Posts Tagged ‘Ripon’

Can We Save Ourselves From Global Warming?

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

I went to a public lecture by Professor John Beddington who is currently Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government.  He was lecturing on Climate Change as a University of York Biology lecture.  And yesterday he was back in London attacking climate sceptics who mistake weather for climate change and so on.

I am slowly trying to understand the science in more detail, having understood the basics since I did science way back when, plus I have even set myself out on doing an Open University degree on Environmental Science/Studies to improve my understanding of these issues.  So I guess I am now an advanced layman rather than much further on than that.

So what came out for me in his lecture was not whether or not climate change or global warming exists – it does and the science is clear, even if there are gaps in getting to a total understanding on the subject.  We know that quantum physics works even though there are gaps, while we know that evolution occurs and that alternative routes co-exist with it, such as horizontal gene transfer.  Gaps and alternatives do not necessarily negate the core scientific theory.

What struck me were 2 slides:

  1. One slide on annual deployment rates for alternatives, lower carbon emission energy sources.  I didn’t have time to take down all the data but it did include 32 new nuclear plants per annum, 215 million m2 of solar panels annually, 3750 offshore wind turbines every year etc etc.  That’s just an awesome task.  It chimed with some thoughts in Stewart Brand’s recent book “Whole Earth Discipline”.
  2. His final slide – which Professor Beddington called The Perfect Storm, where he stated that we must not forget that there are more scientific issues impacting environmental issues than just climate change.  He said that we have the interaction of the following – population growth and a population that will peak at 8-9 billion people, increased urbanisation and the fact that most people live in cities now and this will continue to increase, a lower relative number of poor in the world which will increase levels of consumption and (finally) climate change.  Once again that’s a tough set of environmental drivers to deal with.

For me, this begs the question whether you can marry up the economics that building all this new energy infrastructure requires with the fact that increases in population, urban living and consumption (as a by-product of reduced relative levels of poor) will demand ever greater levels of electricity and they want it now.  Also, if we need these levels of deployment, we better get a shift on and start sorting it out really, really fast.

Which brings me on to nimbyism (the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome) – how will all these new alternative power sources be put into place within the UK’s current planning regime.  Nuclear power – which must be in the energy mix – is hated by people near proposed plants while even near us in Melmerby in North Yorkshire, people are already campaigning against a putative wind farm nearby (it’s not even got further than a bit of scoping by a possible wind energy business).  If we all go around saying, we need to sort out climate change but we ain’t going to let you put your wind farm or nuclear plant next to us, we will never get off first base.  To get this scale of change in the energy supply for the UK, and other countries, politicians will need to become heavy-handed and force through building, while also making the financial returns more pallatable for businesses as these new forms of energy do not have acceptable short term returns, rather a very long and dull economic return.  This all chimes against my own views on liberalism – personal and economic freedom.

Good luck to you all – politicians and scientists.  You have my full support, but it’s going to be really hard to get this all done, especially when you have so many other shorter term demands on your empty pot of money.

Visit to Milk Shake Bar in Ripon

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Yesterday evening, the Steenberg family finally went to visit the milk bar in Ripon.  It was a treat after we took the kids to Evensong in Ripon Cathedral on Monday evening for the Whit Monday service; that was beautiful with the service sung by the boys and girls choir of Ripon Cathedral, who mainly come from the choristers at Ripon Cathedral Choir SchoolThe Archbishop of York, who is very cool, gave the sermon – all about repentance – and blessed the congregation.  He’s definitely a hero with his outspoken views against Robert Mugabe.

Shake Up! is a neat, small shop on Westgate, and although there’s no real place for parking, everyone simply parks on the double yellow lines outside.  The decor is as you would expect a light pink painted wall, and then inside it’s sparse and utilitarian – a counter and then shelves with every type of sweet or biscuit that every parent wouldn’t want their kids to eat.  The aura is 1960s nostalgia, with the feel of English seaside resorts.

The whole experience was indulgent and – as a treat – allowed everyone to enjoy everything they’re not normally allowed.  The milk shakes are made from milk, ice cream and then any of a huge array of flavours you want.  The cost starts at a mere £2.20 – what huge value.  We went for the following 3 flavours – Toblerone, Skittles and Oreo (all differently not mushed together), but you can be healthy and have banana from real bananas and other fruits, however that would have missed the point. 

Did they taste good – yes, and the kids are already planning what evil, unhealthy concotion to have next.

