Pigeon Post not as by Arthur Ransome

Oh happy days, Pigeon Post days, when I read everything Arthur Ransome had ever written and Titty was still called Titty and hadn’t had her name changed to Tatty or Kitty for the sake of…something or other, I suppose political correctness.220px-Pigeon_Post_cover

And this is the RIGHT cover.

But this blog isn’t about Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome. It’s not about Pigeon Post either, for your information. I can’t even say, ‘Those were the days!’ because, in all honesty, it WAS before my time. Honestly.Junge_Frau_mit_Taubenpost

(But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we still had pigeon post?)

I’ve told you what this blog is NOT so now I’d better tell you what it IS. It’s about my pigeons and doves. I say pigeons and doves as though they’re different beings. They’re not.

“There is no strict division between pigeons and doves, which share certain features, including small, rounded heads, small, slim bills with a small fleshy patch at the base, rounded bodies with dense, soft feathers, tapered wings and short, scaly legs, and cooing or crooning calls,” says the RSPB. Generally, people called those feral birds you see in cities pigeons and the white peace-type birds doves. Then there are wood pigeons and collared doves…

This is me: (ish)

I feed the birds, and I can tell you it costs more than tuppence a bag. At the moment, I’m hand-rearing a pair of doves whose mother was killed by a cat and whose dad gave up on them, quite understandably, on Day 2 of their tiny lives.  They (Fish and Chips) are now about three weeks old and doing well. I kept them warm in my bra when they were very, very small. Really. And, no, they didn’t poo when in residence in my lingerie.

I love my birds. They light up my life. It’s been hard coming to terms with the cruelty of Mother Nature, who gives joy and heartbreak in approximately equal measures.

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Eggs are laid, eggs hatch, little birds grow, oh joy. Then along comes a sparrowhawk or the neighbours’ cat and kills one…or more…with such savagery, and sometimes for no reason apart from the sport.

By Greg Poole

                By Greg Poole

Heartbreak for me, at least, though I have learned stoicism from the pigeons, who regroup and carry on. What else is there to do?

Or, perhaps there’s this…
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I certainly am at the moment. Being mother to pigeon twins.

 

Lost in Translation – Izgubljen v Prevodu

Writing copy using documents and website material in translation for reference? I am, at the moment—and while it’s cause for some amusement, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world.

Lost in Translation

To be noted:

  1. I’m not having to translate from Chinese (it’s an English translation of Slovenian.)
  2. I’m not pretending I can translate accurately (especially not from Slovenian!) or that translation is easy—it’s just that if you represent a company wanting to market something in another country, why not make sure that the words you use actually make sense in their language?

Just to illustrate my lack of linguistic ability, when my dear son, Laurie, was in hospital in Grenoble, after a catastrophic snowboarding accident (broken neck) – I caused some bemusement and amusement to the medical staff there, after the operation to fix his shattered vertebrae, by informing them that Laurie was also suffering from ‘douleur terrible dans sa poignée’… terrible pain in his doorhandle… What I MEANT to say, was ‘douleur terrible dans son poignet’… terrible pain in his wrist. See, lost in translation.

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So – back to Slovenian. Some of the notable phrases used to entice us to buy the product (a sort of resin-based worksurface) were:

“DISGUISE OF MODERNITY!”

wala-eh“Warmly hugging your customers and never letting them indifferent.”

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“Various stains of food and cleaners you can easily wipe.”

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While I can make sense of some of it…errrm, disguise of modernity? DEFINITELY lost in translation.

In other work I’ve encountered, this time English from Italian, apparently one farmhouse had three bedrooms for guests to dispose of. That was comparitively easy to work out. And did you know that, in China, CocaCola in translation came out rather bizarrely as Bite The Wax Tadpole?

It can be appealing, and sometimes, when I’m editing copy, I let quirky syntax and off-beat translations remain, as long as the sense is clear.  It adds character, and makes for interesting reading when copy can sometimes be so very DULL. Not when I write it myself, of course, she adds hastily.

Let me finish with my favourite YouTube clip, to illustrate the point that SOMETIMES it’s important to translate accurately.

(Other language schools are available!)

Now, in my very best Slovenian, let me say, ‘Bodite previdni pri prevodih!’ which I THINK means ‘Be careful with translations!’

But it might not.

Blog writers – do as I say, not as I do.

The confession of a blog writer.

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Got it?

Anyone who’s had the (dubious?) pleasure of working with me will remember very clearly what I always say about blogs. I say, with such authority, ‘If you’re going to have a blog on your website, you MUST provide new blogs on a regular basis. Nothing looks worse, when you open up someone’s website, than to see a blog which is months or even years old.’

