The allotment waking up

It’s still pretty cold around here – though it reached 14deg on Wednesday – but the signs of spring are already upon us. The crocuses are out in the local park, and the chives on my balcony have started growing again. The annual allotment-holder turn-over has also arrived (February is fees month at my allotment, which is when people who don’t want their allotments any more bow out, and the newbies arrive), and I’ve met several new and enthusiastic allotment-holders.

Our allotment is also showing signs of spring. The broad beans and early peas (planted in November) are clambering upwards, and the onion sets I also planted in November are doing well. I finally dug up the last of last year’s parsnips, and got a couple of real whoppers.

The ‘winter’ tidying-up is also gaining a new urgency. On Sunday I finally got rid of the big pile of bramble cuttings taking up the end of one of the beds. The hope was that it would rot down in place, but it was way too woody. The wood definitely is rotting – it was very easy to break up to put into the council green waste bags[0] – but not fast enough for my purposes.

I’ve seen it suggested recently that one can use wood cuttings as a swale, to soak up water. You dig a big trench — several feet deep — and chuck the wood in, then cover it back up again and plant as normal on top. I decided against doing that on this occasion, as I didn’t want to disturb the soil structure that much, but I’ll bear it in mind for the future — it might be an idea to use when digging out the potatoes next season since I’ll be disturbing the soil then anyway.

It’s also nearly time to start the spring planting; which is always exciting; although would be more so if I didn’t have a fair amount of weeding to do first. But mostly I’m just enjoying the signs that spring is on its way.

[0] It will then be taken away and composted in huge industrial-type composters; then in a year or so I can buy it back at £3.50 for 40 litres.

Overdoing it? Burnout, and Offline Sundays

Over the last few weeks I’ve become uncomfortably aware that I might, possibly, be overdoing it a bit. There were subtle signs, such as a deep desire to hide under the duvet every time I even thought about my to-do list; and less subtle ones, like bursting into tears on the phone for no apparent reason.

Then there were the helpful hints from the serendipitous universe. A work training day where I realised that I’m not actually the thriving-on-being-super-busy person I was (or believed I was) when I was 20. A friend sending links about Burned-out Activists and Avoiding Activist Burnout to the mailing list of the awesome A Collective for Better Collectives.

(At this point, I want to say “of course, most of my own stress/borderline burnout isn’t actually activism related”. Because, in my head, real activists put more time than I do into their activism. And it’s true that the two big things on my mind right now aren’t activism-related. But recently I counted up the number of broadly ‘activist’ projects that I’m involved with, and came up with eight. Hm.)

So, I accepted the subtle signs from my own mind and the helpful prodding from the universe, and I considered what I should do about it. Kristenking gives a helpful list of Things to Bear In Mind, several of which I’d already come to of my own accord. Here’s my list:

  1. Take a long hard look at my commitments. Drop some of them.
  2. Remind myself that I have some big stuff coming up in the next few weeks (finishing my book, and supporting a friend in giving birth, being the big-ticket items), and look at 1. again.
  3. Go climbing. It’s good for the brain.
  4. The internet, whilst shiny in many regards, is not always helpful. Try taking an offline day (prompted in part by this post from Sarah Wilson).

I’m still working on them. I’ve been climbing a couple of times (it really is good for my brain), and I’ve bowed out of a couple of things (it probably needs to be more). Last Sunday was my first attempt at an offline day in a year or so, and it was complicated by the fact that I spent the day largely in bed with a cold, snoozing and reading. But it was a book, not the internet. And it felt like a release of some sort. I’ll report back in a couple of weeks on how the next few weekends go.


On a slight tangent from my normal topics on this blog: I have my first published story out in this anthology, now out in ebook & at 15% off! I’ve been reading the other stories as well, now that I’ve got my contributor’s copy, and can whole-heartedly recommend the whole book. “Magic that detects crime, magic that heals, magic that destroys: all this and more and in hands of queer women who use their powers to shape their worlds and their destinies.”

