Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What are Plastic Bags Made From?

turtle with a plastic bagHere's a difficult question - what are plastic bags made from?

If you had asked me yesterday I would have said "Oil". Is that what you said? Turns out we're both wrong. According to Nimic of The Green Routine plastic bags are mostly made from natural gas, in the US at any rate. I wonder what British plastic bags are made from?

Some of the commenters there seem to think he's nit-picking because natural gas is also a non-renewable fossil fuel. But I agree with Nimic's argument that:
As a community of green bloggers, we NEED to stop the hyperbole of plastic bags being made primarily from foreign oil. We have many strong and valid points as to why we should reduce or even ban the use of plastic bags without it.

For example, I've been meaning for some time to investigate the comparison between plastic bags and paper bags. I know that paper manufacture can be a very environmentally damaging activity. And paper bags are much heavier and bulkier than plastic bags so it takes a lot more fuel to transport them from the manufacturer to the store. So I've heard it said that paper bags are actually worse for the environment than plastic bags, which is a counter-intuitive claim and I really want to know the truth of it.

It's not good enough to fall back on knee-jerk reactions and unresearched assumptions. Especially if we're lobbying parliament or starting campaigns to ban plastic bags from our towns. We need to know the facts otherwise we look foolish. And worse than that, we'll be putting all our energy into actions that won't help save the planet.

Of course, regardless of whether plastic bags are made from oil or gas, regardless of whether paper bags are better or worse for the environment, the best answer is to use a sturdy reusable bag to bring your groceries home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Barrel of Bees!

bumblebee nestAn unusual offer appeared on my local Freecycle group recently; a barrel of bees!








Hi everyone! We have a blue plastic barrel with lid (I think originally a water butt with holes drilled in) which has amongst the old grass cuttings inside it, a lot of bees! ... Being a little afraid of angering them, and not wanting them in our garden near our toddler and baby, I was going to pop the barrel in a big sack and take it to the tip, but thought I'd see if there are any apiarists? (bee enthusiasts) out there who would like to adopt them! Thanks Becky


I replied to Becky's message immediately and said they were probably bumblebees. The next day she went out and took some photos of the colony. From another view of a bumblebee nestthat I was able to tell her they were definitely bumblebees, and although I'm very far from an expert on identifying bumblebee species they looked to me like they could be bombus hypnorum, also known as the tree bumblebee or the new garden bumblebee (or "le bee" by the redtop newspapers). They only arrived in Britain in 2001 from France but have spread astonishingly fast. That was quite exciting and I suggested she get in touch with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and get their opinion.

By this time Becky was quite interested in her bees, but still unhappy about them sharing the garden with an inquisitive toddler who liked to poke her fingers into the holes in the bee barrel. As a result of her Freecycle offer somebody took the bees to live on a farm near Matlock. And the Bumblebee Conservation Trust told her they were common carder bumblebees (bombus pascuorum) which isn't quite as interesting as having bombus hypnorum in your garden, but still pretty cool.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Market for my Honey

jars of honeyIn the local health-food shop today I noticed they didn't have any local honey. They said their usual supplier had lost all his colonies to a virus. I asked if that meant they were looking for a new supplier. "Oh yes," they said, "Do you know anyone?", "Well, it just so happens..."

So now I urgently need to get labels printed and buy some new jars of the proper size. And, of course, encourage the bees to make more honey. When we checked them on Sunday morning they still hadn't begun to draw out the frames of foundation that we put on when we took the honey over a week ago, much less start to fill them with honey. It's a bit of a mystery.

We put a second brood box on top of the first one to give the queen more space to lay eggs. We want to build up a really strong colony so we can divide it and have two strong colonies by the time winter comes. And we gave them back the drained frames we took the honey from. They should lick those clean, repair them, and start to fill them with honey again. The weather has been great and it's the height of the nectar flow. They should be able to fill a super with honey in a couple of weeks in conditions like this.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Many a True Word is Spoken in Jest

We were discussing the problem of plastic bags, and my friend Carl Williams said:
I like Lidl's scheme, common practice in Germany - charge for 'em. The lengths people will go to to save 10p *VASTLY* outstrip the lengths they'll go to not to fck up the planet.

Depressing, but true.

Cartoon by Marc Roberts of Throbgoblins. Marc's cartoons will be featured in the magazine New Internationalist starting in October. Congratulations Marc!

