All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for packaging

Crooked End

Crooked End, Ruardean Deer in the Forest

A walk south to Ruardean where I’ve been told about Crooked End Organics. I still have the dogs and no-one to puppy-sit for me, but I’m pretty desperate to get hold of something more sustaining than strawberries. I also have friends visiting tomorrow and would like to offer them some decent, local sustenance. My guests don’t have to adhere to my ‘regime’, as my visiting friend Rachel is already referring to it (as a down-to-earth daughter of a Lincolnshire farming family, this performance art is decidedly self-indulgent and not to be indulged), but it’s a matter of artistic pride for me to demonstrate that I can respond creatively to the score and serve up some delicious, local ingredients.

Cai is four-and-a-half months old and the counterintuitive rule of thumb for puppy-walking is five minutes for every month, up to, but not more than, twice a day. I self-justify wildly, take this with a pinch of (illegal, non-local) salt and estimate that Ruardean is a seven-ish mile round trip. (It’s more like ten I later discover, oops.) IF we take it slowly, IF it’s just a one-off, IF we have lots of breaks… will this be OK?

It takes us a good two and a half hours to get there: walking with puppies is excessively punctuated with sniffing, pooing, lead-clipping-on/offing, whereabouts-determining, recalling, treating, disciplining and, most challenging of all, stile-negotiating. It’s also about finding a common rhythm, especially when they’re both on the lead and we’re all effectively attached to each other. We’re all a little different and true to stereotype: bristlingly alert husky Ash is a no-nonsense worker who wants to stride ahead and get on with it; ganglingly elegant saluki Cai is a dreamer who wants to drift and loop between scents and sights. I’m inevitably somewhere (in location, physique and personality) in between. (For more on the rhythms and responsibility of dog walking – and its relationship to writing – it is well worth visiting Tony Williams’s excellent blog.)

Today Ash has been ceremonially fitted with her panniers so she can carry the dogs’ water and help me bring some produce back. It might be anthropomorphism, but she always seems pleased with this responsibility, strut-trotting more delightedly and purposefully than usual as soon as they’re on.

We walk up Lea Bailey, into the Forest, along the edge of Harechurch Wood and drop over and down into Ruardean. As I browse for home-grown vegetables (borlotti beans, chard, spinach, cucumber, mange tout and mixed salad complete with nasturtiums), local butter, eggs and yoghurt, Cai lies in the shade under the raspberry bush and Ash stands in the puddle under the water tap, howling plaintively.

On the way back, a few hundred yard from home, we pass the village allotments. I stop to ask someone if any of the allotmenteers sell their excess produce and she begins to tell me about their first six months on the site. They’ve just picked the first broad beans of the year and very kindly give me a handful to take home for my supper recommending the young pods to be cooked whole and eaten with butter. Delicious…

On the way to Crooked End Crooked End 4 Crooked End 3 Hounds at Crooked End 1 Hounds at Crooked End 2 Crooked End 2 Crooked End 5 Be a responsible dog owner Lea Bailey honey Broad beans for supper

Feed the birds

I should be walking today. But it’s stormy and torrential and in my excitement about the apples yesterday (and the pint of extremely strong Tumpy Ground at lunchtime) I stupidly didn’t make bread, mumpets, stew or any particularly sustaining, portable food for today. And I let the wood burner go out. Epic fail.

Staying in and cooking, sound-editing, catching up on reading and writing seems like a good idea. I’ve also got another project. Seeing two birds fighting over a crumb outside my window recently (and empathising with their hunger) I’ve also been wanting to make a bird feeder for the Herefordshire bird seed mix I bought from Harvey Sayce at Yare Farm.

I found these instructions on the RSPB website a few days ago but saw that they required a plastic bottle. As I’ve got none in the house and I won’t be buying anything that’s not local (and, interestingly, all the local food packaging I’ve come across has been glass, paper or card), I thought I’d have to raid the farm recycling. But on yesterday’s walk to the Crown, I found a discarded Coke bottle on the Woolhope road = perfect eco-smugness factor: de-littering the countryside and feeding the birds at the same time.

Bird feeder 1 Bird feeder 2 Bird feeder 3

I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle…

Being hyper-aware of where my food (and energy) is coming from, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of the ‘away-from-here’ ness of all the things I use and need: the ‘consumables’ that I consider essential (to varying degrees) or at least have become accustomed to being able to use whenever I choose. I make a substantial list even from the first things I’ve used within an hour of waking that day:

Toilet paper (recycled, natch)
Toothpaste (Kingfisher, of course)
Toothbrush (Monte Bianco, saving the planet one toothbrush stalk at a time)
Shower soap (Weleda)
Deodorant (Weleda)
Toilet cleaner (Bio-D)
Surface cleaner (Earth Friendly Products)
Sponge (alas, from evil supermarket)
Board chalk (village shop)
Moisturiser (Burts Bees)
Matches
Baking parchment (If You Care, FSC-certified – REALLY)

It’s worrying that, even through the frisson of eco-smugness that could be attached to the ‘ethical consumer’ brand names (=fewer chemicals, minimalist packaging, biodegradable, hand-made by free-range unicorns on a guaranteed minimum wage etc.), there is still so much  s t u f f  here…

Are you local?

And then there are all the containers – glass, plastic, film, cardboard – they are squashed, poured or rolled into and around. In all their colourful (yet also, of course, tastefully restrained) plumage, they form a textured map of the complexity of our dependence on  t h i n g s: products that I – for all my supposed knowledge about ‘eco-living’ – would have little idea how to make myself or replicate the effects of using only locally available herbs or chemicals. (A sudden pang of eco-inadequacy: I do not know how to make moisturiser from a nettle.) And our dependence on oil to package, transport and store them.

Through my focus on local food and my physical, pedestrian relationship to fetching it, I am suddenly acutely aware of all that is coming in to my home and all that is going out and the physical journey it made to reach here. And thinking like this, even my own home – a static caravan at present – feels suddenly alien, other, with no relationship to me, my making or the materials available in the local environment. It’s as if we’re all caddis flies from a littered river, surrounded by a constructed carapace of compulsively-collected detritus that is not of our making… I mourn suddenly my recently-taken-down-for-repair yurt – with its wooden frame (trellis walls (khana) and roof poles) made from a Herefordshire oak felled by the maker himself. I had never before considered the ‘home miles’ of the shelters we choose to live in.

Yurt Frame

Impractical as it would be (for me and the rest of humanity) I can suddenly understand the urge to live in a bender in the hills…