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Now Look What I Did

'There Goes The Neighbourhood'
by Mike Gentle
Whatever your beliefs about climate change on planet Earth, it is clear that humanity cannot continue on its present path of consumerist expansion and consumption of the Earth's resources. Although the Earth will survive humankind, and doesn't itself need saving, we on the other hand probably do!

Piecemeal actions of recycling waste, not using plastic food packaging, plastic straws, or disposable cups, is simply missing the point entirely. You have to begin at source. Like an illness, patching the symptoms is never going to address the causes. Put a plaster on one area and before long you'll need another plaster somewhere else. Once we have 'burnt our underwear' and come out to fight on the streets, it serves little purpose to carry on doing more of the same. People like Greta Thunberg periodically remind us that we cannot continue to be complacent, and social media can certainly capture the mood of worldwide peoples to jump on popular bandwagons. But then we need real action at higher levels than street protests. We need the protesters not only to shout 'enough is enough' - we need them to expound realistic solutions, too. It is true that, as someone said, 'a strongly worded email' is hardly going to have the same effect as masses demonstrating on the streets - even though the values of our democracy would prefer it if we did write a nice 'middle class' letter of, 'yours very irate, from Boston'.

So let's grab the nettle and ask sincerely, 'where is all this problem coming from?'

The short answer is mass production and over consumption. And I mean everything from the mass destruction of forests and factory farming slaughter of animals, to the manufacture of ever more vehicles and single-use items that quickly become waste.

If you make something, you might begin by supplying a need and find that you then have to expand to meet increasing demand. But very soon, after investing in your production, you are having to create a need, in order to sustain your position and encourage further growth. At this point, you are creating waste, rather than any real benefit - and don't start lecturing me on how it's now about creating wealth through providing more worker's with jobs. It's time to get out of the mentality that everyone needs to work hard and suffer, in order to live in reasonable comfort. We are in a position in the world where we can produce many things with ease and do not need everyone to be involved in the process.

Stop all unnecessary production

One solution would be to immediately stop the mass manufacture of anything that is not really essential to our lives. It may actually be useful for us to wrap some food in plastic, but perhaps pretty pointless manufacturing plastic toys. Politicians worldwide will do little or nothing until perhaps, we reach a point where disaster strikes... and then for many, it will certainly be too late. Historically, in western societies, the only things that motivate people on mass, to come together in unison, are the death of a much loved celebrity, the loss of an historic building, a major famine, or a military war on home ground. Don't leave it up to individual people, living essentially normal mainstream lives, to take the lead. Our consumer-based society is set up in a way that if something is available, someone will always oblige by buying it. If it's not available, we make do with alternatives.

Of course, to suggest banning certain types of manufacture also implies a loss of work, which in turn implies a loss of income for many people involved in those jobs. My suggestion is as complex as also saying we need to reform personal, public, and freight transportation, health care, and state education. To give this any hope of being achievable, we must also encourage cooperation with others, rather than this ridiculous persistence of applauding a 'survival of the fittest' attitude, where value is only bestowed on first place winners, and assessing everyone based on worth is decided by a minority of leaders who think they know best.

At every stage, we encourage our societies to be fearful of lack and envious of monetary wealth and celebrity status. Instead, we could put proper thought and resources into balanced growth and sustainable development. Most people want to experience a sense of fairness and justice, surrounded by beautiful environments that feed their souls, but rather than seeing this better picture of our world in our mind's eye, we look at what we have created and rail against it - not actually making things better, but attracting more of the same, leaving us feeling worse.

When I say fairness and justice, many might retort with the cliché, 'the world is not fair' and justice is personal based on the individual's beliefs and desires. But I am always happy to see someone better off than me, enjoying their life, without feeling it's unfair. It's the same difference as equality and equal opportunity. We aren't all equal, but we can feel that we should be able to access opportunities for our own growth and value fulfilment. In many ways, if everyone did, or wanted, the same things, the world might seem to become a boring place to be. But there is plenty for everyone if you don't try and keep it all for yourself.

When she was only about 8 years old, my daughter regularly thrashed me at the game, Monopoly. Within the hour, she'd be turning her houses into hotels, right across the board. Eventually, I had to point out to her that the game would now have to end, since I had no more resources to play the game with her. So in effect, we both ultimately became losers. The joy of winning is comparatively short-lived and if you keep taking, no one will be able to, or want to, play with you anymore.

The way we treat our planet is like a bunch of youths smashing up a children's playground for fun and without any thought for the feelings of others, or for what it might take to restore what was broken. As I say in my book, 'What Do You Think?' "Do you really want to trash the playground?" Other people want to enjoy their time in physical reality, long after you've left it.

In a society driven by targets and avarice, how many times have we heard reports of companies that failed to make a bigger profit than the year before, and everyone is suddenly upset? Surely, a profit is still a profit! Why have we permitted, through various loopholes of legislation, multinational businesses to trade tax free? Perhaps one reason is that companies and individuals don't want to pay into a black hole of central government, where money is squandered on lengthy debates and expenses. Perhaps, instead of receiving a tax bill for money, they are instructed to 'adopt' a town or community, and pay the equivalent of 'owed taxes' into that. Make it personal. Give them a plaque or a statue, if it helps make them feel acknowledged publicly. This would be a modern-day equivalent of some Victorian factory owners providing houses for their workers. There's nothing wrong with a bit of altruism and quid pro quo.

Manage our own waste

No country should be allowed to send its waste to another country. This to me ranks alongside feeding animals the offal from their own species. If we're going to accept this behaviour, let's can the remains of dead humans and serve them up with chips!

I don't particularly want to live in an arid desert without home comforts and some of the material things that make my life easier or more enjoyable, but I don't see the need for the vast range of choice we are given, with several companies not only competing with each other, but competing with themselves - producing several variations of a similar product. We have to accept that competition to produce more variations en masse, cannot be sustainable in our present physical environment, the Earth, resulting in more waste to get rid of. 

A move to cooperation and 'sharing nicely'

Here's a suggestion: Amalgamate everyone from each industry sector and produce one or two really good [needed] items, instead of 7,000 different items that all essentially do the same and then end up in landfill. So what? if that reduces customer choice. How many different can openers do we need to open a tin without a pull ring?

Change the way we work

Stop insisting that everyone has to work. Pay people to stay in their own communities - cut down on needless travelling each day, to work several miles from their homes. Remove the need to maintain a wardrobe of work clothing. Remove unnecessary congestion from the roads. Whether worked for or not, people will still put their money back into the economy. Get rid of set hours. Just say that certain things need to be completed in reasonably required time frames and trust workers to manage their own timetables for completing their tasks.

Regain a personal connection with nature

We have become so complacent with the success of our protected home environments and reliance on the services of others, that we have lost contact with the very world that supports us. For a year, between March 2002 and April 2003, I moved out of a rented house and bought a caravan, locating it in a farmer's orchard. Although it took a few weeks to get used to the remote location, reduced space, and complete darkness at night, unless the Moon was visible, I quickly realised how little I needed to live comfortably. Having to manage everything, from water and waste, to cooking and heating, really brought home to me what I had normally taken for granted in a house made of brick. Let's face it, many of us have become so molly-cuddled in our well-ordered lives, that if the electricity or water goes off for more than thirty minutes, we think we're back in the Second World War! 

