so, after five plus years of living with Bron, I now find myself back at my parents’ house.

You never can tell where life will take you. And the irony? If I thought Bron was hard to ‘train’ in the art of not buying plastic, my parents (as much as I love them, and as much as they are totally spoiling me right now) are a whole different level...

Welcome to 'A Life Less Plastic', stage 2.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Moomin Glory

My heart goes out to anyone who has never heard of the Moomins. No Moomin story at bedtime is a childhood (and adulthood) only half lived. The day that Tove Jansson created Moomin, Moominpapa and Moominmama is one that should go down in the history books.

So imagine my joy on the discovery of these:

Moomin dishcloths! But not only Moomin dishcloths: they are plastic free Moomin dishcloths, made from cellulose material that can be washed and reused, and – when they can’t be washed any longer – can put in the compost bin. Genius! I am so going to buying some of these. My anti-plastic lifestyle just got a whole lot more stylish!

(Find Moomin at Waterstones)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Like Minded People

Isn't it lovely to meet people who are thinking about the same things as you are? Despite the prevalence of 'green' today, it's actually been a while since I really met anyone I could have a proper discussion with about the environment. I love my family and friends, absolutely, but 95% of them are hardened consumers. So: thank you Cape Farewell and Shortcourse/UK for introducing me to like-minded thinkers.

When I was invited to apply for Shortcourse/UK (see post below), I really wasn't sure what to expect. The launch evening, held at Newlyn Gallery, and with presentations by Sion Parkinson, Daro Montag and Nick Edwards, was intersting, but - to my mind - decidedly 'arty'. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for arty stuff, I just find a lot of it to be beyond my understanding (or out of my zone of thinking, I guess), which means that I find it difficult to appreciate. But Shortcourse/UK sounded like such an interesting and unusual opportunity, I thought I'd apply for it anyway - and boy am I glad I did.

The truth of the matter is that firstly, despite being a writer (or attempting to be one, anyway), I've never thought of myself as an artist; and secondly, I found it hard to see how artists could really make a difference to environmental issues. I enjoyed the first two expeditions with Shortcourse/UK, but coming home each evening I wasn't really sure if I'd learnt anything or gained anything. This weekend, however, was the third and final expedition, a two day trip to the Isles of Scilly, and it rather feels as if everything has now clicked into place.

The beauty of Cape Farewell is that it brings together scientists and artists, enabling the cross pollination of thoughts. It changes artists' thinking by more concisely introducing the science behing environmental concerns, and it changes scientists' thinking by introducing the art and the beauty and - essentially - the naturalness of the environments around us. I think that without my even really being aware of it, being surrounded by artists for the last two days has got me thinking in a distinctly more 'arty' way. And where two months ago I would have been somewhat sceptical about this, today I feel really excited about it and I'm really, really hoping I can hold onto this feeling.

So what was so special about the Isles of Scilly expedition? Other than the Scillies being a pretty special place, it was immersion in the truest sense - immersion in the group of people I travelled with, immersion in the thinking and ideals of this group and its leaders, Sion and Daro, and immersion in the natural environment. After sleeping under canvas, right next to the sea, in a place with no light pollution, who wouldn't be thinking differently?

And as far as art and the environment goes, one of the best parts of the experience was listening to the presentations that the other students gave on their work, and discovering not only how art does communicate, but also how we're all like minded people. From Bryony, who is mid-way though a year rejecting consumerism, to Sonia's obsession with the sea, whales and plastic pollution, to Tom's research into the history of a field, generating some truly beautiful nature writing; Rob's investigation of ocean acidity, and Saffron, who is creating her own food range that highlights the absurdity of modern society's food attitudes. Each of them (and everyones else inthe group too) demonstrates that art and science do not have to be exclusive subjects. And I'm really looking forward to working with them more.

A bit of plastic here and there, but I couldn't find any nurdles (a good thing!). I imagine that the Islanders keepa close hold on the quality of their beaches. Interestingly, it seemed as if there was more glass than plastic around the beaches, though what that means, if anything, I don't know.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Clay Country Plastic

I am very excited to have been given a place on a series of expeditions being organised by Cape Farewell. Called 'Shortcourse/UK' and run in conjunction with University College Falmouth and The Eden Project, it's described as "an initiative that looks to question and reform society’s notions of what art education can be". The general idea is to combine environmental and ecological thinking with art - thus using art and creative thinking to communicate ideas and issues about the environment and climate change.

