Despite striving and working hard to improve life with consumables and technology for the last 50 years, I am now preparing to give it all up, well most of it. The real luxuries of life, time and quality, cannot always be bought.
To live ‘the dream’ will require us to live more frugal lives. The choice though will enable us to escape the restraints of working to live, to living to have life. Our desire is to be more self-sufficient, non-reliant on technology, be responsible for our impact on the environment and above all have a sense of achievement and self worth. Escaping the entrapments and stresses of modern day living is such a cliché but this will be our reality.
So, can we retreat from the 21st century? What advances help with the burdens in life? What will I really miss? Where will I draw the line?
Jen and Bens ‘romantic’ vision of bygone eras took me back to how things were in my childhood, 50 years ago. So much has changed even since then, technology has advanced so much, is there alien intervention? Oh, I digress. This is the reality that I remember: being number 4, of 7 children, working class, occasionally hungry, occasional little treats.
Bath night was always Sunday evenings; cold bathroom but full of steam, p.j’s warming on the fire guard, and then watching Sunday Night at the London Palladium on a tiny black and white TV. I have a very vague memory of being bathed in the kitchen sink, I was probably around 5 years old and the sink would have been an old Belfast type.
We had no central heating only a coal fire in the living room, later replaced by a gas fire. The kitchen was heated by the cooker, mom cooked meals from scratch every day (or leftovers, she was 17 when world war II broke out). The kettle was permanently on the gas hob, making tea for the many visitors who popped in – neighbours, milkman, insurance man – so British! The net curtains used to stick to the windows in the bedrooms, I’d get dressed underneath the bed covers. Quick wash of the face with a damp flannel, that was it until Sunday night again.
We wore our clothes for a few days, until they were visibly dirty or smelly, we didn’t have the vast hordes of clothes we tend to have now. Wash day was always on a Monday. Mom had a twin tub, very physical manhandling wet washing into the spinner to rinse, and the task took all day. Can you imagine the delight of doing all that at the press of a button?
I remember my first dishwasher – oh what joy! As children we lived in a large council house with a big kitchen, every surface was always covered in washing up. It was a constant ‘Forth bridge’ effect. Of course it never occurred to me to do any, no wonder my poor mom had raw hands. Does this account for my obsession of clear surfaces and minimalism?
We didn’t have ready meals or a freezer, although I do remember the first ‘Vespa’ meals, dehydrated gloop of foreign food – i.e. Chinese or curry. The fridge had a small freezer compartment at the top, usually stuffed with peas and fish fingers. Occasionally, mom would make ice lollies from squash. Ice cream was something you had on holiday or when the ice cream van came singing. Oh the panic rush of scrabbling for money, then running out to find where the bugger was.
A telephone was installed in the house in the mid 1960’s, before then it was the red public phone box 5-10 minute walk away. We had our first colour TV around the same time; Dad must have got a good job. Children’s programmes consisted of about 2 hours a day and broadcast abruptly stopped well before midnight, and there were only 2 channels. Our entertainment was to be out all day long, feral, with a bottle of water and a sugar sandwich (white bread and butter).
Menstruation that was fun! You were literally ‘on the rag’ horrible expression but that’s what you used. Ripped up bits of old towels or nappies fastened to your knickers with a safety pin.
Before the throw away world went mad, people had other ways to get by. Before kitchen roll, you had floor cloths and dish cloths, boiled regular – in a saucepan on the hob. Before tissues, we had cotton handkerchiefs with a little embroidery in the corner. Again, boiled in the saucepan. One of my first ‘girls’ holidays as a teenager with my cousins, we boiled our knickers, but forgot the pan was on and they boiled dry. Before cling film, you put leftovers in a bowl with a plate on top and wrapped sandwiches in greaseproof paper. Before Andrex there was Izal, say no more and I have used newspaper.
I didn’t have a microwave at my previous house so won’t miss that, although they are good at sterilising washing up sponges. They’ll have to go into the saucepan as well.
We are not looking to suffer hardships – quite the contrary. I can warm my p.j.s in front of the wood burner, we’ll have a washing machine powered by the sun, the Rayburn will provide heating and hot water in winter and the endless boiling kettle. We’ll eat wholesome food grown/slaughtered and cooked by us and know exactly what is in it. We will have time to make toiletries that do not contaminate the environment. Composting toilets that do not need chemicals and an ‘ice cave’ to store produce, but more importantly vin. And if Jen and Ben want to spend the evening in the bath in front of the fire, they can! We will have all day every day.
So, will I have déjà vu? My childhood was happy, but then I didn’t know any different. Reminiscing has made me think of how my mother coped and how hard her life was; she had no time for herself. Despite that, she had great spirit, and always had time for others, time to sit and listen, over a cuppa. Perhaps she knew the secret, the important things in life. Am I turning into a new age hippie? No, just a responsible, accountable fulfilled adult.
N.B. for those too young to remember, Izal toilet paper was hard and shiny. Found in school and public toilets, completely useless.