My advice: go there, be tempted and enjoy yourself.

Water Walks In Ripon – Alongside The Skell

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

As you walk through the centre of Ripon alongside the River Skell, you get an appreciation of how many bridges there are.  Sure, Ripon isn’t Venice with its profusion of quaint, romantic curve bridges that play on the imagination nor the strong, engineered lines of the great industrial bridges of Newcastle.  However, Ripon does have a lot of bridges packed into a small area.

For the short walk across Ripon, there are 11 highly functional bridges connecting Ripon between North and South, between the old and new parts of the city, and even as you get to Fisher Green a ford and 2 sets of stepping stones.  Towards the North, there are 2 further bridges over the Ure – North Bridge and the Duchess of Kent Bridge – and Hewick Bridge as you leave the east of Ripon going towards Boroughbridge and York; then there are 4 footbridges over Ripon Canal.  And all of this is in a short distance of 1 – 2 miles (2 – 3 kilometres).  Bridges have always been important to city life – Hewick Bridge and Bishopton Bridge had chapels attached to them to encourage pilgrims to pay for their upkeep – but there were no pontage dues or Bridge Wardens in Ripon.

We start this short city walk where we left the previous walk by Borrage Lane, that is at Borrage Bridge but facing eastwards.  The first thing to notice is the beautifully converted piece of local industrial architecture – the old Williamson Varnish Factory.

View From Borrage Bridge Past Williamson Varnish Factory

View From Borrage Bridge Past Williamson Varnish Factory

You walk along the river for a bit before coming out to cross over a road and past the Williamson Drive Bridge built for the newly built housing around the old Williamson Varnish Factory.  Then we follow another river path that is parallel to the very old road, Barefoot Street, which used to connect Borrage Bridge to St John’s Chapel.  The river bank opposite is dominated by overhanging trees arching over the languid water as it flows slowly through the city, channelled by hard engineered stone and concrete walls to protect the riverbanks and houses from the Skell in spate.  Brown trout can be seen hovering in the river and range in size from 3 inches to about 8 inches in length.

View From Bondgate Bridge

View From Bondgate Bridge

All too soon, we have reached Bondgate Bridge, where the mill race would have entered the river again.  Opposite us, there is a quaint little white house where the owner has placed a cheap looking plaster cast of a fisherman on their wall.  Ironically, someone was fishing for their tea on the bank opposite but seemingly with little luck in spite of lots of brown trout clearly visible and rising to the surface for insects.  Once again, we need to walk over the road by St John’s Chapel and down again on to the other side.  Here you walk along a short while with a recently renovated playground opposite us on a water meadow at Bondgate Green.  And it’s but a short walk to Archer Bridge.

I went under Archer Bridge and continued on the south side of the Skell.  Opposite, you can see the white-painted backs of some of the old buildings connected to Ripon Cathedral, while we walk on towards the Water Rat Pub past Alma Weir with its ineffectual salmon leap.  Alma Weir is one of the places where the Environment Agency measures river flow, but they have also realised that it can cause the water to back up the river, so causing flooding in its own right.  As a result, under the Ripon Flood Alleviation Scheme, Alma Weir is to be removed and the river gouged out to lower it and hopefully make this part of central Ripon less prone to flooding.  The Water Rat and Alma Weir are the location of the world famous (okay locally quite well known) Annual Duck Race held on August Bank Holiday Weekend.

Alma Weir In Ripon

View Across Alma Weir To Ripon Cathedral

Here, I crossed over the wooden Alma Bridge to the north side of the river.  Now follow, the river for a short while before you can see the remnants of an old mill race in a small patch of greenery.  Now, you cross another wooden bridge where Priest Lane dips down to ford the Skell by Wolseley Center’s ugly brown buildings.

Ford in Ripon In Yorkshire

Priest Lane Ford In Ripon In Yorkshire

We’re now firmly back into parts of Ripon that suffer from flooding.  Obviously, the Priest Lane Ford gets unpassable a few times a year, but now we’re entering the Fisher Green area of Ripon which can get pretty wet.  We walk along the Skell’s south bank past the back of some industrial buildings where Interserve is doing work on the Flood Scheme and a strange little building by Fisher Green Bridge that houses NDS, which offers training in rock music ranging from guitar playing to drumming.  Fisher Green Bridge is a classic sturdy piece of Victorian industrial architecture that was built to last; it was formerly the bridge for the railway line that was removed under Beeching and has been collared for the Ripon bypass.  If you look up to the road you can see that the A61 has widened the original bridge simply by cutting off the sides, bunging on some wide concrete slabs that overhang the bridge base by a couple of metres each side and then stuck the edges back on again – sensible but you would not have known this from the road above.