Marc Roberts cartoon panel
Marc Roberts cartoon panel
Marc Roberts cartoon panel
Marc Roberts cartoon panel

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Meadow Brown

meadow brown butterflyWe took the kids up to Lyme Park and whilst they were running around bellowing I took some photos. They all came out rather under-exposed, so I'm going to have to figure out how to fix that. But apart from that I was quite pleased with this one of a meadow brown butterfly drinking nectar from a thistle.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Great Crested Newts

great crested newtI had a lovely picnic yesterday with my kids, my sister Stephanie and her kids, and our sister Lindsey. We all met up in Calderstones Park, Liverpool.

We had our picnic close to a small pool. My 6-year-old son, Sam, pointed out a plaque which said there were great crested newts in the pond. Great crested newts are a protected species in the UK and it's great to know that they are thriving there in the middle of Liverpool, although we didn't see any newts ourselves.

I got chatting to a woman who was tending a small memorial to her daughter who had died of cancer six years ago. There were some flowers planted around the base of a tree near the newt pond with a discreet plaque identifying the place where the young woman's ashes were scattered. The woman told me that sometimes she and her surviving daughters came and had a picnic together in this place so they could all be together again. I thought that sounded really nice.

But the woman expressed regret that the pond was in such such a bad state.
"They've let it go all stagnant," she said "It used to be clean and there were ducks here"
I got the feeling it spoiled their family get-togethers, this idea that the pond was neglected. So I pointed out the plaque and explained about the newts. I said that the pond wasn't stagnant - it wasn't covered in weed or algae and it didn't smell. It seemed to be well-tended because it didn't have any litter in it or around it. The water looked a little muddy, but presumably the newts liked it that way since they were reproducing here. There was another, larger lake in the park where the ducks lived, and it's a good thing there were no ducks in the newt pond because I guess the ducks might eat the newts and their larvae. I also pointed out a five-foot wooden sculpture of a newt amongst the trees by the pond.

By the end of our conversation the woman seemed much happier about the pond. It's a shame to think that there had been the least shadow over her daughter's memorial because she believed the pond was dirty and neglected. I'm glad I could help to lift that shadow, and I hope that the next time she and her other daughters get together there, they will discuss the rare newts in the pond. It's a beautiful little spot to spend eternity. I wouldn't mind being scattered somewhere like that myself when the time comes.

Great crested newt painting by Stephanie Smith

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Farmer's Market

Cheese VendorMy sister Stephanie is visiting and we went to a Farmer's Market together last Sunday. We bought some bread, some cheese, some pate, a sticky toffee pudding, some bacon, black pudding and sausages, some mutton pies, a chicken and some chocolate with crystallised orange. I always quiz the vendors about what the ingredients are and where they are sourced. I am looking for local produce hand-made with love and passion, and I walk away if I don't get satisfactory answers.

For example we talked to a bloke who made cheeses. He had samples of cheese we could taste, but Stephanie was blown away by the fact that he kept encouraging us to try another, and another. She was more used to the attitude "You can have a taste if you have to, but if you're not going to buy anything, get lost". This cheese guy wasn't desperate for us to buy anything, but he was excited about his cheese and keen to show it off. And rightly so - he made exceptionally beautiful cheese and we bought several different ones from him.

Over the last few days as we have eaten our way through our purchases we have talked about the difference between the food we bought at the farmer's market and food you buy at supermarkets. It really drives home how utterly dire supermarket food is. Even Tesco's so-called "Finest" range. Even "This isn't just food, this is Marks and Spencer's overpriced over-hyped food". It's all nasty in comparison to the real deal. The black pudding from the farmer's market was better by a long way than any black pudding I have ever eaten before. The sausages were divine. The sticky toffee pudding was much better than anything you can buy (but about the same as making it yourself). The mutton pies were beyond compare. We haven't had a duff item yet.

The downside is that farmers' markets are more expensive than supermarkets. And there is a lot in the news at the moment about soaring food prices here in the UK, which may harm farmer's markets as more people search for cheap food rather than quality food. But food is not yet really expensive. In fact food is still really really cheap and has been for decades. In a country where many poor people are overweight, you can see that food must be very cheap.

