Travel theme: Glass

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Glass.

Over the past few years, Cardiff has seen a lot of regeneration. Whole blocks of the city have been knocked down and rebuilt. One of the most impressive, and modern, new buildings to spring up in the city centre is the Central Library, and it’s glass walls allow you fantastic views over the city.


Housing 90,000 books, 10,000 CDs and DVDs, 10,000 Welsh language items, a dedicated floor for children (with the trendiest seating for them to relax and read in) and too many other facilities to mention here, Cardiff Central Library has been designed with everyone in mind. The six-storey building manages to stand out against all the other new builds around it. The area has changed so much that it’s hard to imagine where the previous library once stood. Cardiff library aims to be the first sustainable building in the city, one of it’s features being a grass roof which insulates the building in winter and prevents heat gain in the summer. It also assists in the removal of CO² and other pollutants from the city air.

Take a step towards saving paper (& plastic)

Earlier this week I told you about how I am trying to use fewer disposable paper tissues by carrying a handkerchief with me instead. That pledge is going well so far, and it’s also been a lot gentler on my nose – especially in the horrible cold weather we’re having here in Wales at the moment.

Over the past few weeks, I have also been trying to cut down on the amount of paper and plastic I throw away by avoding using take-out cups. I already take a flask with me to work every day, but I did have a terrible habit of grabbing a take-out coffee when I was out and about. Not only was I throwing away a lot of disposable cups, but I also realised there was very rarely any reason for me not to drink in the coffee shop if I want a coffee. It’s quite nice to take 20 minutes out and actually sit down and enjoy my decaff soya latte. I’ve also found that my coffee break is a great time to write, and I generally do a lot more work in my notebook in the coffee shop than when I’m at home on my computer.


In the office where I work, my desk is right next to the coffee and water vending machines. Not only is it annoying because there are always people hanging around that get in my way, but all day long I hear the tap-tap-tap of disposable plastic cups being thrown away. I’ve actually seen colleagues get one cup of water from the cooler, drink the water, throw that cup away and then get another cup for more water. They don’t even think to use the same cup twice!

Interestingly, the people who fill the vending machines ran out of plastic cups for a few days a couple of months back. I noticed that a lot of people started using their own water bottles and ceramic mugs brought from home. After one or two days, it made little difference that there were no plastic cups. And I’m glad to say that a lot of my colleagues have continued to use their own water bottles and mugs since.

Take a step towards using fewer tissues

I’m all about making small changes, ‘or steps’, in my life towards being more environmentally aware. I’ve made a small change this week that is so glaringly obvious, it has literally been right under my nose, that I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it before. Inspiration hit me whilst reading about how we can all help in small, but important, ways towards climate change on the Chasing Ice website. One piece of advice is to use cloths instead of paper towels. Although I try and use washable cloths whenever possible in my kitchen, my gaze immediately fell on the roll of kitchen paper that I had on the side. The most frequent thing I use the paper towels for are to blow my nose. It then occurred to me that I have packs of pocket tissues everywhere, in all my bags, in case I ever need them. I’m so careful to use as few paper towels as possible at work, so why don’t I think the same way when I’m blowing my nose? When I was a child I never used a disposable tissue to blow my nose. My Dad always had a cotton handkerchief on him ( a clean one mind), and one of my most frequent childhood memories is of him holding them to my nose in a desperate attempt to stop the unbelievable amount of snot that my it produced. When I got a bit older, my surrogate grandmother (long story) even made me my own handkerchiefs out of scraps of material with my initials embroidered onto the corner.

I don’t remember the point at which I stopped using my handkerchiefs and switched to disposable tissues, but this week I am making the pledge to switch back. I’ve bought some plain white handkerchiefs to get me going, but maybe one day I’ll get creative and make my own with my initials on.


Film Review: Chasing Ice

Please note: All photos in this post are from my personal collection and do not represent footage from Chasing Ice. They are merely there to illustrate the post and remind us of the landscapes we may one day lose forever.


Very rarely does a documentary film come along that manages to engage and entertain the audience whilst still presenting the facts and getting the argument across. Even though I am one of the people that go to see documentary films because I have a genuine interest in the subject matter and a desire to learn, I quite often find myself drifting off in the theatre. Although they have noble intentions, documentary filmmakers quite often get caught up in the subject they are documenting and have a habit of putting knowledgeable experts with no public speaking training in front of the camera to state statistics. Planeat is one such documentary film that managed to break the boundary between educating and entertaining, and now Chasing Ice has come along to join it on the podium.

In 2005, National Geographic sent acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog to the Arctic to capture images as part of an article about climate change. Initially a sceptic himself, when Balog saw the glaciers literally disappearing before his eyes, he realised that climate change is very real and progressing at an ever increasing rate. Determined to make a difference, Balog formed a team and set up The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). Between them, they installed 25 cameras at four glacial areas around the globe that would take one photo every hour during the hours of daylight.

What I thought was going to be a stop-motion animation of the time-lapse photography with a few explanation shots of scientists and photographers setting up equipment in between is in fact a beautifully put together story. The filmmakers take you on the journey of Balog and his team right from the very start, when this famous photographer who started his career taking shots about hunting decided that he wanted to shoot something just as powerful, but that would be aesthetically more accepted by the general public. Through his work exploring the connection between humans and the natural world, he discovered his fascination with ice. Not only does ice create stunning pictures as a subject, it also allowed Balog to use his art as a tool to show the reality of our effect on the planet. No longer can we dismiss the retreat of the glaciers as something that is happening in someone else’s world, thousands of miles away. Chasing Ice brings the issue to you so you can’t escape it any longer.


