According to tradition, St Valentine’s is the day that birds choose their mates, so I’ve decided to show my feathery friends some love on their special day by making them some Valentine’s bird cakes.
I always make bird cakes for the birds in my garden using the RSPB’s guidelines for feeding garden birds (they have some helpful hints for an easy bird cake to make with children here) but have found that smaller birds are getting pushed out by the larger ground feeding birds who’ve managed to monopolize the bird table so wanted to make something the little birds could snack on that the big birds couldn’t reach. These hanging love heart fat balls (nice!) couldn’t be easier.
Melt lard in a pan and stir in birdseed, oats and cheese.
Press into moulds and pour a little melted lard on top to help them keep their shape before poking a plastic drinking straw through any you plan to hang.
Using the drinking straw to guide you, push some twine through the fat ball and tie securely when the fat has set.
String from a convenient tree and sit back and watch your birds, remembering to change the food frequently to prevent it going bad.
Image adapted from an original by Eldar under Creative Commons
On my extensive list (204 pages to date) of this that annoy me, climate change deniers are way up there. Like the environment secretary Owen Paterson, who actually came out and said that global warming would be good for Britain. Sigh.
Anyway, the C.S. Lewis quote above is taken out of context but seemed pertinent.
Gabrielle Fox, a psychotherapist, returns to work following an accident which has left her wheelchair bound and finds that one of her charges will be Bethany Krall, infamous following the brutal murder of her mother whose previous psychotherapist left under something of a cloud when she began to believe that Bethany was responsible for a string of natural disasters. However, Gabrielle begins to suspect that there is more to Bethany than meets the eye as she successfully predicts the dates of a superstorm which hits Rio de Janerio and an earthquake which reduces Istanbul to rubble.
On the whole I really enjoyed this book as a thriller, which aims barbs at climate change deniers, megacorporations and religious fundamentalists in a manner reminiscent of Margaret Atwood. The characters of Bethany and Gabrielle were both in turns an engaging mix of vulnerability and aggression, lashing out at the world in the few ways left to them.
Something which troubled me about the book were the ways in which Gabrielle referred to herself as no longer being a woman, having lost her unborn child and feeling below the waist in a car accident (and there are a few heavy-handed Frida Kahlo allusions to reinforce this, lest you should forget…). I get that it’s an element of characterisation and doesn’t represent the author’s views and all that, but I found this a troubling way of expressing the characters loss of identity, as though genitals, reproductive ability or sensation in the nether regions are what code you as a woman… especially odd with the way the novel plays out, but this might just be me struggling with this.
It took me a little while to get into the language which for some reason felt very American, which isn’t a criticism of American English, just a surreal feeling when you’re trying to get into a book set in the UK. Ultimately though this transatlantic vibe worked quite well, and allowed the audience to find the spread of Evangelicalism and Evangelical celebrity across the pond all the more convincing.
If iceaggedon and the UK floods have put you in the mood for a novel which is a hybrid of psychological thriller and natural disaster prophecy, then this is a great book for you.
Image courtesy of http://simondale.net/hobbit.htm under the Creative Commons license.
This man is my current hero. I’m having enough trouble to get my boyfriend to agree to me putting in a small wildflower/meadow lawn in our back garden, let alone getting him to build me a Bilbo Baggins’ burrow in the woods…
Imagine that the earth’s rotation slowed, so that days gradually became longer. It might happen in minutes at first and you wouldn’t even notice, but what about when it started increasing in hours, twenty-five hours, twenty-seven hours, thirty hours… how would society cope?
The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel is said to have sparked a huge bidding war among publishers, and though there have been criticisms of both the science behind the slowing and elements of her writing style, you can see why it has generated such excitement. The prose is matter of fact and the narrative voice ideally suited to her eleven year old narrator Julia for whom the slowing is juxtaposed against her teenage concerns of being dumped by her best friend and having a crush on the remote Seth who by turns blows hot and cold. I found it particularly interesting as a piece of apocalyptic fiction as the focus is very much on how life goes on and mankind struggles to adapt, where they can, if they are able. As temperatures soar during days which last weeks in clock time and then plummet during the endless nights, weather becomes more violent and unpredictable, food becomes scarce. It’s easy to read as a warning about climate change with seabirds and marine life dying off first, but it doesn’t feel especially rammed down your throat.