What is the role of farmer's markets? Are they just a luxury for the middle-classes? If you are really on the breadline, you won't be able to afford farmer's market prices. But I think many people on modest incomes could probably afford to buy great quality meat and cheese from the farmer's market by eating less meat and cooking more from scratch rather than eating ready meals. Of course some families already cook everything from scratch - Bean Sprouts readers probably do this more than most. I know that many Bean Sprouts readers already eat vegetarian at least once a week, which is a great strategy for reducing your food bills and allowing you to buy better quality meat because you are buying less of it. Why not visit your local farmer's market and compare the prices there with your usual supplier. Buy something there and compare the quality with your usual purchasers. Then you can make your own mind up whether it's worth it to your household to buy some things at the farmer's market instead. I've already made my mind up with regards to my household, and I think Stephanie has made her mind up too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Welcome to the 21st Century

As I arrived at the apiary the other day there was a van already parked there and sheaves of reeds stacked up nearby. Whilst I was getting my bee suit on there was no-one to be seen, but when I began lighting my smoker a workman emerged from the other side of the house.

I said to the workman "Are you the thatcher?"
"Yes," he said.
"Hi," I said, "I'm the beekeeper".

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Honey

capped frame of honeyI went to the apiary on Friday and took a super full of honey (a beehive is a series of boxes and the ones on top are called "supers". Maybe I'll write a piece about what's inside a beehive in the near future).

uncapping a frame of honeyWhen I brought it home I lifted the frames one-by-one over a large clean container and cut off the wax cappings with a knife dipped in hot water. It's extremely satisfying to do - it's almost impossible to resist dipping your finger in and having a taste. Then I suspended the frames over the container and let the honey drip out. You end up with a container full of mixed up honey and bits of wax.

straining honeySo I strained the honey through a jelly strainer. Because honey is so thick it's a slower process than straining jelly, so I covered it to keep insects away and left it overnight. The strained honey is clear and golden and beautiful to see. I put it into washed jam jars and labeled it by hand.

jars of honeyI need to read up on the laws about selling honey. They're not too onerous, but I'll need to get the right size of new jam-jars (the government don't approve of re-using jars) and get some labels printed with the right information on (weight, producer, type of honey etc.) and then I'll be able to legally sell my honey. I can't legally sell these jars I've just filled, but I don't want to anyway. I want to use them myself and give them to family and friends.

The cruddy bits of left-over wax can be rinsed in water, then melted and strained to produce pure beeswax. And the drained frames can be put back on the beehive where the bees will lick them clean and then begin filling them with honey again.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Full Moon

Moon calendar July 2008It's a full moon tonight. You all know what that means - the moon will look like a big pale circle in the sky. Did you also know it means the moon will rise at around the same time as sunset, and the moon will set around the same size as sunrise? This is because the moon is full when it is directly opposite the sky from the sun, so they can't both be in the sky at the same time.

So if the moon is full tonight, what will it look like in one week's time?

a. It will be totally dark
b. It will be totally full
c. It will be a crescent like the letter "C"
d. It will be a half circle like the letter "C"
e. It will be a crescent like the letter "D"
f. It will be a half circle like the letter "D"

The answer is d. if you live in the northern hemisphere. If you live in the southern hemisphere the answer is f.

The moon completes a full cycle (new moon, waxing moon, full moon, waning moon, new moon again) in about 29 1/2 days, which is close enough to four weeks as a rule of thumb we can say it completes a quarter of its cycle in one week. This month encompasses a whole cycle quite handily, so the calendar I have reproduced above shows how the moon looks as it waxes and wanes. The thing I want you to remember is whether a "C" shape means the moon is waxing (getting bigger) or waning (getting smaller).

Northern Hemisphere
If you live in the northern hemisphere, the moon goes from dark, to a "D", to an "O", to a "C", then dark again. So the way to remember it is "Doctor Moon" - "D O C". Got that?

Southern Hemisphere
If you live in the southern hemisphere, the moon goes from dark, to a "C", to an "O", to a "D", then dark again. The way to remember it is "the moon if a fish" - "C O D". OK?

I find it oddly depressing that very few people seem to know this, but the majority of people can name Jennifer Aniston's husband.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: Why the World is Full of Useless Things

low resolution panel from From HellIn Alan Moore's From Hell (a graphic novel about Jack the Ripper) there is a chilling sequence where the Ripper hallucinates after the murder of Mary Kelly. He is transported to the present day where he is amazed by the wonders that science and technology has given us, but even more amazed by our own responses to living in a time of miracles. He says
Where comes this dullness in your eyes? How has your century numbed you so? Shall man be given marvels only when he is beyond all wonder?
The same idea is expressed in Why the World is Full of Useless Things by Steve McKevitt, but his book is much funnier than Moore's. The premise of the book is that McKevitt wonders why the 21st century has not delivered the personal jet-packs, affordable space travel and clones of Raquel Welch that he looked forwards to when he was 10. Instead we have QVC, ready meals, Jade Goody and reality TV.

