non-linky link (and no conclusions!)

I wrote this last November, and I don’t know why I didn’t publish it. So I’m publishing it now…

Yesterday at work I went to a seminar about the relevance, joy and current developments in research administration. Clearly, as my job is now fully about supporting the research, I was very interested, hence the being there.

In the main it was a good and interesting seminar. A little bit preaching to the converted, given that the audience were Faculty staff (Medical & Human Sciences in a university which has as one of its key aims “doing more & better research”), but humour & self-deprecation included in an engaging and in no way too much personality way.

There was just one thing which made me go “But-”

At one point, the presenter said (and I paraphrase) “We do really loads of excellent research in the Manchester research cluster AND YET in the greater Manchester area we have some of the lowest health indicators in the country” (low life expectancy, early coronary deaths, many deaths from smoking and so on).

I was distracted for a while trying to draw a link between research into genetically inherited enzyme-processing problems and high incidence of lung disease and macDonalds-related heart attacks.

I can see how not having a healthy participant base to draw on could be problematic for research (thank you Ian for pointing that out).

Unless you’re specifically targeting research which is intended to address the health issues which are known to be a problem in Greater Manchester and making sure that any practices which are shown to be effective are disseminated into the practising health community, you can’t really draw that correlation. According to the presentation (again, very good – worth every penny) structures and organisation are being geared towards encouraging exactly that in Manchester, which is good.

As someone who is a northerner by inheritance & adoption, the large band of low health indicators which stretched across the Pennines from (apparently, roughly) Skem & St Helens to Chesterfield & Doncaster was troubling, plus the large Birmingham-shaped blob on the lady’s map were quite telling. It’s a map which I could stare at for hours, quite frankly. And more alarmingly, we’re just launching into a ConDem Coalition who are slashing budgets and allegedly have no concept of what it’s like to live in a deep red area.

The other interesting discussion which followed on from the seminar was what happens *after* the study. If it’s a commercially sponsored clinical drug trial, it’s not rocket science – the pharmaceutical company promotes it. But if it’s a change to current practices it’s essentially up to the investigator to disseminate that wisdom. I’d be interested to know, in general, how that goes. Watch this space!

it’s about the gays

Yesterday morning I was listening to five live while doing the housework, and somehow the controversy over David Laws hiding his homosexuality by swindling taxpayers out of over £40K has turned into a discussion, headed by Iain Dale, about how hard it is to be gay and to come out.

Undeniably it is hard to come out, especially to one’s parents. However, it should be equally hard to dishonestly acquire £40K.

That’s not really why I’m writing. The parting shot of the discussion, in which a young man said he had decided to tell his parents immediately before going away to university, got me very wound up.

Ever since I was at school and several of my friends (ones for whom I had big romantic hopes, it might be added) came out – one of whom disappeared and then sent me a poignant “goodbye & thanks for all the fish” note, which REALLY pissed me off (does he know me *at all*??!?) – I’ve been passionate in my defence of equal rights for homosexuals. I nearly resigned a pretty good job when I found out that the company I worked for was withdrawing benefit rights for same sex couples (they were an american company: this was quite a significant change in benefits for the US colleagues it affected) except I resigned for other reasons before I could check my facts. Discrimination on these grounds generally gets me so cross & wound up I start hyperventilating. I’m working on that, because it makes me less useful in such arguments, but for some reason this issue speaks to me in a big fat loud voice.

The final comment on this morning’s radio discussion (which, generally, was pretty well handled – I was just thinking that what it missed was a swivel-eyed loon declaring that the gays were all disgusting and Queen Victoria had the right idea when she routinely hung them all at dawn when the final comment was made) was a young man who said that he thought he probably would tell his parents that he was gay, but would do so immediately before he went away to University.

As a parent for whom my children coming out would be no problem, I would find such a choice of timing extremely hurtful. My babies going away to university will be a difficult time – it’s hard enough when they go to nursery for the morning. To have this emotional time compounded by what my child clearly considers a bombshell would not be good. I would be denied the chance to show them that I accept them for who they are, that I’m OK with this, and that I just want them to be safe & happy. Plus, especially if it’s the last one to leave, I’ll be reassessing my role in the family, purpose in life, etc and to be told that I don’t know the child I’ve just spent the last 18 years rearing would be pretty unhelpful.

