Owning a Campervan Tips the Scales: Plastic-free update #5

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Market shopping makes being plastic-free easy

After 40 years I am beginning to realise I can’t save the planet on my own.  I have been really pleased to see ditching plastic and meat becoming more mainstream in the UK and I am glad that people are starting to talk more seriously about reducing flights and car use.  But as we reach the climate change crisis and I continue on my personal struggle to be better at caring for the environment it is hard to feel content with how the world is progressing.  Much of the current discussion has been about plastic pollution and the immediate negative impact this has on our wildlife and environment.  Plastic also has a massive impact on climate change from the moment the fossil fuels are extracted, through production and recycling or disposal.   With our current dependence on fossil fuels and plastic there seems little chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A lot needs to change but ditching single-use plastic would be a start.  And yet movement in reducing supermarket packaging is painfully slow and although there are small changes most continue to use plastic to prevent food being damaged in transit and to keep it fresh.  Zero-plastic shopping and avoiding throwing away colossal amounts of packaging after a shopping trip is now possible in specialist shops but this is not mainstream.  This reminds me of the days when vegetarians had to shop in local health food shops for essentials.  It wasn’t until supermarkets spotted this market that shopping got easier for vegetarians.

As a couple we are trying to be frugal as well as kind to the environment and we are in a losing battle.  Short of going back to work, the frugality isn’t an option; we are living on our savings and can’t fritter them away.  Much as I would like to support small zero-waste shops these are generally more expensive than supermarkets and not local and make staying on budget difficult.  Just at the moment it feels impossible to be both frugal and environmentally friendly and I am trying to accept that we have made changes where we can and it will never be perfect.

In the UK the average person apparently accounts for 6.3 tonnes of CO2 per year all of which contribute to climate change.  Despite my best efforts at small things, having a diesel-fuelled campervan means that my own environmental balance sheet is far from balanced.

Climate Change Wins

  1. Housing – We live in a small flat that is efficient to heat, we switch off lights, keep the temperature fairly low and put on jumpers when it is cold.  We wash everything at 30C and dry most things naturally [although we use the shared on-site tumble drier for towels to stop the flat getting damp].  We take short showers that last about two minutes, switching the shower off while we lather up to save water and energy.  [I used this carbon calculator to find out that our home has a carbon footprint of about 0.9 tonnes of CO2].  With energy and water use it is easy to match up our twin aims of frugality and saving the planet.
  2. Shopping – We buy soap and solid shampoo and use shaving cream and body lotion from Lush, not plastic free but they take the tubs back when you have five to return for recycling.  We don’t buy any make up.  Cotton handkerchiefs deal with our daily nose blowing rather than tissues.  Our washing powder comes in a cardboard box, we buy loose tea for home, rather than teabags, but this is still packaged in plastic inside the cardboard and our favourite Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages are packaged in cardboard.  We make our own hummus and bread and cook most things from scratch.  A few of these purchases are more expensive options but they fit with our budget.
  3. Eating out – We eat out but never buy lunch-to-go sort of items or plastic bottles of water or pop and don’t buy coffee-to-go.  These certainly save us money.
  4. Diet – We don’t eat meat but do eat dairy [a vegetarian diet emits around 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per year, much less than a meat-based diet] and we try and buy in season and local food as much as we can and a veggie diet is cheaper.
  5. Cleaning – We use scraps of old clothes and towels for mopping up in the kitchen and bathroom instead of paper towels and we buy toilet rolls from Cut The Crap which are wonderful and plastic-free.  We use a bar of Sunlight soap for cleaning.  On balance we probably save money here.
  6. Stuff – Being frugal we don’t buy lots of stuff, whether made from plastic or not.  We mostly buy second-hand furniture and clothes, with the exception of technical gear and shoes.  We don’t worry about being fashionable and make do and mend as much as we can.
  7. Getting around – Walking or cycling around Salford and Manchester is our default, whether going to the supermarket, the doctors or friends and this is free or cheap.  If we have to go further across Manchester we take the tram or bus.  We don’t fly long-haul and rarely fly anywhere at all [the last time we flew was to Milan in early 2017].
  8. Pets – Although we love cats, we don’t have a pet and instead I just watch them on social media and try and stroke any cat I meet, much cheaper options.
  9. Family – We had a child but only one [saving around 58.6 tonnes of CO2 a year].

