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How do you measure value?

April 3rd, 2014 (by Steve)

Forgive me for a moment as I digress from talking directly about our trip and instead focus on a subject that I’ve been learning about as we travel. Productivity. An output-based measure of value. It’s purely by chance that there’s a BBC news article today with the headline “Move over, GDP: How should you measure a country’s value?”

One of the questions that I’ve been pondering as we’ve travelled around, is “why are we doing this?”, often followed closely by “what am I hoping to achieve through this trip?”. In other words, what will our output be from the journey around Europe? I was part of the first year group to sit key stage 1 SATs at school (most of the class ended up in tears) and ever since then, I’ve learned that output is what counts. It’s coursework and exams that are marked at school. At work, there’s measurement against SMART objectives. I think that’s fair enough. Where I’m questioning my thinking is whether it’s a good measurement against my use of free time.

Steve enjoying the beach

I’ve never been one to sit in front of the TV for hours on end (well, maybe if I’ve got my laptop on my knee and I’m writing code); I’ve always had a project on the go and I get enjoyment through producing things, setting myself deadlines and benchmarks. The flip side of this is that I end up feeling guilty if I’m not in the process of producing something; am I wasting time? When travelling, there’s a lot of time spent covering ground, there’s a lot of time spent sightseeing or playing games or reading books. Productivity? Almost nil. And this is the place that I’m in when I ask myself why we’re travelling. I could be earning money to provide for my family… I could be producing code to help make some process somewhere more efficient… but I’m not. Does that mean that this lifestyle holds no value? That’s a silly question – I just have to reflect on how much we’ve learned and been inspired so far to see the value.

I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve got too much of a focus on productivity in my home life. Is it productive to play with my neice + nephew? Is it productive to go for a walk with my wife? Is it productive to sit on a hillside, marvelling at the beauty of the countryside? Is it productive to grapple with deep philosophical questions that have no answer? No, no, no, no. Yet each of those things are so precious (well, the last one may be a little self-indulgent). Maybe I haven’t got my priorities straight. There’s a story about two women called Martha and Mary that touches upon this subject, that I really could learn from.

So this Lent, rather than giving up something like chocolate (or plastic, as we did last year), I’m trying to shift my focus away from productivity and towards fruitfulness; where growth is the most important thing rather than output.

Posted in KIST 2EU, Lent | 7 Comments »

Unleash the plastic

April 13th, 2013 (by Steve)

So we got to the end of our Lenten plastic fast and here is the sum of the plastic we bought in the 40 days:

plastics

We then split the pile into the stuff that we can’t recycle (bottom left) and that which we can (bottom right). We think that it’s not bad going for 40 days, although as blogged about previously, we couldn’t survive without plastic totally for that time. In addition to our previously declared “failures” (where we’ve bought plastic), in the last couple of weeks we added:

  • A bag of cous cous – this was to accompany stuffed aubergines that we did when we had friends round, and we couldn’t find it anywhere without plastic packaging.
  • A bag of rice – as above, we were entertaining and had decided to do a vegetable curry…which you have to have rice to go with. Try as we might, the only rice without plastic packaging that we found was risotto rice.
  • More vegetable stickers – to our joy we discovered satsumas in cardboard packaging, so that reduced the number of stickers, but we still ended up with lots of pepper, apple and aubergine stickers!
  • Two bottles of Pepsi – now this one we’re really embarrassed about…we entirely forgot that we were doing the plastic fast until we came to recycling them after buying and consuming them!
  • Antibiotics – unavoidable really!

So two weeks have now passed since Easter and has our outlook on plastic changed in life? We’d like to say “yes”…but if we’re being honest, the convenience and cost of things in plastic mean that we’ve strayed a bit. Why would we buy individual peppers at 80p each when we could get a bag of 4 “basics” peppers for the equivalent of 37p each? We also immediately re-stocked the herbs and spices as well as buying a jar of peanut butter once we could buy plastic again (small pleasures!).

Where possible we still buy our vegetables loose – onions and carrots rolling about in the bottom of a basket aren’t any inconvenience for us. We’re determined to continue making our own bread – it may take a little longer, but it’s cheaper and you can’t beat the smell of fresh bread! We’ve also tried to keep the amount of meat that we eat low, as that previously was an area of our diet that generated lots of plastic.

All in all it’s been an interesting journey of awareness for us and we’d really recommend the experience to anyone else. Will we do the same again next Lent? Probably not…but we’ll try to do something equally as creative!

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Good Friday? Not as good as Sunday

March 31st, 2013 (by Steve)

Easter is with us once again – a time of new life and a reminder of the world-changing events that happened a couple of millennia ago. As well as it meaning the end of the plastic fast for us (no, we haven’t gone on a binge yet and yes, we will blog about the final pile), it also meant reflecting on the story of the Passion. So how did we mark it?

flashmob

On Good Friday we joined with several churches around Lambeth to sing “Amazing Grace” at Waterloo station. The idea was that the drumming and singing would come from nowhere, people would bring a bag of food for the new Waterloo Foodbank and then we would disperse back into the crowd following the singing. It kind of worked, and it was great to sing out about grace (the idea of receiving something that you really don’t deserve…in this case forgiveness for all the times we fall short in life) but there wasn’t much dispersal afterwards and I’m not sure people necessarily got the idea of what a flashmob is…but oh well!

The official video can be found here: oasischurchwaterloo.org/popupchurch.

Following this, we headed to Trafalgar Square where a good friend was one of the actors in The Passion which had performances at 12 and 15:15. We’d underestimated how popular it would be and how large the crowds would be, so didn’t have the best vantage point, but we managed! The play was very moving, with some great acting which brought the whole story to life.

