Greenbelt 2013


Just one day this year, as per last year.
Really must get our act together and get back to camping there ‘for real’!

A bit different this year, as my day at Greenbelt occurred during my 4-week TESOL course, in Cheltenham. Most odd.
Also, it was planned (to the nth degree) that the family would come up to Cheltenham to join me for Greenbelt, but due to ill health, that didn’t work out.

So it was me on my little ownsome, for the whole of Saturday. But not really on my own, as had plenty of friends to meet up with. As well as spending some time with me bessies (who were doing talks about detached youthwork in The Kitchen) I managed to catch up with the talented Dave Walker, with whom it was a pleasure to sneek into the Contributors’ Area, for coffee, illegally! Also the lovely Penny Culliford (Chai in Tiny Tea Tent) and Darren Hill.

In addition to extreme socialising, I was also being a reviewer for the Church Times. This role gave me my own press pass, which totally rocked and got me into venues/talks without queueing! As soon as it was around my neck, I was inflicted with very un-Christian boastfulness, insisting that people I met ‘oohh’ and ‘ahhh’ with gusto by way of a response. If they weren’t convincing enough, I made them repeat the noises, until they were unto mine satisfaction. Good times.

I reviewed: Adrian Plass (my hero), Catherine Fox (novellist) and Richard Coles (vicar, used to be in the Communards.)
Adrian was awesome, naturally. Catherine was interesting, and her talk reminded me that I really ought to get back to novel-writing, and Richard was… well. He used to be in the Communards. I know I’ve already informed you of this, but still. Back in the day, ‘Don’t leave me this wa-a-a-ay’ was my top song ever. So I wanted to enjoy his talk, but it was a bit dull. But then I am not a vicar, and his topic was vicar-ing. He was the inspiration for ‘Rev’ (comedy on BBC2) don’t ya know. I think if he’d ended his talk by singing ‘Don’t leave me this way’ (not that he sang it in the first place, I believe) I might have been more interested. But he didn’t. And I wasn’t. Shame.

Church Times review supplement can be viewed here, if you’re interested…
If there’s nothing good on telly, or you’ve just finished your novel, or your PS3’s broken.

(The actual supplement in CT was far more flashy, but this’ll do for now.)
(Also, the first 2 paras re Plass are mine, whereas the 3rd, that includes typos and a tense change, isn’t!)

[More on my previous 12 years of GB, here. You’ll need to scroll down.]

Facebook ads – do they matter?

A recent article (well, technically a ‘blog post’, but ‘article’ sounds posher) I wrote for Generous, on Facebook advertising, can be found hiding here.

And today, quite by chance I came across this on YouTube.
It’s a rather amusing parody of the famous John Lewis advert that includes the song: Always a Woman (that makes strong, sane women sob buckets, including me).

I rarely see TV ads, as I don’t watch much actual telly at all (but countless films, so I’m no saint, nor am I Amish). And if I do watch something, I’ve usually pre-recorded it, and then fast forward through the ad break.

Thus, I’ve not purchased a single item from the shops since the late 80’s.

OK, I have. But face it… you were impressed, just for those few seconds…

Christmas Shopping

Yes, it’s here… again.
Shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – it’s not as if we’re unused to the festive period. It seems to engulf a sixth of each year, at least!

And yes, I have again written about the Chrimbo shopping fiasco, published on the ‘Generous’ website, here.

Having compared it with what I’ve written in other, similar articles I’ve penned in previous years (published in various places) I note that I’m becoming a bit more honest, a tad more realistic, and even, dare I say it… slightly less Scrooge-like! But what motivates me remains in tact: to raise awareness of those who live in poverty, who would love to have Christmas Shopping trips to grumble about.

Christmas no longer illegal


An article I’ve just written for the Generous website

Spend less and be more Generous

In 1647, the English Parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal. Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas festivities, considering feasting and revelry on a ‘holy day’ immoral. Anybody caught celebrating Christmas was arrested. The ban was only lifted when the Puritans lost power in 1660.

The reason for mentioning this rather random historical fact is that I tend to feel rather like Cromwell’s long lost distant descendant at this time of year. Not because I aim to be, please understand. More because the ideas I choose to promote sometimes paint me as a bit of a Scrooge.

In actual fact, I’m totally in favour of ‘feasting and revelry’ and am a huge fan of the season in general. In addition to the standard merriment, food and partying, it’s a fantastic opportunity to show hospitality towards those neighbours or work colleagues that we tend to ignore. Also for using the occasion to strengthen family ties.

But when it comes to presents under the tree, ‘giving generously’ doesn’t mean we ought to re-mortgage our homes. If anything, it might be more generous to give a less expensive gift, but give it a bit more thought.

For example, a voucher that says, ‘I’ll babysit for you once a month this coming year’. Or what about buying books, DVDs, CDs, games etc. second-hand off eBay or Amazon… or from a local charity shop? And any money that we then save – by getting less expensive presents – could be directed towards those who really need it. Those who won’t be enjoying all of the festivities that we will; who wouldn’t notice if their country made Christmas illegal again. (As Bob Geldof would have us sing: ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’)

So, what about spending half as much as we usually would on family members this year, and, with the money saved, buy a goat (or similar) for those in need… and tell the family on Christmas Day? Or did you know that for £60 you can twin your toilet with one built in Burundi, for those who aren’t used to such luxuries (

If you’re feeling very ambitious and have time on our hands, then to make a present is a generous yet cheap idea: knit a scarf, bake a cake, paint a picture, compose a song, write a poem. Go on, I will if you will! It’s not illegal, we won’t get arrested, and, if we do something generous with the money we save by not splashing out, we’ll be making a difference to those in need, which can’t be bad.

