Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

January 25, 2008

The environmental JAMster

From The Independent

Why comedian Marcus Brigstocke spent £100,000 on an eco-makeover

When Marcus Brigstocke moved to a family home in Wandsworth, he decided to go eco-crazy – only without the 'look at me' wind turbine

Interview by Rosanna Greenstreet
Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Marcus Brigstocke, 34, is a regular on BBC TV and radio. He spent several years as the 'angry young man' on the 'The Now Show', has made three series of 'Giles Wemmbley-Hogg Goes Off' and of 'The Museum of Everything' and hosts a weekly BBC4 satire show, 'The Late Edition'. His DVD 'Planet Corduroy' is on sale now

Two years ago, we moved into a 1930s four-bedroom semi in Wandsworth. The people who lived here before built an extension with huge glass windows looking on to the garden. The extension is a lovely open area – it's where we have the kitchen, sitting room and dining room. So even though the garden's quite small, the house is a decent size.

The kids – Alfie, two, and Emily, five – are on the top floor and have their own bathroom. My wife, Sophie, and I are on the middle floor, where there's also a spare bedroom that doubles as a massage studio, because Sophie's a massage therapist. Also on the ground floor is a separate playroom for the kids, and there's a loo and a corridor with more cupboard space than you could possibly imagine.

The main thing we've done since we got here is making everything green. It's an agonising financial experience. We've spent about a hundred grand. But that's not just on going green – a lot of that is making the house exactly how we wanted. We decided to wait until we could afford to do the whole thing, and then get builders in for the minimum amount of time. We thought they would be here for two months, but they came in August and they're still here.

Of course the thing you really want when you're eco-ing your home is a wind turbine on the roof that says to everybody: "Look how virtuous we are!" It's the David Cameron approach to going green. The reality is that you have to change your lightbulbs, and put little silver screens behind all the radiators to push the heat into the room – ie, nothing that anybody will notice. Unfortunately, going eco is not really supported by the Government. You pay VAT on having your windows double-glazed as a luxury, when the only reason we've done it is to use less energy.

All the materials we've used have been meticulously researched. The kitchen's been completely redone with wood from sustainable sources. We gave the old kitchen away via Freecycle, which is brilliant if you want to get rid of anything, from a minidisc player to a complete kitchen.

As for the paints in the house, I don't know what chemicals they did and didn't have in them, but they have the lowest impact on the environment. Our style is Wandsworth neutral or Nappy Valley cream. When you've kids doing fingerpainting and bringing home handprints every single day, you really don't want a huge amount of brightly coloured, expensive wallpaper.

We've aimed to make everything as simple as possible. We've a triple-bin system for recycling, compost and waste. In the playroom, the light switch was behind the door, and we'd leave it on all day – so we moved the switch, and now it's second nature to make sure that if someone's not in the room, all the lights are off. In the playroom there's a fireplace with a chimney balloon. If you have open chimneys, you're blasting whatever heat you have straight up the chimney. You inflate a special balloon, push it up the chimney and finish inflating it through a special tube. At Christmas if we want to light the fire, we can take the balloon out – it couldn't be simpler.

We don't have a freakish fridge, just a well-insulated one that uses a low amount of energy and is a fridge/ freezer so we're not powering two separate units. All the sockets are accessible. They don't scream, "There are sockets everywhere!" but they're easy to switch off. The dishwasher switches off completely, so it's not on a standby setting. The only thing that stays on permanently is the Sky Plus box. I daren't switch that off – can you imagine the chaos?

We are in a privileged position: I've had a good couple of years with work and we've been able to spend on things like having as many of the light switches separated as possible, so we only have on what lighting we need. We have solar panels, and are having photovoltaic panels fitted as soon as we can get hold of them, but the demand is very high. They are full-on energy-producing panels – they will run your lights for you and contribute to the national grid. You can get photovoltaic panels in the UK but the waiting lists are long. Also, the Government has set a cap on grants for installing them, at the same time as saying, "Yes, we are taking climate change seriously!" I am getting my panels in from a Chinese plant, the only one in the world with a really solid eco-record for making them. A lot of these things you buy thinking, "Yes, that's the right thing to do", and then you find out that the carbon footprint caused by construction and transport makes the action useless.

I hope we'll be here for long enough to make it all pay. We were living next to Battersea Park before. I've always loved the park, but it's dogshit central. One of the things that turns me into a grumpy old man is seeing people let their dogs crap all over the place. We had Emily while we were there, and the house was big enough, but only just. Basically, for every mile that you move further from central London, you get an extra foot; so I think we won ourselves three extra feet by moving to Wandsworth.


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