It's a funny book, it's an easy read, but it's not one of those quirky but ultimately pointless stocking fillers you sometimes get (they would be a good example of the sort of useless stuff McKevitt writes about). He really tries to analyse why our world is full of this tat. You'll have to read the book yourself to find out his answer. It's subtle and not easily amenable to summing-up as a neat one-liner. But you'll get a clue if I tell you that the book is divided into four sections: Hubris (thinking we know more than we do and we're more talented than we really are), Ignorance (and why being ignorant makes you vulnerable to being sold useless things), Mind Control (in other words, marketing) and Everything Now! (our ever-shortening attention spans and demand for constant entertainment).

I found it thought-provoking. I've read plenty of books that repeat stuff I already knew about why we should combat consumerism - because it's leading to over consumption, climate change, peak oil, soil erosion and so on. But McKevitt says we should combat it because it's just no fun. As he says in his 300-word summary of the book:
The world is full of useless things because we've made it that way. It's not a bad world, but if only we demonstrated the tiniest amount of collective ambition it could be a whole lot better. The first step is to demand more from ourselves and refuse to settle for facsimile lifestyles that are available in magnolia, beige or vanilla.
By the way, he also includes a 300-word summary of the book created by Microsoft Word Auto-Summarizer. Reading that was one of the laugh-out-loud moments.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

July Challenge

shower headWe're well into July now so this is just a quick challenge that won't even apply to everybody. But if, like me, you have a shower unit over your bath (rather than in a separate shower cubicle, or even no shower at all) then I challenge you to put the plug in next time you take a shower.

You'll end up standing in a few inches of water but never mind, I only want you to do it once. The reason is to see how much less water you use in a shower than in a bath. Unless you take very long showers, you won't use nearly as much water as if you filled the tub for a hot bath.

Most people know that showers use less water than baths. But I think it's really helpful to see with your own eyes just how much difference there is. Direct personal experience is a lot more likely to make you want to change your behaviour than any efficiency campaign or general good intentions.

Once you've finished taking your shower, consider what you're going to do with the water. Will you just pull out the plug and let it go down the drain? Or can you reuse some of it, perhaps to water plants? If it's still quite warm you could mix a little soap powder into it and drop some laundry in there. I wash my duvets in the bath once or twice a year because they're too big to go in the machine. It's better to reuse bath or shower water for a job like that than to fill up the bath just for a duvet. Or if you are clever at plumbing, could you somehow divert the water into your washing machine, or an irrigation system for your garden, or even your own reed bed?

But that's not the main focus of the challenge. The challenge is just to put the plug in and see how much water you save by taking a shower rather than a bath. Don't forget to vote in the poll in the right-hand sidebar when you've done it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Broad Bloody Beans

broad beanDon't ever mention broad bloody beans to me again. I spent the weekend lifting plants, stripping 40lbs (18kg) of bean pods from them, carrying them home, shelling them, blanching them, draining them, popping them one by one out of their skins, then freezing them in handy portions. I reckon I spent about six hours doing it in total, and I had help from Ed and the kids at most stages.

Anyone know any good broad bean recipes?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Day at the Apiary

BeekeeperThe weather brightened up so I did go to the apiary yesterday afternoon with my bee guru, Arnie. We had a few tasks to do and they were all fun.

First we transferred a swarm Arnie had collected from a nucleus box into a proper hive and fed them. A nucleus box is a small temporary beehive. Arnie collected the swarm in Bollington, but we don't know whose bees they were. The queen was marked with a blue spot which means she is four years old. That's pretty old for a queen. Beekeepers paint coloured dots on queens' backs to make them easier to find in the hive and also show how old they are by the colour.

Next we transferred my bees into a WBC hive. Finally! I've had them for more than a year and they were always supposed to be in my own WBC hive but they have remained in a borrowed National hive instead. Now I can clean up the National hives and return them to the person I borrowed them from. The colony is doing really well. The bees are strong in numbers and they have loads of honey stores, despite it being another poor season. Arnie says he has been feeding his bees because their stores are so low.

