Post archive

War is not the answer

The 11th day of the 11th month: Armistice Day, Poppy Day, Angel Day. From our most British commemoration to a new age 11:11 subculture the 11th of November is significant. And it’s my wedding anniversary.          

But I don’t want to talk about weddings but war. I am a pacifist. It’s one of the few positions I am profoundly attached too, which is odd as I can be quite argumentative and chaotic. I’d love to be peaceful inside, which a therapist might say is why I look for it outside.

The Dalai Lama is one of my top human beings. Maintaining his commitment to non-violent protest to the Chinese occupation of Tibet is the most impressive thing I have ever seen any person ever do. I know I couldn’t. I hold a deep prejudice against China for relentless torturing of Tibetan monks and nuns, raping the Tibetan landscape and destroying the culture. How His Holiness remains holy is beyond me. I suspect I’d have been with the snipers in the hills.

And yet I remain committed to peace because war only ever damages us. It damages families for generations. I believe every one person killed in a war wreaks havoc on four generations.

We rightly remember those that went to war. Looking death in the face day after day, seeing friends blown up in front of you or die in your arms; shell shock doesn’t begin to describe the trauma. Now we have whole teams flown in to support the survivors of disasters. How many psychotherapists helped the bereaved of 9/11 compared to the number who supported the survivors or widows of our world wars? So we buy poppies and sit in silence thinking of that terrible sacrifice. Of kids, only just out of school, having to run over a trench towards certain death. We try, and cannot imagine how they must have felt.

Until very recently British soldiers would fly home to their windswept wife and kids waiting on the tarmac. We now have American style homecoming parades. Our view on soldiers has changed in the last decade which I’m intrigued by. Is it that now everyone who fought in World War 2 has gone that we can finally look it in the face? I don’t remember poppy-wearing being compulsory when I was young.  ITV News presenter Charlene White received a barrage of racist and sexist abuse for her positions on poppies. As she pointed out “I support and am patron of a number of charities, and due to impartiality rules, I am not allowed to visually support them all whilst presenting news programmes. That includes things like a red ribbon for World Aids Day or a purple band for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Both these and many more charities do great things in the UK, but I'm not allowed to give them exposure on screen.” And yet in spite of donating money to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal she gets it in the neck for choosing not to wear her poppy whilst on air. In Brighton a Green councillor was forced out and lost his job for describing soldiers as ‘hired killers’.  

We used to gloss over those that were left behind, although now Help for Heroes includes the families too.  Those poor wives who had to switch from an entire upbringing and culture that taught them to stay at home and wash dishes, to being single mothers with no early years childcare, getting back into to work courses, or training in how the hell to bring up happy functional children when you lived in constant fear of receiving that telegram. Or telling them daddy wasn’t coming back whilst keeping calm and carrying on as if nothing had happened.  And as British women they had it easy, they mostly had food. And never faced occupation. In Germany many women starved, or endured the real threat of mass rape. We talk of Allied invasions of Germany like it was a good thing. But on the Eastern Front, estimates of the numbers of German women raped by Soviet Red Army soldiers range up to 2 million. In many cases women were the victims of repeated rapes, some as many as 60 to 70 times. Hospital reports and the surging abortion rates in the following months suggest at least 100,000 women were been raped by Soviet soldiers arriving in Berlin.

We understand war is hideous. But my mind also turns to the other repercussions. Like what happens to the families.

It is against the natural order of things for parents see their children die. From the moment we hold our first baby it becomes our worst nightmare. Some of us watched a whole generation of old people silenced, sitting in darkened dusty rooms because all the joy had gone out of their lives when their son fell on a battlefield or their daughter was caught in a bomb. The old people in many families as I grew up were a load of grumpy buggers. I thought that was just old people. Now I realise it’s because every one of them had lost someone they adored beyond measure and had never got over it. Look at our older people now. They might not all be on cruises or dating websites, but they don’t feel like Harry Potter’s dementors any more, sucking the joy out of life.

And what about the children? Both my grandfathers were soldiers and my parents were born during the Second World War. My father was a toddler in Hong Kong whilst his father was a soldier there, defending this British colony. The area started to look unsafe and my dad was evacuated on a troop ship to Australia. His father remained behind and fought the first battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. The Battle of Hong Kong. The attack was in violation of international law as Japan had not declared war against the British Empire. And in another violation The Imperial Japanese Army killed my granddad. Instead of taking him as a POW Japanese soldiers chose to murder him in a firing squad.

