Making waste into anti-waste

The wonderful Francesca with the Christmas tree she made. It’s now MY Christmas tree!

Yes yes, so I’m a grumpy old woman, deal with it. But I’m just fed up to my back teeth of waste, litter and our one-use throw-away society. There’s just so much STUFF and it’s filling our rivers, oceans, forests and land.

Here we go again, old Stripey’s going off on one, but when I was a lass, we couldn’t afford to throw something away unless it was totally finished with, so much less went in the bin. This was evidenced by the bin lorries then, small affairs that looked like a mini version of Thunderbird 2 with lift-up doors which received the contents of metal bins hefted over the shoulders of burly binmen (there were no binwomen). Not like now when the wagons are the size of a small house and the wheelie bins as big as a garage.

Now it’s Christmas time and I can feel my grumpiness reaching critical mass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, I love showing goodwill to all women and men, but it’s the sheer indulgence and decadence that upsets me. Last year we bought a Christmas tree with a proper root system, which we put outside where it has lived happily, though it did go off on one during the summer heatwave and is a bit bald, OK, it’s a lot bald, but it’s still alive so it’s getting trimmed and illuminated whether it likes it or not. We can’t be wasting it, can we?

It is nice to have a tree inside too, something the cats can knock over and somewhere to put the presents. And what’s better than a recycled tree? I spotted the very thing on the web page of the wonderful Leeds Wood Recyling . This Community Interest Company is the antidote to my grumpiness, it takes waste and makes it anti-waste, collecting and re-using timber that would otherwise languish in landfill. Actually, it’s even better than that, as they also offer training and volunteering opportunities and has created jobs.

The store, on a small industrial estate near the Armley Gyratory, smells divine, the air is heady with freshly-sawn wood and other woody aromas. So now I have my little Christmas tree and have sourced the timber for the raised beds on the allotment without having to cross the UPVC and metal threshold of a shop or deal with any packaging. Good grief, I think my grumpiness may have subsided…for the time being. Thank you, Leeds Wood Recycling.

The music lives on

It was a mystery. One string, three pegs, no bridge and definitely feeling sorry for itself. This odd-looking instrument languished for years in the dark store room at a Victorian school in Leeds, unplayed, unloved.

Then my mate Len spotted it. He’s on the support staff at the school, but more importantly, he’s a music-lover and a musician. He asked first of all if it could be put on display with the other instruments, but it made for a sorry sight and was destined for the bin.

So with permission, he took it away to give it TLC and maybe, just maybe, hear it played again. 

The strange instrument is a trench cello from the First World War. There were many made, scaled down versions of their grander cousins, using anything at hand, including oil cans, able to be assembled and disassembled quickly and played in the trenches, what music that would have made. It would have made a fine contrast to the sounds of shelling, shooting and downright bloody misery of war.

Of course the cello had to be played, but first of all, it had to be mended. With the help of internet search engines, a very clever and handy dad, lots of work and just £30, it was restored. Len doesn’t play the cello, but he knows someone who does, he took it to them to try it out, they loved it and didn’t want to let it go! It sounds beautiful with that sad melancholy notes that only a cello can produce. 

How Len’s cello found its way to the basement of Swinnow School is a mystery, but he’s hoping to find out more. In the meantime, while those who fought in the trenches 100 years ago have gone,  the music they made can live on. Thank goodness for lovely people like Len who didn’t want to see such an historic thing of beauty disappear.

Awaken the artist

This is what happens when you wonder what’s behind the board……..

Being fundamentally lazy, I do need a challenge, something to get me going, either mentally, physically or preferably both. Challenge me, and I’m there, unless it’s anything to do with spreadsheets of course, I have an allergy to them, especially when they are used purely for text. What’s wrong with tables, FFS?  I’m also terminally curious, always asking… ‘what if I just…….?’ or ‘I wonder what this does…..?’

Challenges which come very low down the list, usually near the bottom, right next to ‘re-locate the compost bin’ include anything connected with decorating. Yes, I like the finished article, all smelling of new paint and fresh linen, especially when I can sit staring at it with a glass of something suitable in hand, but all that preparation, sanding and cleaning brushes, tripping over drop cloths and having a permanent layer of dust around the house? No, just no.

The year started with a challenge, 31 of them to be precise, as a friend invited me to join the 64 Million Artists January Challenge.  Do something arty every day of January, I was definitely up for that, beats toggling through social media for something to rant at. I loved it and wanted to do more, in fact I did do more, investing in a sketch pad which now goes everywhere with me.