I saw my queen! I have never seen her in the year I've had her. I've just had to rely on the presence of eggs to reassure me she was still there. But I spotted her before Arnie did. She's huge! I don't know how I missed her before. She's unmarked, so I want to get in touch with Ally from Ducking for Apples and ask her if she knows when the queen was hatched. The we can mark her with the prope colour, and also have some idea how much longer she's got in her. Arnie wants me to ask Ally about the breed of the bees. He thinks they might be Welsh blacks. Ally sold me the bees in the first place, but she has just had a family bereavement and I don't want to intrude.

Even more exciting than seeing the queen is taking some honey. A WBC hive is slightly smaller than a National hive, so I took home two frames of capped honey and we all had honey on toast as an after-school snack. It was delicious. No trace of mouse pee this time.

The final exciting thing came as a big surprise. The landowner had told me there were three beehives somewhere else on his land, left behind by the chap who had this apiary before me. Arnie and I went to investigate, thinking we'd just be taking away some empty equipment to clean up and reuse. But when we got there we saw bees flying around. Two of the hives were empty (though infested with wax moths, and one of them housed a wasps' nest, now vacant), but the third clearly housed a colony. I hastily replaced my veil and gloves, but Arnie had left his gloves behind thinking we wouldn't need them. We began to disassemble the hive to inspect the colony anyway - some beekeepers work bare-handed as a matter of course. But these bees were unused to being handled and were quick to use their stings, so we left them for another day.

We're going back in a week and we'll check the swarm colony, check my bees and take more honey, and inspect the surprise colony. I want to divide my bees some time this season so I end the season with two strong colonies going into the winter.

I understand something now I didn't fully understand before. It's not about honey. Frankly, beekeeping is a complicated, labour intensive and expensive way to get honey. If you're just after honey, you're far better off buying it in the shops. The real reason to be a beekeeper is simply because it's a heck of a lot of fun.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Painting Beehives

WBC hivesI spent most of yesterday cleaning up a WBC beehive. I scraped any wax or other crud off it, expelled a few spiders, and sterilised all the parts with a blowlamp (that's my favourite). Then I sanded and painted all the exterior bits with ordinary white gloss paint (after filling with wood-filler where necessary). I got some frames with foundation wax I had already assembled. Then I was ready to go.

But today it is cold, miserable and raining. Not at all the right kind of weather for beekeeping tasks. If I opened a hive today the brood (the maggoty baby bees) would get cold and die. Also the bees would be cross and would try to take it out on me. The hive parts are all damp and that's really bad for bees. So nothing doing until the weather brightens up.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Freecycle Challenge Results

Freecycle challenge pie chart98 people voted in the Bean Sprouts Freecycle challenge. The voting was as follows:







  • I've joined Freecycle! 10 votes (10%)
  • I was already a member of Freecycle! 84 votes (84%)
  • I don't want to join Freecycle! 4 votes (4%)
  • I'm a Freecycle moderator! 1 vote (1%)
Wow! Voters were overwhelmingly already members of Freecycle, and a number of people commented to say they were instrumental in setting up their local groups. Ten people voted to say they had joined Freecycle in response to the challenge. And we'll never whether any others joined because of the challenge, but chose not to vote. As ever I'm amazed by your response to these polls. A new challenge for July will be appearing shortly.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Weed of the Week - Giant Hogweed

Usually when I feature a Weed of the Week it's something that grows in my own garden or allotment. But I haven't seen any giant hogweed anywhere in my area, and a good thing too.

Giant hogweed looks similar to cow parsley (which does grow in this area and almost everywhere else). But unlike its harmless lookalike, hogweed is huge - it can grow as high as 7m tall - and it has some nasty defences. If hogweed sap gets on your skin and is then exposed to sunlight it causes redness, itching and blisters. Just brushing past the plant can be enough to hospitalise you with severe burns. If the smallest amount of sap gets in your eyes you may go permanently blind. I can't find a reference right now but I am sure I have heard of people injured by swimming in lakes with hogweed growing nearby. The water of the lake became dangerous because of the sap in it.

I was reminded of giant hogweed by a news story about attempts to eradicate it in West Sussex. And I knew about it in the first place because of a Genesis song called The Return of the Giant Hogweed.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Farmer's Market

Farmer's Market CollageEleanor and I went to the Farmer's Market in Poynton today. We hadn't planned to go, we just dropped in on our way back from church, so I went without my proper camera (these fuzzy pictures were taken with my mobile phone) and more importantly, without my purse.