Generous wrinkles?

This has just been published here on Generous website.
They have also interviewed me here

Generous wrinkles?

Do adverts on the telly stop us being ‘generous’? When we suffer yet another commercial break that inconveniently interrupts what we were attempting to enjoy, does it matter? Do we kid ourselves when we say that we just ignore them; that they don’t have any influence over us… that they don’t alter our efforts to shop less, to buy local/fair trade/organic/eco-friendly, etc?

Take the recent hype over the cream that claims to get rid of your wrinkles, by No.7. When the ‘news’ broke recently, that scientists had done a study and found that for once, a beauty product’s claims were accurate, the result was predictable. In the Boots’ outlet at Liverpool Street, London, over 400 bottles were sold within 90 minutes of the store opening.

But those of us who are hard-core Generous Shoppers aren’t so gullible.
No, we’re not.
Are we?
Errrr… yes, just a bit.

When last in Boots (and I’m rarely in there) I passed a huge display of said product. I paused. I have wrinkles. As they say in the States: do the math! Now, please bear in mind I am not one to splash out on beauty products of any sort and don’t even wear make up. The essentials I do buy tend to be of the generous sort. But I paused, picked up a bottle of said product, held it for a few seconds, thought about my skin and the fantasy of turning back time… then realised it was twenty quid and swiftly returned it to its display.

Proof, then, that adverts have power, even over those of us who consider ourselves immune. What if it had cost two quid – would I have bought it? Please don’t ask me that as I’m trying to put the whole sorry episode behind me. But beware – we’re only human, and while we know that wasting money is not helpful to us, or to people and planet at large, sometimes we’re more susceptible to clever advertising than we realise.
And sometimes we just have to learn to re-name our wrinkles ‘laughter lines’, and move on.

Accident insurance and mayonnaise!

pennies for me if i loose limbs!
This was published on the Generous website Nov 08:

Accident insurance and mayonnaise!

I am a member of a Unison. Generally, apart from waving a sad goodbye to some of my hard-earned cash each month, this doesn’t really mean that much to me. But just the other day I received something from them in the post: free life/accident insurance. Further investigation taught me that if I loose a thumb and index on the same hand, I’ll get £750 (it occurs to me that if I loose a thumb and index finger on different hands, I’ll not get a penny. Charming). If I loose two limbs, I’ll get a whopping £2500 (that might just cover my first week of therapy).

My job as a teaching assistant has tended to be fairly hazard-free to date. Nevertheless, I have duly applied for my freebie; perhaps the only freebie I hope never to cash in on. Watch this space/thumb/index finger/limbs…
Still, it did make me think more about the value we place on things. Or the value we ought place on them. How can a group of people I have never even met place a value on various parts of my body?

The current credit climate has forced me, yet again, to re-examine the value I place on shopping ‘generously’ and all it entails. Take mayonnaise. For the past few years I’ve ordered local/organic/fair trade food from a local food delivery service. It’s great, but with a £3 delivery charge, I’ve now decided to give it a miss. However, they are the only people who can supply us with local mayonnaise. Our local farm shop has mayonnaise… from Staffordshire. I don’t tend to count food produced 170 miles away from where I live as particularly local. Also, it’s very expensive, as was the local mayonnaise I was having delivered. My research has shown that my local Co-op (the best of the worst) do their own brand of mayonnaise, using free range eggs. And it’s cheap! (and that’s not just related to the eggs). So, I could add mayonnaise to the short list of things I do actually buy from Co-op most weeks. It would save money. Saving money is good. Firstly, because I don’t want to run out of it (money, not mayonnaise) and secondly because if I have any spare I can always give it to someone who needs it more. But up until now I’ve valued the fact that my mayonnaise was produced in the same county as my mine. So what’s more important?

Yes, I’m being pedantic; so shoot me. If you do my family will get a nice payout from Unison; they’ll be dancing at my funeral. I suspect the answer is for me to stop thinking so hard and simply to opt for the handy cheap Co-op version, until I can find somewhere else that sells it locally, at a reasonable price. Or, make my own. Recipes anyone…?!

PS For the record, I can’t recall the exact amounts of money the insurance offered me, but it was something along the lines of the above.

Just had this published on the generous website:

The ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ Dare.

Would you call yourself a bibliophile, a philobiblist… or perhaps just a common garden ‘bookworm’? Welcome to the club! And now you’re initiated, how about this for starters. Did you know…

Cinderella’s slippers were originally made out of fur. The story was changed in the 1600s by a translator.
Dr. Seuss wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” after his editor dared him to write a book using fewer than 50 different words.

Or maybe you’re too busy absorbing the latest Jodi Picoult, Martin Amis or Ben Elton to have time to acquire such knowledge. Either way, like me, you’re addicted, you know it, and you love it.

But my approach to purchasing these beloved books has altered in the past few years. It began to occur to me that there are people who are suffering in this world because of the vast amount of forests being stripped of trees that are vital to their way of life. That are vital to the way of life for our whole planet, now and in the years to come. In addition to this, perhaps I was wasting my money on a book I knew I might only read once, and then quite likely never read again. If I had that kind of money to throw around, ought I rather throw it in the direction of someone more needy than myself?

Thus, more recently I find myself doing the following:
Borrowing from the library (you can borrow up to sixteen at a time from my local!)
Buying second hand (Ebay, or the Amazon marketplace).
Buying new (if I really HAVE to have the book in question, and can’t get it second hand. I’ll try to order via my local independent bookshop if at all possible).

So take a leaf out of my borrowed/second-hand book. When you go on holiday this year, learn the above De Seuss trivium off by heart, and amaze your poolside companions. Go on, I dare you…!