Friday 24 June 2016

A bucket economy

There is a truly inspirational book about alternative ways of living in Ireland called Lives Less Ordinary. There is plenty of choice as well as ordinary old tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor: artists, writers, map-makers, weavers, water-diviners, teachers, environmentalists, farmers, wood-cutters, gardeners, travellers and monks. The green list is lifted from the publisher's blurb, which shows <tsk> poor editting - only one map-maker and one water-diviner is featured.  It's still in print and is the ideal present for either mad Aunt May or your drifty nephew who is unfortunately being shepherded into banking by his ambitious parents.

The chapter on Judith Hoad, herbalist, radical and philosopher, is called A Bucket Economy, because the authors chose to concentrate on the fact that Judith lived by choice in a house without indoor plumbing.  Every drop of water brought into the house - to drink or wash the dishes or cook the gruel - had to be schlepped up the hill in a bucket. You may bet your sweet bippy that they were mindful about their consumption, and they weren't flushing no toilets . . . because didn't have one indoors. My pal Rissoles has come to a similar mindful engagement with clean water and without a flush toilet.

20 years ago The Sister lived in a community on an island [Erraid] off an island [Mull] off the coast of Scotland. We went to visit her when Dau.I and Dau.II were tiny almost exactly 19 years ago. I know the dates because a) we celebrated our <twins!> birthday during the week and b) Dau.II got sick and she was old enough to walk but not old enough to articulate her distress except in howls. That community lived in a little row of lighthouse keepers cottages up a short hill from the quayside. Pedantically, the cottages started life as lighthouse builders cottages; because the first tasks of the stone-masons was to build the quay and then build their living quarters and then sail out in shifts to the Torran Rocks to build the lighthouse. Very efficient and vernacular: the granite for all this building was quarried on Erraid which, at 25km Nor'-Nor'-East of the Torrans, was the nearest source of suitable material. Because the project started in 1866, and those involved were working class, indoor plumbing was not considered necessary. As an aside, Erraid featured, unnamed, as a significant  chapter in the story Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stephenson: the Stephenson clansman who escaped from the thrall of engineering.

ANNyway, 150 years later, the toilet arrangements were a long-drop, protected from the elements by a wooden outhouse out back and a chamber pot for those night-time emergencies. I was in a sort of heaven, each morning walking across the street and down through the vegetable gardens with a brimming chamber-pot for the compost. Because it was June, and we were lucky, the weather was mostly sunny. The Sister lived there for several years until the brutal Winters finally got to her: there is only so much horizontal sleet sweeping in from the sea that you can tolerate if you have a choice. The next community West of Erraid is Natuashish, [Newfoundland and] Labrador, so nothing protects you from the incommming rolling roiling howlin' Westerlies.

I was delighted to be entrusted with one of the twice-weekly bread runs. For the last 30+ years, I've been making the bread at home but there isn't really a huge appetite for the stuff among the people with whom I live; and there aren't many bodies left in our empty nest. I make a loaf and/or buns and/or chapattis when the last lot runs out which is not really efficient of my time or the oven.  On Erraid, I was instructed to make a dozen large loaves - by hand, naturally -  eeee it were great to get my fists into enough dough to fill a baby's bath and bake my dozen in an industrial-sized catering oven.

This water thing is a bit like washing the dishes. If you wash up the saucepans after your cooking - rather than delegate all that lowly stuff to le plongeur (or the bleedin' dishwasher) - then you're a little bit more careful of how many you use. Also the direct connexion between preparing food, cooking it and eating it is morally far better if the clean up is part of the process. Dishwashing machines (and here I don't mean me) are the very divil for waste. Take a clean cup from the shelf; fill it with water; drink half; throw half; insert 'used' cup in dish-washer: there something about that protocol which seems wrong to me. One advantage of rarely and inadequately washing your tea-cup is that you can be sure nobody else will use it.  Every Sunday, I spend the night with my antient father-in-law, because, at 91, he feels unsafe sleeping alone at night. I spend part of each evening going <tsk> <tsk> round the kitchen trying to find saucepans and cutlery that are actually clean rather than passed through the dishwasher clean. And I know that a silly amount of lard / fat / butter goes down the foul water system to cause atherosclerotic problems later on.  When I've had a particularly lardy wash-up, it gives me great pleasure to fire the contents of the washing-up bowl out the front door crying "campesino!". You can't / don't do that with your energy-guzzling white goods.

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