Friday, 28 April 2017

Not so sweet: the problem with chocolate

We got so much chocolate at Easter. 

This is definitely a good thing, because we all love chocolate, as I've attested in my poem, Chocolate, which you'll find here. We got mini eggs and creme eggs, After Eights and Rolos, we got Maltesers and Smarties and lots lots more. We have generous family, and neighbours, and we are grateful for it.

We have eaten chocolate as it comes, made it into sauce and into delicious cookies. At one point we were eating it and talking about Kraft's decision to draw back a bit on Cadbury's commitment to Fair Trade.

The kids learn all about Fair Trade at school and they want to support it, so I said I'd google what was happening about chocolate. What I found out totally sucked. There's a good article on it here for more info.

Basically, Cocoa beans grow in tropical climates like those found in West Africa, where 70% of cocoa is grown. For Ghana and the Ivory Coast cocoa is a very important commodity. However, we are not paying enough for cocoa,so to cut costs cocoa farmers are resorting to child labour, including child slavery.

These kids must work long days doing hard manual work. Many of them get little or no schooling, and all of them are put at risk by two big dangers in their work - the insecticides they spray without protection (because there are a lot of bugs in the tropics), and the machetes (big knives) which they carry up trees to cut down the bean pods, and then use to force the bean pods open.

Meanwhile the kids get very poor food themselves, and often have to stay in horrible housing, with no comfy place to sleep and nowhere they can get clean.

We can try to support farmers getting a fair wage, so they shouldn't have to use kids labour like this, but Fair Trade have had to remove some of their accreditations recently, after finding child labour to be more widespread than previously thought. Perhaps that's why Kraft have diluted Cadbury's commitment.

Anyway, unfortunately it comes down to paying more. So far, no evidence has been found of these practices in the tropical parts of South America where cocoa is grown, so these seem like the sensible places to source cocoa at the moment. The Food Empowerment Project has an app and lots of info to help you get the best vegan chocolate. You'll find all that here. We love our milk chocolate though, so we are going to be looking out for chocolate that's ORGANIC (this is mainly from Latin America), FAIRTRADE, and FOREST FRIENDLY. This is a bit more expensive generally, which means we will probably (weep for us) eat less. That's got to be good, right?

By the way, child labour isn't the only problem with chocolate, there are also problems of deforestation, and the nasty effects of all those insecticides among others. Watch out for Palm Oil in your yummies too! 


Friday, 21 April 2017

Shuffling words: how I get unstuck with poetry

Sometimes, when I'm stuck on how to make something work, or I've lost the point of a poem I will use a formal poetry technique to shuffle the cards in my deck and come up with something different.

Usually I do this with poems that aren't working for me, but sometimes I do it with other texts which I like, but am not getting any inspiration from. It can spark new ideas.

I tend to make things into poem structures that use repetition, making the words learn the steps of the sestina, pentina, tritina, pantoum, or villanelle. I've just had a villanelle accepted for publication which started life as a free verse poem which just wasn't working. I love the circling and the repetition of these forms because I think they bring more focus onto the moment of the poem. 

Of course, things don't have to stay formal, often, usually, in fact, they break down having once come together, but the process helps to reveal patterns and the little important things which can make it better.

Today I've been missing my April dose of Game of Thrones which isn't returning to our screens until July, so I've been playing with the books instead, especially George RR Martin's murderous prologues.

Obviously I wouldn't pass something like this off as my own. I've used lots of words from Martin. Sometimes something like this changes enough that it might be considered a found poem, but often it just sends me off in another direction, sparking ideas which weren't found from the original text.

Here is a trytina I've been working on today, using words from the prologue of Dance with Dragons I by George RR Martin. I'm calling it a trytina because I've tried, but I can't get a last line to work.

If you're not familiar with the lingo, a warg is a shapeshifter, and this one is currently a wolf. I don't think any more explanation is needed, but feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

The senses in the shadows

The night was rank with the smell of man.
The warg stopped beneath a tree and sniffed,
his grey-brown fur dappled by shadow.