We walk under the bridge and are basically in the countryside.  Save for a few houses on the north side, the small green space northwards between the A61, the Skell to the south and the curving Ure to the east is given over to farming and washlands, which are used for walking by locals.  The houses here along the Skell are all subject to flooding and you can see many of the houses have sandbags to the ready or sturdy floodgates to protect their properties.

Crossing River At Fisher Green in Ripon

Stepping Stones Across Skell

Here I crossed the river over some stepping stones set into the river and walked a short distance along a wide green grassed footpath to the point where the Skell meets the Ure for its journey onwards towards the Humber.  Here, there are a few trees but I must admit that I would like to see more – I can imagine an avenue of trees holding together the river bank and soaking up the water when the rivers get bloated.  The trees around here include sycamores and willows as well as decorative cherry trees, while the river banks are currently covered in flowering wild garlic.

View Towards Fisher Green in Ripon

View Towards Fisher Green in Ripon

Water Walks In Ripon – A Walk Along Borrage Lane

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I have been spending a few minutes every day exploring the waterways of Ripon over the last month as part of some course work.  It has been really enlightening and an abject lesson in what you can miss on your doorstep when you keep your eyes closed and your nose to the grindstone of daily toil.

The first thing that happened was that it was plain and simply good fun – just the beauty and a sense of excitement as you found new things.  Secondly, Ripon really is a little gem of a city, forgotten and a bit tatty at the edges, but truly beautiful with countryside and farmland encroaching into the city.  It’s a green place, teeming with wildlife, and defined by its rivers.

Ripon is an old place.  It’s not Roman, but must have been inhabitated by local Britons before St Wilfrid rebuilt the monastery and cathedral of St Peter’s & St Wilfrid’s in the 7th century and that now defines and dominates the cityscape and skyline.  But it’s when you walk the rivers that you realise why Ripon was built where it is and why also it must have been inhabitated for many years prior to St Wilfrid.

There are three rivers that define Ripon – the River Laver, the River Skell and the River Ure (or in older times the River Yore which hints at its older pronunciation).  All the rivers have their sources in the Yorkshire Dales.  The Laver forms a border for Ripon on the west, meeting the Skell at the western edge of the old city and then the enlarged Skell flows through the centre of Ripon and where it used to form its southerly border.  The Skell then flows out of the old city and meets the Ure at its eastern edge, before the Ure flows past Hewick Bridge and off to Boroughbridge.  After a name change at Linton-on-Ouse, the Ure becomes the Ouse flowing through York, Selby and Goole before flowing into the Humber Estuary at Faxfleet and by England’s largest tidal reedbed – Blacktoft Sands.  The Ouse is the river of North Yorkshire and York is the second city of England.

So the three rivers create natural boundaries to the old city on the west, south and east.  Then you have the low lying hill by the Skell, where Ripon Cathedral now sits and would have allowed you to watch over the shallow valley in all directions.  The rivers are also flooding rivers and the area south of the Skell, where the canal and Dallamires Lane is located, would have been wet and boggy land, further protecting the city, while the surrounding land is good farmland that was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

So Ripon would just have seemed a great location to start a new settlement and I cannot believe that monks were the first people to notice this at the comparatively late date of 650AD.

Back to the walk, I started on Borrage Lane by Borrage Bridge and wandered along this small lane that has houses backing onto the River Skell and must regularly get flooded.  There’s a house here with a plaque stating that Wilfred Owen, the war poet, stayed here when recuperating in Ripon in March 1918 before going back to France and the trenches and death literally days before Armistice Day on 4 November 1918; how peaceful and idyllic Ripon must have seemed then and how dirty, noisy and cruel the war must have seemed as a distant memory only for him to have to return.  In his famous collection of “War Poems and others”, it states in the preface: “having much free time outside the camp, took a room in a cottage near the river where he could work in peace.  In this pleasant retreat, poems begun earlier were heavily revised and new pieces written.”  He decided to go back to the front when Siegfried Sassoon was injured with a head-wound and parting in September wrote presciently to his mother “When I go from hence let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.”  Because of him, we should all have etched onto our hearts the last 4 lines of one of his greatest poems:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”…And yet we still go to war for glory!