Climate Change Fails

  1. Fruit and veg  – Our fruit and vegetables come mostly from Aldi and we come home with lots of plastic but our finances stay on track!  Our meals do focus heavily on things they don’t wrap in plastic but there are always items I want / need that come wrapped up.
  2. Milk  – Although not vegan we prefer soya milk.  This comes in tetra paks which are a mixture of plastic and paper and the small amount of cows milk we buy comes in plastic bottles [no milk deliveries to our flat].  The BBC told us that oat milk has the lowest impact on the environment and I did try making my own once!
  3. Food – Plenty of other food items we eat come in plastic; margarine, cheese, tofu, crisps, washing up liquid, nuts, pasta and rice and more and I have a weakness for Warburtons crumpets that come wrapped in plastic.  We aim to spend less than £300 / month on food and drink in supermarkets, cycling across Greater Manchester to buy zero-plastic rice and couscous could be done but something else would have to give.
  4. Toothpaste – I have looked at toothpaste tablets and haven’t found one that contains potassium nitrate to ease my elderly sensitive teeth.  There are ones with fluoride and the price is reasonable [£2.40 for 60 tablets] so I alternate tablets with tubes.
  5. Clothing – We remain fans of technical quick-drying and hard-wearing clothing and wouldn’t really want to go back to wool or cotton for our hill walking and outdoor lifestyle.  We buy quality items that will last, only wash them when we must, mend them and wear them as long as we can but I am sure some of them probably contain micro-beads.
  6. Scouring – For stubborn cooked-on food we have a wooden pot brush but also buy cheap plastic scourers as we don’t have a dishwasher and need to get things clean by hand.
  7. Clingfilm – I admit that we have a roll of clingfilm!  We have owned this particular roll for around 15 years.  Occasionally this is useful but we might not buy anymore when it eventually runs out.
  8. Campervan – We drive a diesel campervan about 10,000 miles a year; after our flat this is the most expensive thing we own.  We only drive it for long distances and it can sit around for a couple of weeks not moving in the winter.  According to the carbon calculator this van accounts for around a massive 4 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Sell the campervan you say!  Do I really need a campervan?  Could I do without the fun of travelling to beautiful places and eating and sleeping in my own home?  It is clear that owning a campervan has a massive impact on both our budget and the environment.  It negates all the small wins, they are just tinkering around the edges.  Until we get rid of our campervan we’ll always be part of the problem and buying loose courgettes or giving up Warburtons crumpets will not shift the balance in favour of the planet.  And so for the moment I accept I am a failure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eye-opening Guide to Wearing Glasses with some Iconic Spectacle Wearers

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For as long as I can remember I have been visiting opticians.  I have worn specs since I was a small child and these days I am at the opticians every couple of years to have my eyes checked out.  I was born with a right eye that was called a ‘lazy eye’ [amblyopia] something around 1:50 children develop.  This right eye never opened fully and despite treatment as a child [a plaster over the ‘good’ eye and drops to encourage the left eye to do a decent day’s work] all I can see through that eye is a blur.  Because I really only have one working eye I make sure I take good care of it and I blame it for my inability to play tennis!

These days I love buying new specs.  As they are something I wear all the time it is a treat to get new ones and I choose different styles every time in the hope that someone will notice.  Over the years I must have worn every style of glasses,  rainbow-coloured plastic frames with large lenses in the 1980s,  turquoise narrow metal specs and chic black designer frames.

As I was choosing my last new specs [two pairs one for sunglasses and one for cloudy days] I got chatting to the helpful member of staff.  I had chosen a pair of metal frames that had round lenses and I asked the assistant, ‘Do they make me look like John Lennon or are you too young to remember John Lennon?’  He laughed and politely said they looked good, adding, ‘John Lennon is one of the most popular spectacle wearers customers mention, along with Harry Potter.’  Slightly put out that I hadn’t been more original, I tried on another pair with large lenses that reminded me of another famous spec wearer, Deirdre Barlow.  We are in Salford so despite the assistant’s tender years this was another familiar name; Deirdre was well known for the big glasses she wore in the popular soap, Coronation Street.

