Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A new cafe culture?

How good to be able to share good news!

I know that the media believe in the sales value of bad news, hence its tendency to bombard us with all that is dire and tragic, but, at the moment, good news would seem to be in short supply.
Nonetheless, we need to start by assessing the bad variety.

Damaging climate change now affects large swathes of the planet.  This upsets the production of food, and a fast-growing world population is in need of more food, not less.  True, the majority of us in the west eat too much . . . more than we need . . . more than is good for us.   But even we are beginning to accept that food isn't the cheap, easily available commodity that we once thought.

Where is the good news in all this?
It lies in the fact that, in awakening to this situation, some of us are doing something about it.

'Food Cycle', an organisation, started in London in 2010, tackles both wasted food and food poverty by means of willing volunteers and community cafes.
It is proving highly successful.

Did you know that one-third of the food produced for human consumption each year is wasted?
No . . . neither did I.

Food Cycle's full message is given in this entertaining and enlightening video, it only takes one minute . . . enjoy it:

So, we are valuing food  . . . we are saving food . . . all of which is highly commendable.

But there is even more good news.
Tell me, when did you last see a darning mushroom?  Have you ever seen a darning mushroom?

Strange as it may seem, it wasn't so very long ago that the small, wooden mushroom was considered an indispensable household commodity.
You had a hole in your sock?  Then what you needed was darning wool, a darning needle and, most important, a darning mushroom.
Once upon a time we repaired things.

However, in the Netherlands this practice has been revived.  Enthusiasts have started up what are called Repair Cafes.  Broken utensils that have seen better days, household goods and furnishings that no longer qualify for the term 'good', electronic equipment that's lost its sparkle . . . many such items are no longer discarded but are taken to a Repair Cafe in the hope of gaining a new lease of life.

This wonderfully innovative project was started two and a half years ago in a theatre foyer in Amsterdam.  Now, thanks to keen support from the Government and various foundations, it has spawned thirty groups across The Netherlands.

Over a cup of tea or coffee, people study their broken artefacts, pool their skills, socialise and make friends.
And let's quote figures . . . The Netherlands now puts less than three per cent of its municipal waste into landfills.  Not that they are satisfied with this achievement, they are trying to reduce the figure even further.

These projects make two things very clear:  it's perfectly possible to recycle food waste, and there's no reason why old tools and furnishings shouldn't remain in active service.  Between them, FoodCycle and Repair Cafes have set an inspiring example for us all to follow.

But, for me, the crowning achievement of both types of 'cafe' doesn't lie in their practical benefits. It's the opportunities they provide to evoke the imaginative and constructive skills of the local community.
These projects are highly commendable . . . they are also fun.

Perhaps that's enough good news for one letter . . . when we're extolling the prudent use of food and the conservation of household goods, we don't really want to be profligate with words!

There's only one thing I would add . . . please pass on the good news!

Friday, August 17, 2012


It's said that gratitude is good for you, and I'm sure that's true.  Gratitude warms the heart, relaxes the body, and causes endorphins to flow through the system.

But gratitude can also present a problem.  Along with a joyful, inner acknowledgement comes the need for some means of sharing the pleasure with others.  The rapturous clapping that we all witnessed at the London Olympics vividly illustrates this need.

So what's given rise to this letter and my current sense of gratitude?
It's the beautiful, communal garden that I share with others here in central London.
On two sides the garden is bordered by terraced houses.  On the other two sides it flanks neighbouring gardens. No road overlooks us, no passers-by can gaze in or even know that it's here.  We are blessed with a very private, secret haven.

Chloe and I have been out there for the past hour.  It was only with considerable reluctance that we came indoors, and I've returned to the flat brimming with a thankfulness that's crying out to be shared

So . . .   may I let my gratitude overflow on you?
Let me take you round our garden and share its peaceful pleasures.

To start . . . we'll sit for a moment beside the pond.
As we sit here, relaxing on the wooden seat, I'll stop talking so that you can listen carefully . . . do you notice something?
Do you notice the absence of something?
Despite the fact that busy roads run nearby, there's not the slightest rumble of traffic.  All that can be heard, other than the gentle, rhythmic patter of the fountain,  is occasional birdsong from a wide assortment of garden birds . . . including a very territorial robin.

Chloe loves the pond.  She'll show you her skill at skimming the duck-weed off the surface of the water!

And keep your eyes open for any movement below the water-lily pads.
Did you catch sight of the flash of a goldfish, or notice the steady gaze of a basking frog?