It was a great farmer's market with so many stalls that they could not all fit in the Civic Centre, so some of them were outside in the car park. The stalls were very varied. For example there were fresh fish, meat, sausages, pate, olives, honey, hand-made soap, sticky toffee puddings and more. Most importantly, they all seemed to be bona-fide small producers and they were all friendly and keen to answer my impertinent questions. They were also very generous with tasting samples and I came home quite full without even buying anything.

It's held on the first Sunday of every month from 9am - 1pm, at Poynton Civic Hall. I'll be marking the August date in my calendar and I'll remember to take my purse with me next time.

Mark Bennion of Ipstones Park Farm kindly allowed me to reproduce this recipe:

Ipstones Park Farm Meatballs in a Red Wine Sauce

Add 6 tablespoons red wine and 4-5 tablespoons double cream to a bowl together with 5 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs and leave to soak for approx 30 minutes. Heat 1oz unsalted butter in a frying pan and add a finely chopped onion. Fry until soft and golden. Once done, remove the onions from the pan and leave to cool.

In a bowl, mix the cooled onion and soaked breadcrumbs with a free range egg, 1lb Ipstones Farm minced beef, fresh herbs of your choice, and a pinch of salt and pepper. With wet hands for the mixture into meatballs. Heat 1oz butter in a frying pan and fry the meatballs until they are a dark golden colour on all sides. Once done remove them from the pan and keep them warm.

To make the red wine sauce, stir 1oz flour into the fat of the meatball frying pan and brown for a few seconds. Then stir in 9 fl. oz beef stock and 9 fl. oz red wine. Whisk lightly to combine then add 9 fl. oz fresh cream and let the sauce cook through for approx 10 minutes. Season accordingly. Add the meatballs and simmer gently for approx 45 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are cooked and tender.

Prepare fresh pasta and salad. Serve the dish with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and grated cheese of your choice.

You can buy Ipstones Park farm minced beef and other top quality meat from Mark Bennion at:
Ipstones Park Farm
Park Lane
Ipstones
Near Leek
Staffordshire

Telephone: 01538 266 049
Mobile: 07840 076 276 or 07808 086 234

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Knitting With Cats

Knitting with a kitten in the house is tricky. When he's not trying to catch the ends of my knitting needles, he's playing with the balls of yarn.

My mum taught me the solution to this problem. Pop the ball of yarn into a container with a hole cut in the lid. Mum used margarine tubs but I'm using an ice-cream tub. The tub needs to be big enough for the ball to move and unwind itself. Cut a hole in the lid and feed the end of the yarn through, then knit as usual.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bottled Water for Dogs

I was unavoidably in the local shopping mall recently. Believe me, it isn't an experience I usually enjoy (especially since the branch of Borders there closed down). Whilst I was in there I saw something astonishing - a large display advertising bottled water for dogs.

One of the people paid to market this stuff saw me looking and must have mistaken my amazement for interest because she came over and started talking to me about the product. I couldn't resist it. I stood in the middle of the shopping mall and argued with her.

I know. She probably didn't really have any interest in the product at all. She was just paid a paltry amount to stand in a shopping mall all day and try to sell people bottled water for dogs. But to give her credit, she really did her best to persuade me this was a wonderful product and I should buy it.

She told me that she gave this water to her dog because her previous dog had died of kidney failure. She didn't directly answer my question about whether the vet had told her that the dog's kidney failure was caused by drinking tap water. She did respond to my assertion that dogs will drink out of the toilet bowl by claiming they only do this because tap water is so repellent to them. When I said that the toilet bowl is filled with tap water she changed the subject onto all the nasty chlorine in mains water. So I asked her how come this nasty chlorine is OK for humans and not for dogs and she told me humans are "more robust" than dogs. She was getting a bit cross at this point and she began to say "If you..." and I felt sure she was about to say "If you loved your pet you'd want to give them bottled water", but at that very moment our discussion was cut short.

Whilst we had been locked in debate, my kids had been entertaining themselves playing with the fountain which was part of the promotional display. A six-foot replica of the product carton was spewing distinctly chlorine-scented water into a huge dog bowl. A perspex guard surrounded the bowl to prevent small children falling in, and my children had been leaning on this to splash their hands in the water. Just as the dog-water-lady was saying "If you..." the perspex guard broke with a loud "Crack!"

I apologised and offered to pay for the damage. Actually she was gracious about it. But I was forced to beat a hasty retreat.

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