16 February 2020

Project 333 revisited

I’ve just been trying to work out exactly when I started blogging. Blogger wasn’t much help here, as the publishing dates that appear above the posts are the last time the post was edited, and I’ve made a few updates to some posts over the years. I reckon, looking back through my Word files, that I started the blog in August 2014, so that’s over five and a half years of blogging. Not that I’ve been consistent; the posts have ebbed and flowed, and I did have a phase in 2018 when my writing almost dried up. Over the years, my focus has changed, too, as has the blog’s name. It started off as ‘Totally Technical’, a name only I really understood, and moved through the Little Orange Notebook incarnation to its current Vivez Vegan title.

I originally started the blog to record my exploits with Project 333 TM. I wonder how many people have heard of it? When I first started following Courtney Carver of ‘Be More With Less’ the Project had been going for about four years. This was the first wave of minimalism, and it’s really taken off since then. In fact, Project 333 TM is now trademarked (so I’ve had to add the littleTM to the words here). If you’re struggling with a bulging wardrobe, especially whilst feeling you never have anything to wear, then I can highly recommend checking out the Be More With Less website. ( I have to confess that, although I’m trying to use the library rather than buying books, I do have Courtney Carver’s new book due out 3 March on pre-order.)

The basis of The Project is that you select a capsule wardrobe of 33 items – excluding underwear, ‘loungewear’ and sportswear – and then only wear those clothes for three months. What we’d call ‘mix and match’ in the old days. Whilst you might think that this is impossible, I found that in general I only actually wear about ten or twelve items on a rotating daily basis. Most other things were ‘kept for best’ or  were going out clothes. (In LB going out was a rare event; it’s not much different here in the UK.) I was attracted to Project 333TM because I’d pitched up in France to live a completely different life with a whole load of unsuitable clothes, mostly garnered from a charity shop habit that was my weekend hobby.

It took me about a year to sort out my wardrobe – I even had a spreadsheet; I don’t like to do things by halves! This included getting rid of numerous black bags to the clothing bank, plus actually buying some new items. These new additions were carefully planned, both to fit into the capsule colour scheme and to be ‘technical’. For us, that means travel clothing – light, warm when necessary, capable of layering up or down, quick-drying, hard-wearing and non-iron. I started out with 180 items of clothing and, by the end of the process, I’d whittled this down to 80 pieces, covering all four seasons.

The blog then changed its name and morphed into a record of our transition to a vegan lifestyle, and my musings mostly about vegan food, but also a few thoughts about our travels, minimalism, ethical living and trying to do more for the environment. Running my blog operates a bit like an online diary. There was a lot of cake, too ๐Ÿฉ. I hadn’t really given Project 333TM much thought until recently when I spotted a social media post about the new book. Hmm, I wondered, how does the current wardrobe stack up? I don’t really create capsules for each season any more, as my clothes stash stays pretty constant with a ‘one in, one out’ policy. In fact, for the past couple of years we’ve hardly bought any new clothes – the Rohan, Musto, North Face and Jack Wolfskin stuff just won’t wear out.

It was caring for the in-laws that prompted me to perform a quick wardrobe audit. More precisely, trying to put away MiL’s washing in already overcrammed drawers, full of clothes still in plastic wrappers, multiple versions of the same thing and fifty-seven pairs of pants (in the British sense of the word, not American ๐Ÿ˜†). Whether or not we ever get around to the long-promised ‘Spring Clean’ will no doubt be the subject of a future post. So, where does my clothes collection now stand? Well, excluding underwear and sportswear (the ten items forming my yoga kit), there are 79 pieces of clothing. (Note that, unlike the strict rules of the Project, I do exclude scarves [4], boots & shoes [11] and bags [3]). The test now will be, with the temptation of numerous charity shops in Colchester, whether I can maintain the capsule that’s developed over the past five years – the limited wardrobe space of the Hut demands that I do.

