Our permaculture forest garden gets appreciation!

Maggie came up with the idea. We could offer our garden to the Bracken Trust for a coffee morning. It would help them to raise funds for their essential work supporting local people with cancer. Saturday August 1st was to be the day.

A visit was organised for members of the Bracken Trust social committee to see what facilities we could offer. Brenda, the chairperson, has to use a disability scooter, so these visits are a major undertaking, but good because it immediately highlighted some shortcomings in access. We had designed the access around the garden to allow wheelchairs, but nowadays most people who need help, use small wheel, powered, vehicles. The inspection visit went very well, but we had to have tea sitting in the garage because of the difficulties with scooter access, it was, nonetheless, a joyful occasion. Two days after the visit we had wooden ramps in place to smooth out a couple of steps. The thing that took me aback was the enthusiasm that everyone showed for our garden!. They were seeing it in a totally different way to the way that I see it. “I didn’t think things could grow like this in this country!” was one reaction!

Maggie and I love our garden and see beauty in it, but I do not expect people whose idea of gardens are formed by the garden industry, with novelty coloured flowers in prim borders, or vegetables in clean, straight lines, to look at our highly productive, natural garden and see the same degree of beauty.

I was strimming the grass in front of the house the day before the Coffee Morning, when I saw George McManus, who gardens for the hotel across the river, trying to look into our garden. He told me that the town council had asked him to review local gardens for some sort of competition. I invited him in and showed him around, and I was delighted that he appreciated the garden, telling me that he likes natural gardens, and that that is his style.

On the day of the coffee morning we were woken at 6am by the rain lashing against the windows, by 8:30 the rain had stopped, but it was leaden and damp. The sun began to break through, and, by the time the helpers arrived it was very pleasant and everything had dried out. We had a brilliant day and the Trust made a great deal of money from stalls which offered, among other delights, jams and cordial made from our wonderful harvest of soft fruits and plants propagated from the shrubs in our garden. Part of the morning was to be a talk by me, about Permaculture and Forest Gardens and a tour of the garden. Two dozen to thirty people listened, apparently with great enjoyment and interest to the talk, and were able to sample a very pretty salad of nasturtium flowers and leaves, lime leaves and lemon flavoured sorrel, all picked in the garden that morning to illustrate some of the less usual salad possibilities.

We were expecting the arrival of friends on the Monday, but they had been very delayed. At some point I noticed that a car was parked in our drive, thinking it may be our friends, I rushed out, but arriving at the gate I saw that the car was being reversed out of the drive. I checked to see if I could help, but the response of the people in the car was to congratulate me. They told me that I had won the garden competition, something that has since been confirmed by the Clerk to the Council! We have what is considered Rhayader and district’s best kept garden of 2015!

So it seems that the garden, this piece of Nature’s glory, is appreciated for what it is, and is potentially, a really valuable tool for introducing the concepts of Permaculture and of Forest Gardens. During the coffee morning I was being asked for advice about gardens, I have suddenly become an accepted local expert! It now is up go me to find ways of utilizing that and spreading the word. The garden that we found when we bought the house had been neglected but had potential, but even the most bleak, damp or exposed space of builder’s rubble can, with time, be encouraged to return to being a natural, food filled, corner of paradise.


Caroline Lucas’ appeal for multiparty politics

Caroline wrote:

My challenge to Labour: embrace a progressive, multiparty politics

Many Labour members, and indeed many of us from other political parties, will be relieved to see Jeremy Corbyn taking part in the first official Labour leadership hustings tonight. Corbyn is different from the other candidates for obvious reasons. He has been an outspoken critic of government cuts, opposes Trident, has been a respected voice of reason on foreign policy, and recognises that addressing climate change is a way out of our economic crisis, not a distraction from it. His candidacy ensures these critical issues will be on the agenda.

But whoever takes over the reins of the Labour party needs to recognise that, if Labour is to increase its relevance and appeal, it needs to become a movement that embraces the energy and vibrancy of all those who support a progressive, multi-party politics, both inside political parties and in our communities. This must include support for a fairer voting system, a commitment to genuine engagement with voters, and an open mind, at least, on locally agreed electoral pacts. It’s certainly a challenge, but an entirely different type of politics could be the result.