I bought The Age of Miracles on a visit back in Wales a few weeks ago, when the days were getting longer but the weather was bad enough to convince you that we were still in the grip of winter. Reading it on the train back to Oxford was a really disconcerting experience, as the light evening contrasted against the miserable weather almost made me believe that the slowing really was occurring.
I’d certainly recommend this as a good read for anyone who enjoys young adult fiction, and I wouldn’t let the science behind the slowing bother you either. I saw a news broadcast on the BBC the other day which basically said that scientists still can’t explain or predict the movement of the jet stream, even though they’re working really, really hard.
Sometimes I think it’s good to accept that some things are still beyond our understanding.
Image by BadgerHero, used under the terms of Wikimedia Commons License
Badgers remind me of my childhood. Mysterious woodland animals who usually played a noble role in fiction, defending the weak, standing up for what was right… They remind me of more innocent days in my naive youth. A time when I believed that a democratically elected government had to listen to the views of the people, or, if they insisted upon taking a paternalistic approach, the mainstream of scientific opinion… you know, silly things like that…
Given the UK government’s current foray into badger fiction* (fiction in the sense that they are flying in the face of the facts/a ten-year independent scientific study into badgers and Bovine TB) I thought I would share my top five badgers in actual fiction.
1. The Badger Lords of the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
I was obsessed with the Redwall Series by the late, great Brian Jacques when I was small. I’ve always had a fondness for rodents. The Redwall books are a little like what Lord of the Rings might be if you take out the magic and replace hobbits, dwarves and orcs with mice, squirrels and wildcats. My favourite characters always the badgers and the mice. Though the badgers are noble characters, they suffer from bloodwrath which turns their eyes red, the sign of a great warrior who will not hold back or even be able to restrain themselves in the heat of battle.
2. Badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann
If you’re of a similar age to me, you’ll probably remember The Animals of Farthing Wood as a television series in which a diverse group of woodland animals who are threatened by man’s interference in their wood, form a motley crew and journey to the safety of a woodland reserve. It doesn’t look as though this will go ahead, due to the smaller animals natural fear of the carnivores eating them, until Badger suggests they take an oath of mutual protection. It’s a very nice story about understanding other people’s limitations and supporting them (Badger carries Mole on his back because he can only walk very slowly). Someone should also read it to the Environment Secretary because it makes the point that animals under threat migrate.
3. Tommy Brock The Tale of Mr Tod Beatrix Potter
Now Tommy Brock is a very naughty badger, the kind of badger you could imagine the government wanting to do something about. Don’t be fooled by his smart waistcoat and downturned gaze. This is the kind of badger who would steal a nest of baby rabbits and hides them in Mr Tod’s oven. Now you might say that badgers don’t commonly eat rabbits in the wild. To that I say, foxes don’t commonly own ovens. We’re suspending our disbelief here. Suspended? Thank you. Many people love Beatrix Potters “good characters” but I’ve always had a soft spot for the villains. Yes, I prefer Samuel Whiskers to Tom Kitten, and I salute Tommy Brock for stealing the baby rabbits and making everyone wonder why Benjamin Bunny decided to sire a family with his first cousin Flopsy. Well, that’s rabbits for you.
4. Mr Badger The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme
I admire any badger that wears a dressing gown, and the solitary Mr Badger may have attempted to stage one of the first interventions in literature when he tried to dissuade Toad from his path of self-destruction by placing him under house arrest. Interestingly, Badger and Mole are driven out of Toad Hall by a crew of stoats and weasels. Did you know that the TB virus can survive for a very long time in empty badger setts, infecting any badgers which move into the area. Interestingly, since rats and weasels move into Toad Hall, rats, weasels and ferrets can also carry the disease. As can foxes. And deer… shoot anything that moves will be next.
5. Trufflehunter Prince Caspian C S Lewis
This Old Narnian badger rescues Prince Caspian and hides him when he is fleeing from his evil, murderous Uncle Miraz. As a good and true Narnian, he surely lives on in Aslan’s Country, the true Narnia. But you have to wonder what fate lies in store for less vocal members of the meles meles if the government proceed with this madness.
Honourable mention should go to Bill of Rupert the Bear fame and Captain Ramshackle of Automated Alice but I felt that we had one randomologist too many in the form of Owen Paterson at this time.