9 February 2020

Recipe week: Airfryer apple crumble minis

This week I’d planned to write about Project 333, but time just flies by and I still haven’t started, let alone finished, my clothing count so I’ll leave that for another time. Effectively, running two households, plus a small business, doesn’t leave me with much spare time for researching and writing. Also, for the last three or four weeks Mr VV and I have been on a bit of a health and fitness drive. Since we arrived in the UK we’d been indulging in the best that Sainsburys offers when it came to vegan junk food: shroomdogs, shwarma ‘meat’, Hellman’s mayo, ice cream and vegan cheesecake to name a few. It was probably the summons for a health check with the practice nurse when we registered at the local surgery that galvanised us into action. I was aware that we had put on a few pounds over xmas, but faced with the stark facts when she was brandishing her tape measure, I realised that we needed to get ourselves into gear.

So, we bought a Fitbit (I wear it, we’re too mean to buy two!), cut out alcohol at home, gave up our five o’clock salty snack habit and started walking, every day. It’s not easy to fit all this in. The walks are too long for our elderly dogs, so they have to stay behind while we set off on the local footpaths for a couple of hours, three or four times a week. I’ve actually had to schedule the walks onto the whiteboard that rules the regime here, otherwise it is so easy to let distractions take over. Looking after elderly relatives is hard. There’s no two ways about it, and I take my hat off to anyone who is toiling in the role of carer at the moment. But, as one of my wise friends advised me, it’s important to look after yourself, otherwise you’ll be no good for caring for anyone, and our weekly walking routine is certainly paying off.

But, what has this got to do with the title of this week’s blog? Well, after a few strict weeks eating at least four portions of fruit a day, two glasses of smoothie and loads of healthy whole food plant-based meals, Mr VV was craving a little treat. He’d also sneaked in a tub of vegan ice cream from Aldi ๐Ÿ˜Š We had plenty of apples in the fruit bowl, so instead of our regular evening raw apple, I decided to make an apple crumble. Rather than cook up a huge, family-sized crumble that could last for days (or be eaten in one fell swoop) I fixed on cooking up two individual mini crumbles. It was at this stage I realised that I’d forgotten to bring any ramekin dishes with us … hmm. We did have two glass dishes saved from an indulgent Gu (vegan) pudding – would these work? The internet was divided in opinion as to whether Gu glass dishes were oven-proof, so I carried out a quick test in the airfryer. No harm done. In fact, why not cook the crumbles in the airfryer? Result: perfect mini apple crumbles ready in about half the time of the conventional oven. According to Myfitnesspal they’re just 118 calories per pot (excluding the ice cream, of course).

Apple crumble minis

1 medium apple
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vegan spread
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons porridge oats
1 teaspoon (or more) cinnamon
Squeeze of lemon juice

Peel, core and dice the apple. Squeeze lemon juice over the apple and mix. Then, arrange the pieces in the two ramekins dishes, until they are each about three-quarters full. Sprinkle a generous teaspoon of cinnamon over the apple.

Measure the flour and vegan spread into a small bowl and use your fingertips to rub in, until the mix looks like breadcrumbs.

Stir in the sugar and oats. Spoon the crumble topping mix into the two ramekins, pressing down firmly and level off the top.

I cooked these in an air fryer (cheap version from Action) at 180c for about 18 minutes. You could also cook in a conventional oven at 180c, probably for about 30 minutes.

2 February 2020

Bucking the trend with our downmarket Dacia

One of the many so-called benefits of living a rural French life I see espoused regularly on social media is the lack of traffic, the absence of potholes and the general French indifference to new cars. There is some truth in these assertations, though I’m not sure about the potholes. They certainly develop every year in LB, but are regularly filled in by the commune team. Second-hand cars do hold their value in France and, if our neighbours are anything to go by, there’s no stigma attached to driving a twenty-year-old Renault with smoke belching out of the exhaust on your weekly trip to the market. It’s a different story here in the UK. We’ve become used to the pothole dodging necessary for a trip into Colchester, but some of the craters could easily cause a serious problem for an unwary cyclist or motorbike. And everyone seems to be driving a new car. Obviously, living in the south-east the traffic density is some of the highest in the country. I do wonder where they are all going sometimes.

