Who remembers The Wombles? I constantly borrowed these books from the library when I was a child. Cute furry creatures in burrows who lived on what careless humans threw away? Irresistible! My favourite feature of the books were the lists of the things that the Wombles found on their collecting expeditions, which they popped into collecting bags and took back to the burrow, where the wonderfully taciturn and practical Tobermory stacked them all on shelves in his workshop and made them into whatever the Wombles needed. Lists, DIY, making-do-and mending... so many of my favourite things all in one book!
Essentially, the Wombles were 'making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folks leave behind'. In other words, they were a freeganist, dumpster-diving salvage society. I think that what drew me to them as a child was partly this idea of living on the fringes, in the spaces between the uncompromising and very boring structures of society. These were creatures who lived on what fell through the gaps, and lived a rip-roaring life of fun and adventures right under the noses of the unseeing humans above, who went about their lives not realising what was going on just below.
It is fascinating (and terrifying) to contemplate our growth-obsessed society, and the sheer volume of stuff that is produced every day. I mean, it is almost impossible to imagine where it all goes. Baby clothes, for example. How is it that there is still a market for new baby clothes? New babies outgrow their first clothes in about two months. Every time I have had a new baby I have been given bags of hand-me-down baby clothes, and after every baby I've given bags of clothes away that are hardly worn. If there was a moratorium on the manufacture of new baby clothes tomorrow there would be enough to go round for years to come. But people buy new baby clothes all the time. Where does the old stuff go? (I have just thought of the answer - clearly the Wombles snaffle it for the baby Wombles..)
The dominant paradigm of our society is buying and selling, and any transaction that does not result in outright ownership is seen as a poor cousin. But just think of the possibilities beyond a culture where owning stuff is important. Rent, barter, trade, lending, borrowing, sharing, foraging, re-using, creating, up-cycling. Most of these are fairly unattractive concepts to the average middle-class consumer.
But just imagine the possibilities for an alternative economy. Most of us here on the interweb are reasonably well-endowed with worldly goods. What if we were to open up our hearts and lives and call our family and ten of our best friends and say, 'Everything I have is yours! Let's share stuff!' Actually, I imagine many of us do that already, especially among family. I have four or five friends who I count as family and we all freely borrow, lend and share all our stuff, but I think I will expand that network. Because I want more friends who are like family:) And sometimes the best way for friends to become like family is to ask them for help. Most people (especially those who are already friends) LOVE to help when you are in trouble, and are honoured to be asked. And then you help right back, and suddenly you have a mutually dependent relationship, and every time you are there with emotional support, practical help, garden produce or the lending of 'stuff' for a friend, and they are there for you, then that relationship becomes stronger and more vital..
Then there is all that excess stuff that floats around the universe, unwanted and unloved because most folks prefer new stuff from Target. I must say, I am getting more and more intrigued by the possibilities of all the lovely old, beautiful, well-made objects out there, sitting around in junk shops, at car-boot sales, on gumtree and at school fairs.
Here is my latest:
1950s Fowler Ware electric jug
My stainless steel kettle was leaking from the spout after all the hard work it has had to do over the years. I was pretty sure it could be fixed, but hadn't gotten around to sorting it when the switch started to malfunction. Not wanting to burn the house down I started looking for a 'new' kettle and found this in my favourite second-hand homewares shop (Tassie Old Wares on Hobart Rd for all you locals). Last time The Man was home he kindly made sure that the cord was safe and put a new plug on for me. Its only drawback is that you have to fill it up above the element otherwise the element blows up. So each time you have to boil half a jug of water. Two options occurred to me - invite six friends over every time I have a cup of tea, OR fill up the thermos with all that boiling water. I went with option two, although option one is also attractive. Now I have several cups of tea a day without even boiling the jug, so I think that on the whole I am using less electricity. And it is blue. And so beautiful. And now I can see why these were called 'electric jugs' when they were invented, because they are clearly an actual jug, with electricity and a lid attached.
And as for wombling, I have already started. The other day Posy and I were walking the dog, and someone had left a charming chair at the end of their driveway with a 'Please take me, I'm free' sign on it. Now I hear this is a common practice in other localities, but not so much in our conservative town. So what could I do but encourage such initiative? I handed the dog-lead to Posy and carried the chair home. Posy has declared she is never walking the dog with me again. And the chair needs repainting, and recovering, and I have to admit that there have been other times in my life when I have brought chairs home from op-shops and such places and not renovated them... and finally given them away again, but then that is how the great chair re-cycle of life goes anyway, isn't it?
So please do tell me about your own wombling adventures and your ideas for living in an economy based on fun and sharing rather than buying and selling..
PS Between finishing this post and taking photos for it I came upon this lovely man who is actually doing it - he is living the life of a Womble. What an extraordinary and wonderful human being. I want to be just like him when I grow up..