I am by no means a photographer and only possess a standard digital camera, nothing fancy, but I thought I'd share some of the photos that I took on the first expedition on Friday. After starting at The Eden Project with an early morning sweat lodge ceremony, we then spent the rest of the day following the trails around the site in 'clay country' and thinking about the ecology of the landscape around us.

I spent most of the day thinking about the tug of war between man and nature, but the other thing that kept jumping out at me was the plastic rubbish. Now, as a tourist trail, I suppose this is inevitable, but none-the-less it served to remind me again of the plastic impact.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Make Do & Mend versus Consumerism

Needle and Thread
“If you get me a needle and thread I can fix it right now for you,” I say to my friend K.

We’re in her son’s bedroom, crouched over his cot mattress. The zip is broken, and the best idea Bron had for fixing the problem involved cutting a hole. Only a little hole, but a hole nonetheless.

K gives me a slightly blank look. Or is it a bemused one? “I don’t have a needle and thread,” she says.

Now it’s my turn for the blank look. “You don’t have needle and thread?” I respond, dumbly. I know K’s not one for recreational sewing, but: “How can you not have a needle and thread?”

“I don’t sew!” she says, “so why would I?”

“But what do you do if you need to mend something?”

“I don’t,” she says. “I throw it away.”

Okay, like I said, I know K’s not one for recreational sewing - a stark contrast to me, who has a whole linen chest full to overflowing with sewing stuff. But, a week after our exchange, I’m still dumbfounded. To not even have one of those teeny tiny sewing kits you get inside a Christmas cracker just sounds insane to me. Maybe she wouldn’t know how to fix a hole, but what if she has a button that needs sewing back on?

On Make-Do-and-Mend
Tidying out my sewing chest this afternoon, thinking about this, I realise that she simply must not have been brought up in the ‘make do and mend’ mind frame. I wasn’t particularly – at least, not compared to my mum’s post-war generation - but my mum always had a pile of mending waiting for her on the kitchen table, so I guess it's something I've always been aware of. If K's parents didn't think this way, then she wouldn't do either. Yeah, I definately can't picture her mum with a needle and thread. And her dad? Well, if there was such a thing as the Cornish mafia, I pretty sure he'd be part of it, and a needle and thread doesn't really sit with that either.

But mending is something I’ve started doing more of recently. Bad economy and all that. In the last three weeks I’ve patched holes in two pairs of jeans (one in the crotch, one in the knee), replaced a missing button on a favourite shirt, and fixed holes in three different t-shirts. Most of my favourite people at work are knitters or sew-ers and I’ve even witnessed my highly fashion-conscious friend S fixing holes in her clothes.

Start a new trend
So, how did the ability to use a needle and thread, or the need to keep one in the house, fall out of fashion? One word is all the answer I need: consumerism.

Why mend something when you can just replace it? Throw it away, get a new one! But: hello piles of rubbish, hello cheap goods that fall apart after six months of use, hello homes with no needle and thread. I couldn’t live without having a needle and thread in the house, not just for fixing things, but for my own pleasure too (no, not like that… for making patchwork quilts, silly!). I say: bring back make-do-and-mend! It should be the next big fashion craze. Make the most of your stuff before you chuck it and that means: spending less of your hard-earned money, plus less stuff going to the rubbish dump.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

A Life Less Plastic

Reading the email from my tutor made my heart sink and my frustration levels rise.

January 2011 and the deadline for the final submission for my MA is looming. The email tells me I have to hand in two hard copies of my final project, properly bound.

So what's the problem? Over the last two years I've gotten away with handing my coursework in simply tied together with interesting pieces of ribbon, but something tells me that's just not going to cut it this time around. Properly bound is all well and good, but it usually means a plastic binding comb to keep all the pages together, coupled with acetate covers. Which seems rather hypocritical given that my final project is all about quitting plastic.

There are always ways around these little problems though (well, nearly always; I still haven't solved half the problems I've got when it comes to plastic food packaging, but hey, that's a different story). A quick email to KallKwik revealed that they can bind manuscripts using a metal comb if I want, rather than a plastic one. For a few extra pennies, of course.

Well, I thought, that's a start. So when I finally got all my pages together I toddled down there - and then convinced them to not use the acetate covers. Instead, the very helpful lady photocopied my title page onto a piece of card to act as the front cover instead of using the ubiquitous plastic. Although I think she thought I was a little odd. Why wouldn't I want a nice shiney acetate cover?

