Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Green honeymoons

This beautiful cold, clear winter weather may be lovely but it's getting a bit nippy, and my thoughts are turning to contemplating our honeymoon as a means of escaping whatever weather next autumn chooses to throw at Manchester.

This being an eco-wedding, flying will not be an option. Although some environmental writers – like my friend and colleague Simon Birch - argue that the benefits of eco-tourism to some countries makes flying there justifiable, the threat of climate change is just too big a shadow for OA and I to be comfortable with hopping on a plane for pleasure.

If we were being really good, of course, we'd be staying in the UK. I've visited some wonderful parts of Britain, with the beautiful southern coast of Dumfries and Galloway really standing out as somewhere with spectacular scenery, lovely picturesque towns like Kirkcudbright and Wigtown, affordable accommodation and (vitally important if you're me) great food like the organic, fair trade ice-cream at Cream O'Galloway, bread and cakes from Wigwam Bakery, amazing hot-smoked, locally-caught salmon at Marrbury Smokehouse and whisky from Scotland's most southerly distillery at Bladnoch.

But the move of Eurostar to St Pancras makes getting to Europe and beyond without flying so much easier. Not that the journey down from Euston to Waterloo was a massive trial (except when the Tube screwed up YET AGAIN), but just popping down the road to the very splendid new St Pancras International is such a doddle. It's great! And at some point I do want to try that enormous champagne bar by the Eurostar terminal, even if that makes me a vain and shallow human being.

Anyway, OA and I did a trial trip to Italy by train last spring, and somewhat caught the bug. I had a bit more luxury when it came to time, but OA had s standard public-sector two week holiday to take. We got the Eurostar to Paris, spent an overnight there to break the trip, and then caught a sleeper to Venice. Drawing into S Lucia station on the bridge over the lagoon in the morning sun was a truly resplendent way to arrive in such a beautiful city. Three days there, and then another train – a mid-afternoon hop – down to Florence for another four days, then an hour or so back up to Bologna for another couple of days.

Train travel, apart from the environmental benefits, is immeasurably more relaxed than flying, and with the masses of advice, experience, itineraries and timetables available from the lovely Mark Smith of, it's now pretty easy.

So, honeymoon time. We're off to Morocco. Primarily by train, although this grand plan will involve me having to get on a ferry from Spain. This doesn't make me very happy, big water-wuss that I am, but can't really be helped if I want to get to all those wonderful places and their magical names... I shall, of course, be using Seat61 for my travel advice and bookings. Finding places to stay will be the next bit of this project; some of the little independent guesthouses listed on look pretty wonderful, as do some of the hiking and biking tours, but if anyone out there has recommendations they will be gratefully received...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Getting around...

One of the less interesting bits of a wedding day is, I guess, the transport. Traditional limos and horse drawn carriages really don't do it for me, although I suppose the latter probably have the virtue of being low-carbon. Manchester has a company which rents out gigantic pink stretch humvees, which have to be - on petrol consumption, militarism and aesthetic grounds - the most horrible vehicles in existence.
On an ethical weddings websearch I came across one company which has put the trend for hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight as an eco-measure together with the demand for low-impact weddings, and is renting out Prius cars under the brand of
I really don't like cars, though. I expect there are people out there who've managed to incorporate bikes into their weddings (are you out there? Come and tell me about it!). I quite fancy the idea of emulating my friend Georgie. She had a truly fabulous little wedding - just her lovely new husband and a couple of close friends as witnesses, at the registry office, and then they hopped on a big red London bus and went off to have afternoon tea at the Ritz. How classy is that? I, however, am a generally coarser type of gal with more of a rabble to accommodate. The idea of loading everyone on the 142 up Oxford Road does rather appeal (although it would potentially involve handing bus fares to the evil Stagecoach with their homophobic chairman Brian Souter, who donated half a million to the campaign against the repeal of Clause 28.)
So, if it's far enough away maybe we'll just have to hope it's not a day of traditional Manchester rain and wait for a Finglands bus. Or if (as is seeming increasingly unlikely) I manage to get my number 1 choice of venue, we'll be going for the ultimate eco-option and just making everyone walk round the corner from the registry office...

