A week ago today, millions of people went out on the streets, chalking their hopes and furies onto walls; pavements; each other. It was one moment in an evolutionary story. It was a chance for weary prophets to draw in breath, feasting upon the energy and optimism of those not yet broken by the inertia of others who will not care. It may be a turning point; it may be another marker on a chaotic scattergram of things the youth of the 21st century choose to care about; it may be seen as mass hysteria if we discover that the dramatically changing climate is not, in fact, in any way affected by our presence on this world, and it is just humanity showing off its crazy-huge ego once again.
I couldn’t be part of that striking moment, which to me is an unexpected diamond in the string of plastic beads that thread together the realisation that doing something to reduce humanity’s negative impact on the world around us is a no-brainer. To make my contribution, I spent 7 days keeping track of the actions I take, trying to consider their greater impact. As any fluctuating participator in dietary fads and avoidance tactics such as myself will be able to tell you, nothing holds you to account quite like writing down what you are doing – both the positives and the wrappers you’d rather hide behind the back of the sofa. Even better, telling other people about it allows shared stories and mutual re-invigoration. So here’s what I’ve been doing, diesel-car driving and all. How about you? What’s your story?
Day 1: Saturday dawned bright, sunny, and a perfect start to a renewed way of looking at things. Full of enthusiasm and with a family day ahead of me, there were plenty of wins today. We went to the library (got to love a guilt-free book fest), hung the washing on the line to dry, put together a bag of clothes to donate to charity, watered the plants using water from the butt left behind by our predecessors (which obviously meant that it started raining about 15 minutes later). It was not a day without its downsides, though. These would become the features that, on good days, bad days and just a bit meh days, would form a constant muttering behind me, the monotonous burble of “actually, never mind the rest of it, are you ever going to do anything about us?” Overusing my lovely diesel car, moving slightly too fast, trying to combine tasks into single trips but consequently driving round and round and round and round, depressingly frequently in rush hour traffic jams full of everyone else in the same town also trying to fit errands and clubs and emergency shopping into the 15 minutes of unscheduled time they have squeezed in that week. Energy-boosting, energy-crashing, pre-packaged, plastic-wrapped snacks eaten when not hungry because it feels the only way to get from home time to bed time. Tumble-drying school uniforms and only checking the labels afterwards because frankly, even on good weeks I don’t have the energy for 15 rounds with The Cowgirl when I have the temerity to suggest that, in a lack-of-washing emergency situation, it might not be the end of the world if she wears a skirt instead of trousers.
Day 2 arrived and saw me waving the flag for multitasking vicars’ wives everywhere, as I represented the college I work for at a civic service in my husband’s church. (Getting TOIL for going to a service I was going to attend anyway, you say? That is what I call winning at life.) My positive actions for the day started with a rather lovely outfit, if I do say so myself, bought second hand and already worn by someone else from eBay, with
accidentally matching shoes. Later, we looked at food as a family, and made a set of lolly sticks to try to balance the variety I need to keep some kind of sanity around cooking dinner with The Paleontologist’s need to be the boss of Everything In The World. They should also be a way of cutting down food waste, avoiding too much of today’s negative action: having to throw away a loaf of bread that had been sneakily lurking behind some gorgeous flowers gifted to us by a parishioner, and was now mouldy beyond salvation or freezing potential.
Other highlights of the week (by which I mean other actions playing on repeat because that is what life is like on the days I’m at work) included walking between different teaching sites and eating leftovers for lunch instead of taking trips to Aldi. They also included this week’s champion success story: taking my winter coat to have its zip changed. To put this into context, I sewed up the scuppered zip as a temporary fix the night before catching the train to Paris for our tenth wedding anniversary. My colleagues have been mocking me for the year and a half since then that I’ve spent struggling to get it on over my head. This gold-medal-winning moment happened as a result of seeking concrete actions to put in this post. The act of observing and recording genuinely did change my behaviour. Please don’t ever let OFSTED hear me say that.
Over the week, I tried harder with some things, and noticed my own hypocrisy with others. As a lifelong vegetarian who has been resisting giving up dairy with the passion many meaties show in the face of giving up bacon sandwiches, this is not an unfamiliar feeling. This is a process, for all of us. I’m not ready to give up my car yet, and neither is my local transport system. Reducing food waste, on the other hand – that is something we definitely can do. And let’s face it, with the utter unknown of Brexit just round the corner, wasting less food and working better with whatever we happen to have in the house might just become something we all need to go back to being better at. Chaotic uncertainty does have a way of making us appreciate what we used to have. Let’s just hope we all get there before we reach the point that no one will have anything any more.