As Mr BOTRA and I walked home we mulled over other iconic spectacle wearers, perhaps I could have come up with fresher examples.  We considered how Woody Allen would seem undressed without his black Moscot specs.  Mahatma Ghandi is familiar in his round metal-rimmed glasses, similar to those of John Lennon and perhaps a more creative suggestion next time I am at the optician.  Other famous spec wearers came to mind.  It is reported that Elton John owns thousands of pairs of specs in a rainbow of colours; Dame Edna Everage sported stunning ornate frames or ‘face furniture;’ Bono is a man many of you will think of wearing shades; and [even though she changes her glasses frequently] I always picture Billie Jean King in a pair of thick plastic specs.

In the 1970s wearing glasses wasn’t at all cool, although they always made you look more intelligent!  As a child I hated being the only one among my friends that had to wear specs and for a short time as a teenager I stopped wearing them at all.  I pretty much had little idea what was going on around me during that period as the world went by in a blur but it was a time when I didn’t really care to engage with the world.  Contact lenses aren’t really a good idea when you only have the one functioning eye and specs were my only option.

Fortunately, my first job was working in an optician’s shop and the only perk was free specs; at last I could buy something more up-to-date that I was prepared to be seen wearing!  My enthusiasm for the variety of spectacle frame design began here.  Today I am happy wearing my specs and I am grateful to all these iconic spec wearers for making it fun and even trendy.

 

 

Trekmate Poncho: A review

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Modelling the Trekmate poncho

Okay, so this won’t be the most trendsetting and smart bit of gear you will ever see me wearing but it is certainly proving to be practical.  We both own cagoules, waterproof jackets that are perfect for when the heaven’s open.  We live in the north-west of England and have been bought up to carry these cagoules on every walk, even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky, as in our unpredictable climate you just never know.

Cagoules are fantastic in winter but even when made of Gore-tex they can get hot and sticky in a summer shower.  Last year at the Upton Blues Festival I noticed lots of people were wearing ponchos in the rain and these looked both practical and comfortable.  We don’t buy anything on the spur of the moment but started the process of thinking and researching ponchos.

It seemed the poncho market is broad and we could buy expensive or cheap.  Generally with hiking gear I will opt for quality over budget options but as this was a new bit of kit that we were not completely sure would ever be useful we decided to be cautious and frugal.  Dipping our toes in to the waterproof poncho market we bought these Trekmate ponchos for £20 each.

After even a short time these ponchos are proving to be perfect for those short sharp summer shower that we often get in the Alps and in UK.  In this sort of weather the temperature doesn’t plummet too much and putting on a cagoule, even a breathable one, can be a sweaty experience.  We prefer to stay dry and walking in the countryside there isn’t always a bus stop or hut nearby to shelter in.  As well as being perfect at a festival these ponchos are now our go-to option on those hiking days when there isn’t a cloud in the sky and but we want to pack a just-in-case waterproof.  As the ponchos are lighter and less bulky than our cagoules I am sure we will use them often in our trips to southern Europe.  This will mean that our expensive Gore-tex cagoules will last that bit longer.

The Trekmate poncho has a number of other plus points over a cagoule:

  • They come in one size so if you are as short as me [162 cms] the poncho is long enough to cover your shorts and keep them dry.  Mr BOTRA is a bit taller but the poncho would still cover his short shorts!
  • The poncho’s are big enough to go over your rucksack as well as you and keep that dry
  • The poncho’s come with a stuff bag so they pack away neatly
  • This is a light piece of kit that doesn’t take up much room in your pack

These ponchos only come in black and the design is very simple.  At the front there is a large pocket that might be useful to keep any map dry during the shower.  There is a zip at the neck and a flap and the hood is a generous size.  In the body of the poncho there are two holes with Velcro to stick your hands and arms out of if you need to.

The only downside we have found is that if it gets windy the ponchos can billow.  I think if it is that windy it will most probably also be cold and we would be carrying cagoules and waterproof trousers anyway.

We decided to buy at the cheaper end of the poncho market for our first purchase in case these proved to be something that we never actually used.  We have only had the ponchos a few months but already I am a convert to a different way of keeping dry on the hills, even if I don’t look like the most stylish walker.  If you see me please don’t laugh too much!