At the top of Borrage Lane just before it curves northwards, I followed the path onto a green swathe that acts as a water meadow along the River Laver and wandered up to Laver Weir by Bishopton Bridge.  Here, I watched the water pouring over the weir – quite mesmerizing and peaceful. 

There used to be a dam here by the bridge called High Cleugh Dam, which diverted water along a Mill Race that went down the middle of Mallorie Park Drive, Skellbank and Low Skellgate all the way to a duck pond at the bottom of Duck Hill, before flowing back into the Skell by Bondgate Bridge.  A cleugh means a cleft with water running through it, which is exactly what this is!  There’s a memory of these mills outside the Hugh Ripley Hall where two millstones are placed in the steps up into this community hall; this was the site of the High Mill.  These mills declined after the High Cleugh Dam was destroyed in a flood in 1892 ending the flour mills of High Mill, Duck Hill Mill and Union Mill.  In fact prior to then even, Ripon used to be the centre for textiles of the north before Halifax took over in the sixteenth century and Ripon entered centuries of economic stasis.  Also, a bit further down river, there is more of the mill race on the north side of the Skell by Alma Weir, but more of that another day.

I pootled back down the River Laver to where it meets with the River Skell by Borrage Lane and wooden bridge that crosses over the enlarged Skell.  This is a great place to play pooh sticks, but today I was more intrigued by where some steps up a bank by the Skell would lead to and where the path on the south side of the Skell came out back in Ripon.  Anyway, the steps led to a field which takes you back to Whitcliffe Lane and the houses in that area plus Ripon Cathedral Choir School, while the path is a short walk back to Borrage Green Lane and a playground that was donated to the children of the city in 1930 by the widow of the last Williamson of the now converted varnish factory by Borrage Bridge in the centre of town. 

Meeting Of River Skell With River Laver In Ripon

Meeting Of River Skell With River Laver In Ripon

Wooden Bridge Over River Skell

Wooden Bridge Over River Skell

If you were to walk across the field and then along Whitcliffe Lane now (May 2010), you will firstly see Ripon Cathedral Choir School which provides the beautiful young male and female voices for the sadly, hardly supported singing within Ripon Cathedral; it’s such a waste of talent that no-one listens to Evensong every evening or the sung services in Ripon Cathedral as the talent is amazing for such a small area that is Ripon.  Also, you should have a nosey at the school’s main building as this was the former finishing post stand for Ripon Race Course for many years – it’s actually back to front, i.e. the front of the school is actually the back of the stand; this was Ripon Race Course’s second location, with the first by the Ure on the far side of North Bridge.  This year and further down Whitcliffe Lane, you will see a quaint ceremonial gas lamp outside one of the houses and this is where the current Mayor of Ripon lives and is inscribed with the words “The Right Worshipful Mayor of Ripon”, and moves around dependent on the current appointee.

It is amazing how green and interlocked with nature this part of Ripon is – farmland cuts behind Whitcliffe Lane and the Skell all the way up to the centre of the city by Borrage Bridge, while modern housing creeps ominously close but has not yet removed this belt of green.  Then on the south side of Borrage Lane you walk among trees and the appetising aroma of wild garlic – masses of wild garlic and other riverbank plants.  Ducks swim with their young broods of 4 or 5 ducklings, and the swallows dive and dance in the skies above the farmland.  Save for the constant drone of cars, buses and lorries in the background, you would never believe that you were literally just feet away from urban life – albeit rural city life.

South Bank Of River Skell Opposite Borrage Lane

South Bank Of River Skell Opposite Borrage Lane

Also, you can see why Borrage Lane floods regularly – its banks are lower than those on the south side by about 2 or 3 metres, while the riverbanks have suffered erosion, especially close to Borrage Bridge.  Also, like many rivers the Skell is deceptive – small, gentle flowing for most of the year, it will suddenly fill up as rainfall and snowmelt rush into it from the moorlands into the Laver, Kex Beck and Skell, all merging quickly and simultaneously in central Ripon to create a rapidly formed flood head that finds the lowest and weakest place to break the banks.  The first place to go for these flood waters to find some freedom is Borrage Lane. 