* Even if your name isn’t Sherlock, you will notice that I have used this post on fictional badgers to ram home my views on the cull. I make no apology for that, it is madness. A ten-year study has shown that culling will not solve the problem of Bovine TB. It may in fact make it worse as studies showed TB decreasing in cull zones but rapidly increasing in surrounding areas. 92% of the surveyed British public are against the culls so both the scientists and the people the government have been elected to represent are being ignored.
If you’re a UK resident and as annoyed about this as I am please sign this petition. It’s already been debated once and the cull was postponed. Hopefully a second debate will see the cull cancelled altogether and Bovine TB managed through vaccination, improved husbandry and better biosecurity.
This week I attended a talk by an environmental consultant on the carbon footprint of publishing. The talk was mostly on the ways in which industry in general is trying to become more green and environmentally conscious, but there was a section on traditional print vs. eReaders which I found quite interesting and thought you would like to share.
The talk said that producing the production and lifetime energy use of an iPad 2 produces 105kg CO2 equivalent gases (no idea of the figures they used for hours spent reading). The kindle has a worse environmental profile even if you assume that it has a similar footprint (though the talk said it was slightly higher than an iPad) because it is not multifunctional in the same way as an iPad. When pressed the man giving the talk told me that the lifetime of an e reader is considered to be three years.
So where does this leave me, a diehard paper book fan? Well, the production of 100 paperback books is marginally higher at approximately 200 kg of CO2e (this figure is far from precise as paper books vary in size, production methods etc.) but the talk used the average 2 kg for the production of an individual paperback and I will go with this. So you can see that gram for carbon footprint gram the e reader appears to be the greener option.
But… and this pondering in no way represents the views of the company I work for or the man who failed to give me an adequate answers to these question… does this take reading and buying habits into account? And does it look at the bigger green picture?
Of course CO2 is a helpful indicator of environmental impact, but shouldn’t ecological factors like the impact of materials used be taken into consideration? Surely wood grown in properly managed forests (a renewable resource, creating paper a recyclable one) is preferable to the plastics (crude oil) and metal (mining, strip mining etc) involved in an e reader. Can you recycle an eReader?
On to the reading habits. Ideally publishers would like everyone who reads a book to buy a copy of that book, but when it comes to fiction, how many people actually do that? Books are transferable products which can be passed around the family or friendship group or bought second-hand (second-hand being a key word in green). eBooks have DRM encryption to prevent people transferring them, not making them single use, but effectively restricting their ownership to one individual.
“Not an individual!” The adverts cry, “eReaders can be shared among the family!” A beautiful vision, but I think everyone knows how possessive children and teenagers can be. They will all want their own e reader and fair enough really, if you can’t read at the same time.
I’d also like the general populace surveyed so that we got a more accurate impression of the nation’s reading habits. I know that a lot of my friends bought a kindle because it was the latest gadget (not multifunctional, the i pad less of an issue) and I know that they don’t read more that the 17.5 books per year that you would need to buy to make the i pad the greener choice- let alone the higher numbers required for the kindle.
I am aware that I am hopelessly biased. But it does irritate me that people are lead to think of the e reader as a greener choice without thinking of the wider issues.
7th-8th century Lindisfarne Gospels- 433.3 times older than a modern e reader can expect to live
The shamelessly biased bottom line is that for me it’s about the lifetime and history of the book. I have books that I read in my first year at university (seven years ago), during my GCSEs (ten or more) and during my childhood. I have books that are older than my father (53 years) and a treasured copy of Wuthering Heights from 1897 (114 years old). They are beautiful works of art and pieces of history that I will treasure and hand on to people who will one day love them as much as I do. And for me no gadget has that staying power. An eReader will be in landfill (not rotting) while those books are still read and enjoyed.
At 8:30pm tomorrow people all around the world will be turning off their lights for earth hour as a stand against climate change. Now, it’s not all that light at 8:30pm still, and reading in the dark can cause serious eye strain, so to save you bookworms that trauma I have come up with a list of five great books to read by candlelight- the flickering shadows will only enhance their dark and mysterious goings on.