But the next challenge was to be more than 31 days and was all my own fault, I was curious. After we stripped the bedroom wallpaper, it was clear there was something hidden behind a board. There were two options, paper over it or see what was there. Who, with a Press card, and a certificate that says she’s a proper journalist, would not want to know what was hidden? There could have been treasure, or maybe a couple of dead pigeons. I expected rubble, Victorian soot and an old copy of the Yorkshire Evening Post, I didn’t expect a complete fireplace.

Of course, there was no mantelpiece or surround. I immediately announced I’d make a mosaic, I have no idea where that came from, I’ve only ever done one once and that was making a tile from a kit. This challenge would involve design, drawing, maths to work out how many tiles I’d need (without the help of a spreadsheet) and of course goggles, you can’t have bits of glass embedding themselves in your eyes. Gary the Joiner worked his joinery magic and there I was with a blank canvas, or rather plasterboard and off I went.

When it was finished, I wasn’t happy with the bare black firebricks, so in a devil-may-care way, I designed another mosaic inspired by my favourite painting, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, fitting it on boards, expertly cut by Noel the Wood-Cutter.

If it hadn’t been for taking up that arty January Challenge, I’d never have thought of making those mosaics. We’d probably have bought some over-priced tiles and left it at that but my arty self had been awoken.

Don’t ask me how long it took, I just did it when I felt like it, sometimes not moving from the table for hours, though that may have been the glue stuck to my bum, the cats certainly had more than their fair share of tiles stuck to their backsides, but I did warn them.

It was a lot of work, mentally and physically, but it was so worth it. 
Every time I look at this fireplace, it makes me smile. People come to see it and say kind things too, I’m thinking I may sell tickets!

I’ll certainly be doing the January Challenge in 2019 along with my biggest ever physical challenge. Well, in my Big Birthday year, it would be rude not to do an ultra marathon……

A shoe for everything..I now know..


I don’t go to the gym very often, all that grunting, panting and sticky, stinky sweat, and that’s just me trying to get my Shock Absorber sports bra on in the changing rooms.

Why sit on cracked vinyl seats which harbour their own bacteriological ecosystems and push bits of metal around when you can hoik barrow-loads of poo to the allotment and breathe clean, fresh air? Why run on a treadmill watching a screen when you can run outside watching the world, and get muddy into the bargain?

When I do go, it’s to take part in a circuit-training or similar class where there’s lots of little stations around the sports hall, each describing different exercises which thankfully only take a minute or so at a time. There’s a lot of jumping up and down, stepping side to side, juggling with weights and socialising with classmates. And as far as kit is concerned, anything goes, no-one wears fancy designer lycra, or if they do, it’s from the previous decade, maybe century.  And doesn’t everyone just wear whatever shoes come to hand…or rather foot…?

I have a good collection of running shoes, luggy ones for the boggy fells, less luggy ones for the less boggy fells, sturdy ones for the trails, which makes up most of my running, then a pair for roads, which I don’t do very much, and parkrun, so they are also my circuit shoes. I mean, why would you have a separate pair for inside?

Today I had an extra piece of kit to work with on the circuit and it was exclusive to me. I was singled out for this special treatment by the long-suffering Mike. Just by way of background, Mike is Mr Circuit at Kirkstall Leisure Centre, I’ve known him for years, he likes to keep a clean and tidy class and that includes the sports hall.

So I set off on my circuit journey, oblivious to the trail I had inadvertently collected at Saturday’s parkrun and was transferring to Kirkstall. When I looked behind me and saw a little mud sculpture next to a larger mud sculpture with a Saucony  tread, and a few muddy leaves tumbling from my shoes, I knew I was in trouble and may have to reconsider my policy on indoor shoes. Quickly.

Mike presented me with my extra piece of kit was a brush, a big brush, my punishment was to sweep up the mess I’d left behind and promise to wear mud-free shoes. Mud-free shoes? Is there such a thing? Looks like there is now!

Knitting tributes in Otley


There’s been a bit of a rush on red wool in the market town of Otley over the past few months. The knitters and natterers who click their needles at the parish church have produced 16,000 poppies which have made a magnificent tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

Most of the poppies are draped on and around the church, but they are also prominent in the rest of the town, where there is a trail of poppies painted on the pavement, leading to the memorial gardens where there are the silhouettes of two Tommys, soldiers from the war. It’s beautiful.

In and among the sea of red are white peace and purple poppies to commemorate animal victims of war. White poppies were first worn in 1933 after being introduced by the Co-Operative Women’s Guild to stand for peace and commemorate all casualties, including civilians and non-British casualties.

According to the report in my old paper, the Telegraph and Argus, the town will also be taking part in the international Battle’s O’er event on November 11, Armistice Day, where pipers and buglers will start commemorations starting early in the morning. Here in Calverley, the piper will play the lament at 6am. I’ll set my alarm, I really will. Later in the day, beacons will be lit, church bells rung,  and 100 Town Criers, including Otley’s, will join together in an International Cry for Peace around the World, it will be a very loud cry indeed.

