London's burning with eco-friendly barbecues

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Indy Lifestyle Online
London-made charcoal could be barbecuing steaks in the capital next summer. Plans are being made to increase production of the environmentally friendly fuel and sell it through garages and garden centres.

Environmentalists are lobbying local authorities to get wood trimmed from trees in public spaces converted into charcoal. That would solve a problem for London councils of what to do with waste timber, much of which is buried in landfill sights. Ron Melville, conservator with the Forestry Authority in the Thames area, wants a London charcoal company set up to market the product.

He believes many consumers would opt for local charcoal, given the choice. British charcoal is very high quality, you need far less of it than imported charcoal, and you can light it with a match instead of having to use firelighters and fuel.

'Although it would be more expensive it would go a lot further and would work out cheaper. Also, people would know they were using waste wood rather than contributing to the destruction of rainforests and endangered habitats.

The charcoal market is increasing by about 15,000 tonnes a year. Domestic producers have been slow to recognise demand and imported charcoal accounts for 96 per cent of the 60,000 tonnes burned in Britain annually. Mr Melville hopes the British product could account for half of the charcoal used in London within a few years.

David Shepherd, the celebrated wildlife artist, can throw away his Travelcard. He has recently taken delivery of his own Routemaster bus from London Transport and has used it for jaunts to London's West End shopping centres. But this is not an option open to the average London commuter.

Shepherd earned his bus in return for a portrait of the Routemaster which was commissioned to the celebrate its 40th anniversary next month. His vehicle, which is temporarily housed at a London Transport garage in Acton, has been customised with green paint and decorated with the rhinos, tigers and elephants which make up the logo of the David Shepherd Conservation Foundation.

His painting features the Routemaster in the full glory of its traditional red livery as it crosses Westminster Bridge. It is worth about pounds 20,000 and will hang in the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

The anniversary will be marked on 24 September by changing displays of buses in Covent Garden Piazza and some 200 Routemasters from all over Britain will converge on the Royal Victoria Dock.

Anyone can drive a redundant bus, Shepherd said. It is not necessary to possess an HGV licence.

For the first few times at the wheel, he was accompanied by a London Transport driving instructor. 'I drove the bus down Oxford Street. It was dead easy. They are a pleasure to drive and virtually automatic.

'Going round the corners is a bit tricky. But when I looked back I didn't see anyone standing on one leg.

The artist took to the wheel for the journey from the museum in Covent Garden to the garage in Acton, where the bus is being stored before it is moved to Lancaster, where it will tour the country promoting Shepherd's wildlife causes.

The red Routemaster is eulogised by Londoners and tourists alike. Famous in London folklore for arriving three at a time, the bus's jolting, juddering motion is tolerated by bag laden shoppers who battle to keep their feet and lauded by late risers, who can fling themselves aboard after missing the bus at its stop.

The prototype appeared in 1954 and the buses were constructed for ten years from 1958. It was the last bus to be wholly designed by London Transport for its own use and it was supposed to have a lifespan of 17 years.

Since then, many of the buses have changed their livery as a result of government initiatives to privatise the bus service. Last year, to the chagrin of many, some Routemasters changed colour from red to the maroon and cream of Kentish Bus, which leased a handful of buses to run on route 19, one of the most high profile routes, running through Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Piccadilly.

The Routemaster was designed at the Chiswick bus works by a team. Bill Durrant, London Transport's chief mechanical engineer, was the man recognised as getting it launched.

From the beginning the bus featured independent front suspension, power steering and automatic transmission. Its body was lightweight and used aluminium panelling.

The driver's cab controls and indicators consist of a huge red indicator switch, a long handbrake, horn button, speedometer and steering wheel. To start the bus, which has a front engine, a chrome lever at floor level is pulled and a roof mounted switch is activated. The controls are very similar to those used in trolleybuses, so that when they were replaced by the Routemaster drivers could be retrained quickly.

Telling of the cameraderie among the London bus fraternity, Shepherd said: 'I was going slowly down Knightsbridge when a bus conductor leaned out from the platform of his bus and yelled over 'Can I have details of your foundation?'.

The artist said: 'I have often asked people what it is about London buses that they admire. One woman, who I was chatting to at the museum, summed it up in saying 'They look so friendly'.

Shepherd lives in an Elizabethan farmhouse and admits to a prejudice against contemporary artefacts. 'Today's designs are getting more and more functional. They have no character. A lot of feeling went into the design of older things. Now everything is built to throw away.

Shepherd, a transport buff, is the founder and chairman of the East Somerset Railway, based in Cranmore, which is a registered charity. He developed a passion for collecting buses and trains more than 20 years ago after a successful exhibition in New York in 1967 where buyers snapped up most of his pieces on display.

'At the time British Rail were throwing away steam engines at the rate of madness. I rang up BR and asked them if I could buy two. Both of them, The Black Prince, which I bought for pounds 3,000 and The Green Knight, are fully operational on my railway, he said.

Next year he plans to ship over from South Africa a 1948 train weighing 210 tons. As with the bus, he will pay for it with one of his paintings.

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