Monday, 30 April 2007

Weather update

Just to say:

Clear
21°C | 9°C
Clear,
17°C

Nice, innit?

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Blogging in the sun

Thought I'd test the strength of our wifi signal. It works when you're sitting at the garden table. That's good enough for me. I can blog here until the battery runs down. According to Dell, that will happen in 1hr 44 mins.

As the title of this post suggests, we are enjoying yet more unseasonally warm weather, thus:

Clear
21°C | 8°C

Sunny, 21°C

Nice, eh? But, air pressure is falling so some rain could be on the way. It actually would not be such a bad thing, the ground is baked dry. No wonder meteorologists are forecasting another hot and dry summer. Setting climate change worries aside, residents of northern Europe are enjoying be able to bask in the sun while in southern France and Spain the rain clouds are, well, raining down their rain. And anyway, those regions need a bit of rainfall so they should be pleased :)

Friday, 27 April 2007

Recyling, waste collections and landfill

The online edition of The Independent published this leader today:

Leading Article: No time to waste

Published: 27 April 2007

This newspaper's campaign against the excessive and wasteful packaging that supermarkets and retailers use to enshroud their products is making real progress. As we report today, MPs are prepared to press for tougher laws against excess packaging. The major UK supermarket chains are promising action. Asda is asking its customers in two stores to inform them of excessive packaging so it can take up the matter with suppliers.

Interestingly, all this has coincided with a fierce row over refuse collection. Fortnightly, rather than weekly, collections for non-recyclable waste have been adopted of late by more than one-third of councils. This has prompted complaints that leaving organic matter in bins for two weeks is unhygienic and encourages infestations.

First, let us acknowledge the pressures behind this shift. The EU has set a target of 2010 for the UK to reduce its landfill use. This is quite right. The UK dumps more household waste into landfill than any other EU nation. And councils claim this is behind their policy of fortnightly collections, pointing out that this tends to increase recycling rates. Householders find their waste bin for non-recyclable rubbish fills up, which encourages them to use the space in their "green" bin.

Yet there is a flaw in this reasoning. European countries, several of which have far higher recycling rates than the UK, seem to manage weekly refuse collections. To this extent, the critics of the fortnightly collection have a point. Where they do not is in labelling Gordon Brown's increased levy on council landfill dumping as just another stealth tax. Landfill is an increasingly scarce public resource. Britain's landfill space is on course to run out in the next decade. It needs to be priced to reflect this. Such critics should direct some of their anger at the lingering lack of transparency regarding recycling in Britain. There is a considerable amount of confusion about what can be recycled and what cannot. And different councils have very different methods. Some sort all recyclable refuse themselves. Others demand total separation by householders of everything from tins to plastic. This confusion, as much as the fortnightly collections, is an irritant to the public.

We must not lose sight of the bigger picture. Other European countries are so far ahead in recycling that catching up is going to be painful. There will be missteps along the way. But what is clear is that these issues - excess packaging, recycling, the environment - are entering the political arena. This is not before time - the status quo is wasteful and unsustainable.

This is another occasion for me to feel righteous... Living here in the village, we have had "selective sort" wheelie bins since we moved to this house more than five years ago. The system works thus: we have two smallish wheelie bins, both split into two compartments. In one bin, we put paper and cardboard in the first compartment, and tins, cans, plastic bottles, glass bottles and Tetrapak cartons in the second compartment. In the other bin there is a compartment for green waste (grass cuttings, banana skins, potato peel, eggshells, coffee grounds, etc.). In the other compartment goes all that's leftover after you've sorted your rubbish into the first three compartments.

The refuse people collect the bins twice a week. On Thursday, a specially-adapted lorry empties the green and general waste bin, and on Friday they take the paper and bottles bin. At the waste management centre, people then sort through the plastic and glass bottles, milk cartons and drinks cans, further sorting them. The compostable waste is put in a huge industrial composter/compressor that heats it and squashes it, which produces compost in super quick time. That is then sold, I believe, to local farmers and market gardeners. The general household waste is incinerated. This is the only part of the process I don't really feel comfortable with, what with all those dioxins and what have you...