So my three year old dad was in Australia with a penniless young mother who luckily was helped by her husband’s rich cousins. Unluckily they sent dad to boarding school. Either some well meaning friend convinced her it would be good for him to be with men since he’s lost his father or the cousins didn’t want a boisterous toddler tearing round, or maybe she had a breakdown and couldn’t cope. Who knows. I still can’t imagine what could possess anyone to take a little boy barely out of nappies who had just lost his father away from his mother too. After thirty years of studying human behaviour I see the impact of this in the depths of my father’s psyche. It impacted him on so many levels. We understand what happens to men that grow up without fathers, less about children who are institutionalised so young. Luckily my grandmother was very enterprising and the limitations of a widows’ pension didn’t stop her getting him back to Scotland, bringing him up and wangling a free private school education. Dad didn’t follow his father and grandfather and great grandfather into the army. He said he wanted to earn some money and make sure he wasn’t poor again.

It also made him a feminist. While my friends were being given the posh version of an upbringing that involved teaching them to stay at home and wash dishes my dad became fixated in giving me a boy’s education. The mantra of my childhood was ‘you have to get qualifications so you can support yourself.’ I started at the village school when I was just three years old. I was the only girl in my class at the boy’s prep school I attended between six and eight years old. My food-loving Dad endured instant coffee and mince long after he rose to Managing Director so he could pay school fees for me to attend Cheltenham Ladies College, a school founded by a fabulous pair of early feminists, who started a school and an Oxford College to educate girls to the same level as boys. And god help me when I rang him from Paris to say I’d been taken on by a model agency. I was summoned straight back to London to take up the graduate training scheme post I’d been offered by Marks & Spencer. I imagine for the sake of my children should I marry a soldier and become widowed too.

My mother was another war baby. Her father got wind of the impending Blitz and she was shipped out to Devon to a children’s home at eighteen months old. When I asked my granny how she could have done this she said: “We were told ‘a good woman can look after your child or a bad one can look after your husband’”. Child development specialists now say “It is only within the context of the adult-child relationship that children accomplish the various developmental tasks related to psychological maturation. Separation from or loss of parents due to death, divorce, incarceration or removal to foster care will have a major impact on the child’s psychological development and possibly on his/her cognitive and physical development as well.” (Susan Hois, Child Development Specialist)

And so I come to the fourth generation that war impacts. Yes I am exceedingly lucky to have had such a good education. And going to such a posh school can open doors, although they are doors I’d mostly rather not go through. However being brought up by two traumatised parents had its effects. Both of them lost out at very significant stages of their development. Susan Hois continues: “Although the effects of parental separation/loss will vary from child to child and family to family, the negative impact this has can be minimized if the child can live in an environment that is supportive to the grieving process and able to offer an explanation and understanding of his life events. Unfortunately, many, many children who have suffered this trauma have not received sufficient help in resolving loss issues and are, to one degree or another, psychologically “stuck” at the age of the loss of their primary attachment objects.”

Being brought up by two people still stuck trying to be brave little soldiers themselves has its challenges. I feel the impact in my life and my upbringing from the death of just one man. My brilliant education gave me the ability not just to support myself but also to pay for quite a lot of therapeutic support as well.

Over 60 million people were killed in World War 2. That’s four generations of 60,000,000 families who’ve lost out. Bert Hellinger, who is considered to be one of the most innovative and influential family therapists in the world today, pioneered a way of disentangling the current members of a family from the unresolved issues of previous generations after being drafted into the German army and experienced combat, capture and imprisonment as a prisoner of war of the Allies aged 17. It was to his work I turned to when I was facing my own repercussions of war. I was pregnant, fearing my third miscarriage and noted that my grandmother had a number of miscarriages too. I wondered if they were connected. The ‘Hellinger’ work I did showed me that children, who are the most vulnerable members of any family system, will often highlight what is being ignored. “If in a family one member has been excluded or forgotten ... then later on in that family, in the next generation, another member takes up the same fate.” So when grandpa was killed, and granny though it best not to talk about him again, the babies that came afterwards followed grandpa and miscarried. I did the work that Hellinger proscribed, and really faced my grandfather, so the baby I was carrying didn’t have to. I learnt everything I could about him. I visited his birthplace, his school, his regiment. And gave birth, against the odds, to a healthy little girl. We called her Poppy. It wasn’t long before someone pointed out that Poppys are the way we remember those who didn’t return from the war. Like my grandpa. And today is Armistice Day, my wedding anniversary. We made Poppy on our wedding night. It was months before we made the connection that Poppy was conceived on Poppy day.

