Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Your money or your life?

Every now and then, I buy a bit more of my life back from the demands of werk. Trouble is, the more they pay me, the more expensive buying back my own time becomes. Still, I reckon it's worth it.

Why put your life on hold on the gamble that you'll live long enough to reach retirement, with your health and marbles intact enough to enjoy it and do all that werk leaves no time for -- and that the value of your pension, and the state of civilisation will both hold up so you get to collect what's due to you? Retirement as life deferred, in the same way that pension is salary deferred. Am I an optimist for gambling that I'll get by all right without maximising income and pension now -- or a pessimist who doesn't trust the future to make up for losing the present? A bit of both, of course.

Back when I was involved with New Economics Foundation, I was impressed by James Robertson's 'Future Work' and 'Future Wealth'. The former book particularly argued that a sustainable society must better recognise and balance the 'real economy' and real value of actual goods and services, and the massive amount of unpaid useful activity that sustains communities and the human spirit, against the 'money economy', since money is a very flawed measure of real value. Having bought the argument, I put my money where my mouth was, and 'bought' back a couple of days a week of my 'own time' -- getting a life, rather than just having a job.

I'm now on my third spell of part-time. First time up, in the 1980s, I was working for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika pulled the rug from under the Cold War; as fear that the world was about to be blown into radioactive smithereens subsided, so did the membership fees and donations that fuelled CND, So I offered to cut my working days, with the aim of Writing Immortal Prose on Fridays -- but usually just managed to catch up with household stuff, recover from feeling shattered by the four preceding days of werk -- recover bounce and energy on Saturday when JN, my other half just wanted to lie about recovering from being shattered. In the mid-1990s, I chucked a demanding berth in transport journalism with the idea of building up freelancing -- but JN, alarmed at becoming sole support for our brand new mortgage, demanded I look for at least a part-time proper job. This time I took Monday and Tuesday as my 'own days', so JN & I could loll about shattered together Saturday mornings, gently recover through the weekend, then I could carry on with the energy and purpose built up before re-entering the world of werk for a manageable three-day week. That is, I reckon, about the ideal work-life balance. I wanted to use my own time for writing stuff, for putting into practice some of the community, environment and sustainability prescriptions that, for werk, I advocated -- which ended up co-chairing Haringey Agenda 21 community side, chairing Permaculture Association Britain, and a spell as chair of New Economics Foundation. I realised that a lot of the ooh-pretty stuff I coveted I'd rather have the fun of making myself than buy from a shop. I wanted do gardening... I went back to full-time werk when the community involvement grew into voracious demands for all my 'own' time -- if other people were going expect me to do what they wanted, rather than what I enjoyed offering, then I might as well get paid for it.

Now, I have Mondays as my 'own day' -- and am inquiring about re-claiming another day for myself. This time round, I just aim to fit in a bit of life. In practice, that means swimming in the local pool to keep fit, pottering in garden and allotment, doing a bit of stuff around the house, and maybe heading out to shops or a bit of culture. Last year, we 'greened' the house -- blog on that to come. Community stuff creeps in, so far just around the edges. I resist turning on the computer with its engulfing tide of emails.

Money has its power over us only to the extent that we accept it in preference to other values. Those of us who have 'enough' money -- average (median/mode) income or above are in a position to exercise choice. We can of course maximise the money we rake in, then spend or save it to buy stuff we want. Or we can focus on stuff that money can't buy -- quality of life, quality time.

There's a story of a go-getting millionaire businessman who walks out along the (Mediterrean/Caribbean...) beach from his 5-star hotel, and trips over a local stretched out asleep beneath the palm trees on the sand. "Why aren't you out working?" snaps the irritated millionaire. "You people have no spirit of enterprise. If you just got off your ass and started fishing, you could sell the fish to this flash hotel. If you worked hard, you could buy a boat and catch more fish, and make enough money to run a fleet of boats."
"And what, senor, should I do then with all that money?"
"Why, you could sell your fleet and you'd have enough to retire to somewhere like here and live a life of leisure enjoying the beach and the sun..."
And the local yokel tipped his hat back over his face and went back to sleep in the sun...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Our freezer is stuffed with runner beans, we've been giving them away to neighbours -- and begging the neighbours who share the fence they grow against to please, please pick all they can see and reach. But next door (a Congolese family) though they nod and smile when I tell them this are leaving lots of beans that have grown huge and tough. While the harvest lasts, its overwhelming -- but as soon as a few beans have been left to grow old and ripe, the plants will stop bearing.