So what's all the fuss about? What is so difficult about introducing a similar system in the UK? I also don't really understand the big debate about fortnightly collections. I would be perfectly happy with fortnightly collections, providing my bin was a bit bigger (you really can only get about three 30l bin bags in it, which would be a bit tight for two weeks). I put my waste in a bin bag, and when it's full I tie them up using the bit of plastic string that comes with them, and I tie them up good and tight. And I always make sure the bin lid is snuggly closed. No hygiene worries there, surely?

Again, the problem appears to stem partly from a lack of "education". If councils explained the system with a bit more care, maybe people would understand the objectives and would adhere to the whole operation. As an aside, councils really do need to better explain what garden waste is, or what it is not. I saw a news report with a woman complaining that they hadn't emptied her bin because they said she was putting the wrong rubbish in. A quick check revealed plastic plant pots and paint tins in her garden waste bin. Just because you used it in the garden, doesn't make it garden waste...

Get your camera, get out and about

Here's a fine project: Geograph British Isles. The aim of the game is to have a photograph of every single OS map grid square of the British Isles. Think of it as bringing the map to life, of being able to look at a map location, and see a picture of the road, with the houses on each side, or the airport, or the beach, or the bridge, and so on. I think it's great.

Attitudes to drinking

The UK charity Alcohol Concern today called for parents who allow their children aged under 15 to drink at home, under any circumstances, should be liable for criminal penalties. (See their press release.) Their research shows that people who are exposed to alcohol at a young age are more likely develop alcohol-related problems later on.

I spot several holes in their plan. My parents (well known for their slapdash child-rearing style) allowed my brother and I a taste of wine from time to time. On our first family holiday to France when I was 12, we were allowed to share a pitcher of sangria one evening at a restaurant. And guess what, neither Peter nor I have turned into raging alcoholics as the result of this wantonly irresponsible behaviour on the part of our parents. In actual fact, my abiding memory of encounters with alcohol in my early years was pestering Dad for a taste of his ale, him caving in, and us both finding it downright disgusting and not asking again for the next 14 months.

I do feel that current UK legislation, under which parents can allow children aged 5 and over to drink alcohol at home, needs to be revised. Maybe that should be upped to 8 or 10? But I don't believe that a splash of wine taken during a family meal or a sip of champagne for special occasions will turn children into drunks. On the contrary, it helps them develop a healthy and responsible approach to drink. If they can see that you can enjoy a glass of rouge with dinner and it doesn't lead to you vomiting in the street or getting arrested for peeing in the street or flashing your tits at a copper, surely this is a positive thing?

By banishing even the occasional taste of booze for youngsters, all that is achieved is a reinforcement of the exoticism of drinking. It's a "forbidden" activity, which, for teens and pre-teens, adds considerably to the attraction. This kind of move would push youngsters to clandestine drinking, hidden away from their parents, and in some cases drinking "poor quality" booze which can't be good for them and in some cases can even be toxic.

I'll concede that for some unfortunate children their parents will quite happily encourage them to drink ten cans of lager and puke everywhere, because that's how they "enjoy" their drink. But making that illegal won't stop it happening, will it? No. Rather sadly, those children will almost certainly develop an unhealthy attitude to drink because they will reproduce what their parents show them. Children watch their parents and elders and they copy what they see. Saying they shouldn't be allowed to drink at home will only push them out onto the streets in even greater numbers, congregating at bus stops and in parks to get wasted on cheap cider or buckfast.

The problem goes far deeper, it is all about UK society's attitude to drinking. It remains a "leisure" activity in itself, for all generations. I know it's a well-worn cliché, but here in France, yes young people go out to bars and they drink, but then as they get a bit less young, they tend to stay at home and have friends round, enjoying some wine over dinner or sharing a beer for an aperitif. The drinking is an annexe to the main event (which is a meal, usually). In the UK, the drinking is the main event. That's the problem. There's the rub. Until that changes, until people stop seeing getting sozzled as a pastime, the binge-drinking problem will remain.

Were I a parent of pre-teen children, I would much rather give them a small serving of wine with a meal from time to time, and be able to exercise some control over the alcohol they consumed, than worry that they be buying cheap alcohol illegally and drinking in the street with their mates.

