Go build your dream

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2010

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Go build your dream

Go build your dream
The Welsh had been leaving the land for a hundred years before the Mimosa set sail, if not for the coal mines of South Wales or the factories, mills and docks of London, Liverpool or Manchester, then for the lands of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, Canada 
or America.

More often than not they were driven by poverty. Small hill farmers couldn’t support their families. Crops were poor, taxes were heavy, rents were raised by their newly-wealthy English landlords. Their children, who spoke Welsh, were offered what little schooling there was in English only. Should they speak Welsh to one another, a piece of wood was hung around their necks with the words Welsh Not written on it.

But they weren’t content just to make a new life for themselves. They wanted to keep something of their old life, their culture. In America, they formed Welsh societies, built their own Nonconformist chapels, held Eisteddfodau and printed books and newspapers in Welsh. But in that melting pot of Irish, Italian, German, Danish, Polish, Swedish and every other immigrant, their children soon shed their Welsh identity.

In 1859, Michael Daniel Jones, an Independent church minister from Bala in north Wales, proposed the idea of Y Gwladfa, a Welsh colony, a new homeland. A Colonial Society was formed in Liverpool by a dozen young Welshmen, among them Lewis Jones, from Caernarfon and Edwyn Roberts, just 21, who had been born in Flintshire but brought up in Wisconsin.

At that time, the Argentine government was keen to settle the far south of its country before Chile could lay claim to it. Native Indians wandered the land but there was no settlement below Patagones. Jones travelled there in 1862 and got as far as the estuary of the Chubut river where he found a flat, fertile valley he called the Vale of Camwy. A deal was struck with the Argentine government and Jones returned to Wales to sell the dream.

A river filled with fish, a valley of lush grass and fruit trees, thousands of wild sheep and ostriches – not just the Promised Land but the Garden of Eden.

On the windswept coast, the new colonists were wondering why Patagonia didn’t look like the brochure.

The Mimosa

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2010

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The Mimosa

The Mimosa
On the morning of Monday 29th May 1865, off the coast of Anglesey, a lifeboat set out to rescue the ship Mimosa.

The Irish Sea, in the middle of a storm, was not a good place to be. On a single night, six years earlier, 114 ships were destroyed off the coast of Wales when a hurricane blew in from the Atlantic.

The Mimosa was an ageing tea-clipper, 140 feet long. But in its hold on this voyage were 153 men, women and children from Wales. For the sum of twelve pounds per adult and six pounds per child, they’d bought a ticket to the Promised Land.

They had set out from the valleys and hills to settle in a new Welsh colony in the far south of Argentina. Ahead lay eight thousand miles of open ocean and a dream and it wasn’t going to end a day after leaving Liverpool. The captain, George Pepperell, turned the lifeboat away and the storm passed.

After two months at sea, during which three children died and two babies were born, the Mimosa reached Patagonia and the settlers stumbled ashore into the bleak southern mid-winter. The day was short, the rain lashed down on the beach and it was bitterly cold. It felt like home.

What young is

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2010

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What young is

What young is
Young is fearless.
Young is having no reservations.
Young is thinking: Why not?
Young is saying: Why not now?
Young is not having to have a plan or a map or a reason.
Young is expecting to succeed.
Young is being willing to fail, spectacularly.
Young is wanting to try it anyway.
Young is falling on your ass and it not hurting, not really.
Young is not ever looking down or back.
Young is believing anything is possible.
Young is what old was till it thought it knew better.
Young is what old fears most.

The Golden Hour

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 December 2009

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The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour
As my cycle journey around the coast of Britain over the Summer has progressed, there is a question that people ask a lot “what’s the best place that you have visited?”. I would say that our coastline is amazing and it’s hard to pick a single place. What is easy though is a favourite time of day.



There is an hour or so in the evening that is magical. The time before sunset, when things calm down, the wind drops, less cars. The skies are amazing and often the low sun will pick out and light a single building on the horizon or throw huge shadows across the fields.


It’s a great time to ride: on Anglesey you are alone on the ancient hills, in Cumbria the hedgerows come alive with birds, the west coast of Scotland has vast dramatic sunsets, and in Norfolk and Suffolk the huge skies light the rich and vast farmlands.


Now the days are shorter and darkness arrives a bit sooner, so there is more of an urgency to find a place to camp or a bed for the night. But if things work out I can drift into a coastal campsite with supper in a pannier with just enough light to grab a quick shower and cook a bit of food. That’s a perfect evening.

Nick Hand
www.slowcoast.co.uk

Man make fire. Man stay warm.