Having said that, if this happens, then I will have failed, because my children clearly don’t know me, and I don’t know them. I don’t routinely tell them at ages 4 & 6 that it’s OK to be gay, but at an age where they can understand what it means, I will be. If only to promote their tolerance of people they may know who are gay.

If I were a parent who wasn’t basically OK with the gayness, but who was willing to alter my mindset to accommodate my gay child, the bombshell on leaving would again be pretty selfish. It’s not being thrust in my face if they’re away at university, but at the same time, getting used to the idea will be so much harder. There’s an argument that says that this isn’t the child’s problem, but frankly it should be.

The only scenario in which the bombshell on leaving represents helpful timing is when the parental reaction is “You’re dead to me now”. In which case, well done – you judged that one right. I hope you’ve made accommodation plans for the holidays.

It just seemed like a wholly selfish decision, with no regard for his parents, made all kinds of assumptions about how they would react and was basically content with leaving them out to dry emotionally while he went off and built his new life.

I really hope that by the time Lily or Joel are old enough to know whether they are gay that our society is one more step towards tolerance which means that they are confident they can build a happy life for themselves, whatever their sexuality. I hope that they know they can tell me anything – I might be surprised, I might (if it’s stealing £40K rather than coming out) be cross, I might be worried about the repercussions for a whole raft of reasons.  And that whatever they tell me, I will still love them, and where they need it, will give them my help & support.

Treasury ministers bending the rules on parliamentary expenses to help them keep personal secrets I’ll deal with another day. Maybe.

just a quickie…

…because tonight I intend to work.

Main headline: councillorSteve is back. He was elected today in the second place in our local ward of Scott in West Lancashire. Well done, Babe.

Next: I managed to pull a decent number of votes in my role as paper candidate. Not really sure how that happened, and congratulations to Val Hopley for holding the seat. If I’m selected there again, I may even campaign a bit more…

The relative success on my part is almost certainly down to sterling work carried out through the MP’s office and the national party. Well done, folks.

In other news, it’s harder to climb a tree carrying a flag and wearing wellies than it is wearing normal shoes or no shoes…

And riding a bike is still the best thing you can do, even when you’re waiting for your friend to come out to play…

She’s mainly waiting to deliver a letter – a painstakingly crafted reply to the one she received last night. The P.S. said “your a great friend” which is always nice to hear…

srsly? that’s what you’re tweeting?

I’m glad I’m a bit forgetful sometimes and didn’t realise that I’d already read a lot of the tweets from yesterday afternoon. If I wasn’t, I might not have re-read them, and missed this gem:

Intrigued as to what exciting initiatives the council was launching to encourage folk to flock to the leisure centres in the borough, I clicked on the link. Which takes you to a list of the sports centres in the borough, and some high level detail about the facilities available.

As someone who uses the swimming pool in Ormskirk reasonably frequently (we plan to go tomorrow, heaven help me) and has heard dark tales about the state of the facilities in Skelmersdale since Serco took over running them (charging spectators, effectively squeezing out the groups who use them, many other tales of woe), I have to say it will take more than a suggestion that I’ve eaten too much chocolate to entice me through their doors.

When we lived in UpHolland and our closest pool was Nye Bevan in the centre of Skelmersdale, I went swimming there quite a lot when the children were babies. I’ve had a reasonably privileged and sheltered upbringing, but honestly, the changing rooms at Nye Bevan were one of the grimmest places I’ve had occasion to be. If they haven’t been refurbished or rebuilt in the 5 years since I darkened their doors, it’s nothing short of criminal.

One of the Labour Party’s pledges for the forthcoming borough elections is that we would introduce the free swimming scheme which the central labour government has proposed and which the current Tory administration has rejected. To be honest, to get me back into the changing rooms at Nye Bevan, it would *have* to be free.

I don’t have experience of the other leisure facilities because as the parent of young children, running machines aren’t a great idea – you don’t get to work up anything like a rhythm before someone’s asking for something or if they can join in. Park Pool used to have a childcare facility but it closed recently due to lack of it’s being used. I never saw it advertised, never saw happy colourful signs pointing prospective clients in their direction: if you rely on word of mouth to sell your services, they ain’t gonna sell, missy.

