Monday, April 16, 2012

Doing Practical Things

I've been nagged for not writing a while! Apologies. To bring you up to date: I returned back to my home in Wales from Japan, spent 4 days tidying and organising and digging out important paperwork and then attended my friends' wedding before flying back to the South of France. I'm now back down here with my parents waiting for the final OK on the campervan.

Anyway, here's something I've been thinking about over the last couple of weeks...

My job was rubbish

This was a suspicion that has now been confirmed. Oh, don't get me wrong - I had fantastic colleagues, comfortable working conditions and fair pay. No complaints there. But what was I actually doing? Finding ways to make money advising other people on how to make more money. I travelled to locations around the world (seeing nothing more than airports and offices), talked a lot and wrote reports. And then the clients paid me. But what does that really mean in real life? A carpenter can turn trees into usable objects, potentially lasting hundreds of years. A farmer can use land and seed to provide food for himself and others. A midwife can ensure new generations of humanity. What was the point of me?

After the apocalypse...

I find this pops into my head quite often... if a virus wiped out 99% of the population and we were among the survivors, how would we live? Back to basics, having to sustain ourselves rather than relying on modern infrastructures, building new and smaller communities, how would we manage? You could no longer buy cleaning materials, spend your nights on the XBox or even switch a light on when it gets dark. Would we know what to do?

Inspirational TV show from the 1970s
OK, so this is a very hypothetical situation and not one I'm expecting to confront in my lifetime, but it does help to instill some of these principles. And it encourages me at least to try and be more practical and less wasteful.

Things I've been doing

This last week in the South of France has been rather helpful in learning to become productive.

1. Planting fruit trees. On my first day here, my mother took me down to her allotment and we planted a pear tree and an apple tree, with the hope that they would bear fruit next year if not this. A couple of days later we found a peach stone that had started to grow roots and planted that too. Fingers crossed they all settle into their new homes.

2. Fixing my laptop. Before I went to Japan, my cheap Dell Inspiron (originally £225 but now two years old) developed a fatal fault - the power connector had snapped off. A repair would have cost around £150 plus postage there and back, most likely totalling more than the cost of a brand new one. It was therefore destined for the bin. But if it was going in the bin anyway, was there any risk in attempting the fix ourselves?

My father did the appropriate investigations and found a detailed YouTube instruction video explaining how to take the laptop apart and locate the broken part. He also found a new replacement part on eBay for £25 inc postage and ordered it. We laid out heavy wooden board in the kitchen and got to work with a set of precision screwdrivers...

The halfway stage
We put all the parts back together, surprised to find none left over, turned the final screw and then plugged it into the mains. With baited breath we depressed the power button and waited... a light! There was a light! A big white 'on' light! And then the screen burst into life. Not only was the laptop repaired, it was running more smoothly than it ever had, thanks to some tightening up of certain cable ribbons deep inside. I look forward to using it for many more years to come.

3. Fixing my trousers. These have caused me rather a lot of embarrassment lately... they're a pair of combat trousers that I bought from an army surplus shop some ten years ago. They've proved themselves almost ideal for hiking, camping, working... but the fly has never been quite right.

In Japan I noticed that the zip seemed to be constantly falling down of its own accord, which led to dilemmas when out and about: does one walk brazenly past a group of people in the hope that they won't notice, or does one quickly turn and pull it up, correcting the issue but also immediately drawing attention to it?

This problem suddenly became much, much worse when the fly button also popped off. Luckily this was in my hostel so I picked up a sewing kit and stitched it back on. The next day was when I hired a bicycle and set off into the countryside the button snapped off completely. This left me wheeling my way down a country road past a coachload of schoolchildren with my trousers wide open. Nice.

My temporary fix
So yesterday my mother helped me to find a solution. She dug out an old pair of my father's combat trousers that had completely worn through and instructed me to strip them for parts. I unpicked the zip, cut off the button and we transferred both to my combats, restoring them to perfect usable condition. And we're still not throwing Dad's old trousers away - Mum is confident that she'll find a use for the torn old fabric, whether it's for patchworking or even just as rags.

I could continue the list but it would start to get boring. There will be many among you saying "so what?" because you have these practices integrated into your lives already. There will also be some astounded that we would consider them worthwhile doing. One thing is certain - this is a lifestyle accessible only to those with free time. Working 50 hours a week, commuting 200 miles, flying to the US every month -these things are not conducive to any kind of efficient or self-sustaining routine. But once you have the time there can be nothing more satisfying than breathing life back into old things and turning worthless articles into valuable ones. I look forward to doing a lot more of it.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent catch up! I was worried it would be a come-down after all the Japan / travelling antics but not at all. I'm so happy and proud. You are having such similar revelations to what I had when I finally kicked the horrible, pointless, corporate, life-sucking job in and re-discovered humanity, nature, principles, and myself.
    Life is not all about money and no matter how much or little we ever have, we will never waste it will we - good girl! ( ;