Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blushing Green

We are expecting weekend visitors and it’s bringing me out in a rash. Jenny is an ex BBC colleague and Mark is a barrister. They live in a house on the river in Kew with their two young children. Their children are well behaved and quiet. Their house is new and modern. I fear we will look like a Cumbrian version of The Beverly Hillbillies, and they’ll wish they’d remained in suburbia.

The latest green war to be triggered in the Carbon household is about the kettle, or more specifically the lack of it. I scowl at the flask, sitting on the kitchen surface, an unassuming silvery tube that’s now ruining my life. At the start of every day, Carbonlite boils a full kettle and fills the flask, screwing the lid on tight. All boiling water for cooking or drinking is to come from this flask. The whole process has totally put me off my coffee; practically the only vice I have left.

“I can’t understand why no one has come up with a kettle that’s insulated like a flask,” says Carbonlite as he dunks his biscuit into a flask facilitated cup of tea.
“I can’t understand why anyone bothered to invent a kettle when everyone could have a tepid cup of coffee like this one,” I reply, polishing the unused kettle with a dishcloth and wondering how to sabotage its aluminium partner. Then I catch sight of Carbonlite's frown. “Yes, yes I know. The average person has 4.3 cups of tea a day and if you boil a full kettle for just one mug you can cause up to 8 times the carbon dioxide emissions."I quote the figures without thinking about it. "But see it from my point of view. Im being force fed lukewarm water with a tea bag dipped in 4.3 times a day. It doesn't make for a relaxing tea break. Although there is a plus point to all this. The water is so lukewarm by lunchtime that it doesn’t melt your biscuit when you dunk.”
“No dribbles down my jumper, so no laundry needed either,” says Carbonlite, delighted by his own cleverness.

“There. A nice shiny kettle for Jenny and Mark,” I say deliberately. Carbonlite doesn’t reply so while I’m on a roll, I get in a quick dig about how many of our mugs are chipped and cracked. And unfortunately crockery cracks and colour clashes aren’t restricted to our mugs. Since we started going green, we haven’t replaced any broken china, but simply bought odd pieces from charity shops. Now we have a selection of plates for five, unmatching bowls for four (with cracked glaze) a random drawer of cutlery and thirty chipped mugs.

And as there has also been a ban on buying sheets for several years (“Whats wrong with all those pink stripey ones your Mum gave us?”) making up four extra beds proves a headache. Before long I am shouting at everyone because I can’t find a quilt to match a pillowcase. Then I notice how thin the quilts seem and start shouting at Carbonlite for forcing the kids into inadequately togged bedding. Eventually he storms in and holds the labels up to my nose.
“ A twelve…it’s a twelve…that means it’s a winter quilt, not a summer one. The children are NOT cold at night.”
“Yes we are,” shouts the oldest Carboncopy from his bedroom.
“But not when we have our hot water bottles and our socks on and our blankets,” his brother replies.
“Except when Daddy fills the hot water bottle from the flask,” they cry in unison.

I move on to the next bedroom and stuff a kingsize quilt into a double duvet with blue ink stains on the front. I lie it onto the bed and try to smooth out the creases, wondering if I should explain to Jenny and Mark that I would have done the ironing except it isn’t good for the planet. (The one rule imposed by Carbonlite that made me cheer out loud!) I almost weep as I think of that other world in London that our friends still inhabit; white cotton percale pillows match white cotton percale duvets, people go shopping for garlic presses and fancy bottle openers and kettles aren’t black market goods. As we clean the bathroom in a show of togetherness, I brief my husband on how to treat our guests. “Don’t go on about waste, don’t keep turning the heating off all the time they’re here, and whatever you do make their tea with HOT water.”

I’m interrupted by the sound of a doorbell, and the Carboncopies rush off with Carbonlite following. I clean the toilet and go downstairs to greet my friends. They are standing in the living room shivering.
“It’s cold today,” says Jenny, giving me a hug.
“Never mind,” says Mark. “We’ve a cup of tea on order.”
I can’t face going to check up on Carbonlite. I’ll know from the biscuit dunking whether it’s a flask or a kettle job.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The good old days, the green old ways

I got collared by one of the elder members of our community recently; a lovely old woman who just loves to talk. A lot. She usually collars the Washingqueen but she was out so I got my ear bent instead. Now I don’t have much patience when it comes to small talk but as I half listened to her stories of ‘the good old days’ and her complaints about the pace of life today, the other half of my mind got wondering whether she might actually have a point, if I could only be bothered to listen.

I mean who said more, faster, cheaper, is progress? That growth, economic development, increased prosperity, new technology are good, necessary, the way forward? Why can’t progress mean going backwards? Perhaps that’s the kind of progress we need right now. But it does seem to go against the grain, in fact it goes against everything I’ve ever been subconsciously indoctrinated with in our society.