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Where oh where?

Last year I did a report for Ethical Consumer magazine on the British hotel sector, and everything I turned up then put me off having any bit of my wedding in a standard hotel function suite, which seems to be one of the standard places for having a wedding reception. The hotel industry in general (along with the restaurant industry, which I'm researching at the moment) was just stunning in its poor grasp of basic ideas of corporate responsibility, an industry whose idea of addressing its environmental impact in an era of impending ecological doom goes, in the vast majority of cases, no further than asking guests to use their towels more than one day on the trot. And that's without going into the toe-curling horribleness of the working conditions in this notoriously poorly paid and casualised market, which is of course dependent on the labour of hundreds or thousands of exploited illegal or precarious immigrants. See for their Living Wage campaign, and The Guardian's article about their hospitality sector campaign for some really depressing individual stories –
One of the problems with avoiding horrible hotel chains is that you can't always spot them immediately. While some hotels, such as Hilton and Radisson, use their brand names as a major selling point, the current fashion for 'individual, authentic, boutique' hotels means that there is also a subset of quite nice looking-places that spend lots of marketing money pretending to be all those things and then turn out to be owned by a set of generic scumbags.
Of course, hotels are just one option, and a pretty expensive one at that. As I will probably mention a bunch of times in the coming ten months, about the first thing my colleague Jenny said to me when I announced that I was getting married was: don't tell anyone who's selling you anything that it's for a wedding – they'll just double the price. And wedding suites are no exception. Apparently the fashionable place for big weddings in Manchester at the moment is the beautiful atrium space at City Art Gallery, but I can only assume that the price of that would be somewhere in a different galaxy from what I'm looking at, and to be honest I think I'd feel like a bit of a nana using a place that grand.
My mate Liz overcame this by basically renting the local church hall, and doing by all accounts a gorgeous job of decorating it – she put out an appeal for those lovely cobalt-blue Ty Nant mineral water bottles months before, and had them on each table with flowers in. My friend Sarah did a similar thing for her hippy wedding ten years ago – ceremony in an apple orchard under an umbrella followed by a proper knees up in a village hall, well away from any neighbours who were going to want the band to be quiet at midnight or one or three a.m. Jenny's big back garden, hidden behind an ordinary looking urban semi, came in very handy for a buffet in what used to be the stable and lots of space to mill about and talk to the chickens. Good thing it didn't rain. Anything outdoorsy is obviously OFF the agenda for Manchester in September...
This kind of thing can work well depending on how much organising time you have. My inclination is to find some way of doing as little organising as possible, but that's currently proving difficult. Liz is bloody marvellous at organising things – it's her job, in some respects – and even she hired a kind of on-site administrator for the day, so that she wouldn't have to handle anything that went All Wrong with the venue or the caterers or the transport. I haven't asked her what she did about cleaning up the church hall afterwards, though. And what about drinking and dancing? A Church of England booklet my sister told me about on how to do weddings on a budget suggests a bring-a-bottle approach to avoid the cost of huge amounts of booze, which is one option. I quite fancy the idea of somewhere that has a cash bar, so I don't have to think about that much.
So, unlike the posts up to now, I don't have an answer to this one yet. I suppose I should have anticipated the fact that even little nice not-for-profit bar venues in the town centre would be booked out a year in advance. But they are, or at least threaten to be. So I'm still looking.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Rings II

Cool! People have started getting in touch about more ethical suppliers and places where you can find beautiful, quality items for weddings and all the shenanigans that go with them. So here is Polly Withecombe Jewellery,, with information about another source of ethical gold and some lovely rings. As Polly points out, there is still no proper labelling or certification that consumers can use with confidence to identify ethical gold or gems, so it's good to see that artisan manufacturers are looking hard for proper ethical approaches to this sector.