In the village, the manufacturer of choice is Audi, closely followed by Range Rover and BMW, though it does boast a few Porsche and a Maserati. There’s a preference too for enormous ‘Chelsea Tractors’ – perhaps they’re better at avoiding the potholes! Most people seem to be driving way in excess of the 30 mph speed limit, despite the activities of the local Speed Watch Team. In fact, last week we were amazed that every car passing us was driving sedately until we turned the corner and spotted the fluorescent jackets in the distance. The next day, speed trap gone, and the speed merchants were back to normal. Mr VV likes to stand on the grass verge, mouthing their vehicle registration or pretending to warn them of a speed trap; half the time the drivers are so wrapped up in their metal cocoon that they don’t even see us.

We’re not car people so any car snobbery tends to go over our heads. In our fantasy life we’d live without a car (not a campervan, obviously ๐Ÿ˜Š). We’d live within walking of distance of good shops, cafes and pubs, the library and any services we needed to access. (Mr VV also dreams of trams, but I think that restricts us to Croydon, Docklands, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham and Blackpool, none of which are on his preferred locations list). However, living where we are at present, despite being only four miles from Colchester, really does require a car. Unlike many villages, we’re lucky enough to have an hourly bus service, but the decision-makers don’t seem to have worked out that you need to make using it financially attractive – it needs to cost less to go to town on the bus than to drive in and park.

So, with all the running about we need to do for Mr VV’s parents, we came to the conclusion that we needed a car, and that the two cars available weren’t suitable for the job. Our French Ford Fiesta was great, but it was left-hand drive which I wasn’t keen on driving here on the ‘wrong side’, and putting it onto UK plates is neither simple nor easy (as I’m discovering with the campervan). The other alternative was Mr VV dad’s car, but it was small, old and there was no way four adults, his mum’s mobility walker and two dogs were ever going to fit inside it. In fact, the only way to carry the walker was to put it on the back seat. Decision made: we would pool resources and buy a new car. With the choice of scouring the second hand market or buying a new car, we began our research.

Now, Mr VV’s dad is a bit (a lot) of a skinflint, but he also didn’t want a second hand car. Hence, we came up with Dacia. It is the antithesis of our neighbour’s Maserati, but it does exactly the same job. I’d argue it does more, as you can actually fit loads of shopping in the enormous boot, plus the walker and the dogs. Part of the Renault group, but made in Romania, Dacia is fairly basic but functional. We chose the Logan Stepway MCV, which was billed as the UK’s most affordable estate car by pundit Honest John. I'll leave the story of how we negotiated the deal, overcoming the fact that unbeknown to us Mr VV's dad's car had never been serviced and had been involved in some sort of undisclosed accident ๐Ÿ˜ฒ- facts we found out whilst sitting in the showroom - to another day.

It is a lot bigger than I’m used to, so I’m leaving negotiating the multi-storey car park ramps to Mr VV. However, this poor man’s SUV has got satnav, a decent radio, cruise control, automatic stop-start, reversing camera, electric windows and air con. I just need to wrestle the keys off Mr VV to take it for a spin. It’s a far cry from the Audis and beamers we see every day, but we don’t care what the neighbours say – it’s even got a speed limit warning, obviously their flash motors don’t!

26 January 2020

Minimalist living – an intro to our Hut life

The UK has a housing crisis. Apart from the 400,00 homeless people (a low estimate), some 8.4 million people are living in accommodation that is unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable. That’s over 10% of the population. In the county of Essex, where we are currently based, 144,000 new homes are needed to meet demand for housing, but it is unlikely they will be built. And, if they are, it is unlikely that many will be affordable, whatever that means. Decent housing (shelter) is a basic human right, and should always be affordable. In our village, the cheapest house sold recently was a tiny, two-bedroomed mid-terrace at £181,000. Rents start at over £1000 per month. So, there was no chance that we’d be able to either afford to buy a house here or indeed rent one, notwithstanding our menagerie of dogs and cat. But, there are answers to these problems, if only society was not so obsessed with the concept of land wealth, ownership and the ‘property ladder’.

