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..


CJ said…
You don't need to buy much at all really when you have a baby do you. By the time I got to number three I just made sure the nappies and babygros were out and washed and bought a packet of cotton wool and I was good to go. After he was grown out of it all, I passed it on to the next person. I know exactly what you mean about the mountain of clothes, it's shocking isn't it. I always feel very anxious about all of the stuff bought for children, especially all that ghastly plastic from China. We can't go on like this! I'm a huge fan of the Wombles, I had an Orinoco and a Womble poster when I was little. And my children like them too, in fact I still like to call out "Coo-ee, Wumbles" in a French accent like Madame Cholais. Have you ever read the blog "Free Our Kids" written by Hattie Garlick? She and her partner raised their little son for a year without buying him any children's stuff - so no expensive children's snacks or children's food, no clothes or toys. She had a baby in that time as well, so she had to find things like maternity clothes and baby items, and even one or two bigger items. It's a great read. Keep on Wombling! CJ xx
Anonymous said…
Of course I'm a Wombles fan. I only wanted to go to Wimbledon Common because of the show. As to wombling, today is council clean up day and I "rescued" a really good, in almost perfect nick, Christmas decoration while on my walk. Would have taken more things but I was doing my walk. Came home and discussed with Mr S if we should go and collect three perfectly good chairs that I saw. I estimate they'd be at least $300 each new. Mr S questioned why they'd be put out if they were good. Because one's dead and who has three seats? Because they're old fashioned? Who knows but you should see the perfectly good things my middle class neighbourhood puts out.

Tempted to get a beach recliner except I don't go to the beach that often. Helped my elderly neighbour carry a clothes rack from another neighbour.

Fly up here and you could get enough stuff to open your own store in Tassie. Oh, except you don't fly!

What did I put out you ask? A suitcase over 25 years old whose wheels have come off stuffed with cushion stuffing from our first lounge as a married couple which I had reused for floor cushions for the kids but after 23,years is too smelly. A broken fan (which someone rescued the motor part - it was the plastic neck that broke. Stupid to have the whole weight of s fan dependent on a plastic neck. I saw several of the same models out today. They must have been knocked over as my son did to ours.) And a bag of stuff like old cords and doo-dads from kids' toys.

Oh and I love the blue jug. I want one.
Anonymous said…
Do you know I just got asked to select soup to have my comment published. Blogger is getting more and more bizarre. Wonder what fun it will involve me in next?
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Top work with the chair (I do the same thing here too for good finds). Chance finds always add an element of excitement and uncertainty to our lives: How is it going to work out? Will we achieve our vision for that item? How will it look? Why did the person throw out that perfectly good chair?

We were at a house wrecking yard on Saturday morning in Bendigo picking up steel sheets for the new wood shed and there were so many interesting and useful items in there! All good fun, but the place here is kept very neat so...

By the way, is that a real espresso machine in the background of that photo? Hmmm, if so then my respect for you has risen. hehe! I'm so far from real coffee (20km return trip) that it is a proper espresso machine (Gaggia Classic) or not at all. They haven’t changed the design of the machine for over 30 years – and that says something.

Speaking of which: You know what is a useful second hand purchase? Fowlers Vacola bottles. Those bottles are awesome for bottling fresh fruit over summer and I have a year’s supply of bottled apricots here. YUM! They are so well made it is a shame. I use number 27 bottles here (900ml) and the youngest of them is over 40 years old.

Hope that you are getting some serious rain in your part of the world too.


Jo said…
Yes, CJ, love Hattie's blog - it's on my sidebar, and mine's on hers:) She is an amazing ball of energy, isn't she? She has been much better at not buying stuff than I have..
Jo said…
Lucinda I am sooo jealous. We do not have council hard rubbish days here - we have to lug it all to the tip. But where is the fun in that, I mean the fun of fossicking through all the neighbours' rubbish? Thankfully, they recently opened up a tip shop here, but I haven't popped in to investigate yet..

Yes, I was asked to select steaks today.. you are right. I think they are all having a big laugh at Blogger HQ..

