Thursday, May 31, 2007

How Organic Is Organic

Organic produce and lifestyle has been one of the big successes of the past ten years and has become a multi-billion pound industry. Even the major supermarkets are providing more and more food that claims to be organic and consumers are, increasingly, buying more and more.

Most people understand the basic concepts of organic food - raised on land free from chemicals and fertilisers, cattle and other livestock raised with a minimum, if not zero medicines and fodder raised organically.

It is said by those who are real advocates of this type of produce, that the food tastes better, is better for you as one's intake of chemicals is reduced and that by farming in an organic manner is environmentally friendly.

But hang on! Organic strawberries from Egypt, organic blueberries from Chile, Argentinian blackberries - all of this produce is air-freighted and is in the shops generally within 48 hours! How environmentally friendly is that!

Sure, I believe that organic is probably best, but I like to give equal weight to the distance it has had to travel. Our local market generally supplies food from the locality - most from a 30 mile radius. The carrots (shock, horror) still have the soil on them, moreover, they are not single straight tubers, but often knobbly and a combination of 2 or more tubers. But the taste! Wow.

Most of the food has been out of the ground, by the time I get to the market, no more than 6 or 7 hours, and for me, the taste is out of this world. Some of it is organic, most isn't, but the level of chemicals used in the locality is much reduced on other parts of the country where soils are less fertile. Moreover, food is seasonal again. If it is the wrong season, then it is unavailable in the market and that is good, as far as I'm concerned. The seasonality takes me right back to when I was a child and the local greengrocer only stocked local apart from some fruit such as citrus fruit. I believe that, more important than 100% organic is that food should be, as far as is reasonably practical, local. Let's cut food miles and support the local farmer and we might just get food worth eating.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Congestion Charges

My local city and place where I work, Manchester, is one of the first cities, outside London, to consider a full congestion charge for drivers. Effectively, charges will be levelled on drivers coming into the city, bounded by the M60, during 'rush' hour in a bid to cut congestion and pollution in the city centre.

Obviously, this is controversial and everyone I've spoken to, so far, is against the idea. Of course, these self same people drive into work on the routes selected and would probably be adversely effected.

Personally, however, I think it would be a good thing to do!

I get the train into Manchester and walk - in all weathers, - the mile to work from the station. As I walk in, I pass lines of cars - some of them big cars - sitting in queues, engines pumping out all kinds of pollutants as if there is no tomorrow, - most of them with only the driver in the car. Four-seater cars with just one person in them driving to work, where the car will sit all day in a car park (which itself is taking up valuable real estate) before, again, sitting in queues, with a lone driver in the car for the journey home. Is this not a totally irresponsible waste of natural resources?

Obviously, public transport infrastructure needs to be improved, and hopefully, revenue from the congestion charge will be used for exactly that purpose. I am a driver, and will undertake journeys that are necessary in the car, but I do feel that the free lunch has to come to an end soon, and a more socially responsible method of moving around has to be developed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We Lost!

Liverpool lost 2-1. I'm gutted. Don't want to talk about it.

"You'll never walk alone."

Champions League Cup Final

AC Milan v Liverpool FC - the sequel!

Two years ago, my life nearly ended when I was watching, what was originally, a wretched Liverpool performance against AC Milan, but which, in turn, became one of the most exciting games of football I've seen for a while. From 3-0 down in the first half, Liverpool managed to drag it back to 3-3 and extra time which eventually went to penalties and a glorious result for the 'Reds'. For a time, I really thought my heart would not stand up to the tension.

Tonight, the fates have conspired to repeat that final in Athens - perhaps Zeus wants to watch some real sport for awhile, and I can only say that I am very nervous. Arguably, the two of the best teams in Europe go head to head, and I really want Liverpool to win - if only to shove it up arrogant Manchester United and Chelsea supporters. I'm just hoping that Liverpool will do the business in a calmer and more efficient way than 2 years ago.