It’s fair to say that if Labour had been in control when Serco entered the public-private “partnership” they currently operate under, either a) there would have been no partnership, or b) there would have been controls and incentives to ensure that the less well off in the borough could afford to use the facilities, and that those facilities were maintained to an acceptable standard at the expense of the people who get to bank the cash each day. Yet another instance where the Tories have let down the good people of West Lancashire.

So, when I see a tweet from my tory-administered borough council, exhorting me to visit my local leisure facilities, my immediate reaction is “Tell me why I should want to?”

p.s. a nod in the direction of the lovely council officer who probably posted this tweet – good thinking batman, here’s hoping the council pull its finger out and give you better services to tweet about!

Move on, nothing to see here…

Apparently from some things, one is not allowed to move on. In the interests of helping us all to get along better, I shall keep my comments to saying that some people need to learn how to. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you about something, it doesn’t mean you can’t get on with them on some level, especially when you have many important principles in common. Allegedly.

This is a plea to please grow up, and move on.

Also, Nestle are still pushing powdered milk in 3rd world countries in communities without a clean water supply, and are now also hacking down the natural habitat of Orang-Utans (and which Terry Pratchett fans aren’t appalled at the thought?) to get the oil they use to make Kit-Kats. It’s really not getting any better.

Working Wonders – or are we?

I’m a labour activist and party member. I fully support the values of the party and where I can (as someone with a full time job and two children) I help out to try and get Labour representation at all levels of government. However, I feel the need to highlight something which hasn’t been handled well, and if possible ask the advice of anyone who reads this if there’s anything we can do to remedy the current situation. Anyway, here goes (watch out – it’s a long one)…

An incomprehensible series of events over the past few months has made the ultimate closure of a valuable asset to the cause of adult literacy in Wigan more likely.

Wigan & Leigh “boasts” several areas which feature in the bottom end of the country’s index of social deprivation. Among the problems encountered here are worklessness, drug and alcohol addiction and teenage pregnancy. Underlying many of the stories behind the figures is widespread illiteracy and innumeracy. The causes of poor literacy in adulthood are many and varied: each individual has their own story to tell. In many, the cause is social, endemic, and has effectively been passed down through generations as parents struggle to help their children at school as their own parents struggled to help them. The inability to read, write and use numbers well in turn causes employment and social problems, and a vicious cycle is set in train.

My mother in law started out some years ago working as a tutor in adult basic education at Wigan & Leigh college. She was working in the community outreach section, but ended up resigning as she believed there was no real understanding on the College’s part of the extent of the problem or commitment to running basic skills classes in community venues. She felt the college administration didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which adults with literacy and numeracy problems see entering the college buildings as a barrier. When you only have negative experiences of educational institutions and certainly do not see yourself as a “student” or “learner”, why would you voluntarily enter one and admit to having a problem which you’re really embarrassed about, and is commonly socially stigmatised? The second major barrier was that a minimum class size of 8 was imposed: without 8 learners, a course could not be funded and classes were closed. As the average group size was 6 this stipulation was unworkable in the given context.

Shortly after leaving the college, my mother in law was approached by the Chamber of Commerce to run a 6 week pilot running adult basic education in the community. The pilot was a runaway success. Out of this, the organisation “Working Wonders” was born.

Over the years, drawing funding from a number of sources, but principally from Wigan MBC, Working Wonders has helped between 700 and 1000 learners per year to gain qualifications, confidence, increase their literacy and numeracy levels, and in some cases, completely transform their lives. Some of the case studies read like fairy tales. They have, for some folk, truly been working wonders.

Partly because of its humble beginnings, administration overheads and management salaries have always been kept low. The focus on channelling funding to tutors salaries and ensuring maximum possible provision has always been at the core of Working Wonders’ budgeting. The directors have only ever taken a fraction of the salary enjoyed by public sector managers at a similar level. For several years, Working Wonders exceeded all enrolment and achievement targets that were set by their funding providers.

Indeed, Working Wonders has shown quite clearly that adults will return to education to improve their literacy and numeracy skills if, in the first instance, the approach is right, the venue is right, classes are held at times to suit and the tuition is friendly, informal and individualised and it has shown that this strategy is successful in helping people go on to gain employment and have the same life chances as others.