And so whilst I have immense respect for soldiers and soldier’s wives, I am a pacifist and remember today not just those who fought, but those who knew fighting was not the answer and wouldn’t fight. I’ll remember what my ancestors went through so that I could be here. And when I’m done with that I’m going to drink champagne with my husband, celebrate our wedding and the continuation of life too.


(You can see more about my grandfather and the battle of Hong Kong in a short film made to commemorate what would have been his 100thbirthday at





Feeding the 5000

The number of births in the UK is now at its highest since 1991, with 797,000 during the year to mid-2010. That's a lot of mouths to feed. And with the Coalition Government passing laws to allow builders to dig up green fields to build houses, the space to grow their food is shrinking.

So the issue of food security will growing, if you'll forgive the pun. And whilst nimby attitudes to poly tunnels, the use of swathes of countryside for ponies and GM crops will all come onto the agenda, I want to think about food waste. This business of chucking out perfectly good food because of an arbitary sell by date. Apples ripen and are picked in the late summer and early Autumn. In the Northern hemisphere at least. Yet we can go into supermarkets and buy British apples all the way through till Spring in a bag that tells us they should be eaten in the next week.

It's insane. Potatoes, carrot and onions can live in a sack all winter, provided it's somewhere cool. Yet the bag of carrots I bought yesterday told me I had to eat them within 4 days. Knowing whether a carrot is edible is built into our DNA. It's how we got here today. We can look, smell and sqidge our veg and know immediately if the carrot is too wilted to chop into batons to scoop up hummus, and should be tossed into a casserole instead. If it collapses in your hand that's the signal to scrape it from your fridge drawer into the compost.

But you don't need me to tell you that, so why do supermarkets feel the need? To make us buy more, or perhaps I'm just being cynical.

Inspired by the Feeding the 5000 campaign which sought to feed said number of people on food destined for landfill, I hosted a dinner in Bristol last week using a lot of old grub. And I wasn't just forcing my friends to eat it. No this was rather an important reception for the Leader of the Green Party to meet Bristol's eco CEOs, Political Correspondents, Councillors and philanthropists, at the revamped Colston Hall. (You read it here, Cameron woos his donors with promises of dinner in his private apartments, The Greens woo them with a pile of old veg.)

Luckily we had the country's leading organic chef, Barny Haughton to cook the food for us, and he turned his veg box into a delicious array of salads (yes, even old salad was fabulous) and tarts. The guests had been invited to a 'light supper' and couldn't believe their luck. They appeared far more excited about the delicious dinner laid out than our request to discuss voting patterns in the city.

Barny said "Many of the ingredients were destined to become food waste. Or to feed organic pigs or to compost, so not terrible but just unnecessary. This is a major issue and one that even large scale organic producers have to deal with. We are inclined to blame supermarkets and there is no doubt that they have a major responsibility, but the truth is that as a society we don't value food or where it comes from or how it gets to us."

So, please take those dates on your vegetables with a huge pinch of salt, just not if you are feeding them to your children. And when those 797,000 kids born last year, start to grow up, please teach them how to grow, cook and value this precious resource.

This little piggy went to market, or not...

The laws around smallholdings are very unclear. When Devonian editor of The Idler Tom Hodgkinson killed two pigs at home, ate the meat with his family and wrote about it in the Sunday Times, he was visited by a man from the local environmental health department, who told him that he should have had the pigs killed at the slaughterhouse. They sent him a pile of material from the Food Standards Agency, accompanied by a stern letter ticking him off. Then Three Counties radio contacted DEFRA who said that it is in fact lawful to kill your own pigs at home. You can eat the meat and share it out with your household, but you would not be allowed to sell it on the market. Food Standards argued giving food to your family is a version of putting on the market, even though no money changes hands.