A sigh of piney wind brought scent through shadow,
over fox and hare, seal and stag, even wolf, came man.
The stink of old skins, dead and sour the warg sniffed,

the stronger scents of smoke and blood and rot the warg sniffed.
Only man stripped skins from beasts to wear as shadow,
and wargs have no fear of man.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

If I ever did the Guardian Questionnaire

Back before children, when I used to lie in my bed on a Saturday morning, I used to love nothing better than getting a copy of the Saturday Guardian and reading through it. I used to love the Q&A in the Magazine, or the Guardian Questionnaire as I'm sure it used to be called. I would contemplate what my answers would be.

Well, The Guardian still hasn't asked me to do he Questionnaire for them, so I've decided to do it for you instead, so here are my answers to their questions.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

All the jobs done, someone else making a meal, and time to chill with people I love.

2. What is your greatest fear? 

Obviously something bad happeneing to someone I love, but other than that, it's the idea that maybe humanity is actually a warmongering evil bunch of gits, and I'm just being silly. 

3. With which historical figure do you most identify and why? 

The trouble with history is it's full of blokes, there aren't enough women for me to identify with. My favourite history bloke is Richard III of England, because he's the last of the House of York and because people still debate what he did and didn't do.

4. Which living person do you most admire and why? 

There is a distinct lack of admirable people when you look at the news, but I'm lucky enough to live in Scotland. I have worked with and now been governed by Nicola Sturgeon (and other people, but I'm picking a person here), and I think she's chuffing marvellous and doing a really good job for the people of Scotland in difficult circumstances. I don't agree with everything she believes in, but I really admire the way she does things, her conviction, and her strength of character.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? 

My lack of courage to do things in front of other people, even though I know that other people's opinions of me are never going to be as bad as my own!

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others? 

Being right wing. I could go on at length about all the details about it, but that's not going to say much more. 

7. What has been your most embarrassing moment? 

Still my mother picking up my skirt and pointing at my lack of pants to demonstrate to the lady in the French lingerie shop what we needed. It was such a big deal that the story appeared in the Guardian, here.

8. What vehicles do you own? 

A great big massive Ford Galaxy which doesn't fit in parking spaces, has nowhere useful for a bag, and has massive heavy doors which children cannot open without whacking the car parked next to us. It's an expensive car to run because of paying to get other people's paint jobs touched up. I need a new car, but they are massive money pits and very boring. 

9. What is your greatest extravagance? 

I love a cute notebook. I am having a paperchase moment just now, loving the rainbow ones, but I have a box of unused notebooks (and even more of used ones!)

10. What objects do you always carry with you? 

My phone. I've just got a new phone which hasn't got its phone case yet, so I'm missing the things that go in that, which is deeply unpleasant. They are an emergency £5, a little gift from each of my children, and a business card which I'm supposed to give away but always forget about.

11. Where would you like to live? 

Scotland, but if we could move Scotland to somewhere more sunny and a bit warmer that would be perfect.

12. What makes you depressed? 

Too much interaction. Paying attention to the news. The weather.

13. What is your most unappealing habit? 

My husband might currently argue it's snoring, but I'll stop doing that when this stinky cold goes away. I think it's probably writing down conversations I overhear if they're particularly sweary and held in public, you know, like Drs waiting rooms. Love doing that.

14. What is your favourite smell? 

Cedarwood is yummy, and Spiritual Sky Patchouli. Sorry.

15. What is your favourite building? 

The Brotherton Library in Leeds, especially the Polish bit.

16. What is your favourite journey? 

A long, comfortable train ride with a good book and plenty of batttery on my phone.

17. How did you vote in the last election? 

SNP. I would have voted Green but there wasn't a candidate here. 

18. How will you vote in the next election? 

I wasn't really expecting the next General Election to be so soon. I suspect it will be SNP again. I don't think Labour have the best interests of Scotland or even Britain in mind, and I know the Tories only want to look after themselves.

19. Should the Royal Family be scrapped? 

No! I'd rather have a family who got to be the weirdness of the monarchy than relying on celebs to open events and greet world leaders.

20. Do you believe in capital punishment? 

No. I'd like a lot less death generally.

