Thursday, February 21, 2008

Great Expectations: Perspectives on Memories

Redcar sea front, nice enough on a warm summer day but freezing in the winter. By MattSearle A Yorkshire childhood: When I was a boy of 10, I lived for a while with my granny in a house with no heating save one small intermittent coal fire and no inside toilet. Wearing the regulation school uniform shorts, I walked to school a mile or so away winter or summer. This was just 50 years ago. I survived what would now be regarded as an ordeal without any particular recollection of severe hardship. My granny would give me a porcelain hot water bottle on nights when the icy frost flowers formed inside the windows of my bedroom. I recall crunching through fresh snow in the outside back passageway en route for the toilet, known to me to this day as 'the bog'. (No prissy 'loos' in my house!) At school, it was quite normal for us boys to be out playing compulsory football or rugby, clad in thin cotton shirt and shorts, in rain, sleet and snow. Being bitterly cold was, I suppose, supposed to encourage you to run around if only to generate heat. I have an enduring hatred of organised sports to this day!

Monday's washing day: My granny had no washing machine. All washing was by hand in the kitchen sink, aided by a wooden-handled copper plunger. She then put the washing through the The TV was much less fancy than this one! By gunnyrathand mangle which I helped crank. Then it went on the clothes line outside and she hoped it wouldn't rain. The damp laundry she would later festoon on a clothes horse around the small fire, usually lit in the late afternoon. In the evening, she and my grandfather would barricade themselves in the room, drawing draught-proof curtains across doors and windows and watch the TV. And what a TV! A massive wooden box with a tiny rounded black and white screen. There was only one channel: the BBC. And there were numerous 'technical faults', both with the transmission and on the set itelf which frequently went into uncontrollable rolling picture spins. But to me, it was luxury... until I was told to go to bed.

Life 100 years ago: But what about a century or more ago? My grandfather, who lived to be 101, as a boy travelled about in horse-drawn omnibuses and carts, on a bicycle but mostly on foot. There were, of course, no cars and the Wright brothers hadn't yet invented powered flight. Most houses had no running water or toilets. My granny's small 1930s semi-detached house, which I remember from the late 1950s, would have seemed luxurious to people at the turn of the 19th century. And their accommodation and means of transport would have seemed likewise to people living a century earlier... and so on back to the simple huts, yurts, tepees and caves of our more distant ancestors, not forgetting that there are still plenty of people around the world who still live in that simple fashion.

Jump to 2008: Oh my, how things have changed! Today, people expect to live in permanently warm houses as a sort of obvious right. And most expect a home with 2 or more toilets,Yurt and satellite TV dish. By Fighting Tiger shower rooms, bathrooms and constant hot water. Then there's the phone, a basic necessity now - if only for broadband access - but my granny didn't have one. Making a phone call from the phone box round the corner was a rare and expensive event. So we wrote letters then; a dead art today. Most rich world homes today have several TVs, often with giant screens and, via satellite (yes, I remember Sputnik 1, the first Earth satellite, back in 1957), hundreds of channels to choose from. Everyone now has some means of recording TV so you could spend your whole life watching something.

And my point is? This whole flimsy house of cards depends utterly on cheap fossil fuel (see my earlier post). These Great Expectations can't go on. Obviously if you're born to all this 'stuff' -- be it cars, supermarket food, warm homes, automatic washers, DVDs, iPods, Facebook and numerous etceteras -- you're not really able to appreciate the comfort and luxury all this affords because you've never known life without. Most would say these things were basic necessities; a right; essentials.

Communicating: A mobile phone is indispensible if you're a teen or young adult. I have one Old bakelite rotary dial phone. By storm_galmyself. Yet a short fifty years ago, a fixed phone in a house was a luxury and not people many had them. Life went on. Today, people are in touch with friends all the time. Step back 30 years. I was working in the high Peruvian Andes for weeks at a time. I could only send a brief telegram to my wife in Lima if I happened to pass through some small town. Most of the time, she didn't know if I was alive or dead and the odd telegram she did receive a day or so after sending was often hopelessly garbled. Now jump back to the time of World War 2. I once met a former soldier who had been unable to contact his wife for over 3 years and, I gather, that wasn't unusual. Suddenly, sending a telegram every week or so seemed like regular chat!

A scary dependency: So imagine the chaos if some of these 'essentials' that every younger person takes for granted today ceased to work or be available! There'd be riots in the streets; anarchy. Doomsayers like James Lovelock predict that civil consumerist societies will disintegrate when planetary heating really kicks in. How many people know basic skills like cooking or how to grow their own food? Is life possible without the Internet and mobile phones? Without cars and the fuel they need to move? Without holidays abroad? Without supermarkets and shopping?

Can poverty teach us something? It could in the sense that the poorest people have to learn to be survivors or they die. They have to be able to make do for food, clothing, shelter and medicine or they die. The poorest peoples have no Western-style safety net to keep them alive. But in the event of the collapse of civilisation, it will be those who know how to make do with next to nothing who will be amongst the survivors. They will have the key skills. Keyboard skills will count for nought.