Gabions Provide Softer Riverbank Edges By Borrage Lane In Ripon

Gabions Provide Softer Riverbank Edges By Borrage Lane In Ripon

Most of the flood protection is home made concrete and solid walls, but nearer to Borrage Bridge gabions have been put in that create a softer edge to the riverbanks that also allows river life to flourish.

And there is loads of river life right here in the centre, and on the edge, of the city – wild garlic, ducks and ducklings, fish (like grayling, brown trout and salmon are slowly wending their way further up the tributaries of the Ouse), native crayfish, bats, skylarks, swallows and supposedly lampreys, water voles and sometimes otters.  This is a part of England that is coming back to life as the countryside is cleaned up and people stop exploiting and fighting with nature, and letting it co-exist with us, enriching our lives.

White House, Ducks And Riverbank From Borrage Bridge In Ripon

White House, Ducks And Riverbank From Borrage Bridge In Ripon

Recipe For Yorkshire Salad

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

We have been discussing the ins and outs of Yorkshire Salad, and some of the different variations, including a very similar recipe called Granny Salad which Sandra (one of our amazing spice packers) was handed down from her Granny in Devon.  Sadie – who does all our labels and web site photos – prefers it without onions but says that it definitely wouldn’t be Yorkshire Pudding without an accompanying Yorkshire Salad made by her mum.

Yorkshire Salad

Yorkshire Salad

You will need:

1tsp caster sugar
1tsp warm water
3tbsp cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 – 4 spring onions, chopped finely
8-10 fresh spearmint leaves, chopped finely
A green leaf lettuce (not an iceberg), shredded

Ingredients for Yorkshire Salad

Ingredients for Yorkshire Salad

Onions and Mint

Onions and Mint for Yorkshire Salad

Chop all the salad ingredients and place in a salad bowl or other bowl; I have given some flex in the ingredients as you should really just go with what you feel – I like it quite minty and without too much onion.  Make the dressing by adding a bit of warm water to dissolve the sugar in, then add the cider vinegar to this.  Adjust until you are happy with the sweetness – basically it’s sweet and sour, so not too sweet and not too sour.  Chuck in the dressing and mix well.

You can serve it not only with Yorkshire pudding, but with other salads, or it goes really well with fish, especially smoked fish.

How do you make yours?

Saved – We’ve Got A New Milkman

Friday, February 26th, 2010

We received a letter today with our milk and our milkround has been taken over by a gentleman from Wetherby, called John Moore.  He has been in the dairy trade for over 20 years and we hope that means this Great British tradition of a milk round can be preserved for some time into the future.

Here are some numbers for your local North Yorkshire milkman:

Simon Elliott 07791 963 105 : Thirsk Carlton Minniott Sowerby South Kilvington Sessay

John Moore 07905194794 : Boroughbridge Aldborough Marton Cum Grafton Minskip Roecliffe

Let’s keep this Yorkshire and Great British tradition going so why not tell post the names of your milkman here.

Also, see my previous post for sights, sounds and memories at https://steenbergs.co.uk/blog/2010/02/the-demise-of-the-milkman/

How We Are Reducing Our Family Environmental Impact – Insulating the Loft

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

One of the major users of energy in a house is for heating the building.  Space and water heating in homes gives off about 20% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, which is about 5 tonnes CO2 per home every year.

However, one of the key issues for old houses, and in our case very old house, is that they have not been built with the benefit of modern technology that has invested much time, effort and legislation to make housing more heat efficient and so retain much of the heat within the building rather than to radiate it out into North Yorkshire – it’s a godforsaken task to heat up Northern England.

So as a start, you need to keep as much heat in as possible.

So my theory has been simple work down from the roof to the ground floor slowly but surely insulating the house.  We will work from the top downwards, as hot air rises so you want to capture it as it tries to escape upwards first rather than worrying about the ground levels at the outset.

The first thing, we felt, was to get insulation laid in the roof between the joists.  This had been done using old fashioned roof insulation over 10 years ago, insulating to 100mm in depth.  But we decided to insulate again with a cross layer of 200mm recycled glass mineral wool blankets.  For the first attempt at this, we bought recycled mineral wool – each pack of this Knauf Insulation Space Blanket contains 2.4 wine bottles (it was a 200mm thick roll of 1.48m2) and has a R value of 4.50m2K/W.   Government advice is to get insulation to about 300mm.

I liked this because it comes in a roll and encased in fire retardant polyethylene film, so does not need all that cutting and special equipment that normal loft insulation needs, and even more important it’s currently subsidised by e.on under some Government scheme to mitigate climate change so it was half price at Homebase, costing just £5.74 per roll.

