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22 May 2022

Then & Now: We were ‘green’ out of necessity

Then & Now: We were ‘green’ out of necessity

There were certainly a lot less plastics when Tom was growing up Picture: Pexels

THE GREEN agenda has become a topic of conversation in recent years, with different viewpoints being raised and solutions being put forward.
The schools are doing good work, and this is the way forward with the children, as we face increased climate change in the years ahead. The youth are more in tune with how climate change is affecting present day living. My generation have been blamed for not doing enough over our lifetimes, but is this really fair?
It would be a mistake to glorify the past, because it wasn't all great, but there was a lot in it to cherish and we did our best with what we had. We didn't have much, but we didn't know that we didn't have much, and we were generally happy with our lot.
Back then, we expected little, and were used to making do but that simple past is what formed us. What we didn't have much of was a wealth of material goods which we have at present which has cluttered up our everyday lives.
We valued what we had and reused items where possible and maybe we were recycling long before it became fashionable. The local village shop was king and supermarkets only a distant dream. We brought our own cloth bags to bring home the groceries and no plastic or packaging was used.
Back then we returned milk bottles, lemonade bottles, and beer bottles to the shop and received a few pence for our work.
The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over again. So, they were really recycled. The hard sweets came in gallons and were sold in small quantities wrapped in newspaper that were left over from the previous day.
The sweet gallons when empty were given to customers who used them for household chores such as keeping milk or bringing water from the well.
Grocery shops bagged our groceries in paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most useful was the use of brown paper bags, as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that the book was not defaced by our scribbling and could be handed down to the next member of the family.
Back then, we washed the baby's towel nappies because we didn't have the throwaway modern nappies. We dried clothes on a line outside and also inside on a line hanging below the ceiling. No need for an energy gobbling drying machine burning up electricity.
We had our own fresh vegetables when they were in season, instead of at present when some are sourced from all parts of the world and are preserved to last until they reach their destination.
The air was pure, without emissions and our bird, insect and wildlife was not declining and under threat as nowadays. The dinner leftovers were recycled and given to the fowl and farm animals as feeding. The ashes from the turf fire were used as manure for vegetables and spread out in the gardens.
The cloth bag that the flour for baking in (once the makers name was removed) had several uses, being used for pillow covers, tea towels, school bags, underwear, etc.
It could be dyed different colours also for more fashionable clothing. We had hand-me-down clothes from our older brothers and sisters, not always brand new clothing or present day designer brands, but they were new to us.
Back then, we had one radio or TV in the house-not a TV in every room, and the TV had a small screen the size of a large white handkerchief (remember them) not a screen the size of a front half door in the kitchen. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances, and we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space, in order to find the nearest pub. When cooking we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.
We refilled writing pins with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor, instead of throwing away the whole razor, just because the blade was blunt. The girls dried their hair in the fresh air or in front of the fire instead of using an electric hairdryer. We toasted bread on long forks in front of the glowing embers, instead of the modern toasters.
Back then people took the bus if available, and children rode their bikes to school, or walked, instead of turning their mothers into a 24 -hour taxi service in the family's petrol guzzler, which cost the same now as a whole house did back then.
We didn't pull a cable to start a machine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We pushed the mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. We drank from a tap or fountain when we were thirsty, instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. When we packaged a fragile item to sent in the mail, we used rolled up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
We sold eggs wrapped in old newspaper to pay for our groceries and now we buy eggs in plastic containers.
In school there was the same basic lifestyle too and waste was kept at a minimum. Ink was made from powder and kept in a large bottle and poured into our inkwells for our dipping pens as needed.
School clothes were rarely new, and no one cared. Things were re-used and not so readily thrown out. A girl next to me in school always wrote in a pencil in her jotter so she could erase the writing and reuse the page until it disintegrated. She didn't have the three pence to buy a new jotter every week. When we needed information we went to books in the library, and older people and we listened to the wireless a lot, instead of plugging into a present day gadget.
We were economically minded but it was out of necessity. We had to re-use and recycle a lot and we had to be careful, which gave us a useful brush with reality. Our clothes were frequently hand -me-downs and there was no stigma about passing something on between family and friends. But isn't it sad that, some of the current generation lament how wasteful we old folk were just because we didn't have the green agenda back then?

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