Wild Town

Since becoming a parent I am guilty of often tutting about ‘things not being like they used to be‘ – toys, clothes, music… Middle age eh? It comes to get us all eventually. But when it comes to outside time for children, things really are not like they used to be. The roaming distance that children play from their home has shrunk by 90% in 30 years, with time spent playing outside down 50% in just one generation. It is not just my increasingly curmudgeonly nature, British kids have never been more disconnected from the natural world. And it is believed that this increasing disconnect with nature, a nature deficit disorder, could even contribute to why the UK ranks so poorly in childhood satisfaction surveys.

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Nature Nurture want to change that. They are on a mission to get children and their families back outside to have some wild time and they want to start here, in our home town of Reading. They want to provide free nature themed Family Wild Day events, workshops for schools, training for teachers, outdoor Playdays for children. Including things like building dens, hunting bugs, conker contests… Things we remember as children! As well as that, they want children to learn about nature, all in our local parks, woodlands and other wild spaces. And they want to map the green spaces and wild side of Reading and help people of all ages discover some of the amazing wildlife that live there too.

And if you are thinking “well that’s nice for Reading, but what is in this for us?” As part of the project they want to create ‘The Wild Town Toolkit’ to help towns all across the country go wild!

But they need our help. They are through to the final of ITV’s People’s Millions and need 10s of 1000s of telephone votes to be in with a chance of winning £50,000 to make our towns go wild. Please watch the video below and pledge your support to vote for the project on Monday 24th November. Please help our kids have the kind of wild childhood we remember. Just like things used to be.

Hardwick Squash and Pumpkin Festival

Welcome banner - Squash and Pumpkin FestivalAfter what felt like weeks of constant rain, the sun broke through and we made our way across the other side of the Thames Valley to feel the warmth on our faces and to visit Tolhurst Organic Produce’s annual Squash and Pumpkin Festival, set in their farm in the Victorian Walled Gardens of the Hardwick Estate.

Thames ValleyWe sat in the sun on the valley sides and drank locally brewed beer, ate locally grown foods, admired the most magnificent array of squashes and enjoyed some local bands.

Local beerThe Tiny Overlord practiced some serious toddling.

Toddling on the farmAnd we explored the farm. I often underestimate how much food is frown locally. Maybe I often mistakenly (or lazily) assume that we must rely on big supermarkets for our food. But these fields were bustling with tasty things to eat. I really want us to try to eat more seasonally, at least, and support more local growers like Tolhurst. Fresh, tasty and surely better for all of us? I am inspired.

Tolhurst Organic FarmThe festival was a real joy. I’m not too fond of commercial Halloween, but this festival felt like a proper celebration of the seasons – of truly appreciating what comes from the ground and the passing of that growing season to the winter. Do I sound like a hippy? Maybe. But good food, beer and music in a beautiful setting floats my boat far more than ‘trick or treat’.

Wool Against Weapons Day

Wool Against Weapons Day, Aldermaston

One of those days you really don’t know what to expect, after all the knitting and the excitement online, I packed myself, the 9 month old Tiny Overlord and an ample load of picnic provisions in to the van and we headed in to the West Berkshire countryside. And to Aldermaston and Burghfield, home of the UK’s atomic weapons development centres.

I’ve always been rather in awe of this diverse little county’s legacy of peace protest (you must visit the Greenham Peace Garden near Newbury) and daydreamed of crafty projects decorating the high militarised fences of AWE Aldermaston, in the spirit of the Greenham Common women. So, despite not really knitting anything since childhood, I jumped at the chance of getting involved in making a piece of the ambitious Wool Against Weapons seven mile peace scarf, to link AWE Aldermaston with AWE Burghfield. Having sent my piece to the wonderful Jaine Rose, I wondered if it would be a suitable protest to take the kiddo to. One way to find out…

Rolls of Pink Knitting

We parked and headed to the purple milestone, a meeting point for protesters from Berkshire, Hampshire and the South of England, and were confronted with the site of these huge pinwheels of reams of knitting – the picture above is one mile of beautiful hand knitted and stitched with love peace scarf. The little guy and I were made very welcome and those without babies in tow started to roll out and stitch together the beautiful pieces along the road from Aldermaston to Burghfield.