So my question to candidates taking part in tonight’s hustings is this: will you be part of this new multi-party politics for Britain?

Before the next general election, those of us promoting a more progressive politics must think long and hard about how we achieve it, given the longstanding opposition to electoral reform from the majority of both Tory and Labour MPs. First-past-the-post is designed to keep power in the hands of the few – it’s clear that we need to hack the system before we can change it.

One strategy – which is my personal view and on which I would value contributions from others – might be to consider the potential for progressive pacts. A possible first step could be for Labour, Greens, Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to empower local branches with the ability to back candidates from other parties if they wish.

Secondly, and in a transparent and open way, those of us who want progressive pacts could set out a core set of pledges that parliamentary candidates must follow if they want cross-party support. No doubt, for a local Green party to back a candidate from another party, that candidate needs to commit to serious action on tackling climate change, recognising that we must live within ecological limits, and take a very firm stance against further austerity and the selling-off of our public goods. Crucially, local voters would need to have their say and be properly involved – they’re the ones who should be the ultimate beneficiaries.

But a prerequisite for a progressive politics of the future must be an acceptance that we desperately need a fairer voting system for general elections. As the sole Green party MP – despite more than one million people voting Green in the last election – I’m aware that my calls for a fairer voting system may sound self-interested. But it’s time for Labour in particular to realise that if it wants to call itself “progressive”, it cannot stand for an electoral system that systematically marginalises the vast majority of people’s views – and hands supreme power to a party that 76% of people didn’t vote for.

Moreover, the result in Scotland, where Labour won 700,000 votes but only one MP, must surely be a loud enough wake-up call that our broken electoral system can no longer be relied upon by Labour, even in purely self-interested terms. It’s worth noting here that the SNP, which benefited so significantly from first-past-the-post, continues to back a proportional voting system for Westminster.

I do not pretend to offer a complete solution to our political malaise, and I recognise the challenges inherent in what I’m setting out. For example, many Labour or Lib Dem candidates wouldn’t get approved by a Green party meeting, or vice versa. But what I cannot be more sure of is the fact that those of us who are serious about addressing the climate crisis, or halting and reversing the destruction of our welfare state, must find a way to work together – and do so quickly. In the grim context of accelerating climate change and deepening austerity, and when one in five families say they’ve already had to cut back on food because of child benefit changes, the need for a new progressive politics could not be more urgent.

I hope that Labour’s leadership candidates recognise that multiparty politics is here to stay – and I look forward to hearing how they’ll embrace the change rather than attempt, against the tide of history, to clamp down on it.

Military ‘train and equip’ policy will not bring peace

Interesting thoughts here about the EU’s attempts at “Peacemaking” from the Quaker Council for European Affairs, and included the role of gender in peacemaking.

The QCEA Blog

In late June 2015 the heads of government of the 28 European Union (EU) Member States will meet in Brussels to discuss their Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). They are expected to agree a clearer commitment to strengthening military forces in countries affected by conflict. But will EU efforts contribute to peace?

The EU already has military training missions in Somalia (since 2010) and Mali (since 2013). Increasing instability on Europe’s neighbouring continents has encouraged some EU Member States to call for more EU military training missions, and in March 2015 the EU launched such a mission in the Central African Republic.

EU military capacity development

Solider in EU mission training in Mali. Credit Twitter June 2015 @eutmmali1 Solider in EU mission training in Mali. Credit Twitter June 2015 @eutmmali1

A preparatory meeting of the 28 EU Member State Foreign Ministers, known as the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), took place in November 2014. The conclusions from this meeting requested that the…

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Goosander passes through!

We had heard that Goosanders can sometimes be seen in this area, and I had hoped to see them. Today our wish came true with a huge bonus. Our neighbours were working in the garden when suddenly a hen goosander was leading nine chicks through the garden!
Goosanders nest in trees and the family were now making their way from the oak woodland above our houses through the garden, across a (quiet) road, across an expanse of grassland to the River Elan.
She did panic a bit coming into contact with so many people. She flew up onto the fence and then into our garden,leaving the chicks, but she could still hear them and cicled the houseto get back to them. The gardeners had retired to give her space, so she collected the family and continued the march. Within minutes the chicks were secreted away, the journey safely completed.
We’re having a good year for birds. We had a garden warbler in our forest garden. A tree pipet in the woodland, redstarts, white throats and blackcaps. So far this year I have not seen flycatchers but a pair nested in the car port last year, and knowing that they like to re-use tit nests and both our tit boxes have been used this year we hope to see them in the garden soon.


