New website for Five Senses

New website for Five Senses – is now live!

Cold feet

I am working on it! Rachel has made a new website for Five Senses and it already looks great, lots of good pictures on it too but I need to write the content.

Always the same problem – getting content! It is easy to put any ol’ shit up there but what good is that? Writing for the web and usability requires effort, craftsmanship and focus … which I am not always blessed with. I fins writing blogs and on paper easy but try to put only the simplest, succinct message and my brain raises a big dunce-like question mark? What do you mean not everyone loves my every word and wants only to get the facts, instantly?

Umm, like I do when I browse the internet. Exactly – I have to write for the people looking at the page, not for my own ego. Not what I know but what they want to know, in that moment.

So, for a few days the website is down … and I’m under growing pressure to pull my finger out and get it finished.

Touchwood Project News …

In the mean time – there is the Touchwood Project and all good things there – including the coming Power Off Weekend, this March 20-21st. So two balls to juggle.

Fancy a picture whilst I go for a cup of tea?

Rachel's punk-spinning - Learning to spin her way


Ahh sod it, just write

I have decided it better to write anything, to break the log jam, rather than wait for divine inspiration / great pictures / fantastic headlines to grab your attention.

in Flow, busy me

in Flow, busy me

So, I have been busy, in my head if not always in body because that is what my mind likes to do and I have a lingering knee injury. I manage to ride the bike, walk the cats, do the occassional few hours walk and was in the Cairngorms teaching fire making, bivouacing out in the snow some nights. All good, healthy fun. But no blog posts because I keep forgetting to get photos – and in the internet, pictures are worth a thousand, million words.

Keep it sweet. And short.

March 20-21 without electricity, join us!

Life is good. The next Power Off weekend is March 20-21st which is also the Spring Equinox. Had to get Mother’s day out of the way, first.

I have been busy with Twitter – little messages, both on orkneysurvival and touchwoodproj – have a look and follow if not already doing.

Rachel has been busy writing on the Touchwood Project blog, as we come out of hibernation. See there.

I’m also still using Facebook and have recently revisited Tribe. My music is on Last.Fm

I am barefoot still. It is raining. The cats are cute as ever. Rachel is wonderful and goes from strength to strength. She works on a new website for Five Senses as I type here.

Caper on my shoulder, Hoy behind

The focus of the coming year? Touchwood environmental and happiness projects, pilot projects, friends and a growing tribe. Five Senses – fire teaching classes around the country, wherever we can arrange a venue and 6 people to make the travel worth while. Guided walks around Orkney, navigation classes and trying to fin land, build a stone and turf shelter, make enough money to live off and grow the dream – the Stone Age centre for Touchwood Project.

Also some gardening, seaweed gathering, learning new plants, new skills, soap making, and more on the Power Off activities. THis months copy of i-i Orkney has a bit about the last Power Off. Read it, please, if you can.

Ok, tea and real work now.

How to make Scallop Shell oil lamps using only natural materials

Today, in the spirit of being frugal and eco-friendly, I am going to show you how to make your own lamp using only natural materials.

[Note from Rachel: These also make great presents, so this is Part 4 of my Frugal and Green Christmas Gift series, on the Touchwood Project website. You can find all the projects by clicking on this tag: Christmas.]

Decorating the fireplace for Christmas

Decorating the fireplace for Christmas

This I believe to be one of the earliest of human inventions and in all honesty, it is superior to the man-made, metal equivalent.

For one thing the parts are white and shiny, so reflect more light. For another there are many flutes thus allowing multiple wicks and thus variable brightness (the world’s first ‘dimmer switch’). Oh, and they are free, recyclable and beautiful.

Continue reading

101 Things to do without electricity / Malcolm’s Childhood :)

When I was a kid I was amazed how many people assumed you needed to buy the game to play it, not realising that often you just need pencil and paper. They’d rather buy some tacky plastic game or watch TV than make their own fun! I’m of the play-it-on-paper or build-your-own-game tribe.

Since the Power Off Weekend is just around the corner, 12-13 December, 2009, here are 101 things to do with your friends and loved ones — all without electricity: (This link takes you to my other blog and the full text).