A change in management at Wigan MBC’s ACL department has changed this situation. The council officer with whom Working Wonders had worked for years, who saw the gap that Working Wonders filled, and supported the organisation, retired.  New management meant a new focus away from basic skills and what was derisively termed “the special relationship” between Working Wonders and the council was over. This meant that Working Wonders had to seek other ways of funding what they saw as the core deliverable for them: reaching and helping the “hard to reach” learners with the lowest skills in the most deprived areas of Wigan & Leigh.They were advised that applying for Train To Gain funding was a way forward, as well as running ECDL courses for the Council. Principally these second courses (the likes of flower arranging and nail art) could be used as stepping stones to make contact with relevant learners, and then leverage this contact to access other funding for literacy and numeracy teaching.

This course of action was adopted, as they were assured by a consultant, who had worked in the relevant sector for years, that this was pretty much the only way forward available to them.

It was while they were effectively re-structuring the organisation to accommodate ECDL Courses (which, what a shock, it turns out *weren’t* the pathway to other funding, they were just a pathway to more ECDL Course subscriptions) that it transpired that their successful application for Train To Gain funding had triggered an Ofsted inspection.

Here is where the current nightmare really begins. Had Working Wonders not been transforming to cater for ECDL, they might have had a fighting chance of preparing for Ofsted in a meaningful way. As it was, their belief that funding should be spent on delivering courses and not on management has been their death warrant. According to Ofsted, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.  Therefore, if you can’t afford the high levels of administation Ofsted see as essential, the service is “inadequate” and it’s not their problem if the service stops because of their findings.

Working Wonders had always provided sufficient and accurate evidential reports for funding bodies and they had their own management information system for this.  However, for work funded through the Council they had to use the Council’s TERMS management information system, which was not designed to cope with the roll-on, roll-off courses that Working Wonders delivered. This was an on-going problem which was compounded by the decision, by the previously-mentioned consultant to commission, in the run up to the Ofsted, a new management information system which (the supplier of the new system even admitted) provided no additional functionality and brought with it a significant training and reporting overhead.

The Ofsted inspection was a train wreck. The inspectors clearly had no concept of how a small company runs, which sharply contrasts with a large college. They failed to see the purpose of Working Wonders community-based service stating that people could go to College for help.  Unbelievably, they also failed to understand that often it can take an adult months to improve their basic skills to the point where they are ready to achieve a qualification. The Lead Inspector said she had worked in a prison where inmates had achieved a qualification within two days and she saw this as the expected norm. The inspectors studiously ignored the positive evidence given by many learners about the service and instead focussed on what they saw as negatives. They considered nothing unless it had been written down and produced immediately on demand and they behaved from the start as though the conclusions they reached were pre-determined.

After a very unpleasant week, Working Wonders were graded an across the board “inadequate”, including the judgement, that in time proved to be the most crushing – that they lacked the ability to improve. The lead inspector acknowledged as they were leaving that this would quite possibly mean the closure of Working Wonders. She derisively informed my mother in law that the work that the company was doing in the borough was “nothing special” and people all over the country were doing the same work.

As a consequence of this series of decisions, Working Wonders have now, for the past few months, been unable to get any funding to continue the important work they do. Decisions that have been made by career council officers whose main concern is protecting their own position; by consultants who have been trusted and paid to advise the organisation, but who make sure that their own backs are covered, and their own income from future consulting work (for the council & LSC) is assured; by inspectors who stay in 5 star hotels a 3/4 hour drive from home, demand bowls of fruit on their meeting tables and expect inspectees to agree that black is white or face being downgraded, and who blindly apply an inappropriate and subjectively applied set of rules. In the meantime, an organisation run by hard-working, relatively low-paid workers is biting the dust, putting around 40 tutors, support and development workers out of work.

Adding insult to injury, Train to Gain have now decided that they must claw back some of the funding because their inconsistent rules about entry levels were applied wrongly according to today’s interpretation of those rules.
It may be true that organisations across the country are doing the same work as Working Wonders. I sincerely hope they are. No-one else in Wigan & Leigh is, though. And very soon, in spite of herculean effort, probably no-one will be.

Working Wonders are still operating in some areas of Wigan, and in West Lancashire, where they have been very successful, but these areas are not sustainable on their own. Ironically, Ofsted may now decide that as Working Wonders are not currently providing any training for which an inspection would be relevant, they are not to be re-tested, so changes made in response to the poor inspection have apparently been in vain, and the organisation cannot now be shown to be improving and any hope of regaining the funding sources that have been lost due to the original inspection is lost. This decision is pending: Ofsted, if you’re listening, please reconsider & give Working Wonders at least a fighting chance of showing some improvement.