21. Do you believe in monogamy? 

I do believe in monogamy, and certainly in respecting a person's wishes for monogamy if that's their bag. I also believe that polygamy should be acceptable for those it suits (and it could solve some divorce issues). 

22. Which living person do you most despise and why? 

I really do try to believe that people think they're doing the right thing. There are several world leaders who make that difficult.

23. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 

Obedience. I am a great follower of rules, but I can see that not following them helps you to solve problems more creatively, and get away with all sorts. Sadly I'm turning two of my children into rule followers, but the third one could be the one to watch.

24. Have you ever said I love you without meaning it? 

I'm ashamed to say I've said it out of habit and then realised what I was saying. Happily those days are long behind me. Nowadays I always mean it when I say it, although I might not like the person I'm speaking to right at that moment!

25. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 

I don't think we're actually fighting today, no it's not a fighting day (or substitue fighting for shouting or whineing).

26. What is your greatest regret? 

Not breaking my own stupid good girl rules when I was young, because people thought I did anyway. 

27. When and where were you happiest? 

Here and now, although it has its moments!

28. How do you relax? 

I like watching TV snuggled under a blanket with someone lovely.

29. What single thing would improve the quality of your life? 

A housekeeper. 

30. What keeps you awake at night? 

3 children, 2 kittens and 1 husband. Not much else.

31. How would you like to die? 

Old, and asleep at home, with cards on my mantle from my grandchildren.

32. Do you believe in life after death? 

Not really, although I think there's plenty that I don't know, and I've certainly felt like the spirits of those that are gone were with me. My friend Rose (who inspired this poem) certainly seemed to tell me to get away from her grave and go do something useful recently.

33. How would you like to be remembered? 

I would like my genes to carry on, bringing big stroppy people into future generations, and I would hope that some of them might like the occasional poem of mine.

34. What is the most important lesson life has taught you? 

Time keeps moving on and nobody thinks that stupid thing you did is especially interesting.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Washable Sanpro

We have come such a long way when it comes to talking periods and sanpro. Let's start with the word, SANPRO (short for sanitary protection) is nice and simple and can be used on daytime Radio 4 without many batted eyelids. We'll not bother with the discussion of sanitaryness and protectionability, that can happen later. I'm just glad we have a word that can be used in conversation. Although other words like period and tampon are even getting bandied about now. 

I finally found out at the age of only 42 about different shapes of tampons and which one might actually work for me, because it finally occurred to me to ask my Mum. Since then I've chatted about it with a friend, and nothing dreadful happened. I should note that I have a degree in Women's Studies, and was a Women's Officer at University. I can discuss lots of things about sex with no bother, but periods have been full of unmentionables.

I do mean unmentionable. When, as a teen, I started my periods once at my Dad's house, with nothing to use, I asked him to nip to the corner shop and getting me some towels, but he told me that men didn't buy things like that, so I concocted a wodge of toilet roll and rustled my way there. If I ran out while out and about (as I often did, especially as a teen), I'd tell a friend that I'd started and ask if they had anything, praying they'd understand what I was getting at. Generally they did, because they were used to things being unmentionable themselves!

But now my husband can buy Sanpro, and of course women have periods and I don't hide it from my kids. One day the adverts will be way more realistic and not bang on about visits from Aunt Flo, with strange women pouring test tubes of blue liquid all over the place. But I suspect the adverts won't be telling you about something else - Washable Sanpro.

When I was at Uni one of my lecturers was a former nun who went on at length about the misery of being a novice and having to collect all the 'rags' which the sisters would use for their period, to wash them. We all said 'ieuuu', and it did seem kind of medieval, and far removed from our modern, clean lives. But actually, isn't it much nicer to just bung something in the wash and use it again rather than getting bins full of manky dried blood? Back then I knew about mooncups (which I didn't fancy, alhough I hear good things), but the only washable towels I saw were ugly and frankly looked like the bad old bulky towels which I'd hated.

If you've got kids you'll know that washable nappies have got a million times better than they were in the good old days in recent years with breathable fabrics which deter liquids passing through, and with super absorbent bamboo, cloth nappies are not the nightmare they used to be. 