If Liverpool win, it will be their 6th success at the highest club level over the past 30 years. In 1977, Liverpool won 3-1 against Borussia Monchengladbach in which even Tommy Smith managed to score a goal! Since then, Liverpool have tasted success in 1978, 1981, 1984 and 2005.

All I need to do now is to persuade my wife to allow me to watch it!

"You'll never walk alone"

Monday, May 21, 2007

Well, We Made It

Bodies gently aching - well actually screaming in pain, we finished the fifteen miles of the Wirral Coastal Walk!

In truth, it was a great day out. First off, the weather forecast all week had been promising showers, cloud with occasional sunshine, and what we actually got was a day of near uninterrupted sunshine. A light sea breeze meant that it didn't get too hot, and the walking was pretty easy.

Having met up with a friend at the start, we set up a reasonable pace which meant that we completed the walk in six hours. The organisers had done an amazing job of ensuring that everything was ready and were really pleasant and helpful.

I was particularly impressed and proud of the girls who made it all the way round, and only really complained towards the end - and who could blame them, but they soon perked up when we reached the end, and they got their form stamped.

We managed to raise about £200 for Cancer Research - not a great amount in the general scheme of thing, but a worthwhile contribution non-the-less. I'll be more organised next year!

There is a set of pictures here, and, Jen, as you can see the Red Sox caps are very much in evidence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Walk Of Hope

This Sunday, the family and I are going to walk the Wirral Coastal path - 15 mile ramble from Seacombe Ferry on the River Mersey round to the Wirral Country Park at Thurstaston on the River Dee.

Although there is no real compulsion to raise money, I thought it was a good opportunity to be sponsored for a charity, so we will be walking on behalf of Cancer Research UK.

When it came to selecting a charity, I found it very difficult to choose - there are just too many good causes to fund, but better one than none. Having known people who have suffered and succumbed, or have been treated and are in remission, I felt this was the one to go for.

Do click on the picture to get a better view of the route. We are starting around 10:00am and hope to complete the walk by 3:00pm including a stop off for lunch at some stage.

Some of the people I will be walking for are:

Ruth - Grandmother
Frank - Cousin
John - Cousin
Peter - Friend
John - Friend
Elizabeth - Cousin
Richard - Friend and fellow mountain walker when we were young
Grace - Colleague's 4 year-old daughter
Peter - Ex-colleague and friend
Jen's Mum

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but all these people will be metaphorically walking with me on Sunday, and I hope they enjoy it as much as we will (there are quite a few pubs on the route that will sustain us)!

If there is anyone else that you think might enjoy the walk, please add their name into the comments.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Madeleine McCann

As with any other parent in the world, I suffer the same recurring nightmare - something happening to either of my children. Fortunately, to date, it has been exactly that - only a nightmare.

But for one family, that nightmare has become frighteningly and solidly real, and it is playing out across the airwaves on every news bulletin.

Ten days ago, 4 year-old Madeleine McCann was asleep in her bed with her parents, a short distance away, at a restaurant with friends, when someone broke into the holiday apartment and abducted her. Nothing has been seen of her since.

I have absolutely no idea how her parents are feeling at this moment. They must be totally devastated and destroyed inside, but day after day they soldier on, determined to carry the hope until that hope has gone. I'm sure I would be an emotional wreck within a very short space of time, my panic would be almost pathalogical!

How do they stop tearing themselves apart? If only they hadn't left her to go for a meal.... Already the criticism is being raised, and, with only the facts in the news to go on, it is an easy case to make.

However, I can understand, a little, the decision she took. Recently, we were in a holiday complex very similar to the place the McCann's were staying at. These complex's are very much a self-contained world with everything a person would want available on-site: restaurants, swimming pools, bars, entertainment, etc. and it is that inclusiveness that can lead to believing that the place is ultra safe - our complex even had its own security force that patrolled on a regular basis. I certainly didn't bat an eye-lid when my children went off and explored the site (I even encouraged it) with minimal warnings to danger - to me, there just didn't seem to be any danger! I know my children are older, but bad things can also happen to children of their age.

