Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Green Metropolis

Further to yesterday's 'not buying it' blog, I have to say that one commodity I have continued to buy throughout my period of cutting back is books. Judith Levine managed to limit herself to libraries, but I have simply found ways of buying them cheaper.

And by the way, the irony of writers not buying books when they depend on book sales for a living is not lost on me. Perhaps when I am a published author I shall behave differently, but for now I'm sticking to secondhand. As well as saving money, it means more efficient use of resources, and I'm becoming increasingly conscious that this is something we've all got to face.

For ages I have been selling paperbacks to the stall in the Guildhall market in Bath, where I used to live. Check out my website http://www.city-of-bath-england.com/ for more information. And recently a classmate introduced me to http://www.greenmetropolis.co.uk/ where you can buy books for £3.75 and sell them (if anyone's interested) for £3. Not only that, the business makes a donation to the Woodland Trust for every transaction.

Oxfam bookshops are good too, although the chances of finding a particular title may be slim unless it's a recent bestseller. I think prices may vary according to location - in St Austell lots of books are priced under £2 and occasionally I find a good one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

'Not Buying It - My Year Without Shopping' by Judith Levine

Not Buying It is a fascinating book which throws up many ideas about consuming I am still mulling over. It appealed to me as I'm in my own period of not buying it, being back at college again. What I've realised from my retail abstinence is not only how much of what we buy is actually unnecessary, but that we probably already have plenty of stuff which will do the job just as well.

I'm thinking here about all those packets and jars of food pushed to the back of the kitchen cupboards, the soap and shampoo stuffed on bathroom shelves. I started to use up this kind of stuff a year ago, before I was even aware I was going to become a student again, when we thought we were moving and I wanted to lighten the load. And some of it I'm still using.

We tend to justify our purchases by telling ourselves the things we want are necessities. Levine quotes an American survey in which 78% of respondents stated that most Americans are 'very materialistic', but only 8% considered themselves very materialistic! I think that would be the case in the UK too.

In the West we have got ourselves into a real mess with money and 'things' and I say this from bitter experience. When I was running my own business I had plenty of money but I was bored, so I used the money to buy treats which would free me from the boredom. And it wasn't long before I couldn't imagine life without the treats and so I was stuck with the business long after I should have moved on. Since then I have had much less money but now I'm doing something I love, it usually doesn't matter. I say 'usually' as, despite my new habits, there are times I'd like something I can't afford.

Of course I'd like to make lots of money doing what I love, and I intend to do just that, but I also don't want to fall back into the spending trap when I do.

Friday, July 13, 2007

But I've only had one glass of wine

Last night just as we were about to tuck into our eagerly-anticipated spaghetti, A broke a wine glass in quite spectacular style. We're not quite sure how it happened, something to do with putting the stopper back into the bottle, which tipped up, spilling red wine onto the tablecloth, and knocking over my glass, half of which bounced onto the floor and smashed again.

Anyway, there was lots of clearing up to do, lots of swearing and lots of peering into my food to pick out glass shards (sorry, Bill, but I think you'll agree it's justified here), as I was too hungry and too greedy to abandon my plateful. Having finally eaten our glass-free meal (and the suspicion of lurking fragments does wonders for upping one's chew count, I can tell you. Break a glass over every meal and I'd soon be size zero) I did a stocktake of the glass cupboard.

Which revealed 3 odd champagne, 3 tall wine glasses only used by A because I've broken so many, 6 of a size and shape I don't like which were sent as a freebie by Laithwaites, and 2 odd ones, relics of times past.

It's quite alarming to see how much bigger wine glasses have become over the last 12 years or so. The oldest glass was a perfectly normal size when I bought it, possibly from Habitat, some time in the mid 90s. It now looks more like an oversized sherry glass. The other one is probably about 8 years old and a bit bigger, but still modest compared to the goldfish bowls on stems we are accustomed to today.

