Archive for November, 2010


Consumer Power?

Have you noticed that food shopping is becoming increasingly difficult for the ethically minded?  We might now be aware of consumer power but, as we know, with power comes responsibility.  It’s your money – spend it wisely.  So now every decision seems fraught with a thousand considerations.  First, where to shop.  Support the local community?  Buy at the Farmers’ Market?  Choose a supermarket with mutual status in the hope that it really is as ethical as it makes out to be?  

But that’s only the start of it.  As you fill your trolley (or rustic basket), you’ve still got to check each product’s country of origin, and then weigh up the pros and cons of food-miles v economic support to developing countries, or whether you stick to traditional, in season, British, produce).  Then there’s organic. Then there’s free-range – a fairly simple choice for eggs, but what about the actual chicken. You sat through all Hugh F-W’s programmes, so now you wrestle with your conscience over whether to pay twice as much for free-range, or some kind of half way house where the chickens might not ever see the light of day but still have space to move.   Then there’s over-packaging considerations (glass and cardboard – easily recycled, some plastics yes, some not).  And that’s before considering healthy eating, calories, e-numbers, fat content and all that stuff.  

And maybe it’s a luxury in any case to be able to consider any of these things – because, (to use the vocab of the media) “in the current economic climate” maybe the first consideration for many is still price.  But the problem is, if we, the consumers, make it all about price, that’s the only thing the supermarkets will care about too – and who can blame them?

Bought a paper log maker this morning from a charity shop – in its original packaging – doesn’t look as if it’s been used.  An unwanted present?  Or the evidence of good intentions not quite coming to fruition?

Having done a bit of research, accepted wisdom would suggest I’ve made this purchase at the wrong time of year – I should have got one in the summer months, so my paper logs would have been able to dry out properly in the hot summer sunshine….  But, hey, I’ll try them out in the airing cupboard, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll save major production until next summer!

As a purchase, it ticks all the boxes for me – a) it’ll help us provide our own (free!) fuel for our open fire and log burner, b) it’ll mean we can put to good use all the waste paper we currently recycle – and as we all know, whilst recycling is great, re-using is even better, c) now when I treat myself to a Sunday paper and don’t get through it all, I won’t feel guilty at the purchase, and d) if, as would appear to be the case with the original owner, I never get round to using the thing, I can still feel that it wasn’t a pointless purchase, because at least I’ve made a donation to charity in the process.

That’s the kind of consumerism even I rather like!

What Price Freedom?

We have recently acquired three new hens – replacements for two which were slaughtered by a fox.  It’s not the first time we’ve lost hens to foxes, but we’ve noticed recently it’s happening more often during the daytime – surprising when we’re around a fair bit, and we have a dog who lives in a run outside. 

In the summer time, our hens have a coop and an enclosed run, but in the winter, when there’s no danger of them eating all the seedlings or young plants in the veg plot, we have tended to let them have the run of the garden, only shutting them up at night.  This seemed to work well for a while, but we’ve now had two or three day-time fox attacks over a relatively sort length of time.  Thus our new hens are now shut up in the run for their own safety.

We are torn.  They look fed up in the run.  But we feel responsible for their safety, and so think it best.  If it were left to the chickens to decide, I wonder if they would prefer their freedom, along with the associated risk, or if they themselves would choose the safety of the run? 

It’s a fine dilemma: we are brought up to be sensible, to take responsibility, to undertake risk assessments – but make life too safe and secure and it becomes hardly worth living. 

If you’re a chicken though, you don’t even get to make your own choice!

Work from home!

Had to go to a meeting in London yesterday.  Overheard a conversation between two women at the meeting who obviously both lived in London – they were discussing how they had to force themselves to DO SOMETHING in the evenings, else it felt like they just got up, went to work, came home, had something to eat, went to bed. 

Of those of us who had travelled from other parts of the country, there were various stories of cancelled and late trains, and tube lines closed…

In the paper there was an article about average commuting times falling (average commute is 47 mins), but apparently commuting still costs £337m of working time every day.

But perhaps the cost to one’s sanity and quality of life is far greater.

In business, they say time is money.  In life, I think the opposite – money is time.  The idea of working flat-out for say, 48 weeks of the year, in order to earn yourself 4 weeks holiday, seems grim to me.  I’d rather a more even balance to life; more time on a weekly basis, not all of it crammed into 28 days.  If you can afford to work part-time, or take a sabbatical, or sign up for a course, I think you buy yourself some perspective.   If you can somehow dovetail your working life with your home life, so much the better.  In the modern age, we should be able to do more work from home.  And with talk of redundancies and reduced hours in many organisations, some people will be forced to spend less time at work.  Will this skewing of the work/life balance mean we come to appreciate the life part more?  Or will we be always focused on the loss of income?