We were fortunate; we found a solution in a pre-fabricated, mobile unit AKA the Hut. We were also fortunate that Mr VV’s parents had sufficient space and, because they needed care, we were able to obtain consent to site our temporary home quite easily. Our Sunrise lodge was built in less than two weeks and delivered to site on the back of a large low loader. From start to finish, including the planning application, building the base, connecting the services and moving in, took three months. A small development could be assembled in a few months, but no doubt the ‘nimbys’ would have something to say about it. And, I wonder how many people would really like to live in a such a small space? But, if you are content with fulfilling your needs, rather than your wants, then less really is more. Having lived in a 6.5m motorhome, we’ve had no difficulty at all adapting to life in our 48 square meter up-market static caravan. There is a growing tiny house movement (check out some great YouTube videos), as there is a move away from consumerism and consumption towards minimalism, so we are ‘on-trend’ ๐Ÿ˜Š.

Welcome to The Hut

I’ve promised some of my Facebook friends a few photos of the Hut and a few words about life inside. (Note: this is how it is – I didn’t tidy up before taking these pics.) The first trick to small-house living is not to have too much stuff and to be very tidy. We didn’t need to bring any furniture with us from France as the lodge was delivered fully furnished and has loads of storage. However, we did bring our favourite Ikea reading chair and my office desk and chair. Otherwise, we just brought clothes, enough kitchen equipment to cover our needs, personal effects and a few photos. And of course, we brought the animals with their array of eleven beds (they haven’t adopted minimalism) and stuff occupying two kitchen cupboards.

Despite its small footprint, the Hut provides us with a large open plan kitchen-diner-lounge. There are French doors at one end, which one day will lead out to a patio, but we haven’t even opened them yet! The kitchen is fully fitted with gas hob and oven, extractor, microwave, a huge fridge-freezer and washer-dryer. There’s more than enough cupboard space for our crockery, cutlery, saucepans and food. The dining table and chairs were part of the furniture pack, as was a coffee table, a huge very comfortable corner sofa and a built-in TV shelving unit cum bookcase. Carpeted throughout and with matching curtains at all the double-glazed windows, the overall colour scheme is modern and calming.

Off a narrow corridor, which we’ve brightened up with our collection of postcards from our campervan travels, there is the second bedroom, which I’ve commandeered for an office and the main shower room. The opposite end of the Hut is our bedroom. This is fitted out with loads of storage space, even under the bed, and huge sliding door wardrobe. A small ensuite is tucked behind the wardrobe, too. But, it is surprising how much room even our small clothing collection and two sets of towels and bedclothes takes up, and we quickly filled all the available space.

Like buying any new home there were a few teething troubles, but these were all quickly resolved by the suppliers or their contractors – one advantage of buying from a local company. We’ve had to learn to manage the gas system, ordering new bottles to be delivered about once a fortnight at the moment. Otherwise, it’s just like living in a house and we don’t really notice the small space. Although the only floor area big enough to roll out the yoga mat is the kitchen floor, I actually prefer doing yoga there than my old den in France. The pets’ favourite is the large full height windows where they can sit for hours watching for squirrels and birds. We all love our Hut; it has quickly become our home and I can’t foresee us wanting to live in anything much bigger in the future.
Looking for squirrels!

19 January 2020

Can you suffer culture shock in your own country?

The dictionary defines ‘culture shock’ as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” (OED). It wasn’t until a Facebook friend remarked that not only was I dealing with my new role as MiL’s temporary carer, but was also dealing with the culture shock of having returned to the UK, that I gave the matter any thought. However, a quick Google revealed that it was, in fact, a real phenomenon, more appropriately named ‘reverse culture shock’, being the effects of returning to your home culture after becoming accustomed to a foreign one. Research even suggests that it is “more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock.”