It has got a metallic coating which Knauf Insulation claims reflects heat and so keeps more heat in – I think this sounds a bit spurious!

That means that the 35 rolls that I bought cost £143.50; this should mean that we recoup the energy savings within 2 – 3 years (assuming that we will save 10% of our fuel bills and that we had covered the whole roof void with the same insulation, i.e. multiply cost by 3/2; 25% of heat loss in total is through the loft and we already had 100mm in place, so I reckon 10% would be a good estimate for additional savings).

It was pretty easy to lay it and took me about 5 hours over the other weekend to buy the kit and lay it over two-thirds of the roof void.

Typically, however, when I got into the roof, I discovered that the heating engineers (or plumbers as I would have known them) never completed the lagging of the pipes nor the insulation of the water tanks, which was okay as they never relaid the insulation so the heat from the house kept the area around the tank warm – so muggins here had to finish that off as well.

Now feeling a bit good about myself, I bought something last week that’s a bit less simple to lay but definitely a greener alternative.

There are two main alternatives: one from newspapers (Warmcel) and the other from British sheep’s wool and recycled polyester (Thermafleece).  These both have the same levels of insulation capability as mineral wool, but I chose Warmcel and bought 15 bags of this from £165.27, costing £11.02 per bag inclusive of transport to us.  The Thermafleece is roughly double Warmcel again for the same price per m2 for the same depth, i.e. four times as expensive roughly as the recycled mineral wool insulation and so tripling the payback period.

So going back to my payback calculations – Warmcel has a payback of 4 – 6 years, which I am happy about, but Thermafleece has a payback of 8 – 12 years, which is too long for me.  Basically, I think for the cost-reward, it’s probably best to go with either the Space Blanket or (to give you a greener feeling about life) go with the Warmcel.  I cannot see the point with going for Thermafleece unless you feel romantically attached to lining your house in a woolly jumper.

But you do need to put the insulation down yourself as it’s pretty simple, and if you get a builder to do the work, you will blow any meaningful chance at getting a payback.

To buy these greener insulation materials, try these to web sites:

The demise of the milkman

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Our milkman has decided to call it a day – bad back is his reasoning – and no-one wants to take over his route around Boroughbridge. 

I suspect that the weather has also caused havoc for him; I know that rounds have been taking at least twice as long at night and other milkmen have been slipping and falling over in the freezing temperatures.  I wouldn’t want to be out in the depths of the night with temperatures sometimes below -10oC.

Last year was also another bad year for milkmen as Dairy Farmers of Britain went into administration in June 2009.  So I guess that means we will need to start going to the local shops for milk.

There is a note of nostalgia in my views about milkmen.  They are one of those quaint little strands that makes England what it is, but we cannot and must not stand in the way of progress, I suppose.  However I shall miss the neat array of glass bottles sitting on the doorstep, the routine of putting out the bottles to be reused (very green compared to big plastic bottles), while my ears will no longer be subconsciously woken up by the sound of the milk being delivered.

Electric Milk Float

Electric Milk Float

While our milk here has never been delivered on an electric milk float.  That high pitched whine of the milk float was one of the sounds of the English cityscape and much like the sound of the cuckoo is disappearing from our landscape.  I loved the sound of the milk float when I lived in London.

There’s a whole site on milk floats at http://www.milkfloats.org.uk/index.html with sounds and videos at  http://www.milkfloats.org.uk/media.html.  My favourite audio file is http://www.milkfloats.org.uk/delivery.wav.

The demise of the milk man reflects the rise in the grocery multiples who dominate the shopping habits of Britain and, I guess America and every major economy now – Tesco is big in Thailand and Eastern Europe.  We like the convenience of driving to an out of town supermarket, piling the car up with all kinds of goodies and then trundling back home, or we love the convenience of shopping online and getting our groceries delivered by Tesco or Ocado or Asda.

Times change.  It may be nothing but the previous milkman also ran the village Post Office, but that closed about one year after he stopped doing the milk round.

Is this the end of rural England, or is rural England really just a myth that we all think made England what it is?

Trying To Build A Better Spices Business

Monday, February 1st, 2010

When Sophie and I set up Steenbergs, we were very clear in our own minds about what Steenbergs as a business wanted to offer as products – the widest and most exotic range of great spices, herbs, seasonings and teas from around the world that are grown under organic agriculture and ethically sourced.  But we also wanted Steenbergs to be run as a different sort of place to those that I had been asked to expect since I entered the corporate world.

