Tuesday 4 May 2021

Going green

 The light streamed through our bedroom curtains at 5:30 am today and I was wide awake. But that was far too early to get up, feed the cat, get breakfast & make a cuppa. The wind had dropped, the storm had lost its energy. It was sunny out but felt very cold.

Thankfully I managed to get back to sleep and by 9:30 the day had begun (again.) However I underestimated how long it would take me to have a bath, hoover, do my hair, pack my swimming gear, get Richard’s meds and offer the cat four different types of food. Yes. He was being fussy. By 10:30 I had managed to eat breakfast and down a cup of tea. I had remembered to fill my water bottle, but had still to make Richard’s sandwich for lunch and pack myself a couple of mini cheeses. 

The BBC News clock showed it was 10:46 and time to leave the house. In my attempt to be green and have a low carbon footprint I’d decided to bus it into town. But as I slammed the front door I had a nagging feeling I’d forgotten something. It’s just as well that I checked my bag. I couldn’t unzip it as threads of the ribbon to my key chain had got caught in the zip. I tugged and tugged until by some miracle I eased the offending keys out of the pocket and fully unzipped it. Hey presto!  I could retrieve my bank cards. (Vital for contactless payments on the bus.) Imagine all that fiddling with a queue of folk behind you waiting to alight? Curses.

But by the time I’d got my zips sorted I was late. And of course, en route, I saw loads of people I knew who I would have loved a chat with. Instead I rushed to the bus stop with 2 minutes to spare. 

And every seat on the bus was taken or reserved for disabled passengers. A kindly person gave up their seat for me. I can’t stand for ages - I’m waiting for a knee op - I wanted to shout. But my glasses steamed up owing to my over loose MacPherson tartan face mask so I swore under the mask then took my seat. 

The bus journey and, later, bits of shopping were mercifully uneventful. And I had time before my swim to take photographs of the 1866 decorated post boxes in the beautiful Pulteney Street. But walking up the hill to the hotel’s swimming pool seemed arduous. I must have looked out of breath as an annoyingly chatty woman whom I remembered from the week before managed to catch my attention with the words ‘It’s easier downhill.’ Did I look that decrepit?

I didn’t engage in banter. She had irritated me the previous Tuesday but I found a bench, swigged a few mouthfuls of water and felt restored. Then I looked for the bike stands. Surely they’d always been at the entrance to the leisure spa? I hoped no-one was watching me wander around the car park with my shopping trolley looking lost and confused. 

Then I saw a rail with a very faint sign telling me ‘bicycles left at owner’s risk’. 

All I wanted to do was to leave my metal shopping trolley frame secured with a bicycle lock. I was taking the trolley bag itself into the lockers with me. There is no room for a whole trolley in the minuscule space they call a changing room. 

But, of course, the shopping trolley bag would not pull out of the frame. I tugged and tugged (again)and spilt my bottle of water on the ground and got cross. Then the bag budged and I staggered up twenty steps to reception where four young things behind the desk were chatting away. They ignored me so I shouted ‘I’ll just go through then.’

One thing about lockdown is that there can never be more than four people in the changing room at any one time. Bliss! And at least the locker was big enough for all my belongings. 

The water was warm. I saw an old friend who was just getting out and for over thirty minutes I exercised my podgy body. 

I love the water. Even the showers worked and I was the only one to use the hairdryers. I met another friend en passant and had a merry chat. But, of course, the feeling of energy and goodwill couldn’t last. The water dispenser had hardly anything in it and took an age to half fill my bottle. I was going to be late for my bus home...

And before I rushed downhill to my return bus I needed the loo. I had to negotiate yards of fat, blue tubes, brushes, huge vats of soapy water and electric cables. But I nipped into the ladies before being spotted. Contractors were shampooing the hotel carpets in advance of reopening after lockdown and I shouldn’t have been using the hotel guest loos.

Outside at the bike stand I retrieved my shopping trolley frame. The bag fitted back in place with remarkable ease and 

I managed to get to the bus stop with a few minutes to spare. Success! 