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 December 2009

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Man make fire. Man stay warm.

Man make fire. Man stay warm.
I don’t know what my carbon footprint is. But I do know that I make an effort to keep it small.



Yet, only since we moved from the city and disconnected from mains gas (choosing to heat our house by wood alone) do I know the true metrics of what it takes to “stoke the boilers” in our house for just one year.



It breaks down like this: We burn 4 wheelbarrows of wood a week in the winter to heat our house and do most of the cooking. In the summer we would use just 1 wheelbarrow a week. Winter is 8 months, summer is 4. We have 2 log storage compartments in the woodshed that each take 2 trailer-loads of logs to fill. Each trailer is about 1 tonne of wood. Each compartment lasts about 1 month, so it holds about 16 wheelbarrows.


In terms of volume, one of our storage compartments can hold about two whole 35-year-old ash trees, including the trunk and all the branches that measure up to 20mm in diameter. In a year we use about 5 or 6 trees.


I know that to fell 1 tree, limb it, move it, split it and stack it, is 1 day’s work on my own. This will consume about ¼ of a litre of 2-stroke and half of that in chain oil for the chainsaw. I consume approx. 6 cups of tea and 2 litres of water on the job. The limbing and splitting is done by axe. We need to split and dry all the wood in advance so that we get full energy from the burn and don’t end up drying the wood on the fire.

Indeed, an ash tree takes 1 year to dry enough to burn hot. A sycamore takes 6 months. Hazel and Hawthorne 1 year, oak and beech take upto 2 years or more and rescued driftwood from the river takes 2 months to dry under an airy tarpaulin. Trees take longer to grow than firewood does to season, so deciding what to cut down and planning replanting needs a lot of consideration.


These days, every household has power, heat and water on demand. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that most of us probably take it a bit for granted.



Yet by leaving the comfort zone and disconnecting from the mains, the inconvenience, effort, planning and physical preparation I now have to go through has actually reconnected me with exactly what it takes to sustain just me and my little family.


Adrian Gunn

Bengt the Fixer

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 December 2009

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Bengt the Fixer

Bengt the Fixer
This is Bengt.
One super nice Swede.
He invited us into his home and fixed Jon’s bike.
Bengt is a fixer of everything, particularly old bikes.
You name it, Bengt can mend it.
His shed is an amazing place. 
With all the tools a fixer needs.
A nut for every bolt, a bolt for every nut.
Full of bikes and mad contraptions.
Never seen anything like it. Crazy.

It led us to thinking, Sweden is full of such characters and people who share Bengt’s ‘fix things’ philosophy. And we found Sweden to be a richer place for it. Thanks for helping us Bengt.

Sverige år fantastiskt.

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 December 2009

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Sverige år fantastiskt.

Sverige år fantastiskt.

I am 27. Jacob is 27. I ride BMX, so does Jacob. But that is where the similarities end, as I was born in England and Jacob was born in Sweden.

My local spot was a concrete abnormality where I learned the tricks I saw in all the magazines. Jacob’s local spot was a perfect bank, transitioned at the bottom where he learned all the tricks he could think of, the bank was the side of a cliff.

This is probably the reason that he has an ability of looking at everything in a completely different way to myself and all the people I grew up riding with. Nature is just a part of his life and just like every single one of his fellow country folk they just seem to be so in tune with it. 

If Mother Nature herself walked into a bar she’d give us all a hug I’m sure, just before she wandered over to the outside bar and high-fived all the Swedes before buying them a round, which they would definitely buy back.

I’ve been doing my best to integrate walks in the park, runs on the cliffs, cycling through the woods but I feel strangely alien, like I’m trying too hard. 

It’s not natural to my sort, my lungs are too full of West Midlands smog and although I love the outdoors I just know it’s going to take me a lifetime of being Swedish to refine that look in my eyes when I see nature do something amazing. No matter how hard I try it’s just not there. 

Yet Jacob and all the rest of them do it perfectly, just take a look at a sunset and look into the eyes of a Swede as they say “Sverige år fantastiskt” and that is why they get the high-fives. They are right too, Sverige certainly is ‘fantastiskt’.

Matthew J Adams

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How one dog could change the whole pet food industry

How one dog could change the whole pet food industry
I want my dog to eat proper, decent food, something that I would not mind serving up every day and wouldn’t have to hold at arms’ length. Something that would look lovely in my kitchen cupboard and didn’t feel that it needed to be segregated into its own ‘pet food’ cupboard where all the hanging out tongues on the front of the packages could hang out together.