View from the cafe at Essex Wildlife Trust Abberton Reservoir Centre

Over the years, I’ve read many social media posts discussing the pros and cons of life in France, comparison of the two countries and reasons why people may or may not yearn to return to the UK. Many folk do seem to have a rose-tinted view of their adopted country (according to Wikipedia this ‘honeymoon period’ generally only lasts three months, though I’ve known people still in this state after several years). Maybe it’s just that they can’t see things on their own doorstep that jump out at us, or the things that bother us are of no consequence to them. I’m reminded of my late mother who could never see the litter piling up in her street, perhaps because, for her, it was still 1952 and she did not wish to acknowledge the change to the area that had come with the passage of time.

There are good things and bad things about both countries and their cultures. Or, as Mr VV likes to say, France and the UK are both bat-shit crazy, but in different ways. Certainly, since we adopted the vegan lifestyle, living in rural France began to throw up many issues. Two things, in particular, stand out. First, the sheer difficulty of obtaining vegan-friendly food, whether it be a trip to the supermarket where the choice was limited, a meal out for which choice of location and menu was limited, or even just going for a simple coffee. Our second issue, and one that hampered our life to an extent that we’ve really only realised since not being there, is the Chasse. Over the years, we have had many run-ins with the chasse and its fraternity. From outright threats to us and one of our dogs from a chasse neighbour, to coming face-to-face with the barrel of a gun on a Sunday afternoon walk along a designated public cycleway. From October to March, in France, we simply stopped walking anywhere.

One remarkable thing we have noticed is how much happier the dogs seem to be here in the UK. In France, Bumble always trailed behind on her walks. She got so bad that we even got her a doggy pushchair for days when she just refused to budge. Here, she is pulling on the lead, charging ahead across the green and enjoying afternoons sitting in the window watching the squirrels. Even old Dylan has a new lease of life, currently on no drugs at all and enjoying two walks a day. Maybe they no longer feel our stress about walking in the countryside, constantly on the lookout for loose chasse hounds and bullets.

So, after eight years away has it been a shock to return? Perhaps a little, but not in a bad way. Maybe it did take a few trips to Sainsburys to get my head around the sheer volume of vegan food available and the choice. The roads are busy, but we can enjoy a  Sunday morning walk without encountering anyone dressed in orange brandishing a shotgun. The smallest cafรฉ serves at least one type of plant milk, there are several dedicated vegan eateries, and virtually all pubs and restaurants have several vegan options. There seems to be no stigma attached to veganism either. Many folk dislike the shopping culture in the UK, where going shopping has become a leisure activity, but, there’s no need to join in. There’s a growing trend of environmental awareness, from recycling to zero waste shops, and a move toward less not more consumption.

Yes, the roads are full of potholes, there is litter on the verges, everyone seems to be in a hurry and driving an enormous four-wheel drive. But, you can actually get things done, people turn up when they say they will, the staff in shops are friendly and helpful. I appreciate that we may be fortunate with our location, in a particularly pleasant village with a shop, two pubs, plenty of walks and not far from the sea (though I still have not been to the coast yet). However, any culture shock was surely short-lived and we seem to have slipped easily into a comfortable routine. Even driving on the 'wrong' side of the road seems normal now. After a month in our ‘Hut’, the next task is to search out our ‘tribe’ and get involved in some local activities.

12 January 2020

The eco project part two: tackling food waste

I suppose it was her experience of the Second World War and rationing, which continued long afterwards, that made my mother quite zealous about avoiding food waste. She regularly admonished me to ‘eat up because there are starving people in the world …’ and she could make another meal out of any leftover scraps. She never went shopping without a list. A weekly meal plan hung on the kitchen noticeboard and she shopped accordingly. I suppose I must have inherited some of these habits because, like her, I abhor food waste.

In France we had two active compost bins and usually made enough rich, nutrient-filled compost to fill our annual flower pots and herb garden. Last year we even gave away some of our surplus. So, we were very keen to get a compost bin on the go whilst we are here in the UK. One of the first things we bought in B&Q was a robust composting bin and it went into action on day one. As we want to grow ‘vegan’ vegetables, we’re restricting the contents of the bin to our own fruit and vegetable peelings. Any food waste from the House (and there is plenty of it) goes into the council supplied food caddy that is collected every week. Because the council’s composting operation is at much higher temperatures than you can achieve in a domestic setting, they are able to accept a much wider range of waste including raw and cooked meat, stuff we would never want to contaminate our vegan compost bin.

