2018. Farewell or Good Riddance?

2018 is drawing to an end. Here in the UK I would imagine that most would say it hasn’t been their finest year. Personal lives differ, of course but unless you’ve spent the year locked in an underground bunker without access to media you’d have to have formed some kind of opinion about our squidgy little country’s disarray; about the mountainous mess it finds itself in.

There were a few pockets of hope here and there. A large manufacturer of crisps [that’s ‘chips’ to US friends] is offering to recycle its discarded packets. That is if you are prepared to get into your car and travel to your nearest crisp packet recycling point, which may be some miles away. So far I haven’t noticed fewer crumpled crisp packets amongst the litter on the streets or in the countryside, but hey-it’s a start.

What else? In India homosexuality is no longer a crime, which is positive-although no doubt discrimination will continue for some time in less enlightened communities.

The EU has banned insecticides that are harmful to bees, which is great-except that we, of course, that idiotic little scrap of a marginal country that is the UK has opted to get divorced from the most progressive collective the world has ever seen. Presumably UK bees can continue to be poisoned to death with abandon then…

A fair number of people [around the world] have begun to eat less red meat in response to the impact beef and lamb farming has on the planet. Here at Chez Nous, Husband and I are making our own attempt at less meat consumption, trying not to consume it more than half the time. This, however is made more tricky by my conversion to dairy-free produce, making cheese-based meals a no-no. A ‘Free-From’ cheese sauce mix was deemed an unmitigated failure. A visit to Pizza Express to try a vegan pizza, however yielded a not-half-bad result. You win some…..etc. The Australians, apparently are the greatest meat consumers, followed by Americans, so maybe we British are not all bad…

Women began to stand up against abusive behaviour [Hooray!], renewable energy became the most economical, a few species of animal returned from the brink of extinction.

Am I alone in thinking this is not the most impressive list of positives? If I were to begin on the gargantuan wave towards populism, the evil, cynical assassinations, the oppressive cruelty that still exists, the gung-ho waste of resources and widening gap between obscenely rich and desperate poor that persist there would be little worth celebrating.

So here comes a new year. You have to hope, because there’s not a lot else to do. And so I wish you, readers the happiest and most optimistic of New Years. And see you in 2019!

 

 

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Plastic Angst

I am ancient enough to remember Bakelite. It had been around for a while before the 50s but by the time I’d emerged it had become commonplace around the house, used for radios, toys and homeware.
A little later there was Melamine and its spin-off ‘Melaware’. My father took to these products with enthusiasm because at the time, light, unbreakable Melaware was a marvellous replacement for many of the metal and enamel items he packed into our modest, family car to go camping. Plastic was a wonder material. Homeware, toys, implements, storage boxes [‘Tupperware’], games and upholstery and much more besides were all reproduced in plastic. But back then we still had recyclable containers. We used glass milk bottles, glass soda bottles [which we children could capitalise on by returning them], glass jars, tins. We bought fish and chips wrapped in paper [newspaper on the outside], food items in waxed paper or paper bags.
Fifty years on and plastic has become the devil; the demon we must eradicate from our lives. To be precise it is single use plastic we must reject. Having been in love with the wonder product plastic for over a hundred years we are now faced with a monster of our own making. Plastic is overrunning the world, forming gigantic, unwanted islands in our oceans and lying suspended in our seas ready to ensnare fish and mammals; or clogging up our beaches, rivers and countryside, filtering itself into systems by breaking down into minute particles that can be detected even in the expensive water that people are foolish enough to buy in our supermarkets [packaged in single-use plastic bottles].
Faced with all this, plus the fact that China no longer wishes to accept our garbage, what are we to do? We are willing to change, yes. We would like to reduce our single-use plastic waste. But how can we do it? Plastic packaging abounds in the supermarkets. Unlike trendy London liberal-land we don’t have innovative green stores flogging organic turnips wrapped in jute. There are no entrepreneurial milkmen trundling round at five o’clock in the morning. As far as I can see the supermarket does not stock milk in glass bottles either.
And even if all these anti-plastic alternatives were available here in the provinces everyone would need a six-figure salary to avail themselves of their facilities. Going plastic-free does not come cheap. Some years ago a forward-thinking initiative opened stores called ‘Weigh and Save’, selling dry goods loose for customers to fill their own containers but they closed, perhaps due to public distaste for contamination from grubby fingers. It can’t, however be beyond the wit of designers to prevent direct access to dispensing machines.
We do our best. On the rare occasions when we buy a ‘takeaway’ meal we re-use the containers. We don’t buy take away coffees, preferring to sit down in a coffee shop with a china cup. We dutifully sort our waste, recycle, re-use. But expecting us to go single-use plastic free really is beyond us [for now].

Personal Effects

I can never remember my parents buying any furniture, or visiting a furniture shop. The things we had-tables, chairs, beds, ‘suites’-they seemed to have been there always, moving house when we did, packed away into a removal van and taken out at the next house; then fitted into whatever space there was. A number of pieces were inherited, accumulated over the years. My mother could say who they’d belonged to: ‘That’s Great Aunty Mabel’s cabinet’ and so on.

Back then you used whatever you’d been given without a thought of renewing or even choosing something. This approach continued as I entered adult life and moved from renting places [where you put up with whatever eclectic mix the landlord had assembled] into home ownership.

Later, becoming single again and beginning home ownership once more, but with less cash the luxury of choice was tempered by limited funds. I could choose, but from whatever was in the skip, at the council recycling depot or if feeling flush-at the junk shop and the small ads. Each acquisition felt like a triumph, whether coming home from the council rubbish dump with some brass coat hooks on a pine base or discovering a French, inlaid walnut bed outside a second-hand shop.

Pairing up with Husband meant pairing up the belongings, too. Collapsing two households full of effects into one is a tricky business when both householders have struggled to amass said items in the first place. There were lively discussions, debates and compromises. A number of fiercely contested pieces followed us into the home we bought together-happily a stomping great house that was capable of accommodating every treasured, hard-fought-over object, whether treasured or detested.

Waiting almost six months for the next move-a move that almost didn’t happen-we shed items in a gradual purge, resulting in a refreshing, minimalistic environment containing two camping chairs and a TV. This was an echo of my house as a new singleton, albeit a temporary phase in the limbo between homes. We’d agreed that the new house was neither suited to our collected contents nor did it contain the right spaces and therefore we cast caution into the teeth of the gale and got rid.

I let my fingers do the walking [remember that old ‘Yellow Pages’ ad?] with varying degrees of success. A set of six, white, Charles Eames style dining chairs arrived as a set of five. ‘Who buys five?’ I asked Monsieur Customer Support, who agreed it would be unusual. Husband is something of a traditionalist when it comes to furniture and was [and continues to be] less enthusiastic about my choice, although I conceded over the selection of the TV housing. Compromises continue to be made.

Like the house, we haven’t mourned the passing of our old belongings. It is, after all just ‘stuff’. But a couple of boxes still lurk under the bed in a guest room. They contain ‘stuff’ from the old place, ‘stuff’ we don’t know what to do with; ‘stuff’ that may, perhaps get passed on to the next generation-so they can ditch it…