 

Why I love cooking with my RidgeMonkey grill

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Aubergines cook well in the RidgeMonkey

I bought a RidgeMonkey grill / sandwich toaster after a recommendation from another campervan owner [thanks Andrew Ditton] and what a revelation it has been, almost transforming my campervan cooking overnight.  We generally have home-cooked food in our campervan, eat out in restaurants only on special occasions and only buy occasional veggie sausages for a fast food meal, so cooking is an important activity in our campervan.  Previously I have struggled, even with a lidded frying pan, to get my cooking really hot when trying to brown or char peppers, aubergines, asparagus and other vegetables.  They would cook but the pan never got quite hot enough to get them beyond soft and cooked to that attractive golden brown finish.  Making Spanish omelette was problematic too as they took a long time to cook through.  All these problems have now been solved by splashing out [£22] on a RidgeMonkey sandwich toaster.

This wonderful item is sold to anglers as a sandwich toaster, enabling them to make a hot meal while on the riverbank but it is so much more than that.  I am sure it will make toasted sandwiches but I use it for vegetables, omelettes, warming crumpets, hot cross buns or baking fresh pitta bread and I feel sure over the years I will find so many more uses for this practical and versatile piece of kit.  Other people report using their RidgeMonkey to create a full English breakfast and roast potatoes, the list of things you can cook in this wonderful pan is only as long as your imagination.

The RidgeMonkey opens in to two identical halves, both with a non-stick finish and each is just over 2 cms deep.  The dimensions of the XL are 20.5 x 18.8 cms, so it isn’t enormous and I would suggest you buy this size as it works well for cooking for one or two.  The long handles stay cool and fasten and clip together allowing you to turn it over and cook items such as omelettes or hot cross buns on both sides without turning them over.  This mechanism also locks in the heat and means I can enjoy golden brown aubergine [and other veg].  With a non-stick finish the RidgeMonkey is easy to wash and they now come with a selection of utensils that won’t scratch the non-stick finish.

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Crumpets in the RidgeMonkey taste better than ever

Goodbye old shoes

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I am a top-class de-clutterer!  I will happily give books I have read to friends, send things I no longer use or wear to the charity shop and sell stuff to others via Ebay and yet I am finding parting with these old shoes a real wrench.  These Brasher Ntoba shoes have given me around 15-years of comfort and I am pretty sure that no other shoes will ever be the same again.  Made for everyday comfort for exploring and travelling I have worn these shoes on walks up small hills and around the countryside, they have taken me to work in wet and snowy weather and out to the shops through the last ten winters; they have never felt uncomfortable and putting them on has always bought me pleasure.

I can still remember the day I bought these wonderful shoes.  It was a wet day in the Lake District and not really fit for walking and so we were shopping for shoes in one of the many shops specialising in walking gear in Ambleside.  I put these Brasher shoes on and as I walked around the shop trying them out for size and comfort I knew straight away they were special shoes; really I should have bought two pairs [or maybe three] while I was there so I had enough for a lifetime.

I think I am finding parting with these shoes particularly difficult because shoes are perhaps the most important item of clothing I buy.  They are my connection with the earth and carry me on the miles I walk every day and being able to do this is so much a part of who I am.  As these wonderful old grey shoes were already on their last legs five years ago I bought a replacement pair of Brasher shoes [again in Ambleside].  These brown Ambler GTX shoes are robust and comfortable enough for a few hours and I wear them through the winter but for some reason they are not the same and wearing them all day leaves my feet feeling tired.  Consequently I don’t love them in the same way as my old shoes.  For the hills I now also have some technical lightweight shoes that are really comfortable to wear and this might be the way to go for the Salford streets too.

I have hung on to these old grey shoes way beyond their reasonable lifespan as I have been unable to part with them but walking in them recently both side seams were gaping wide open where the stitching had come undone, the soles no longer have any tread left and I had to admit that it was time to call it a day.  So farewell old shoes, I am not sure walking will ever be quite the same again.