Sunday, 21 October 2007


I'm blatantly cherry-picking here. Not what I write about, necessarily, but what I concentrate on planning for. And the things I'm planning for are the things I like and/or know stuff about, regardless of their place in the hierarchy of priorities.
Heaven knows I have nearly a year to sort this stuff out – so why am I think about the fizz first?
Well, it's probably to do with the fact that I like wine, and I've recently been discovering British wines. Also, I've just read Barbara Kingsolver's magnificent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the account of her family's efforts to spend a year eating only food produced within their county. No mean feat in a temperate zone when the family includes a pre-teen and a teenage girl, neither of them creatures known for their openness to new food experiences. So with the allotment and all that, I'm quite into my local food at the moment.
So my first thoughts on the fizz front were English wines. The climate of the south of England is beautifully suited to producing nice dry white sparkling wines, and there are quite a few from vineyards and producers such as Three Choirs (, Ridgeview ( and organic pioneers Sedlescombe ( English fizz has topped some international sparkling wine tasting competitions, putting some noses out of joint in more established regions of France and Spain. And in terms of affordability there's a range of prices from around eight quid a bottle to twenty, or thereabouts. I've had some of the very lovely prizewinning Ridgeview Bloomsbury, but that was because it was in my Wine Society English taster case and it's a bit out of my price range really.
So on a press trip to the very, very wonderful Cream O'Galloway organic farm and ice cream producers in (No! Wait for it!) Galloway, I was very happy to be introduced to Cairn O'Mohr fruit wines, made by the sister and brother-in-law of Cream O'Galloway co-founder David Finlay. Now I associate fruit wines with being a bit thick and gloopy and sweet – maybe nice for the occasional warming drink but not much else. But Cairn O'Mhor's elder and oakleaf fizz is a very drinkable dryish sparkling wine, made with ingredients from the Perthshire countryside and ordered via Which I will be doing, several cases of, in some months' time.
Be warned, though – don't read Ron's blog on the Cairn O'Mhor website while eating biscuits. The rants about his neighbours and many of the other people he comes across in life may induce chokings and coughings that might impact on the likelihood of your being around to get married at all...