And now I've finally gotten around to updating my website, where you can read the introduction to my project, A Life Less Plastic. Next stage in my grand plan to conquer the world: win over an agent and start writing chapter six.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Fictional Plastics

In honour of Saturday's World Book Night, I thought I’d write a post about books. Alright, I admit it, I’ll jump at any excuse to talk about books. The challenge is to link books to plastic…

So I’ve just been reading The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s set in a future dystopian world which is essentially controlled by – surprise, surprise – American multinational corporations. At some point there was worldwide economic collapse and it seems that, in an attempt to regain control, two or three companies created a set of plagues that wiped out virtually all plant life around the world. Then, these companies kindly stepped into the breach with their genetically-engineered plague-resistant plants, saving the starving nations – at a price, of course.

At its heart, The Windup Girl is about politics and corruption, about what is right and wrong, and the grey areas in between. But it’s also very much about the environment and how humans manipulate and destroy it for their own needs. It has many lessons to teach. And the plastic? Well, this is a world where oil no long reins. No oil, no plastic. Well, except for cellulose-based plastic.

In short, The Windup Girl is environmental fiction at its best. Look for it in the Science fiction section of your local bookstore. Oh yes, on a book-geek note: the science fiction section? Why are some environmental fiction titles pegged into this genre when they are of equal literary value as those more commonly classified as fiction? I’m thinking J. G. Ballard (The Drowned World), Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake), Ian McEwan (Solar). Paolo Bacigalupi deserves to be considered with this stock too.

Anyway, pop out to your local Waterstone’s tomorrow night and you should find it open. And if you’re really lucky there’ll be someone there giving out free books. Unfortunately not Paolo Bacigalupi, though. Maybe next year?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Gift Cards that Don't Keep Giving...

I’m trying to remember the last time I bought or was given a paper gift voucher. Other than the £3 voucher I had courtesy of my Marks & Spencer credit card a few days ago, I honestly can’t remember. We get the odd Bonus Bond or High Street Voucher come through the tills at work, but these are, I feel, rather the exception today. National Book Tokens went electronic a year ago, and even the High Street Voucher company is producing a gift card version of the ‘old style’ paper voucher. I don’t have anything against electronic gift cards, per se, except for the obvious: They’re all plastic. It brings whole new meaning to the term paying by plastic.

The experiment
I’ve been running the cash office at work over the last ten days or so. A recent new rule introduced by our beloved auditor is that, instead of chucking them straight into the bin, any empty gift cards we’re left with at the tills go into the drawer to be destroyed in the cash office. The consequence? Suddenly there’s a clear trail highlighting the number of gift cards moving through the store.

Day one. I begin my cash office reign by cutting up each gift card as I lay hands on it. It seems like the quickest solution. Done and dusted.

Day two. Ditto.

Day three. I’m starting to wonder about the number of gift cards going through my fingers. There’s a little carpet of them forming in the bin at my feet. We’re quite a big store, spread over two floors, with eight tills. I guess four or five cards come out of each till, sometimes more, sometimes less.

Day four. It’s Monday and I’m cashing up the takings from Saturday 19th. Saturdays are always busier and there’s quite a handful of gift cards in the first till drawer, so out of pure laziness I decide to chuck them in a handy box that’s been left on the desk and then cut them all up in one go at the end. I cash up Sunday’s takings as well, adding more cards to the box. It’s quite full. Plastic that has no purpose other than to be used up and chucked in the bin. Immediately I start to wonder how many cards I could collect over a week.

Final tally
Number of cards collected over a seven day period (Saturday 19th February to Friday 25th): 317
Total weight of plastic collected: 1kg 529g (or 3lb 6oz)
Average number of cards per day: 45
Average number of cards per till: 39

Of course, the week in question covers half term, so it could be said that as a result, more cards might have been collected this week than on a week during term time.

The Gift Card Policy
Why electronic gift cards? Why have businesses changed from paper to plastic? There are lots of financial benefits to a company for producing gift vouchers, whether paper or plastic. When it comes to plastic, though, I think it’s generally favoured because:

. Money has to be ‘uploaded’ onto them. Before this is done, they essentially have no value, which means that if a box goes lost in the post, no money is lost.

. Retailers don’t have to issue change on them. With a £10 paper voucher, if a customer spends £9.99 the retailer is expected to give 1p change. With the gift card, that 1p remains on the card for the consumer to use again. But how often does this happen? Most of the people I serve say it’s not worth them holding onto the card for just a penny – ‘go ahead and destroy it’ they tell me, probably not realising that means the company gets to add that penny to it’s coffers. 1p may not make much difference on its own, but add up all those pennies and that’s a nice little bit of extra profit for the company.