The Turn of the Screw-Henry James
Two uncannily beautiful children led astray by the demonic spirits of their deceased governess and her lover, or the twisted workings of a naive young woman’s mind? Henry James’ master parody of Jane Eyre, designed to confound literary analysis,is as at least as entertaining as that governess’ tale, if not more so.
The Thirteenth Tale-Diane Setterfield
A young biographer is summoned from her father’s second hand book shop to the home of a reclusive author who delights in leading journalists on a wild goose chase, however, she wants the girl to write the truth in a tell all biography, and could it be that truth is stranger than fiction? A story of twins, decaying mansions, foundlings, secrets, love, betrayal and ghosts- if you haven’t read it, you must.
Frankenstein– Mary Shelley
It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein caused outrage when it was released because very few people could accept that a woman could think such dark thoughts, and because it didn’t criticise Victor’s attempts to break the laws of God and nature. Exploring that evil is less about ghouls and goblins, and more the corruption that lurks in men’s souls, in an age of cloning and xeno-grafting the books remains as relevant as ever.
The Shadow of The Wind– Carlos Ruiz Zafón
As a young boy, Daniel’s father takes him to The Cemetery of Lost Books to choose a book which he must protect for life. However , before too long, Daniel finds himself being followed by a man with the same name as one of the main characters in the book, Laín Coubert, the devil. A fascinating adventure which speaks volumes about love, loss and the power of books.
Rebecca– Daphne du Maurier
If you’ve ever worried that your partner’s ex was cooler, sexier or more exciting that you are, you should be able to sympathise with the plight of the new Mrs. De Winter. Having met the mysterious and melancholy Maxim de Winter while holidaying in the French Riviera, the young unnamed woman soon finds herself at his ancestral home Manderley, which is still filled with his first wife Rebecca’s clothes and possessions after her unexplained disappearance. And while the new Mrs. De Winter struggles to find her place in another woman’s home, Mrs. Danvers, the fearsome house keeper, pulls the rug from under her at every opportunity.
Cash strapped? I know I am at the moment, even more so since I started trying to scrabble together each and every spare penny for a deposit for a house. Inspired by this I decided to put together some handy hints on ways to get the books you want to read at a price you can afford. On the bright side all of these tips are environmentally friendly, because you are reusing rather than demanding the print of extra books.
Making use of your public library or school library is probably the easiest way to get hold of the best sellers for free. Sign up for a library card and you can rent a selection of books for weeks at a time, just make sure that you renew or return by the due date to avoid fines. Libraries have the added advantage of having a great sense of community spirit, and if you make friends with your librarian they will get to know your tastes in literature and be able to tell you when they have some great books in that you are likely to enjoy. I’ve been introduced to some great books and authors this way, including the fabulous Gatty’s Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
2) Set Up a Swap Table
At work we have a swap table in the lobby where you can take your books when you’ve finished reading them and pick up a new book in exchange. This doesn’t even need to be limited to books. Our table is fairly book dominated because of the nature of the publishing industry, but I’ve also seen CDs, DVDs, cake and in the summer a glut of allotment fruit and vegetables. All the benefits of swapping with a friend of family member but with much greater variety.
3) Charity Shops
As well as clothes that I’ve realised just don’t suit me, I take books that I’ve read to my local charity shop. I have regular clear outs, and not only do I get the exercise benefits of lugging along some pretty weighty tomes on the way there, but I invariably end up finding something I haven’t read but want to. On my last charity shop book buying spree I ended up carting home eleven books for six pounds. Now that is amazing value.
4) Green Metropolis
If you prefer to be able to select the book you want rather than have fate choose the book for you, greenmetropolis.com is a great site to allow you to boost your financial wellbeing at the same time as your eco credentials. There is a flat fee of £3.75 for each book, and 5p from each sale is donated to the Woodland Trust. Not only does the site sell cheap books with great green clout, but you can sell the books back when you’re done and receive a fee for £3 per book. You’ll have to pay for postage out of this, but can still turn a profit when recycling packaging and sending via second class post.
5) Book Mooch
Or if anonymous swapping is more your thing (I don’t know who left the Mills and Boon and Jackie Collins books on the swap table, I’d die if anyone thought it was me…) then swap online via bookmooch.co.uk . Though you do have to be patient while you wait for the book you want to appear, there is an immense sense of satisfaction in hunting down that little gem. Especially good for classics such as The Great Gatsby or set study texts.