DSC_0910

…and then onto today. The resurrection. A service at church filled with chocolate puns, but also the message that Jesus died to take the punishment for our wrongdoings away. I got to play the part of an angel at the tomb, asking the women why they searched for the living amongst the dead…and I even got a mini chocolate egg for my acting!

So Easter is over for another year, but the message remains at the heart of who we are.

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Plastic fantastic?

March 18th, 2013 (by Steve)

We posted a few weeks ago that we had given up buying things in plastic for Lent…or at least that we were trying to. We’ve been saving any plastic packaging that we have used over the time, as it’s virtually impossible to not buy anything in plastic. Also, the aim is more to raise our awareness of how much plastic we get through, than trying to cut it out completely. Here is the pile as of today:

plastic2weeks

You’ll note that it’s considerably bigger than the pile that we had when we first blogged. So what have been our biggest “failures”?

  • Cheese – you’ll note that cheese packets make up a large proportion of the pile. However, we’re also buying Boirsin (wrapped in foil and cardboard) and brie (wrapped in paper)
  • Cleaning stuff – our washing up liquid ran out, as did hair conditioner…we had no options but to buy replacements which come in plastic
  • Treats – we fancied a takeaway and went for pizza because that comes in cardboard…but the dips don’t! Also when we went to a recent gig (Kill It Kid at the Roundhouse – awesome!) our drinks were served in plastic pint glasses. We’ve also really struggled with chocolate biscuits – in the end we went for club biscuits as they have paper wrappers, but sadly the multipack packaging is plastic
  • Fruit and veg – in general we’re doing ok with this, with the main plastic usage being the stickers that come on individual items (such as dudhis), but we did cave when, for the second week in a row, there were no paper bags to put mushrooms in at Sainsburys. At work I’ve been re-using a little plastic pot at the salad bar for several weeks, but it finally got too many cracks in, so I’ve had to get a new one, and the old one has joined the pile

So those are the places where we’ve been unable to avoid plastic usage completely, but there have been changes to lifestyle. We’re now making our own bread the whole time; whilst the packet mix stuff comes entirely in paper, we have yet to get it to rise properly in our breadmaker, so we’re sticking to putting together the recipes ourselves. Coffee is being rationed as any replacement will have to come in some form of plastic, so we’re getting through more tea. We’ve been constantly on UHT milk now for several weeks, and we’ve had very little meat at all (I really miss sausages and mash!). Our herb and spice collection is also looking a little depleted as we can’t replace the jars once empty, due to the plastic lids. Pasta, rice and cous cous sadly only come in plastic (aside from Sainsburys basics lasagne sheets!), so this has possibly been our most radical shift in diet – we now rely more on potatoes as the source of carbs in our meals.

Overall we’re quite glad that we’ve only got 2 weeks to go, but I think that the awareness of our reliance on plastic will remain far beyond Easter.

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Bye bye plastic?

February 24th, 2013 (by Steve)

Could you live without buying anything in plastic for a week? How about a fortnight? A month? The whole of Lent? Well, we’ve decided to take on the challenge, as we’ve realised that although we are able to recycle the vast majority of our waste, plastic makes up the biggest proportion of the stuff we’re unable to recycle.

plastic1

So, where do we start? Well, the picture above shows where we’ve “failed” in the first couple of weeks. Technically we only started last Monday as we were on holiday until then. Our first challenge was stocking up a totally empty fridge at 6pm on a Monday! With no chance to go to a farmer’s market or grocer, Sainsbury’s was the only real option. Here are the challenges we faced:

  • Vegetables – we were mostly able to get “loose” veg, but it meant we missed out on a lot of Sainsbury’s basics stuff. We had to compromise with the loose peppers, aubergines and satsumas that all had barcoded plastic stickers on them and we were disappointed to find that the only cabbage available without any plastic was a plain white cabbage
  • Meat – it’s not that surprising that we were unable to find any fresh meat without plastic wrapping, so we decided to forgo meat completely as part of this shop (and we didn’t fancy Spam really) – instead we stocked up with plenty of tins of pulses and a couple of tuna to be our meat substitutes
  • Cheese – we crumbled. We do like our cheese. To buy cheese with no plastic would have required spending twice as much, so we decided to make an exception – once we’ve eaten the cheese, the wrapper will duly be added to the pile shown above
  • Milk – would you believe it – the only milk we could find in a tetrapak carton (yes, we know it contains polyethylene in small quantities…but at least it’s recyclable) without any trace of a plastic spout was UHT. Guess what type of milk we’re on for the next few weeks!
  • Bread – none of the bread or pitta in the supermarket came in a paper bag, so for this week we’ve used up what we have in the freezer and from now on we’ll be making our own bread (or going to a baker’s where they sell it in paper bags)
  • Carrier bags – this is such a schoolboy/schoolgirl error of which we’re very embarrassed and ashamed. Normally when we go shopping we take rucksacks to carry our stuff in and we collect Nectar points for bag re-use. Having just come back from holiday we kind of forgot, so we’ll hang our heads slightly, but at least we will re-use the ones that we were given on Monday

Since that shopping trip last Monday, we’ve bought a greetings card which had a clear plastic film (unnecessarily we think) and when we bought chips (and a pickled egg…for the first and last time!) from the chippy around the corner, they gave it to us in a plastic bag. Aside from that, we’re “clean”.

We’ll continue to update this blog with details of our plastic usage over the course of Lent, along with any challenges we’ve faced and good tips that we pick up for avoiding plastic usage! To be honest though, it can only get harder from now – to start with we can use up stuff we’ve got in the cupboards, but once we run out it’s going to start making a bigger impact on our lives.

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