Chris, lovely to see you here. Yes, I love the serendipitous nature of treasure hunting at junk shops and op shops. That lightbulb moment when you find exactly the right thing, that you didn't even know you needed yet!

I am afraid I deserve no kudos re coffee. I don't drink it, and have never learnt how to use the coffee machine, because if I did, people would expect me to make coffee for them. Outrageous!

I am pretty sure this is a quite ordinary coffee machine. Although it does make proper coffee, not one of those pod things. Ex-hub took the good one recently (with my blessings) when he moved into a new apartment. He replaced it with this one, which was his work one, because the girls like to make frothy milk for their hot chocolate, and the 19yo makes a coffee about every six weeks or so. So I am sorry people, if you visit me for coffee, you will have to make it yourself.. but I will graciously get the coffee cup out of the drawer for you:)

And yes, Fowlers Vacola bottles - have been filling them with pears and apples all autumn - my first whirl at preserving. Too much fun!
Angela said…
I wish WE had council cleanup days here. We rescued 2 chairs - a neighbour put one by a skip and we politely knocked and asked for it - he offered us a second. Both had ONE damaged leg- and it was possible to make 1 good chair from the two - and we gained loads of leather which has been used in other craft projects.
My daughter lives in Wimbledon - last visit we ate in the Fox&Grapes pub on the common. No Wombles in sight tho!!blessings x
Anonymous said…
Lubbly jubbly Ms Jo, can I be a womble too please? By the way, any time you need something let me know. I may just have it (aside from eggs at the moment as my dear flock look like they have been plucked and are refusing to lay ;) ). If you need something crocheted, please consider me your mad go-to crochet lady as I am obsessed with crochet at the moment. I just made my sister a diaphonous (or however you spell that) shawl out of the yarn equivalent of spiders web for her 50th and the prototype (doesn't everyone make a prototype?) is sitting there and I have decided to give it away on Facebook to anyone who wants it. I, too, loved the Wombles and I have it on good authority from Stevie-boy that his little brother (now almost 49) was a Womble fanatic. Throw "The Good Life" into the mix and the U.K. "didn't arf come up with the goods" when it came to quality sustainable telly :). I have an excess of white fly if anyone out there would like some. "Free to a good home". I will even catch them in a bag and bring them to you if you want...
Mimi said…
I remember The Wombles too. Wasn't that a great moment in time? So many other happy memories of British telly (who could forget Pilot and their song January on Top of the Pops! Okay....maybe everyone but me), British comic books (can't remember the name of them but Mum bought them for me religiously every month and they were the sole reason I finally travelled to London at the age of 43), and trying to copy London fashion from afar in The Colonies! I don't know about everyone always wanting to help if you're in need though, Jo. When our disabled son finally jagged a wheelchair accessible Community Housing unit, it happened so quickly we were caught off guard and had NOTHING! We put the word out to our network of friends and family, asking whether anyone could help with anything at all, from mismatched crockery and cutlery, to teatowels and pillowcases. Apart from family, the only people who helped were some friends on a forum in which you and I have participated. Everyone else just got embarrassed and asked us whose idea it was to have our son move out. What the??? An extreme example, granted. But it shows that the spirit of generosity only exists in some circles. It was a hard, and sad, lesson for us. Mimi xxx
Anonymous said…
Hi Jo. Al, Lucy, Nell and I have moved to Adelaide, and the wombling potential in our new area is excellent. Each household has two hard rubbish days per year ( cf areas having a single, shared hard rubbish day) and so everyday holds the promise of free stuff. We've found bikes for the girls and by picking up pieces here and there, a full outdoor setting. The outdoor setting is very, very ugly but so far anyone sitting on it in the reserve out the back of our house has mentioned the parrots and flowering gums, and not the plastic, faux marbled beige table :-).

I'm really enjoying ready about your thrifty & minimal ways. I remember you stripping extraneous stuff out of your house many years ago now and it's lovely seeing where that impetuous has led you.

Jo said…
Angela, that is such out of the square thinking on the chairs, brilliant! And is it wonderful how pathetically grateful people can be when you take their unwanted stuff away for them?

Fran, I may need your expert advice when I get to crocheting all my granny squares together. I'll be on your doorstep! I may just pass on your generous offer of white fly as I have enough of my own at present.. but you know, thanks..