Oh, and for me talking on BBC Radio Orkney about the Power Off Weekend, click here:

Give me pencil, paper, a ball and some friends, and I will be late for supper, no matter how old I am!

Scallop shell oil lamps

I teach people how to make these oil lamps on my survival courses – but I thought this picture too beautiful to not share, so here it is:

Scallop shell oil lamps from Orkney clams

If you want to know how to make them, see the next couple of blogs.

If you want to join in the Power Off weekend, go to this link

How to stay warm this winter without spending money

My problem: How to stay warm this winter without spending money. The house is cold and heating it is expensive. My frugal-living philosophy tells me you don’t need to spend money to be green, despite what all the retailers say. But can I?

What if I can’t just buy stuff?

You see, if I had more money I could head off down to the DIY store and buy solutions. I could feel good buying stuff, and feel good because this will obviously do lots for the planet, despite my having just bought something that had to be made and transported and stored and displayed and sold and transported home. All that carbon burnt, money spent whenever I buy anything. However, I cannot afford to go buy insulating stuff, partly because I live on an island, to which all that stuff must be transported with diesel powered ferries, which pushes up the price. Partly because it would be a 30 mile drive in a car to the store and we have given up the car too. The main reason I cannot buy stuff from the DIY store is because I cannot afford it. Food comes first and there is not enough left to buy insulation material, no matter how much it might save in money and carbon in the long run. I am reminded how it is easy for the poor to remain poor like this.

My solution: cardboard insulation

I’m going to insulate this house without spending a penny. I’m going to make this house warmer and also reduce my fuel bill, and I’m not even going to leave the house to do it. No need to waste time and money and carbon going shopping. Instead, I’m off into the garage, the shed and the attic to find what I need, MacGyver style. This is what I found:

  • scrap of bubble wrap left from packaging
  • cardboard boxes
  • newspaper
  • nails
  • polystyrene off-cuts
  • an old rag
  • silicone sealant and
  • some wool

Feel how warm they are to the touch.

Cold testing with your hands

The best way to work out where the most heat is being lost is to use my hands and feel surfaces. If they make my hand feel cold they are conducting heat away faster than my heart can replace it (give it 30 seconds).

Hand feeling window pane

Hand feeling window pane

What I found was the double glazed windows feel cold. Also, can I feel cold air – drafts? Yep. So whilst I cannot fill the loft with more fibreglass insulation or fill wall cavities with foam, I can do something. Now.

It feels good to take action

This is great, feels fun and I get a thrill from taking action, instead of being helpless. I may not have the best stuff but I can do a lot, this afternoon, instead of joining the Black Friday / Christmas shopping chaos. Over the next couple of posts I’ll show you what I have done to make the house warmer and have fun doing something to improve things. I tell you, it feels good!

The window before insulation

First, this is the way I sorted window insulation in the kitchen, our one and only heated room. The window, double glazed, south facing. Light fades at 4pm.

The kitchen window, double glazed

The kitchen window, double glazed

As the light fades there is nothing to see outside, so I can block the glass until morning. Thick curtains will help, shutters will help, triple glazing will help. All cost money. Necessity is the mother of invention 🙂

Getting dark outside, nothing to see :)

Getting dark outside, nothing to see 🙂

After insulation

With just 2 inch thick polystyrene scrap, cut to fit, a cardboard box, trimmed to size and a couple of tacks to hold the cardboard in place, we get:

Insulated window

Insulated window

Result – warm room!

What a difference

The effect is so dramatic I can feel the difference instantly, and the room remains warm, despite the stove being on for less hours than in summer. Once the stove goes off at 6pm the room now remains cosy until past midnight.

Making it look pretty

Next step, to decorate the cardboard, trim it to a better size and make the job look nice but for now, we’re toasty. Then I’ll show you how I draft proofed the doors, windows, for free.

Edinburgh to London fast and free

Edinburgh to London fast and free

Years ago I was in Edinburgh with a girlfriend. She was leaving the city on a coach for London and I was devastated when I couldn’t book a seat on the coach too. I waved her off with a tear in my eye. With no desire to do anything on my own I was lost and restless. Nor did I have money to overcome the loneliness. I felt crap.