This is just one area of anti rural legislation, trying to prevent the most humane, natural, healthy and environmental form of meat production: it is more humane to despatch your animals at home, one moment they are happily snuffling, the next they are dead. There are none of the stresses of driving them to the slaughterhouse, having them pushed around and smelling the fear of the other animals, yet unless small holders are very discreet they could be criminalised.

Sheryl has a rescue centre for animals and a supermarket offered them their bakery waste and veggies for the pigs. She was then told by Trading Standards that she could not do this as she could be accidentally allowing them to eat bread that may have been contaminated with meat products, which makes me wonder what they know about Sainsbury’s that we don’t. Sheryl’s son then went to college and discovered pig nuts are made of bakery waste. This law is not just about meat, you can’t even feed your pigs slops from a vegetarian restaurant. It is also illegal to feed chickens with waste food from your kitchen, including vegetable scraps, which is such a shame, they used to love the kids pasta and sweetcorn. By the way you don’t need to be licensed to keep chickens but you are not allowed to cull that darnn cockerel that is waking the neighbours for Christmas dinner.

These bizarre rules need to be amended. Taking your beasts on marathon journeys to slaughter need to be changed, and DEFRAs rules for moving animals are so complicated that most small holders are being driven underground. Of course we don’t want another outbreak of foot and mouth, but it is absurd that the same rules apply for huge scale pig farmers as for a family supporting themselves. All the evidence suggests that food prices will continue to rise, with rising fuel prices, less water and rising temperatures rendering land unsuitable for farming. If smallholders are legislated against we will lose the knowledge our grandparents had, forever. Our children need to learn how to feed themselves and if they are going to eat meat it is far better they learn where it comes from and how to care properly for animals.

It is imperative that we raise food production for Britain and one small way we can do this is by growing our own vegetables and producing our own meat. The Green Party support small scale producers and sustainable food production methods and where elected, work to protect them.



And if you still want to get a pig these are some of the hoops you'll need to jump through...


• You need a County Parish Holding number (CPH) for the land where

the pigs will be kept

• The CPH is a 9 digit number

• The first 2 digits relate to the county your pigs are kept in, the next 3

digits relate to the parish and the last 4 digits are a unique number to

the keeper. For example, 12/345/6789

• To apply for a CPH you need to contact The Rural Payments Agency

(RPA) on 0845 603 7777. After your initial call someone from the RPA

will call you back with your CPH number


• Pig movements will usually take place under a General Licence, which

sets out the conditions for movement. You may obtain a copy from the

Defra website (see Annex 1) or from your AHO.

• Pig movements must be accompanied by the movement document

• You will need an Individual Movement Licence to move pigs from a

market. This will be issued at the market by a local authority trading

standards officer and will also serve as the PRIMO movement


• In the event of a disease outbreak the AML2 provides traceability

because Defra knows where the pigs are and where they have been

• The person you are buying the pigs from will be responsible for the

providing the AML2 – They are known as the departing address

• The departing address completes sections A and C then keeps the

yellow copy for their records

• The person transporting the pigs then completes section B with their

details and keeps the blue copy

• The AML2 travels with the pigs

• On arrival at your holding you must complete section D with your

Details • You retain the pink copy of the AML2 for at least 6 months

• You must send the white copy to your Local Authority’s Trading

Standards Animal Health department within 3 days of the pigs arriving

• For future movements, please contact your local AHO or local Authority

Trading Standards for a tablet of AML2 forms


• Once the pigs arrive on your holding, your holding will be under a

standstill The standstill rules are there to protect against the rapid

spread of any new outbreak of disease – the standstill acts as an incubation period and

slows down the spread of disease

• Pigs trigger a 20 day standstill on other pigs when they move onto a


• Pigs trigger a 6 day standstill on any cattle, sheep or goats on that


• Cattle, sheep and goats moving onto a holding will impose a 6 day

standstill on any pig on that holding

• For more information on livestock movements your local AHO and

Local Authority Trading Standards can advise you or visit the the defra Livestock Movement website see annex 1

The rules about how you label a pig run to another page



eggin' the pudding

British egg producers have invested £400m on phasing out barren battery cages to meet the requirements of EU legislation which came into force on 1 January 2012. I'm delighted. Thanks to Hugh and Jamie we're all a lot more aware of chicken welfare and have not just been buying free range eggs but requesting them in our Hellman's too.