Or centuries.

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SO – here we have my website. The date is April 5th, 2017. The two latest blogs are dated February 7th, 2017 (JUST about acceptable) and November 22nd, 2016.

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How very embarrassing!

I could spend hours justifying this lapse in my own professional standards, in a ‘the dog ate my homework’ sort of way, but I won’t waste your time or mine. It’s rather the same as doctors not looking after their own health or builders being the last people on earth to finish those DIY projects at home.

In honesty, my blogs are for entertainment and to add fresh copy to my website, with the idea that I get plenty of Google brownie points and am bumped up the rankings. Is this last point true or is it one of those urban myths put about by…whoever? I suppose blog writers like me who want more business! It’s really a hiding to nothing to update simply for the sake of updating. The aim should be to update in a timely manner in a way which gives benefit to your users – more traffic, increased engagement and fresh links…

 

Here are the conclusions to some research I’ve done in relation to blog writing:

  • Initially, a web page can be given a “freshness” score based on its inception date, which decays over time.
  • The amount of change on your web page plays a role – the more you change content, the more likely Google is to notice it, especially if it’s in the body text.
  • The more often you change the content, the better.
  • Think about adding completely new pages rather than just refreshing old ones.
  • Go for as many relevant links as possible, especially from sites that are themselves fresh.

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    Blog, blog, blog…

 

 

 

Why do I blog?

Because I enjoy it. Because I like entertaining people. Because it’s a way of practising my writing skills. Because it’s a way people can see what I do and how I do it. I have been given work on the strength of my blogs – their style and tone is not for everyone but it IS for some people. I don’t blog to sell anything – except perhaps myself. (No double entendre intended!)

Why should YOU blog?

Here’s what the experts say:

1) To drive traffic to your website.

2) To convert that traffic into leads.

3) To help establish authority.

4) To drive long-term results.

 

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And if you DON’T like doing it, then you could always ask me.

I LOVE IT!

Yes, do as I say, not as I do…

The rest cure

Do you know what? I didn’t realise the rest cure was an actual thing? I imagined it was just a generic term for enforced taking it easy, which is what’s happened to me since early January, thanks to an operation. I say thanks and I really mean thanks. And no, I haven’t got Munchausen’s Syndrome, “a psychiatric factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves.”

(Factitious? A new adjective for Donald Trump? No, too kind.)

Here’s me at the moment:

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Why the thanks for a (painful) operation? (Is there any other sort?) Because I am completely hopeless about stepping back and saying no to commitments. It’s harder for me, takes more discipline for me, to take a rest cure than it is to carry on. I’m always telling myself I should do it – but never quite seem to manage it.

I spend money on self-help books like:

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…which I never quite seem to have the time to read…

 

For years, YEARS, I have been schedule-driven in a crazy way, thinking I must adhere to a timetable in order to get everything done. My alarm is set for the following times: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday: 6.15 am. Friday – 5.15 am. Sunday – the Big Lie In – 7.15 am.

I leap out of bed (or crawl out of bed) and start on a list of tasks too many and too mundane to mention here involving family, dogs, horses, chickens, pigeons and doves, work, domestic duties, networking, writing, university, seminars, activism of various sorts. Just a normal sort of schedule really BUT…

  • I’m tired all the time
  • Joy has gone out of my life
  • Creativity? What creativity?
  • Things I enjoy doing have become a chore
  • I can’t be that pleasant to be around

Here’s something Maya Angelou wrote in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 

Here’s something I wrote:

“One day is not enough.”

So – back to the rest cure. It was devised in the late 1800s by Silas Weir Mitchell, an American neurologist, to treat hysteria, neurasthenia and other nervous illnesses. (Yes, I often descend into hysteria.) Since my operation, until recently I’ve been (mostly) confined to bed; I’m not allowed to do anything at all strenuous, like lifting a kettle (ha!) and I’m not allowed to drive. If following Weir Mitchell’s rest cure regime to the letter, I would be fed “a fatty, milk-based diet, force-fed if necessary – effectively reduced to the dependency of an infant.” Thank goodness husband Peter didn’t read that bit! He’s been absolutely tremendous.

I HAVE RESTED. What’s more, my mind has rested, for the first time in forever. It was actually quite scary at first, not being able to do all those distraction activities that kept me from…thinking too much? There was a massive hole where chaotic mind used to live.

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The Chaotic Mind by MDK-Fractal (Deviant Art)

Hello, zen-like calm. Hello creativity. Thank you, operation. Thank you, rest cure.

