Friday, 18 December 2009

The Green Goddess

The UN Climate Change Summit ends today. Its goal is to prevent the planet’s temperature rising by a further, apparently catastrophic, 2 degrees centigrade. Looking out of my window, as the snow continues to fall, it sometimes seems as if we are entering a new ice-age. That was certainly the fear when I was young, after which there seemed to be years of sweltering summers. It always struck me as odd that office staff have a legal right to stop working if temperatures plunge below a certain level but the reverse does not hold true. I had to shift for myself in one overheated office, unlike the pampered computer mainframe, provided with its own air conditioning. The IT team was similarly privileged. They were not compelled to wear stifling formal business attire. One IT guy tested this freedom from sartorial norms to its limits by coming into work dressed in flip flops, singlets, shorts and nothing else.

I devised my own green solution to dealing with a baking hot office. As my legs were concealed behind a modesty panel and my back faced the window, on especially humid days, I would place a large plastic washing up bowl, filled with cold water, and a towel beside it under my desk. I would then settle down to work, whilst all the time secretly paddling my feet in the cool water. If I needed to leave my desk, I would whip my feet out of the bowl and quickly dry them on the towel before slipping into my discarded shoes, left within easy reach. That was in the days before members of staff had their own computers on their desk. Consequently, there was no risk of my accidentally electrocuting myself. Had I done so, it would have provided a permanent if somewhat drastic solution to feeling too hot.

In retrospect, my childhood carbon footprint seems very small by today’s standards. At home we grew most of our fruit and vegetables, such as apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, onions, tomatoes, peas, runner beans, potatoes, turnips, Brussels sprouts, swede, cauliflower, marrow, herbs and flowers for the house. Every year we would drive to the Tiptree fruit farms in Essex for the day and buy the fruit we harvested off the bushes. As a small child, it used to be a “family” joke that I ought to have been weighed before I started plucking fruit and then again afterwards, as more fruit found its way into my stomach than into my basket. Likewise bread, cakes and puddings were all home-made. I would go along to help choose the fabric and sewing patterns from the shops, which were then turned into dresses on the portable sewing machine, kept under the side board in its hard case when not in use. The adult women seemed as equally adept at knitting jumpers and cardigans as running up a dress on a sewing machine.  Knitting and needlework were not skills that ever came naturally to me. I remember having to knit a woollen square at school to form part of a blanket for refugees. Because of my complete inability to get to grips with tension, my square rapidly turned into a triangle and I gave up knitting as a lost cause.

In those more frugal times, you wore something until you outgrew it. There was no nonsense about jettisoning an item of clothing for no other reason than that that you were bored with it.  Even today I own and wear clothes I first bought decades ago and am more likely to replace clothes with vintage items from e-bay than from off the high street.

At school, instead of disposal pens we used styluses fashioned out of wood with a metal nib to write with. When I was an ink-monitor I had to fill all the ink-wells set in our wooden desks from a special bottle kept in the cupboard at the back of the classroom. To encourage our physical development, we were given small bottles of milk to drink in the morning break but no refrigerator to store them in. As a result, in the summer the milk went sour from the heat and in winter turned partially to ice.

We did have a family car, used mainly at weekends for jaunts to stately homes. We took sandwiches, salads, meat pies, cakes and flasks of hot tea with us, which were probably far better quality and cheaper than anything we could have purchased en-route. I walked to and from school and rode my bicycle to the park, riding fearlessly along the main road, with no thought as to protective helmets, which might well not have existed then.  When I was working in the North East a car was a necessity, owing to the limited public transport. Back in London I chose to forgo my company car which I could only use at weekends, in exchange for a car allowance. Nowadays, I get around by public transport or Shanks’s pony in the main. I still enjoying cooking and baking most of my food and this year progressed to making preserves. I have also become addicted to gardening  (A Growing Addiction, 21st October 2009) ) although at present I am going cold turkey, there being little else to do but sweep up the leaves and place them on the compost heap during the winter months. I try to unplug most appliances when they are not in use, more to save on my electricity bill than anything else. Today is the first time since last winter that I have had the heating on for several hours at a time. But then I want to be a Green Goddess not a Blue (from cold) Goddess.