Some might say that going for walks, or having country holidays, can connect us more with nature, and this is true. Others have gardens or allotments and grow their own vegetables. But living away from the amenities of a regular house also makes us face and understand some things differently - not least about our self. Indeed, a few years ago, I went off fairly regularly, in a self-converted campervan, getting together and meeting with other people in fields and woods - sharing conversation and fire-cooked food. Although I currently, once again, live in bricks and mortar, I have an appreciation for what it takes to survive in other situations and I try not to take my circumstances for granted. We can all benefit from understanding how much we depend on our natural world, its abundant giving, and the way it feeds our bodies, minds and souls.

Move into eco-friendly sustainability

We have many options now, on alternative energy production and natural materials for building sustainable and affordable rentable and purchasable housing. Government needs to positively encourage a move towards smaller, wooden, flat-pack style systems and move away from expensive brick and stone. There are more alternative ways of generating power and wave energy, often dismissed, has been proven to be viable but just needs proper investment. Solar power can still help on individual houses.

Change the way we educate our children

Let children play more. Base them at home. Make schools resource centres. Trust that young children, teenagers, and adults, naturally want to find things out; want to learn and discover. Okay, have some mandatory time in designated lessons in those resource schools, to get to grips with the essential basics required to manage living in your society, but then have bookable drop-in sessions, covering every subject on offer. You still have professional and knowledgeable teachers, and resources that cannot be provided at home, but you have developing trust in the community that more openness and freedom will provide the environment where people want to develop their skills and understanding. Stop being afraid that society will become apathetic and spiral into violent anarchy. 

A friend once said to me: "If something isn't working - stop doing it!" And don't try to convince me that our current education system in the UK is working. It's a fucking disaster zone! We quite literally have reached a point where we have nothing to lose and only something new and exciting to gain.

Look. Realistically, I cannot give you all of the necessary detail of the things I have flagged up in a short blog and I know, in places, it jumps around a bit. But I'm not writing this for you to pull me apart on every shortcoming and missed detail. I simply state here, there are other ways to reach solutions for our perceived problems, but they are far more radical than our leaders are willing to entertain. To use another cliché, it's time to 'think outside the box'. It's also time to be much braver about taking risks with 'how things have always been'. You might complain about changes I have touched on if they started to be implemented, but at least you might be alive to try them. If we do not try a different approach, most of the populations of humans on this planet, to be quite frank, will not be here to argue the toss!

Author: Richard Gentle
Posted: 11-10-19
Back in May 2017, some good friends asked if I would be interested in house sitting for them - and looking after their hens. They live in a very old and delightful house, slightly remote and deep in the countryside of West Yorkshire. I have always enjoyed sitting in their gardens, drinking tea or beer and often thought how nice it would be to 'live in a place like this'. I therefore accepted their request and said I would take on the second two weeks while they were away, abroad. Another friend of their's was allocated the first two weeks and their son stepped in to cover the weekend, in the middle, when the rest of us would also be away. By the time we all started our house sitting duties, there were, in addition to the main hens and cockerel, four new chicks to watch over.

Throughout this blog, comments in {brackets} are my silent thoughts. My general commentary is in green. Names of people have been changed to letters or Owners, to preserve privacy.

Sunday 25 June

The hens were in their hutch and the mother and chicks were in their barrel, fenced in. A simple matter of closing the hutch door.

Monday 26 June

All hens and chicks present and correct. Let out the cockerel and 2 hens.

Tuesday 27 June

Mr Owner: Hopefully the four chickens are still extant along with cockerel and a couple of hens? I forgot to empty the two dustbins of hen house clearings so asked AA to fetch another empty bin up [from the garden].

R: When I took over from AA, there were 2 orange hens and the cock and one white hen with 4 now quite big chicks.

AA excommunicated the cat! He said I shouldn't encourage it, so although it's been back, apart from stroking it, I've not fed it or let it back in the house. If you'd like to overturn that decision, I will look after it again.

Wednesday 28 June

Mr Owner: Please yourself about the cat. Mrs Owner likes it; AA complained that, like the cockerel, it woke him up!

R: I talk to the cat and stroke it. {I don't know its name, and since it's another thing around the garden, I call it 'Cat feature'.} I've also been talking to the hens and the cockerel and they've been behaving quite well. {Apart from being in a seed trough!}

Thursday 29 June

I spent most of the day pruning shrubs, trees and hedges. I also ate and picked raspberries.

I cleaned out the hen house and chicken's barrel and gave the chicks new, soft hay bedding.

Friday 30 June

R: The hens are all okay, as of tonight. I cleaned out the hutch and the little barrel, yesterday and put fresh material in (the wood shavings for the hutch and some hay for the little ones). The cat's okay too. I've started giving it a bit of food outside the kitchen in the morning, but not letting it in because I don't want to lose it in the house if I pop out anywhere. {For goodness sake, Cat feature - leave me alone for 5 minutes!}

Saturday 1 July

Mr Owner: Glad to hear chickens still living. {You're not the only one!}

Sunday 2 July

R: How big do the chicks need to be, before they can go free range? - or is it better to keep them in their pen until you get back? - it's only another week and a bit, I suppose. I was wondering which plants I could poke through for them - without killing them with something poisonous. I know they like chick weed, but I've not seen any of that.

Monday 3 July

I let out the cockerel and hen, this morning - gave them corn. Fed the chickens. Made sure they all had water. The cockerel and hen proceeded to roam free around the gardens.

Mr Owner: The chickens were LEFT free range! Free to roam with the mother hen. she should be taking them into the hen house at night by now; that little wire enclosure must be a right mucky mess by now. Perhaps BB fastened them into it 'to keep them secure'? Are they still sleeping in the barrel? If so, after dark take them out and put them into the hen house, but leave the window and the exit whole open so the cockerel can accept them without annoyance at being put-upon; then the next night they may make their way into the house on their own. If you can catch the chicks and put them in, {yeah, right} the mother hen will follow on her own, but leave the exit open. {Not sure that's a good idea}  Also, window fully open for air. Wow! Have they still been confined to that little pen all this time? {Sorry, didn't realise... feel a bit bad, now} BB being extra careful re foxes? Will hopefully start new system re chicks in future.

R: Ah, right. I don't know who locked them in. When you first gave me the hen and chicken tour, you said that's where they were being kept. Mind you, over the last week, the chicks have started to become what all hens eventually become - great escape artists! A few days ago, one got out and this morning, 2 welcomed me on the wrong side of the wire.

R: I have been keeping the chicks barrel dry and refreshed, but I will let them out now. I was closing the cockerel and 2 hens' door at night and leaving their window half open. As per your new instructions, I will leave the window open fully and also leave the door open, from now on. {Still don't think the door open at night is a good idea.} I had thought they needed to be closed in at night, in case of the fox, but I suppose the fox doesn't have a clock or a watch, and could come at any time of day!