Our Labour government has pledged millions of pounds to help literacy and numeracy levels in the deprived areas of this country. Unfortunately, the current system means that this money is delivered through a mechanism that is engineered to cut out organisations that are small enough to be responsive to the needs of the exact people it is intended to help.
The Wigan & Leigh MPs have been very supportive, and have done their best to persuade the relevant decision makers that they are making the wrong decision in withdrawing support for Working Wonders, but it is looking like their intervention is not enough. Indeed, there seems to be a “who do they think they are” attitude from the (Labour-run) council.

Working Wonders is having to close its doors. Working Wonders was graded “inadequate” by Ofsted, because of this report, the Learning and Skills Council have withdrawn their support, Wigan Council have withdrawn their support, Wigan’s Adult and Community Learning have also withdrawn their support.  However, Working Wonders reputation among the thousands of ordinary people it has helped since 2003 and its reputation with community groups and community centres is second to none.  I know whose opinion I trust.

I feel better for getting that off my chest, anyway. I guess my point is that although I understand that checks and balances are important to ensure that public money is well spent, and we get value for money (although the admin overhead which is apparently demanded means we don’t get the value for money that we *should* get), it must be appropriate checks & balances. The strictures put in place by the current system ensure that those most in need won’t get help.

In the main, when Wigan MBC Councillors have been approached they have at best been indifferent. They are the ones who should be directing officers to implement government policy on a local level.

I will almost certainly get in trouble from someone for posting this, but it seems unacceptable that a valuable resource like Working Wonders which has produced tangible, life-changing benefits for hundreds of people in the borough should disappear without a fight, or at least those responsible being made to feel embarrassed.

shards of glass all over children’s playground

This evening, after tea, we took a short trip to our local playground. It’s a short walk/bike ride skirting round the edge of a council estate, overlooking open fields – at most 5 minutes away. The kids love it, because it’s a good place to ride their bikes, even when there are other children there nearly running into them because they drive a little erratically…

However, when we got there, the ground under the main climbing frame was covered in shards of glass. And I mean, covered. After 5 minutes of picking up this much glass (click to embiggen – it’s worth it):


The ground was still this sparkly (the white spots are all glass):


I noted, with interest that (in a not pissing in your own back yard manner), there was no glass on the ground around the “youth shelter” (the white spots here are chewy):


Also, I’m told, by my handy source of information about the council, that this CCTV camera:


…has never worked. Maybe if it did, the incidents of antisocial behaviour that lead to this mess could be prevented, or at the very least, followed up.

I’ve approached my councillors before now about maintenance of this playground – in the summer it’s often a flowery garden of ice-pop wrappers – and periodically it’s quite good. Over the summer it’s generally been pretty clean. Today was properly shocking, though.

It’s a shame, because it could be a really good playground.

I guess this is partly down to the council not cleaning up often enough, but also down to the thoughtless selfishness or downright viciousness of whoever puts the glass there in the first place.

To end on a positive, they have at least replaced the side panel of the half-pipe which had turned into a smoking and who-knows-what-else den:


You can see it’s already been accepted by and decorated by the community…

I’m pointing my councillors in this direction, in the hopes of raising the profile of this problem. Thank you in anticipation, chaps!

I’m disappointed

This is a re-post of old news. The explanation of why is another post, yet to be completed. Or you can check on Steve’s blog: he covers the issues quite well, I think.

Occasionally I have been disappointed by the actions of my MP Rosie Cooper, and on this occasion I am disappointed by the news that she is apparently spearheading a close collaboration between Nestle and the government.

Here’s my source:
Complementary Therapy News from Herbal Remedies and Complementary Therapies in the News: Breast vs bottle: the new battleground

Her trip to South Africa, which according to the above article, was funded by Nestle in order for them to demonstrate their newfound corporate social responsibility, could be interpreted by some as potentially compromising her impartiality when it comes to judging just how socially responsible her hosts are.

