There are times when many of us look at our food budgets and despair. A relentless parade of jacket potatoes, rice and baked beans stretches out into the future and we wonder if we’ll ever cook anything interesting ever again.
I know the feeling, so I was pleased to find this dish, which is simple, quick, and tastes unlike almost everything else on my “fairly cheap vegan recipes” list. Perhaps it could make an interesting addition to your family cookbook, too. This quantity serves four quite easily. My recipe is adapted from a recipe on cookieandkate.com.
I wrote about this dish a year ago in the Hastings Independent. I didn't blog about it at the time and then it wasn't the right weather for stew . . . but it's a perfect winter dish, so here you go!
The Ramblers has launched a campaign to walk every footpath, bridleway and byway in England and Wales by the end of 2015. The Big Pathwatch makes it easy for members of the public to “adopt” an area, log their walks and report any problems or positive features they find.
The Big Pathwatch is the biggest ever on-the-ground survey of English and Welsh rights of way. This ambitious campaign aims to build a national overview of the state of our path network. The Ramblers wants to gather reliable, consistent data about frequently encountered path problems and the severity of these problems.
While rapid undergrowth in summer and mud in winter can be addressed relatively easily with a pair of secateurs and sturdy boots, other issues are not so simple to overcome. Lionel Pringle, Treasurer of the Rother Ramblers, said, “Broken and difficult to negotiate stiles and footbridges, excessive use of barbed wire and blocking of paths with farm machinery and various forms of detritus can deter the average walker. The Big Pathwatch should help pinpoint any of these problems in our area and bring them to the attention of East Sussex County Council, who have a legal responsibility to ensure that our public rights of way are accessible.”
The Ramblers hopes the survey data will highlight patterns of footpath problems within and across different highway authorities. This is particularly important as continued central government cuts to county council funding have seen many areas direct resources away from rights of way maintenance.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! The Big Pathwatch app is also designed to celebrate the beauty and wonder of our countryside and rights of way, so data on positive features is also being collected. Participants are encouraged to upload photos and notes about great views, well-maintained paths, sites of interest, flowers and wildlife.
The survey is open to everyone, and the Ramblers hopes that many of the UK’s six million walkers will take part. “The larger the number of people who participate in this initiative, the more clout the Ramblers will have in seeing the project through to a satisfactory conclusion for all,” said Mr Pringle.
After registering for the Big Pathwatch, walkers choose a 1km by 1km square (based on Ordnance Survey data) and walk all the rights of way within that square. People can adopt up to 10 squares at a time in England and Wales - whether in their home parish or near their summer holiday destination. Walkers then record any features, as well as the general state of the path/s within the square, using the Big Pathwatch smartphone app or the online form.
(There is also an option to report features without adopting a whole square, for example, if someone is out on a walk and encounters a broken stile or overgrown path. This data won’t be included in the Big Pathwatch report, but any problems will be forwarded to the relevant highway authority to look into.)
The Big Pathwatch runs until 31 December 2015 and the Ramblers will be publishing their findings in spring 2016. Register here, or find updates on social media using the hashtag #BigPathwatch.
This article was first published in the Hastings Independent, Issue 36, 7 August 2015, p5.
A sunny Sunday in May saw around 50 people turn out to take part in the Big Hastings Beach Clean, organised by the community group Clean Seas Please. The beach clean was part of the community’s attempt to improve beach water quality in the area and meet the new bathing water standards.
Volunteers spread out along the beach from the Stade to the Pier, armed with litter pickers, rubbish bags and gloves. By the end of the morning, Clean Seas Please reported that 10 full and several part-filled bags had been returned, while people continued clearing the beach well into the afternoon, all the way through St Leonards to Grosvenor Gardens.
Clean Seas Please volunteers were pleasantly surprised by the state of the beach, not finding as much litter as they expected. Volunteers reminded each other that each piece of plastic or rusty metal was one less risk to birds, fish, animals and other beach users.
