Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A history of modern Britain - book review

I have just finished reading A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr. It covers the period from 1945 up until the present. At 600 pages it was a fairly weighty tome and took me a while to read. But having got to its end, I can report that it was both an educational and an enjoyable experience. I thought it is especially good because it didn't just cover politics but covered music, culture, arts etc. It also had colour photographs from some of the different moments in history covered by the book.

This followed on nicely from Churchill' s book A history of the English-speaking peoples. I have to confess though that I didn't read all the volumes but read the condensed version instead.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Alternative xmas meal ideas

Not eating meat means there is no turkey on the table at xmas for me. So the question is what should I have instead? Being at home with my parents in Cheshire I've had a bit of time to cook over the last few days. Meals that turned out well are the Leek and Chestnut Purses - fancy name for a spring roll type of dish in a purse shape - and the Smoked Bean Curd Medallions with Shiitake and Walnut Stuffing - fancy name for burgers. Both would work well as an alternative xmas meal.

What are others having?

Monday, 22 December 2008

Reading's recycling problems

Thanks to Paul for point me towards this on recycling:

"Medway, Peterborough and Reading councils had the worst figures, with each failing to recycle more than 10% of what was collected."

Is this just one of the curses of rolling doorstep recycling out across the borough? I suspect not. I think that far more could be done in terms of education. As a start I'll try to put something in our ward newsletter about what can be recycled.

Of course as I've said before if we were to focus more on waste reduction, this would mean fewer recycling problems.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Green xmas

Being self-employed I have no work Christmas party to go to. Fortunately this week I was invited to the Pakistani Community Centre Christmas party. There were loads of people from many local communities in attendance, people gave short but interesting speeches - about religon, Pakistan and xmas - and this was followed by a very tasty meal and music.

At this time of year people sometimes ask me about how to have a Green Christmas. The best advice I have - which is recycled from fellow Green Derek Wall - is "consumer less, share more and enjoy life".

Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Uni car parking overspill

Hat Tip to Daisy - although her blog is down at the moment - for this information on university parking:

"UoR to produce it's first ever legally-binding car parking policy for its students which has been included with the planning application and has now been adopted.

This includes a policy to reduce parking off campus, which is very welcome. However, the rather obvious question is - how will this policy be effectively enforced?

The policy states:

"Students in halls of residence who do NOT have authority for a motor vehicle on campus/hall precincts MUST NOT keep their vehicles on public roads within one mile of the University’s main campuses. Students who break this rule will be in breach of their student residency agreement and will be liable to be required to vacate their campus accommodation. The University will co-operate with appropriate local public authorities, such as Reading Borough Council, in respect of off campus parking""

In Park ward this will be of particular interest to people near to Bridges and Wessex Halls who suspect an overspill into their roads - Green Rd, Talfourd, Melrose, Belle, Earley Hill and Holmes.

Friday, 12 December 2008

New WOMAD - Heavenly Planet

Great to see a new festival Heavenly Planet in Reading to fill the gaping chasm left when WOMAD and the council fell out. I'll be booking my ticket as soon as I can pin my partner down to a date!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Caversham lock island still for sale

Despite the statement given in the Post that "just five cottages not on the river or adjacent to lock sites will be sold when they become available" - giving the impression that Caversham Lock Island is safe. I spoke to the Environment agency today and they say IT IS STILL FOR SALE with the Kings Meadow Lido!

This lock-keepers house is on the river and it is a very busy lock. So bad news for the lock, lock keeper and river users!

It seems everyone has been hood winked!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Report on climate march - guest blog

My friend Brian who went on the climate march on Saturday had this to say:

"A Dozen of us from Greenpeace Berkshire & upto 10,000 other folk descended on Grovner Square & the US embassy, then marched to Westminster, in a lovely sunny day. Where we listened to speeches by Caroline Lucas & a speaker Bangladesh & Nick Cleg & others & Seize The Day played. Good & inspiring.

Also advertised, were the following are not Greenpeace events but interesting.

Climate Rush hits Heathrow…
Dinner At Domestic Departures (with Caroline Lucas) T1 7pm 12th Jan.

Big Green Gathering 29th July – 2nd August 2009
Early bird prices till 31st Dec, £115, apply by post to avoid on line booking fee, to
Big Green Gathering Co Ltd, PO box 3423 Glasto ba6 9zn !

Afterwards we obviously ended up in the pub."

There was also a good contingent from the Green Party there, although not me as I was busy door knocking in Park ward.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Good old bbc radio have done a version of my one of my favorite books, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Sad but good.

"Adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic tale set in 15th-century Paris, dramatised in a collaboration between the BBC and Graeae, the disabled-led theatre company. Starring deaf actor David Bower, artistic director of Signdance Collective."

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Bin challenge - 5 people to a bag of sugar.