After my dog just refused to eat any food I bought for her, I decided I needed to take the matter into my own hands and cook her up some yummy food that she couldn’t possibly resist. 


And that’s how it all started... I needed a delicious food in a handy – recyclable – container that I would love feeding her every day. Humans love caring for and nurturing their best friends and feeding her something that she so obviously enjoys was an important part of our relationship.

The Pet Food industry is a huge, faceless industry run by four major FMCG’s. It’s on a massive 4 million cans-an-hour scale. It’s an industry that runs its spreadsheets to 4 decimal points as each 10th of a penny makes a big difference to the profit margin.



It’s worth knowing that an aluminium tin bought straight from the aluminium maker costs 15p. The biggest selling pet food in the UK retails for 57p a tin – running the numbers back, this would equate to around 3p of ingredients per tin. Not very appetising.



Looking down the biscuit aisle or the ice cream counter and gazing at all the amazing ingredients we are now so conversant in – spelt flour, cardamom, organic lemon oil, lavender flowers makes you realise how far we’ve come from Raspberry Ripple and Neapolitan flavours. The food industry in general in the UK has transformed beyond recognition from where we were, say just 5 years ago.

But the pet food industry has been stuck in a time warp where price has been the one and only driver. As consumers we have been drummed into asking, ‘Where’s the discount?’. Drive through any town and see how many signs you find for ‘Discount Pet Foods Sold Here’. 


How have we, a nation of pet lovers, got to the stage where we are on a mission to feed our best friends the cheapest food available, without questioning how is it possible to make something remotely nutritious for a 
few pence?


As well as the conversation around ingredients, there’s also the eco angle: pet food packaging is one of the biggest landfill offenders. Obsession with convenience has led to many pet foods now being sold in pouches – which will never breakdown – three layers of reinforced foil and plastic that withstand the cooking process at very high temperatures are not designed to breakdown, even after hundreds of years. Even those large bags of dry food are made from plastics that are not recyclable.

It’s time to really look at what goes into pet food. How have we been so gullible! I fed Lily for a long time on a variety of mass produced food without ever questioning the juicy pictures of plump vegetables, gravy and succulent pieces of meat on the label. It was only when she went on hunger strike that I really took the time to see what was behind the label.

After 18 months of bad skin, itchy ears and general listlessness, I talked to my brother – a vet – and decided I had to do something about this. There must be people out there who would be happy to buy a proper meal for their pet! A cappuccino sets me back £2.70 – more than a day’s worth of yummy food for my dog.


We turned the paradigm around by asking – ‘How good can we make this’ not, ‘How cheap can we make this’. We added lots of vegetables, fruit, a dozen herbs and lots of good meat into each recipe and set out our stall. 


Being a pet food evangelist has spread from Lily and I, to our customers…! We have so many emotional emails from them to say how thankful they are.



I just need to bring my teenage daughter round – she still finds it hard to tell her friends what her Mum does for a living: “Mum – I CAN’T tell them you make pet food”!

Henrietta Morrison

www.lilyskitchen.co.uk

Tax: 60%, Happiness: 91%

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 December 2009

Categories:

Tax: 60%, Happiness: 91%

Tax: 60%, Happiness: 91%
Sometimes you go to another country, and it looks like everything’s upside-down. But as you get to know more, you wonder if maybe they’re the right way up – and it’s the rest of us who are topsy-turvy.

Sweden’s famous for its high taxes. Most Swedes pay between 49% and 60% of their salary in tax.* It’s the second-highest tax burden in the world.

So why are they so cheerful? 91% of them say they’re happy, which puts them current equal second on the world happiness scale. The UK comes in at number nine.**

To many Brits, this looks like a contradiction. How can Swedes be worse off than us, and still be happier? The answer is, of course, that they’re not worse off. They just have a different attitude to tax. The Swedes have a very neighbourly, co-operative outlook. Instead of the state being something that just siphons off your cash, they see it as a protective roof over everyone’s head. 

Paying taxes just means chipping in to pay for timber and nails and slates for the roof.

To Swedes, high taxes mean free schools (and school lunches). Free healthcare. Incredible maternity and paternity leave (new parents get a combined leave of 480 days, most of it at virtually full pay). Generous state pensions, child allowance and unemployment benefits. Nice, eh?

So could it be that higher taxes are actually a good thing? 

Well, at least it’s got us thinking.


Mike Reed

* We got our figures from Wikipedia (of course), and this Observer article about tax in Sweden.

** Happiness figures from www.nationmaster.com

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