Crying with a stranger


Today I cried with a stranger, proper tears trickling down my face, carrying little blobs of mascara. We were both in the Imperial War Museum North contemplating the Lest We Forget  exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.

Actually, the tears came as soon as I went through the door and heard the deeply sad Abide with Me, followed by the tolling of a single church bell. The first photos set the theme of the exhibit which outlined how the dead lay where they fell on the battlefields, covered in mud and the blood of others. Some were hurriedly buried, but there were too many to mark and mourn.

It was thanks to Fabian Ware, a man ruled out of active service because he was too old, that the Imperial War Graves Commission came into being. He went with the Red Cross to the Front and saw the lack of mechanisms to record the graves, so he set one up. From there came the memorials we have in our cities, towns and villages and of course to commemorate the signing of the Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the two-minute silence we observe every year as a mark of respect and remembrance.

The elderly gentleman contemplating the information board about poppies looked sad, I felt compelled to strike up a conversation. I do that a lot, I am that mad woman who talks to anyone, even on the Tube. You’ve probably avoided me on more than one occasion.

It struck us that there was no-one alive who had fought in the Great War and very few who had seen combat in WW2. He was part of a group of ex-servicemen who met from time to time, but there were so few of them now, they had stopped. His eyes filled with tears, so did mine. Again. I asked if he’d ever visited the battlefields near the Somme, he hadn’t, but had driven past with his wife on the way to the Alps, his wife had passed away not long ago. More tears. Alps? I asked, that’s where we drive to go rock climbing. Rock climbing? He asked, that’s what I do… We swapped climbing stories, we’d climbed in many of the same places, seen the same sights, enjoyed beers in the same places afterwards.

He looked at me and said. ‘It’s been so good to meet you, I’ll be leaving here with a big smile on my face’. I replied. ‘Me too, me too’. It’s good to cry with a stranger, but it’s even better to smile.

I only went to Ikea for a chair


As we staggered through the self-scan check-out, balancing boxes, bags, pine-scented candles, enough tinsel to trim the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree and a bumper bag of Daim bars, the lady with the big smile asked if I’d like to complete a questionnaire on my shopping experience at Ikea. Would I!

I only went for a chair. The old kitchen chair in my office-cum-workshop-cum-conservatory has been assessed by the company’s occupational health representative (me) and awarded an 11 on the bum-numbing scale, even though the scale only goes to ten. Ikea was the answer, actually, it’s always the answer, so near, so convenient, so enticing.

Noel and I went through the Ikea rules. We set a deadline, no more than half an hour in the store, plan the route, taking every short-cut, no hanging around in the kitchen store, no stopping off at the cafe for Swedish meatballs, no stroking the textiles, no picking up picture frames and no bags. If we didn’t have bags, we couldn’t fill them, it was as simple as that.

But you know how it is, you go through the yellow revolving doors and that’s it. Essence of Ikea is pumped out through the ceiling tiles, it’s an assault on the senses. Beautiful colours and patterns everywhere. Interesting ideas on every corner, so we had to look at every corner, the short cuts were dull in comparison.

And who can resist the delicious aroma of the cafe, made all the better for being staggeringly cheap. A bacon buttie for £1? We could have two, two each that is, and a slice of apple cake. And do you know you can get four cinnamon rolls for £1.50? The coffee is bottomless, just keep on refilling, oh my goodness, it’s heaven, or himmel as the Swedes say.

Full to contentment and bouncing off the walls with our caffeine overdose, we picked up the bags we vowed we wouldn’t use and staggered under their weight to the next deliciously-decorated corner. We’d been there an hour and weren’t even in sight of those lush textiles.

Somehow we found our way to the check-out. How clever of them to put the sparkly precious Christmas things there, so beautiful, so essential, such good value. Yes, it’s October, but who knows when we’d find ourselves in Ikea again?

In the check-out queue, we both had that nagging feeling there was something else to add to the pile and the trolley which we’d picked up on the way. Ah, it was the chair, Noel went back for it, I picked up the bag of Daim bars, I don’t even like Daim bars.

So there we were, through all the obstacles, a little poorer, though not as poor as we would have been if it wasn’t for our Ikea family membership. Noel trundled our hoard down to the car while I answered the questions.

Yes, I came for one thing, I said, yes, I’d been seduced by all the other precious things which if I didn’t absolutely need them immediately, they would come in, as we say in Yorkshire. Ah, said the lady with the big smile, that’s what everyone is saying. Now, she asked, would I like a hot dog?