Monday, 9 January 2012

Buying things

While cruising around the blogs of friends the other day, I read Beth Dopp’s reading list with great interest.  Thanks for including my In Celebration of Simplicity, Beth – much appreciated!

Intrigued by one of her favourites from her reading of 2011, No Impact Man by Colin Beavan, I went across to Amazon and read what I could of the Look Inside preview.  Brilliant!  Funny, inspiring, thought-provoking, hard-hitting.  I am reading it now on my Kindle.

That brings me to a crossroads, a question place.  Part of my 365 adventure is getting rid of 2 things for every new thing I acquire (even if that’s donated by another member of the household from their chuck-out).  So when I bought 3 fleece sweaters (I wear these constantly) from Lands' End UK in their big January sale, I duly donated 6 garments from my closet to a charity caring for children with cancer, and those garments won’t appear in the 365 blogged items.


Though that does indeed keep down my level of possessions, I think it would be more frugal and environmentally responsible if I slow right down on acquisition of new things – especially mass-produced new things probably made in sweat-shops.  I did check out the manufacturing ethics of Lands' End, and was pleased to read on their website that their manufacturing partners use no child or forced labour, and pay fair wages – even so reading “made in Cambodia” on the label stops their reassurances laying my suspicions entirely to rest.  

Part of my New Year resolutions and mindset behind the 365 adventure is to remember the human and cherish the Earth; so though in a moment of absentmindedness I did order those fleeces and will be pleased to have them (they certainly contribute to living with very low winter heating as we do), in general I will be trying to cut right back on the shopping and ensuring that the purchases I do make are for the most part hand-made, local (or fairly traded in from overseas) and sourced from small family businesses.

But I hadn’t given any thought to Kindle purchases.  I guess though they help keep the house de-cluttered, there is such a thing as electronic clutter too.  So I will investigate my memory sticks and consign 2 large files to the bin to balance the clutter-scales again after buying Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man.

I am not in favour of simply stopping buying things, though.  My daughters are musicians and craftspeople, I am a writer and the Badger is a publisher.  We know all too well that being able to continue to fulfil what is truly vocational for us, not merely commercial, depends on sales of a viable level as well as frugality at home.  If no-one buys my books, only borrows them, then the book I have waiting for a yea-or-nay at the publisher (and depending on the sales of the ones already contracted) will never see the light of day.  That would be a pity because it was written not as a money-spinner but as a way of making available to the imagination of the reader some scriptural truths very health-giving for our society.  So I believe in buying books that have something worthwhile to say.  And I believe in supporting honest, responsible business enterprise.  It’s just the greedy consumer-fest I think needs reigning in, and the irresponsible over-creation of packaging and worthless knick-knacks.


365 Day 9 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

 Last year our church had a fund-raising drive to pay for installing new toilets. 

When I was a child at primary school, we changed to decimal currency, so that shillings, half-crowns, sixpences and florins all vanished from our lives.  Up until that point, a penny was written 1d – an abbreviation of 1 denarius.  It changed to 1p (one penny) and shrank its value from one twentieth to one hundredth of a pound in a single deft move.

If you wish to use the public toilets in, say, London Charing Cross railway station today, I believe the going rate to get in through the automated turnstile is 30p.

When I was a child there would be no turnstile at the entrance, but each of the doors to the individual stalls in the public toilets would be opened by inserting a coin into the slot – 1d, a penny.  Hence, “spending a penny” was the euphemism of choice in polite society for temporarily vanishing into the bathroom to empty one’s bladder.

So it was that someone at St Johns came up with the idea of “Save a penny to spend a penny”, and asked us all to save our small loose change – the coppers, the 1p and 2p coins – to support the fundraising drive.

This struck me as something our household could comfortably do, so I pressed into service for silver 5p pieces an old hummus carton and for the coppers a bucket that had once held meringues bought to share with a cup of tea by our friends Erik Kuilenberg and Carien Bloema on their family visit with their children Ben, Huub and Jolijt last summer.

I cut slots in the lids like real money boxes, and we started saving.

