It’s the end of term at St.W’s primary school (where I volunteer) today…we had a party, and the Yr 2s (6-7 year olds) are very happy and looking forward to Christmas. For some reason there was a pile of Argos shopping catalogues on one of the tables and Kelsey and Carlos were avidly leafing through them and then carefully placed the catalogues in their book bags to take home. It put me in mind of one of my favourite past-times as a child…which was to sit down quietly on the sofa and flick through the entire Littlewoods or Greenshield stamp catalogue for maybe an hour or two. I think it was like a mental wander through a shopping mall. These were the days before credit cards – if you didn’t have the money to buy something you bought it on HP (hire purchase) – my mother furnished our house this way. Or else you saved Greenshield stamps (a precursor to the loyalty card) – the supermarkets gave you stamps whenever you shopped there, which you then stuck in a special book and then exchanged the stamp books for goods once you’d saved enough of them. My mum still has a china tea set she ‘bought’ this way – it was too hard-earned and precious to use, so remains pristine in her cabinet from about 40/50 years ago. It took a while to get the things you wanted. Strange thing is, I don’t notice anyone any happier because they have a credit card and Amazon prime….
I think I’m heading for a fast-life rebellion…one where I take 30 seconds to complete a chip and pin transaction, instead of doing the 1 second ‘flash my mobile phone’ transaction. I can see that I will rile the entire queue for taking 30 times longer than they do. It’s all very convenient….but a little too fast…too lacking in awareness/control. Some of the younger ‘contactless’ folk I know have lost control – they have no real idea what they are spending and one has had her spending activities limited by her bank.
So, Kelsey and Carlos – the next generation of consumers. I don’t want to be defined as a consumer, somehow. If I’m not a consumer, what am I? Our boiler suffered a seemingly catastrophic failure last week and we were looking forward to a cold, cold Christmas. We were without hot water and heating for 4 days. Boiled kettles and flannel washes were the order of the day…it was chilly, but we managed. Out came the old blankets and fan heaters. It was no great hardship. Again, it put me in mind of being washed in the kitchen sink as a child and the very basic, cold concrete slab shower area my father had constructed in the basement of our house. Now I live in unparallelled luxury. I’ve already found out from my Camino walk that I need very little to survive quite happily…and there’s something really very satisfying about ‘making do and mending’, for me, and for dh. Wouldn’t it be great to be a ‘creative and productive saver and re-user of resources’….which I think is what we used to be a few decades ago. It’s not a catchy epithet, I know, but surely it feels better than being a mere consumer. And even though we are planning to extend our house next year, maybe I can resolve to be more creative and productive for 2018. Yep. I set high-minded standards…it’s a direction of flow if nothing else….
Happy Christmas everyone – and a wonderful, productive 2018 to you.