But participants did have a bone to pick with dog owners, as canine faeces featured rather heavily along the shore. Jessica Fay, from Clean Seas Please, said, “Dog poo is a tragic sight to spoil any location, whether it's on the pavement, in the local park or on the beach. It's not hard to simply put it in a bag and in one of the bins along the beach.” Dog faeces contains a large amount of Escherichia coli (E. coli), one of the things tested when measuring water quality.
Last year, when the Environment Agency warned that Hastings beach might fail the new water quality tests, Hastings Borough Council and community groups including Clean Seas Please sprang to action. As well as the movement to clean visible litter from the seafront, Southern Water has undertaken an extensive programme of sewer investigations and improvement work, while Hastings Borough Council has focussed their efforts on cleaning up the stream that flows into the sea at Hastings beach.
The stream, which runs through Alexandra Park, was one of the sources of pollution in previous water quality tests. “We found that some houses were wrongly discharging waste water into this stream because of bad plumbing, and this has now been corrected,” explained Council spokesperson Kevin Boorman. “And we are taking action to enhance the quality of the water by improving its natural filtration, through the use of reed beds.” Hastings Borough Council is now “optimistic” that Hastings will meet the new bathing water quality standards in 2016.
Clean Seas Please thanked the volunteers who attended the beach clean, as well as more than 300 people who shared the event on social media. Jessica Fay noted, “Raising awareness is the first milestone for our campaign and support like that makes it all worth it.”
A version of this article first appeared as "We cleaned the beach! Now dog owners need to clean up their act" in the Hastings Independent, Issue 31, 29 May 2015, p10. Here's a selection of my articles previously published in the Hastings Independent.
Hastings Children’s Library manager Pauline Crouch has retired after 40 years’ service. I spoke to her about her decades of experience and plans for the future.
Forty years of change: fun, filing and funding
So, what’s changed over the years? For a start, Pauline has noticed a dramatic shift in the reading habits of her young customers. “Reading used to be one of their main sources of entertainment, but now there are so many other things to do.” Children also demand more from story time. “Someone sitting on a chair reading a pile of picture books doesn’t cut it any more,” she smiles. “That’s why I was always trying to include other activities, games, crafts - something to catch their attention.” But children still come to the library, and Pauline believes that one thing has remained constant: everyone loves a good story.
Library work has also changed considerably since the 1970s. Back then, the Children’s Library didn’t open until after school hours. “People often wonder what I did during the day, but you have to remember that everything was done manually back then,” Pauline explains. “Placing reservations was time consuming and keeping the catalogue up to date was a laborious task. Each book had its own numbered card and it all had to be filed - accurately! - by hand. If one card was out of place it took hours of searching customers’ tickets to sort out the mistake.” When the first computer system arrived, staff spent days sticking barcodes into books. At the end of each day, lending data was recorded onto a spool of tape and sent off to the main computer, which Pauline recalls “looked like a big washing machine.”
Funding levels for the library have dipped and peaked over the last few decades, too. “There have been good times with plenty of funding to promote reading to children of different ages,” Pauline tells me. Hastings Children’s Library has also been fortunate to have a separate location since 1979, which has meant more space and flexibility for activities. “But with every tough time, we’ve had to reduce activities and services,” notes Pauline. “And I’ve never witnessed it as bad as it is now.” Are the current restructures and cuts one of the reasons she’s leaving? “The honest truth is that I probably wouldn’t have retired quite this early had the situation not been changing at work,” Pauline tells me. “But the job brought me a lot of satisfaction and pleasure and now I am about to embark on another adventure.”
A new chapter, a new adventure
For Pauline, this adventure includes time painting in the little studio at the bottom of her garden. She cites Helen Oxenbury, Michael Foreman, Inga Moore and Barbara Firth as influences, and she hangs Quentin Blake illustrations on her walls. Pauline is also inspired by the natural landscape, getting out for long walks around Hastings and the “truly wild” places of the Peak District and Yorkshire when she can. Her pencil and watercolour illustrations appear in Glenda Quinnell’s The Tooth Recycler, as well as Pauline’s own Find and Seek Trails, a series of Hastings walks with clues and puzzles for children to solve. She is typically modest about her publications, but they have been popular among customers. Her sweet pictures of mice are also much-loved by her friends and colleagues, who hope she can find a publisher for them. Pauline also has plans for art shows, craft projects and charity events.