Sadly 13 EU member states have not been so resposible and have done 'little to nothing' to get some 50m hen houses in order. 'So what' you might think. But the majority of eggs we eat are hidden in foods such as cakes, quiche and sauces, which do not have to be labelled. And there is no obligation on a food producers to buy these egg products from our Great British farmers. They can import them from the EU. 

So is something going to be done about this, to support the British farmers and stop their eggs being uncompetitive? Apparently not. The Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has said it does not plan to check imported egg products or products containing eggs. Instead the UK will be relying on a voluntary food industry ban to keep illegally produced eggs out of the country, risking British jobs.

In recent research the RSPCA found the majority of British people think shops should stop selling cage eggs, or products containing them, even if it meant prices may go up.

So here we have a really good piece of EU legislation, which the majority of British people back, and this Government decides to undermine the interests of British farmers and refuse to take some very simple steps. There is already a legal requirement for proper supporting documentation of all egg and egg related products entering the UK, they just need to ask to see it. We also have a standard traceability procedure operating here and across Europe, so it is there is no reason whatsoever for the Government not to do the decent thing.

The British Egg Industry Council are saying: "We're asking the government to conduct proper checks of imported eggs, egg products and products containing eggs entering UK ports, egg packing stations, processing plants, importers and wholesalers. Otherwise, UK consumers could be eating eggs from illegal battery hens and British egg producers will be seriously undermined, with the possible loss of thousands of jobs."

The BEIC has launched a new website at and is calling for food companies and the public to sign its pledge to support British egg producers and help keep illegal eggs out of the UK.

For a free guide to buying cage-free eggs and products that contain eggs go to

For more information of the Green Party animal welfare policies go to


I have a confession to make...I ended up in Waitrose on Friday night.

You know how it is, I was all set to pop to the wholefood shop and the fishmonger between meetings. I had even dragged a cool bag complete with ice pack out with me so the pollack wouldn't start to smell during the afternoon. But then the morning dragged on, and I was asked if I would like to join a couple of friends for lunch with Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, which I wasn't going to turn down. Then another meeting, followed by a dash to the train station to meet my daughter.

So there I was, Friday night. Hungry because we'd only eaten soup at lunch, with absolutely nothing in the fridge for me, or the wholemeal loathing teenager, and knackered after another week dashing from pillar to post. What's a working mother to do? It's why the supermarkets rule the high street. Because I could drop in and get enough to keep everyone sweet all weekend.

At first I did the grocery equivalent of hiding a new dress in the back of the wardrobe, and lobbed  Percol coffee, Tick Tock tea,
Nairn's oatcakes and a bar of Green and Black's into the trolley. 'I'll just buy products from smaller British producers' I thought. 'Oh and no bogofs because they're ripoffs for the poor producers'.

But then she saw the pizza display. An aisle end, which we know someone had to pay extra for, stuffed full of half price pizzas. In went two margaritas. 'Let's make our own,' I suggested cheerfully. I got a scornful look in reply and a 'don't be ridiculous, look how cheap they are.' And I thought, 'I know the margins on pizzas are huge and they make a fortune on them. It isn't an impoverished farmer being ripped off for this. And anyway it wouldn't be much of a loss if pizza manufacturers did go out of business. It's not as if we need pizza companies so we can still feed the country when sky-high fuel prices make importing our food impossible.' And I wonder why I'm tired, thinking thoughts like that all day long. 'Okay keep the pizzas' I said, perhaps they could eat them before my husband got home and I could put the boxes straight into the recycling for once.

Then we got to the dairy counter. Good: Yeo Valley cheese, Rachel's Dairy yoghourts. 'This will be fine', no-one will know, I told myself. Then we were confronted with the Waitrose Vanilla Custard.
We looked at it.
"Oh come on. You've got to get him some custard," she said.
I hestitated.
"That's so mean."
She was right. It was mean. Just so I could look smug about shopping in an independent shop. I reached for a tub of custard. 'And we'll need the 0% fat Total Greek yoghourt once we've eaten that' I thought, and picked up two tubs. The teenager was on a roll now and dashed off to find cinnamon bagels, aero instant hot chocolate and squirty cream.

How things have changed. Fifteen years ago I couldn't do this - sure, we could get organic baby food, but rooibos tea and fairtrade coffee, tahini and organic beer? Some supermarkets have improved dramatically, especially at the posher end. A Soil Association Director even told me last month that Sainsbury's was doing a good job in terms of animal welfare and food miles, a sentence I never thought I'd hear back in the day when they were campaigning about the distances carrots travelled between soil and shelf.