So the phrase "I've only had one glass of wine" starts to look a little suspect confronted with this startling visual evidence, and the growth of binge drinking begins to make sense. I wonder if manufacturers would ever start to make glasses smaller and if the public would ever buy them? I've often seen diet advice telling us to eat from a smaller plate, but nobody ever seems to think about glass sizes.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Je suis une flaneuse

While A was busy with the exhausting Tony Robbins, I was out and about indulging in my favourite city activity - walking around checking out the people, the buildings and the shops, and stopping off for an occasional reviving coffee. I wish I'd had a pedometer. I must have walked miles every day without even realising it, I was so engrossed in the passing show. Until it got to late afternoon, that is, when I was so tired I had to head back to the flat we were staying in for a restorative nap.

One evening there was a programme on television about Paris, which I watched, being in a capital city kind of mood. And handily discovered there is a French word for precisely what I was doing, a word I managed to miss out on during French 'A' Level. It's 'flaneur' and there's no English equivalent, unfortunately. Roughly translated it means 'gentleman stroller of city streets'. How satisfying.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Revisiting a previous life

Hard to believe now, but I spent the industrial placement year of my sandwich course working in London, at Barkers of Kensington, the once-famous department store.

Last weekend, after a stroll down Portobello Road, checking out the market stalls, I retraced my steps of 27 years ago. I lived in a student hostel, a white wedding cake house in Pembridge Gardens, and every day I walked to work through Notting Hill Gate and down Kensington Church Street. I was 19 years old, and a 19 year-old less prepared for city life would be hard to imagine.

I can hardly believe I am old enough to say this, but this was before the gentrification of Notting Hill, and Kensington Church Street was lined with dusty-looking antique shops and very little else. It's much trendier now, with Kensington Place restaurant at the Notting Hill end and expensive fashion shops as you get towards High St Ken.

Barkers closed down years ago and the building was divided into lots of smaller shops. Now it houses the first Whole Foods Market in the UK, an American chain with big expansion plans. The shop is an amazing experience, offering a huge choice of gleaming fruit and veg, bread and cheese of all kinds and just about everything else you can think of to feed and nurture the human body.

I am, however, a little doubtful about its much- hyped green credentials, and I certainly don't believe the UK can support 40 of these emporia, as the company purports. In these days of rising interest rates there are so many people who can't afford to be precious about the origins of organic muesli.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Watch out for the teeth

We were in London for A to attend an Anthony Robbins seminar. A seminar for 12,000 people. Over 4 days, starting early in the morning and finishing at about 11 at night. With hardly any breaks. And lots of shouting and dancing around. And hugging of total strangers. You can probably tell it's not exactly my type of thing. More like a definition of my own private hell, in fact. Just thinking about it is enough to bring on a migraine.

A reported back to me each night, in the brief interval before grabbing a few hours sleep before the Tony thing began again. I have to say what he told me makes a lot of sense and I'm quite sure that if you apply this advice systematically to your life, you'll see big changes.

But as a full paid-up introvert greedy for peace and my own space, I do object to the relentless American worship of the extrovert. It seems you are only a valuable human being if you can be constantly 'out there', doing , achieving and talking, always talking. What about time to assimilate, to reflect and let the unconscious bubble through with new thoughts and ideas?

I can't help feeling an instinctive distrust of American self-development gurus and their perfect teeth.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Squeezed into the Tube

Yesterday we came back from a week in London. Here's the blog I drafted in my notebook last weekend:

"I find I don't enjoy travelling in the Tube as much as I used to. Maybe it's the undreamt-of horror of the bombings, maybe it's getting older, maybe it's living in Cornwall, but these days when the doors slide closed on all those packed bodies, I need to let my mind shift sideways to a place which does not acknowledge where I am and what would happen if ...

I wonder how much this is behind the famous refusal of Londoners to ackonwledge each other, catch each others' eye while travelling at such close quarters. Maybe, like me, they are counting off the stops - only 3 to go before I can squeeze out back to the relative freedom of the platforms and corridors. Out there it may be like a sauna but at least it doesn't smell of stale bodies and at least there is somewhere to run."

This morning we heard that 2 bombs had been found in central London.