“When Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh in 2007, millions of Bangladeshis were already in newly built shelters or had been evacuated from coastal areas.  The subsequent death toll was around 4,000, compared to the 140,000 that died in a cyclone of similar intensity in 1991.  When Mozambique asked for a paltry $2.7 million in 2002 to help prepare for floods, donors only handed over half that amount.  In the floods that followed, the international community spent $550 million on emergency relief and reconstruction.”

[Feeling the Heat: The human cost of poor preparation for disasters.  A report by Islamic Relief, 2012]

Drought Africa

Last week I attended a thought-provoking seminar on the topic of Disaster Risk Reduction, and I’d like to share some of what I learned.

While the climate change talks in Qatar, which end today, are focussing on mitigation opportunities for the countries that contribute most to climate change, many poorer communities around the world are facing the effects of climate change in the form of cataclysmic disasters such as floods and drought.  The response of the developed world has been to provide aid in the form of emergency relief when these disasters occur.

Mitigation of climate change is essential, and we can all play our part, however small, in reducing our own carbon footprint and that of the communities and organisations we belong to.  But in the communities which experience the most extreme effects of climate-related disasters, they are already a reality and not something that can be warded off even by the most drastic mitigation measures by governments.  So there is a need for effective adaptation measures as well.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change defines adaptation as “adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.”

The Hyogo Framework for Action was signed in 2005 and commits the participating countries to local adaptation policies and projects.  Unlike the Convention on Climate Change, the Hyogo Framework is not binding and its targets are not obligatory.  Many of these appear to focus on disaster preparedness and procedures, rather than practical projects implemented before a disaster, to reduce the extent or effect of the disaster when it happens.

Humanitarian aid agencies such as Oxfam and Islamic Relief are actively promoting projects which help communities to adapt to climate change and reduce the devastating effects of disasters.  At the same time, these agencies are lobbying for a larger proportion of governmental aid to be assigned to disaster risk reduction activities.  (The five countries worst affected by this year’s Sahel food crisis received just 12 pence for disaster risk reduction in every £100 of aid received between 2005 and 2010.)  They are campaigning on the premise that disaster risk reduction projects “offer huge potential to save lives and save money”.

Islamic Relief recently published a report on disaster risk reduction which illustrates some of the measures they have implemented with local communities:

  • In Kenya, farmers who used to keep livestock, which is easily and tragically affected by drought, were encouraged to switch to crop production and implemented an irrigated agriculture project.  This protected the community from child malnutrition in the country’s worst drought for half a century – and at barely half the cost of emergency food aid
  • In north-western Bangladesh, the community were helped to build earthen plinths to raise their villages a couple of metres above the surrounding land – and thus survived the worst seasonal flooding in their district for 24 years
  • In Mali, microdams were built to reduce the communities’ vulnerability to drought
  • In Pakistan, village reconstruction work has reduced the vulnerability of those villages to floods.

Maybe I am not in a position to influence government policy.  But I can continue in my efforts to support organisations such as Global Footsteps who work on a small scale to promote grassroots projects in some of the poorest communities, and to raise awareness in our own locality.

Children playing, Kabilpur Bangladesh

Children playing on raised land in South Kabilpur, Bangladesh

[Data and pictures taken from Feeling the Heat: The human cost of poor preparation for disasters.  A report by Islamic Relief, October 2012]

Posted by: Jenny | Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Wednesday in Swanage



During a week in Swanage, Martin had the opportunity to spend a whole day on the footplate of a steam locomotive, courtesy of some grateful customers on his ‘Orient Express’ tour earlier in the year.

A 5 a.m. start, and a full day on the railway for Martin.  For me, a more leisurely start, reading, painting and knitting, and taking the occasional photo of my husband enjoying himself.

Posted by: Jenny | Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Reading Proust

First, let me put my cards on the table. I was unsure what title to give this post, because there seems to be a certain amount of oneupmanship in, first, embarking on a reading of Proust’s 7-volume novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, and, second, completing it. I don’t want to appear to be bragging about it. Well, so far I have only finished reading the first book – so nothing to brag about yet.

I had decided that this was a book (books?) I should try to read sooner or later. If I’d set out to do this a few years ago, I would almost certainly have attempted to read it in the original French. Not so stupid (or vain) in my mature years, I decided my best chance of getting something positive from reading this work was to read it in translation.