Nonetheless I still worry about what will happen when every farmer has gone out of business, the land is sold to developers and we are dependent on foreign imports for all our food. We will be in the same situation that we are now in with our energy bills. Back in the 70s after the first fuel crisis the Scandinavians decided to develop their renewable energy industry. According to the World Nuclear Assocaition, Norway now gets 99% of it's power from hydroelectrics (that's rivers to you and me.). In England we stuck our head in the sand and fuel prices have gone through the roof.

Even if no-one else is mad enough to take cool bags to meetings to pick up dinner in their lunch hour we could all buy a little bit more direct from the farmers and British producers and save these declining industries for future generations. Even though the world is changing so rapidly we will always need to eat. With most parents both having to work to pay the bills, we cannot afford our food to go the way of our fuel.

So to ensure I don't end up feeding the Waitrose habit again, I 
must stop now and source some independent grocery delivery options.

The best village shop in the South West?

This week I discovered the definitive village shop. Freshford, outside Bath, is the inspired community that has created The Galleries I wish every village could or would follow this example. Apart from offering an incredibly valuable resource I wouldn’t be surprised if it also impacted house prices:  it has made us think very seriously about settling here.  Especially since the train station offers a direct line to Brighton so the idle teenager might be persuaded to visit.

The Galleries was built and is owned and run by the people of Freshford and Limpley Stoke, when both villages lost their village shops. A group of locals held a meeting to gauge the level of commitment, by asking people to agree to spend a certain amount of money every month – if the shop were to stock the items they wanted to buy. They called this “reverse credit”.

They were also asked whether they would be willing to work in the shop as volunteers, make a financial contribution towards a shop, or serve on a management committee. Efforts were made first to take over the Limpley Stoke shop, later the Freshford one – but these attempts failed because neither building was available at an affordable price. Which explains why they closed in the first place.

Instead, fundraising activities were organised, grants were applied for and a big drive for capital donations from within the community was undertaken. A piece of land was found, and a shop designed. Planning permission took a while to get because the site – although right next to Freshford Village Hall – was in the greenbelt. But it was achieved. The result is an environmentally sound, well insulated, well ventilated building – small enough to be affordable yet large enough to accommodate a diverse and useful range of goods.

They sell all the basics at a sensible price, local produce, wholefoods, organic and  fairtrade goodies, fruit and veg, a fridge full of dairy products, a modest but interesting range of wine and beer, store-baked bread, croissants and cakes, lunches, newspapers and even my brother in law’s wild swimming book ( in case you are interested, or get the soon to be released app which is fantastic.)

They also offer a taxi service, again run by volunteers, to collect villagers who are unable to walk to the shop. They are open every day of the week and I imagine the lovely looking cafe offers a lifeline for anyone living a rather isolated life, or even just working from home and needing a bit of company every now and then.

The shop opened in 2009, but I doubt it because Cameron was banging on to them about a Big Society. The Galleries looks more like a Green utopian vision to me. You can see the commitment to eco principles with the lovely offer of borrow bag. You know how it is, a pile of bags-for-life still lurking by the front door when you’re at the checkout with the weekly shop. So they offer bags made of leftover material which customers can borrow for the day and return the next time they come in. Or strong paper shopping bags for 15p each.

I understand they are doing rather well so they are now able to invest their profits into community campaigns.

The Galleries saved me this week, as it bridged the gap between wholefood and corner shop. We had all been feeling a bit deprived with the lack of easy grub in the fridge. Shopping from independents only means we are never short of sunflower seeds but if you just want a tin of Heinz tomato soup round ours, you would have been disappointed recently.

There are serious drawbacks to this way of living. Not least that it requires immense organization and lots of time. I am really missing the Sainsbury delivery van, My next project is finding an independent alternative to the supermarket delivery.