Mr Owner: Sorry, my fault. I thought I had made it clear to AA and BB that the four with the mother hen had been wandering free for some time! Also I had ceased to lock up the big ones from well before we left! That one night I locked them in, because of the crowing annoying AA, was the time I was severely pecked! {I'd thought he had put the cockerel back into the hutch and shut the door.}The fox took the hens and the new little chicks that had taken to living in the front garden, which was a shame!  Leave them all free to roam, but if you see ANY of them out of the bottom garden and on the lane, or going into the field, usher them rapidly back up. {Ooops!}

It used to be people with dogs out of control who were more of a problem than were foxes, in the old days, otherwise enjoy the change. Hopefully the cockerel will not peck the new entrants to the house.

R: The hen and chickens have had a nice day, today. 

It always surprises me that the hens not only find their way back to the hutch, but actually start roosting on the perches while it's still daylight. Bedtime seems to be around 5 pm. I shut the hutch door at 6 pm - just in case they wanted to come out again for a while beforehand.

R: I've left the hutch door open, but not entirely sure about leaving it open overnight re the Fox potential... but I'll give it a go. When I used to keep hens [when I was around 15 years old] , I always closed their hutch at night. The funny thing is that your cockerel and hens have seemed quite content to be closed in until 8:30 each morning - and I haven't been pecked yet.

Tuesday 4 July

R: There seems to be one of the two golden hens missing today. The Cockerel is walking around with just one. The cat's vanished too!

R: I don't think he liked the other one much, as he kept chasing her off. No sign of any struggles or feathers anywhere, so she may have hidden somewhere. I'll let you know if she suddenly turns up. All the others, hen and 4 chicks, are fine.

Mr Owner: Funny for cock to be chasing one of them; have they plenty of access to water as well as food - do chicks now live in hen house? {No they don't - I'm still not sure how to get them in.}

R: They have plenty of food and water. I think I should close the hen house door tonight. Rounding up the chicks isn't the easiest thing... and we've had a bit of cheekiness going off with some of the livestock around here.

R: Do you think it will be okay to shut everyone in the hen house tonight, together? I don't suppose the cockerel will have a go at the chicks - they seem to mingle quite well when roaming free.

Mr Owner: Mrs Owner says hen house door should be shut at night. Leave window fully open. {That's what I thought. When I used to keep hens, I always locked them in at night and let them out in the morning.}

R: Yes, I've done that tonight. I am still trying to get the chicks and hen to be in a position to add them...

Mr Owner: You are the best judge as to what to do, being on the spot. My feeling is that, if the chicks are NOT staying in the hen house at night, then the big cockerel should be free to come and go to protect them at all times. {Oh dear, I've upset him now.}

R: I will do my best. Any time I cannot get them into the hen house, I will lock them into their barrel run. Either way, all of them are let out in the morning to roam free. {Still feel I've been told off, but this chicken lark isn't straight forward.}

Wednesday 5 July

I couldn't see the golden hen and the cockerel seemed to be on his own, every now and again, crowing. After an hour of typing, I heard rustling and scratching in the garden; looked out to see the cockerel, and then, a little way to his right, the previously missing hen.

R: Well, yesterday, not only did I lose a hen, but I lost the cat - didn't see either all day. Started writing the epitaph for the hen... However, on a brighter note, there were 2 eggs in the hen house, after nothing laid all week. (AA had told me they had stopped laying by the time he arrived).

R: Suddenly, the cat returned... and so did the hen, who I am now naming after a great women explorer, aptly named, Isabella Bird.

R: I am calling the other hen, Annie Peck.

R: Isabella Lucy Bird, married name Bishop FRGS, was a nineteenth-century English explorer, writer, photographer, and naturalist. With Fanny Jane Butler she founded the John Bishop Memorial hospital in Srinagar.

R: Annie Smith Peck was an American mountaineer. She lectured extensively for many years throughout the United States, and wrote four books encouraging travel and exploration.

R: The Cockerel welcomed her back, by giving her a good ticking off.

R: Incidentally, I'm going to have to do a re-write of a well-known poem by Edward Lear. Already got the name, after dropping the whole Owl thing:

'The Hen and the Pussy Cat'.

The Hen and the Pussy Cat went to see
a beautiful pea green field
They took some seed, and plenty of bread
Wrapped up with a sword and a shield.
The Hen looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!

I might need help with the other verses.

Mr Owner: Glad to hear hen has returned. Cat is a nuisance.

R: The white hen and her chicks are being a bit annoying and keep going into the field by the double gate where you drive in to park your car. I had to pop out this morning, only to discover them, this side of the field hedge, on the other side of the track - but I couldn't stop to try chasing them. When I returned, they were still there, so I herded them back under gates. I have had words with them all, and for a while they behaved. But later, they returned to the field by the gates - what seems to be their favourite spot, in long grass beneath a shady tree.

Thursday 6 July

Mr Owner: The hens/chicks are not going to last long if they are consistently on the lane! Too many dogs come along. Ah well. {I'm being told off again, but what does he expect, when the hens are free range with no barriers!}

R: I will keep chasing them back.

R: After turning up the other day, the missing hen went missing again. This morning there were feathers all over the lawn. I guess Isabella met her Waterloo this time. {Bit of a disaster, really - but no real surprise. I looked everywhere for her and never found where she had been hiding out.}

Friday 7 July

Mr Owner: Do your best to see that the four chickens stay round the back R, or they will be gone as well - especially at night, obviously, and early in the morning; that is why they should now be living in the hen house with the cockerel and being fastened in. If they survive I will have to wire off the back garden from where the dog kennel is I think. {I'm still trying to work out how to get the chicks and mother into the main hen house. Mr Owner is starting to get impatient with me.}

R: {Feeling a bit on the defensive.} I think this is what you have to accept when everyone is free range. Hens don't understand boundaries, unless you put them in their way. The chicks stayed in the garden yesterday, partly because I gave them a bit of my old brown bread. Every time they were edging to the drive, and saw me, they followed me back for a bit more bread. (I don't give them much bread, as I'm not sure if it's good for them to have too much). It became a bit Hitchcock's, 'The Birds', as they started to perch on the garden seat outside the cottage and heads appeared at the window.

R: Can you tell me how you normally get the new ones into the hen house? I'm really not sure of the method. If I try to catch the mother hen and push her through the door, she will just come out again. I don't want to upset them by chasing them.

Mr Owner: I thought we had covered everything re the hens and chickens! {Oh dear - he's really annoyed with me now!} The young ones are still at an age where they need a proper meal in the mornings. When you buy your bread, buy a loaf for them and some milk. Make them a meal of bread and milk and mix some of the small bird seed in it. Feed them that in the mornings, fresh. Any not eaten, scrape into compost feed outside kitchen window, in front of garage, or if they stay up there, outside observatory. {I remember him telling me about the bread and milk, now. Ooops!}I thought you had put them into hen house a while ago - are they still living in the barrel? {Yes, they are still in the f**king barrel!} When cock and hen(s) have retired to perches, lift up barrel and pick up the chicks and put them into the house through the door, {yeah, right - that sounds easy - not!} with the bolt having first shut the little door. Forget the mother hen; she will make her own way in. {You really think so? And the chicks by that time will have run back out!} You may have to repeat the manoeuvre and it is best well after they have all settled for the night. If chicks are following you for bread, they are OBVIOUSLY hungry. {Another telling off.}BB was feeding them all day on and off. {Bugger. BB's better at this job than I am.} Also, the cock and hens. I would take a cup of corn about with me and the cock would ask for it if not enough food where they were. {Slave to the chickens.} I have obviously been remiss, but I thought you had experience with fowl. {Yes, I kept 14 hens between my ages of 14 and 16. It was a long time ago, and unlike yours, I fenced mine into a big run.} Please see there is water in all places they frequent. {Yes, there is.}They will all tend to stay where they are fed most, but if those four chickens have survived up to now, despite wandering into the lane... If you feel up to it, use the wire netting that comprised their little coup enclosure  to cover the little wooden gate and brown painted antique metal fence that crosses to the garage from the dog kennel. The cockerel will not be pleased and they have all got used to eating opposite the kitchen window, but explain to them, that into all lives, some rain must fall.  Pick up chicks, two at a time, to move all food/water tins up to outside kennel? {I might be able to do some fencing, but I won't be picking anyone up.}