I empathised with James when his untested photography equipment failed on the first attempt. After spending days hiking out to some of the most remote parts of the planet, braving extreme weather conditions to set up the delicate cameras and computers, he was back to square one. I don’t think there is a human being that would not have been as devastated as him when he returned months later to discover that there was a problem with the computer technology and he’d captured virtually no images. I quite often write in my blog about perseverance and not letting yourself be beaten when you face failure and things don’t go your way, and James Balog is the ultimate example of this. From seeing him stood by a glacier crying his heart out, broken computer chipboard in hand, instead of giving up on his mission he returns to the experts and asks what can be done to fix the problem. And make no mistake that it is a mission he is on, one that I doubt he will ever finish. As his eldest daughter Simone touchingly puts it in the film, it’s hard to watch someone you love chase something that they may never find. Balog had to wait years to see the results of EIS, but what he captured should be recognised as an important education tool that we desperately need to stop further destruction.

Balog’s enthusiasm for his cause is clearly addictive. Adam LeWinter, a design engineer and machinist who initially entered the project to help with the computer technology, soon became completely immersed in the world of glacier chasing. After catching an awe-inspiring shot of a glacier calving by chance, Balog decided it was worth camping out next to one of the world’s biggest glaciers, with a camera and waiting to see if the same thing happened again. Glacier calving is when large parts of the ice break free into the sea to become icebergs. The event is very rarely seen by humans, let alone captured on film. After his third knee surgery (he has since had a fourth), Balog was forced to temporarily admit defeat, and was unable to continue the field research himself. Cue LeWinter and an equally enthusiastic colleague who were helicoptered out to the glacier, where they were left with a tent and a few cameras and told to wait. Nothing happened for over two weeks, and then on the 17th day they got the shot they were after. And boy is it a shot. An area the size of Manhattan, only three times the height of the tallest buildings there, calved off the glacier and into the sea with a tremendous roar. When the glaciers calve, the ice doesn’t just slide off into the sea, either, it rises out of the water to twice the height of what it was before and then rolls around and around in the water. When you think of this happening to Manhattan, it is a scary thought. The fact that Balog was so convinced this would happen within the time span of less than a month, so much so that he left two of his people out there with expensive camera equipment, demonstrates the speed with which the glaciers are retreating. We know it’s happening, and yet we’re not really doing anything about it.


At the end of Chasing Ice, Balog talks about his motivation for making the film and continuing the project. In fifteen years time, when his daughters ask him why our generation did nothing about global warming, he wants to be able to tell them that he did everything he knew how to. Although most of us can only dream of making such a momentous change to human knowledge and perception as James Balog has, we shouldn’t let ourselves believe that we can’t make any difference at all. If we all make small lifestyle changes now, they will all add up to a big difference in the future. According to the environmental group Greenpeace, eating 1kg of beef represents roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions as a flight of 100km per passenger. When the next generation ask you what you did about climate change, what will your answer be?

Please remember to support your local, independent cinemas and theatres. I watched Chasing Ice at Chapter, a fantastic venue here in Cardiff and also where my graduate short animation premiered (I love mentioning that at every opportunity).

The Carrier Bag Challenge

I’ve finished my Christmas shopping! I’m not boasting, honestly. I don’t have many gifts to buy, and as this weekend is my last chance to see my family before Christmas I had to be organised. I’m just glad that it’s done. So I thought I’d set you all a little challenge. It is estimated that the average life of a single giveaway carrier bag (or ‘tote’ – I love that word!) is only 3 minutes before being discarded. All those resources used up for three minutes of something we didn’t really need in the first place! Here in Wales a new law came into effect October 1st 2011 which means that if you want a carrier bag (plastic or paper) anywhere in Wales, at any shop/take-away etc you have to pay 5p for it. The proceeds are then donated to charity. I for one have welcomed this new law with open arms, although I stopped using plastic bags a long time ago. Firstly, it was hugely entertaining watching everybody think up ways to carry their shopping without using a bag on 1st October. I saw one man stagger out of Tesco to his car with a tower of groceries in his hands that reached to about two foot above him. Secondly, it’s made the nation think about how they use plastic. There was a lot of confusion from the locals at first, with comments such as ‘They even charged me in McDonalds’ and ‘But I bought lots of clothes so I needed a bag’ falling on deaf ears. However, a law is a law and most people have got used to it now. My particular favourite was a lady in Sainsburys who said ‘Well, if they’re going to charge me they can keep their bags’. I think that was the idea.
I was somewhat surprised at the uproar to the new law. I’m only 32, but I can remember another time when it was normal to charge for bags. It was considered an ingenious marketing ploy when Kwik Save announced that they would no longer be charging for bags. They didn’t think their customers should have to pay for them, unfortunately not realising at the time what they were starting and the effect it would have on the environment.
If you’re already using reusable shopping bags then good on you. If not, then why not take up the carrier bag challenge this Christmas and see if you can complete all your shopping just using reusables. After all, the law will come into effect in other countries at some point. And if you’re coming to Wales to shop, you’ll definitely need your own bags because carrier bags are harder to find here than a Welshman who doesn’t like rugby.