But my knee was hurting and I needed painkillers. And on the bus every seat was filled apart from the ones up three steps at the back of the bus. I swore, again, under my tartan mask. I was in luck. A very nice woman looked after my trolley as I really didn’t want to lift it up those three steps. 

And we were off. I pushed two painkillers in my mouth but couldn’t reach my water bottle. It was in my shopping trolley - where else? three steps away.

And then we were home. I saw a couple of friends on my walk back to my garden gate and enjoyed a well-earned cocoa when I got in. It was very blustery outside. But neither of my friends had had time for a cappuccino. I really felt the need. 

What’s the moral of the story? 

Going green is knackering.Even though we know walking and taking the bus will help save the planet and cut down on car exhaust pollution it takes effort to go green. What to do to make it more practical? Don’t take my shopping trolley on the bus? Go by taxi or simply leave more time to do things? Get sorted and get a takeaway cappuccino like everyone else? 

And stop being cross! Going green is going to be hard work, I think. Especially if I keep  getting red hot and angry. I intend to persevere and calm my temper. 

Saturday 1 May 2021

Tolkien & industrialisation

Many people know that JRR Tolkien moved from Africa to a Warwickshire village when he was a boy. His father died in South Africa before he ever set foot in England again. Later - owing to financial difficulties following his father’s death - their mother moved JRR and the rest of the family from the idyllic village ( the shire) to Birmingham. 

As someone born in the Midlands I can clearly see how the contrast between town and country, industrialisation and rurality, clean air and smoky, dusty air belched out by factories would strike a sensitive lad like JRR. 

My parents were professionals. They weren’t labourers but my grandfather was a skilled foreman at an iron foundry. The muck in the air created by the Bessemer Convertor eventually killed him and nana lived in reduced circumstances as did many women when they became widowed in 1930s-40s. However nana was looked after and employed by a good man - a family friend - who couldn’t see her financially ruined. And she owned her own house. She led a happy, hard working life thereafter.

Many years later when I was a child there was woodland at the bottom of our road ( sweetly called Nightingale Place) and our house was surrounded by three fields. It sounds idyllic. But it was close to the industrial midlands which JRR disliked. I never knew the inside of the factories and only noticed the noise they made when machines started up again one new year after a long festive break. JRR’s son, Christopher, who died in 2020, said his father had a fear of mechanisation and of the modern world: Rural life and certainties destroyed by machines.

Only now are governments waking up to the notion that if we destroy nature we destroy ourselves. If we burn fossil fuel the air becomes thick and clogs our lungs. If we fell forests and jungles we make creatures homeless. If we block out the sun we die.

I see more and more articles about electric cars and alternatives to power stations to heat and light our homes. During this lockdown we would have missed the tv and the internet for sure. We can’t endure a British winter without heating. So alternatives are essential if we aren’t to lead lives like 1380s peasants.

JRR Tolkien was right to draw a distinction between the ugliness of factory flames and pollution and the bucolic life of the countryside. It would take a huge amount of adaptation, however, to become demechanised: to get rid of our cars and learn to ride a horse or a bike again. It would take an immense effort to light our home with candles and go back to a range for cooking and heating. And industrialisation brought work to thousands in the Midlands.

But the decades of relatively cheap transport, fuel and power in the home has come at a cost. JRR Tolkien could see that. But a Professor of Anglo-Saxon ( who wasn’t even sent to school when he was little) and Professor of English Language and Literature is a very different man from a Midlands industrialist who sells taps, and a labourer who makes them, for a living.

Both thinkers and industrialists have to learn from each other if we are to avoid catastrophe. 

And now I read the headlines   “‘urban flight’ raises house prices in villages.” Another kind of disturbance and imbalance in the community. Another stress for the countryside to absorb. We all need to treat our environment with care. And not push out those families who made their homes there long before the pandemic. City dwellers may have enough capital to move to the countryside. But can villagers afford to live there when prices rise? 

There’s a lot to consider in the tug of war between town and countryside, urbanisation ruralism. We all need to have a care.