But the Hastings Children’s Library will always hold a special place in her heart. Pauline still remembers the shiver of excitement she felt when she first picked up The Snowman by Raymond Briggs back in 1978. “At that moment I just knew that sharing the love of stories and illustrations with children, being able to encourage them to read for pleasure and introducing them to new authors and illustrators was what I wanted to do. Imagination fuels discovery, invention and creativity. That’s why the library service is so vital. It’s not just about the books, but the expertise, the encouragement, the enthusiasm you find there.” Indeed, I think. These are qualities Pauline has in abundance.
I ask Pauline if she has a message for all the people she’s inspired over the years. “Where did all the time go and how can I possibly be old enough to even contemplate it?” she says. “Thank you to everyone, staff and customers, who have made my almost forty years at the Children’s Library so wonderful. I hope I have instilled a passion for stories in several generations of children. Keep reading, everyone!”
Thank you to Pauline for sharing her story! A shorter version of this article titled "New chapter for librarian Pauline" first appeared in Hastings Independent, Issue 29, 1 May 2015, page 11.
Have you ever stood on West Hill on a bright morning with the sun glinting on the silver sea, looked out over the ruins of Hastings Castle and thought about extending your weekend walk… maybe all the way to Scotland?
North by Northwest 800 Challenge
A new adventure challenge takes Hastings Castle as its starting point and ends at Cape Wrath Lighthouse on the northwest tip of Scotland. It’s a distance of over 700 miles as the crow flies, or around 800 miles by the most direct road route.
But the North by Northwest 800 Challenge (NNW800) is not a race and there is no prescribed route. Nor is it focused on endurance, strength or Bear Grylls-style wilderness survival - in fact, it is open to walkers, motorcyclists, vintage car enthusiasts, mountain or road bikers, horse riders, skaters and anyone in between.
Instead, the challenge encourages participants to use the experience to document their journey in a short film or photo essay and create a unique, cross-section portrait of England and Scotland.
Learn something new and share your discoveries
Iain Harper, the brains behind NNW800, has a good reason to include artistic creation as part of the challenge. “People undertaking adventurous trips often become very focused on the physical challenge of getting from point A to point B,” he says. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it potentially misses the opportunity to get under the skin of the communities and landscapes being travelled through, to learn something about them and then to share those discoveries with a wider audience.”
Iain hopes that participants will choose to focus on a theme or topic close to their hearts. “How about looking at attitudes towards issues like climate change, sustainability, green energy, population growth or community?” he writes on the NNW800 website. “Alternatively, you could think of a sweepingly-open philosophical question to ask everyone you meet to answer in a single sentence.”
Based in Hertfordshire, Iain originally conceived the Hastings-Cape Wrath challenge as a personal cycling expedition in 2013. He planned to explore attitudes towards climate change across the country. “I arranged to visit all sorts of wind farms, exploratory fracking sites, nuclear and conventional power stations,” he says. “Then my appendix burst while on a training ride, life got in the way for a while and the trip didn’t happen.”
But the concept stayed with him. “It seemed like an idea with proverbial ‘legs’ and I was keen not to let it go to waste,” Iain explains. So, he added a page to his adventure news website and launched the challenge quietly in January this year. “Feedback from the adventure travel community has been very positive so far,” he says. “I’ve had a few people get in touch already to say they’re thinking about doing it.”
The way is straight, but not narrow
Apart from the added element of creative production, there’s only one other guideline for completing NNW800: travel on or close to the straight line between Hastings and Cape Wrath.
Having said that, Iain acknowledges that there will be a few notable detours on the way from the English Channel to the northwestern tip of mainland Britain, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea. Most participants won’t fancy swimming 22 kilometres (17 miles) across the Firth of Forth, nor diving into the River Thames or the other rivers, inlets and lochs that intersect the route. He also imagines that most people will do the challenge in April-May or August-October, “to avoid any high summer temperatures and the worst of the Highland midges.”