The Galleries Shop & Café

Freshford Lane,
Freshford, Bath BA2 7UR

01225 723249



Giving it some Welly

Although we started trying to live in Somerset this summer I still haven’t really settled. The eldest daughter who insists on staying in Brighton draws me back regularly, as does rather surprising offers of work. As a result the only two places I know really well in the area are Taunton railway station and Wellington Waitrose. Shunning the supermarkets meant we were going to starve if I didn’t get to know this region smartish. It’s an area is rich with food producers and not just Cheddar cheese, Somerset cider and Cornish fish either. The South West produces more food than Scotland and three times as much as Wales according to So with Saturday set aside to fill the cupboards, the entire family, with our (organic farmer) landlady as guide, headed to Wellington.

We pulled in opposite the bank to walk through the town and back. To our amazement parking was free, making the tab level pegging with the supermarket already. A gorgeous black poodle with a big afro tempted us into a nice junk shop where we found a Lloyd Loom laundry basket for £8, which I guarantee was cheaper than the shop I saw in Pimlico last week (Lloyd Loom of Spalding, 20 Pimlico Road, SW1W, 020 7730 6574, Although not strictly an essential purchase we emerged feeling flush from the bargain.

I clocked a hardware shop called Perrys, (good for the toxic cleaning products, when the sheets and plates look grey from ecover-kill), walked past a deli called The Larder then went to The Cheese and Wine shop (11 South Street, TA21 8NR, 01823 662899, Our guide had told me everyone adores this place, but she had found the owners unsupportive to local producers (i.e. her). I was prepared to dislike them, because she’d forked out for a wooden stand to sell her goods from, only to find a global brand’s products being sold from it at the next visit. Instead I was completely won over. I was looking for top notch local cheeses for that night’s dinner party: a soft, a waxy and a blue was on the shopping list. I was given tastes of quite a few without asking and ended up buying Devon blue, Montgomery Cheddar, Sharpham brie-alike and a delicious chewy, crunchy walnut loaf. I was so charmed I failed to notice the price. With apologies to the landlady: he’s a great bloke (if you’re buying), with a charming shop selling a funny mixture of foody and 70s deli products, the unironic 70s biscuit barrel being the small one’s favourite. And the cheese was so good the whole lot got eaten that night.

We then saw a high street butcher which didn’t look too organic so went instead to Samuel’s Fresh Fish and Game (28 High St, TA21 8RA, 01823 665999, I’m not too keen on eating bunnies even though rabbit meat is very eco, so I passed on that offer. They also shoot their game and stalk their deer, making this a whole lot more ethical than your 'ethical' supermarket meat, where a cow gets driven by Sainsbury’s across the country to one of the very few organic abattoirs, before being driven elsewhere to a packer, onto the Sainsbury’s depot and then perhaps back to a shop near the field he was raised in. We spent £23.90 on mixed selection of fish for fish pie, frozen fish stock and bag of prawns. It sounds a hefty price tag but it was an enormous bag, and it's not as much as Sainsbury’s spends on petrol. Unfortunately one of those ingredients was so salty I was reluctant to make the small one eat her fish pie that night. They also do rare breed Oxford Sandy & Black pork and Welsh Mountain Black lamb which they breed and slaughter themselves, so there’s lots to tempt us.

We then looked in on Nurtured by Nature (10 High Street, TA21 8RA, 01823 215627, where they sell a range of ethical goodies from fair trade clothes and eco cleaning and body products to sough dough bread, rice cakes and unbleached baking paper.

Since I still haven't got a local veg box sorted (but am happy to take recommendations), we patronised Mary Jenkins (8 High St, TA21 8RA), a traditional greengrocer with vegetables outside, and forgot to buy the spuds for the fish pie. Then we managed to get past the bakery without the small one, or indeed her custard-loving father, asking for a cake.

We found Sunseed, (12 South Street, TA21 8NS, 01823 662 313, Wellington’s health food shop since 1979, which has apparently suffered since the fairly recent arrival of Waitrose. They had a bold belief in Wellington ‘coming round’ which I founded harder to share, and bought bran, coffee, tinned tomatoes, big bags of seeds and nuts and vat of peanut butter for £29.61. I wish I needed to buy more, this is just the sort of shop I want to keep in business, especially when they have been holding the organic/natural food thing for so many years through the dark ages of enlightened shopping.

To complaints of sore feet we went into Buy and Save, (20-22 Fore Street, TA21 8AQ) to find socks for the child who had managed to come out without. This is a cavernous shop selling absolutely everything including blackboard paint and carpet gripper. If there were no other shops left in the world this would still cover most things.