Garage is €216.03 richer

But my car no longer sounds like I've made a botched attempt at chavving it up. Has a shiny new front pipe under its car tummy and the mechanic says there's nothing wrong with the shock attachments. Now all I need is to go back to the MOT place and get the anti-pollution check and get a pass!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Failed your driving test? Just thump the examiner

It would appear there has been a dramatic increase in assaults on driving examiners (SoS article). What happens is, potential new drivers sit their test, it turns out they don't know how to drive, so they get a big fat fail. And they thump the examiner because they don't agree.

I must be missing something here. What is happening to us? In the ... 11 short years since I sat my test, have the yoof changed so much for the worse that now, when faced with someone who doesn't give you what you want/expect/think they deserve, they now just swing for them? I don't understand it. Theories vary on the reasons, but the fact is that we (I say we, but I'm not included because the only lout I've raised is my dog) have raised a generation of monstrous young adults who react with violence when faced with someone who refuses them what they think they should have. With reactions like this, imagine and cower in terror at the carnage on the roads there will be when these horrible individuals do pass their tests and get behind the wheel...

Elected representative

Stumbled across a site called They Work for You where you can find out what your elected representative has been doing at Parliament and whether you're getting your taxpayer's money's worth. Worth a look.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Afternoon off

Which I would very much like to spend doing nothing, maybe lounging in the sun or going for a stroll with my darling doggy.

Instead Hubby and I will be venturing to Roubaix hospital. We know what time we're going, but we don't know what time we'll be coming out... He has x-ray and appointment with the consultant today. Will have the staples out and possibly a new cast as his leg has shrunk inside the current one.

Still, weather's lovely it's nice not to be in the office.
22°C
Clear
Wind: S at 11 km/h
Humidity: 50%
Tue
Partly Sunny
26°C | 11°C

Monday, 23 April 2007

Light reading

Just occurred to me that we haven't had a book for quite some time. Why not seek out TheTimewaster Letters which is an entertaining collection of just that, letters that serve no purpose other than to waste everyone's time. You'll probably smile at least twice.

Enjoy.

Kate blog

Katie Loo has a blog. I am led to believe that this is not the first attempt at blogging from our dear Kate, but she seems determined not to forget the login/address/password for this one. So we can help her out by visiting and encouraging her.
You can find Kate's entertainingly named blog here:
ithinkthereforeigetconfused.blogspot.com

Sunday, 22 April 2007

The birdies

Saw two bluetits this morning.

France votes

The French are voting massively today, something that probably hasn't escaped your attention. Abstention rates would appear to be at record or near-record lows, which has to be a good thing for democracy...

I'm not so sure. There are 12 candidates in this first round. A lot of people are expressing the sentiment that, from the 12, they can't identify anyone who truly represents their personal politics and values. There appears to be a lot of choice, but a choice of what? Not much.

In 2 weeks' time it's back to the polling stations to choose between whichever two candidates come out tops tonight. It will almost certainly be a choice between someone you don't want and someone you really don't want. And this is democracy?

Well done Thames Water

Taken from the Scotsman website (scotsman.com)

Public warned to stay out of Forth after sewage spill

GARETH ROSE

COUNCIL chiefs last night warned the public to avoid contact with the water in the Firth of Forth after it emerged that sewage had been released into the estuary.

The contamination has been blamed on a mechanical failure at Edinburgh's Seafield sewage works, which led to a thousand litres of sewage a second being fed into the firth for more than 24 hours.

Edinburgh council warned people to stay out of the water, wash their hands thoroughly if they have visited the area, and not to eat fish or shellfish caught there because of the risk of bacterial diseases.

Thames Water, which runs the sewage works, was yesterday trying to install a temporary pump to stop the sewage entering the Forth, which was expected to be in place by midnight.

Mesh around the pipes meant there was no danger of solid waste entering the river, the company said.

However, Thames Water it they had no option but to allow contaminated water to filter through.

A spokeswoman said: "We were unable to repair the pump on site.The breakdown meant the sewage could not be directed to the treatment facility.

"We had to allow an emergency outflow into the Forth - if we had not done that it would have been directed on to land.

"It was discharging about one thousand litres a second, however it was very, very heavily diluted by the time it entered the water.

"And we have screening so no solids would have been able to get into the Forth."

She added: "We will now have to take the regular equipment away to get that repaired and hopefully it will be back within the next couple of weeks."

It is the first time in the seven years Thames Water has run the sewage system at Seafield that such an outbreak has affected the Forth.