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Ring, pt 1

Surprised as I was to find myself Quite Fancying the idea of getting married, I was even more surprised to find myself Quite Fancying the idea of having an engagement ring. I'm not really a big jewellery person, and the idea of wearing any item of bling that costs more than about 10p makes me nervous, in case I either lose it or someone else takes into their heads to relieve me of it.
Anyway, having decided I wanted one of these, I had to find one I liked. Overgrown Antipodean had very sensibly not done the down-on-one-knee-with-a-rock thing – I'm far too pernickety for buying me jewellery on spec to be a safe option.
Did I mention also that this wedding is happening on a serious budget? Estimates for the cost of the average UK wedding range from £12,000 - £20,000. Not so long ago you could buy a house in my neighbourhood for that. Certainly spending that on a single day, even a (hopefully!) once-in-a-lifetime one, seems kinda obscene. And anyway, OA and I would rather chew our ring fingers off than start getting in hock for this...
So a traditional diamond was probably never going to be an option. In addition to cost issues, I'm still highly sceptical about most diamonds. Many people will by now have heard of the issue of blood diamonds – those gems mined in conflict zones in Africa and then sold to fund further warfare. Most mainstream jewellers in the UK now sport claims that they are conflict-diamond-free and sell gems that are approved under the Kimberley Process (, an industry and international government initiative which was supposed to eliminate the danger that new diamonds would likely be tainted with the blood of millions of people caught up in a number of very dirty wars.
Despite the claims of big diamond merchants like De Beers (and most diamonds you come across anywhere in the world), the Kimberley Process is far from a guarantee that a diamond will come from a source that has not involved human and environmental exploitation. One example is the recent eviction from their traditional lands of a number of Kalahari Bushmen by the government of Botswana so that diamond mining could take place there. People who had lived as roaming hunters and gatherers for centuries were forced into 'resettlement camps' with high levels of violence, alcoholism and HIV, and made dependent on aid rations by being prevented from hunting and gathering food in their usual way. Not a bloody civil war, but a major infringement of human rights, and not covered by the Kimberley Process. For more detailed criticisms, see Global Witness' pages at and information on the PR campaigns run by big diamond companies at
The problems don't stop with diamonds. Many other gems are mined in similar ways and with similar ethical problems, although there are a small number of ethical gems projects which are being started up, although many are still in their infancy.
And gold is another big problem. Gold mining is often accompanies by terrific human rights abuses and environmental degradation. In Guatemala and Honduras, for example, anti-mine activists from environmental groups and indigenous peoples have been threatened in some cases murdered by gold companies from North America, and local people evicted so that precious metals on their land can be exploited. Similar tales come from countries as far apart as Indonesia and Guyana.
As well as human rights abuses, most modern gold mining is a hugely polluting affair. Movies and history books might have inculcated images of ragged prospectors panning rivers for gold, but the reality of most gold production now is very different. Tons and tons of rock are mined by heavy machinery, crushed, and mixed with highly toxic cyanide solutions in order to separate gold and silver from the stone. The gold – perhaps only a few ounces per ton of rock – is filtered out. This leaves gallons of toxic cyanide sludge, called tailings, which is stored in lakes called 'tailings ponds,' as there is pretty much no cost-effective way of processing it. At a number of mines around the world – from Guyana or Romania to the Philippines and Ghana - the dams that hold these ponds in have burst, causing massive pollution which kills fish, animals, plants and often people. For more information see or
Despite these tales of doom and gloom there is some hope for the ethical engagement ring seeker with a bit of cash to burn. The Green Gold project in Colombia provides a small source of artisanal gold (remember those gold-panning scenes? This is where it still happens) which is used by some jewellers, while others use recycled metal from second-hand jewellery. Second-hand gems might also be considered, and at least one British jeweller is looking into diamond sources in Canada. This whole issue will be re-explored when the time comes to try and find some ethical, affordable wedding rings, but until then possible sources of ethical new engagement rings are April Doubleday in Cornwall ( or Cred in Chichester and at stockists around the UK ( Both also do mail order. In the USA, will remake old rings to your specifications and will try and connect you up with ethical jewellers who can meet your requirements.
So what did I do? Well, having decided that I'd reserve my major ring-hunting efforts (and budget) for wedding rings, I just sort of kept an eye out in the windows of second-hand jewellers. I came across one or two possibilities that didn't quite hit the mark, until in a spot of serendipity, waiting for a late friend, I came across something in a small shop in the god-awful heap of South London concrete I grew up in. Three garnets in pinkish (ie nice cheap, impure 9-carat) gold, it was made in 1906 in Chester – the year my beloved house was built and not far from Sunny Manchester where that house is. Perfect. Of course it needed resizing, so it's currently in the possession of my mum. I hope she's keeping it safe...

The genesis of the Ethical Wedding

I was never really one of those girls who was too fussed about getting married. I certainly never dreamed about big white dresses - I'm too short and untidy for that kind of thing; I'd just end up looking like a meringue that had been dragged through a hedge backwards. And my innate cynicism meant that I spent most of my teens and twenties making sweeping statements about marriage as An Institution of The Capitalist State. I may have been right.
So when Overgrown Antipodean, my boyfriend and cohabitee, popped the question in a way that was more romantic than I ever though he was capable of being, I had to start thinking quickly. When you get engaged, EVERYONE wants to know what you're planning, and 'Ummmm.... it seems like quite a long way away...???' doesn't seem to be an acceptable answer.
And then of course there's the fact that I've spent most of my professional life researching all the evil and unpleasant things that capitalism, corporations and consumerism have wrought on the world. If I'm going to have a really special day on my Big Day, then a chain hotel suite, rings of questionable origin, foodservice company meals, industrially-grown flowers and the tidal wave of overpriced tat, manufactured in China by underpaid and overworked ununionised labour, that an entire industry really wants to sell you are not getting a look-in. Not if I can help it.
This blog will, at least on current intentions, be the record of how I try to avoid all this, and still have what I hope will be a lovely wedding day, and hopefully a way of sharing ideas and horrors with other women trying to do it differently...

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