In my somewhat OCD manner, I felt reluctant to part with the accumulated loot until the tubs were actually full.  The toilets were built, blessed, up and running before our containers reached the half-way mark.  But still we plodded on.  This week it occurred to me – you know what?  The time has gone.  So I put the tubs out for recycling, and took the stash of mini-loot up to the coin-star machine at the supermarket, which yielded £12.82 that I duly added to the regular collection at church last Sunday.


Daisyanon said...

I never knew that 1d was an abbreviation for 1 denarius. Well I never. How interesting. And I grew up with £sd.

Bean said...

Ah memories of public toilets. When I was a girl the public toilets in Bury St. Edmunds were so cool. The building was Victorian, very ornate, a quite lovely. Each stall door had a coin slot for your penny. But mostly what I remember is that the attendant lady was always present, she had a room with a large window across from the entrance to the toilets. This large lady always had a kettle going on a burner, a large teapot on a table, and often a friend to keep her company. I have to admit as I a child I found her job fascinating, she appeared to live in the room, drink tea, listen to the radio, and visit with her friend, I don't think I gave much thought to her actual duties of cleaning the toilets. But I must say, they were very clean toilets and very pleasant to visit. I was in Bury a couple of years ago with my sister, we were disappointed to find that the public toilets are no more.


Ganeida said...

Ember, what is it with not being able to hand in something *not finished*? I can't hand in a 1/2 full container either. I used to hate not getting to finish an exam paper ~ & many of them were designed so that it was impossible to do every question! Yikes.

BLD in MT said...

No need for thanks! Your book was wonderful and I really got a lot out of it. The metaphor being something I am familiar with was so cleverly helpful.

Also, I do hope you enjoy No Impact Man. I also would like to add that I sure admire your One In, Two Out plan of action.

But, you sure do put my head in a spin. See, I almost never buy books. I suppose it is an occupational hazard of working in a library. I can certainly see what you are saying though, especially as an author yourself and wife of a publisher on top of that.

Hmmmmmm....I shall have to ponder this.

Also, one last thing, who has the final say in where a book is printed, type of paper, ink, binding etc? Is it the author? Publisher? Both? I just ask because I am curious how much control you have over these in the interest of sustainable printing.

Fourwheeler said...

Hi Ember, Just a pernickerty little detail. Decimalisation actually *increased* the value of a penny from one two-hundred-and-fortieth of a pound to one hundredth of a pound and not decreased it as you suggest.

Strange, when you think of those shiny new tiddlers compared to a big brown monster strong enough to operate a toilet door!

Ember said...

Hi DaisyA, hi Bean - I can just visualise those public loos in Bury St E! Ganeida, absolutely.

Beth - libraries are of help to writers in that I believe there is some small royalty system in operation: but the bottom line is, unless someone buys Book 1, Book 2 will never be published and Book 1 will be remaindered, and that is not always a reflection on the quality of the book.
The manufacturing decisions you describe are the publisher's not the writer's, and are driven primarily by financial considerations. At present the Badger is working hard to get environmentally friendly paper for the books his outfit produces, but to be financially viable the quantity sourced must be so colossal they will need to get a syndicate of publishing houses in on a paper purchase together. They also publish many titles in electronic format, and though the production of Kindles themselves will have an environmental cost, certainly the saving of forests, toxic inking and glueing, and heavy items to transport around the world makes e-books very environmentally attractive. I now buy all books on Kindle unless a) they are out of print and I can get only a 2nd hand paper copy or b) the books isn't available in electronic format.

Ember said...

Hi Fourwheeler - is that so? Oh yes! 20 shillings in a pound, 12d in a shilling, 12 x 20 = 240!

Linda said...

As an Australian seeing that copper is very sad lol. We got rid of our copper quite a few years ago. They were 1 and 2 cent coins. If you go shopping and something costs 99c for example I think it is rounded down and they ask you for 95c. I rarely use real money so I have forgotten, maybe they ask for $1.

Ember said...

Yes, the coppers are not over-useful here really - round numbers would make more sense.