Some clever mums used the same fabric technology to make washable sanitary towels which are comfortable, easily washed, and absorbent. You can even get them for urinary accidents, if your pelvic floor isn't all it could be.

Good things are, of course, the environmental stuff - less rubbish, less plastic etc. But also it's good for you. I'm never sure that the stories you hear about the chemicals in sanitary towels are true, but I can definitely say that cloth towels are far more comfortable - there is no sticky strip to come unstrung and give you a waxing, and you don't get any pubes pulled out by getting weirdly sucked into the woven top.

You can get really boring looking washable sanitary towels, but I'm a big fan of supporting small businesses by buying funky looking designs which I actually look forward to wearing. They generally cost about £8 each, but you can use them again and again. They're easy to wash. I plonk them in a little tub of cold water when they're used, to help release any stain, and then stick them in the next wash at 30 or 40 (with no conditioner). Then I dry them on a drying rack. It takes about 24 hours for them to dry.

I wasn't sure how they'd get on with a weekend away, but had my period over a weekend in St Andrews, and just collected them up in a washbag, and then cold watered and washed them when I got home. Good as new (nearly, one of them got a bit stained, but that was mostly white).

I have discovered that lots of people don't know about washable sanitary towels, and how easy they are to use so I'm sharing this post, and I reckon you might want to try one, so I'm going to give you some links to where I get my favourites. Watch out though - they can be really comfy and really funky, and I know some people end up collecting them!

People make lots of different shapes and sizes. For your first one you should probably measure your favourite disposable towel and get something a similar size. I would recommend trying a few different shapes rather than getting a load in one size from one supplier. You might also want a little purse for your bag/coat pocket - it's got a waterproof lining too so you can put a spare towel in and use it to transport a used one home.

Here's where to look:

Earthwise Girls - Lots of stuff from lots of suppliers under one webpage, including Angelpadz and other cloth towels, mooncups (little cups you use instead of tampons), and more.

Angelpadz - My favourite creator of cloth towels. They share my obsessions with foxes and trees, plus they made my cute little ghostie pad purse. 

Crafty Mrs B - I found Crafty Mrs B on Etsy. She uses such cute fabrics, I've got the kaleidoscope clouds one. Gorgeous, and so nice to support a home business.

***Nobody has given me any free stuff or paid me for this blog post, although I'd be happy to accept freebies to try out new things.***

We're going on an adventure

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Through the glass


I'm joining in with The Prompt for my poem today, using the theme of 'glass'. I wrote this over coffee at Costa in Largs, watching the world go by and pondering over how many people watch the world go by through a Costa window (other cafes are also available), and how the things they see vary depending on where they are. I tried to highlight the things which exemplify Largs for me. But I'm also cognisant that spaces that seem the same are different for different people, so even if you've been to Largs you might not recognise mine.

Through the glass

Through the glass while the sun shines brightly I see
Ina driving her daughter
who leans on her window,
watching the ferry unload
a bin lorry,
peculiarly clean with its cargo.
Through the glass while the sun is bright I see
a little girl with ginger hair and teal hairband,
hands shoved firmly in the pockets
of her dark green woollen coat.
Despite the cold she wants
Geraldo’s ice cream.
Through the glass while the sun shines brightly I see
a red car clip a corner
behind an older couple, slowly crossing.
They glance briefly, unperturbed.
Through the glass brightly I see
a woman in a hi-vis jacket,
long dark hair pulled back.
She issues instructions to men in vans,
checking their credentials.
Through the glass I see
the woman with the long flame hair
who walks and walks and walks.
She stops to say hello to someone
as she does with me but
I do not know her name.
Through the glass (brightly again) I see
two men pass each other,
both have hands sheltered deep in pockets.
They have no nods to share.
Through the glass brightly I see
a man puffing his cheeks against the cold,
wrapping reddened fingers around an umbrella
wrapped in plastic
lest it should get wet.
Through the glass brightly I see
the bus for Gourock
with five people on it.
In the long legged seat near the back a man
lifts his eyes from his book.
Through the glass shadowed he sees

© Cara L McKee 1/4/17

****update 2/4/17 - turns out the woman with the long dark hair is also Ina's daughter, and she works at the ferry terminal!