We didn’t want a one dimensional pursuit of money to the exclusion of everything else  – I remember being interviewed for a job at Lazards in the City when I was maybe 25 years old and being told in that interview by an American gentleman when asked “why do you want to work in corporate finance?” that my waffly answer about “interesting, intellectual work” was wrong and that he wanted people that wanted money, were turned on by money and were motivated by greed, so luckily I did not get a job there.

Steenbergs also needs to be a fun, happy place to work where no-one blames people for mistakes and that when things go wrong we all muck in and clear up the mess, sort it out and get on with life.  Firstly, we all make mistakes and secondly, you need to make mistakes to learn.

We hope that we have created a decent place culturally to work rather than one driven by profit and fear.

Finally, we are following a middle path, one that is decent, fair and reasonable to all people within and outside the business that come into contact with Steenbergs as an entity, and that we need to carefully consider Steenbergs impact on the world, on Gaia – our planet, and try to ensure that we make as small an impact as possible on the world.

It’s a middle path that accepts we must make compromises and so will not please everyone, but we will try and improve what we do, while also striving to make a small profit.  Without being profitable, it would be impossible to earn any income and to generate cash to re-invest in our business – we do not have the private wealth or big income to have the luxury of running Steenbergs as a loss-making entity without the need to consider how to grow sales, where to scrimp and save to keep costs down nor where to make pragmatic choices that may not always be the best choice for the environment (especially in packaging).

Recently, I have come across the the concept of the triple bottom line concept (“TBL” or “3BL” or “the three pillars”) which means that a business should think about “people, planet, profit” in its business dealings, rather than just to be in it for a quick buck for ourselves.  I like it as an idea as it encapsulates more rigorously what we have been trying to do in our own haphazard style.

We see the triple bottom line model as a better way to run a business, being a virtuous circle of slow but constant improvement in our business operations and the impact we have as a business on the world environment and people within Steenbergs and those who become involved with us, such as suppliers, buyers or just interested people.

So I thought it worthwhile to be very open about some of our thoughts and start explaining ways we think about and address certain key social and ethical questions within our business.  These can now be found at the following links on the web site:

Over the next few months, I hope to address packaging as an issue area and embedded carbon costs, so I will keep you informed of when I get somewhere there, but the information available to small businesses on these things is limited and the advice on how to look into it almost no existent.

Christmas Eve And It’s Still Snowing

Thursday, December 24th, 2009
Let it snow

Let it snow

It’s slightly eery at work today.  No-one else is here as we have completed the stock-take and all the Christmas orders have been dispatched.  Also, the snowy weather and the fact that it’s Christmas Eve means that the business park is almost deserted.  Other than Wolseley Centers (which never closes), Nidd Transport and Masham Sausages who are busy trying to get their last Christmas deliveries out, I think I am the only person on this estate.

It started snowing again in the night and we have had at least 3 inches since about 4am and it’s still snowing away.  There’s a muffled, silencing quality to the snow which meant that as I drove in this morning – with the odd skid for excitement – I felt as if I was cocooned in my own little space, a warmed personal ecosystem stolidly driving through a wintry landscape.

As I drove into Ripon, I pondered on the fact that the elements have been reminding us of who is in control, really; we have had floods and now snow in the last 3 months, which is quite something for the temperate British climate.

We have done a pretty good job in getting all the many Internet orders out into the delivery networks, but unfortunately the weather has played havoc with some of the parts of the country.

Parcels to Aberdeen and Cumbria have been hit especially badly, as has Aylesbury.  Checking with Fedex today, no trucks have got through to Kendal since last week so a couple of parcels have got delayed but it looks as though the trucks have now got to Aberdeen and some of the parcels are now out for delivery.

All the other missing parcels with Fedex are out for delivery again today as quite a few have been delayed by weather problems, but then again they have been out for delivery 2 or 3 times this week already, but fingers crossed and many apologies to those few people who may not get their packages prior to Christmas due to the weather.

I will sign off now for a few days to enjoy a turkey Christmas dinner, my homemade Christmas pudding and some Christmas cheer.

God bless you all, Merry Christmas and I hope Santa Claus / Saint Nicholas brings you all the things that your hearts’ desires.