Better still of course, is when “work” is part of your life – when it contributes to enriching it, when it is a seemless part of your existence (presumably how some small farmers feel – fully involved in the cycle of life – life and work as two halves of the whole), when it fits in with the way you are as a person, with your values, with the way you want to direct your energies and enthusiasms, and the money you earn is of secondary importance.   How many of us can say that?

As Rosamund Pilcher says in The Shell Seekers, money is “only important if you haven’t got any.  And because it buys lovely things; not fast cars or fur coats or cruises to Hawaii or any of that rubbish, but real, lovely things, like independence and freedom and dignity. And learning. And time.”

De-junking!

De-junking your life was really popular a little while back, wasn’t it?  There were loads of magazine articles about clearing out your wardrobe and getting rid of any item you’d not worn for a year, throwing out any ornaments which marred the classically beige colour scheme of your lounge, and so on.  And I think there is indeed something in it.  The fewer items you own, the fewer things you have to find a home for, keep clean, or replace.  As someone who’s inherently untidy, resents cleaning, and hates shopping, these are all plusses.

But I think the articles missed one very important point – how much fun is to be had in the process of de-junking!  I cleared out our loft the other day – and as well as a lot of spiders, dust, and old cardboard boxes, I found a lot of memories.  For every item that you happily add to the “charity shop” pile, there’s another item which takes you back to your childhood or misspent adolescence, and yet another which you’d completely forgotten about. One thing is absolutely clear – you can’t get rid of everything or you risk living in a stale show home, bereft of any personal history.  Without life’s hoarders, we wouldn’t have antiques, exhibits for museums, and goodies for bric-a-brac shops.

I’m smug with the good deeds I’ve done – several bags have gone to the charity shops, my clothes drawers are not rammed full to bursting, but run smoothly on their runners. With everything in order, I feel a sense of ease and weightlessness (is this the beginning of OCD, I wonder?). 

Now, since nature abhors a vacuum, the challenge will be to ensure I don’t just acquire more junk!  But of course, junk, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder….

The Intoxication of Speed

This morning in my local supermarket I was approached by a woman who wanted to demonstrate the new scanner gadget which allows the customer to scan their own goods instead of waiting in the queue for the cashier to do it at the checkout.  I’m afraid I was rather hostile and said, “But what about the workers?”  The woman said, “Ah, no – no-one will be losing their jobs as a result of this.”  I said, “But they will eventually, won’t they?”  I’m afraid I didn’t stick around to hear more.  I felt a bit guilty for being short with her – after all, she was only doing her job – but other people were ignoring her completely, which was worse.

As I did my shopping, I pondered why I was so against these particular gadgets when I had just quite happily used “pay-at-pump” at the petrol station.  But the two are, I think, sufficiently distinct – at the petrol station, there’s only one guy behind the counter anyway, and he still has a valid role serving those customers who buy sundry goods from the shop or who want to pay by cash.  But at the supermarket, surely some cashiers will lose their jobs if these hand-held scanners take off.

Another reason for my unwillingness to embrace this new technology is a mild sense of resentment that, as a customer using the scanner, I would being doing the cashier’s job.  I recognise this as an opinion my father would probably hold, which is depressing in itself – it’s no use, try as you might, you can’t help turning into your parents. 

But I think what really depressed me about the whole thing was the way the woman said it would save me time.  Granted, I would be the first to admit time is precious, and spending it in the supermarket is to be avoided where possible, but honestly, shaving off the odd minute or two doesn’t sound like much of a deal. I hope time is never so short that it becomes impossible to stand for a moment in a queue and pass the time of day with other shoppers or have a joke with the cashier.  After all, isn’t that the sort of thing which makes us human?

The short answer is, it’s about being green, but not just green! 

Slightly Turquoise stands for everyday environmental ethics, but it’s also about creativity, education, self-sufficiency, and pleasure.

Last year I read How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson, and whilst I might not have agreed with everything in the book, I found myself for the most part in tune with his philosophy.  I’ve long been interested in green issues, but Tom’s book was not just about living a more simple (and ethically sound) lifestyle, but also about quality of life, creativity and simplicity, and getting back to the essence of life. 

Since reading the book, I’ve done quite a bit of thinking and the following would sum up what, for me, life should be:

  • simple
  • stress free
  • sustainable
  • satisfying

There’s probably plenty of other words I could add to the list, but I think four is a workable number for starters! 

I’ve also been inspired by William Morris – both by his beautiful art and craft designs, and by his philosophy on life.  I’ve always liked his maxim that you should never have in your house any object that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.  With a minor alteration, this could apply to life too – do not spend your time doing anything which you do not know to be useful or believe to be fun!

For more info on Tom’s philosophy of life,or the work of the William Morris Society, click on the links.

For more posts on any of the above issues, and probably a few more besides, keep visiting Slightly Turquoise!