After the one bin of waste in a year challenge, I'm busy doing school assemblies with my bag of waste. At the last one the kids didn't have much of an idea about how much waste the average person would create in a year to compare my one bag to...and neither did I!

So, I've done a bit of research and come up with this:

The average person generates about 370kg of landfill waste in a year.

The average person weighs 70 kg, so 5 people represent the weight of waste a single person landfills in a year.

My bag of waste weighs 2kg. Half of that was Sam. So I generated 1kg of waste in a year - a big bag of sugar.

So I went from 5 people to a bag of sugar. Simple and nice and visual.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Reading Acolaid information - how active is your councillor?

As promised in the press release I'm publishing information about how active councillors are based on their use of the Acolaid system - until hopefully the council takes on this role...

Items of work - questions or requests to council officers - or Acolaids are usually generated by a councillor following on from a member of the public asking a question or requesting that some work be done. This goes to an officer to answer. All councillors use the Acolaid system because it guarantees them a quick response.

Please vote in the poll opposite if you'd like to see a more transparent council!

Results in alphabetical order. Highest number 133, lowest 1. Sorry about the poor formatting (ward, councillor, acolaids):


Ayub, Mohammed



Ballsdon, Isobel



Bayes, Kirsten



Beard Peter



Benson, Daisy



Byrne, Terry



Chowdhary, Jamie



Cumpsty, Andrew



Duveen, Ricky



Edwards, Deborah



Ennis, John



Epps, Gareth



Gittings Paul



Goodall, Glenn



Hanley Jim



Harris, Chris



Harris, Tim



Hartley Jon



Hoskin Graeme



Hussain, Wazir



Janjua, Azam



Jones Peter



Jones Tony



Khan, Gul



Lovelock Jo



Luckett, David



Maskell, Chris



Merriott, Shirley



Orton Mike



Page Tony



Pugh, Fred



Ralph, Mark



Ruhemann Pete



Rynn, Jennifer



Singleton-White, Mary



Skeats Jeanette



Stainthorp Richard



Stanway, Tom



Steele, Tom



Stevens, David



Swaine, Warren



Tickner Bet



Townend, Mike



Warman, Emma



Watson, Deborah



Willis, Richard


Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Reading Credit Union Shop front - call now

Reading Credit Union are through to the final of the People's Million competition to win some money to pay for a shop front. See the message below:

"Today - Wednesday 26th Nov 2008 - is the day, we need your votes. You have 10 votes per phone, so please use all the phones you have access to. You have between now and midnight to vote.

The number is 08716268114

Please pass the number on to your family, friends and colleagues and help us win funding for our shop front."


We won the competition!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Gardening with kids

In the day time, when I'm not pounding the cold/wet/hard streets of Reading knocking on doors, delivering newsletters and the rest of it for the Green Party, chances are that I'll be gardening. One of my more fun and rewarding jobs is working with kids at the Oxford Road Primary School as part of a gardening club.

Through the spring, summer and autumn we've grown, we've eaten and we've got muddy. The winter is kicking in now and we're on tops of the jobs - garlic, onions, broad beans and winter salad all in. We've not got much pruning or preparation to do. So I've been looking for other related activities and came across thekidsgarden website. This led onto us doing some of the activities mentioned about house plants - we divided spider plants. Next time we'll be doing a survey that one of the teachers found on the BBC Breathing Spaces site, and then making some habitat for wildlife - bird boxes, insect hotels and a bark bucket for stag beetles.

I think getting kids and families interested in gardening opens up many doors - healthy living and eating, learning, community building - with possibilities and rewards only limited by the imagination and energy of those involved.

I've also been involved in a project to get some lottery money for a growing in schools network in Reading. Fingers crossed that we made a good case, get the money and can pull it off...


I also came across this Do One Thing page.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Recession - The Policy Challenge for Greens in the South East

Thanks to Danny for the blurb:

Recession is a double danger to the Green Party – it can squeeze both our electoral support and our membership.

As people become focused on immediate bread-and-butter issues – jobs, prices – they come to see other questions (such as the environment, social progress) as peripheral.

At such a time it becomes easy for the grey parties and the popular media to portray us as the party that says “no”. Our critical approach to “growth at all costs” and to over-development exposes us to cheap accusations that we oppose the very things that are most needed.

This problem is especially acute in the South East, where so much is now geared to the expectation of constant, rapid growth.

The challenge is to position ourselves as the most progressive party in town; to make clear the connection between our Green agenda and the solutions to today’s problems.

Reading Green Party will host a discussion of these issues for members of the Green Party in the South East. This discussion will be led by Derek Wall, prominent Green activist and expert economic commentator.