Mimi, I cannot believe that response from your 'friends'. I hope you have since found some truly kind and supportive people to share your life with..

I maintain that finding goof friends and working hard to keep them is one of the most important forms of self-care.. especially challenging for those of us introverts who love to lurk at home reading a book, but I have been very blessed in the calibre of people who keep turning up in my life anyway..

Kris, how marvellous to hear from you!! I have been thinking recently about calling you and arranging to walk our dogs together.. And now I discover you have moved to Adelaide. Outrageous! Hope it was a good move for you. I spent my later teenage years in Adelaide, and went to uni there at Flinders (because Adelaide didn't have a sociology department then, and I really wanted to study sociology!). Are you lecturing there?

I am so glad your visitors are so polite as to not mention the outdoor setting. When I have visited family in Adelaide I have frequently been very upset at seeing something on the side of the road that I couldn't fit in my suit case to take home..

Please email me if you get a chance, I'd love to catch up:)

Anonymous said…
I think the Borrowers did that too, but they moved right into your house and upcycled your cast-offs from within!
Jo said…
Yes, the Borrowers, even more subversive! When I was quite young, before I had read the Borrowers, my friend and I had two little men called Mr Acorn and Corkie, who were, not surprisingly, made out of an acorn and a cork. They lived next door to each other in shoeboxes, and the story that we invented for them involved them sneaking into human houses and pinching useful things that they needed for their houses. So you can imagine how delighted I was to discover the Borrowers. Goodness, I haven't thought of Corkie and Mr Acorn in about 30 years.. I wonder what happened to them? Maybe they are still up-cycling cotton reels and match boxes somewhere?
Heather F said…
It is very common where I live to see free used furniture out on the streets in front of houses who have recently purchased new furniture. My kids sneer at the stuff, proclaiming it disgusting. I have to laugh at them, though, because when I first moved out of my childhood home my roomates and I were bringing home found stuff all the time. Heck, even after my husband and I got married I'm pretty sure we furnished our new apartment with some free strangers' hand-me-downs. I tell my kids that free used tables and chairs start to look mighty attractive when they suddenly have dining rooms and living rooms and realize they only have bedroom furniture when they start living on their own.
heather said…
Oh good, I'm so glad someone brought up the Borrowers. I was feeling a bit left out of the Womblemania, never having seen them. But the Borrowers! The one problem I remember having with the story was the issue of scale- I seem to remember one character riding a mouse, and then another reusing a much larger object in a way that seemed improbable for a mouse-rider... That's the kind of kid I was, no trouble with the idea of tiny people living in the walls, just with the math of it all...

I have a friend with whom I have developed a "share and share alike" relationship after many years. The funny thing is, that although for various reasons I have a lot more "stuff" than she does, she never would borrow from me, despite my frequently offering. But once I "imposed" on her for the use of her rototiller, and later a pasta machine, she finally felt OK to ask. So I agree that sometimes asking is a good way to break the ice. It does take some nerve though, to be the "vulnerable" one. Aren't people funny?
--Chicken Heather
Jo said…
Heather, when my son moved out of home to another state over the water, the worst thing was we couldn't send all our unwanted furniture with him! When we got married we furnished our house with my parents-in-law old furniture - they lived on a farm and when they got new furniture they just put the old furniture in one of their many sheds!

Anyway, I advised The Boy to ask around at work if anybody wanted to sell him some old furniture, knowing what would happen, and sure enough, he was rapidly given all the old furniture people wanted to get out of their sheds. It is a wonderful cycle of life!