Now . . . if you're feeling relaxed and refreshed, how about moving on?

We'll take our time and slowly stroll past the herbaceous border.
Isn't it breath-taking?
Never can I recall a more lush and abundant summer show.

This bed is vivid with towering hollyhocks . . . multi-coloured dahlias . . .  differing shades of montbretia . . . begonia . . . ipomea . . . ornamental thistles . . . and wild geranium.

Other beds compete with a profusion of roses, sweet peas and hydrangea.

And can you hear the steady sound of buzzing?
The lavender bushes are alive with hordes of bees.  Surely that bodes well for next year's honey?

 Leaving behind the riot of colour and activity, we reach what is for me, and for Chloe, the most magical part of the garden.

It's out of sight, hidden behind the shrubbery and unknown to many who visit.  But, if we dip our heads beneath the overhanging shrubs, we can make our way into a secret kingdom of wildlife.

Look around you as we walk slowly down this seemingly woodland path, a path much frequented by foxes  . . . tell me, would you think you were in central London?

And look up . . . high in the chestnut trees above grey squirrels leap from branch to branch, some chasing, some playing, some in search of early autumn nuts.

But, be careful . . . I've frequently returned home to find fragments of chewed nut tangled in my hair!

There's a seat just around the corner . . . we can pause for a while and watch.

Just behind where we're sitting is Chloe's favourite tree, the tree she loves to climb.  It's where she entices her chosen friends to come and play . . . not that they need much enticement!

I could stay here all day, but I mustn't keep you.  You'll need to be on your way.

But, before you go, let me show you a hidden corner that you mustn't miss, the all-essential power-house of the garden.
Here we find the compost heaps, and the watering cans, the lawn-mower and the flower-pots, together with the all-important, well-stocked shed.  Without these essentials the garden, in all its beauty, couldn't exist.

Now . . . we can make our way up the path to the garden gate.
As we reach the gate, may I suggest that you pause for a moment and glance back over your shoulder?

Do you see that seat on the lawn . . . ?  It will be there, waiting for you, should you ever feel the wish to return.

Thank you for sharing my garden . . .  thank you for sharing my gratitude.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A fur-coated diplomat

When is a spoiled cat not a spoiled cat?  Perhaps I'd better rephrase that . . . is a cat ever a spoiled cat?
Isn't it true that the majority of cats have the wisdom and grace to rise above any human efforts to drag them down to our level?

I may be prejudiced, but Chloe's diplomatic skills would seem to deserve publicity.
She is beautiful . . . she is beguiling . . . what's more, she has the largest, most appealing blue eyes I've ever seen.  Not surprisingly, she makes many friends and, equally unsurprisingly, these kind friends bring her presents.

I have never counted Chloe's toys, but they are numerous.  Those that have escaped the confines of the toy basket are scattered widely around the flat.  Everywhere you look there are colourful mice, dangling spiders, assorted cat-nip toys, and balls of all sizes.  But . . . and this is where Chloe's diplomacy reaches levels I would never have foreseen, each new toy is greeted with the rapturous reception of a cat who has never been given a toy before.

Each time a friend arrives bearing a gift (and I look around in embarrassment at the toys already scattered on the floor), Chloe greets it with all the excitement and joy of one who has been totally deprived of anything quite so delightfully frivolous.
Not only that, if the gift isn't immediately apparent, Chloe - who clearly anticipates its arrival - rummages through the visitor's bags in search.

Once discovered, this new toy becomes the single focus of her excited attention.  It is brought to me for admiration, dragged around the flat, embraced, chewed and examined in close detail.  Never before, Chloe is keen to assure her kind friend, has anyone given her anything so utterly desirable.  Never before has anyone understood her needs with such clarity.

And what when the visit is over?  What when the generous guest finally departs?

The new toy is discarded with all the rapidity that it was originally acclaimed . . . and Chloe retires beneath her blanket for a well-deserved rest!
Diplomacy, it would seem, is hard work!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Need to Sing

Pure music stems from perfect instrument,
Clear liquid from a spotless jug must flow,
So how can I, with groping words, present
In their simplicity the truths I know?
How may a stumbling tongue express the sound
That nature's chorus holds in unity?
Can restless minds find stillness to expound
The inner nourishment of peace?  Give me
But time, let me this instrument refine,
Help me to cleanse the vessel of the mind
That from it I may pour you truth's pure wine
Leaving all sediment dissolved behind.
Until that day, accept these gifts I bring -
For even husky voices need to sing.