Peace Scarf on the road between Aldermaston and Burghfield

While the scarf was joined in to one peace, people happily chatted about the issues of the day – nuclear proliferation, military expenditure in a time of austerity and, most importantly, peace. Huge thanks to the lovely guy who played Twinkle Twinkle on his accordion to entertain the little guy. When the scarf was joined in to one seven mile long piece at 1pm, we all stood and rang bells to celebrate peace for five minutes and then stood silently (well nearly all of us, it is difficult to tell a nine month old to be silent) in respect of Nagaski Day  and in memory of all those who had lost their lives to nuclear weapons.

We headed home, but not before we drove the length of the scarf route from Aldermaston to Burghfield. Beeping the van’s horn at everyone gathered round each milestone. It was quite overwhelming to see the sheer extent of it, in some places so much had been knitted it took up both sides of the road. And to think that each metre of those seven miles had been knitted with love, by someone that believed in something better. One of the most beautiful things about craft based activism is that it engages people that wouldn’t go to a traditional protest. It gives people all over the world, from all walks of life, a voice they might not otherwise have. It gets people involved in issues from an angle they might not gave previously considered and gives them time to think and reflect. Just a wonderful and inspiring day. I’m so pleased we went.

Obviously, there was little chance of me ever finding it in situ, but this wouldn’t be a crafty blog if I didn’t share what I had knitted. Made from wool from charity shops and rather imperfectly: here is my little piece of peace.

My piece of Peace

If you want to know more about Wool Against Weapons, my first post is here and there are lots of updates on their website.

 

Wool Against Weapons

Recently I have been overcome with an increasing sense of urgency. Not to do small stuff, like pair up socks or weed the garden, but to do big stuff, like find world peace. Or eradicate weapons of mass destruction. Things that are easily achievable while the baby is having a nap. Ahem.

But something does boil, deep within. We often walk up the slopes of the Thames Valley to my local park where, on an admittedly rare clear day, you can see AWE Burghfield. One of the UK’s atomic weapon establishments. The second, AWE Aldermaston, is located a mere seven miles away. Like find this a difficult concept to get my head around, that WMDs are developed here on our doorstep. And it’s not just infuriating on a global justice level, I can’t understand how we can live in a country where millions of public money is spent on new nuclear weapons, yet services like our local children centres are frequently facing cuts. It boils inside me. Repeatedly.

Fortunately our little county of Berkshire has a fine history of visual protest against nuclear arms. The women of the Greenham Common Peace Camp decorated the fences of Greenham Common Airbase. In the spirit of these protests comes Wool Against Weapons

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Exciting? No? Imagine the lush green Berkshire countryside being draped with lovingly crafted pink stitches of peace. And that’s not all, after the knitted pieces have made their stand against the atomic menace, they are going to be repurposed in to blankets for children in need of some extra warmth. Win win win.

Let’s have a think about some of the gritty, not knitty, facts – the U.K Government is going to spend over £80 billion on renewing the Trident Nuclear warhead, not only is this a WMD project, I think it is an insane amount for our national government to be spending on arms in a time of financial austerity and recession. The world has a global arms trade worth $1.74 trillion. I’m with Wool Against Weapons on this. Lets invest in people instead – lets move from a war economy to a green economy. Cut the military, address the root causes of violence, wars and terrorism. Please.

I’m not much of a knitter, but even I’m trying to make my metre. I’ve been collecting pink balls of wool from the local charity shops. Slowly, but surely, I’ve been making progress. I have about 30cm left to go. But I’m so excited to be part of this. Even while the baby sleeps I might be able make tiny steps or stitches to change the world.

Want to get involved? Check out the Wool Against weapons website here

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A Mini Fashion Protest: Reading

Cast your minds way back to last Autumn, to a London Fashion Week held in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and the Craftivist Collective and War On Want’s highly inspiring Mini Fashion Protest campaign.