On our travels I heard talk of the shop at the top end of the high street being developed into a Costa Coffee or is it going to be a KFC - no one seemed quite sure. If this is true it would be the first noticeable ingress of a global brand. Everywhere else felt like a proper local high street, and very unlike the South East. I could do the same sort of shop in Lewes, East Sussex, but in outlets designed for yummy mummies not the entire community. This felt real and friendly. We drove home completely relaxed; the panic about whether I would ever eat well again completely abated. The only question remaining was where to buy my breakfast staple of 0% fat Total yoghurt without returning to Waitrose. The search continues.




Could we live without supermarkets?

Did you know that when you are popping two punnets of raspberries for the price of one in your trolley, the poor farmer has no idea the supermarket is giving his raspberries away for free? He won’t get paid for them even though he, or she, has had to grow them, pick them, fork out to have them packaged by the supermarkets ‘preferred packager’ and then deliver them. I love my raspberries but hate the thought that farmers get told two months in arrears what the supermarket will pay for them. That’s right, no fixed contract signed before the farmer has seen the first berries appear on the bush, nothing in place when he’s ordering the over priced punnets demanded by the supermarket, nothing agreed when the fruit pickers arrive for summer work, and as he’s putting them in a van to be delivered overnight to the depot he still has no idea.

Then there’s the dairy farmer that goes out of business every week, the hideous blight of Tesco metros on the high street where there used to be a jolly greengrocer and the millions of supermarket lorries on the road driving carrots round and round in circles.

It made me go ‘enough is enough’ and put it to the family that we stop shopping in supermarkets. Our teenager was most worried about where the cinnamon bagels would come from, the five year old hated the supermarket anyway and the person I thought would be the biggest barrier, my Waitrose custard loving husband, agreed immediately.

This is our story about how it all went.


Week 1

Our pretty village has a tea shop, post office, cafe, two pubs, one recycled tat gift shop and a very overpriced deli. The butcher, greengrocer and village shop disappeared over the last ten years. The first problem was where to buy our food. Years ago I had lived in Brighton and shopped almost entirely in Infinity Foods, so the next time I was in Brighton I dropped in to the now much expanded but not yet infinate Infinity, while my husband was sent up to the butcher in Hanover to buy some meat. The supermarket normally takes me forty minutes to get round. I had filled a trolley in ten. I was standing by the loading bay with six bags of shopping waiting for the custard loving husband to pick me up a few minutes after that.

The shopping had come to £105 and included cereals, cheese and juice, wine, bread, loo paper, in fact everything I’d normally buy apart from the children’s beloved bagels and Waitrose vanilla custard.  CLH had bought two organic chickens, minced beef and sausages from Archer’s for £32. We then drove over to pick up the little on from her playmate in Hove and passed Taj on the way. CLH jumped out to buy a few bunches of herbs and their very good tahini, at least that’s what he said he was buying. He came out clutching a receipt for £16 having been tempted by white peaches and the wherewithall to make proper Lebanese Baba Ganoush. We were up to £150, which was already an extravagant week in Waitrose, for me. CLH always spends a fortune on food which is why I’ve kept him away from the shopping tasks for over a year.

By Saturday we’d had our weekly veg box delivered, the milkman had remembered the eggs but we were out of wine, cat food and needed something special for dinner, with a friend coming over. I had to take the teenager to a friend who lived in Hurstpierpoint away so thought we could investigate what their high street had to offer.

I had driven through this village once a week for the past two years but had never registered the variety of shops. ‘Look a greengrocer, oh and a fishmonger fantastic’ I squeeled, in a way I might have once done at the arrival of Harvey Nichols in the nearest town. We bought raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and a cucumber, then crossed the road to find the most fantastic fishmonger with the provenance of all his fish chalked up on a blackboard. The diver caught scallops from the Hebrides and huge freshwater prawns were the most exciting. The small one chose a piece of wild salmon. We paid the nice man £14.36 and headed down to the pet shop for some cat food and then to the off licence. We did have the most cracking dinner that night and the scallops were better than any I have ever bought in Sainsbury’s (although they had some that came close last year). Waitrose ones were always frozen and completely foul.

At the end of the week we concluded we’d had some very, very good nosh, but the budget had been completely blown at £219.14. The normal weekly bill is usually about £150. This plan was going to need re-thinking.


Click here for RSS feed