How to clean the glass of a wood burning stove

I was looking for a way to clean soot off our stove last year but couldn’t find much advice apart from to use scrunched up newspaper.  Now, thanks to the chap who came to service the stove last week, I have a much better answer.  Metal polish, applied with a toothbrush works like a dream.

Now that the summer is more or less over, I can’t wait for the first fire of the winter.  It’s also a pretty sustainable option in terms of heating the house as well, and cheaper than gas or electricity.

Monday afternoon update and links

So the Big Lunch went very well.  Lots of our lovely neighbours came round, drank elderflower cordial and ate cake.  There was much discussion about how some of them had lived in their houses for 20 years and only knew their most immediate neighbours, and wasn’t it nice to meet everyone else at last.  Generally a great time was had by all.

Next year we are already planning a proper street party – closing the road and everything, which should be very exciting and Jubilee-like.  Who knows whether it will actually happen, we shall see.

This week, I have been reading about Puma’s new – more sustainable shoe box, and minimalism.

Hope you all had good week-ends.


I’ve just noticed Citybumpkin is one of Interflora’s top 50 flower and garden blogs!

Should really write a garden update soon then…

Friday afternoon links

A few links I thought were worth passing on this week:

First of all a couple of brilliant videos from The Big Lunch, one on how to make bunting out of plastic bags, the other on how to carve snails out of courgettes and radishes – awesome!

Which reminds me, of this post from the wonderful My Paper Crane on making mushrooms out of radishes.  Radishes, it turns out, are the sculpting material of the vegetable world.

Secondly, have a look at, because I discovered it this week and I LOVE it.  All kinds of tips on how to unclutter your life, which is a bit of a pet subject of mine.  The good news is that uncluttering your life can involve buying more pairs of scissors!  Hurrah.

Finally, cut your carbon by 10% in 2010 with 1010, and finally, buy a bike made of bamboo!

Have a lovely week-end.

The Trashcatchers’ carnival!

When it comes to sustainability, it’s not always easy to get people’s attention.  However if you’ve got a 20ft, animatronic, carrot wielding giant on your side,  it’s hard to be missed.  The Trashcatchers’ carnival blew into Tooting this afternoon in a whirl of colour, sound and excitement.

Everything in the carnival had been made out of ‘trash’.  Project Phakama, Emergency Exit Arts & Transition Town Tooting have been working together to make the various carnival characters along with over 800 local residents, school children, members of community groups and clubs.  In all, they used over 1 million plastic bottles and shopping bags, half a million crisp packets, half a ton of renewable willow and half a ton of other materials.

The star of the show had to be the awesome gardening giant, but the carnival also featured an enormous turtle, elephants, fish, foxes, birds and insects.  The whole procession was led by the beautiful Sankofa bird.

The Sankofa bird is a particularly fitting symbol for the carnival, and for Transition Town Tooting in general.  She is an ancient West African creature who looks forward and backwards in a single glance.  She reminds us that sometimes we have to go back to our roots to move forwards.  This is the message of the carnival.  Even in a large urban town such as Tooting, we can take steps to overcome our oil

The Sankofa Bird

dependence and our waste problems by going back to our roots, slowing down, and taking a fresh look at how we consume food and goods.

The carnival will act as a powerful reminder to all who witnessed it that the people of Tooting are creative and flamboyant enough to rise to this and any other challenge.

Lucy Neal, co-chair of Transition Town Tooting said:

Individually we may seem insignificant, but when we connect up in a community, we are very strong, we can make a huge difference. We are thrilled at how well it’s come together and amazed at the support we have received from the people of Tooting.

The powered vehicles in the procession were fuelled by recycled vegetable oil.  Many of the vehicles were powered by bike.  Hundreds of fantastically attired carnivalistas danced the route on foot.

The event finished up with a sharing picnic in Fishponds playing fields.  By the time the last float arrived, there were hundreds of people there to welcome them and continue the carnival spirit with some locally made spicy potato curry and elderflower cordial.

I don’t know how much the amazed spectators would have known about the carnival and what it stands for, but I hope they will be inspired to search for it online and find out more.

The day was a huge success and a really incredible spectacle – huge congratulations to all the organisers and all of those who took part.  Tooting has never seen anything like it!

One thing is for sure, the momentum gained over the last few weeks and months will certainly spill over from today into ongoing projects.  This heightened visibility on Tooting’s High Road must raise the profile in the area and help all of Transition Town Tooting’s causes.

Transition Town Tooting is planning a Big Launch on the 12th of July, and a Foodival later this year.  See their website for more details.

City bumpkin podcast 7 – Transition Town Tooting

On July 4th, the bizarre and fabulous Trashcatchers’ Carnival will hit Tooting high street!

Some months ago, I spoke to David and Malsara Thorne of Transition Town Tooting to find out about the Transition Town movement and how the plans for the carnival were coming along.  It is going to be a fantastic event, so do follow their blog to find out more, and block out your diary for the 4th of July!

There will also be the Transition Town Tooting Big Launch on Monday 12th July, and the Tooting Foodival on September 19th.  More information on both events will be on the Transition Town Tooting main blog.

Or click here to listen in a new window

There’s some very interesting stuff in the podcast about recycled cooking oil.  The oil company is called Uptown Oil.