R: {Trying to calm the situation and act nonchalantly and in control.} Okay, that's all fine. I do feed the hens and the chicks throughout the day, {on the defensive, again} mainly near the kitchen area, as you originally mentioned, and I have placed water all around the gardens, and by the garage, and AA (I think) created a big drinking trough for them to the left of the big shed, fed by a hose from the barrel, so I keep checking it is topped up. I also make sure there is corn in the tin tray at the big shed, which they mostly eat in the mornings. {That should have sufficiently validated my competence!}

R: All the hens and chicks have been having a lovely time and finding all sorts of exciting grubs in different parts of the garden and if I'm outside they come and sit under my feet. {Trying in vein to show that they probably don't need too much extra food.} I will give them additional bread and milk. None of them wandered into the track today. I can put some wire on the gates, as you suggested, as you may get more chicks in the future, so it will be good for them, too. {Later had a look at the fencing situation, but haven't needed to do anything, as chicks behaving better.}

Saturday 8 July

I prepared some bread and milk for the chickens and went up to let everyone out. The cockerel immediately went for the chicken's food, instead of doing his usual, and running in the opposite direction to get his grain. Despite an attempt to fend him off, he was determined to get his way, so I cursed and left. I'm really going to have to move the chickens tonight.

Mr Owner: Thank you. {Oh, good. I'm back in favour.} The doves and big hens like the sunflower seeds and you may feed the chicks from the cereal packets if there is any cereal left. When they wander afar, they are searching for food. {Okay - point taken. I've learnt something.}

Everyone seemed settled and quiet by about 8 pm. I walked towards the chickens, only to see that a pigeon had got into their wire encased enclosure. As I approached, it started flapping. Without thinking, I went to rescue it. This woke up the hen and all the chickens started coming out. The cockerel, hearing the commotion, suddenly appeared at his door and walked down the ramp. For f**ks sake! Mission aborted. I returned 30 minutes later, after normality had resumed, and shut the hen house door. The term 'crest fallen' doesn't apply only to hens. 

Sunday 9 July

I have decided, that today is definitely going to be chicken moving day.

I let the cockerel and hen out and then fed the chicks some bread and milk mixture, in their pen - so that the cockerel wouldn't try getting it - like the morning before.

Around 10 am I went to buy more bread and milk. I returned to my house and put the milk in the fridge and a note to remind me, on the table. At about 12:30 pm I put everything I needed in the van and drove back to check on the hens. Having arrived, I suddenly realised, I'd got the bread, but had left the milk in the fridge at home! At least I have a bit of my own milk left I can give them.

I went up to the chicken pen and cleared anything that would stop me covering the barrel's entrance and lifting it from its position. 

I then had to come up with an idea for opening the big hutch door, without the cockerel and hen, who perch right in front of it, flying out, over the top of the barrel whilst I'm holding it in position. I thought about trying to raise the wire mesh upwards from the front of the barrel, but in the end, decided to cover the doorway with chicken wire - allowing it to be clipped on and off, as I don't suppose Mr Owner wants me to leave it there as a permanent fixture.

First, I needed a bit of wire. Mr Owner had some spare wire curled around inside the main chicken enclosure. I worked out that I could reach in with some cutters and then pull out a piece of the right size, without dismantling the run. In the process, I noticed some red appearing on the back of my right hand. I had managed to catch my skin on a bit of the sharp cut wire. I dabbed some kitchen roll on my hand and carried on.

I managed to produce a nicely fitting wire door, within the limits of the big closing door. I cut a hole for the barrel entrance area and folded in any sharp bits of wire, so no chickens would get caught on anything. Everything was now ready for the evening.

I crept towards the hen house and chicken run, carefully lifted the mesh gate and dropped it in front of the barrel. I then returned to the hen house and closed the little door. Everything was now in place. I lifted the barrel and mesh and carried everything to the hen house. I opened the big door and thrust the barrel towards the wire, removing the barrel mesh at the same time. The cockerel and hen looked a bit put out and no one would come out of the drum. I gave it a little shake and one chick walked out, eventually followed by mother and one more chick. The last two chicks were determined to stay put. Another few gentle shakes and they were all in. The cockerel had dismounted from his perch and was now scratching up the extra bedding I'd put in a far corner for the chicks. I withdrew the barrel and shut the big door. After quite a kerfuffle and much wing flapping, the hens began to accept their new group situation. I returned a few minutes later, when all was quiet, and some of the chicks were actually on the perch with the cockerel.

Monday 10 July

Today's big question is: 'Will the chicks go back into the hen house tonight?'

It was raining when I got up. I let out the hens and fed them. Today was going to be lawn cutting day, but it was looking unlikely, with the weather. However, there was a possibility of it drying up later. 

The hens were all over the place again! I've given up trying to be in control - it's impossible.

Fortunately, the rain stopped and the ground dried a bit. I went to check on the hen house. They were all inside, on the perch. What a relief. I shut the door. I could now mow the lawns.

I started mowing at about 7 pm. The petrol driven rotary mower was excellent and quite a recent purchase. I even had an optional power drive assist to the rear wheels - very useful when going up inclines. It was still quite demanding work and certainly got me sweating. By the time I had cut 6 of the 7 lawn areas, most of my clothes were wet with perspiration. However, the results looked good and I was glad I'd managed it. I gave the mower a clean all around and underneath and returned it to the garage.

Tuesday 11 July

I'm so glad I cut the lawns the night before. It's raining again today. In fact, it was still raining beyond 8:45 pm. I let the hens out and after eating, they began their daily foraging. I fed the cat and returned to my bit of the house.

Later, feeling a bit sorry for the cat, I decided to try and improve its sleeping area. Currently, it was just an open shelf area in an old kitchen unit, outside, below the main house kitchen window. I looked around for a cardboard box and eventually found a suitable one in the garage - not being used for storage. I shook out the cat's blanket and discovered it was on top of an old canvas bag for extra padding. The bag fitted perfectly (no pun intended) and once the blanket was on top, I placed the box in the open cabinet. It was an exact fit to the sides, and left about 5 inches of space at the open end. This would keep the cat warmer at night and also protect it from any further rain.

At about 6:30 pm, I went to shut the hen house. The cockerel was perching on his own!

'Where are your hens and the chicks?' I asked. 'I thought you were looking after them.' He looked at me with a nonchalance that was like a person shrugging their shoulders. I went off to look for them and discovered the chicks at the other side of the house, now huddled by a bush near the front door. 