A spokesman for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said: "It is too early to tell what the extent of the impact has been. We will need to keep an eye on the station and see what happens."

Warning notices were posted along the banks of the Forth yesterday. Environmental health officers have been carrying out beach inspections but have not found any signs of sewage or contaminated water.

It is not known how great a part of the Forth has been affected. People who use the firth for recreational pursuits such as yachting have been advised to take care and avoid contact with the water.

Edinburgh council leader Ewan Aitken said: "We are very concerned about this incident and are working closely with Scottish Water, Thames Water, Sepa and neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue. We urge people to ensure they maintain high standards of personal hygiene and do not take anything home from the beach."

People who remain concerned about the dangers have been advised to contact the council's environmental health service.

The incident comes less than a month after Scottish Water unveiled a three-year £130m project to upgrade its network of treatment facilities across the Lothians.

That includes the £50m Edinburgh Drinking Water Project to improve the quality of water in the capital and the upgrading of the city's water treatment works at Alnwickhill, which have been operating since 1879.

The water treatment works at Fairmilehead will either be upgraded or replaced with a purpose-built facility in Midlothian.

Thousands of residents in West and East Lothian will also get improved drinking water.

Well ...ing done Thames Water!!!

The BBC website claims "Urgent work to stem sewage spill". Pff, doesn't sound like they're working so urgently to me. This is has been going on since Friday, mind. I have two questions:
1/ Why are there no containment/overflow pools to deal with this sort of incident?
2/ Why does it take so bloody long to fix/replace a pump? Did they have to order one to be built from scratch using components found in Taiwan and assembled in Mexico????????

It is an absolute disgrace. The full extent of the damage remains to be seen for some time.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Spring sunshine

We're enjoying some extremely mild spring sunshine here in the north of France, and across lots of northern Europe I think. Temps in the mid 20°C last couple of days!! Very pleasant :)

Hubby's mum came up to fuss over him from Tuesday to Friday. Was relatively stress-free and actually a good help for me. She even managed to annihilate my ironing pile. But then, I think she quite likes ironing...

Yesterday we had a group outing to Ikea. Stéph took Hubby's wheelchair and I took Hubby. And Hélène came too. We ended up having to rather rush round to get back home in time for Hubby's anti-coagulant injection. But we managed to buy a footrest to go with the easy chair. Upon our return our helpful friends helped me dismantle the old sofa and put it outside. Then I brought the easy chair down from upstairs and it turns out it's in rather a sorry state (well it was only cheap). There'll no doubt be another trip to Ikea soon enough for me to get a replacement easy chair (one where you can take the cover off to wash it!) and an armchair. We couldn't find a small sofa we liked so we're going for the 2 chairs option.

Hélène and Stéph stayed for dinner but we all had a fairly early night. I think Hubby was pretty done in after the shopping.

This morning more glorious sunshine. I moved the sofa from outside the house to the end of the road for collection tomorrow (it's the day when the waste management people come and collect big bulky things you can't put in the wheelie bin). I huffed and puffed (it must weigh about 130kg, maybe more) and managed to pull it on top of my toes:


Of course, my repressed blonde side had made me think that sandals were suitable footwear for furniture removal tasks...

After more huffing and puffing I got the blasted thing all of 30m to the end of the street. Hurrah. The house now looks absolutely huge due to empty space. But we'll be cluttering it up soon enough I should think.

Took a few pics of the lovely sunny garden. Mum and Dad take a photo of the garden every two weeks, to have a record over the year. I think it's a pretty good idea so I'm going to try and do the same.

I've caved in to various nagging and brought Hubby's blasted computer downstairs. That weighs a fair bit too. I suppose my little muscles are getting a work out. So he's happy now.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Catching up...

Have had no time to blog lately, it's frustrating.

If you're reading this you probably know already, but hubby has broken his ankle in three different places. He has a cast for six weeks and probably feels a bit silly. He slipped on the banks of the lake while we were walking the dog. Oh dear.

Mum has three stitches in her forehead because she cacked over in the Lakes on Friday. Lucky for her she fell onto gravel and not rocks!! Heavenly guidance there, I think.

Nat has chicken pox! Poor Nat. Still, best to get it young (though 13 months is very young!).

Lis is tired out!

Apart from that, I suppose there's actually nothing much new, just the same old same old. Which is no such bad thing.

Spring is here :)