Our country is one of the “developed” countries of the World. Once that indicated that this country had a well developed industrial base, with an efficient, highly mechanised agricultural sector, an employed population who were healthy, with a sound social system that acted as a safety net for anyone needing it.
Since the 1980’s, however, a new phase of capitalism has emerged based on neo-liberal economics. The idea of a developed nation now indicates an expanding financial sector, while the industrial base has been allowed to deteriorate and with it employment and social welfare conditions. The global economy has been developed and this has encouraged a movement from owner control to manager control, a change which appears to lower risk, but which changes its nature and “moves the goalposts”.
Within the global structure jobs and materials are sourced from wherever they are cheapest. As this change developed global assets grew rapidly, to the benefit of the management of the corporations involved, but this explosive growth was financed by “pretend” money created through debt.
The notes in your wallet or purse promise “to pay the bearer the sum of …” a promise founded on little more than confidence; which in 2007/8 was shaken to the core, threatening to bring down the whole worldwide financial organisation. Money is created not as a representation of wealth but rather through the creation of debt, which then becomes an asset of the lender.
The movement of control of businesses from its owners to its managers has had dramatic effect. Growth, rather than profitability, became the measurement of success. Purchase of other businesses provided immediate growth, but without, necessarily increasing profitability. This growth financed huge bonus payments for the managers that had engineered it, even when the purchase may have threatened the survival of the expanded corporation.
Some of these corporations have even outgrown many countries but still have to find even more expansion, so they now propel their client governments toward expanding their markets even more. They are doing this by entering into trade agreements within which all obstructions to trade are removed. These “obstructions” may well include protections for employees, consumers or the environment. Watch the news for mentions of these trade agreements which are happening throughout the world, mostly behind locked doors, and which are often hailed as “breakthroughs”.
The latest obscenity is that many of these agreements now create “rights” for the corporations, so that companies can now sue governments if a nation tries to protect its interests at the cost of profit to the corporations.


We lived in Edinburgh, briefly, fifty years ago, and hadn’t been back since! We enjoyed a re-visit recently, here are my Trip Advisor reviews for the trip.

Robert Bann Vegetarian Restaurant:

We had thought about a vegetarian meal, preferably with wholefood, but that characterisation reduced the options to just one street food venue.  As we walked in Old Town, in the cold, dark, rainy evening, my phone was having difficulty finding Trip Advisor.  Suddenly there we outside this vegetarian restaurant, just what we wanted!  We had a very warm welcome from very pleasant staff who took our wet coats and hats and settled us into a window table.

I choose parsnip and apple, Dunsyre Blue pudding with beetroot and butter-bean broth and roast potatoes, served with an aromatic coconut, courgette, tomato sauce and flaked almond sweet papaya salad (£11.90).  My wife went for the spiced aduki bean and cashew pie layer with mash and baked, served with broccoli, kohlrabi and roasted carrot. (£12.95).  We were told this would take fifteen minutes, so ordered a bottle of wine and some olives (£3.95), and settled in to enjoy the early evening.

We had only eaten a couple of olives each when the meal arrived.  We were both disappointed with the presentation of our dishes.  The extensive, and interesting, description had morphed into something which looked very ordinary.  Mine was the better choice, as the spicing of the aduki pie meant that the individual flavours were lost.  The taste of my meal was delightful and sophisticated.  Bread was a particular disappointment, very ordinary rolls were provided at the beginning, and some “artisan” bread, served with my meal could have come from any supermarket.

The greatest success of the meal was an assiete of desserts for two (£9.25) which were fresh, clean and delicious.

An enjoyable evening in pleasant surroundings, although the room is a bit of a barn, high ceiling-ed and echo-y.  The staff were excellent, the food pleasant and the venue OK,  but it proved no comparison to the other Edinburgh restaurant that we tried – Oregano.


We would not have booked this restaurant on the basis of its appearance, but we were enthused by the Trip Advisor reviews.  It is a single shop front with a tiny seating area of around 15 covers, with small tables.  They do a carry-out service, mainly with their pizzas.  The staff are the sort of people that you want as your friends.  The food is fantastic!