Nature produces short gluts -- gardening is (among other things) the art of having lots of different gluts throughout the year in more or less manageable quantities. But high summer, now, is when all the gluts come at once.

At the weekend, I tried bottling applies from our two 'minarette' backyard trees (one is definitely Lord Lamborne, the other I think is Worcester Pearmain but it may be Ashmeads Kernel) in order to clear the whole shelf of our fridge they were occupying, plus the overflow on the benchtop attended by a cloud of little gnats . My second ever go at bottling -- not very successful, only one of the three jars formed a seal, and the fruit rose in all the jars. But I have become a pretty dab hand at jam-making: the first three years I tried it, I worked very conscientiously by the book -- achieving the chemical transformation to 'jelling' point, then transferring the super-heated solution to (hot sterilised) jars and sealing them to maintain sterile conditions is pretty serious technical stuff. I probably wouldn't have dared tackle it if I hadn't, as a kid, seen my mother making jams, so I knew it is something that can be done at home and had a very vague and basic idea of what was involved. It is, of course, something you tell the kids to stay clear of as basic health and safety precaution. Now, I just launch in -- measure up for 1 pound sugar to one pint fruit or strained juice, boil up the fruit, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Wash out the jars while it's boiling up. Usually, that's as far as I get on Day 1. Next day: bring the fruit and sugar back up to a rolling boil, put the jars in the oven at 120F for a minimum of 10 minutes, after 15 minutes at rolling boil start checking the jam for 'jelling point' by dropping a spot of it onto a cold saucer -- once the surface wrinkles when you push at it, its set. Turn off the heat, and ladle into hot jars. I seal while its still hot -- waxed paper discs onto all the jars, then dampened cellophone covers. Leave to cool, then label and stash away -- we keep ours in a 'dead fridge' (which will get a separate blog entry) outside the back door.

Tomatoes just starting to ripen; mass of lettuces (Rossa di Trento) starting to go to seed down the allotment -- they've been such good growers that I'll let at least one of them ripen seed for re-sowing (and for opportunistic self-seeding).

Pressures of time: werk which advocates getting into the great outdoors, engaging with nature, physical activity and psychological relaxation/fascination creating health and well-being -- but what I do for werk is sit indoors at laptop, go to meetings, or sit in trains, stopping me from getting out there and actually doing the stuff we advocate. I can at least, werking at home, be distracted by watching the small birds at the back garden bird feeders.

Fingerprints and identity

The laptop issued me by Natural England for which I werk has a fingerprint recognition swiper. Theoretically, this saves the owner the bother of remembering passwords etc and also means only they have access to the machine. There have been ghoulish speculations that any baddie really wanting to break into the system/steal the machine would chop off the unlocking finger, in an unromantic update of the Tom Lehrer song.

My problem is that, as far as the machine recognition is concerned, I just don't seem to have any fingerprints. At least, none that it can recognise. Perhaps it's soft feminine skin; perhaps they've been worn away by gardening, or swimming.

But when it comes to bio-metrics for ID cards, passports, credit etc -- am I a non-person? And how many other women, blokes, children also have finger whorls too faint and soft, or worn and cracked, to be reliably readable as identity markers?

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Why this blog

1) Reflections on balancing the demands of an 'environmental' job with living a sustainable green life -- including community action, as well as home, garden, allotment
2) Reflections on the practice and theory of permaculture, as a system for thinking through (design) sustainability -- as a balance of earthcare, peoplecare and fair shares
And no doubt, other stuff about life as she is lived.