. As every gift card has its own unique identification number, the cards are trackable.

. They are re-usable. Consumers can top them up and pass them on to friends and family as many times as they want, in comparison to paper vouchers which can only be used once. But how often do they get passed on? I have no official statistics to back me up, but considering the number of cards I’ve had to put in the waste this week alone, I’m confident in saying very few people. Actually, in the same seven days that I collected my cards, my store sold 140 new gift cards and only 9 top-ups. So, this week at least, just 6% of gift cards sold are being re-used. That means we’re sending 94% to the rubbish dump.

The Gift Card Legacy
Electronic gift cards represent another form of what I often think of as ‘hidden’ plastic. They’re so common today that little thought goes into their everyday usage. Customers who rail about plastic bags don’t give a thought to asking me to chuck their gift card in the bin. The company I work for, Waterstone’s Booksellers, say they can’t recycle them because – if I remember correctly (please do correct me if I’m wrong) - the magnetic strips contain confidential information, though I’m far from clear on the why’s and how’s of what exactly this confidential information is. Plus it’s ok for me to just cut them up and throw them in the bin? I know I’m not the only who’s thinking about the problem because at meetings I’ve been to, the question of recycling has been asked by others. So how can we change attitudes?

Recycling gift cards IS an option, despite other’s claims (read this article!). But: I remain adamant that, ultimately, recycling is not a solution to the plastic problem, only a stop-gap. The only real solution is stop using plastic altogether.

Which leaves me with two thoughts:
1. Don't buy electronic gift cards anymore!
2. For those companies who choose not to recycle the gift cards they recieve back, what else can be done with them?

"Stick 'em together to make bricks," Bron says. "And then build a house!"

NB. Covering My Ass
Please note that this blog posting is not a criticism of the company I work for, which has an excellent environmental policy. Rather, it is designed to highlight the high volume waste problem that electronic gift cards represent, and is a call for the retail industry as a whole to reconsider their practices. Please also note that following their collection, I destroyed each and every one of the gift cards by cutting them in half and putting them in the bin, as company policy requires. And yes, my hand hurts.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Thanks M&S

This is what dreams are made of. Hot Chocolate Fudge Pudding. Mmmm.

Thank you Marks & Spencer for:
1. Sending me £3 worth of vouchers for me to go and treat myself.
2. Making Hot Chocolate Fudge Pudding in the first place.
3. Packaging it so nicely and packaging it so simply. Cardboard box and a foil tray.

It can be done! Look, Marks & Spencer have done it. Packaging with no plastic. And the food survived! I would say it’s like some kind of miracle, except for the part where it’s not. If there’s a miracle involved here at all, it’s only in the fact that plastic-free packaging for a rich and sticky pudding has been attempted. I applaud you, M&S. But maybe now you could try applying this basic principle to the rest of your range? The hot chocolate fudge pudding was, unfortunately, the only plastic-free pudding I could find anywhere in your store…

More please.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

On Absences

Reasons for the recent complete lack of blogging…

1. I am a Christmas humbug. Actually, that’s not true, I love Christmas, but I hate what retail and working in retail does to Christmas. It’s blimmin’ hard work, it makes me grumpy, and it’s hard to think about much outside of it.

2. In order to try and hold true to my earlier resolve to achieve a less plastic Christmas this year, most of my December evenings and days off were dedicated to hand-making a selection of Christmas gifts.

3. One poorly sick cat who, after falling off the sofa one evening in the middle of December because she couldn’t breathe, spent a week at the kitten hospital being prodded and poked to try and find out what was wrong with her. And as Bron and I have no human children, the Dora-cat is our baby, so we were a bit upset.

4. The problem with working full time whilst studying for an MA, trying to change your lifestyle, and trying to write a book about it, is that when you stop for what is ostensibly going to be just a couple of weeks, it’s really hard to get started again. And once you let one little bit of plastic in because you’re tired and stressed and upset about your cat, a lot more tends to follow, so I’ve been feeling a bit shameful about my efforts (or lack thereof) of late.

But… with my MA deadline looming (less than two weeks to submit the first six chapters of my book – aaarrghhh!) I am back in the saddle and ready to go. So watch this space, and I’ll try to be a bit prompter and more reliable in the coming weeks.

P.S. Praise be to pet insurance. It is sooo worth it.