 

Three more small steps to giving up plastic: Update #4

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A basket of cloths

1. Toilet rolls

We welcomed in 2018 by receiving a box of 48 toilet rolls from Who Gives A Crap.  This company are trying to make the world a better place one toilet roll at a time.  Their toilet paper comes wrapped in paper, not plastic and most importantly it does the job [we bought the premium 100% bamboo rolls].  Who Gives A Crap started four-years ago thanks to a crowd funding campaign and I heard about them thanks to blogs written by people who are way ahead of me in their pursuit of giving up plastic.  Who Gives A Crap’s toilet rolls are from recycled paper or from sustainable bamboo and they donate 50% of their profits to organisations such as WaterAid to help build toilets and improve sanitation in countries that don’t have access to a toilet.

2. Re-usable bags for fruit and vegetables

Apart from toilet rolls [and I just can’t go there] my current interest is in finding items we can re-use rather than use and bin, as much as it in finding items that are plastic-free.  We have invested in six  re-usable mesh bags for tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, small oranges and other fruit and vegetables we buy loose.  I keep three at home in the bike pannier that is used for shopping trips and three in the campervan.  I have come to the conclusion that re-using our own bags is preferable to even using paper bags and so bought these bags and keep them handy so there is no excuse to use anything else.  I found the mesh draw-string bags on Ebay [I think they are also sold for separating laundry items].  The staff in our local supermarket were happy to peer in them before weighing and they are light and easy to wash if you need to, so these are a big win.

3. Re-usable alternatives to kitchen roll

We are not big kitchen roll users, we always have a damp cloths [torn up clothes or towels] hanging around the kitchen for small spills.  But we always have a roll in the kitchen for things like mopping up bigger spills and drying aubergine that has been salted and rinsed.  To prevent even this small usage we now have a basket of dry cloths in the kitchen window [see top photo].  These are a combination of torn up old towels, old face cloths and some miscellaneous new reusable cloths we had in the cupboard.  This makes it really easy to grab a dry and clean cloth when ever it is needed and then throw them in the washing machine to be used again.

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The toilet rolls arrived wrapped in paper and in a cardboard box

 

 

 

 

 

Ready for any emergency?

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Our ’emergency’ kit

Emergency kit is a bit of a grand name for our tupperware box full of things we keep in the campervan.  This box contains items we think might be useful when we are out walking or cycling and ’emergency kit’ is what we call it when we are checking what to stuff in the rucksacks or pannier for a walk or bike ride.  We have recently reviewed what we carry in this kit.  We like to have these small essentials in one place so that we feel ready for almost anything and can head off for the day with some confidence.

We have used items in the ’emergency kit’ [for ourselves and other people] and we have added to it when we have had an ’emergency’ and realised there is something essential missing.  One summer we ended up on a path heavy with nettles, I was wearing shorts and emerged unable to see my legs under a tapestry of nettle stings and we spent much of the rest of the day looking for a chemist in Cotswold villages to get antihistamine tablets, now we carry these.  We use the tick lasso regularly as we are often in areas where these small insects are numerous [we also keep our tick-borne encephalitis jabs up-to-date].  The plasters get used regularly for small injuries but many of the other items are there for a serious emergency, such as the foil emergency blankets and whistle.  We previously carried just one small torch but now keep our two head torches in the ’emergency kit’ as if we are returning in the dusk or dark from a walk or cycle ride these are more useful for getting us home safely.

We think we are prepared for anything but what do you think is missing?  Our kit comprises:

  • Two head torches and batteries
  • Bandages [various]
  • Wipes
  • Towelettes
  • Lifeboat matches
  • Plasters, including blister plasters
  • Paper and pencil
  • Compass
  • String and spare lace
  • Scissors [fantastic neat folding scissors actually]
  • Bite and sting relief cream and bite and sting click-away
  • Insect repellent
  • Foil emergency blankets
  • Medications – antihistamine, ibuprofen, migraine tablets, paracetamol [we change these regularly so they are not out of date]
  • Sewing kit [not sure what emergency this is really for]
  • Swiss army knife with knife and corkscrew
  • Whistle
  • Tick lasso (for removing ticks)

In addition we also ensure we carry at least one charged mobile phone as well as a map and water on any walk or bike ride that is further than a trip to the shops.

The mountain safety advice is not to bother but should we carry a distress flare?  What do you always carry with you?