'What are you all doing here?' I asked. 
I went and got some corn in a plastic tub and started to shake it, whilst calling to them to follow me. It was quite a distance to the hen house and normally, they start following me, but after about 20 feet, they lose interest. To my relief, I managed to get them all the way to the front of the hen house, by which time, the cockerel had come out to see what was happening. He initially looked at me accusingly, as if I was doing something to his hens. But I quickly put him right.

'Here you are Mr Cockerel. It's up to you to get them inside, now.' And I walked away.

I returned 30 minutes later, and everyone was inside. I shut the little door and left.

Wednesday 12 July

As per usual, I spent a few times, throughout the day, trying to herd the chicks back into the garden. This time they were in another part of the farmer's field, in long grass, scratching about and sunbathing. I made several attempts to encourage them to follow me and after about half an hour, managed to get a couple of them all the way to the garden side gate, adjoining the field. However, getting them through the gate wasn't going to happen. I gave up and closed the gate. A few hours later, they were all back in the garden again - pestering me for food and pecking at my shoes. I made them bread and milk with some grain.

At about 6:30 pm, I went to see if everyone was in the hen house. What a relief to find them all inside. I tried to count them, but it was hard to see through the air vent mesh. I went to the egg box door and tried counting from there. Not an easy task, as you'll see. I have no idea how they manage to perch in a bunch like that! It's like being given a mansion-sized bedroom and choosing to sleep in a closet.

Thursday 13 July

My last day of hen and chicken sitting. In the morning, I had to go to an exhaust centre for a new rear silencer. The job took them longer than anticipated, but it didn't matter, as I had taken a portable seat and read my book, across the road under some trees, as I had done on a previous occasion.

By the time I returned to the hens, at about 12:20 pm, I was pleased to discover they weren't on the track or in the farmer's field. However, they didn't appear to be anywhere else, either. This was the day of the owners' return and I wanted everyone to behave. After a brief search, I came across the cockerel and his hen, but no sign of the mother and chicks, so I talked to the cat for a while. He was asleep in his new cardboard box bed, but meowed at my arrival. Normally, he follows me around wherever I go, but the box was certainly keeping him in check. (As any cat lover knows, cardboard boxes make excellent cat traps - wish I'd thought of this a few days ago). 

I started doing a bit more garden trimming and pruning. Everything done in the previous week was rapidly growing again, having had sun followed by 2 days of rain and now sun, again. After a while, the chickens turned up and began following me around as I pruned. I gave them a bit more food throughout the rest of the afternoon, and I was hoping they would behave and stay in the house garden areas. Fortunately, they all behaved perfectly and didn't stray onto the track or into any fields. By the time the owners returned, the chickens and hens were happily scratching around the gardens, the cat was lying neatly on the garden bench, and all vestiges of the week's earlier chaos and feeding in all the wrong places, had disappeared. The owners arrived back to a hot and sunny scene of perfect tranquility.

Author: Richard Gentle
Posted: 14-07-17

Distortional Representation: When a statement is made by a person with one intention, but is twisted around by a receiving person, or people, and repeated in a provocative way to mean something different. As a result, no amount of come-back explanation will then be accepted in support of the originally intended meaning.

Distortional Representation can be accidental or deliberate. An accidental example might be a text message or an email, sent with one intention, but interpreted by the recipient in a completely different way. This is quite common and is a result of not being able to interpret other simultaneous signals, such as, facial expressions or voice intonation. Another reason for misinterpretation, could be the mood of the recipient at the time of reading the message. If the person is already feeling annoyed, this angst could be conveyed to what is being read. This is why it is important, when you send a written message, to re-read it in different ways, to see if it could be misunderstood. One way to help reduce misunderstanding, is to use emojis 🙂 or abbreviations (lol). Accidental examples:

'If you'd done what I told you, we wouldn't be in this mess!'
'If you'd done what I told you, we wouldn't be in this mess!' (lol)

'Will you tell Steve...'
'Could you ask Steve...'

Deliberate examples of the type we typically see in media reporting, are like these. Notice too, the use of upward intonation, at the end of the replies, to convey indignation in the form of a question:

Person A: "I believe we should always try to resolve conflict through discussion."
Person B: "So you're saying, you wouldn't hit anyone?"

Person A: "It would be more cost effective to use some of the left-over paint for this job."
Person B: "So you're suggesting we should make do with out-of-date and inferior materials?"

Person A: "We need a time for reflection before acting inappropriately."
Person B: "So you're just going to do nothing?"

To accomplish Distortional Representation effectively, the transmitting party must illicit a particular response in the witnessing receivers. Being forceful and charismatic, repeating any emotive words, in a provocative manner, is used to create an emotional trigger response in receivers. Those receivers will often feel a resonant connection, in their own life experience, whether actual or believed, and if a further link can be connected to, or associated with, for example, past historical atrocities, in ways that the receiving audience feels should be off-limit, taboo subjects, then outrage is complete and the deflection through Distortional Representation, is complete.

Politics is possibly much more about marketing than it is about policies. Several approaches have been tried over the years, from the rule of threes - 'no, no, no.' and 'a better this, a better that, and a better the other.' All the way through to patronising platitudes - 'hard working families' and the 'great British public.'

It often feels as if a team of people have put together special political training resources... oh, hang on a minute... they have:
  • The 'Plausible Deniability Pack'.
  • The 'Unthreatening Hand Gesture Training DVD' (with free mirror).
  • The 'Paul Daniels Misdirection Manual'.
  • The Groucho Marx, 'Ask and Answer All Your Own Questions' (worksheets).
The always now used personal favourite, has to be answering one's own questions - stopping the interviewer from changing your subject, whilst giving the listeners what they really need to hear: 'Do I want a fairer Britain? Yes I do. Has our party got the right policies in place? Yes it has.' 

Then we went through a period, when politicians started to carefully hide small untruths and, when found out, used various techniques of misdirection to smooth over the cracks. There then followed a policy of declaring outrageous changes, letting the public express their upset and anger, and once that had died down, bringing in the changes, largely unannounced, a few months or a year later, to little, if any, protest - often at a time when something else was stealing the headlines, such as a major death in the story plot of a TV Soap, or better still, a terrorist event.

Anything that frightens and causes panic in people, provides an opportunity to bring in sweeping changes, that under other circumstances, would never be permitted by a society.

Over the past few years of governance, politicians have stopped worrying about covering their tracks. Blatant dishonesty and lying has become the norm. Outrageous true stories have beggared belief. It is no wonder that similarly generated stories, linked together with the popularity of social media and 'click bait' monetised articles, have resulted in a lot of 'Fake News'.

But what about the 'facts'? Why are we not listening to, and taking notice of, all the rational and educated 'experts' when it comes to making informed choices about our personal and our country's future? Well, there could be a number of reasons:
  1. Losing faith in experts, when we were convincingly told something that later turned out to be incorrect.
  2. Feeling that our opinions will be overruled - 'they' will do it anyway.
  3. Feeling innately uncomfortable with something we are told is for our own good.
  4. Not being able to relate our own experience, to the information being promulgated.
  1. Going back a few years, the first time we began to openly lose trust in our 'experts', was around the BSE cattle crisis. Other instances followed, such as insistence on an MMR vaccine, rather than separate vaccines, where expertise started to sound more arrogant than informed. 