Chicken Heather (that title always makes me laugh xx) I just loved The Borrowers - I must go back and do the math! And yes, I think that sometimes that willingness to be vulnerable is the key to taking that relationship past the place where you don't want to impose on each other. People mostly prefer to be the giver rather than the receiver - it is the position of power after all.. and it takes a special kind of courage to be perceived as needy:)
Unknown said…
OH my Jo, that is a work of art. To think this was a common item and no one would have considered it beautiful. Love the soft blue. Not more that 3 minutes ago i took our 7 foot STIG (carboard mounted) next door to a new neighbour who works in props. I knew STIG wouldnt thrill him but i thought the frame supporting him (very strong) would come in handy. He followed me home and now STIG has left the building (thank goodness). I also noticed his lawns/weeds getting a bit unruly and sure enough, they dont own a mower. He's got the day off tomorrow, so he borrowing ours which gets hardly any use at all. Its not hard people.
Unknown said…
PS. no Wombles or Sesame Street for us, we were farm kids. They do sound like fun and inspirational. I might have to sneak a dvd into the house and pretend its for visiting children.
Jo said…
Lynda, it is so brilliant to have that kind of relationship with a neighbour. It makes the good times more pleasant and the hard times more bearable. And if we could all do it, we could save civilisation. Because if we keep consuming at the current rate, we are toast..

And no TV for me as a kid either - which is why I am a book worm I guess:) Of course, the Womble books are better than the TV series, but that goes without saying..
Judy said…
You must be very telepathic to pick up my womble thoughts from so far away ;) Yes I have been singing the womble song for a week or two and delighting at my proud wombling achievements. I loved the wombles on TV as a child and we even had the LP with all the wombling songs. They had a newer series when my oldest kids were young, but it never seemed as magical to me. I have just realised that aged 15 I worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken as a litter-picker, whilst they were using wombles for their advertising campaign! Collecting rubbish clearly started young ;)

I love the chair, what a find! And thanks for the link to the lovely man.

I nearly pulled an old bath out of a skip this week, for water storage or maybe a pond, but my big old car has died and I wasn't sure it would fit in our small one. This week I have had free manure from a horsey friend, chicken poo from another friend and have asked neighbours for mushroom crates and grass clippings. Everyone seems so pleased to oblige, even helping me dig/ carry/ deliver the "goods".

When I took down my sons home-made pirate ship bed 8 years ago, I used the wood to build some shelves in the garage. I took them down at the weekend because they had been hopelessly overloaded and were listing like the titanic, but the wood looks perfect for making a coldframe. I found an old tow rope on the shelves, that has now been reused to attach a trapeze to our tree. I just need to find someone who want several tins of half used paint now.......
Anonymous said…
I've heard of the Wombles but never knew what they were, sounds like my kind of folk.
Our garbage collectors will pick up practically everything that is left at the curb on trash day.

What folk have stared to do though, is put out items that could be reused, a couple of days ahead and people can just help themselves.
In fact there are a few pick up trucks that cruise the streets on Tuesday evening looking for stuff. I assume these people would be resellers or scrap collectors.

I've found quite a few goodies myself.
Most of the stuff will be taken to the landfill but at least some of it gets saved to live again.
Jo said…
Judy, as Wombles go, you are clearly the original and the best! I love taking away stuff that other people don't want.They see me as benefactor, I feel like I have benefited, everyone is happy! Your garden must be so happy with all of that free poop!

And I love the bunk bed to cold frame story. It has me looking thoughtfully at Posy's bunk bed. I would really like a cold frame..

Marianne, your local community sounds sensible and brilliant. Our garbage trucks are all automated, so everything has to fit into the wheelie bin. And no hard rubbish pick ups:( So people have to be a bit creative to share the stuff they don't want any more.

But it sounds like you have a brilliant system of sharing around your treasures..

And I am glad to have introduced you to the Wombles, they are our kind of folks, completely:)

I loved the wombles as a kid, and I now have the song in my brain (THANK YOU)but I don't recall the messages!
no one ever puts stuff out on the curb around my neighbourhood. I suspect people either sell their stuff on gumtree or just chuck it :-(
Jo said…
e, maybe if we start putting stuff out we could start a new fashion in curb recycling...
Wizard of Tas said…
I remember an add about a dozen years ago, might have been for a British tv channel. A dalek rumbling along a path in a park doing the usual 'exterminate!'. Off screen for a couple of seconds, the the same dalek beating a hasty retreat vibrating 'wait, I can explain', being chased by a Womble with a bazooka.

Go Wombles!
Jo said…
Ha ha, wombles trump daleks! And maybe pottering about making a living out of litter will trump all the technological glitter of modern life..

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