Jane said...

I'm about 5 years younger than you, but have similar memories of growing up in London. We were a 'lower middle class' family, but the hot water was only turned on once a week when we all had baths. My parents would not have dreamed of heating more than one room in the house. I and most of the children in my class at school had chilblains on our toes in the winter which were agony when our toes defrosted after we'd been outside; our class teacher used to pass round an ice-cube to rub on the sores to stop the burning and itching. I would not want to go back to those days, but how times have changed!

Unknown said...

It's very useful to have such perspective.
Someone recently pointed out to me that 20-year-olds have never known a world without CDs.

I dare say it's easier to go this way than the other.

While we cannot continue to use energy as we have done recently, the reduction does not have to mean penury. A few little advances e.g. good capacitor batteries and cheap solar panels and we'll have electric cars and photovoltaic roofs.

We're not going to give up on civilisation just yet!

Compost John said...

Bri, I like your blog, keep up the good work
John Cossham
'low carbon lifestyle' on blogspot

adrian2514 said...

Hey thanks for the great blog, love this stuff. Do you have any idea of what celebrities are going green these days? I know there is a ton of them but I interested to find some that I haven’t seen before. I saw Ed Begley Jr. on ( ) Leo DiCaprio is on their site too. Any other good places to find ‘ecolebrities’? (Besides ecorazzi)

Thanks for all your info and drop me a link if you guys see anything worth my time.

Conway Wigg said...


I couldn't find a contact email for you so I hope you don't mind me sending this to you through a comment.

We're hosting an event to launch a new piece of global research on consumer perception on climate change. Details hereunder.

If you can tune in to the launch and take part, that would be great.

Thanks & Regards


Consumer perception of climate change and its potential impact on business

A global survey from Havas Media

Havas Media the umbrella group which draws together the full global media expertise of Havas invites you to the weblaunch of their global survey on consumer response to climate change.

Webcast Details

Date: Monday 12 May 2008

Time: 3.00pm British Summer Time

To register for the webcast visit

The webcast will begin with an interview on the results and then be followed by a Q & A session.

Details of how to obtain an advance copy of the research findings will be sent to all who register.

Key Facts:

With more than 11,000 respondents, this is one of the largest pieces of research of its kind.

Qualitative and quantitative research across nine key markets - UK, US, Spain, France, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, India and China.

Vast majority of consumers highly engaged with the issue and keen to further demonstrate their green awareness in how they shop.

Considerable expectation from consumers that brands should lead the way in tackling climate change.

Unknown said...

in producing as much pollution as the average (North American) commuter does with an automobile in a year.

Now in the present posting you say "A mobile phone is indispensible if you're a teen or young adult. I have one myself." Why is that? Are there no longer land lines where you live? If there are, then it seems you can criticize one consumer indulgence (frivolous air travel) yet seemingly be blind to the incredible polluting consequences of cell phones -- millions of 'obsolete' ones end up in land fills each year, and they are particularly poisonous since they contain exotic metals and minerals that leach out as they break down. And of course the invisible 'electrosmog' produced by cell networks is very damaging to human health, as is increasingly clear from studies that are getting out despite massive propaganda and scientist-bribing by the telecom industry.

Given your stated values, why are you participating in the cell phone madness?

Tim Weller said...

This is a superb piece of writing from brill Bry! Excellent English, prose and syntax and, super-excellent sentiments that I, of course, totally agree with!
Tim Weller

Marie said...

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Parvati’s mission is to bring awareness to the urgent ecological effect of melting polar ice caps. Charged with purity of heart, clear intention, and the willingness to serve, Parvati will become the first artist to ever perform this far North. There she will offer her songs to help raise awareness of just how quickly the ice caps are disappearing and the devastating effect this is having on the entire planet.

Born in Montreal and now living in Toronto, Parvati is an internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter, performer and producer of electronic dance pop. Her music celebrates the gift of life and her debut album and multimedia show, Yoga in the Nightclub, has had people from Toronto to Berlin shaking to its joyful rhythms. After a summer of increased signs of environmental distress, Parvati decided to postpone her Canadian tour to trek to the North Pole. She says she simply cannot turn away from the effects climate change is having.

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Parvati will be joined on the trip by Satish Sikha (, another environmental activist. In Resolute, Canada’s most remote city, Satish will unveil the world’s longest piece of woven silk. Each segment is signed by a celebrity, politican or international dignitary who shares their thoughts on climate change.

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More information about Parvati’s trip is available at

Marie said...

North Pole Trek in 5 Days! Parvati, Canadian musical artist and energy healer/yogi, is trekking to the Magnetic North Pole in 6 days! Charged with purity of heart, clear intention and willingness to serve, Parvati is making this courageous journey to a small, desolate island in the Arctic Ocean known as Ward Hunt Island, where less than one month ago, a chunk of ice the size of Bermuda spontaneously calved off the glacier. She will become the first ever to perform at the magnetic North Pole, and will offer her songs to help raise awareness of the global ecological impact of the melting polar ice caps. Learn more at