My final words:

“Stay alert at all times, alert to any opportunity for rest.” (As miaowed by Ulysses Brave in The Wit and Wisdom of Cats and Kittens)

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Simple is really hard. Really, REALLY hard.

Oh, I do love a paradox. Except, to say ‘simple is really hard’ isn’t one when it comes to copywriting. Even if your clients disagree with you. Those clients who give you an A4 page of densely written text and ask you to make it into a three-word slogan for them…(this has happened to me).

Yeah, yeah – the physical act of writing three words only takes a few milliseconds. Actually CREATING three words which adequately and engagingly sum up three hundred words takes A Lot Of Time. As my mate Steve Jobs once said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” So it’s not just me. You might not believe me, but surely Steve Jobs’ opinions have some credence?

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It’s not a new idea, either. Good old Gustave Flaubert said, in a coffee break while writing Madame Bovary, “To be simple is no small matter.” That must have been before 1880, which is the year he died. Unless he channelled something through a spiritual medium at a later date.

There are some brilliant examples of simple copywriting out there, in my opinion – and don’t forget that Steve Jobs and I are practically joined at the mental hip.

Take innocent. Not even a capital letter there. Yes, it’s simple, clean, no-nonsense, uncluttered. All of which absolutely matches their philosophy and their product and it’s further mirrored in their branding and design.

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Look at their site navigation too – and the font they use:

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It must be something about healthy(ish) drinks because the other exemplar for simple copywriting I’d like to highlight is a company called Oatly.

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They’re Swedish but their grasp of simple witty English is second-to-none (well, apart from mine, that is!)

“To say more while saying less is the secret of being simple,” says that world-famous fellow I’ve never heard of, Dejan Stojanovic, from Kosovo.

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Take Oatly Creamy Oat Fraiche:

“So f***ing fraiche. Are we allowed to say that? I really hope so. Well actually you can’t say that word because *** are unpronounceable…”

“It’s a lot like crème fraiche, but we used oats instead of cream to give you a different take on one of the most flexible ingredients in the modern kitchen. Straight up Swedish grown oats that will make whatever you want to make taste great (whatever that tastes like these days).”

Love it. Simple rules okay. The trick is to make the result LOOK simple even if it’s taken your hours of blood, sweat and tears.

And, believe me, (or Steve Jobs if you must) – simple IS hard.

 

 

Tone of voice topicality

“Don’t you speak to me in that tone of voice, young lady!”

Anyone remember that from their childhood? (Well, that’s if you were a young lady ever). Every copywriter has to be pretty damn hot at different tones of voices if they want to be successful, because each job requires something unique.

Tone of voice? But you’re writing, not speaking.  Yes, but writing has just as much in the way of tone of voice as speaking. (Not that I’m talking to myself, you understand. Isn’t that the first sign of madness. Okay, I’m WRITING to myself).

Anyway, there’s what you write (the content) and how you write it (the tone of voice). Tone of voice can kill copy, especially if it’s boring, and kill the message you’re trying to convey and potentially destroy the brand, product or service you’re promoting. No pressure then.

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What tone of voice should you use in your writing? (She’s writing to herself again…)

That’s one of those, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ questions.

The answer? Whichever tone of voice is required. That simple. And that challenging.

This blog is written as me. Yours truly. Caroline Coxon. It’s how my mind works. (Scary, eh?)  It has my personality stamped all over it. Now, what adjectives might you use to describe its tone of voice? Nothing offensive please. Errrm, jokey, random, quirky, flippant, a stream of consciousness (Yes, I know that’s not an adjective) readable, funny, insane…whatever…

That’s fine for me, but would it work for a will-writer, a mortgage adviser, an engineer, a web-designer, someone from a different culture?

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When I say probably not, I mean, there just might be an insane will-writer out there…BUT, most people would say, for their own copy…

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Here, I think this is where my history of writing screenplays, novels and theatre pieces helps me so much. I am completely used to writing – and thinking and speaking – in character. Characters who may be light years away from my own.

I am not a burly 30-something male engineer.

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I’m not a diminutive financial adviser.

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I’m not Scottish.

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But it’s possible for me to write as though I am, using appropriate vocabulary and the right tone of voice. And all those things I have done. And being an Italian wine importer. A high-end caterer. A techie nerd. A business coach. A garage owner. A hairdresser in Newcastle. A ski expert. A global traveller. And a whole lot more.

Me and my multiple personalities, eh?

