“Why do you have to do it?”
Sometimes the stress is on the “Why?” and sometimes it’s on the “you” but it’s a question that gets flung at me time and again. The vision of one’s mother, Chief Cook & Bottlewasher, grubbing about happily in steaming piles of compost, or one’s much-loved daughter hauling loads of almost-scrap iron around instead of pushing a pen, or one’s wife fending off hordes of ravening secondhand dealers in order to get to other people’s rubbish first, is evidently a cross my nearest & dearest sometimes find hard to bear. And to answer it I need to shine a light back into the dim and distant past…
I am lucky enough to have been born into a different world to the one I inhabit now. A world that was truly greener, mostly kinder and far, far less complex than the less-than-shining future we’ve sold our souls to the marketing men for. I grew up in rural Devon at a time when there were still a few working horses, where people lived nearby where they worked, where farmers still knew many of their animals by name and the skies were clear blue from hills to sea, not dirty brown round the edges. Where when the great snow came and no supplies could get through to us for days, most people had enough in their gardens and larders to keep going without major hardship – though you can have enough of porridge! Where sayings like “waste not, want not” meant more than a trip to the bottlebank, and blackberrying & nutting round the hedgerows were amongst the highlights of our everyday year. It certainly wasn’t all sweetness & light, and I’m well aware that I had a child’s-eye view of it, but there was an abundance all around us that our society seems to be hell-bent on capturing and confining to a supermarket shelf, with a price on its head.
And jumble sales… not car-boot sales, nor Ebay, nor even Freecycle can compete with the happy memories of tables piles high with people’s rejects, 99.99% trash but .01% clear pure shining treasure! I still have, and wear, pieces of jewellery gleaned from the tables and haggled for keenly with my hard-won pocketmoney. Mostly not valuable in financial terms, but invaluable to me; there’s something right about taking on ownership of something that has been valued by someone else, but has somehow lost its value to them, for whatever reason. Odd pieces of old lace, bright and bubbly tablecloths, elegant shawls and draperies, which were once chosen and loved and used, doze safely amongst cedar mothballs in my workshop. As do tools that were once imagined, then designed, then made, by craftsperson or by machine, with care and attention, using resources and ideas that have been gleaned by hands and minds clear across the world, only to be rejected, some never even used. But at least they weren’t thrown straight into some slimy pit, to degrade and break down and release dangerous gases to heat our fragile atmosphere.
So to me there has always seemed to be a rightness about re-using now-unwanted things, sometimes for the purpose for which they were designed, but sometimes for something their original makers and owners would never have dreamt of. And when I see things on the last stage of their journey to the landfill or the melting crucible that are still fit for their original purpose, or useful for something else, and I know of people elsewhere in desperate need of those exact items, I despair of the society that thinks it’s OK just to throw them “away” .
I’m also resistant to the idea that you are what you buy, or that our lives should be dedicated to earning more and more money to buy more and more stuff to clutter up our increasingly-tiny homes or to throw away as soon as it’s deemed out-of-date. Or that kids are deprived if you don’t buy them everything they want, as soon as they want it; IMHO kids are deprived when you don’t have time to listen to them and be with them, as they will be if you’re spending every waking moment slaving to keep them in mobile phones or clearing up after them. No disrespect intended to those who genuinely have to work all hours to keep a roof over their family’s heads, food on the table, and their kids in essentials, but a fair few people seem to have lost sight of what “essential” actually means, including many, if not most, of our movers, shakers and would-be masters.
So for me practical recycling is an act of subversion against a world that seems to me to have gone horribly wrong. It’s a small spoke in the works of globalisation and a tiny thorn in the flesh of the military-industrial complex. A defiant two-fingered salute to the economists who believe that we must “consume” more and more, faster and faster, or die for lack of “growth” like rats racing on a wheel that goes nowere. It’s the first stitch in a glorious crazy-patchwork friendship quilt, to which we can all contribute, to help keep us warm and cosy and brighten all our lives; one of the first green shoots of spring in a cottage garden that costs very little and bursts with beauty and abundance with nothing more than a light touch here and there, and the first clarion notes that herald the start of a heart-stirring symphony… or maybe a call to arms?