Meeting: Recession - The Policy Challenge for Greens in the South East
Speaker: Derek Wall
Time: 8.00pm
Date: Wednesday 3rd December 2008
Location: Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC), 35-39 London Street, Reading, RG1 4PS (upstairs, main hall)

Open to all Green Party members in the South East - if you're not a member why not join?

Enquiries to: Rob White (0118 950 4062)

Friday, 14 November 2008

Have your say on where we build and protect...

Reading council is now consulting on what bits of land should be built on or protected. The plan is called the Site Allocations Document and runs for the next 15 years. Near to me in Park Ward, I note that the playing fields near to Alfred Sutton are marked for development, and that Kennet Mouth isn't marked for protection!

Comments by 12 December 2008.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Busy week...

It's been a busy week this week, with the two most useful meetings being the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) forum and the Reading Refugee Support AGM. Both good opportunities to support local communities, meet people and remind people that the Green Party is about more than the usual stereotype of 'saving whales'.

At the PVE meeting it was good to see people challenging the government's attitude that if you have a large number of Muslims then you must be a breeding ground for terrorists. The overwhelming feeling of the meeting was that Reading already has good relations between communities and that the PVE money should be spent to improve these further rather than focused on the 'Muslim community'.

The Reading Refugee AGM was also a good opportunity to hear what the group had been up to - lots see their website and meet people.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Green drinks

I finally made it along to Reading Green Drinks - 1st Tuesday of the month, 6pm, at the Global Cafe. For those that haven't heard of it before it is an informal meet-up and networking opportunity for people in the green or ethical sectors. It was a relaxing evening with conversations ranging from co-housing to junk mail and I'll definitely try and make it along again in the future when I've got a free evening.

You can find out more from the Green Drinks website.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Newtown parking problems - public meeting

For a while now, when knocking on doors in Newtown the number one issue that comes up has been parking - lack of space, or too many cars depending on your point of view. I've been pointing people to the local car sharing scheme Commonwheels as one way to reduce parking pressures and we've also been looking to removing excess yellow lines. Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture we've been lobbying for more cheap and reliable alternatives to the car and a shift to more local living.

Following on from a lot of complaints on this issue, the council is now conducting a parking review of Newtown. They are investigating introducing residents' parking across the whole area. I've therefore organised a public meeting. This is so people can hear what the council thinks and have their say.

When: Friday 21st November, 7:00pm
Where: Wycliffe Church, 233 Kings Road, Wycliffe room.

All local councillors and a representative have been invited as well as the whole of Newtown.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Commomwheels car sharing scheme

I had a demo of the new car sharing scheme in Newtown today. I think car sharing schemes are a great idea. They give people access to a car for when they need it without the hassle and expense of owning one. And what's more you get a guaranteed parking space!

In Newtown where I live parking pressures are tight. People say things like 'I don't go out in the evening because I don't want to lose my parking space'. It's in areas such as these where the car sharing scheme can help reduce parking pressures - as each car sharing scheme car can take around ten cars off of the road - help people to get around, and even save people money.

The fees are straight forward, you pay an hourly rate and then a cost per mile. Booking the car was very simple, just a case of logging onto the website and a few clicks later it was booked. If you've not got access to the Internet you can do it by phone.

I accessed the car – an efficient and modern Polo BlueMotion - via a swipe card, then I drove away. Petrol is done via a petrol card and insurance is done through Commonwheels. It was all very easy and straight forward.

In the future the council could even run its car pool cars with the car sharing scheme to increase the number of cars available in Reading.

I'd recommend that anyone who needs access to a car, wants to save money, or to do their bit for the planet, has a look at the Commonwheels website.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Economic growth

There is a very good Special Report on economic growth and how (un)sustainable it is over at the New Scientist website. You can read some of it for free. I'll be off to the library to read the rest.

Hat tip to Chris Rose for bringing it to my attention and in his words:

"It's the fundamental difference between us and the ConLabLibSNPPlaidSocialistSect conflation whose ultimate economic (ecological) illiteracy we need to be hammering in the run up to the General Election."


Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Seven Principles of Public Life

I came across this on The Seven Principles of Public Life while looking into getting more involved with one of my local schools and it got me thinking do Reading politicians hold to these principles?

Monday, 20 October 2008

Berkshire Diet

Thanks to Pete for this on the Fife Diet - which is a diet of 90% locally produced food.

Radio 4 have done a program on it.

Maybe this'll do for a local project? Anyone fancy the Berkshire Diet? I think starting in spring or summer would be best when it will be easier...

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Free West Papua

I attended the Free West Papua event with - Green MEP Caroline Lucas speaking - at RISC yesterday and heard about the various injustices - rape, murder and displacement - perpetrated by Indonesia against the West Papuan people. It is outrageous that these atrocities are still committed and yet another murderous regime is still being propped up with military hardware from the UK with the blessings of the Labour government.