Snowboarding by train: how does it compare to flying?

For the second time in a year, I travelled to France by train last week. This time we didn’t stop at Paris, but crossed town to the Gare du Lyon (a pretty well-joined-up journey, requiring only 2 stops on the RER) to go down to Bourg St Maurice for some snowboarding.

On the way back, I found myself wondering how the costs — in carbon, time, and money — stack up in comparison to making the same journey by air. I compared London St Pancras – Bourg St-Maurice by train (the journey we did); London City – Chambery by plane (then bus transfer to Bourg St-Maurice); and London Gatwick – Geneva by plane (then bus again to Bourg St-Maurice). I included the journey from my house at the London end, but excluded the journey from Bourg St-Maurice up the mountain since it’s the same with all three routes (the funicular then a shuttle-bus service).


Helpfully, Eurostar have conducted some specific research to accurately measure CO2 generated by their trains. The ski train as of 2010 measurements was 9.4kg per passenger single trip (18.8kg return).

London to Chambery or Geneva by air is about 1,000 km (620mi). At 0.2897 kg/mile for a short-haul flight, that’s 180kg of carbon per passenger return. The Eurostar research quoted above gives 102.8kg per passenger each way (205.6kg total) for London City-Geneva (the discrepancy is due to the specific load factor which is low for that route, so the per-passenger output is higher). Even using the lower value, rail still has a tenth of the carbon cost of air. (And that doesn’t account for the transfer bus carbon, although buses are low-carbon travel.)

The winner: train, at 90% less carbon.


Train: 30min Tube, 45 min check-in, total time London – Bourg St Maurice, 7h15. Total 8h30.

Plane, London City-Chambery: 30 min Tube, 2 hr checkin, 1h35 flight, 1 hr transfer to coach, 2 hrs on coach (estimated from this page which gives 1h45 for a minibus; coaches can be assumed to be a little slower). Total 7hr.

Plane, London Gatwick-Geneva: 20 min Tube, 40 min train, 2 hr checkin, 1h35 flight, 1 hr transfer to coach, 3.5 hrs on coach. Total 9 hrs.

The winner: plane, at 20% quicker (but only if you take the right route).


Our tickets on the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Bourg St Maurice cost £119 each (return); plus £3.80 each in Tube fares. £123 per person, return.

The cheapest airfare I could find to Chambery, the nearest airport, is £60 each way. That’s from London City, so same Tube fare; but then you need to take a transfer coach at 70 EUR (£60) return. £183 per person, return.

The next closest airport is Geneva, for which I found a £46 return fare with Easyjet; plus £18 each way baggage fare to take any hold baggage. That’s from Gatwick, so £4 Tube fare to London Bridge, then £16 (ish) return to Gatwick. Then there’s the transfer at the other end: 126 EUR (£107) return. £191 per person, return.

The winner: the train, at 50% cheaper.


The overall winner: train, cheaper, lower-carbon, and only slightly slower.

The train comes out better not only on environmental impact (by a long way, and unsurprisingly), but also on cost (by a significant margin, and more surprisingly). It even beats the ‘super-cheap’ flights (actually the most expensive option all-in) in time taken. The plane is slightly quicker for the London City-Chambery route, but 7 hours compared to 8.5 hours isn’t that big of a deal; especially when you think about what you’re saving in cost and carbon.

Plus there’s the fact that it’s simply more pleasant to sit in a train and watch the countryside go past than it is to sit in an airplane and look at clouds (pretty though clouds are). The food available is better; the booze is better (French trains do quite well on this front!); there’s more space per seat; and you’re much freer to move around when you want to. Even without the cost savings!

The details are of course affected by where you’re going. Snowboarding holidays mean mountains, which means airports some distance away. The calculation if going to, say, Geneva or Lyon would be different for time and money. (Although not very different for carbon, of course.) Nor does this address the environmental cost of the holiday itself. What’s the effect of thousands of skiiers and snowboarders on the mountains they’re careering down? But that’s a subject for another post.