Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Concentrating (#2)

A few weeks ago I attended a conference. One of the plenary speakers was Danny Dorling, a geographer from Sheffield University. He was talking about his new book 'Injustice: why social inequality persists' and argued clearly and powerfully about the relationship between inequalities in income and inequalities in health. His main thrust is this - if there was less discrepancy between the rich and poor in our (UK) society, then that would bring with it many, many benefits including a reduction in the health inequalities that currently exist.

I've been thinking a lot about Dorling's arguments over the last few weeks. In the context of a coalition (by which I mean Tory) government, there is much to be gloomy about, but Dorling himself was positive, because - he said - we can change it if we want to. So, I've been thinking about how I can change it. I could of course lobby my MP, complain and harrass government ministers and that would have some effect. But, I've been thinking about this in relation to the things I do with my money and whether my spending helps to concentrate wealth into the hands of the richest. Shopping at supermarkets and on the high street generally means that our cash works its way through the hands of the not-very-well-paid staff to the corporate boards, shareholders and investors that control these global brands and businesses. There are some exceptions, e.g. John Lewis and the Co-operative group - which have no anonymous shareholders but which pay dividends to its members (customers in the case of the co-op and staff in the case of John Lewis). Of course, spending money in locally-owned businesses, craft markets, farmers markets, independent shops, Etsy, Folksy and so on does the opposite. It helps to put money directly into the pockets of individuals and their families. There are no fat cat investors or venture capitalists taking their share of the profits. The New Economics Foundation did some work on this a few years back, showing that every pound spent on a local veg box did much, much more for the local economy than every pound spent in a local supermarket - and that supermarkets employed fewer people for every thousands pounds of turnover than corner shops.

So, the bottom line is this: the more money I spend in my local economy, the more I support my local community - safeguarding jobs and helping to maintain a healthy (literally) place to live and work. While I was thinking about this, I came across an old newspaper article about going off-grid. This didnt mean living in a self-sustaining house with no connection to the National Grid, but refusing to shop in mainstream supermarkets and instead, spending all your food budget in farmers markets, independent butchers, fruiterers, fishmongers, bakers, wine merchants and so on. I saw the article in Earthy, a local and independent supermarket and cafe stocking local, organic and fair trade produce. It seemed to be fitting somehow.

Leading up to Christmas seemed to be a good time to think about this. Although we haven't gone completely off-grid with our food spending, I think most of our gift shopping has been with independent/local businesses and high-street companies without shareholders. It's a start, and I mean to go on. 

Enjoy the snow if you have it; keep safe and warm and have a very, very merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


As the time left before Christmas is getting short (only 10 days left - how did that happen? eek!) I'm trying to concentrate on things/gifts which I really have a chance of finishing quickly. The recent snow kept us indoors rather more than is usual, so I grabbed small gobbets of time here and there to get a few things finished off.

There have been some more socks. Two pairs of crazy socks, from the Schoppel Wolle Crazy Zauberball yarn I had for Christmas last year. The two balls I received has made 4 pairs of socks in all - three for me and one for a friend (seems like a fair balance!) The last pair are eked out of the remaining yarn using another ball of yarn from the stash. No idea what this solid green yarn is (Rowan maybe), but the colour fitted in perfectly with the crazy yarn, and I used the grumperina approach to striping. I was prepared for the crazy yarn to run out before I got to the toe, but the amount was perfect to stripe to the end, and gave me just enough to kitchener the toes closed.

There was a baby beanie (tutorial here) knitted in honour of a new baby, born to some friends we met at antenatal classes almost 4 years ago. Their first son was born the day after the bean - both early by about a week - and they get on famously whenever we see them. Anyway, congratulations to you Gilly and Jason and welcome to the world little Callum!

I also spent a pleasant 20 minutes or so refeshing one of the jelly bean's dribble bibs (tutorial here) which had got a bit - you know - grubby. I cut another piece of fabric for the top side, and stitched into place with some embroidery floss. Cute huh?

A pile of flannels (wash cloths) is growing too, ready for the wrapping elves to do their work. I have quite an extensive stash of cotton yarn in various colours, so this is being put to good use. I'm knitting some small for children, and then bigger ones for grown ups. Three small flannels (one white, one pink, and one bright blue) went  - along with some organic baby bubbles - to help a small friend celebrate her first birthday last weekend. Happy Birthday Megan. Hope you are feeling better soon. I dont mind knitting with cotton, but it does help that I can finish one of these in a few hours...

My elaborate plans for a mound of quilted/stitched gifts are definitely rather optimistic. I have made some quilted coasters (based on last-minute patchwork gifts book), using some of the fabric patches from the crazy patchwork duvet cover my grandmother made me when I was a teenager. I thought these would be a nice gift for my mum, to remind her of her mother. But, they are taking me a lot, lot longer than I imagined, and arent quite as square or perfect as I hoped!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Snow on snow on snow...

After what seemed to be a very brief autumn, winter arrived with a vengeance. It is now almost 2 weeks since the first snows fell - and although the temperatures are now just above freezing again, there is still a thick layer of snow covering the city. Edinburgh is a dry city, close to the sea and snow of this magnitude is really unheard of. We have at least 18 inches of accumulated snow in our garden, and I cannot remember such deep snow since I was a child. [It makes you feel really old when you start to reminisce about hard winters 30 years ago when you were a 'girl'!]

Anyway, although I love, love, love snow - the realities of getting to work, covering/arranging childcare when buses are not running, and being stuck at home with two small children are beginning to take the edge off my delight at the snowy vistas outside my windows each morning. It hasnt been a good week overall: DH slithered into the back of a lorry on Monday morning and dented the car quite a lot (although noone hurt, the car was driveable and he didnt get stuck for hours and hours on the gridlocked motorways of the central belt); on Tuesday I managed to kill my mobile phone by washing it in the washing machine and yesterday our boiler froze up. We've been there before with the boiler, so knew immediately what to do to restore the situation and our friendly plumber is coming this evening to check things over. I hope that's the end of the bad stuff for this week, and things get better from here!

On the plus side all this time at home has been good for some things. I have managed to finish a few little projects, details coming soon...