It was a really good event mixing the sadness over what has happened and the hope of a more positive future. In one of the lively songs it was good to see the Mayor Peter Beard dancing away, but he looked a little concerns when him chains ended up on one of his fellow dancers!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

EA to sell off lock keepers' cottages

The Environment Agency is to sell off lock keepers' cottages...this doesn't sound like a good move... See here for more information.

12 months, 12 columns, one bag of waste!

Our waste challenge – to generate less than a black bin of waste in a year – is over. But how have we done? Well we've not starved to death, fallen out over it or gone without in any real way and as you can see in the picture, we've generate a bin bag full of waste – mostly plastics that the Reading recycling scheme doesn't take – which is far less than a black bin. So a success.

It has been hard work though, because we've had to change our habits and keep at it for a whole year, and change can be hard. Now it's your turn...only joking. Whilst it would be theoretically possible for everyone in Reading to live as we have for the last year, it's not realistic to expect this to happen, because as I said change is hard and to try and get hundreds of thousands of people to change their lifestyles as we did would be very hard.

What is easier and more realistic though would be for the government to regulate manufacturers and retailers further to minimise packaging and make it all recyclable. Additionally they could legislate against the single-use throw-away culture that has developed and promote repair and reuse. Or maybe this is just as unrealistic under the current government?

Where next? Sam said no to my suggestion to do another year. Maybe someone else could do a year or 365 people could do a day each? Or what about a campaign for a local producer or retailer to reduce the waste they generate?

Finally what should we do with our bag of waste? Insulation, inspiration through an art project involving the waste, or incineration – as Reading will be doing with one quarter of our waste next year?

Ideas to me at or 8 Mandela Court, Orts Rd, Reading, RG1 3JG.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Nepalese Ex PM comes to Reading

Just got back from being one of the guests at a public meeting with the Nepalese PM. The meeting was focusing on the Gurkha right to settle issue which I've worked on recently.

I think we won the argument for the right to settle ages ago. With the recent test case decision, another battle has been won, but I think the government still has enough room for movement to get out of this situation without righting the injustice against the Gurkhas. So we better keep the pressure on. And we've not even got onto pensions yet!

On a lighter note, Rob Wilson MP better watch out on the way home, as the 12 inch blade (kukri) he was presented with and was last seen concealing under his coat, won't do much for his knives cost lives campaign if caught by the police!

Friday, 3 October 2008

The growing Nepalese community

Yesterday I attended a meeting to identify the needs of the large and fast growing Nepalese community in Reading. Lots of people attended but the gender balance could've been better - more women.

I learned that there may be up to 3000 Nepalese in the Reading area! What's more the community may grow even faster following on from the recent decision to re-examine 2000 Gurkha applications to remain. Well done to everyone who campaigned for this, but there is still a long way to go.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Cross campus route at Whiteknights

The officer report on this scheme hasn't been written yet, so you've still got time to respond. See the Facebook group for more information.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

White's trash August 2008

One month to go! That's right Sam and I have been watching our waste for 11 months. You may have noticed that the 'binometer' hasn't moved much recently. This is because after an initial jump after moving from a bin the size of a shoebox to one the size of a medium kitchen bin we found that the - mostly plastic packaging - rubbish would by its nature expand to fill the available space, but that you could always fit "one more bean in the can" or wrapper in the bin. So the kitchen bin is still full to the top, and I'd guess again that we're still at a third of a wheely bin.

A trick we've found to get round accumulating too much packaging waste when buying pasta – which we can't buy loose and reuse our plastic containers – is to buy spaghetti, which 'stacks' well and therefore comes with very little air in the bag and so less packaging than the equivalent weight of pasta shapes. Unfortunately although this helps us with our bin challenge it's not going to make much of a dent in those waste mountains!

The biggest waste of 'waste' recently in Reading must have been at the Reading Festival. I wonder how many beer cups were thrown away over the weekend? The festival could easily do a deposit on each cup which if high enough would ensure that they were returned to be washed and reused or recycled – if made from an appropriate material.

Then there are all the old tents, wellies and chairs that are left behind when the festival goers vacate their pitches. I heard from a contact that as usual there were tons of perfectly good items that had been left. Credit to the organisers who got a firm to collect a portion of the items, but there was still a sizeable quantity left which last I heard were probably going to end up in landfill as the clean-up company were soon to arrive...maybe next year local organisations could be contacted in advance.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Back from conference

First post! Just got back from a great conference.

Conference was a bit stressful at first, running round organising the Gurkha settlement rights emergency motion, but I felt a lot calmer after getting that passed - with almost unanimous support.

Talked to various members, MEPs and councillors and really feel as though I've learned a lot. Now back in Reading to apply it: to help increase our number of MEPs, get Caroline Lucas elected as the first Green MP and me as Reading's first Green councillor.