First challenge: which medium? I find Kindle particularly useful for reading texts that are long, out of copyright (and thus cheap or free) or both. So the sensible thing to do was to look for a Kindle edition.

Second challenge: which translation? I had decided not to look up any information on this book before starting to read it. I didn’t want my first impressions to be influenced either by amateur reviews or professional literary criticism. Nor did I allow myself to look up the biography of the author. Consequently, I didn’t have to deliberate for long on which translation to read. I simply downloaded the only free version that I could find on the Amazon site. Which happens to be the original Moncrieff translation.

After reading the first part of Swann’s Way, I happened upon a book by Alain de Botton entitled How Proust can change your life. This turns out to be an excellent, highly readable and entertaining book, part biography and part literary review. I can’t say that reading Proust has changed my life; but reading De Botton’s little book has enhanced my appreciation of Proust.

A postscript: on completing Swann’s Way, I went in search of the remaining six volumes. Yes, I am hooked! Amazon did not come up with the goods at an affordable price (either in electronic or book form) but I found what appears to be a well-formatted edition of all the books here.

Having downloaded them all, I intend to leave Proust for a while, and go and read something else. I am also thinking of starting a reading blog (to go alongside my gardening blog). And most probably a drawing blog too.

Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 12 September 2011

Why I love my Kindle … but not exclusively

Recently I followed a link on Twitter, to read a blog post entitled “Why I hate my Kindle”. What I’ve observed is that people seem to have extreme views about Amazon’s e-reader: they either love or hate it.

Well, to begin with, I prefer not to call it ‘my Kindle’. It’s only a bit of technology. I don’t get passionate about MY washing machine. But I find that life with Kindle is quite as agreeable as life without this device, and perhaps more so.

The washing machine analogy only goes so far. I can and do read books, magazines, newspapers, letters, e-mails, online content and anything else that is written and which captures my interest. Some of it is in electronic format, and much of it is not. Whereas, although I know how to live without a washing machine, I prefer not to. Sometimes I choose to do laundry by hand, and I almost always allow my laundry to air-dry, but life without a washing-machine holds little appeal for me. Kindle, on the other hand, is a technology that I could live without.

Nevertheless, here are some reasons that I like Kindle:
(1) It is light to carry around and light to hold when reading;
(2) Unlike reading on a screen, it does not strain my eyes to read, especially in bright light;
(3) I love to be able to carry round with me a choice of reading material, so that I can for instance lay aside the novel I am in the middle of and pick up a short story, even one from a large collection that would be too heavy to carry around (such as the excellent stories of William Trevor);
(4) No longer must I grapple with ridiculously heavy luggage. Or if I do, it’s shoes rather than books making up the weight.

Some things I don’t like about Kindle:
(1) I can’t download foreign-language publications from Amazon, even when they exist;
(2) Though classics such as the novels of Dickens are readily available in free and paid versions, many important books from the 20th century are not available at all. How absurd is it that you can’t read ‘To kill a mockingbird’ in a Kindle version. Some enterprising folks have tried to redress this and if you hunt around, you can find electronic versions of many books – but some of these are deeply unsatisfactory.

With the abundance of free titles available (and ‘almost free’ ones that give you a cleaner text and table of contents for a dollar), I have set myself the challenge of reading one such title for every full price or new book that I download. Furthering my education by reading or rereading some wonderful 19th-century novels is an exhilarating experience.

I could go on – but I’ve got a book to read!

Posted by: Jenny | Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Stanton in the Cotswolds

IMG_3090 by M and J Lockwood
IMG_3090, a photo by M and J Lockwood on Flickr.

Memories of a lovely walk with friends from Stanway to Stanton in August. More photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30347554@N05/sets/72157627547568686/.

We also visited Bourton House Garden, well worth a visit at this time of year for its delightful displays of late summer colour: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30347554@N05/sets/72157627416987992/

Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 8 August 2011

Chicken Licken

One of the joys of young parenthood for me was the opportunity to read to my children. Old, well-known favourites like Winnie the Pooh, as well as new classics (well, new when my children were young) such as Mog the Forgetful Cat. I still delight in seeking out new books, and attractive editions of old favourites, for other people’s children.

