Had to end off my previous entry in haste because it was time to get to the weekly market. Ironically, as I went from stall to stall buying Double Gloucester and Caerphilly and Perl Las cheeses and halibut and barbary duck breast, blackberries and raspberries, dark green skinny courgettes, pale yellow beans from a nearby valley, I was thinking about anti-consumerism. Thinking about simplifying and making do.
My life is crowded with contradictions, both here and in South Africa. I don’t like to spend at all never mind recklessly, and think carefully before I do go shopping. I don’t go into supermarkets if there is an alternative, I avoid chain retail outlets, whether these are coffee shops or grocers or clothes boutiques or health and fitness centres.
What I like is to keep that carbon footprint as lightly dusted as possible. To buy local. To buy Fair Trade when I can’t buy local. Not to buy if I can grow it myself, make it myself, make do, or do without. I admire artisanal produce but some of it is luxury and guaranteed a place at the back of the fridge (raspberry vinegars, rocket pesto, any mustard but Dijon). And there’s a food snobbery that comes out of my background as a food writer and having a culinary imagination (damn you MK Fisher!) that makes everything a tad too complicated. Out here I realise more and more that much of the food in upmarket restaurants and gastropubs and delis only tastes of condiments and often all alike, of smoked garlic, red-wine vinegar, walnut oil, truffle oils, Dijon mustard, freshly ground black pepper and Maldon sea salt.
Welsh lamb tastes fine just as Welsh lamb. Homegrown rocket scarecely needs a dressing. Steamed new potatoes or young spinach tastes fine just on its own. I have cultivated a palate for expensive and over-used condiments and need to unlearn that.
We so often construct our purpose and meaning in life around acquisition. We buy things and talk as if those possessions equal a learning experience. We think of knowledge as an acquisition, as a passive ‘getting of truth’ via the purchase of literature or watching a film or being entertained or lectured. Others are the experts and do the learning on our behalf. We consume our lives as if entitled to acquire and consume without effort or ethics.
And there is something wrong with this. How many unread books do I have on my shelves right now? How often do I browse the Internet instead of writing, buy rather than plant, order in rather than cook? It is so easy to lead an unlived life in this society, where so much is mediated for us and there is so little effort required or simplicity valued. We buy packs of tarot cards, buy scented candles and arrange flowers we haven’t grown, use objects to stand in for meaning in rituals that are just derivative and cost us nothing except money. Mean nothing except in terms of passing the time or acquiring symbolic status.
I keep thinking about the boy I saw the other week, probably gipsy, walking along the road playing a mouth organ, a lively and skilful tune. Creating meaning without iPods or cell phones or gilded athames or candles or hi-tech equipment. Just playing a tune he had been taught and had practised until he could do it well. I looked at him and thought: ‘That is what I want from life.’ Skills that do not require consumerism or exploitation, that harm nobody and enrich the quality of life, that keep me present.
For so long I lived in a haze of alcohol, bought at the expense of house cleaning materials or food or books or life. I would buy alcohol, as much as I could afford, and then nuts or salty snacks to munch on while I got driunk, all just for me, and a book to read while I sat drinking and losing awareness of what I was reading. Then I would wake in the morning, the night before a dull blank, and take analgesics and bought orange juice and Coca Cola. Crave salty, greasy carbohydrates to combat toxicity, sweets to zap up my blood sugars.
Now as I pay attention to my daily routines and rituals and service, I am beginning to make choices and think through the consequences of the life lived with care and attention. The unlived life is behind me, just for today. How do I choose to spend my priceless time and how do I go about getting a wisdom that can’t be bought?