  2. We have also now reached a point where politicians have stopped caring whether or not they will be 'found out' when telling us porkies and despite their lies being quite transparent, we have got used to this being 'the way it is'.

  3. Imposing restrictions on a populace, because of the generated perception of personal threat, enables a government to quickly pass into law, measures that could be far-reaching in detrimental ways to, for example, freedom of speech and information, or human rights.

  4. When a politician talks about 'hard working families', it comes across as their patronising way of trying to placate an underclass of people who's lives they know little about - the well-to-do, standing shoulder to shoulder with the proletariat and often, financially dispossessed.

But now, there is a new tool in the political armoury - what I am calling, Distortional Representation. We have already seen it occur in the recent past, with Ken Livingstone's comments, misreported in a way to suggest strong anti-Semitism - effectively ending Livingstone's credibility and political career. I am not saying I am a fan of Livingstone, but I did observe the distorted reporting at the time, offered up with loud, provocative, and often charismatic anger, lodging in the minds of people ready to be outraged by well chosen sound-bite extractions for media dispersal. 

We now witness the same approach, applied to the leaders of the two main political parties - Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. However, given that the Conservatives currently hold the power, it's easy to see why the mainstream media sways towards May and away from Corbyn. Political commentators can have a lot of influence in the way a public audience receives information, through audio-visual broadcasts and other media, and if they repeat a distortion of what is said with particular intonation or emphasis, it's quite easy to influence opinion in many of the listening, reading, or viewing public. This technique is made easier by the fact that few people really listen, and fewer still, bother to think about anything in any depth. Dramatisation, outrage, and shock, are the things we naturally react to.

It's very challenging to write an article on this subject, because I know that everyone has a personal opinion, based on their own understanding of the reality they experience. We always gravitate towards those who agree with our own opinions. You might call it a tribal approach to living. Personally, I can see, and to varying degrees understand, merits in most opposing opinions on a variety of subjects. No one has the perfect answer and no one really holds the truth. In fact, truth only becomes accepted as truth, when enough people agree on something - regardless of whether that truth stands up over time. Unfortunately, we have developed a world where 'fighting' for one's truth then takes over. Instead of the truth unveiling itself, it comes down to a battle of the physically superior. The people who can bomb the shit out of any opposition hold the rightful truth.

Quantum Mass Structure of different beliefs

In 2011, I gave a talk to a small group of scientific researchers, in Barcelona, called 'Quantum Mass Superstructures'. A year later, this became a book by the same name, with the additional strap line of: 'creating the world you experience'. Within this book, I talked about how the world was now full of different creative thoughts and opinions and how the advent of the world wide web (Internet) had enabled all these views to be expressed and easily accessed. However, build-ups of strong views would ultimately meet in varying degrees of collaboration or opposition, often creating equal divisions of beliefs about reality. At such times, you either get great positive, and creative changes, or horrifying and upsetting, negative disturbances.


Author: Richard Gentle
Posted: 05-06-17

Searches online for the main two Manifestos arrive at Labour's slightly quicker than the Conservatives - and you can then download pdf copies.

The Conservative Manifesto (pdf file) totals 88 pages, and appears to be written (as a friend said) 'like a report of accounts, rather than information for normal people.'

The Labour Manifesto (pdf file) totals 128 pages, and appears to have content that is easier to digest.

One of the big issues I have had with some of the rhetoric, particularly from the Conservatives, is their American approach to selling their ideas. You speak for several minutes on the benefits of what you are offering, but refuse to let on what, exactly, you are offering that will produce those benefits. You get this a lot with American selling of personal development programmes. Half an hour of how great the programme is and what wonderful benefits you will receive, and how you will be much richer, in every way, by the end of the course. At the very end, it offers a single payment option of $500 or 4 payments of only $125 each. But of course, there are no guarantees that the programme will live up to its hype, or enable you to earn back your money in the first year of putting the training into practice.

You speak for several minutes on the benefits of what you are offering, but refuse to let on what, exactly, you are offering that will produce those benefits. 

If nothing else, one thing we have all learnt about Politics and Politicians, of any side, is that you cannot believe promises made to get into power and you cannot believe monetary figures  relating to how things will be paid for. The truth is, that no politicians can know for certain, exact figures. Everything is based on positive projections of best possible outcomes - not on what is in the vaults. Having worked in a number of organisations over the years, I have lost count of the times that bids were won on low outlay promises, but once won, suddenly required additional support to continue. Those that put in more realistic [higher] bids, often lost out. As another friend once said: 'Better to ask for forgiveness, than beg for permission.'

The remit laid out in the Conservative Manifesto is impressive in its scope and breadth and if I were to accept it at face value, I'd certainly be tempted to vote for them. However, it is promising much more than can reasonably be achieved or delivered - given that the past few years of essentially Conservative led governance has failed to come close to achieving most of the promises now being re-presented in new wrapping. Having been trained in secondary teaching, at the time of the introduction of the then new 'National Curriculum', the aims and objectives were both noble and encouraging. However, the reality, once at the cutting edge of the classroom, left much to be desired.

In trying to decide on who you should vote for in this coming UK Election, ignore the focus on glamorous spin; forget talk of where money is going to come from; and do not get groomed into thinking that the slickest presentation is going to give you the best desired outcomes. In addition to taking the time to consider, first hand, the Manifesto pledges, go with your gut instinct and your heart. If something sounds too good to be true, on either side, then it most likely is. The time for easily conjured statistics and manufactured 'rational' argument, has passed in this country. There are too many disconnected public opinions to wade through and both camps will argue for their own truths with immovable conviction.

Read through the Manifestos carefully and make sure you understand fully, what is being said and offered. If necessary, shut yourself in a silent room without distractions of people, newspapers, mobile smart devices, and television, and see which Manifesto produces the clarity you are really looking for and consider the implications of your choice, both for yourself and for society as a whole. Ask more questions, do some further research on and off line, if you need greater clarity. Ask yourself this question: What do I believe and why?

Now might also be the time to recall the expression, 'a Leopard cannot change its spots', when you read through these Manifestos. You may justifiably reflect on some of the woes of the previous Labour Government, but also bear in mind, that the Conservatives have now had a considerable amount of time to improve many of the things they are now talking about improving. Why have we not already seen some indication of these 'improvements', at street level? Despite their protestations, our society is showing a lot of cracks at present. A lot of those infamous 'hard working families' have not seen measurable improvements in their circumstances for several years and many young people are struggling to start out on their own. If you really feel you can say, 'sure there have been improvements', then how long has it taken thus far, and by a process of considered extrapolation, how long do you realistically expect it to take, to reach the final promised outcomes?

The current Government talks about delivering its promises, and perhaps at a country level of 'holding our heads above water', this has some truth. However, where it needs to be felt, at domestic street and home level, it is evidently not being felt.

Click on the images below, to read the Manifestos.



One of the complaints we hear a lot, is that the different political parties cannot produce accurate clarity on their funding.

Presumably, after the pro-Brexit campaigning, some lessons have been learnt about bandying about monetary figures - better not to mention too many specific costs that could come back and bite you later!