Heavily pregnant and armed with my hand stitched mini protest banners, I headed to Reading’s bustling Oracle shopping centre, in the hope that my tiny embroidered words might make someone think twice about where the clothes they are buying might be coming from and who might be making them.

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This banner reads “Please show respect to the women who make your clothes. Let’s pay a living wage to all garment workers“.

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Exploitation: It’s not okay here, it’s not okay anywhere” This one was stitched not only in solidarity for those exploited abroad, but also in solidarity for many British retail workers who are paid minimum wage (not a ‘living’ wage) and have unfair working contracts.

One thing I have learnt about display mini protest banners is that it is hard to feel inconspicuous when putting them up there. My heart always pounds, my hands feel a little clammy. Add to the mix being eight and a half months pregnant (and unwisely wearing bright pink and red stripes) and these feelings double. Triple even.

But I really believed in this campaign and believe in conscious consumption, safe working conditions, fair wages, human rights and thinking about the environmental impacts of our consumer choices and we’ve not even touched on the emotive issues around child labour yet.

Maybe someone saw my stitched words by the Oracle riverside and briefly thought about some of those issues? Someone definitely saw them, as nearly five months later the cable ties holding my ‘exploitation’ banner to the bridge are still there.

Braywick

There is something weird about Braywick Nature Reserve situated in the depths of the Thames Valley – it rather unnaturally undulates and looms over the surrounding area. That’s because there is something rather unnatural about Braywick, it’s a former landfill site.

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This weekend I decided to spend a rare Tiny-Overlord-free day with The Conservation Volunteers Berkshire, to put something back in to the natural environment that I so often mentally and physically take from. Our task at Braywick was a woodland management one, to cut down some Field Maple and to open up the woodland floor to increase the prevalence of wild flowers.

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Before I met The Conservation Volunteers (and subsequently took this brilliant course with The Open University) I didn’t really ‘get’ woodland management. I mean, because chopping trees down is bad, it goes against all my hippy instincts, right yeah man? But I’ve learnt that a lot of our ‘natural’ landscapes in the UK are actually created by human, and that by managing Braywick’s woodland and opening up the woodland floor we will actually increase biodiversity. And here in the grey airport and motorway dominated Thames Valley, here in Braywick on hills that are literally created by tonnes of human rubbish, that can only be a good thing?

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Fuelled by biscuits and tea we felled selected trees by hand for most of the day. And I my arms ached. And my heart ached from being away from the Tiny Overlord. And I got blisters on my hand from clutching the saw so tightly. But the satisfaction of doing something outdoors was so overwhelming, I came home to my boys buzzing and enthused. Vowing once again to give the Tiny one the ‘natural’ childhood that he deserves. Because there is so much nature for me to explore with him. So many things that are good and free and natural. Even here in the Thames Valley. Even on top of an old landfill.

Oh Christmas Tree

Every year I look towards Christmas with the best of homemade intentions. The level of consumption we are encouraged to undertake at Christmas makes me extremely uncomfortable. For Christmas 2012 I managed to make (nearly) everyone’s Christmas present. But 2013 a combination of the crazy weather, nothing growing in our garden as it should and having a baby (had I mentioned that we’ve had a baby? Baby, baby, baby…) meant I managed to rustle up a mere 4 jars of jam and chutney. So I bought everyone books and framed photos of a very smiley Tiny Overlord in fairtrade photo frames instead.

But I felt a little peeved that my gifts, whilst lovingly chosen from the best shop in Reading, lacked the homemade touch. So I’ve started a new tradition of at least making people a handmade decoration each year. Hopefully this is something the Tiny Overlord and I can do together in the future. But this year, with him only being 2 months old, I went it alone and made a selection of hangable Christmas trees from my button stash and felt.

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I must confess that my birth-and-baby-addled brain didn’t entirely come up with the design on my own, and I took more than a small amount of inspiration from these decorations I’ve had pinned forever by MissyMaddoxDesigns. But I was mightily pleased with the result. I wrapped the books up in brown paper and string (saved from our vegetable boxes – never knowingly overlook an opportunity to recycle) and a button tree on each one was the finishing touch. Now all I need to do is to start scouring Pinterest for this year’s decoration inspiration.