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But it sure helps with tone of voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeons’ Pride

Hot on the heels of Pride Brighton & Hove, my pigeons are celebrating in their own way in the garden. It’s official – well, has been for some time – Angel and Daemon, females, are in a loving partnership. It’s beautiful.

 

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Pigeons are notoriously difficult to sex. Even experts will admit that. Young pigeons are pretty much impossible to sex, though I’m sure they know quite well themselves! For us mere mortals, we have to rely, largely, on observing their behaviour. Male pigeons tend – note the modifier – TEND – to strut about a lot, with chests puffed out, making what I can only describe as growly coo noises like avian Tarzans.

Hence, the pigeon who started life with me, fondly called Penelope, with pink ring on one leg in pure gender stereotyping, is now Mr. Penelope.

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Except…who knows?

I very much want my pigeons to breed. I’ve always wanted to be a pigeon granny, she says without a hint of anthropomorphism. Imagine my delight when Angel and Daemon indulged in a lot of billing and cooing and then one of them laid two eggs. (Pigeons only ever lay two eggs, about 48 hours apart so when they hatch, after 17 days, the necessarily intense period of care is staggered).

They were devoted parents-to-be, never leaving the eggs unattended, taking it in turns to sit, one taking the day shift, the other taking the night shift. Time passed…much more than 17 days…

One day they were both out together and Daemon, the one I thought was the male, was displaying again. The eggs were abandoned. Infertile. “Ah well,” I thought. “Young birds. Perhaps this was a trial run? Maybe next time.”

Next time happened very quickly. Another two eggs. Then…ANOTHER two eggs as well. FOUR eggs. Whoaaaaaah!

Research revealed that this only happens when two females pair up and both lay.

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It’s very sweet. They are devoted to each other but, sadly (for me?), their eggs will never be fertile.

It happens, apparently, when there is an odd number of pigeons in a group. My pigeons and doves have always been bought in pairs – which is to say, two at a time, not pairs as in a male and a female. Sadly, again, predators or other natural causes have meant that I’ve lost some. Which breaks my heart.

Interestingly, and I’m not sure what I feel about this, at Lancaster University scientists have managed to breed a strain of gay pigeons. This is in order to reduce the pigeon population. Less fertile eggs. Less pigeons.

Well, Angel and Daemon are happy. I have NOT, as pigeon breeders suggest, removed their eggs each time they lay. I just let them do what they do.

My white doves, Una, Paloma and Blanca (Faith disappeared – so three again)… Una and Paloma have paired up. I’m waiting for them to lay.

Then I’ll be waiting to see what happens next.

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Life is so joyful.

 

 

Palm oil perfidy

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

If I thought finding ethical dairy milk substitutes was tricky – well, don’t get me started on dairy-free margarines to replace butter.

Two words. Palm oil.

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Palm oil is in EVERYTHING. One of Caroline’s exaggerations, of course, but it IS in a whole lot of things apart from margarines. It’s in cream cheese, biscuits, oven chips, cakes, chocolate – in fact, about half of all packaged products sold in the supermarket. It’s in lipsticks, detergent, soaps, shampoo and let’s not forget biodiesel.

So what?

Here’s an extract from Say No To Palm Oil

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“The industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes, species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.”

So – irresponsible cultivation of palm oil has a detrimental impact on the environment, on wildlife and on indigenous people.

When I began my dairy-free life I started off feeling very virtuous, using a product called Pure.

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Pure! Brilliant marketing, eh? I was taken in by it, less conscientious about checking content in the early days of upping my ethical game. Strangely enough, if you look at their very fine website, it doesn’t list the ingredients of the products.

It does on the packaging, though, in teensy-weensy writing:

Water, Sunflower Oil (35%), Vegetable Oils (Palm Oil, Linseed Oil), Salt (0.75%), Flavouring, Vitamin E, Vitamin A & D, Colour (Carotenes), Vitamin B12

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I’ve started making my own spread now. Here’s a link to the recipe: Homemade Artisan Vegan Butter by Miyoko Schinner. (I adapt it slightly, definitely NOT using almond milk, but using a mixture of oat milk and single soya cream). It’s delicious – as long as you don’t mind a slightly coconutty taste.

 

And now there’s Flora Freedom, which claims it uses SUSTAINABLE palm oil. Well, good for Unilever for making an effort. I’d love to believe it. On the website they say they are ‘committed to using sustainable palm oil’. Annoying Caroline contacted them and said that ‘being committed to’ is not the same as ‘actually doing something’…

Their reply:

“Our vision is that in 2020, the whole industry will move to 100% sustainable palm oil. Our commitment to sustainable palm oil is not new. In the mid-1990s, we started developing Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines for palm oil.