Apart from this, we surely have to accept that leaders on all sides are bound to make a few gaffs along the way, when doing the endless and tiring rounds of media promotion for their respective causes. Furthermore, the snap [U-turn] election, took everyone by surprise, and to be able to put together detailed Manifestos in such a short space of time, is quite an achievement.

A big bone of contention, between the parties, is the situation surrounding Britain's National Health Service. The Conservatives haven't endeared themselves to supporters of the NHS and May has said very publicly, that she is a supporter of the Naylor Report, which essentially puts the current NHS Trusts in a difficult position.

In a somewhat surprising turnaround of recent events, the concern that George Osborne's running of the London Evening Standard, might lead to biased reporting in favour of the Conservatives, now labels Theresa May's manifesto as the 'most disastrous in history'.


One of the issues facing the Labour Party, is their traditional approach to solving problems. Whilst the Conservatives make promises of growing a meritocracy, Labour could, if it's not careful, foster a mediocracy of dependency.

The issue with meritocracy, is that some people will never be able to compete in the assumed intellectual fashion - slipping through the net into a dark, underclass void. Conservatism is still very much about competition and 'survival of the fittest', but forgets that those of a less competitive nature and perhaps therefore, deemed to be lower down the pecking order, have an important role in maintaining the underlying structure and quality of life and value fulfilment in a society - supporting those 'higher up', with service industries and the creative arts. We have an odd, even somewhat perverse, practice in Britain, of rewarding those who bring in money and punishing those who struggle to generate even moderate levels of their own income.

The issue with mediocracy, is that some people will simply become dependent on others and not take responsibility for their own lives and the lifestyles they end up experiencing. There has to be a balance of both accepting personal responsibility and knowing that practical support for personal advancement is available to anyone who seeks it.

When it comes to Brexit, Labour is openly criticised for not being strong enough to negotiate for Britain's best interests, despite actually offering more detail than the Conservatives, in respect of how it intends to manage the process. The argument that Corbyn thinks 'money grows on trees' does not stand up to scrutiny, when you see that the Conservatives appear to have even less idea of where their money for reform is going to come from. There's a lot of bluster and hyperbole, but exactly, what is being helpfully presented?


On another note...

Aside from the whole Brexit thing, one of the areas making the headlines is the potential raising of corporation taxes. 

Perhaps we shouldn't take higher taxes from corporations, as money that goes back into the Government's pockets. Perhaps we should instead, make it a law, that the amount of that proposed increase in corporation tax should instead be given directly to community and social causes within Britain - decided on by the companies affected, and enabling everyone to see the contribution being made. It could also be a way to dispel a lot of the resentment poorer people have for richer people doing so well.

Corporation tax should instead be given directly to community and social causes within Britain

I liken this idea to that of paying everyone in the country, a minimum cost of living income - particularly as we move towards more roles being taken over by automation. Great idea in some ways but totally inappropriate in others - namely, that many people would not use that income in the way intended. Better to give a percentage of free gas and electricity or similar help that then releases any additional income or conventional earnings, for having a better lifestyle.

Putting up a basic minimum wage, at the same time as increasing cost of living, is the same as leaving everything as it is. It does not work to give more money and then immediately put in systems and policies that allow it to be taken away again, or in the case of many situations, leave people actually worse off after an increase.

We must also accept, that not every member of our society has the same capabilities. You cannot say to an Elephant, that all animals should be able to climb trees, to prove their worth to the rest of the animal kingdom.

Anyway... good luck, and may you get the Government you truly deserve!

Author: Richard Gentle
Posted: 01-06-17
Many of us have thoughts and ideas about how we might escape into an adventure somewhere, but like many, the conjured reality in the mind often prevents us from taking steps outside our comfort zones. For a while, it's easy to find excuses but as, one by one, these start to disappear, you are suddenly faced with the real possibility of having to follow through. Such was the case recently.

I knew I wanted to travel around a bit more, but with my love of vehicular transport, it had to be more adventure vehicle than public transport. Furthermore, 14 years of self-imposed social exile wasn't easy to brush off. The sort of thing I imagined, was this:

But then, I wasn't sure if I wanted to be in a group. I thought about going it alone in something ex-military. Four-wheel drive and good ground clearance with large enough accommodation to live in. Something a bit more robust and secure than a tent. The first vehicle that I discovered back in 2002 that met the criteria, was a Russian Gaz-66 from a site called 'Tanks For Sale'.

I also thought about adding a workshop in the form of a 4-wheel steer trailer:

There were a few drawbacks to these vehicles. Although they had that purposeful, rugged look I liked, they barely managed 15 mpg and a top speed of about 60 mph if you were lucky... and driving them was probably an experience in itself, since they only had the most basic of interior comforts. In fact, to even use the term 'comfort' in any description of these dinosaurs is potentially oxymoronic. In the past, a couple of my cars parked in a shared yard with my neighbours had just about scuffed acceptability, but at something in the order of 18 feet in length and around 8 feet in height, it wasn't going to be easy to hide the Gaz in a corner. I also considered 4x4 regular trucks and self-building my own back end accommodation... or failing that, getting a Jeep or Land Rover conversion - something smaller that would be easier to live with on a day to day basis and usable in Britain's, often cramped, villages and towns.

Through Pinterest and also learning that these vehicles actually had the name 'expedition vehicles', I discovered more of them. By now, I reckoned that a Unimog conversion (bottom right) would probably serve me best. It was big enough to carry accommodation but small enough to be driven unobtrusively anywhere on a daily basis.

However, reality struck again when I realised how expensive these vehicles were and also how sought after. I kept searching the Internet and in particular, eBay. I came up with a few possibilities, but they were either too expensive or didn't have the right back boxes for accommodation conversion. Since I had decided that four-wheel drive was my essential baseline, I decided to run new searches using that criteria. This narrowed things down a lot and certainly made searching faster. What started to show up were various variants of Volkswagen campers, Mazda Bongo's, Toyota's and Nissan's. It gradually dawned on me that I already knew a couple of people who owned Mazda Bongo's and I recalled how much they said they liked them. One suddenly appeared locally, so to cut the story short, I arranged a visit to view... and bought it.

In addition to some suggestions from the seller about fitting a water level alarm on the expansion tank, I did a bit of further research. The water level alarm turned out to be a popular addition, along with immobilizers and trackers. I also had the driver's side sill renewed, and although not essential for its remaining 11 months of MOT, I nevertheless decided it would be one less thing to bother with the following year. I also had the van looked over by my mechanics on a ramp and everything, apart from a slight weep on a front off-side shock absorber, was deemed fine. I had the flat, spare wheel tyre refitted by my tyre people for a tenner and did one or two other small jobs. However, for the first 3 weeks of ownership, other things took up my time and I wasn't actually able to go anywhere in the van. (I call it a van, since it is actually classed as an 8-seater multi-purpose vehicle or MPV. Apart from the raising roof tent, there is no camper conversion - see more on this below).

Another thing I discovered, was that Mazda Bongo's have quite a developing following and a growing network of advice, clubs, and spares. Originally privately imported from Japan, by individual's and not by commercial dealers, these vehicles have started to get the sort of status normally associated with VW Campers of the 60s and 70s. For a vehicle now 20 years old, mine seems in pretty good condition... and I have to add here, that the James Bond style (see 'The Spy Who Loved Me', Karl Stromberg's sea palace, 'Atlantis') electric window blinds are pretty neat too.