It’s easy to dismiss ‘oldies’ fond recollections of the good old days as the rose tinted musings of dinosaurs, technophobes or others unable to adapt to the demands of modern living. But perhaps they’re right; perhaps things were better back then. When people couldn’t afford a car, shopped locally, walked to work, grew their own veg, holidayed in Blackpool, heated just one room, bathed once a week, owned less, consumed less, made do and mended.

When you get down to looking at the make-up of your great big environmental footprint, it doesn’t take more than a degree in common sense to realise that actually many of the good old days good old ways are actually green old ways. Maybe we really do need to go back to the future.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Global slamming

“Look how many aluminium milk bottle top lids I’ve collected.” I tell Carbonlite, showing him a vase full of shiny round buttons…“you know, I reckon I’ll have this planet saved by teatime.” But Carbonlite has been reading his scary climate change books again and he’s pessimistic that we’ll exist at all beyond next Christmas. “Well if everyone is doing their bit like me….” I argue. “But they’re not are they?” says Carbonlite gloomily. “…and even if you and I save up a bottle top mountain the size of Helvellyn, it’s still not enough. We’ve got to get out there and convince people to change their habits.” I tell my husband that standing on a recyclable soapbox in the village square isn’t my thing. “I’m a creative,” I announce, “And I’ve decided to become a poet.” Carbonlite picks up a bus timetable and a large collection of books. “Well, let’s hope your sonnets have the power to hold back rising sea levels and tsunamis,” he says as he packs his rucksack for a visit to the library.

When he returns, I’m halfway through my first masterpiece. He reads it over my shoulder. “You’re writing a poem about your weight?” he asks. I tell him I’ve decided to develop myself by entering the poetry slam at The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. He looks blank. “It’s like Pop Idol for poets,” I explain, “Everyone is given three minutes to hog the microphone then the audience vote for the best two performance poets. They go through to another round, then the overall winner goes on to a regional final later in the year to compete for the title of ‘Slam Champion of Cumbria.” Suddenly Carbonlite is fully engaged, asking how many people turn up to enter and spectate, and whether there are any guidelines on subject matter. I go through the rules in further detail with my increasingly cheerful husband. “Fantastic,” he says, when I’ve finished. “You can be Cumbria’s first green poet, and I’ll come and cheer you on.”

The compere Marvin Cheeseman announces my name for the second time of the night and I walk into the pink stage lights accompanied by clapping and cheering. Half an hour earlier my poem about dieting went down a storm and landed me one of two places in the final. This time I am carrying an accessory; a green mini compost bin. I smile at the audience and ask if they like my new handbag. Everyone stares at the grubby home composting bin. I assure them it’ll catch on in fashion circles, and that Posh and Becks might soon be photographed in LA with matching compost handbags, although theirs will be branded with a Gucci logo, rather than a sticker highlighting the foolishness of home composting chunks of cheese. Through the pink glare of the lights, I see Carbonlite gesturing at me to get on with the poetry. So I open my compost bin, and pull out my script. But I hardly need it. For just under three minutes I am an eco ‘Eminem’; an unstoppable one woman anti- global warming poetry machine. I inspire greatness, perspire greenness, rewire people’s collective conciousness. I am a planet saving, carbon shaving, offsetting, unjetting queen of green. A prophetic, poetic, global worrier. I forget I’m at The Brewery and imagine I’m on a world stage. I am now Al Gore, Bono and Swampy rolled into one. In my rap, I recount my struggle as a born again green; my squirmy encounter with the Wiggly Wigglers on the patio, the burgeoning recycling HQ in our downstairs loo, the bottle top mountain that will save the polar bears, and my colourful relationship with the mini compost bin.

The whistle blows. My three minutes are up. Suddenly I’m not a global eco warrior, but Eco Worrier from Burton in Kendal. As I amble off the stage I remind myself that Al Gore had to begin somewhere, although admittedly he started by coming second in the race for American President, while I am being crowned runner up at a poetry event in Kendal. I return to my seat and sip on a spritzer. The panel awards me three nines. Now the other finalist takes to the stage. He is young and looks like a teenager. In contrast I now look like Pam Ayres. He raps an accomplished, word perfect poem about the boredom of being young and aimless on a Friday Night, and by the end of three minutes he looks bored of us as well. The audience panel votes. He gets two nines and one ten. He also gets forty quid and the chance to be crowned slam champion of Cumbria at a future event. I get a book of the nation’s favourite love poems and a cheer from the crowd.

When I return to my seat, Carbonlite gives me a hug. “You are the Cumbrian slam champion in my eyes and I’m proud of you. But now I’m even more depressed. It’s so typical. This audience chose dossing about on a Friday night over saving our precious planet and resources. What are we to do?” He looks for reassurance, but I have no answers; just a bunch of words in the shape of a poem.