Before we left France I had run down our larder so that I could minimise the weight of the moving boxes. I also didn’t want to leave anything in the house whilst it was locked up – sorry Mrs Mouse and the Loir family. I’ve gradually been restocking things like olive oil, vinegar and a few tins, and next week hope to make our first trip to the zero waste shop to explore their range of loose products. After the initial settling in period when we seemed to go to the supermarket every day, this week we had our first delivery from Sainsburys.

Although it’s only four miles away, a trip to do a ‘big shop’ still takes a couple of hours out of the day, time that could be better spent. An online order also enables me to control exactly what we buy, as we’re not tempted by impulse purchases. And, it’s great for adding food shopping for the in-laws who are now relying on us for meals. But, I wondered if shopping online was actually good for the environment. The general conclusion of the research I’ve read is that if your shopping journey is less than two miles then it is better to shop in person, whereas any journey over this distance is better to have your goods delivered. Sainsburys offer the option of ‘green’ delivery days when the van is already booked to be in the area, and with no packaging, so I selected a ‘green’ slot on Tuesday lunchtime and the delivery cost was just 50p! For ‘top-up’ shopping during the week, in particular to keep the in-laws endless supply of milk flowing, I’m just using the village shop. It’s a great resource, open from seven until ten, seven days a week and can supply virtually all of their needs; the walk there is good exercise, too.

One of the key things I did before starting the online order was to draw up a meal plan for the week and a list of all the products we use on a daily or regular basis. So, I listed out the components of our breakfasts and lunches, as we tend to eat the same or very similar things every day. I checked the storecupboard and added any items that were low or almost run out to the order. The pets’ food falls in this category too. Next, I drew up a plan for main evening meals for the next week to ten days. This isn’t set in stone, so I sometimes swap meals around if I have forgotten to start prep early enough or if we just want something quick because we are tired or busy. There are a couple of pre-prepared options like Gardein faux-fish fillets and a vegan pizza for junk-food Friday aka ‘chav tea’. Of course, as our meals are all vegan and based on lots of vegetables, legumes and pulses they’re actually not that unhealthy.

This week the menu plan has worked out well. I was able to stretch one meal into two as the Vivera Shawarma (faux kebab meat made from soya) that I bought for a pasta dish was enough to make some delicious wraps the following day, accompanied by a chickpea salad, avocado, leaves and pomegranate seeds. We ate it so quickly I forgot to take a photo. I’m also trying to expand our repertoire of recipes yet again, so each week I’m adding something new. This week it was a new lentil curry, which I based on a soup recipe from The Stingy Vegan, but with less water. Delicious and what a delight to easily get hold of fresh coriander without a 60km round trip to Grand Frais!

With our food waste, menu planning and shopping well under control it was time to turn my attention to the House. Each time we’ve visited in the past I’ve attempted to get some aspect in order; last September it was the freezer – three black bags of out-of-date products, some barely recognisable beneath the freezer burn. Since MiL’s accident I’ve been in charge of their meals, which gives me a great opportunity to sort out the shelves. So far, I have managed to get the fridge in order, although I’m fighting a losing battle with their milk obsession. If there is anything less than six pints they fear running out. I don’t know what sparks this but it is something I’ve noticed for many years: any hint of snow and the local shop or supermarket is cleared out of milk in a few hours. What do they do with it all? Sadly, and I know I’ll be in for some criticism from the hard-core vegans, I haven’t been able to convert them to plant milk as yet. So, I’ll also admit now that I am also ‘cooking’ (heating up) their meat-based ready meals for them. I draw the line at actually preparing any meat products, but simply popping a meal in the microwave and serving it up with some potatoes and veg I deal with on the same basis as feeding our old dog his favourite food. With a combined age approaching 180, I feel it is too late to get them to change their habits now, although FiL happily chowed down on a fully 100% vegan Christmas dinner and was none the wiser.