As someone who has camped under canvas and also had a few different caravan types in the past, I realised quite early on, you don't need much to survive quite comfortably. Seasoned caravaners would probably disagree with me, but I really can't see why a fitted kitchen with sink, a big cooker and big fridge, is really so necessary. All I need is a plastic washing-up bowl, a small suitcase gas cooker, and a 240VAC/12VDC portable cooler. Anything more, in a relatively small space, simply takes up room and adds weight. This is one reason why I like my Mazda being devoid of a full conversion. It preserves its utilitarian practicality whilst offering comfortable accommodation when required. So far, the only additions that I may invest in are a removable table and a side awning tent.

An inaugural visit to Filey, North Yorkshire (as it was forecast to have two hot, sunny days, together) went seamlessly, with the van performing well.

Experiments with interior layout and roof up or down suggested that for one person, you couldn't get much better. As someone with an interest in survival skills and associated equipment, I often find that I tend to take more than I actually need, let alone use. Sometimes, covering every eventuality isn't really necessary - particularly if one is within a short distance of modern-day population. With this in mind, I decided to make some notes of what I actually used and found useful, and what I could have done with, if I'd thought to bring it, or them, with me.

The first surprise, was how pleased I was that I had taken my computer laptop as well as a smart phone. This gave me access to all my usual activity, helped pass the later part of the evenings, and enabled me to email a few photos, in addition to anything uploaded by mobile. Since I was on a regular camp site (for this first test trip) I also had access to WiFi, albeit unsecured. Although I didn't manage to connect on the first evening, by the second day I'd sorted it. If I needed to log in to anything more important, I switched to my own secure data via a tether hot-spot to my phone.

The second surprise was how quick I could make toast - or at least I'd forgotten this from past usage. I have a little wire trapezoid toasting frame that lies across the gas burner. After slightly burning the first toast, in the time it took to reach into the van for my cup of tea, I realised it only took 12 seconds per side. Of all the gas appliances I have used, I have to say that these cheap little single burner stoves are excellent. You can get them from supermarkets for £10 and the gas cylinders last longer than you might expect.

Other things that I was grateful for included the cooler box, my shorts and sandals, some spring clips for gripping shut the van's end curtains, extra guy ropes to secure my windbreak, and my proper camera to capture anything of interest throughout the days.

What I missed most, was not having a female companion, or for that matter, anyone to talk to or share things with. Perhaps next time, I will try a wild camping trip - simply parking up somewhere remote. Eventually, I might even try venturing abroad... but ideally, not on my own.

Author: Richard Gentle
Posted: 28-06-16
Few of you may have heard of the NAEA - let alone have visited it! 

Based in the grounds of the YSP (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) and an easy 2-minute walk from the lower car park towards the old Bretton Hall, the National Arts Education Archive '...was established in 1985 to provide a documentary trace of the development of arts education in the UK and worldwide, by collecting children’s and students' work and the papers, letters and work of key educators and artists in the visual arts, music and language. This material, comprising more than 100 catalogued collections, is based in the purpose-built Lawrence Batley Centre at YSP and is available to researchers, lecturers and the general public by appointment.'

I was working at Bretton Hall College as an audio-visual technician when Lawrence Batley visited to view the new archive in 1985. I was asked to take a photograph of the occasion and recall quite vividly that Lawrence had forgotten to bring a red rose for his buttonhole - and steadfastly refused to have his photo taken without one! Bizarrely, that very same morning, someone had left a bunch of red roses in the Media Centre sink, which I had earlier come across by accident, since that was my base at the time. As a result, I was permitted to take the required press photo (which still appeared in the 89 edition of the college prospectus).

At the time of writing, there is an exhibition running in the NAEA put together by Eileen Adams, (educator and writer, member of the Expert Group for Art and Design Education) and the archive team, led by Anna Bowman and Leonard Bartle.

On Saturday 17 October 2015, I attended '(R)EVOLUTION: NAEA 30th Anniversary Celebration' where talks were given by Eileen Adams, together with some of the founders of the NAEA initiative: Dr John Steers and Professor Ron George. Artist, Bob and Roberta Smith (one person), also gave a talk in support of his exhibition running in the YSP Bothy Garden Gallery spaces and around the parkland: 'Art For All'.

For me, the event brought up feelings of both nostalgia and coming full-circle. My father, Keith Gentle, played an intrinsic and pivotal role in the Arts Education covered by this period of reflection, both through his work with the Schools Council [when living in Leicestershire] and from 1972 in his role as an Art Adviser for the West Riding, Yorkshire. It was during his time [as an Art Adviser], that he was instrumental in producing the 1978-79 exhibition and book, 'Learning Through Drawing'. Over the years, he had also worked alongside some of those both on the podium in front of me and in the audience with me. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I recognised the ethos of the period now being discussed, having lived it first-hand. I too played my part in its evolution, both as a child who, with his two siblings, unwittingly contributed to the inspiration of his father's work and who later received a Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture from Sheffield City Polytechnic, before its satellite centre at Psalter lane (Sheffield College of Art) was closed down in August 2008 and, a couple of years later, demolished.

Between 1968 and 1975, we [the children] produced a variety of drawings and constructions, many of which were used as source material for my father's courses (many held at Woolley Hall when it was a centre for in-service training) - supporting school art teachers in their professional development. With emphasis on the creative process of child development, he [among other things] demonstrated the value of the direct experience of learning in a contextual environment. (Also see Land of Gobeyond and slide show here).


Since the beginning of the 1980s, successive political parties (though mostly the more right-wing ones) have denigrated the value of the arts in our British culture - first art & design and more latterly, music - and through adverse media reporting and political criticism, have produced a 'hit-list' of things to remove from the mainstream school curriculum by diminishing their importance to that of hobbies or extracurricular activities that must be paid for outside of the normal school day.

As I watched and listened to these [now elderly] presenters, I felt both the sorrow for something lost and the sense of urgency for something that must be preserved. These were people who had not only lived the experience of a free arts education, and met or worked alongside some of the most influential arts figures of our time, but who had also been instrumental in promoting the values of art and art teaching, perhaps not witnessed since the German Bauhaus movement of the early 1900s.

As I continued to listen, I was reminded of the book, Fahrenheit 451 - a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury published in 1953. It really started to feel as if the current attitude of political policy makers towards the arts in education, was like a living version of the outlaw of books in the story; where exiled drifters each memorised books for a future time when society would once again be ready to rediscover them. Likewise, there are fewer of us now left who remember the quale experience and value of true education with thoughtful pedagogy, alongside academic rigour, and independent of any future commercial relevance. The NAEA is the modern-day exiled drifter, preserving our educational arts heritage.


The steering group includes YSP Executive Director Peter Murray CBE; YSP staff; former NAEA trustees Prof. Ron George and Dr. John Steers General Secretary NSEAD; Emma Hunt Dean of Arts, Huddersfield University; Emeritus Prof. Patsy Cullen York St. John University; and in the chair Dr. Helen Rees YSP trustee and Head of Museology, Manchester University.

NAEA Contact
Leonard Bartle/Anna Bowman
Tel: +44 (0)1924 830690


Author: Richard Gentle
Posted: 19-10-15

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