We choose the small Vegetarian sharing anti-pasta at £6.25, so just over £3 each:  brusheta, olives, salad, two dips, tomatoes, parmigiano, mozzarella; stimulating and excellent!

Expectations, raised by the anti-pasta were fully satidfied by the main course of tagliatelle fungi.  Wonderful textures and flavours.  We had choosen the most expensive of the adequate but small wine list, at £18.50, it was fruit filled and robust but very smooth.

We couldn’t manage a sweet, so finished with exceptional espressos.  The whole bill was only about £45, so we tipped well and left pleased.

The Social Bite

has a Banksie print of a homeless person holding a card “I don’t want coins, I want change!”  25% of Social Bite staff have been homeless, all their profits go to three charities, an eye hospital in Bangladesh, a British charity and a third.  You can, as well as buying coffee and/or sandwiches for yourself, pay for “suspended” coffees and food which homeless people can draw upon.  A score board shows the situation to date, how many homeless people given work, how much contributed to charity, how much “suspended” food has been paid for.  All this is brilliant, it makes you feel good to be a part of it, but that is far from all.  This is a brilliant cafe, staffed by happy, friendly people, offering really good, organic, coffee, rather too cheaply.  I paid £1.20 for a single espresso, which I could not buy elsewhere for less than £1.60, even, in some places, £2.20, we had a topnotch bacon roll too, and having looked at the sandwiches decided to return the next day, Saturday, for our breakfast and to buy sandwiches for our journey home.  Alas they do not open on a Saturday!

They now have four cafes in Scotland, two each in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  We look forward to finding many more “Social Bites” in the future.  The company was created by Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson with advice from Muhammad Yunus.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Having been rather disappointed and frustrated by the main Scottish National galleries, we were delighted by the Portrait Gallery. We visited on a Saturday morning, queuing up for the 10am opening. They had a special event on, using the large room by the main door for a concert by three woodwind musicians especially for babies and their parents. We were able to listen and watch from the upper floors, absorbed by the way the babies re-acted to the music, kicking their legs, and not a single crying baby.

A woodwind trio play for babies and their parents.
A woodwind trio play for babies and their parents.

We enjoyed the BP Portrait competition, but I was simply thrilled by the World War I display. Many people of my persuasion were concerned that the centenary of the conflict would lead to some glorification of war or triumphalism. As discussions began it became clear that wherever artists, be they sculptures, painters. poets or writers were given scope the accent would be on the horror, waste and pointlessness of war. This collection opens with portraits of the King, Lloyd George and Churchill, and includes three Sargeant portraits of senior generals, but virtually the whole of the remainder features medics who worked with the maimed and confused, nurses, poets, COs, etc. This was the best cultural visit of our short stay in Edinburgh.

Define and Constrain

What does God look like?

Yes, silly question!  There was very little depiction of God in paintings, this is from Wikipedia:

For about a thousand years, in obedience to interpretations of specific Bible passages, pictorial depictions of God in Western Christianity had been avoided by Christian artists. At first only the Hand of God, often emerging from a cloud, was portrayed. Gradually, portrayals of the head and later the whole figure were depicted, and by the time of the Renaissance artistic representations of God the Father were freely used in the Western Church.  Early Christians believed that the words of Book of Exodus 33:20 “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see Me and live” and of the Gospel of John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time” were meant to apply not only to the Father, but to all attempts at the depiction of the Father.

So those were the instructions to the early Church.  Early Quaker Friends went along with this in their realisation that  “the word killeth”.  As soon as we try to illustrate a concept with a definition, be it in words or images, we constrain it.

Western art did not feel the same constraint about illustrating Jesus, who appears in paintings throughout Christian history, which is, to me, a bit surprising.  Jesus was seen as part of God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and so an embodiment of God.

Our Muslim friends appear to have had a very different approach, blocking not only images of the Prophet, but also, of man.  This produced the wonderful patterns and designs of the Alhambra, totally made up of abstract designs.  The west just does not seem to have any respect for this very simple and understandable concept.  Cartoons of the Prophet do not offend because of their content, although that may make things worse, but because they are images of what, Muslims belief, should not be imaged.