So, next time you stand up by Hastings Castle on a fresh morning, why not turn your face north by northwest and, with the sun on your back, take the first step towards Scotland?
Are you up for it? For more information, visit the NNW800 website or follow the NNW800 Twitter account. This article first appeared in Hastings Independent, Issue 24, 20 February 2015, p4.
A simple but delicious spinach dish that can be eaten plain with rice or with added paneer, tofu or cream.
The first time I made saag paneer, I tried to do it from scratch. The home-made paneer (cheese) was a bit of a disaster because it melted into goo when I fried it, but I was still hooked. The following dish forms a great base for saag paneer or saag tofu, but it’s also delicious served by itself - we call it “saag pa-nearly”. It’s one of my favourite comfort foods: tasty, nutritious and easy to make.
This recipe first appeared in Hastings Independent, Issue 23, 6 February 2015, p8.
National Numeracy charity launches campaign in Hastings.
National Numeracy was founded in 2012 to address these issues and improve numeracy skills throughout the UK. The East Sussex-based charity is about to launch a special campaign in Hastings, noting that the town’s record of low-level skills, high unemployment and low incomes are all factors that align with poor numeracy.
Starting on Monday 9 February, National Numeracy will be dropping off leaflets across Hastings and St Leonards, talking to community groups and encouraging people to take the National Numeracy Challenge Online, a free service to help people improve their everyday maths skills. As well as helping to improve people’s numeracy skills, National Numeracy aims to change attitudes to maths, showing how maths is used all the time in daily life, and how everyone can improve their numeracy skills with effort and support.
“Being numerate means being able to use numbers and think mathematically, which is essential for so many aspects of everyday life and work,” says National Numeracy’s chief executive Mike Ellicock. “The National Numeracy Challenge is responding to this need and enabling everyone to start to improve their maths.” The charity notes that poor numeracy can make it hard to manage chronic health conditions like asthma and diabetes, while people with lower numeracy skills can struggle to manage their money and are more likely to get into a spiral of debt. Better numeracy skills can also increase employment opportunities.
Mr Ellicock adds, “To anyone tempted to say ‘I can’t do maths’, we say, ‘Yes, you can’.”
This article first appeared in Hastings Independent, Issue 23, 6 February 2015, p13.
I wrote this as a follow-up to my previous article about the Hastings Conquerors in the Hastings Independent. The 'rookie days' mentioned in this article have now been and gone, but the club is still interested in hearing from anyone keen to get involved.
Forthcoming taster sessions will be held in Hastings (Tilekiln Rec) from 10am on Sunday 18 January and Battle (Battle Sports Centre) from 11am on Sunday 25 January. Anyone keen to take part needs to wear suitable footwear for grass or 3G (artificial turf), appropriate clothing (tracksuit bottom and a top) and bring a bottle of water and a positive attitude. There will also be a sign-up evening from 7pm on Saturday 31 January at Riley’s Sports Bar in Hastings.
Its not just on the pitch that the club is looking for new members. “We need people to help on the sidelines on the chain crew, coaching assistants, camera operators, statisticians and so on,” said Mr Boorer. “Without these people, teams wouldn't be able to run. We are also on the lookout for new shareholders.”
The Conquerors is a fan-owned, co-operative club, which means all supporters can purchase shares. Each shareholder owns one share and thus has one vote when it comes to decision making time. “It's our shareholders who make us the fantastic club that we are,” said Mr Boorer. “They are a great bunch of people who really are keen to see the club grow and flourish. We have shareholders from the UK to Norway and Hong Kong too, which just shows you don't have to be a local to get involved!”
A share costs £30 initially, but the club recently made the decision to drop annual renewal costs to £10. The club hopes this will encourage more fans to continue their membership. Shareholder Liaison Officer, Clive Raines, said, “The club wants to keep its supporters engaged for years to come and build on its current strong standing.”
For more information about playing with the club, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about shares contact email@example.com.
This article first appeared in Hastings Independent, Issue 22, 23 January 2015, p14.
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