I opted to get “out of there” and decided to hitch “anywhere”. So I walked to the local bus stop and got on a bus going west, out of town, towards the ring road, past Corstorphine and the Zoo. Then I sulkily put out my thumb and trusted to whatever showed up.

I got a lift, towards Glasgow. Then another lift onto the A74 southbound, still unsure of what I was doing or where I was going. I dunno, maybe home to North Wales or maybe the mountains of the Lake District?

Well, my next lift took me into England quickly and it started to dawn on me that this was the same route my girlfriend’s coach would be taking, down the M6, to London. I started to look out for a National Express coach. My driver was in a hurry, doing well over 100 mph, at times I worried we would not survive.

Anyhow, to keep the story short, I got it into my head to chase the coach, and I started to calculate relative speeds, and the head start the coach had on me. It seemed worth trying and my lifts were taking me that way. But no sign of any express coach.

It was going great until I reached the Luton area, north of London on the M1. I was dropped off at a service station, just as light was fading. After the toilets I got a quick coffee and a pen, then wrote a sign saying LONDON, then I walked out past the petrol station to the exit road onto the motorway.

My heart sank. There was a long line of hitchers, at least a dozen, scattered out along the grass verge. And not your smart looking hitchers either. It looked like the photo line up for the police station, and they were all ahead of me. So close but it seemed my hopes were dashed, the chase was lost. I stood and watched. Hardly any cars were passing, maybe one a minute max. None were stopping. Everyone looked miserable and territorial. I was just one more nuisance. I kept out of the way.

A truck stopped, one guy jumped up and went. The queue shuffled a bit. 10 minutes and nothing. It was starting to drizzle and was getting dark, making us all look like shifty shadows. Criminals one and all. A car stopped mid way along the queue and took a very thankful hitcher away. No one moved. So I filled the gap and sat down, depressed.

I paid no attention to the cars as I had to wait for all these others to go first, so I just inked in my sign a bit better, preparing for the dark of night. It was going to be a long night and I had nowhere to go. I had nothing better to do, so I just kept writing LONDON over and over, darker and darker, straightening the lines of the letters, doodling. Then I wrote “please” beneath it, reflecting my sense of desperation.

I was cold, nothing was happening. Some hitchers drifted off, and the 10 or so of us remaining strung out as if to get as far from each other as possible. I noticed all were trying to get lifts, the queue didn’t exist, it was a fashion contest or a parade of rough and grimy folks. One guy was on crutches, poor bloke. Another scared me, so I looked away. We all hitched, like fish trying to get hooked.

A car drove past me – a nice car, a Jaguar – and stopped further down the line. A guy jumped to the door and spoke to the driver then looked up and shouted at me. I didn’t understand. He shouted again, loud! He beckoned me with his arm. I picked up my bag (I was not letting that out of my sight) and walked up. “He wants you” said the hitcher.

I was in the Jaguar, purring down the motorway, next stop London. 12 cylinders hummed. The seats squeaked and smelt of real leather. The clock ticked silently. It was dark outside and the road was empty, as we accelerated well beyond legal limits again. We felt above the law, wrapped in such wealth. The driver, dressed in a smart suit, didn’t say much, other than this:

“I have never given a lift to anyone before – and I never expect to do so again – but you had the courtesy to say ‘please’, so I wanted to help you”.

Well, I told him why I was heading into London, chasing my girlfriend, the journey from Edinburgh, the coach fully booked. He drove me to Paddington station, gave me the money for the Tube (underground) and cruised off. I caught a train to Victoria coach station, arriving 20 minutes after the coaches arrival time. Can you believe it? After all that. All alone at a coach station again.

I was walking out of the station when in came a coach, the delayed Edinburgh coach! I hid behind a pillar, almost too weak to stand. The passengers all got off – and there she was!

I had beaten her to London, faster than the Express (non-stop) coach. You should have seen her face! We hugged.

This story is true. I print it here to be inspirational and informative.

Copyright 2009 Malcolm Handoll

Malcolm Handoll asserts his right to be recognised as the author of the above story, Edinburgh to London fast and free. Please respect this.