Next week I plan to tackle the larder shelves in the House, where I’ve already spotted some tins and jars with BBE dates several years behind. It is so difficult for older people with smaller appetites to use up everything in one sitting. So, I’ve been using my meal planning skills, and the ability inherited off my mother to use up scraps, to use up things that have been bought and forgotten, before they go out of date. I’m hoping that in time, with careful meal planning for the House, I’ll be able to reduce not only the amount of food waste produced, but the food bill too.

5 January 2020

Settling in and setting up our recycling station

It’s been a bit of a baptism of fire since we moved back to the UK less than three weeks ago. Three weeks? It seems longer. Apart from just the general disruption of moving, MiL fell and broke her hip about four days after we arrived, so in addition to unpacking all our boxes and dealing with snagging on our lodge, we’ve had to add nursing and cooking duties. At times like this it can feel as if life has got out of control, and for a control freak like me that’s not a good place to be. So, one way of coping that works for us is to divide all the tasks to be done into small elements, write a list and try to achieve four or five things a day. Another trick I use is to take control of areas that can be managed, and this is where recycling comes in.

Before we left France we were getting quite into the recycling habit and moving towards a plastic-free lifestyle. Moving certainly throws all these good intentions into a harsh light. You’re surrounded by cardboard boxes, and despite best intentions, there always seems to be a couple of things that you need to order, a few trips to B&Q and almost daily visits to the supermarket as you restock. Obviously, we want our new home to be vegan and cruelty-free, so all our cleaning products have to meet these standards and be recyclable or refillable. There are plenty of zero waste shops around, which I’ll be exploring in the next few months, but I’ve had to make do with Sainsburys for now. And, like the French house, the kitchen is a 100% vegan zone so, apart from pet food, no meat will cross the threshold.

The arrangements for household waste were something I wanted to get under control as quickly as possible. I’d noticed on previous visits that FiL didn’t have a very good grasp of the complicated arrangements for kerbside collections, and was pretty keen on burning stuff, too. Not at all good for the environment! It took me some time to get my head around the waste collection calendar myself, and this was not helped by the fact that the Christmas and New Year holidays added extra disruption. However, Colchester council seem to have a fairly good system for rotating fortnightly collections, although you need a plethora of bins and boxes to cope with the waste separation rules.

We have now got a system of no less than three bins, three boxes and a waste food caddy. Plastic and paper/cardboard are collected separately, so that accounts for two bins, glass and metal tins are also separated, so that’s another two boxes, plus there is a black bin for ‘all other’ waste, though each household is only permitted to put out three 60l black bags per fortnight. Waste food, including cooked debris and meat, is collected weekly, though I have left this for the in-laws, as one of the first things we bought in B&Q was a compost bin for all of our vegetable and fruit peelings. As I am strict about meal planning, and we only buy the food we eat, we have very little food waste.

Initially, we thought that the French recycling system was probably superior, with the Syded three-bin public collection points in virtually every village and hamlet for glass, paper and card, and plastic. However, having seen the volume of recycling on the kerbside on collection day, it is clear that even in a small village like this, about the same size as Chรขlus with under 2,000 inhabitants, the UK method is probably the most effective option. Of course, like many places, the council does not collect every type of package capable of being recycled. One such item is Tetra Paks, which I was a bit disappointed about, as apparently 90% of councils do collect these. However, the extremely helpful Eco Colchester Facebook group quickly pointed me in the right direction here – to Sainsburys, in fact, where there are large (overflowing) bins for this type of packaging, plus plastic wrap and carrier bags.

I also learned that there’s lots happening on the recycling front in Colchester, something I’ll be exploring in the future. Several centres collect products that are difficult to recycle for a company called Terracycle. For example, a local school uses this as way to raise money, with 24-hour accessible bins for things like crisp packets, bread bags, toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes, and sweet wrappers. We decided to try to help this cause, and add to our recycling project, hence yet another collection box has appeared in our recycling station.