'Maddy's' parents still believe that their daughter is still alive and I'm hoping their faith will be answered. She is a beautiful and precious person (they all are at that age) and deserves to have her natural life back - now.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Photo Set

If you look at the left hand side of this page and scroll down you will find my Flickr badge which, if you click, will take you to my pictures on Flickr. When I upload some pictures onto my site, I tend to put them into 'sets' for ease of location and viewing. Once I do this, I then send emails to people so they can bore people all over the world with my pictures of canals, boats and beer.

However, I came across a set that gave me a jolt. The set is of pictures by Delara Darabi who, at the time of writing this, is a 20 year-old woman sitting on death row in Iran, and who had been 'convicted' of a capital crime at the age of 16 and condemned to death. At the time of witing this, Iran has another 31 young people who had been convicted while still a 'child' of a capital offence.

In Delara's case, she was convinced by her then boyfriend to confess to murder committed during a burglary. He convinced her that she could not be executed because of her age, but this turned out not to be the case. She also was given a three-year jail sentence, 50 lashes for robbery and 20 lashes for an 'illicit relationship'. All of this Delara denies and pleads her innocence.

Not knowing the actual facts of the case for certain, I can't comment, but the UN states that a child is someone who is under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, and as a child, is not expected to fully understand the consequences of their actions and thereby be put to death. Iran (and the US) have signed up to this Covenant, but the executions continue.

Obviously, Delara doesn't have her own page on flickr, but a supporter does, and has loaded some of her pictures, along with a personal statement from Delara, onto his page.

You can see those pictures here.
You can read more about Delara and the others presently sitting on death row in Iraq on the Stop Child Execution website; and on that website, you can sign a petition.
Delara also has, courtesy of Amnesty International, a MySpace page where you can find further information.

Whatever the circumstances and offences, it is, fo me, an offence against civilisation that there are countries and systems that feel comfortable putting children to death.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Star Wars Day

May The Fourth Be With You.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Following my previous post, I got to thinking about another album I purchased in 1977 - Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours".
At the time of buying it, I was blissfully unaware of how the band was imploding, but just staggered at the brilliance and craftsmanship of the album. When I later heard about the difficulties that the band members were having with each other, it just seemed to me to raise both the band and album higher in my respect. How they were able to put aside their differences to produce such a work of beauty and quality is beyond me, but I am very grateful.

Again, like "Hotel California", it does seem to be an ageless LP. The songs and melodies have stood the test of time, and it is an LP that I've returned to many times over the years.

I've been a fan of Fleetwood Mac from the very start - and before! I was well into the Blues during the sixties, and in particular, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in which Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were all members (and from which they were all eventually sacked).

In 1969, they released the album "The Pious Bird of Good Omen" which contained, along with a number of covers, Albatross composed by Peter Green - a stupendous guitar led instrumental which just about blew me away along with Jigsaw Puzzle Blues by Danny Kirwen, a guitarist who had joined in 1968. After a tour of the US supporting some of the blues greats like Buddy Guy and Willie Dixon, the early seventies saw them drift away from the blues - a pace of drift that increased once Peter Green left the band suffering schizophrenia brought on by a LSD spiked drink in Munich. I also lost a bit of interest at this time, and it was only hearing a couple of tracks from the 1976 "Fleetwood Mac" album, that I rekindled my interest in them. I had heard a Stevie Nicks/Lyndsey Buckingham LP which I liked, and hearing that they were now part of the band, decided to give them a listen.

"Rumours" was next, and I was hooked. It was brilliant and my first copy was played to death. I truly believe that the album marked their zenith as a band because nothing I've heard since has come close to the freshness and vibrancy of that album. Sure "Tusk" and "Tango In The Night" are very accomplished albums, but there is something extra about "Rumours" that the other albums didn't have, and it probably has something to do with the way, as people, they were falling apart, but, as musicians, they were able to come together.

Christine McVie explained that the title came from the fact that everyone was writing about everyone else - hence all the rumours! As far as I'm concerned, one great album, and 30 years old this year.