The City Bumpkin podcast map!

Ecoworrier 3 – Plastic

Him Indoors gets home from work to find me standing in the kitchen, staring intently at a yoghurt pot.

HI: Problem?
Me: I can’t recycle this.
HI: Nope.
Me: But why?
HI: Cos it’s made out of polystyrene or something, probably.
Me: Why can’t they recycle polystyrene?
HI: Dunno.
Me: And then there’s margarine tubs, what are they made of?
HI: Dunno.
Me: And then there’s…
HI: Can we talk about something else now?

Understandably, this does not make for an inspiring conversation when you’ve just got home from work. But I’m annoyed by the seemingly arbitrary rules about which plastics can be recycled, and which can’t.

Wandsworth have a great recycling scheme, in that you can just bung everything in an orange sack, and they’ll take it away and deal with it. No sorting into five different bins, for which you need a specially segmented drawer and a metal detector, it’s really straightforward. Except for the fact that there is a list of plastics which they don’t recycle, including yoghurt pots, plastic bottle lids and margarine tubs. This is confusing to a bear of very little brain such as myself, because they look pretty similar to bottles to me.

Happily, the labelling on food packaging has recently been simplified. Rather than a confusing combination of triangles, numbers and initials, you now get a breakdown of the packaging components and a grid telling you whether each bit is “widely recycled” (65% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items), “check locally” (15% – 65% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items) or “not recycled” (less than 15% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items.) Admittedly if you were really interested this is less useful than finding out exactly what your packaging is made from, but frankly, life is too short.

So what is it that makes some plastics recyclable, and some not? First of all, there are some lovely videos at about how plastic bottles and various other things are recycled in the first place.

It seems that bottle lids must be removed not because they’re made from plastic which can’t be recycled, but because they are made of different plastic from the rest of the bottle, and so would contaminate the plastic if still attached to the bottles as they go through the recycling plant.

As for margarine tubs and yoghurt pots, these are currently not recyclable because they are made of mixed polymers, which are much more difficult to identify and separate efficiently, and would again contaminate the rest of the plastic if they were melted down along with all the bottles.

If it were possible to make bottle tops, margarine tubs and yoghurt pots using the same processes as bottles (i.e. blow-moulding, I think) then I guess they could all be made out of the same plastics and melted down for recycling together. Also, if there were a market for the recycled plastic that these items are currently made from, then the infrastructure would gradually be put in place to enable this to happen.

As it is, there’s not a lot we can do except to (a) wait for better recycling technology to come along (b) support the market for recycled plastics by buying loads of lovely recycled stuff (c) buy fewer items made of these ‘non-recyclables’ in the first place and (d) use margarine tubs and yoghurt pots as plant/seedling pots and craft materials for the time being, so that at least they don’t end up in landfill.

On sustainability

Somebody asked me the other day what my views on sustainability were. Since giving what was inevitably a rather cobbled together response, I’ve been trying to work out what it is I actually think about this, and the rest of the environmental bun fight we’re all supposed to be up to our necks in.

One thing I think I have worked out is that it’s possible to be inspired by local stories of environmentalism, whilst simultaneously finding the global campaigns against climate change etc… rather depressing.  It took me a while to work out this out, but there is something quite annoying about the popular ‘make poverty history’, ‘save the penguins’ celebrity-endorsed movements.  The ones telling you the ice caps are melting, and that you must reduce your carbon footprint or else, etc…   I don’t feel that there’s a lot I can personally do about melting ice caps, that’s really only something the governments of the world can make a difference to, and I object to the likes of Hugh Grant telling me how I should be behaving.

If I start trying to take responsibility for it, well, I’ll never sleep again, plus I’ll become the most boring dinner guest ever as I try to convince the person to my left that they should really take a combination of trains and boats to Chile next summer, rather than the nice easy 8 hour flight they had been planning.  The governments of the world on the other hand seem to be more concerned about getting more flights in and out of Stansted airport per hour, so it’s a losing battle a lot of the time.

Similarly I don’t feel a need to spend time on this blog berating Starbucks for their policy of leaving a tap running all the time in each of its million branches, thus wasting enough water to give a swimming pool to each drought afflicted village in the world per hour, or whatever it is.  Who am I, to tell them how to run their business?  That’s for the newspapers to rant and rave about, and well they might.  Richard Branson deserved a slap because nobody else seemed to be bothered about how utterly ludicrous his claim about Virgin Galactic helping the environment was at the time, but there I rest my berating stick for a little while.

I prefer to concentrate on what I can do myself to live a sustainable life, and also what others are doing, both individually, and with other members of the community.  People who are planting shrubs and flowers in areas of local orphaned land, or removing rubbish from their local river, or simply growing their own fruit and veg in their back garden. A blinkered approach of looking at all the positive stuff going on around me, and trying not to think too much about all the depressing stuff is my philosophy at the moment I think.  Clearly I could make more of a difference campaigning against the expansion of Stansted airport than documenting green initiatives around the capital, but I’m just not that militant.

It’s nice to know though that not everybody is just sitting watching TV in their pants not giving a toss about anything other than whether they’re going to get a bonus in 6 months time, particularly in London.  Or, to be a little more realistic about this, that they are doing that as well, but then they get off their arse and haul a fridge out of the River Wandle at the week-end.