It could be assumed that Nestle are keen to increase their share of the baby formula market in the UK, them being a commercial organisation who sell formula milk. Given the poor take-up of breastfeeding in areas in this constituency such as Skelmersdale, and the namby-pamby middle-class-liberal-likely-to-breast-feed-and-hate-Nestle mood in Ormskirk (also in this constituency), I’m concerned about the potential where-loyalties-lie message this sends to our MP’s partners in the constituency, principally the local health authority. It’s possible that Nestle are indeed more responsible in their efforts to supply powdered milk to the 3rd world than they were reported to be in the ’90s. As someone who was a student in the 90s and boycotted Nestle for years (and for someone with a chocolate addiction, it *did* impact my life, quite a bit) I find it hard to let go of this prejudice.

I was disappointed that Cooper, who is a former manager of the Liverpool Women’s hospital, and so I thought should know better,  would allow her name to be linked with Nestle in this way.

fakeplastic challenge

Recently, Beth at fakeplasticfish challenged her readers to keep their plastic waste for a week, as a social experiment, and answer some questions about said waste. Here is the entry from the High Lane jury (a phrase which, I now realise, will be meaningless to anyone outside the range of the Eurovision song contest, and who only started following it recently. *sigh* so old, and yet so young…):

We are: Jude (36 – same age as Marilyn Monroe & Princess Diana when they died), Steve (will be 15000 days old in August), Lily (5 1/5), Joel (3 1/2) and Bruiser the cat (14) (who this week created no plastic waste – well done B)

Here’s the picture:


Here’s the list:

1 x 4-pack of beer-can rings (especially bad for sea-birds & small mammals – start with the best, eh?!)
2 x chocolate bar wrappers
1 x sweets bag
2 x chocolate biscuit wrappers
1 x Crisps bag
1 x orange carton 4-pack wrapper
2 x cherry tomatoes plastic carton (R)
1 x sausages container (R)
2 x prawns container (R)
1 x Doughnuts container (R)
1 x chicken kievs container (R)
1 x sliced ham container (R)
3 x cereal packet inner bags
1 x plastic-fronted sandwich bag
1 x hot chocolate jar + lid (R)
1 x coke bottle (R)
1 x water bottle (R)
1 x cheese spread container (R)
3 x takeaway containers (R) + 2 that were thrown away
2 x drinking straws
1 x bananas bag
2 x cherry tomatoes wrappers
1 x grapes bag
7 x sandwich cling film
1 x frankfurters packet
1 x frozen peas bag
1 x washing up sponge
1 x hot dog rolls bag
1 x cheese wrapper
1 x coffee lid inner
1 x cucumber wrapper
1 x yakult wrapper
1 x balloons bag
5 window envelopes
7 mini-cheddars bags + outer bag
2 see-through mailers
1 x coffee jar lid (R)
2 x milk carton lids (the plastic snappy bit off the top of the tetra pack)
1 x 2-pint milk carton (R)
wine bottle top cover (+ cork, I guess)
11 yoghurt pots (R) (+ lids) (+ 2 thrown away @ nursery)
3 x yakult pots (R)
1 old-fashioned light bulb (I’ve included this because I’m sure it must involve plastic somewhere)
2 x dishwasher tablet wrappers
2 x sandwich plastic cartons
4 pairs pull-ups

…all comes to 725g + 4 pairs of pull-ups

I weighed what’s pictured, and then added 10% to allow for: general forgetfulness & the stuff I knew I didn’t have.

There’s already quite a bit of waste eliminated in the way we live & shop, but there is more I could do. I want to get washable wrappers for the kid’s sandwiches, as the cling film (ceran wrap) makes my skin crawl, and just doesn’t feel like a caring way of presenting Lunch. Also, we have baby food containers which could be used for yoghurt, so we could turn 4-6 small yoghurt pots into one (re-usable) large pot. The yakult was free from the milkman, as a sample. We won’t be getting it again – it’s too expensive & wasteful, especially with potentially 4 takers in the household. The chocolate biscuits could be replaced with home-cooked lovely cakes, but I’d still need to separate them out in the box so there would be 7 bits of cling film again. I re-use margarine tubs as lunch boxes rather than buying new, and we wash the plastic spoons used for yoghurt.