My mother evidently shares this passion for children’s books, and would often contribute to our library. She found a reprint of a book we both recalled from my childhood, Teddy Bear Coalman – a delightfully illustrated tale of a day in the life of a coal delivery man in post-war Britain, who just happens to be a teddy bear but otherwise lives in a 1950s world of coal fires and petunia-lined, square front lawns.

I soon found myself classifying children’s books into those which were entertaining to children and adults, and those which appealed to children but were tedious in the extreme for the parent reading the story. All of the titles mentioned above fall into the former category. But the day came when Mum presented me with a Ladybird book of the story of Chicken Licken, with the words “I bought this for your children because you made me read it to you, over and over again, when you were a child!”

The story, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, goes like this. Chicken Licken receives a knock on the head and thinks that the sky is falling down. He decides that he had better go and impart this important information to the King. On the way, he meets various other, equally pea-brained birds (Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey etc) who join him in his quest. “So Turkey Lurkey, Goosey Loosey, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky and Chicken Licken all went to tell the King that the sky was falling down”. You get the idea. Fortunately, just as you are beginning to hope that there are no more varieties of domestic fowl for them to meet on their interminable and pointless quest, they encounter Foxy Loxy. You can work out the rest…

I can understand my mother’s motivation in wanting to get back at me for my own childhood delight in repetitive stories! And I have to say that my children loved this, as well as The Big Fat Turnip, The Gingerbread Boy and countless other stories with not much plot but a lot of repetition. Why is it that young children enjoy repetition so much? Even a less boring story (or song, or game) breaches an adult’s boredom threshold long before the child tires of repeating it.

Posted by: Jenny | Friday, 29 July 2011

In London

What strikes me immediately about London is how young everyone is. To begin with, this is exciting. The places buzzes.

People are mostly in a hurry. They are constantly talking (except on the Tube, of course) and much of the talk is loud and frantic.

The art gallery caters to an older, rather genteel population. Retired, educated couples are furthering their education. But it is a weekday afternoon, and although the school holidays have started, perhaps Tate Britain is not the first choice of entertainment for families on a fine summer’s day.

I relish the freedom of traversing the city on my Oyster card. I let myself soak up the youth, diversity and dynamism of the population, and feel enriched by it. By the end of the day I am physically tired, and mentally over-stimulated. One day in London is about enough for me! Now I’m ready to return to the provinces.

Posted by: Jenny | Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Bloggers’ block?

This is my first blog post for almost six months. Why? It is not that I have not been writing. I have even written a couple of pieces that I had intended as blog posts, but I failed to post them.

I don’t consider myself to be enough of a writer to claim to know, from first-hand experience, what ‘writers block’ might feel like. But I don’t think that my creative instincts are ‘blocked’. It is, rather, the expectation that I have of myself that my first post after such a long silence should be something spectacular, or at least worthy.

This is why I decided to post this short piece analysing my lack of commitment to my blog in recent months. I hope that it will unblock the path and allow me to start posting regularly and more frequently.

Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 25 October 2010

On the East Devon coast

The train to Exmouth leaves St James Park at 11.41. It is a three minute walk from where I am staying, and I arrive ten minutes early. A train consisting of just two coaches chunters slowly through the station, without stopping. I am dismayed. Is the line so infrequently used that you have to wave your arms or phone the driver to get him to stop?

But then one or two more people arrive on the platform, and I realise that that our train hasn’t arrived yet. On time, the train arrives and stops. We all – and there are half a dozen of us – get into the front coach. There are six stops on the journey to Exmouth, so the train never really picks up speed. At each stop, it picks up and sets down passengers. The service is evidently well-used.

Sitting on the train, I consult the OS map I had the foresight to bring with me. I realise that, instead of spending the afternoon pottering around Exmouth, I can head for the South West Coast Path and walk along it as far as Budleigh Salterton. It seems to be about four miles each way. True, I don’t have the ideal footwear, having brought with me only trainers and no walking boots. But over such a short distance and in dry conditions this shouldn’t present too much of a problem.

So I walk along Exmouth’s streets, down to the seafront and along a busy road for several minutes until I reach the start of a footpath heading up the cliff.