And in 2004 we, together with WWF, became a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the objective of which is to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through global standards and stakeholder engagement. By the end of 2012 we reached our target of 100% certified sustainable palm oil, three years ahead of schedule.”

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The slight doubt in my mind, after all my research, is that the supply chains are so very complex that it’s hard to know if they can be absolutely one hundred percent sure that their palm oil is responsibly sourced.

But…at least they are trying.

And so am I.

 

 

 

“…study English pronunciation…”

“Dearest creature in creation,

study English pronunciation.

I will teach you in my verse,

sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.”

Thanks so much for this to Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité,  (1870-1946), a Dutch observer of the wonderfully quirky and diverse English language with all its pronunciation anomalies. Well, we like to make things interesting. And impossible to learn. Don’t we?

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At least I’ve managed to spell pronunciation correctly. (No, it is NOT pronounciation, as I’ve seen too many times to count).

My blog this time was inspired, if that’s the right word, by a childhood recollection. One of those family stories which has endured for decades. It still slightly embarrasses me.  I was ridiculed as a child, in the nicest possible way.

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Why? …Because I always had my nose stuck in a book. No, I wasn’t ridiculed because of that, but I WAS ridiculed because I then went on to use words in speech which I had no idea at all how to pronounce.

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Here are the pronunciation blunders that will live in family history (thanks, sister Jane for reminding me of a few!) and even now cause me to cringe. I was going to say ‘faux pas’ but, as you will see, using French phrases can be fraught with danger.

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This is not me expressing my fear at revealing my shameful past, it’s the first example.

Anxiety: pronunciation by Young Caroline – Anx-itty.

In fairness, I did grow up in the 1960s when ITA was in fashion – a phonemic alphabet designed to help young children to take their first steps in reading before transferring to regular letters. Yeah, right.

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Answers on a postcard. (I know what it says…)

Example Number Two:

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Of course – Grand (not with the French pronunciation) Pricks.

Example Number Three:

I was a great reader of James Bond from a very early age. The female protagonist in Dr. No…

Honeychile Rider: pronunciation by Young Caroline – Honeychilly Rider. Chile like the South American country, you see. There was logic in my mistakes.

Well, most of them…

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why an…

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was pronounced by Young Caroline as an Orange Outing

But it was. And still is, if I let my concentration slip.

I think I’ll learn Georgian or another Caucasian language with what seem to be unpronounceable consonant clusters like like brt’q’eli, mc’vrtneli, or prčkvna.

Pronunciation? Easy peasy.

 

 

 

 

It’s not easy being green -ish

Not, here, referring to my newly-achieved membership of the Green Party, you’ll be relieved to hear – that’s incredibly easy.

No, I’m referring to living a green lifestyle. Not in a Jolly Green Giant sense…or in a Kermit the Frog sense…

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More a dietary sense.

For for several months now, for reasons of conscience, primarily, but also for the sake of my health, I have chosen not to eat any meat or dairy products.

“The average British carnivore eats more than 11,000 animals in their lifetime, each requiring vast amounts of land, fuel and water to reach the plate.”

“On the ethical side, many dairy cows are never allowed to graze outdoors; they are confined to cramped stalls on factory farms. Although a cow can live twenty years, practically all dairy cows are slaughtered before before they turn five, as the milk production of ageing cows can’t match that of younger animals. Modern dairy cows are impregnated each year in order to maximise their milk yields, and their calves are often sold to the veal industry…”

That.

(While I DO realise that there are plenty of cows who live a long and happy life on grass, it’s somehow easier to be an all or nothing sort of gal).

Actually, the not-eating-meat side of being green-ish is easy. People understand it. It’s the dairy-free that causes me the most difficulty.

Three things.

The first to be covered in this blog.

Hoorah. I shall not use animal milk of any sort. I shall instead be very green and use such products as almond milk.

But wait a minute… each almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to produce and most almonds are grown in often drought-ravaged parts of California. Water diverted to almond farms threatens salmon in northern California etc. etc. etc… Damn.

I know. Soya milk. Phew.

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“Conversion of High Conservation Value Areas and other critical habitats for soybean cultivation is unacceptable as it threatens biodiversity, endangered species and the livelihoods of local people. The expansion of soybean plantations into forests is also contributing to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for about 15% of all the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by people.” (from vegan.com)

I now drink oat milk.  Oatly. (Other brands available but I like the packaging and branding. Go figure).

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Is that okay? I hardly dare investigate.