Food & vegetable wrappers *could* be reduced. The children are approaching the age where I now have more appetite for shopping in local shops rather than the national-chain supermarket. I already buy veggies from Tesco without using bags, and I take my own shopping bags with me – a cool bag and 5-6 fabric bags. I got them from Asda for just over 50p each and they are THE BEST. Each one stands in for at least 3 supermarket plastic bags. We still have *some* bags coming into the house, but they are usually when Steve stops off to get dinner/beer/chocolate on the way home. I’ve considered putting a bag or two in his car, but I fear they would just stop in the car. We used to use the few bags that came in as nappy sacks, but now that Joel uses the toilet, I’m thinking I will need to start taking some back to the recycling point at the supermarket. When we get groceries delivered (which I *occasionally* do) I ask them to not-include plastic bags (otherwise, the number you get completely trashes any effort make in bag reduction over roughly a 6-month period – one time I got FIFTEEN bags with my stuff. PLEASE!) which although it means you end up with a kitchen table full of stuff, gets you GREEN points on your loyalty card.

Drinking straws – I’ve taken to rinsing & re-using so we’re getting through about 2 per week instead of 14.

Pull-ups – Joel recently started using the toilet. I’m not confident about night-time dryness, so we use pull-ups although if they’re dry in the morning, they get re-used the following night. This is why there aren’t 7 of them. The sandwiches at work needs addressing. Just as I started this week, the sandwich shop we used to get our lunch from rose phoenix-like from the ashes of its gone-bust-ness and started bringing them to the office again. In a crazy-busy week they’ve been a life-saver, but at £5 per day it’s costing too much.

Post – I send back a lot of junk mail, but still get a lot of stuff that could probably be eliminated.

The beer, wine & chocolate needs cutting back anyway.  This week was a relatively light week, as I’m starting on that process already.

I shop at Tesco because although Asda’s at the leading edge with fabulous re-usable bags, our local Asda (now owned by Wal-Mart) is in a low-income area and the right-on-middle class environmentally friendly cleaning products and green products generally are in short supply. There’s almost a sign next to the ONE thing they have in the cleaning products aisle “if you want to get this, and not the 10p-for-5-gallons-own-brand ALERT – you’ve strayed into the wrong supermarket! Buy this now, and leave quickly before you see poor people!!” Also, Tesco give me loyalty card points for bringing my own bags. And finally – it’s nearer.

To answer another of Beth’s questions, I *would* buy from a bulk-bin store. I will do some research to find out if there’s one within a 100-mile radius! I fear the best option may be Costco, which doesn’t solve the problem we’re trying to address here!

update: I keep meaning to re-format this for putting into Beth’s plastic challenge blog, but keep procrastinating. Instead, I think we’ll do another week soon.

Changes that I’ve/we’ve already made:
1. we use zip-loc bags for sandwiches – they get washed each time & so far each has lasted around a month. I have a box of 1000 of them left-over from my old craft company so they may as well get used sometime.
2. we use the baby food pots for yoghurt. They have a good seal & hold about the right amount. I think Lily initially had problems getting the lid off (she’s a delicate flower, eh) but now they’re used to it. And none have gone missing yet.

3. I need to work on the going to local shops & avoiding plastic bags there.

Also, my own mentality is changing.  I was chatting to another mum in the supermarket and she said “we needed more plastic cups”. They were actually melamine (not sure how much difference that makes – still basically plastic, though, right?) but it made me stop and think – I usually refer to melamine as “unbreakable” – however, Joel has proven several times it’s not unbreakable, just harder to break – and honestly – we’re buying plastic stuff for our kids to eat & drink from. It just made me think – we have lots of old crockery which I don’t care if it gets broken. Dishes rarely get thrown on the floor these days. Some turnover of cups might not be a bad thing. Part of me baulks because, if something is dropped on our kitchen floor it shatters & scatters to the 4 corners of the HOUSE, never mind the room (including round corners & up stairs – honestly) and often breaks the floor tiles (first thing I did – ask the kids – dropped the tea jar & broke the floor. Legendary). But the upshot it, we won’t be buying more plastic crockery. At least, not in the short term.

I want my taxpayer funded choclate treat.

If interns at my MP’s office (allegedly) get free (to them) mars bars (I’m told, by rumour & supposition), paid for by HOP, surely I, as paper-folder and leaflet-deliverer extra-ordinaire (on Mothering Sunday, no less, among other dates), should get at least a twix? There’s a whole exchange rate/currency system to be worked out here