View over Littleham Cove

The path affords beautiful views over the Exe estuary and out to sea. I can make out Starcross, Dawlish Warren and Dawlish, and later what must be Teignmouth comes into view. A good number of walkers are taking advantage of a fine, clear day in autumn, and all along the path I encounter families, younger and older couples, and, more rarely, the occasional lone walker like myself. A woman walking with her eager young grandson explains the different types of rock that can be seen along the coast, from a vantage point above Budleigh Salterton: “here you can see the red cliffs of Devon, but at Sidmouth they turn white and continue like that right the way round to Kent.” I chip in “and you can find fossils”. Grandma takes up the bait and starts to discuss fossils with the child.

Budleigh Salterton is not as busy as Exmouth, but still has its share of people out and about. The fish and chip shop is losing business by staying closed on a Sunday, but a couple of other cafés do a good trade. I find myself a table in the sun, and enjoy a pot of tea and a ‘Budleigh crab’ sandwich while I write a postcard. The map shows me two alternative routes back to Exmouth: I could walk back the same way I came, with the sun glaring in my face most of the way, or I could follow a disused railway line from Budleigh to Exmouth which has been made into a National Cycle Trail. This presents the risk of having to step out of the path of the cyclists on the route. I decide to take my chances, hoping that at this end of the season and at 3.30 in the afternoon, there won’t be too many cyclists about.

The Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth cycle track

Unsure of my way to the start of the route – despite my 1:50 000 map – I ask directions. However, when I encounter a road labelled Station Road, I ignore my instructions and follow it. Soon enough I am on the cycle track, comfortably shaded and with occasional signs of its former use, mainly in the form of solid brick-built bridges. This short railway was opened in 1903 and closed in 1967, and never made a profit.

Arriving at Exmouth station in good time for the 17.10 train, perhaps the thing that has surprised me most on this outing is the extent to which this train service is used. There must be at least 150 of us boarding the small train that runs only as far as Exeter’s mainline station, St David’s. It is Sunday, and there is at least an hourly service all day. The last train leaves Exmouth at a minute to midnight. One explanation might be that the fare structure is kept low. My excursion today (excluding lunch) has cost me a total of £3.50. And it was worth every penny.

Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 30 August 2010

Time management and creativity

My friend was absolutely right: it is very difficult to value oneself enough to make the time for creative activity. Somehow I always feel guilty that I am not doing something more useful. Even writing this blog post seems self-indulgent, when there are so many more worthwhile things I could and ‘should’ be doing.

So I try to pace myself, marking my days (at present blissfully uncluttered, with no commitments over the Bank Holiday weekend and a temporarily absent husband) into chunks of time.

The morning is for cerebral activity: writing letters and e-mails, household admin, charity admin, business admin for Martin, work on a Bahá’í histories project and preparation for other Bahá’í service activities. If I get something worthwhile done by lunchtime, I feel that I have earned the leisure to do something less ‘worthy’ in the afternoon.

The early afternoon is a time when I can easily find myself staring at a computer screen, idly browsing the internet, starting various tasks but finishing none. So I have learned to use this time for physically active, restful or ‘right-brain’ activities. I might sit down with a book, go out for a walk, get on with housework and laundry, or do some gardening. Gardening is apt to take over, and at tea-time I may still be out in the garden or greenhouse. Since coming back from the Bahá’í Academy for the Arts, full of enthusiasm for watercolour painting, I have decided that this is the best time of day to get down to some painting. Like gardening, it is a contemplative process and I get completely immersed in it. It is not easy to put down, and the afternoon can quickly pass by if I have no other commitments.

Here’s my latest achievement:

Harvest from our greenhouse

And here’s my critique of it:
I am pleased with the colours, though the tomato is a bit pinker than it should be. I like the way the shading and highlights have worked on the pepper and aubergine. You can still see pencil marks on the shadows, so I won’t do these in future. The sun, and hence the shadows on my subject, moved from the time I did my initial sketch to the time I painted! Perhaps this is why the tomato doesn’t really appear three-dimensional. And finally, yes the tomato does look unnaturally large in proportion to the other vegetables. The pepper and aubergine are in fact small varieties. It’s not just that they are further away – and neither is it a mistake in the proportions of my drawing!

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